Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: corruption

Gaming the dirty side of politics

On Friday, PAXsims associate editor Tom Fisher and I got together with regular gaming buddy Vince Carpini to try out a few new-ish games that had been sitting on our shelves. Two of these—Planet (2018) and Maximum Apocalypse (2018)—were both excellent, but don’t really have any direct serious game applicability. The other two, however— Construction and Corruption (2017) and Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game (2019)—address an array of issues that we have sometimes explored at PAXsims, namely politics, elections, and public sector corruption.


Construction and Corruption

In Construction and Corruption, three to seven players assume the role of rival contractors undertaking various road repairs in the city of Montréal. Each player seeks to maximize revenue by doing repairs as slowly as possible, but thereby also faces a growing risk of being indicted for corruption. Each turn one player is also elected Mayor, with special powers—or an outsider is elected, triggering investigations. The simple game mechanics don’t really mirror how corruption actually works in public sector tendering, and so I wouldn’t use it to teach about the real thing. However as a trio of Montrealers we had a lot of fun playing it. The ideal group size is probably five.


Pointing is a key part of any game.

Mapmaker is a very simple but very clever game whereby players take turn placing election district boundaries until the electoral map is drawn. The trick is, of course, to build the distracts in a way that will assure your party of victory. The usual gerrymandering techniques—”cracking” districts by spreading out opposition votes to deny rivals a victory and “packing” them by creating a rival-held district with a large number of surplus, wasted votes—both work well in the game, and are indeed the key to victory. Mapmaker works brilliantly as an educational game, which is perhaps why the designers sent free copies to all nine Supreme Court judges in the United States.


Mapmaker underway (those familiar with the game will see we’ve made a slight mistake with the set-up, but it didn’t affect game play).

For a quick and simple introduction to gerrymandering, see this Washington Post video.

Simulations miscellany, Easter weekend edition

As you keep a wary eye out for Easter bunnies and killer rabbits this weekend, here are some recent items on conflict simulations and serious games that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

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At the Wargaming Connection blog, Paul Vebber has been discussing the development of the Fleet Power Project, a  prototype operational naval game currently in beta testing. The project is sponsored by the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, the Navy Warfare Development Command and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center:

Over the next few weeks, I will discuss the development of FBS as we move from the Beta phase to a final product. That product is not a “game” in the shrink wrap sense, but a “toolbox” of related game systems that can be used at various scales (e.g. 24nm, 32nm or 48nm per hex and “Game Days” divided into 8, 6, or 4 operations phases.)

There are provisions for “open” face-to-face play or “closed” umpired play, and 2 main levels of complexity: a “basic” level for scenarios 3-4 days in length, that leaves out many of the complications of logistics and “friction”, and keeps the “chrome” of column shifts and player decisions to a minimum; and an “advanced” level that can theoretical be used for games of a month or more, but is best for about 2 weeks (where higher operational-strategic decision-making issues become significant).

This adaptability is meant to demonstrate the advantages of a manual game over “black box” computer simulations and allow an analyst or educator to tailor the “playability vs detail” to best achieve the objectives desired. The underlying tables for generating “situational awareness” in an area of interest (a radius around an “OpArea” marker), determining if an encounter occurs when units are in proximity to each other, and then resolving engagements that result are set up as a set of linked excel spreadsheets. The hex scale, certain assumptions about how effective units are at the subtasks underlying the “SA, Encounter, Engagement” model, and what the “steps” are between the various “CL’s”[capability levels]  are can be entered as inputs, and the various tables will update themselves.

He also notes:

Fleet Battle School is an operational level game depicting naval operations in the maritime domain. The purpose of the game is to provide a “sandbox” for the exploration of the relationships between naval capabilities, information, and decision-making.

Central to these relationships is an understanding of how the components that make up a Fleet’s combat power can be orchestrated to seize and hold initiative, then exploit it to achieve operational objectives that enable accomplishment of strategic goals.

