Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: AFTERSHOCK



The following account of a recent AFTERSHOCK game was provided by Henning Liljeqvist.


The World Health Organization, in partnership with University of New South Wales, runs annually a five day intensive course in communicable diseases in emergencies. The course targets health coordinators and medical advisers working in humanitarian emergencies for Ministries of Health, NGOs, UN agencies, international organizations, universities, technical institutions and donor agencies.

In November 2015 we tried AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game for the first time and although it is not designed specifically for simulating communicable disease management, it was a great tool for presenting the complexities involved in coordinating a response to a complex emergency.

Our session included 25 students and we used one AFTERSHOCK game. On Rex Brynen’s advice, we used a camera image projected to a big screen in order to engage all participants at the same time. This worked really well, although we had to keep reminding participants not to stand in front of the camera. The image was clear enough that all details of the game could be seen by all in the room.

The class was divided into the four response components: Carana, HADR-TF, UN and NGOs and each of the teams was then divided in two: one playing group and one observing group. We ran a timed game over 2 hours and 15 minutes and changed over between playing and observing team members at the end of each full game turn. The initial instruction was for the observing groups to keep track of events and to make notes, but it very soon developed into a situation where the players and the observers collaborated with each other. This way the whole room was engaged for the whole game. As a result of this the game probably progressed slower than it may otherwise have done. We made it through week 3-4, but still just cleared relief points into the positive.

We ran an immediate debrief in which important lessons were discussed. The students made comment such as: “This was an eye-opener,” “This helped us to see how complex the arrangements can be in a disaster response,” “We saw the importance of cooperation between responding agencies,””Logistics and planning are a keys to getting relief resources to those who need it.”

I asked the students also to suggest ways in which the game might be targeted at communicable disease management. Suggestions included introduction of malaria management, facilitation for measles vaccination from the start (perhaps by spending OPs). Another suggestion was to include more complex considerations for groups at greater risk (socioeconomic status and other health indicators) to incorporate prioritization based on such concerns.

Henning Liljeqvist
Communicable Disease Epidemiologist (Biopreparedness)
Guest lecturer WHO/UNSW Communicable Disease Management in Humanitarian Emergencies

Game On! at Bishop’s University

Today I attended the Game On! conference on in-class simulation and gaming at Bishop’s University. The event was organized by Sarah-Myriam Martin-Brûlé and David Webster.

The first presentation by Kerry Hull (Department of Biology, Bishop’s University) explored the value of role-playing in the undergraduate classroom. Her simulations put players not in human roles, but rather in the role of biological functions (such as “Enzyme Man”). Such exercises are used to explore relationships, cause-and-effect, and complex regulatory pathways. She discussed a number of best practices:

  • establish trust and community among participants (including the use of Smarties to recruit classroom volunteers);
  • identify roles;
  • link the simulation to concepts.

She noted that physical environment matters, that it is worth repeating a simulation with different actors, and that students should be shown supporting data for the simulation. She also discussed the “too cool for school” problem, whereby games and simulation may seem too childish—but noted that participants generally see the value in the end. IMG_1319

Claire Grogan (Department of English, Bishop’s University) talked about her use of an innovative teaching technique in her course on war and literature. The challenge she faced was making WWI seem relevant to younger Canadian students. She addressed this by assigning each student the persona of an actual member of the Bishop’s community in 1914 who participated in the war, drawing upon the Bishop’s Remembers website and contemporary material from the student journal The Mitre. She wanted the exercise to be more than a lottery whereby students waited to find out what happened to their person, so she researched a rich dossier on each: their photographs, activities, writings, and so forth. This served to increase student identification with their assigned character, making them more real. These individuals were then followed through the war, with students updating their situation every two weeks based on historical records of unit deployments and the battles they were engaged in. Letters, other news, care packages, medals, or death telegrams were given to some students at the end of each class, reflecting the historical record. One particular sheaf of telegrams arrived in the middle of a class discussion of the Battle of the Somme. It sounded a sombre, and very valuable, experience for the class. IMG_1322

After a coffee break, Laurent Turcot (UQTR) made a presentation on digital humanities and Assassin’s Creed Unity. He started by noting that many historians are reluctant to use popular cultural representations of history (such as movies or video games) in the classroom—precisely because they are representations. However, video games often motivate players to learn about history. He was brought in by Ubisoft as a consultant on the game and its treatment of the French Revolution, to supplement their own (non-English speaking) historian in Paris. Specifically, he was asked to brief Montreal and Toronto staff on daily life in Paris during the revolutionary period—and to deliver it all in a single six hour lecture. He focused on a couple of quarters of the city, and offered an overview of architecture and daily life. He also drew up an encyclopedia of key individuals and events. He discussed his loss of control of material once he had produced it, and the risk of game developers using information differently than he intended. He briefly mentioned some of the political and historical debate the game generated in France. Finally, he noted the potential value of using such a game to provide a street-level view of what 18th century Paris looked like. However, there is little financial incentive for large commercial game publishers to produce educational spin-offs, so progress has been slow.

My own presentation looked at the various ways games and simulations have been used in my own classes. After a short discussion of the research on simulations and learning, I talked about:

  • quick and simple games;
  • using commercial games as reading/review assignments;
  • roleplay and negotiation simulations;
  • in-class demonstration games (of the “game show” variety);
  • matrix games;
  • online digital games designed for instructional use;
  • custom-designed boardgames (such as AFTERSHOCK);
  • student-authored games (including interactive stories, as well games on the Arab Spring and Syrian civil war);
  • complex and hybrid games (such as the Brynania simulation and the Syrian refugees in Lebanon simulation);
  • and games as extra-curricular activities.

I concluded with some thoughts on best practices and recommendations for further reading. You’ll find the full presentation here.


AFTERSHOCK with students at Bishop’s University.

