PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: Dstl

Wargaming positions at Dstl

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The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is looking for three people to join their wargaming team:

These job opportunities are open to UK nationals only and are not open to candidates who hold a dual nationality. The closing date for applications is Sunday, January 14.

The Dstl wargaming team are a terrific bunch, and do some really great work. You’ll find accounts of my visits there here and here.

(Note: we’re just posting the job opportunities on behalf of Dstl, and cannot respond to queries regarding them.)

 

Onward to Victory with Dstl!

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Some of the wargaming team at HMS Victory (left to right: Paul Strong, Mike Bagwell, Colin Marston, me, James Bennett, Mike Young and Major Tom Mouat).

Public release identifier DSTL/PUB103767

In mid-July I was fortunate to spend the better part of a week with the (UK) Defence Science and Technology Laboratory wargaming team at Dstl Portsdown West, near Portsmouth. As with my visit last year, I had a very enjoyable and productive time, exchanging views, discussing challenges and approaches, and generally benefitting from their broad experience. The schedule and pdfs of all my slides are provided below. (The videos have no sound, and are just another way to present the slides.)

20170728_PAXsims Agenda

Monday: Presentations

On the first day of my visit I made four presentations, each of which was followed by broader discussion with the group in attendance. The first of these examined wargaming as an educational (vs analytical) tool [pdf]. In this I discussed the strengths—and potential weaknesses–of serious gaming as an educational and training tool. I emphasized that educational outcomes depended not just on a game’s design, but also how it was used, and how it related to course objectives—the debate over the Statecraft international relations simulation being a case in point. I highlighted four general types of educational games, which I termed “pathway,” “strategy, “perspective,” and ‘fog and friction” games. I noted how the design of these differed from analytical games intended to answer one or more research questions. However, while games should certainly be designed for their intended purpose, I also suggested that practical realities (including limited resources) meant that it might sometimes be necessary or desirable to conduct dual-purpose games that have both analytical and educational dimensions. Much of the rest of the discussion focused on how best to do this without adversely compromising either aspect.

My second presentation [pdf] looked at wargaming unpredictable adversaries (and unreliable allies)—a topic of growing importance given the challenges of global terrorism, North Korean missile and nuclear weapon development, the current crisis in the Gulf Cooperation Council, and similar challenges, coupled with the complications posed by uncertainty in US policy under the Trump Administration, plus Brexit in the European context. Much of my talk drew upon ideas I first raised in an article on the topic at The Strategy Bridge in March. I discussed several possible approaches to representing unpredictability/unreliability in a game, including scripting, stochastic (random) behaviour, responsive variables (with stochastic elements), using the white cell, and two (or more) level games.

After that, attention turned to gaming the semi-cooperative [pdf]. Here we explored the challenge of designing games that are cooperative but retain plenty of room for competition, poor coordination, and friction. This can be done, of course, with game mechanics that offer tangible rewards for both sets of behaviours, such as the dual metric system of (cooperative) “relief points” and (individual) “organization points” in AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. However, I suggested, there are limits to such a utility-maximizing, game theoretical treatment. Designers should also emphasize a psychological approach, whereby player engagement with the game narrative, imperfect information and communication, time pressures, game facilitation, and other methods are used to internalize sources of potential disagreement among the various participants.

The final presentation for the first day explored wargames as experiments [pdf ]. Here I suggested that wargames were rarely proper experiments: idiosyncratic variations between players, the limited number of iterations possible (often only one), and the complex, highly contingent nature of outcomes, all weighed against true experimentation. Nonetheless, some quasi-experimental designs were possible, and wargaming was extremely useful both as a way to generate questions for further study and in the context of efforts to triangulate findings using mixed methods. I pointed to a few techniques that might be used.

I also suggested that we needed more research on wargaming methodologies. One possible way of encouraging this would be to have an annual game design challenge, wherein wargamers would be invited to submit wargames exploring a set topic. This would allow methods and outcomes to be compared. (As Paul Strong pointed out to me, this is something the Society of Ancients already does in the hobby arena, annually refighting an ancient battle using a number of different rule sets.) A Dstl challenge for Connections UK 2018, perhaps?

 

Tuesday: Matrix Gaming and MaGCK

Most of the next two and a half days were taken up with a workshop on basic and advanced matrix game techniques [pdf], including an overview of the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) prototype. For this I was joined by Major Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK), a fellow member of the MaGCK design team. We both found it very useful to get some feedback on the kit and its contents. Most of suggestions we received will be incorporated into the final production version, which will be launched at the Connections UK professional wargaming conference in September.

Day 2 also featured a presentation on gaming foreign policy [pdf]. This examined the value of serious gaming for training and policy analysis, and reviewed some of the work colleagues and I had done over the years gaming various aspects of conflict and peacebuilding in the Middle East.

At the end of the day we sat down to play A Reckoning of Vultures, one of the sample matrix games included in MaGCK:

A Reckoning of Vultures is set in the capital of the fictional Republic of Matrixia.

There, in the ornate Presidential Palace, surrounded by his most loyal Presidential Guards, the President-for-Life is on his death-bed—and various power-hungry factions are jostling to take power themselves.

Once the President passes, competition between these would-be successors will escalate to open conflict, until the Central Committee of the Ruling Party can meet and agree on a new leader

The Central Security and Intelligence Directorate (CSID) are Matrixia’s shadowy—and much-feared—secret police, responsible for maintaining a close watch on both dissidents and potential rival power centres within the regime. Although lacking large numbers of armed personnel, covert CSID operatives are well-placed to blackmail, influence, sabotage, subvert, or spy.

The Matrixian Armed Forces can call upon large numbers of military personnel located in three major military bases around the capital. Inter-service rivalries and the influence of other factions may mean, however, that not all MAF units are loyal or obey orders.

The Ministry of the Interior has authority over police and emergency services personnel in the capital. Although MoI units are well-positioned across the city, most are inferior in combat capability to those of the regular military.

Much of what happens in Matrixia is manipulated by a group of rich and powerful Oligarchs, who both control much of the business sector and have deep ties to the country’s major criminal syndicates. Although they have only a few private security guards and mercenaries to safeguard their position, they have considerable wealth that can be used further their political ambitions.

The National Union of Toilers represents the downtrodden workers of the country. NUT hopes to mobilize the masses and advance their political agenda through strikes, demonstrations, and direct action. If they can arm some of their followers and form a workers’ militia, they could become very powerful indeed.