The game is played at the “high tactical/low operational” meaning you are worried about “major muscle movements” of your forces – where to establish operating areas to patrol or strike from, and when and how you move between them. Unlike “low tactical level” games like Harpoon, where you “drive individual ships around” so as to unmask particular weapons systems, and make specific “Tactical Action Officer” weapons system employment decisions’ in the Fleet Power game system your role is the “Task Force Commander” with a variety of air, surface, subsurface and other assets under your control. You can get out your “1,000 mile screwdriver” and try to get in the cockpit, but the more you do that, the more you compromise your understanding of the “big picture” and making it harder to maintain situational awareness (SA) in your current OpAreas – and contribute to increasing the degree of “friction” within and between your units.

See his posts on the topic so far:

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At GrogHeads, CarrieLynn Reinhard and Brant Guillory offer some insight into “Experiences of Hobby Game Players: Motivations Behind Playing Digital and Non-Digital Games,” based on a survey of game players.


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The TIDES (Transformative Innovation for Development & Emergency Support) website contains a lengthy account by Amy Gorman of last month’s  American Red Cross Global Refugee Simulation and Conference:

This six hour simulation did not completely immerse you into the life of a refugee; the traveling would be longer, the rebels scarier, the threats more tangible, the loss more real, and the future less known. However, it created moments where the participants felt glimpses of the same emotions and concerns that I would imagine a refugee would. It also took us through the steps of a refugee from fleeing to crossing the border to the immersion into refugee camp life. It gave us all an opportunity to gain understanding, respect and empathize more with the people who go through similar situations. It’s one thing to look at refugees from the comfort of a developed nation. It’s something else to be one.

You’ll also find a summary of the event by the American Red Cross here.


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1_123125_2097085_2097294_2100086_040505_hardgames.gif.CROP.original-originalBBC News reports on a recent study that finds that aggression among video game players may be shaped not just by game content, but even more so by the game interface:

Feelings of aggression after playing video games are more likely to be linked to gameplay mechanics rather than violent content, a study suggests.

Researchers carried out a range of tests, including making a non-violent version of popular game Half-Life 2.

Games modified to have counter-intuitive, frustrating controls – leading to feelings of incompetence – produced more aggressive reactions.

The study from the University of Oxford, however, believed it was the first to look at the impact gameplay mechanics had on aggression.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The research sought to establish whether it was violence in games which made players feel more aggressive, or a combination of other factors.

Six separate studies were carried out.

One of them involved modifying Half-Life 2 – a critically-acclaimed, but graphic, shooting title.

The researchers created a modified version in which rather than violently removing enemies, the player would instead “tag” foes who would then evaporate.

This version was tested alongside the normal, violent version.

However, only some of the gamers were given a tutorial before playing the game so they could familiarise themselves with the controls and game mechanics.

The researchers found that it was the players who had not had the tutorial who felt less competent and more aggressive, rather than people who had played the more violent version of the game.

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BBC News also reported back in January that China has introduced a new video game aimed at corruption:

A computer game launched in China encourages players to zap corrupt officials with an electric prod, it appears.

The game appears on the Chinese People’s Daily website – the official news outlet of China’s Communist Party, and is based on the same idea as Whac-A-Mole, the popular 1970s arcade game.

“Everyone has a responsibility to fight corruption and embezzlement!” the game declares. When the action begins, a range of authority figures poke their heads out of one of eight prison cells, and the player has to give them a jolt from their mouse-controlled taser.

Their sins range from greed (an official with a bag of cash) to lust (a drooling bureaucrat in a pink suit). Gamers lose points if they hit virtuous police officers by mistake, however.

It isn’t the first game of its kind. Another, entitled “Incorruptible Fighter”was launched by the Chinese government some seven years ago.


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The University of Roehampton has introduced an online game to help promote its Masters in Public Health programme:

This interactive simulation depicts the aftermath of a major natural disaster and its potentially catastrophic impact on public health. With buildings and infrastructure destroyed in the earthquake, the 30,000 residents of the capital, Lake City, are living in a temporary tent camp by the river. The disease has already claimed its first victims, but nobody can pinpoint the cause of the outbreak.