Lunch was followed by an opportunity to try out some of the games. I ran a game of AFTERSHOCK, in which the players manage to overcome initial difficulties (and the accidental withdrawal of rescue workers from District 3 at a critical moment) to win the game with a few minutes left to spare on the clock. I also demonstrated the use of matrix games with a few turns of ISIS Crisis.

Overall it was a very good conference, and I’m grateful to the organizers for inviting me!

AFTERSHOCK in Springfield


While Missouri might be better known for tornadoes than tremors,* last week Missouri State University was the scene of a major earthquake—or, more accurately, a game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, sponsored by the Department of Political Science.

At first the earthquake seemed to overwhelm aid teams from Carana, the United Nations, the NGO community, and the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Task Force, but as they became more organized and the volume of relief supplies grew they all made increasingly good progress. HADR-TF moved quickly to repair Galasi International Airport. They were rather slower to repair the Galasi port, which caused some friction with the government. A cholera outbreak in District 2 was quickly contained and dealt with. Rapid needs assessment was complimented by more in-depth surveys in several districts, facilitating planning and resource allocation.

With 37 minutes left to play, and six weeks into the crisis, the players collective (

Six weeks into the crisis and with 37 minutes left to play, the teams’ collective (“Relief Points”) score is still in the red— although not by much (-3). The UN and HADR-TF have negative individual (“Operations Points”) scores too. The airport has been fully repaired, and HADR-TF has brought in the necessary materials to begin repairs to the port too. Some health and other social infrastructure has been reestablished in most districts. At the moment, teams are primarily participating in the health and WASH cluster meetings, as well as undertaking front-line tasks in the various districts of the capital.

By the end of two hours, all of the players had positive scores. Well done!

* * *

*It turns out that MSU was an even more appropriate place for a game of AFTERSHOCK than I realized at the time.  As Robert Mosher has pointed out to me, what is now Missouri was the epicentre of the 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes. Indeed, the New Madrid Seismic Zone has been responsible for four of the largest quakes ever recorded in North America. 

PAXsims at the Royal Military College of Canada


On Monday I was at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston for a day of conflict simulation and gaming-related activities. I started off with a presentation that explored the value of simulation/gaming in the classroom, some possible methods and approaches, and suggestions as to best practices. You’ll find a pdf version of all of the slides here.


This was followed with a display of a few commercial (manual) wargames that illustrated the breadth of material on contemporary conflict, including Algeria, LabyrinthA Distant Plain, BCT Kandahar, Kandahar, Decision: IraqPersian Incursion, and others.



Next I ran a session of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. The players were a little overwhelmed at first with the devastation that the earthquake had inflicted upon Carana, but eventually got on top of the situation. The multilateral military Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief Task Force (HADR-TF) did an especially good job—before departing the country accompanied by pronouncements of “Mission Accomplished.” Collectively, all of the players achieved a narrow victory by the end of the two-hour game.

Members of HADR-TF withdraw from Galassi, the capital city of Carana, after three months of earthquake relief operations.

Members of HADR-TF withdraw from Galassi, the capital city of Carana, after three months of earthquake relief operations.

Finally, the evening saw a dozen players participate in an ISIS Crisis matrix game. Iran aggressively sought to displace the US as it supported the Iraqi government against ISIS, to the point of trying to broker Russian air operations in support of the Baghdad government. The US, not surprisingly, pulled in the other direction. Indeed, the dynamic very closely mirrored what was actually going on as we played.


Headlines in the media, two days after the ISIS Crisis game.

As the squabbling continued, the Iraqis prepare for an assault on ISIS-held Ramadi. However, this was preempted by a surprise ISIS attack on Fallujah that saw government forces routed. Alarmed by this, Tehran dispatched additional advisors, air support, and even a contingent of Revolutionary Guards to Baghdad to bolster the government.

Throughout, the Shi’ite-dominated Baghdad government had made political overtures to Iraqi Sunnis, but these were generally seen as too little, too late. The deployment of limited Iranian forces to Baghdad only further poisoned Sunni-Shi’ite relations.

In the north, ISIS and the Kurds skirmished both in the Raqqa-Hassakeh area (Syria) and east of Mosul (Iraq). The former was inconclusive. In the latter case, however, Kurdish operations went badly wrong towards the end, resulting in heavy Kurdish losses.

Another recent real-world headline that closely mirrored our game of ISIS Crisis.

Another real-world headline that closely mirrored our game of ISIS Crisis.

Meanwhile, Sunni tribal leaders perfected the art of fence-sitting. They successfully approached Saudi Arabia for funding as the non-ISIS Sunni alternative, but then contributed funds to ISIS when the Kurds tried to move towards Mosul. They took no steps against ISIS, yet convinced the Jordanians to extend arms and training, building the nucleus of a small force that might one day intervene against ISIS in western Anbar province. While critical to building a more cohesive Iraq, they had little incentive to align decisively with one side or the other—a move that would bring certain retribution from others.

As for ISIS, they ended the game with some tactical battlefield victories and some strategic gains in the information war. They, however, were also feeling a bit hemmed in: coalition and Iranian support made it difficult to make large, sustained gains in Iraq, while the fluid civil war in Syria presented both threats and opportunities. In the end they decided for a flexible approach of safeguarding their core interests and territory, strengthening their global appeal, while being prepared to rapidly exploit military and political mistakes by others.

The operational situation shortly before the surprise ISIS attack on Fallujah.

The operational situation following the surprise ISIS attack on Fallujah.

All-in-all, it was an excellent day. So too was the next day, when I presented an unrelated talk (on “Underpredicting the Arab Spring”) at the Centre for International and Defence Policy, Queen’s University. A number of opportunities for simulation/gaming collaboration with both RMCC and CIDP were identified, which we hope to build upon in the future.