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Things heat up in the capital of Matrixia (left to right: me, Colin Marston, Mike Larner and Major Tom Mouat).

In this particular case, our game involved a dead President (of course); student protests, which were soon crushed by hired thugs; an amphibious landing by MAF marines to wrest control of the port; a failed airborne landing at the worker-controlled oil refinery; a spectacularly unsuccessful jailbreak (in which unguarded prisoners preferred to stay in their cells than follow the revolutionary NUT leader); sabotage of the Ministry of Information communications system; bombing of the civilian airport by government jets; a dramatic face-off outside the Presidential Palace, in which tanks were vanquished by protesters (presumably through moral suasion rather than any sort of inherent anti-armour capability); and a closely fought vote for supremacy in the Central Committee of the Ruling Party. While it was all good fun, the scenario—as intended—demonstrated a variety of different matrix game techniques. Moreover, it was possible to relate most of the game events to real life coups and succession struggles in Syria, Egypt, Turkey, and elsewhere.

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There was pointing too. No wargame is complete without much high-quality pointing.

 

Wednesday: More matrix gaming, and a dockyard tour

For me, one of the most interesting part of the programme was the opportunity to develop a matrix wargame from scratch with members of the Dstl staff, as a way of exploring matrix gaming and game design more broadly. The choice of topic was left up to me, so as a Middle East analyst I chose a possible future conflict between Israel and Hizbullah. After an overview of key aspects of the issue [pdf], we all set to work for a couple of hours. The result was a game design with four actors (Israel, Hizbullah, the Lebanese government, and civilians fleeing the fighting). Reflecting the complex, multi-sided character of Lebanese politics, the Lebanese government randomly determined each turn whether its actions reflected a common national interest, or the interests of a particular political or sectarian group. The civilian player represented the interests of Israeli and Lebanese civilians alike, and their actions offered an interesting way to model the safety-seeking behavior of local populations in wartime.

During peacetime phase, Israel and Hizbullah would each take one action each per turn, while the Lebanese government and civilians could take one action total during the entire phase. Once major fighting started, Israel and Hizbullah received two actions per turn (one military, one non-military), while the Lebanese government and civilians received one each. The war would continue until a ceasefire was agreed to by the parties, or the domestic support level of one of the belligerents fell to zero.

After all this it was down to Portsmouth, where we went on a specially-arranged tour of HMS St. Albans, a Type-23 Royal Navy frigate. Members of the crew were very ­informative—especially the watch officer who showed us around, and the senior engineering rating who offered a detailed look around the engineering control room and engine room (my first opportunity to get up close and personal with a Rolls-Royce Marine Spey gas turbine). The Dstl team later presented me with a copy of the ship’s crest—a lovely gift, even more so because it had been signed by everyone. We also had some time to see HMS Victory at the Historic Dockyard. Appropriately enough, dinner that evening was at the officer’s mess at HMS Nelson (Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Portsmouth), where–in the best traditions of the empire–it was curry night.

Finally, I spent a couple of hours that night, putting together a playable version of our prototype Israel-Hizbullah game, writing up rules and player briefings and using components from MaGCK.

 

Thursday: Playtesting and game design

The morning of Day 4, we playtested the Israel-Hizbullah matrix game. The game featured two distinct phases. The first depicted growing tensions, with a major arms build-up by Hizbullah, Israeli bombing of one particularly significant weapons shipment through Syria, the successful Israeli assassination of a senior Hizbullah military commander, and an ominous border incident. A system of random event cards left players the option of initiating conflict (at a political cost), or waiting for events to make it inevitable.

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The Israel-Hizbullag game being playtested. The white tokens are all civilians at risk, controlled by the civilian team. The map was made by simply drawing on an acetate overlay of a Lebanon map, while all other components were quickly assembled using MaGCK: Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Finally, the war came. Israel, which had already called up a substantial number of reservists for a planned military exercise, crossed the Lebanese border on a wide front, hoping to destroy most of the estimated 150,000 rockets Hizbullah had amassed in southern Lebanon. Going was slow, however, with Hizbullah forces making good use of the terrain, minefields, bunkers, ATGMs, and the combat experience it had gained in the 2006 war, the Syrian civil war, and elsewhere. However, most efforts by the Shiite militia to score a major propaganda victory—for example, by downing an IDF helicopter laden with troops—were largely unsuccessful.

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Contemplating the situation in Lebanon (left to right: Lt Cdr James Winsor, Stephen Ho and Ben Short).

The Lebanese government pressed for a ceasefire, and was ultimately successful in seeing a draft resolution tabled at the United Nations Security Council with the support of Russia, China, and the European Union. The Trump Administration, however, was sympathetic to the Israeli operation, and vetoed the resolution to give the IDF more time to achieve its objectives.

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Tom Mouat’s notes from the Israel-Hizbullah game.

There we had to end the playtest–Israel was narrowly ahead on points, but Shiite support for Hizbullah was high, and there was little evidence that the group had suffered a fundamental setback.

Later that day I made my final presentation for the week, on gaming corruption [pdf]. I differentiated between three levels at which corruption might be represented in a game: as a complicating factor largely beyond the control of players (represented by some limit or random event); as significant secondary dynamic that players could interact with and affect (as in Mission Zhobia);  and finally as the primary focus of the game. In the case of the latter I drew upon the serious games that Tom Fisher has developed for the World Bank and Egmont Group on money-laundering and anti-corruption efforts.

Last but far from least, the final part of Thursday was spent in an extended discussion of possible design elements for a project that Dstl is currently working on. I can’t disclose the topic or participants, but can say that our discussion addressed a variety interesting issues regarding:

  • in-game communication, including the constraints imposed by classified material
  • using the red cell in a way that both offers red “the freedom to win,” yet assures that game stays on course for its analytical or experiential purpose
  • employing subject matter experts (and keeping them sufficiently busy and engaged)
  • determining the level of military fidelity necessary (and deciding what of this should be communicated to the players)
  • the use and abuse of marker tracks and metrics
  • generating narrative engagement and immersion

 


 

With that, my visit to Dstl came to an end. It was enormously valuable to me to have had the opportunity to share ideas and insights with such a talented group of wargamers and defence analysts—and in a casual setting conducive to frank discussion, innovation, more than a few cups of tea, and a great deal of fun. I’m very grateful to Colin Marston and the rest of the team for their hospitality, as well as their support for the MaGCK project.

