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Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: Darfur

McGill gaming seminar: three projects

This week the students submitted their game projects for my POLI 490 game design seminar, finally bringing the term to an end. One lesson I learned this year is the need to force students into building a prototype earlier, and therefore allowing more time for play-testing. Constant exhortations weren’t enough, and I think all three teams were surprised to discover how long the play-test/revise/play-test/revise cycle can be, and how many bugs there can be to work out.

Still, I was very happy with the results. The conceptual foundations and core game mechanics of all three games were excellent—indeed, there are some potential commercial designs in here. All three teams want to continue to development over the summer and beyond, and possibly show them off at Connections US and/or Connections UK. What’s more, Brian Train has offered to assist with game development—pretty much a dream come true for neophyte political-military game designers.

 

One Belt One Road

One Belt One Road is a semi-cooperative game that examines Chinese grand strategy, focusing on its current efforts to deepen trade and investment ties in Asia, Africa, and onwards to Europe. Players represent the Ministry of Finance and Commerce, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the People’s Liberation Army.  Using financial, diplomatic, and military resources they seek to improve China’s bilateral relations, develop trade agreements, secure military facilities, and—most important of all—secure trade and investment opportunities. An events deck constantly generates new challenges to be overcome, however. Moreover, the three players have slightly different interests, which can impede cooperation.

 

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OBOR Game materials.

 

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Players have a menu of game actions they may take each turn, plus they may also support projects and respond to event cards.

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A game underway.  Eligible projects can be seen at the bottom, current events in the top right. The country displays show current relations with China. India doesn’t seem to be very happy!

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Sample event cards. 

 

 

The Logic of Atrocities: The War in Darfur

This is a mixed area/point-to-point wargame with a twist: the game is designed to show how and why governments and insurgent groups might engage in war crimes, and what might constrain them from doing so. In the game, atrocities can aid military operations, or impede rebel recruitment and resource generation through terror and forced displacement. However atrocities can backfire too. Refugees might themselves become a new source of rebel recruits. Moreover, there is a risk that they could provoke international condemnations, sanctions, or worse. Certain event cards, if triggered, are moved to the “Warn” and “Action” boxes, and if these fill up international action becomes possible. The intended audience here is those interested in mass atrocity prevention. the current version of the game is for two players (Sudan and Darfuri rebel groups), but a planned three player variation will introduce a United Nations player too.

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Game materials for The Logic of Atrocities.

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Sudanese Army (green) and pro-regime Janjaweed irregulars (white) commit atrocities as they advance towards rebel JEM forces that have just seized the town of el-Geneina.

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Sudanese war crimes have provoked condemnation from the United States and African Union—but no real international action action (yet).

 

We Are Coming, Nineveh

The third game is a tactical/operational wargame of the battle for West Mosul in February-July 2017, pitting the Iraqi security forces (and coalition support) against the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS). It too uses a mix of zonal and point-to point movement. Before the game starts, each player invests in capabilities and defensive preparations. On the ISIS side these include such things as tunnel networks, human shields, makeshift drones, primitive chemical weapons, IEDs and VBIEDS, bomb factories, weapons stockpiles, enhanced media capability, spy networks, improved training, human shields, and so forth. Units are depicted by blocks, thus providing for some fog of war, and blocks are rotated to show losses and reduced combat capability. Iraqi headquarters units enable loss recovery, additional movement, or combat bonuses. The terrain is both shaped and coded for urban density, which affects stacking and combat: armoured units, for example, are very effective in open areas, but cannot penetrate the narrow alleyways of the Old City. Major roads provide for faster movement—but only if you’ve cleared the neighbouring areas.

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Game materials for We Are Coming, Nineveh. The Iraqi government offensive has just begun.

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ISIS preparations for this game include human shields, tunnels, improved training, and simple chemical weapons.

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The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (Golden Division) advances towards the Old City while elements of the 9th Armoured Division try to clear the major roads and flank ISIS positions to the west.

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Amnesty International raises concerns that coalition drone strikes are causing excessive civilian casualties.

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Meanwhile, advancing Iraqi forces are harassed by makeshift ISIS drones.