Coming up soon: a game of ISIS Crisis hosted by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University on October 26, a trip to Missouri State University for a talk (and a game of AFTERSHOCK) on October 30, and another presentation on simulation and gaming at the University of Ottawa on November 23.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 14 October 2015


Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers. Ryan Kuhns contributed to this latest edition.


Strategic Crisis Simulations

Strategic Crisis Simulations will be holding its next simulation, Rising Tides: A Simulation of Regional Crisis and Territorial Competition in the East China Sea, on 7 November 2015 at George Washington University:

The East China Sea is one of the most contested regions in the existing geopolitical climate. A small body of water, whose mass is dwarfed by the world’s oceans, the East China Sea is hotly divided, with overlapping claims by four different regional actors: Japan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea. Though the exact territorial claims vary from state to state, all actors have held firm in their demands, and recent aggressive expansionism has once more brought the East China Sea to the forefront of geopolitical focus. This tension is fueled by the immense strategic and economic value of the region: the East China Sea is home to an abundance of marine life, rich fishing grounds, vast natural gas reserves, and several highly strategic trade arteries, all of which are integral to the economies to the surrounding regional actors. These attributes combine to make the East China Sea one of the most economically valuable, and strategically advantageous, oceanic regions in the world.

This simulation will examine the complex maze that actors must negotiate when dealing with the tense social, political, and military dilemmas currently occurring in the East China Sea. Participants will assume the roles of influential policymakers, and must work with both state and non-state regional actors to execute comprehensive and multilateral government responses to issues ranging from great power politics, piracy, and natural resource conflicts; to state bargaining dilemmas, humanitarian assistance, and collective action problems. Participants will have the unique opportunity to grapple with serious questions of national interest through the eyes of the government of the United States and the People’s Republic of China as they are divided into teams in order to develop their respective policies and agendas. Participants will need to develop strategies in line with their team’s objectives to manage a variety of crises and react to actions from other teams. Whether through the Politburo or the National Security Council; the Pentagon or Central Military Commission; the Ministry of State Security or the Central Intelligence Agency; participants will be challenged to work together to develop policy solutions for the complex myriad of issues that will determine the fate of the East China Sea.


USIPAlso in Washington DC, the United States Institute of Peace will be offering a course United Nations Peacekeeping Today: Why it Matters on 2-4 November 2015:

By the end of this course, participants will understand:

  • The new and challenging environment that confronts UN peace operations, including asymmetrical warfare, terrorist operations, drone surveillance, and organized crime.
  • The planning and implementation of modern peace operations, including the roles played by the Security Council, NATO, EU, AU, troop contributing countries and the United States.
  • The key issues confronting UN peacekeeping and the recommendations of the High Level Panel’s Report and the Presidential Summit for going forward.
  • The planning of a peace operation through interactive role play with a diverse group of well-informed fellow professionals.

The course includes a simulation/role-play exercise on planning for a fictional UN Mission in Equatorial Kundu (UNIMEK). More information is available at the link above.


The latest (Summer/Fall 2015) newsletter of the American Political Science Association political science education section, The Political Science Educator, contains a short article on AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game:

After the earthquake that devastated the capital, aid was slow to reach the slums of District 3. Poor coordination resulted in duplication of effort in some areas, and shortages of essential aid supplies in others. The port and airport remained severely damaged, creating transportation bottlenecks. The latest reports suggested a cholera outbreak too. It was no surprise that social unrest was growing.

The vignette above is drawn from AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. AFTERSHOCK was developed for classroom use to highlight the challenges of multilateral coordination in the context of a natural disasters or complex humanitarian emergencies. The game has spread well beyond its initial use at McGill University, and has been taken adopted for professional training of aid workers, peacekeeping personnel, and military officers. This article briefly describes the genesis of the project, the development and production of the game, and some thoughts about using it in the classroom.

You read the whole thing here.



The NATO website briefly summarizes a North Atlantic Council crisis simulation for European university students held in Forli, Italy last week:

“How does the North Atlantic Council (NAC) respond to an emerging crisis situation?”

That was the question posed to 28 students from leading European Universities from throughout Europe, including Cork, Dublin, Bath, Lisbon, Palermo, Istanbul and Pavia, as well as the European University Institute in Florence, in a realistic re-enactment of a NAC session.

Based on the Memorandum of Understanding with NATO, the University of Bologna, School of Political Sciences, hosted the 9th North Atlantic Council Simulation (NATO Model Event) in Forli, Italy, 8-9 October 2015.

During the NAC simulation, the students explored, discussed and seek resolution to a fictitious scenario, led by Lieutenant Colonel Alfonso Alvarez, Commander Matteo Minelli and supported by Ms Tracey Cheasley, Mr Nicola Nasuti, Ms Cristina Siserman from Allied Command Transformation Strategic Plans & Policy Branch (ACT SPP) and Lieutenant Commander Dave Jones from ACT StratCom.

As an evaluation, the students participating to the event stressed that the realism of the discussions, decision-making and eventual consensus on actions, cannot be overstated and that they are very glad to be able to take part in this simulation.

Finally, Lieutenant Colonel Alvarez mentioned his gratitude to return to the University of Bologna to stage the NATO Model Event this year.”The Sala del Consiglio, Fondazione Cassa Dei Risparmi Di Forli is a perfect venue for the event and we are welcomed here with most gracious hospitality. It is a real honour to showcase our NAC simulation here at the university with such enthusiastic and well-prepared students.” he added.

As part of SACT’s Educational Outreach programme, NATO Model Events are held in Turkey, Italy and the USA throughout the year to help students and faculty members learn more about NATO and to understand more about the countries that they represent and that make up the Alliance.


A recent article by Quintin Smith in The Guardian highlights those aspects of the boardgaming experience that digital games cannot truly replicate.