For those of you who want to try A Reckoning of Vultures or the Israel-Hizbullah War 201? matrix games, we will be running both during the games fair at Connections UK in September.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matrix game construction kit update #3

We have just had some of the components for the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) prototype back from the printers, and we are very happy with the result.

MaGCK will contain one set of map tiles, used for A Reckoning of Vultures—a game of coup plotting, political skullduggery, and presidential succession.

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Part of the map for A Reckoning of Vultures. The system of tokens and stickers used in MaGCK allows for a deal of customization—here we see political leader, police, a SWAT team, riot police, helicopter, firefighters, an ambulance, and a doctor. MaGCK will contain several hundred stickers and designs,

On the flip side of these there are generic urban tiles. These have isomorphic road connections, allowing them to be assembled in many different ways.

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Generic urban terrain. By “many different ways” we mean to say that the map tiles can be assembled in more than 2.6 nonillion (10^30) different ways.

The kit also contains ten two-sided game tracks, which you can use for anything you want: tracking time, moves, die roll modifiers, and so forth.

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All of this is due to the graphics wizardry of PAXsim’s very own Tom Fisher, of course.

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Tom examines the latest components at my dining room table.

Many thanks to Dstl for supporting the project. Tom Mouat and I be reviewing the contents with them next month, and hope to do a public launch of MaGCK in September at the Connections UK professional wargaming conference.

You’ll find previous updates here:

MaGCK will also contain two scenarios for the ISIS Crisis matrix game, which we’ve written about extensively at PAXsims.

UPDATE:

Even more goodies arrived today! Here you can see the box, tokens, and some of the stickers.

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Prototype box, plus blank tokens (to which stickers are attached to indicate units, assets, effects, etc.), disks (used to track supply, turns, political influence—or whatever else you want), and dice.

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No gaming system would be complete without its supply of thugs (or armed civilians, survivalists, militia, or criminals). These stickers would be fixed to the coloured tokens above.

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Some of the box contents (minus rules, scenario briefings, tracking mats).

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Pssst, need some stickers for your next matrix game?

 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 2 June 2017

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PAXsims is pleased to present a number of items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. James Sterrett contributed to this latest edition.

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pic859584_md.jpgAt First Person Scholar, Jeremy Antley discusses “Remodeling the Labyrinth: Player-Led Efforts to Update GMT’s War on Terror Wargame.” Specifically he explores how players proposed and undertook updates of Volko Ruhnke’s wargame Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001- (GMT Games, 2010) during and after regional politics in the Middle East were reshaped by the “Arab Spring” of 2011—notably through online discussions at BoardGameGeek and ConsimWorld. He focuses particular attention on the use of event cards as a game mechanism, a representation of history, and focus of player discussions:

While event cards comprise only a portion of the materials found in Labyrinth, their role as abstracted arbiters of reality sustains and reinforces the simulative model to a degree not matched by other elements.  This, combined with their extra-legal nature, allows designers and players alike to utilize event cards for the purpose of injecting their own augmentative or corrective point of view.  Because wargames emphasize the production of knowledge from play, this means that event cards need to distill their subjects using montage, and ensure that the resulting creations act as epistemic reservoirs in service to the operation of Labyrinth’s model.  Debates over player-created event cards such as ‘Curveball’ and ‘Snowden’ reveal the seriousness behind getting this process right.  That players focused their efforts on crafting new event cards to update perceived deficiencies in Labyrinth’s original model speaks volumes to the expectations held by these players in relation to the wargames they play.  Time spent with a wargame’s simulative model is expected to be productive.  Creating new event cards became, in this regard, not only preferable but also essential if Labyrinth players wanted their games to keep pace with current events.

You’ll find a PAXsims review of the game here. GMT Games subsequently published an expansion/update by Trevor Bender and Volko Ruhnke, Labyrinth: The Awakening, 2010– ? (2016). This is still sitting on my bookshelf, awaiting play—and when I do I’ll certainly post a review to PAXsims.

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At the Active Learning in Political Science blog there is some interesting discussion of emotion, engagement, immersion, and empathy in simulations.

Simon Usherwood first raised the issue in the immediate aftermath of the Manchester terrorist attack. This prompted Chad Raymond to note the problem of students acting too rationally and technocratically in a recent South China Sea simulation:

It is very difficult to get students to understand, in a self perspective-altering rather than an I-remember-what-the-book-said way, the emotional and psychological dimensions of political behavior. Simulations, though they often touted as effective at generating this kind of learning, may not be any better at this than other methods. My own attempts at empirically validating these kinds of outcomes with several different teaching methods have pretty much been failures. How do you get the typical American college student — often an 18- or 19-year old who has never traveled internationally nor has a deep relationship with anyone outside of his or her particular ethnic group or socioeconomic bracket — to temporarily step outside of his or her own feelings and experience what it’s like to be someone else?

Finally, Usherwood returns to the question, and suggests three potential solutions:

First option is to drown the students in detail. Chad’s only given his students a handful of things to think about/work with, so it’s understandable that they focus on these. If you’ve got the time and space, then giving them a whole lot more to handle/juggle makes it much harder for them to act rationally.

Which leads logically to the second option: starving the students. In Chad’s case, that might mean not even giving them what he has done, so that they come to it much more impressionistically and irrationally.

His third option—to “ju-jitsu your way out“—involves building on, modifying, and learning from what others have done:

So if you’re struggling to make your simulation work, why not look around at what others are doing and see if you can get their thing to work for you. If you’re not feeling so sharing-y, then you can also reflect on the other things you do: that’s how I developed the parliament game over its iterations, with its purpose being constructed backwards from what it actually did (which wasn’t what I’d set out to do).

We heartily agree.

On this same subject, this is a great time to recommend—not for the first time—the seminal 2011 Naval War College Review article by Peter Perla and ED McGrady, “Why Wargaming Works.”

We propose the idea that gaming’s transformative power grows out of its particular connections to storytelling; we find in a combination of elements from traditional narrative theory and contemporary neuroscience the germ of our thesis—that gaming, as a story-living experience, engages the human brain, and hence the human being participating in a game, in ways more akin to real-life experience than to reading a novel or watching a video. By creating for its participants a synthetic experience, gaming gives them palpable and powerful insights that help them prepare better for dealing with complex and uncertain situations in the future. We contend that the use of gaming to transform individual participants—in particular, key decision makers—is an important, indeed essential, source of successful organiza- tional and societal adaptation to that uncertain future….