Although fictitious, Save Manresa depicts a potential scenario you could face when working in the field of public health and shows how people from a diverse range of backgrounds can work together to combat public health issues.

Save Manresa: Public Health Simulation

Are you ready for the challenge?

Put yourself in the drivers seat and help us stop the outbreak in Manresa. Use your skills and understanding to help improve the lives of others. You’ll gain a glimpse into a career in public health – and how you could make a difference in resolving health problems in your community, regardless of your background or experience.

You don’t need any previous knowledge of health issues — your success will be based on your knowledge, reasoning, and sense of judgment. Just choose your team. Decide what actions to take and when. And make the right choices to identify the disease and stop it from spreading. But be quick. The lives of thousands of Manresans are in your hands!

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Michael Peck interviews Sid Meier, designer of the highly successful Civilization series of computer games, at Foreign Policy magazine.

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guns_dice_butter_small_logoUPDATE: Oops, I almost forgot to mention the latest edition (#20) of the Guns, Dice, and Butter podcast.

0:00 Episode Intro and Preview

0:13 Conversation with Phil Eklund, designer of High Frontier, Pax Porfiriana  and 28 other games covering the human (and pre-human) experience.

1:22 War by Other Means: Panel discussion with Jim Doughan, Mark Herman and Brian Train regarding the other “7 M’s”  of warcraft—besides the 3 traditional “M’s” of combat – machetes (irregular), machine guns (conventional) and missles(strategic)—that support the BIG “M” (morale) in making and waging war: message (casus belli – manufacturing it and maintaining it) , media, money, mercenaries (mercs/brownshirts/proxies/little green men), mayhem (attacks on opponents fabric of society), Mi5/Mi6 (spycraft) and Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich (Clausewitz’s “have a good pen” – diplomacy – internal/external).

2:12 Conversation with Brian Train, regarding his recent DTP design on the Ukrainian Crisis and other bits and bobs

2:36 Wrap up: What’s on my wargaming plate (using wargames in school), Eklund’s “Nature bats last”, B.H.Liddell Hart’s “Lenin had a vision of fundamental truth when he said the soundest strategy in war is to postpone operations until the moral disintegration of the enemy renders the delivery of the mortal blow both possible and easy.”, shout-outs and what not.

Brian’s comments include the story of how he and I first met  three decades ago, and then how we re-met via Small Wars Journal. While he recounts our epic micro-armour battles at the UVic Wargaming Club in the early 1980s, he somehow fails to mention our nostalgia game in Montréal last year, the infamous Battle of Namgang (aka “The Battle of the Cauldron of Death”)…

The evolution of the analyst: turning tactical analysts into strategic thinkers

The post below is courtesy of Tom Fisher of Imagenetic simulations, who writes about his recent work developing a simulation for use in training financial intelligence units in strategic analysis.—RB

I knew we were on to someone when, mid-course, a student approached me with a problem.

Tom, we’ve got a problem.  We can’t deal with all these requests for information from the other teams.  We simply don’t have enough time.  There’s so much information we’re having a hard time tracking it all, and some of it is incomplete.  And some members of our team aren’t pulling their own weight.  It’s really frustrating. What should…

That’s when I stopped the analyst-student and said simply: “How is this any different from your real life job?”

With a smile I got the response I was looking for:

Got it.

Last year I was approached by the World Bank to help develop a Strategic Intelligence Analysis Course for the Egmont Group of FIUs (Financial Intelligence Units). My task was to create an interactive, engaging learning experience building on anti-money laundering simulations and training I had created the year before.

The task was daunting, in that the volume of information we’d need had to be large enough in scale to represent a real strategic challenge, yet manageable enough to be meshed into a 5-day course. The training also needed to be country and region neutral since the Egmont Group of FIUs is an international organization with member countries of every ethnicity, creed, religion and political viewpoint.