Surely there’s nothing a board game can do that a video game can’t do better, right?

After all, board games are so limited. You have to fit them on a table, and make them out of real, tangible stuff. Video games can do whatever you can imagine!

And the best video games should already be stealing from board games. I think game designers ought to be out-and-out burglars, pausing their larceny only to remix and rethink the latest haul of ideas.

But there are also things that make board and card games great that can’t be stolen. At least, not yet. Those elements that exist only within the sphere of real-life cards, smiles and dining room tables.

He goes on to identify three characteristics of boardgames that are hard to replicate with artificial intelligence or in a digital environment: bluffing, physicality, and ownership. (Be sure to read the readers’ comments too for further thoughtful discussion on the topic.)


According to research highlighted in the New Scientist, the placebo effect works in videogames too:

Even in virtual worlds, life is what you make of it. A study has found that gamers have more fun when they think a video game has been updated with fancy new features – even when that’s not true.

Paul Cairns, a professor of human-computer interaction at the University of York, UK, wondered if the placebo effect translates into the world of video games after watching a TV programme about how a sugar pill had improved cyclists’ performance.

“People have a preconception that a little round white pill that doesn’t taste nice will have a certain effect on their physiology,” says Cairns. “It’s changing your perceptions of the world around you in some profound way.”

To test their idea, he and colleague Alena Denisova asked 21 people to play two rounds of Don’t Starve, an adventure game in which the player must collect objects using a map in order to survive.

In the first round, the researchers told the players that the map would be randomly generated. In the second, they said it would be controlled by an “adaptive AI” that could change the map based on the player’s skill level. After each round, the players filled out a survey.

In fact, neither game used AI – both versions of the game were identically random. But when players thought that they were playing with AI, they rated the game as more immersive and more entertaining. Some thought the game was harder with AI, others found it easier – but no one found it equally challenging.

“The adaptive AI put me in a safer environment and seemed to present me with resources as needed,” said one player.

“It reduces the time of exploring the map, which makes the game more enjoyable,” said another.

A different experimental design, with 40 new subjects, confirmed the effect. This time, half of the players were put in a control group and told that the game was random, while the other half thought the game had built-in AI….


Ahmed Moussa is a controversial Egyptian television host known for his strong support for former Egyptian dictator Husni Mubarak. He’s also a strong supporter of Russian intervention in Syria, and recently broadcast apparent satellite images that showed Russian helicopters at work, hunting down terrorists…

…except that it was actually imagery from the 2010 video game Apache: Air Assault.


Pocket Tactics, which reviews  iOS and Android games, is taking over The Wargame. They also will soon be launching a new site, Strategy Gamer, devoted to stragey games on all digital platforms as well as tabletops. As a result, they’re looking for writers and game reviewers:

If you want to join Dave and Kelsey and the gang, now’s the time — the first call for writers we’ve put out since 2012. We’re looking for reviewers to do 2 to 3 (paid!) reviews per month. We’re also looking for another news writer, somebody who can write funny, insightful news posts most weekdays — also a paid gig.

You’ll find more on how to apply here.


USAID saves Carana!


Today (thanks to Matheu Schwenk) I had an opportunity to run a  demonstration game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game with some staff from USAID’s Office for US Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Yet again, of course, the poor country of Carana was struck by another devastating earthquake—something which seems to happen with alarming regularity. However, OFDA’s experienced staff were quick to respond!

USAID prepositions life-saving banana as they prepare to respond to the disaster.

USAID staff pre-position a life-saving banana as they prepare to respond to the disaster.

The teams assessed what critical supplies were needed in what districts of the capital. Transportation bottlenecks at the port and airport were promptly addressed by the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Task Force (HADR-TF), which arrived, fixed things, brought lots of stuff, airlifted supplies for the NGOs… and then declared “Mission Accomplished,” departing Carana with much military fanfare.


HADR-TF on the march!

The government of Carana mobilized government workers and local civil society, with the President issuing a series of inspiration public statements (albeit several weeks into the crisis). The Minister of the Interior was quick to address incipient social unrest. The UN and NGOs helped to support a smooth transition from relief to development as the emergency phase was followed by a prolonged period of early recovery. The UN was particularly effective at responding to an outbreak of cholera in the slums of District 3.

Following the session we discussed the ways in which games could be used as educational and training tools, and the particular adaptability of manual gaming formats to a wide variety of needs. I certainly enjoyed myself, and I hope everyone else did too.

Connections UK 2015: Day 2 AAR


Today is first day of the main programme of the 2015 Connections UK wargaming conference, and the second day of the event.

Frans Berkhout (Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy, King’s College London) welcomed the participants. He highlighted the broad and growing interest in the social sciences in simulation and the development of “synthetic worlds” for experimentation and exploration.


The largest Connections UK conference ever.

The first panel of the day addressed global wargaming developments. Peter Perla (CNA) discussed developments in the US in the wake of renewed interest in wargaming by the Department of Defense. He suggested that for wargaming, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” He examined four recent memos on wargaming by former US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, by US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, on implementing the initiative, and by the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. He welcomed the renewed attention, but warned that we needed to capitalize the moment or lose a golden opportunity for many years. He expressed concern that everything would now be called a “wargame” as everyone jumped on the wargaming bandwagon with little attention to quality. Peter also expressed concern at the idea of “systematizing” wargaming and the development of a wargame repository. Discussing the Navy’s efforts in this area, he noted some of the potential problems and sources of resistance. On a very positive note he observed that the Deputy Secretary of Fefense appears to have picked up on the point—strongly made at the recent Connections US conference—that wargaming needs to be integrated into curriculum of professional military education from an early point in officers’ careers..