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In March the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education held its annual “Atlantic Promise” field exercise:

This year’s exercise scenario allowed students to become members of a fictitious humanitarian assistance organization and assist a population in conflict after a Category 4 hurricane. The exercise purposely combines students from different schools to build interpersonal relationships, teamwork, and negotiation skills under stressful situations.

Students from Tulane University were among those who participated, and there’s a short account of their experiences on the university website.

The simulation will next be run in November, retitled “Coastal Hope.”

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The latest issue of ICONS News contains, among other items, a link to their latest promotional video.

The video contains sultry narrative tones of PAXsims associate editor Devin Ellis, so it’s obviously not to be missed! The ICONS Project can be found here.

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On the subject of newsletters, the Spring 2017 update from the World Peace game is also available.

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Last month the US Naval War College reported on a technology upgrade to its wargaming:

The capstone wargame for international students at U.S. Naval War College (NWC) has undergone a huge improvement this year, replacing oversized game boards and ‘paper ship’ game pieces with a new computer application that uses touch-screen technology and allows multiple player usage.

The 65 students taking the intermediate-level course through the Naval Staff College (NSC) are now using cutting-edge technology in their annual year-end event, which took place May 5.

NSC courses are composed predominately of international students who were divided into Blue and Gold coalition teams that crowded the wargame floor to compete.

The wargame was introduced as the final event of the academic calendar for the class three years ago. The purpose of the game is to allow students to put the theories of operational planning that they have learned at the college into practical use.

“This game is a culmination of the academics the students have learned during the year with concentration on military planning, communication, cooperation and leadership,” said Jeff Landsman, game director and associate professor in NWC’s Wargaming Department. “We bring all of these concepts into a practical exercise, allowing the students to work in an experiential and knowledge-based setting. Additionally, the new technology lets the wargaming faculty execute a more interactive and efficient game.”

Developing the new computer simulation started after last year’s game. The project really starting taking shape in the new year.

“The game was pretty much created from scratch. We customized the [game] grid and a few of the other components,” said Anthony Rocchio, lead program developer for the simulation. “It really came together in the last couple months. The scoring function was started on Tuesday and finished Wednesday, for instance.”

The two coalitions then conducted separate planning sessions and briefed their respective courses of action (COAs) to the Wargaming Department faculty. These COAs were then executed during game play.

“This innovative, current, computer-based simulation more accurately reflects real-world situations that the students could face as they operate in the joint maritime environment,” said Landsman.

The application also allows a simultaneous feed of the results of the game into the two teams’ planning groups so they can plan future moves with better, more updated information.

The new computer-based simulation has many other advantages, according to Landsman.

“The new simulation brings a better understanding of the operational and strategic level complexities, barriers and collaboration when applying national and multinational sea power,” he said. “They get a better look at decision making, leadership, theater complexities, and joint and combined maritime operations. This is a very valuable upgrade for the students.”

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Brian Train went to the US Army War College a few weeks ago, and you’ll find his report here.

Fortunately for me, he also showed up at the annual CanGames gaming convention in Ottawa a few days later.

PAXsims

Back in March, Gamasutra featured a discussion of This War of Mine (which James Sterrett reviewed back in 2014 for PAXsims).

The boardgame version of This War of Mine, launched as a Kickstarter project, has just been shipped—and I’m eagerly awaiting mine. I’ll review it as soon as it arrives and I find time to give it a try.

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Observant readers will notice this “finding time to play” is becoming a bit of a theme—largely because I have so many game projects on the go. These include the Matrix Game Construction Kit (or MaGCK), together with PAXsims collaborators Tom Fisher and Tom Mouat; the Montreal edition of the July 1 wide-area megagame, Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos (UNSOC); a variety of game-related presentations in a repeat appearance at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) next month; codesigning a South China Sea game with Jim Wallman for Connections UK in September (unlike UNSOC, this one should be zombie-free); and another crisis game for a government client in the fall (again, with Tom Fisher).

So many games, so little time…

Reflections on the wargame spectrum

Colin Marston (Dstl) passed on to me some slides (public domain identifier PUB098428) presented at the recent MORS wargaming special meeting which address the range of wargaming approaches and methodology. Given the growing interest in wargaming—what it is, what it can do, and how it might do it—I thought they would be of interest to PAXsim readers. I’ve also inserted a few thoughts of my own.

You’ll find the full set of slides here here (ppt) and here (pdf).

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The first set of slide suggests that wargames can be differentiated by the level of analysis (strategic vs operational, vs tactical), by the nature of the problem (bounded and clear, or wicked and messy), and by the type of adjudication used (open/free versus rigid and rules-based). I would have probably listed the adjudication issue last, because the choice of appropriate methodology can really only be made once you are clear on what sorts of question(s) you are trying to answer.

The slides don’t say much about purpose. Elsewhere, Graham Longley-Brown does so, noting the divide between analytical and training/education games:

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While that differentiation is useful because it points to important differences in purpose and hence design, I’ll admit that I’ve been increasingly interested in the extent to which we might be able to develop hybrid games—that is, wargames that serve an education/training function, but in which participants are also generating data that is of analytical value too. My own Brynania civil war/peacebuilding game at McGill, for example, is designed for educational purposes but has now been used to generate data for two PhD theses (one on terrorist violence, the other on educational gaming). While there’s a risk of compromising analytical rigour or educational effectiveness in doing this, it could also provide a useful way of stretching limited resources.

The Dstl presentation goes on to discuss which game approaches are often of value in which contexts:

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Here they comment:

On this slide the top blue line represents the different levels within the problem space.  The red, middle line represents types of adjudication.  The bottom green line indicates the different levels of complexity.  On top of these axes we have the types of wargames that we employ in Dstl and across the MOD.  Please note that these techniques are not limited to their positions on the axes.  We find that the techniques on the left of the spectrum generally provide more opportunity for original thought and creativity (imagination). In addition, methods at this end of the spectrum generally provide an opportunity for doing lots of Courses of Action with little depth – so essentially short games that might last a couple of hours to a day.  The methods on the right can provide increasing depth, but are often slower to set up and run. These methods generally employ more rigorous and precise techniques – although that does not necessarily mean that they give more accurate outputs.  All of these approaches have their merits, some being better at trying to answer certain questions than others. So, when appropriate, we try to use a combination of different approaches.