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Iraqi forces begin to break into the Old City along the southern bank of the Tigris River (right), while the 9th Armoured Division continues its flanking operations to secure the major roads and cut off ISIS supplies (left). ISIS fighters continue to appear in Iraqi rear areas (bottom), where they are engaged by troops and police.

McGill gaming update

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It has been a good week for McGill University gaming-related activities.

On Monday and Tuesday, I had a very enjoyable (and, I hope, very productive) couple of days at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems in Alexandria, VA. Much of the time we were discussing the ethics and crisis management simulations IFES is developing to bolster the capacity of election commissions, with the view that it is best to practice these sorts of issues in a safe-to-fail game environment. I also had time to make a more general presentation on the use of simulations and serious games (pdf here). They are a terrific group of skilled and dedicated folks at IFES, and kept me well supplied with coffee and sugary treats.  As you might expect, any place that names its conference rooms after the murder locations in the board game Clue is going to be simulation-and-gaming friendly.

IFES elections

Wednesday was my weekly conflict simulation design seminar at McGill. We discussed aspects of game design (drawing heavily upon Phil Sabin’s excellent book Simulating War), and the students provided an update on the three group projects they are working on:

  • A wargame examining urban warfare in Mosul (2016-17). We had considerable discussion of how best to represent urban terrain, building types and density, urban population, transportation routes, ISIS defences (tunnels, fortified positions, various types of IEDs, human shields), and other elements in the game.
  • A wargame of the war in Darfur. This is intended to educate human rights workers, diplomats, development workers, and military personnel about the political and military logics of mass atrocity, with an eye to developing appropriate ways to deter and respond to them.
  • A strategic diplomatic/economic/military game of China’s One Belt One Road initiative. This is shaping up to be a semi-cooperative game, in which players represent different Chinese actors (for example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People’s Liberation Army, state-owned enterprises, and the Chinese private sector).

We also heard a student presentation on gaming international humanitarian law. This largely looked at efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross to promote greater IHL compliance in video games, including the partnership between ICRC and Bohemian Interactive which saw the release of IHL-themed downloadable content for the ARMA series of tactical first person shooters.

At the end of each seminar, we play a game (or at least part of one, since there is rarely time to finish). This week it was the 3 October 1993  “Lead the Way” scenario from Urban Operations, in which US Rangers and Delta Force personnel try to fight there way through hostile Somali militias to secure the crash site of Super 61 of “Blackhawk Down” fame. The game does a terrific job depicting urban terrain using a combination of hexes (for outside areas) and polygons (for buildings), which is why I had selected it as a demonstration game.

While all seemed to be going well at first for the Rangers, angry Somali crowds began to slow the Americans and growing numbers of Somalia National Alliance militia began to engage US forces. The Combat Search and Rescue team grimly held on at the crash site, using the helicopter wreckage to fortify their position as they drove back waves of attackers. Eventually they started to take casualties and run low on ammunition. Overhead, AH-6 Little Birds provided much-needed fire support, but found it increasingly difficult to get a clear shot at gunmen as the streets grew more crowded with angry local residents. Finally, Somali forces closed in on the Rangers from the west, and a lucky RPG shot took down one American platoon commander and forced the rest of his unit to take cover well short of Super 61.

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The Rangers advance towards the crash site, harassed by angry crowds and SNA gunmen. Minutes later, however, additional militia reinforcements would arrive from the west (left), engaging the rear of the American force.

This week we also finished the annual McGill AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game tournament. This was a optional activity for students in my POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) course, and 28 of them chose to take part as one of four teams. There are class participation bonuses for taking part, for being part of the highest-scoring winning game, and for being a member of the highest scoring individual team. In order to provide a similar level of challenge, and also to optimize teachable moments, the Event deck was prepared before each game to present an identical sequence of challenges and opportunities for each group.

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The results of the 2018 McGill AFTERSHOCK tournament.

This year, two of the games were wins, one was a narrow loss, and other was a more substantial loss. This is the third year I’ve run the game for the class–you’ll find last year’s results here.

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This year’s winning team at work in the 2018 McGill AFTERSHOCK tournament.

Finally, we’ve sold most of the tickets for the DIRE STRAITS megagame at McGill on February 25 (although there are still some available, if you’re interested). The scenario video for the game was posted earlier today here on PAXsims.

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