Matt Caffrey (USAF) highlighted how the original US-based Connections conference has gone global, with annual conferences now being held in the UK, Australia, and the Netherlands too. He started by making the general case for wargaming, then discussed the ways in which the Connections conferences could support both the general advancement of wargaming and skills development by new wargamers.

PAXsims’ own Devin Ellis (ICONS Project) discussed wargaming with the Chinese, drawing upon his experience with a decade of political-military crisis management gaming initiatives with China. He noted that the People’s Liberation Army has placed increasing emphasis on wargaming. PLA gaming tends to be kinetic, more operational than strategic, and rather doctrinal. Chinese “blue teamers” who might play the American side in a PLA pol-mil games often poorly understand US military doctrine and foreign policy. Chinese game participants tend to place a great deal of emphasis on establishing guiding principles. They appear strongly committed to not taking the first shot. Moral judgments are often applied to pragmatic behaviours, although this seems to be changing. Legal standards are important, but selectively interpreted. Chinese players tend to be suspicious of US intentions, and misunderstand US alliance relationships and force posture. Chinese interagency processes and knowledge are limited. Overall Devin suggested that while the Chinese seem increasingly committed to improving the quality of their wargaming, the learning curve is steep and there are many institutional obstacles to be overcome.

This panel was followed by a games fair briefing, in which quick three-minute overviews were provided of each of the fourteen games on display today.

After lunch attention turned to UK wargaming developments. Rob Solly, the Division Head for Defence and Security Analysis (DSA) at Dstl, discussed putting wargaming back at the heart of analysis. He suggested that the renewed interest in wargaming was due to the nature of human-centric, complex nature of contemporary problems which are less amenable to conventional analysis; because it is sometimes better to help a client learn about themselves, rather than simply being taught; and because divergent thinking mechanisms are needed to help open the minds of decision-makers. Dstl’s wargaming skills into a new wargaming hub at DSA amid a growing appetite for wargaming across the UK defence and security establishment.


The new commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst talked about the need to educate young officers for future uncertainties, while also training them for the enduring aspects of combat. Staff colleges place a great deal of emphasis on planning, but not enough in exploring execution, adaptation, and adversarial competition. Currently, wargaming at Sandhurst largely consists of some COA (course of action) (quasi)wargaming, TEWTs (tactical exercises without troops), and BOGSAT-type discussions. However, there has been little or no substantial, adversarial wargaming. They have newly introduced a map-based post-TEWT kriegsspiel, and there may be other places where they can introduce wargaming too. While there is a wargaming club at Sandhurst, there hasn’t been widespread participation from cadets.

The map for Tom Mouat's tactical kriegsspiel design for RMAS.

The map for Tom Mouat’s tactical kriegsspiel design for RMAS.

In chairing the session, Gen Andrew Sharpe (retd) suggested that Army officers would be more willing to wargame if there were senior signals that it was a good thing to do. He also noted that often large exercises or games are sufficiently rare that no one particular wants to face a creative enemy that might defeat them. He stressed that there needed to be more wargaming to see if a plan will work, as opposed to confirm that it will work.

The first games fair session was a busy one. One of the drawbacks of demonstrating a game, however, is that you have no opportunity to examine the other games on display. There were a great many that looked very interesting, with a broad range of topics, approaches, and game mechanics in evidence.

Participants get ready for the game fair.

Participants get ready for the game fair.

Part of David Vassallo's extremely impressive HOSPEX field hospital simulation game, first developed in Philip Sabin's MA class in conflict simulation at KCL.

Part of David Vassallo’s extremely impressive HOSPEX field hospital simulation game, first developed in Philip Sabin’s MA class in conflict simulation at KCL.

Kestrel's Hover, an air assault game developed for 16 Air Assault Brigade by Dstl.

Kestrel’s Hover, an air assault game developed for 16 Air Assault Brigade by Dstl.

Phil Sabin's CHACR Camberley Kriegsspiel.

Phil Sabin’s CHACR Camberley Kriegsspiel.

AFTERSHOCK set up and ready to play.

AFTERSHOCK set up and ready to play.

I did get a chance to play a few turns of The Great Crossing, Jim Wallman’s simple but elegant game of refugee flows and economic migration. Fa theced with a growing flood of migrants, noble country of Silvania (that would be me) worked out an understanding with several other regional countries on managing the flow, including offering asylum to refugees and some integration to economic migrants. Others, however, pursued more of a beggar-thy-neighbour strategy of blocking refugees and trying to push them towards the borders of other countries. Sadly, some refugees were even lost at sea.


The Great Crossing.

I also ran a game of AFTERSHOCK. The players did well, despite some periodic tensions between them—indeed, at one point the UN and host government threatened to hold a press conference denouncing the NGOs unless they cooperated on mobilizing donor support.

AFTERSHOCK underway.

AFTERSHOCK underway. The stress and horror of the disaster can be seen etched into their very souls.

A keynote address by ED McGrady followed on why wargaming works. He emphasized the importance of both narrative and play, stressing the “art” of gaming. Rationalists, he suggested, are uncomfortable with game play since it creates new, imaginary worlds. Games, he suggested, are indeed different and special territory, allowing us to explore the non-rational aspects of behavior (in war or otherwise) as well as unanticipated associations and unexpected narratives. For games to work they need to be grounded in rationalist behavior, but they become irrational once the game starts. More research was needed, he suggested, on how the play element of games affects individual and collective decision-making in serious games.

After dinner there was a second games fair session—and a second demonstration game of AFTERSHOCK. This one was fairly close, with the players suffering heavy losses in the first week of the disaster. However very effective coordination helped them to achieve considerable improvement thereafter, resulting in a comfortable collective victory by the end of the game.

AFTERSHOCK: conference discount for Connections UK


To mark this week’s Connections UK 2015 interdisciplinary wargaming conference at King’s College London, we’ll be offering a discount on the sale of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. Buy it now at The Game Crafter for $89.99 (MRSP $99.99)—but hurry, the sale ends on September 12.