They also identify some “essential elements” of a wargame:

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Now, the type of game that we use is just one part of the process. This slide highlights the other factors that we need to consider. There’s no fixed order in the way we tackle these – it’s an iterative process and depends on the question.

The wargame is not the simulation. The simulation is but a subset of a wargame.

Effective communication and transparency are crucial throughout the whole of the wargaming process and it is crucial that everyone – from the players to the customers – are involved at the relevant stages.

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The optimal approach to providing decision-support is often to fuse the information pertaining from both human-in-the-loop and non-human-in-the-loop techniques.

There are many different types of wargames and careful consideration should be given as to which type, or types, of game are most appropriate for a particular problem.  Also wargaming should often NOT be used in isolation but as part of a broader analytical tool and / or iterative process that incorporates a range of different techniques.

Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section.

Dstl wargaming trip report (or, I visited Portsdown West and all I got was this lousy mug)

Last month I visited the UK for a week of discussions on professional wargaming. My trip report has now been cleared for publication (public release identifier DSTL/PUB097079), and I’m pleased to present it below. It was a terrific visit as you’ll see!


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 Dstl Day 1: Wargaming and its challenges

In late June I spent a week as a guest of Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), at their Portsdown West campus near Portsmouth. Dstl is an executive agency, sponsored by the Ministry of Defence. Dstl ensures that “innovative science and technology contribute to the defence and security of the UK.”

Dstl responsibilities include:

  • supplying sensitive and specialist science and technology services for MOD and wider government
  • providing and facilitating expert advice, analysis and assurance on defence procurement
  • leading on the MOD’s science and technology programme
  • understanding risks and opportunities through horizon-scanning
  • acting as a trusted interface between MOD, wider government, the private sector and academia to provide science and technology support to military operations by the UK and her allies
  • championing and developing science and technology skills across MOD

I was hosted by Dstl’s Wargaming Team, the team having recently been described in a memo to the UK MOD Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff as: “an MOD S&T asset responsible for enabling MOD’s wider wargaming activity”.

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Since WWII, Dstl and its predecessors have had a good track record of delivering wargames, mainly in support of decision support and operations. One of the current challenges for the team is determining how best to reinvigorate, and grow, a wargaming capability (a combination of people, processes, and tools) that can respond to the high levels of customer interest and demand. One of the ways that the team is tackling this problem is by capitalising on external expertise, in particular academic staff who specialise in, and have a passion for, topics such as political science coupled with game design.

They certainly kept me busy, with four and a half full days of lectures, workshops, and discussions on various aspects of wargaming.

I started on Monday with a presentation on The Social Science of Gaming in which I presented ten sets of findings from social science research that I thought had important implications for wargame design and implementation. Since this was a first draft of my September keynote address at the Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference, I won’t spoil the surprise by posting the lecture slides here—instead, you’ll have to come to King’s College London in a month’s time.

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Next, I was asked to give a brief on A Personal Journey Through (Sometimes) Serious Gaming, in which I discussed may own background first as a wargaming hobbyist and later as a social scientists using serious games to support teaching and analysis. [slides here]. Among the highlights was a satellite photo of the exact location in a British schoolyard where, in the autumn of 1975, I met my first two fellow teen wargamers, David Knowles and Matthew Hayward. The legendary (to us) Lymington and District Wargames Club would be born soon thereafter.

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In the afternoon attention turned to a presentation entitled Blessed are the Cheesemakers: The Challenges of Gaming Information Operations [slides here]. The title of the talk was a reference to a memorable scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and I was happy to be speaking in a place where most of the audience recognized it. I offered some thoughts on gaming IOs: either as an adjunct to another, generally, kinetic process, or as a primary focus (focusing either on their employment, as part a process, or in an effort to develop content).

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Information and influence, I noted, were part of highly contextual social and political processes that were often poorly understood, so I was a bit dubious about placing a great deal of weight on the specific outputs of IO-focused games.

Instead, I suggested, such games should largely be valued for their heuristic value in generating greater critical awareness of the role, potential, limitations, and difficulties of information and influence operations. Members of the audience also offered a great deal of useful insight into the issue, based on their own experience. As with almost all my sessions at Dstl I may have taken away far more from the conversation than I ever contributed.

The final session was devoted to Managing Player and Client Engagement: Skeptics, Seekers, and Enthusiasts [slides here].

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I had more to say on the player end than with regard to clients, since in many cases I’m my own client or have been given very free reign to design a game as I see fit. Much of the discussion ended up focusing on problems—such as unwillingness of players, especially senior players, to risk losing—and how they might be dealt with. Not for the first time I argued that managing players and game facilitation was a skill more closely related to roleplaying games than conventional hobby wargaming—a point that I really need to develop into a full PAXsims post sometime. I learned a lot from the experiences and approaches that were shared by members of Dstl, and there were certainly several ideas that I’ll add to my game design and facilitation toolkit.

 

Dstl Day 2: Daesh and matrix gaming

The second day of my visit involved a game of the ISIS Crisis matrix game, followed by an extended discussion of the potential use of matrix game methods for educational and analytical gaming. Major Tom Mouat—who developed most of the materials for the game—was there too.

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The game itself was insightful. The Iraqi government tried to launch a systematic campaign to advance north towards Mosul, but found itself stymied by poor coordination with supposed allies, ISIS terrorism, Iranian heavy-handedness, and internal tensions. The Kurds did well and finally manage to secure some extra heavy weapons from the US, but advanced little beyond their start positions. One US air strike in support of the Iraqi government went very wrong, exacerbating Sunni anger and causing a brief hiatus in the tempo of American operations. Iran, concerned that the Iraqi cabinet was insufficiently compliant, sponsored a proliferation of Shiite militias under its direct control. Although ISIS lost some of the territory under its control, it was able to use US and Iranian actions to spur additional recruitment. Finally, the Sunni opposition eventually rose up against ISIS and supported the central government’s military campaign, but at the cost of increasing tension with the Shiite militias. This finally erupted into open sectarian fighting when Iranian-backed militias undertook security operations in the capital against suspected Sunni insurgents.

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After lunch, the post-game session was perhaps the richest and most valuable discussion of matrix gaming methods and applications that I’ve ever participated in. Among the topics we collectively addressed were:

  • Variations in format, including larger games with team dynamics (as I used last month at MIGS), games where a team leader selects from multiple potential courses of action proposed by team members (thus increasing the number of possible COAs (Course Of Actions) generated), distributed games, interlinked games, and matrix games used as an element of other, more traditional wargames.
  • Facilitator skills and requirements for subject matter expertise.
  • Suitability for various audiences.
  • Variations in adjudication methods.
  • Representation of kinetic and non-kinetic activity in matrix games.
  • Suitability for various topics recently wargamed by Dstl.
  • The value of developing a generic “matrix game construction kit” with basic components.