Pressing forward, I developed a live-action simulation using over 100 real world financial crime cases as inspiration and folded them into a compelling story arc involving 6 fictionalized countries, a number of fully fleshed-out criminal organizations as well as an Eco-terrorist group.

Students were divided into 5 teams each representing a different fictional country with its own particular issues, and full background. The teams were then tasked with presenting, to their FIUs CEO, a 10 minute National Security Threat Analysis, in preparation for an upcoming meeting with their country’s leadership.  The sixth country was used as a sample for our group exercises and training,  but those cases were germane to the overall national security of each country as there were myriad crossover points between the cases as monies, proceeds of crime, influence and resources flowed from country to country.

The students had to develop their analyses using specific structured analytic techniques taught throughout the course (such as those presented in Heuer and Pherson’s Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis), drawing on information from their country’s cases, other countries’ cases (via requests through the simulated-Egmont group secure web), simulated news items and Internet reports (which included false information and red herrings).

Additionally, we introduced a module on critical thinking processes to structure and evolve the analysts’ logic and creative thinking skills.

The greatest challenge in developing the course was assembling the information to be used in the analytic process and balancing that with the allotted class time. There had to be enough of a challenge without completely overwhelming the process.  Fortunately, I was able to draw upon 100+ existing sanitized cases, and adapt them to the world I had created. If I was forced to create these cases from scratch, the process would have taken months of full-time work. As it was, adapting the existing cases, transcribing them and adding the cross-references between the cases was weeks of work, alone. The cases themselves, being real-world examples, we’re inherently believable. They portrayed actual events that had occurred over the past few years. In cross-referencing them, and making the cases coexist in the fictional world, I had to ensure that the connections remained plausible, and reflected the realities of contemporary financial crimes. This, of course, called for research beyond the 100+ cases that were used, and then the creation of an overarching simulation plot to tie everything together.  The plot had to cover not only what the cases had directly covered, but also, where the cases came from, and where the cases were leading.

The next challenge was the creation of believable countries and organizations who were the players upon the simulated world stage. Drawing from existing regional realities, the countries created reflected similarly structured countries without being able to be identified with any one country in particular. This was important because, as stated earlier, the Egmont Group represents FIUs from all over the world, and using real-world countries may have created political discomfort.  This step should not be underestimated. Any successful simulation requires a suspension of disbelief.  That is, the simulation’s “actors” must be able to put themselves in the shoes of the fictional roles they are playing, in this case FIU analysts from a created country. The countries, therefore, had to be completely believable or the simulation would not have worked.  The same must be said for the fictional criminal organizations and terrorist group created as outside actors in the simulation. I had to create completely believable, functional organizations or the sim would have taken on the flavor of a fictionalized story that somehow just isn’t right.

Once all these pieces were put in place, filling out the simulation with news items and some white noise/red herrings was significantly easier. Using the plot structure and outline developed, filling in the pieces was a purely creative process that was able to flow smoothly.

The resulting simulation ran extremely well with near 100% buy-in from the participants (those who were able to suspend disbelief). Presentations were quite good, and we could see a number of analysts embracing the techniques taught and, being able to put them into practice through simulation, improve their analytic processes. The evolution of the analysts was virtually immediate because they were able to put into practice their newly acquired knowledge in the sim environment.

Future improvements will include the creation of selected intel reports based on the sim-countries’ cases. Providing the analysts with more advanced information, and reference intel will raise the bar on expectations, but further reflect the “reality” of the sim by making other materials available. The simulation is a living entity, and just as real-world realities change it, too, must evolve with every iteration,  providing a constant challenge, and creating an even more engaging experience to develop better and better analytic capacity.

(On a side-note, buy-in was so high that each team actually developed, on their own time, national anthems for their fictional countries. When you can achieve that level of dedication, and, frankly, fun, the learning experience and prospects for success are much enhanced.)

Tom Fisher

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