I’ll be running a demonstration game of AFTESHOCK at Connections during the evening of Wednesday, September 9. I can save one or two places for outside participants with a professional interest in the game—if you are in London and would like to take part, email me.

I’ll also be running a demonstration game in the Washington DC area (Fairfax VA) on September 29, and possibly in Rome, Italy on or about September 21. Email for more information.

AFTERSHOCK: conference discount for Connections 2015


To mark this week’s Connections 2015 interdisciplinary wargaming conference at National Defense University, we’ll be offering a discount on the sale of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. Buy it now at The Game Crafter for $89.99 (MRSP $99.99)—but hurry, the sale ends on July 31!

AFTERSHOCK has its early origins in the 2012 Connections “game lab,” which explored humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations during the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

AFTERSHOCK in the Pacific

The following report has been contributed by MAJ(P) Scott Cole of the 9th Mission Support Command, US Army Reserve. Photographs by Brian Melanephy.

In 2007 I was forced into wargaming. I was forced kicking and screaming—well, probably more whining and complaining than actual screaming—but forced nonetheless. I am an IT guy by trade, and my proclivity for all things computer extended into my leisure pursuits. I built my own servers, computers and network architecture. Others obsessed over fast cars; my obsession was with fast CPUs and data buses. Nearly the whole of my free time was spent immersed in PC games. Sadly (or perhaps happily), my digital bliss was ended by a training accident that would see my right elbow surgically rebuilt. My right elbow! My mouse hand! It was like a gunfighter having his trigger finger amputated. Yeah, okay, it was really like a computer geek who could no longer spend more than twenty minutes using a mouse without being in excruciating pain, but let me romanticize it a little. It sounds more dramatic and will make my life story more likely to be picked up for development into a major motion picture (with me played by Brad Pitt, of course). With my trigger finger gone, the long, blissful excursions into my own private digital Idaho were over. After suffering through a painful day gripping the mouse at work, the pain associated with computer games was no longer worth the cost. I needed to find something else.

Happily, I almost immediately stumbled on some folks at work who played wargames. They invited me. I played. I was captivated. An addiction that still plagues me today ensued. Well, certainly not an addiction…. I can quit anytime I choose. No, really I can. Stop it. . .you sound like my wife.

One thing that I realized about wargames, straight-away, is the great potential they have for use in training, especially at the operational and tactical levels. At the time, I was assigned to a training brigade that focused on battalion and brigade staff training—mostly digital simulations, but we also taught MDMP. I attempted to get buy-in from the senior officers to try to modify commercial wargames for use in the wargaming step of the MDMP process. Unfortunately, they saw manual wargames as an outmoded vehicle and dismissed the suggestion out of hand. I tried again over my next several assignments and met with similar results. I resigned myself to the fact that digital simulations ruled the Army training environment, and anything utilizing cardboard and paper maps would be seen as archaic and of no training value.

In February of this year, I read the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s memo on reinvigorating wargaming throughout the Department of Defense. I was thrilled…ecstatic…dare I say, reinvigorated? I began searching for ways to get wargames incorporated into training in my current unit. I was pointed to Rex Brynen’s PAXsims blog (thank you Volko Ruhnke!) and found AFTERSHOCK.

I’m currently assigned to the 9th Mission Support Command, at Ft. Shafter, Hawaii. The 9th MSC is a unique command, as it is the most ethnically diverse, geographically dispersed command in the U.S. Army Reserve, crossing seven times zones, two states, two territories, a commonwealth and two foreign countries. What makes the HADR mission so important to those Reservists assigned to the 9th MSC is that the places in the Pacific that have extreme weather events that require a HADR response are the places many of these soldiers call home. We have a professional and personal stake in being ready to respond and do our jobs well.

Training the force on HADR response is a challenge. I briefed our Chief of Staff on AFTERSHOCK and quickly sold him on its training value, since neither of us had seen any HADR-specific training products. I got in contact with Rex and got the game ordered.

In June, I ran AFTERSHOCK for our Commanding General and Staff. I was very keen to see the players’ initial response as they entered the room, since the initiation was sent out as a HADR training exercise with no specific details about the training; only the command group knew that it involved a simulation game. My staff and I had set up the games prior to the participants’ arrival, so when they entered they saw the games set up on the tables.


Here are a few the comments I recorded as participants entered the training room:

“Oh, so were playing Risk today?”

“Nice, we’re getting paid to play games!”

“What is this, Monopoly?”

“Is this a game? I’ve got serious work to do. How long is this going last?”

These comments are significant, as they reflect the ubiquitous attitude toward tabletop games among Army officers. Had I lain down a topographical map, acetate, and grease pencils then told them we were going to practice map symbology, they would have grumbled, but considered it standard training….because that how Army training always used to be.

How do we overcome this? Just from the microcosm of this AFTERSHOCK session, I have two fairly obvious, but oftentimes unattainable, answers:

  • Senior leader buy-in: If the boss is present, participates and advocates the training value of the game, it adds immensely to the reception from the rest of the command.
  • The game needs to be immediately relevant to the subject being trained, and the game needs to be good. Good means exactly the same as what a hobby wargamer expects from a commercially produced product: smooth mechanics, accurate depiction of the subject and loads of meaningful and interesting decisions.


I split our trainees into two teams, one consisting of field grade officers (Major to Colonel) and higher (General Officers); the other was comprised of Captains and junior Majors. My initial belief was that the more junior table would catch on quicker and be more involved in the game, as we often see in the digital training arena. I was absolutely incorrect. The senior table took to the game immediately, absorbed the mechanics and was deep into developing an overall strategy by turn two. The more junior table stumbled about and didn’t formulate an ordered plan until around turn four.