 

Dstl Day 3: AFTERSHOCK , humanitarian assistance, aid, and stabilization

The third day of activities at Dstl revolved around gaming issues of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR). We started with a game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis. The players secured a modest success in dealing with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in fictional Carana. The NGO team did particularly well in racking up “organization points” (reflecting public profile and political capital), although their single-minded focus on shelter projects caused some friction with other teams. The HADR Task Force had successfully withdrawn almost all their personnel by the time the game ended, and the government—although politically vulnerable to the end—utilized its informal aid distribution networks to good effect, while managing to contain or defuse any social discontent. Needs assessments proved particularly important in identifying emerging needs and challenges.

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Later that same day I made a presentation on the considerations that had informed the design of AFTERSHOCK, as well as the various ways in which in might be used [slides here].

My other presentation this day was on Aid, Stabilization, and COIN (COunter INsurgency) [slides here]. In it I warned that many of the key assumptions of COIN doctrine—namely that victory is about legitimacy; poverty and unemployment generates support for armed opposition; legitimacy is about the delivery of core government services; patronage and corruption is bad; and that we know what we’re doing—were contingent relationships. Because of this, COIN doctrine, while a useful guide to what might work most of the time in most places, does not always provide useful guidance all of the time in all places. This suggests a vital need to promote critical thinking and a willingness to modify views and approaches. I particularly stressed the importance of avoiding hubris, and the powerful (often overriding) effects that politics among local actors has on outcomes.

 

Dstl Day 4: Hybrid Warfare and Measures Short of War

Thursday was hybrid warfare day at Dstl. I offered some thoughts [slides] on the notion of hybrid warfare, arguing that most warfare was hybrid and that conflict activities across a broad spectrum were hardly new. (Later I suggested that the term had come to mean “challenges from opponents that we did not anticipate, plus things we once did that we’ve forgotten how to do.” We also identified some of the things that are commonly identified as part of hybrid warfare.

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After this, we spent the rest of the day playing a few turns of three different games. Each of these explored the topic from different perspectives using a different gaming system: LTC David Barsness’ Kaliningrad 2017 (a matrix game), Brian Train’s Ukrainian Crisis (a more traditional rules/assets/area-movement wargame), and Volko Ruhnke’s Labyrinth (a card-driven game).

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Kaliningrad 2017

In the matrix game, players were limited only by real-world capabilities in taking potential actions across the diplomatic/information/military/economic (DIME) spectrum. This approach certainly encouraged greater innovation by players, although at the cost of a single action per turn. Kaliningrad 2017 uses a number of marker tracks to measure the game effects of global opinion, nuclear escalation, and a refugee crisis, and this sparked discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach compared to the simpler design of ISIS Crisis. Generally I’m of the view that “less is more” in matrix games, and that marker tracks can risk excessively focusing player activities in a certain area.

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Ukrainian Crisis

Ukrainian Crisis builds on more explicit models and assumptions than does a matrix game. Here the analytical value is not in thinking of new applications of power (since these are predetermined in the rules), but rather discovering how the subsystems and constituent parts of a conflict might interact. Labyrinth also contains an established game model, with the cards being used both to drive these and to insert various capabilities and events. Conventional wargames can certainly do a better job of modeling combat operations than an argument-based matrix games, although they may have difficulty addressing innovation adaptation, or complex political and economic consequences arising from kinetic actions.

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Labyrinth

Because of this, I am of the view that a matrix game often offers the best way of exploring broad issues of hybrid warfare, although more detailed examination of particular domain areas could benefit from a more rigorous rules- and models-based approach. A matrix game could also be combined with another gaming approach, with the former perhaps best suited for the diplomatic/information/economic aspects, while the latter could address kinetic military activities. I also think the nature of the topic lends itself well to multimodal examination, whereby the same scenario is explored using several different gaming methodologies, each offering somewhat different insights.

Ironically, one of the problems of a matrix game approach is that it does not require a great deal of preparation, nor need it involve a great deal of materials and complexity. This makes it an unattractive proposition for defence contractors and consultants since product creation and delivery generates relatively few billable hours. Similarly, a sponsor may feel that it does not seem enough of a tangible product compared with a more complex, traditional wargame.

 

Dstl Day 5: Gaming wicked and messy problems

During my final day at Dstl we looked at gaming “wicked” and “messy” problems, with a particular emphasis on mass migration and refugee crises. The concept of wicked problems (first developed in 1973 by Rittel and Webber) addresses planning issues that are characterized by ten key characteristics:

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good or bad.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
  10. The social planner has no right to be wrong (i.e., planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).

“Messy problems,” on the other hand, are rooted in complex adaptive systems wherein the key variables and the relationships between them are unclear or poorly understood, and in which adaptive subsystems seek to survive environmental change.

After a very brief introduction to the topic [slides], I highlighted a number of refugee and migration games I have either (co)designed or played:

Two of these (marked * above) were not really proper games or simulations, but rather had used game mechanisms to help motivate players.

Thereafter, we turned our attentions to identifying a migration-related topic that could be usefully gamed. After identifying the audience and purpose of such a game, we spent the duration of the session brainstorming game ideas. Some very good ideas emerged for a matrix game involving major European actors (Germany, Italy, the Balkan republics), possibly Turkey, the United Nations, an “other actors/subject matter expert” player, and the migrants themselves.

The migrant player would start the game with a “migrant deck “of economic migrants and refugees that they would seek to move into Europe. These would be played face down, with the identity of the migrant revealed only when they reached a final destination , were otherwise prevented from doing so, or died—the purpose being to personalize the otherwise faceless statistic of migrant numbers. (Tom Mouat subsequently made up a set of these, which you can download via PAXsims here.)

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Source: Business Insider, 15 September 2015.

Other players would react to migrant flows in appropriate ways. National politics would be addressed by having each country played by a team representing political parties with differing interests and objectives, so that team members were essentially in competition with each other. Much like MIGS versions of ISIS Crisis, this would allow for a game-within-the-matrix-game approach.