One of AFTERSHOCK’s most effective aspects is its ability to mimic the chaos and uncertainty found during the initial response in a HADR mission. Having the teams get a brief overview of the rules, then tossing them into a moderator-assisted first two turns very successfully creates a sense of confusion, causes hesitance and slightly overwhelms the players, as they cannot fully get their heads around what needs to be done first. As with a real operation, once they get a grasp of the situation and the processes and procedures needed to meet the mission demands, they can start strategizing and better react to the disaster. Without that initial perplexity, I imagine it would be much easier to succeed in AFTERSHOCK, although I do see great value in allowing the teams to play a second time to reinforce their successes and avoid their previous mistakes. I recommend you do not let your players have any knowledge of the game prior to running it. Dealing with the initial confusion has great training value.


Both teams ended up with a win, although the junior group didn’t secure it until late in the game. The competitiveness that arose between the teams was excellent and added very much to the atmosphere in the room. I highly suggest that you foment an atmosphere of competition when you run AFTERSHOCK.

Overall, the teams found the game interesting, fun and most importantly, that it holds significant training value. Prior to us running AFTERSHOCK, Rex Brynen was kind enough to spend a couple of hours with us on Skype to give us some pointers on successfully facilitating a game. Besides giving us all the game play overview and points on running the game, he would interject some of the anecdotes behind the creation of the cards. The Celebrity Visitor event card, for example, was based upon the real life visit of John Travolta during the 2010 Haiti earthquake. He and the Church of Scientology had loaded up his personal Boeing 707 and he flew it into Haiti to bring bags full of donated supplies. While the media swarmed him and he toured the disaster areas, the supplies had to be unloaded by human chain, then sorted and stored. While all of this was going on his plane sat and took up one of only scarce parking spots at the airport, thereby reducing the airport capacity and slowing the delivery of palletized, military relief flights.

That story and the few others we imparted to the players were amazingly effective. They showed how all of the events in the game had actually happened and gave the AFTERSHOCK substantial credibility once players saw how it had been designed using real world events. One of the most frequent feedbacks we received from players was that the history of the event cards really added to the experience and it would be great if every card had the history behind it either printed on the card, as flavor text, or in an appendix that could be read when each event came up.

AFTERSHOCK is an excellent training tool. It focuses players on the criticality of coordination and logistics during a HADR event, and does very well in simulating the initial chaos of a disaster. Our training was a resounding success and our Commanding General has directed me to use the game throughout the 9th MSC to ensure all units involved with our HADR mission get the opportunity to run through it.

I didn’t hear any Monopoly comments after the training. I heard a lot of those happy war stories we get after a good wargame: talk of different strategies and things to be done better next time. I’ve had repeated requests from players to run the game again for them. AFTERSHOCK leaves an impression and has players thinking about it days after they play. That lasting impact is exactly what we want from our training products because it means that what has been taught has been retained, and that which is retained can be applied in the real world

I don’t know that I can say I’m happy about injuring my elbow all those years ago, but I can say that I am very glad it has led me to a most excellent, multi-faceted hobby which has direct and effective application in my chosen profession.

MAJ(P) Scott Cole   

AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game is now available for order!

We are very, very pleased to announced that AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game is now available from The Game Crafter. Click the image below to visit the order page.


Tom Fisher and I would like to thank everyone who assisted with the development AFTERSHOCK. Many of the initial ideas for this game came from participants in the “Game Lab” at the Connections 2012 interdisciplinary wargaming conference at National Defense University, which focused on humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations during the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Special thanks are due to Game Lab co-facilitators David Becker, Brant Guillory, Ty Mayfield, Gary Milante, Joshua Riojas, and Brian Train. The game also drew inspiration from the Crisis Response humanitarian assistance card game developed by Gary Milante and from the Zombiton NHS zombies-in-a-hospital game developed with Jessica Barton.

The design of the game was refined with input from a large group of playtesters. These included attendees at subsequent Connections and Connections UK conferences; Prof. Jeremy Wells and his POSI 3666 (civil-military relations) class at Texas State University; students from POLI 450/650 (peacebuilding) at McGill University; participants in the Canadian Disaster and Humanitarian Response Training Program; and staff at CECOPAC (Centro Conjunto para Operaciones de Paz de Chile). Special thanks are due to David and Chloe Brynen (our earliest playtesters), and to Eric Freeman, June McCabe, Ecem Oskay, Hiba Zerrougui, and others from the McGill Conflict Simulation Group.

We are very grateful to the United Nations Photo Library, the United Nations Development Programme, and most especially the Photography Unit of the World Food Programme for making available most of the images used in the game.

All profits from the sale of AFTERSHOCK are donated to the United Nations World Food Programme and other UN humanitarian agencies.




Today we received the first production copy of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game from Game Crafter. As you can see from the video below, it came out very well indeed–all of the components are crisp, clear, and nicely printed on good-quality stock.

The game will be available for order in the next few days. We will, of course, announce that here on PAXsims—then you’ll all be able to buy your own copy!

All net proceeds from the sale of AFTERSHOCK go the the World Food Programme and other UN humanitarian agencies.


Forthcoming AFTERSHOCK demonstrations

AFTERSHOCKlargeWe currently have the following demonstration games of AFTERSHOCK planned. If you are professional involved in teaching about humanitarian crisis and disaster response and would be interested in participating, email me for further information. Space is limited. I’ll update this list as new demonstration games are planned.