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Left to Right: Ruby Tabner, Stephen Ho, Me, Colin Marston and Mike Bagwell

The final day ended with a visit to Southwick House to visit the D-Day map room, followed by a pub lunch.

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All-in-all it was an absolutely terrific visit that generated some excellent discussions and ideas regarding (war)gaming methodologies. Colin Marston and the others at Dstl were excellent hosts, and I even got a Portsdown West Wargaming Suite coffee mug out of the deal! I’m very grateful to Tom Mouat for helping out too. I’ll certainly look forward to seeing many of my UK counterparts again at the Connections UK conference in September.

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Back home, with my mug.

 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 29 May 2016

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Ryan Kuhns provided material for this latest edition.

PAXsims

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The Spanish Civil War, 1936-39 (GMT Games, 2010).

The Catalan Journal of Communication and Cultural Studies 8, 1 (April 2016) contains an article by Juan Luis Gonzalo Iglesia (Universitat Rovira i Virgili) “Simulating history in contemporary board games: The case of the Spanish Civil War.”

This article examines the structure of simulation of two recently published analogic war games on the Spanish Civil War in order to analyse the ways in which they represent the history of the Spanish conflict. The study places the board games as an object of analysis within the field of Game Studies and then undertakes a search of which elements used in the study of video games can be used to approach the analysis of historical board games. The analysis of the ludic structure of these games shows a Civil War initially focused on the chaos on the Republican side, followed by the progression towards the professionalization and militarization of the conflict as the only path to victory. The study shows that the elements of the ludic macrostructure become the means used by the game to delimit the simulation of history, before going on to reflect on the theoretical and cultural implications of this condition.

More specifically, we will analyse two war games created by Spanish designers that have been recently published by two American companies that specialize in war games and games of historic simulation. The games are The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939 (TSCW) designed by Javier Romero and published by GMT Games in 2010 (Romero 2010) and Crusade and Revolution: The Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 (C&R), designed by David Gómez Relloso and published by Compass Games in 2013 (Gómez Relloso 2013): this product is based on World War I game Paths of Glory, published in 1999.

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Crusade and Revolution: The Spanish Civil War, 1936-39 (Compass Games, 2013).

As to the author’s conclusions, I will quote these at lengths for readers who are unable to access the (paywalled) article:

This study belongs to the body of literature that analyses the construction of the narrative contained within games, in particular within board games. We have shown that the theory and methodology of Games Studies can also be used to analyse board games. We have used the analysis of analogue games as a ludofictional world made up of the elements of ludic simulation. The study shows that two contemporary board games have a ludofictional world with very strict rules, which aim to justify a high level of historical represen- tation and decrease the players’ capacity for significant decision-making that would modify the limits of the possible world.

In summary, even though both sides can win the game and therefore modify history in case of a Republican victory, the structure of the game delim- its these possibilities. Indeed, it is easier in these games to change the final outcome of the war (what happened) than it is to find ways to achieve that result (how it happened). The main narrative shows a Republic with severe problems of internal division and lack of coordination that pushes the player towards the reorganization of the Popular Army as the only possible way of defeating the enemy. And while the National side takes the initiative, it must initially focus on political objectives over and above the military goals, and must eventually also restructure its forces in order to achieve victory. In the game, this is illustrated by the categorical rules that restrict the players’ actions (particularly the Republican players), and the lifting of these rules in the more advanced phases of the war.

We should emphasize that this assessment is not meant as a criticism, since the explicit intention of the designers of these two games was precisely to highlight these issues. However, it brings into question the extent to which the game experience generates a sense of freedom in the players. On the other hand, and to break through the rigidity of the simulation, both games offer an alternative set of rules (What if?) that should be analysed in depth to see which other simulation paths they offer. Also, some aspects of these games would require further study – for instance, how the design of the different mechanics on which they are based (in particular the Card Driven of C&R) influence their gameplay.

We could also question the intentionality of these specific constructions of the Spanish Civil War. The rule booklets and the game books contain some clues about the vision of the authors, but this aspect could be further inves- tigated by means of direct interviews with the designers: we could ask, for instance, to what extent the rules and mechanics intend to simulate an event or whether they offer balanced mechanics that give options to both sides. Another topic of study would be the direct game experience of the players.

Which narrative of the Civil War emerges from the experience of dealing with the games’ rules and from overcoming the challenges that these rules pose? It is interesting to note that the whole structure of rules, mechanics and objec- tives can be dismantled by skilful players able to foresee their options, thus deconstructing the narrative built by the game contents, ultimately to gener- ate a different history. Indeed, this is what most players aim for. The vision of the players and their different approaches to the game refer to a particular aspect of the world of games that should in reality be a field of study in its own right.

Finally, we have analysed board games to claim their place as artefacts that warrant study. Further studies should address the differences between analogue and digital simulation of the Spanish Civil War by comparing our games with video games currently found in the marketplace. It would also be necessary to undertake a deeper study of the specific methodologies that allow the study of analogue games.

Beyond the specific aspects of games as cultural artefacts, the implications of games on the recovery of memory need to be taken into account. There are many challenging questions on the specific possibilities that games offer to the workings of memory. Besides the predetermination of some (though not many) narratives about History in the game design, it is undeniable that games promote debate about the interpretation of the past. Predetermination contrasts the equidistance claimed by the ludic simulation – within a genre of games, which define themselves as serious and based on documentation – which constitutes at the same time both a problem and an opportunity to break with the ‘official history’ and create new ways of approaching trauma. There is a whole area of analysis on how games, digital or analogue, can serve as a reflexive tool to dispute the rigidity of institutional history and to recover partial, alternative and personal memories. This is especially relevant in national contexts, as in the case of Spain, where there is a strong social claim to uncover long-standing historical offences.

h/t Javier Romero

PAXsims

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At GovTechWorks, Michael Peck explores the challenges of wargaming cyberwarfare:

Faced with a variety of new threats, from hypersonic ship-killing missiles to anti-satellite weapons and terrorist attacks, top Pentagon leaders are pushing for more analytical wargaming to devise strategies to counter such threats.

But in an era where information can be an instrument of war, the question of how to effectively wargame cyber attacks is a critical issue for military planners.

Modeling cyberwarfare resembles the philosophical question of whether a tree actually fell in a forest if no one heard it fall. How does a wargame designer realistically depict a stealth weapon like a computer virus, whose very effectiveness depends on the victim not knowing that the virus exists or how it works?