  • Washington DC: 28 July 2015 (National Defense University/Connections)  Washington DC: 30 July 2015 (US State Department)
  • Washington DC: 31 July 2015 (National Defense University)
  • London, UK: 9 September 2015 (King’s College London/Connections UK)
  • Fairfax, VA: 29 September 2015 (MORS professional gaming workshop)
  • Washington DC: 2 October 2015 (USAID)
  • Kingston, ON: 19 October (Royal Military College of Canada)
  • Springfield, MO: 30 October 2015 (Missouri State University)
  • Lennoxville, QC: 13 November 2015 (Bishop’s University)
  • Montreal, QC: 2 December 2015 (McGill University)
  • Melbourne, Australia: 15 December 2015 (University of Melbourne/Connections Australia).
  • Washington DC: 3 February 2015 (National Defense University)
  • Ottawa, ON: 22 February 2016 (Connections North)
  • Ottawa, ON: 20 May 2016 (DRDC)
  • Ottawa, ON: 22 May 2016 (CANGAMES)
  • Portsmouth, UK: 29 June 2016 (Dstl)
  • Carlisle, PA: 27 August 2016 (US Army War College)
  • London, UK: 7 September 2016 (King’s College London/Connections UK)
  • Durham, NC: 20 October 2016 (Duke University)
  • Washington, DC: 24 October 2016 (Foreign Service Institute, US State Department)
  • Montreal, QC: 25 January 2017 (McGill University)
  • Montreal, QC: 1 February 2017 (McGill University)
  • Montreal, QC: 8 February 2017 (McGill University)
  • London, UK: 4 September 2017 (Peace Direct)
  • London, UK: 5 September 2017 (KCL/Connections UK)
  • Alexandra, VA: 17-19 October 2017 (MORS Wargaming Workshop III)
  • Montreal, QC: 26 January 2018 (McGill University)
  • Calgary, AB: 6 February 2018 (University of Calgary)
  • London, UK: 4-6 September 2018 (Connections UK)
  • Montreal, QC: 22-29 February 2019 (McGill University)
  • Norfolk, VA: 4 March 2019 (NATO ACT)
  • Paris, France: 7 March 2019 (Serious Games Network)
  • London, UK: 3-5 September 2019 (Connections UK)
  • Ottawa, ON: 7 October 2019 (Sir Robert Borden High School)
  • Montreal, QC: 20 November 2019 (McGill University)
  • Montreal, QC: February 2020 (McGill University)


  • TBA

If you aren’t in one of these locations but are interested in seeing AFTERSHOCK in action for possible adoption by your organization, contact me—if I’m in the neighbourhood, I would be pleased to oblige.

You can also play AFTERSHOCK at the Draughts boardgame café in London (UK).


Yesterday Gary Milante and I ran a couple of demonstration games of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at National Defense University in Washington DC. David Becker—who had served as the Stabilization Coordinator at the US Embassy in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake, and who was one of the original resource people for the project—was in attendance too. It was nice to bring the game back to NDU, since AFTERSHOCK has its origins in the Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference “game lab” held there in 2012.   They had even set up a nice display poster to welcome us!

Gary and the welcome poster—I think we were both jealous they had a large format colour printer to hand.

Gary and the welcome poster—I think we were both jealous they had a large format colour printer so readily to hand.

After a short orientation to the design philosophy of the game, and an equally short overview of how game play works, we then threw everyone into the deep end with two games of eight players each. In general we find that confusion and even a bit of chaos at the start of game play helps generate an appropriate atmosphere. After all, a catastrophic earthquake has just struck!

In the game I facilitated the group was initially overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster, but soon began to get a handle on things. The international military “Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Task Force” focused on opening up the port and airport, thereby allowing an adequate number of relief supplies to flow into the country. The NGO team proved especially good at planning ahead, while the UN played a major role in supporting a relief-to-development transition through infrastructure repairs in the latter part of the game. Cluster meetings were used to coordinate humanitarian response. The local government often took a lead in suggesting collective priorities.

My group discusses how best to allocate scarce human and material resources.

The group discusses how best to allocate scarce human and material resources.

The players were rather slower to recognize the importance of buttressing the already shaky government of Carana, however. Towards the end, some social unrest had even begun to appear.

President Becker and Vice-President Fox of Carana review conditions in their earthquake-ravaged country.

President Becker and Vice-President Fox of Carana review conditions in their earthquake-ravaged country.

Fortunately, effective relief operations—coupled my a last-minute public information campaign by the government—helped to stabilize the situation, and the players all achieved a victory.

The players in the other game were less fortunate. They had an incredibly unlikely draw of cards in the initial turns, and ultimately triggered the -30 relief points “instant lose” condition. They continued to play, however, so that they could explore the game mechanics.

Conditions were especially severe in Gary's game. Of course, natural disasters aren't fair, and some are much worse than others.

Conditions were especially severe in Gary’s game. Of course, natural disasters aren’t fair, and some are much worse than others.

I hope the participants found the experience useful and enjoyable—we certainly had a great time running the games.

(For more information on AFTERSHOCK, click the tab at the top of the page.)


AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game returned today to the classroom of the Canadian Humanitarian and Disaster Response Training Program at McGill University. This time we had 18 students participating in three simultaneous games.


For added realism the fire alarm rang—twice—during set up. Unlike our Chilean colleagues, we didn’t arrange it, but it certainly helped to get everyone in the mood.

IMG_0058Eventually, however, we were able to move on to our fictional earthquake in Carana and start the game(s).


All three teams achieved positive outcomes, with Team 3 doing very well indeed in addressing the crisis, and Teams 1 and 2 managing to achieve narrower success.


Student feedback was again very positive:


We’ll be running several demonstration games of AFTERSHOCK in the coming months:

  • Ottawa on May 17 (at CanGames)
  • Exeter, UK on May 27 (at the University of Exeter)
  • Washington DC in late June (TBC) and again in late July (at the Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference)
  • London, UK in early September (at the Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference)
  • Springfield, Missouri (at Missouri State University) in the fall (date to be confirmed).

If you are interested in learning more about the game or arranging a demonstration, please contact us.

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