“We have been trying to integrate stuff like that [cyberwarfare] into operational games, but the weapons themselves are so highly classified and tightly held that we don’t really know what capabilities exist,” says Peter Perla, a defense wargaming expert and senior research scientist with the Center for Naval Analyses.

Perla calls cyber the “holy grail” of wargaming. “We have some general ideas of what might exist but we tend not to be able to cross those barriers. So we kind of give people generic capabilities and ask them to find something that they’d like to have. Then we assess whether it is a one-shot deal, or it might be persistent for a while,” he said. “But the parameters are very difficult to get a handle on because we have no experience with them.”

John Curry is quoted as highlighting two key issues:

John Curry, author of “Dark Guest: Training Games For Cyber Warfare,” sees two issues with simulating cyberwarfare. The first is that there is little real-world experience of cyberwarfare on which to base a game. While cyberattacks do occur, we have not yet seen the kind of intensive cyber warfare that might take place between sophisticated cyber powers at war. “Google, Microsoft, HP and our universities have not been mobilized in an all-out effort to hit the other side,” Curry says. “Despite protestations that we have had cyber war, we have only had skirmishes on the fringe of conflicts.”

The second is the incredibly rapid fluctuations endemic to cyberwarfare. “One of the issues of cyber weapons is they are largely untested and can be rendered ineffective by the next software patch,” Curry says. “You build a tool, the other side builds a patch and then your tool has to be re-engineered.”

Peck concludes with some useful observations:

So how should cyberwarfare be simulated in defense wargames? Experts say there are two ways to approach this. One is to simulate cyberweapons in detail, such as distinguishing between different types of viruses and their effects. This would help teach players something about how these weapons work and how they could be employed in conflict.

But Perla and others suggest the alternative solution is better: It’s a “black box” approach in which players only see the basic effects of cyberwarfare and don’t get caught up in the details about how something is done. It’s the same approach wargames use for electronic warfare, where players are simply told that jamming has disrupted their communications.

“I would focus on potential effects rather than specific weapons,” Perla says. “For example, one type of attack might reduce command and control capacity, making it difficult to issue or change orders. This could be characterized on a ‘Cyber Card’ the player has available. When played, the game controllers would implement the effects as they see fit. Possibly, the effect is either bigger or smaller than expected. Possibly, the opponent is aware of the attack and able to negate it, or even turn it against the original user,” he said.

Perla also notes that depicting cyber depends on the level of warfare being simulated. “Cyber at the strategic level is likely to use different tools against different targets than cyber at the tactical level,” he said. “Big surprise. For example, at the tactical level, one side may try to tap into the cyber networks of their opponent after capturing a headquarters. But the opponent may run a deception op, feeding false info through the captured node.”

Simulating cyberwarfare also depends on the audience. If the goal is to create a training simulation for cyberwarfare operators, then it makes sense to delve into the nitty-gritty of specific forms of attack and defense, or the characteristics and vulnerabilities of various types of software or computer networks. But if the audience is a slate of senior generals and admirals wargaming a North Korean invasion of South Korea, then there is no reason for the game to simulate the differences between a malware attack and a denial-of-service cyberattack.

“The operational reality is that cyber is integrated with the other domains of warfare,” Curry says. “Cyber is just a means and is rarely the end.”

PAXsims

At e-International Relations, Daniela Irrera (University of Catania) discusses a classroom NGO simulation she has developed:

I involved my students of Global Civil Society in something I called ‘NGO simulation’. I have split them into smaller groups and asked to ‘build’ an NGO profile (in terms of identity, geographical location, objectives and tools). Then, I presented to all groups a call for projects to be submitted to international donors (the European Commission, or various UN agencies). They had basically to prepare a project (including the rationale, the selected partners and the budget), in order to fulfil a given request (usually something to be built or developed in a troubled country, affected by war, natural disaster, economic and social deprivation, etc.).  I organised two different sessions, for allowing students to get familiar with their group and plan the activities. A collective public session was held based on groups leaders, presenting their projects and trying to get funds from donors. Finally, a debriefing assembly gave to students the chance to express their appreciation or concern and to me the possibility of assessing the activity within the course.

PAXsims

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Early registration is now open for the North American Simulation and Gaming Association annual conference, which will be held this year on 26-29 October in Bloomington, IN.

PAXsims

At Punk Rock Operations Research, Laura Albert McLay quotes David Banks (Duke) as recently proposing “three levels for modeling that applies to research in statistics, operations research, and optimization” which I thought were quite useful:

  • LEVEL 1: You solve the problem.
  • LEVEL 2: You solve the problem in a cost-effective manner (e.g., using heuristics to get a quick solution that is “good enough”)
  • LEVEL 3: You solve the problem in a cost-effective manner that a decision-maker will implement

There’s some wisdom here for serious game designers and for wargame outputs/analysis too.

PAXsims

The folks at Active Learning in Political Science have put together a podcast discussing their impressions of the Political Studies Association-sponsored Workshop on New Pedagogies at the University of Sussex. You’ll find a link to it here.

PAXsims

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None of these people is Brian Train.

As Iraqi troops and militias  (backed by Iran and the US) fight to recapture the city of Fallujah from the so-called “Islamic State,” Brian Train offers a chance to simulate the battle. Specifically he has created a variant scenario for Joe Miranda’s game Fallujah 2004: City Fighting in Iraq, which appeared in Modern War magazine #23. You’ll find it at Ludic Futurism.

PAXsims

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Dstl Portsdown West.

I’ll be in the UK at the end of June, to deliver a week of wargaming lectures and workshops at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratories (Dstl) Portsdown West. If you’re a member of the UK defence, security, or foreign policy establishment and would be interested in attending one or more of the sessions, drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch with my Dstl point-of-contact.

PAXsims

Connection UK 2015: Day 1 AAR

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The Connections UK 2015 interdisciplinary wargaming conference started today at King’s College London, with two of your PAXsims correspondents in attendance—Devin Ellis and myself. This is the largest Connections UK ever, with up to 130 registrants (and, I think, the second largest Connections conference ever).

We started off with lectures on “Wargaming 101.” Tom Moaut (Defence Academy of the UK) provided a general overview of basic gaming approaches, while Jim Wallman (Past Perspectives) discussed how to design a wargame to meet particular requirements. In the latter presentation Jim stressed the importance of determining game objectives and purposes at the outset, noting that the client may not always be clear exactly what they want. Next, he stressed, you also need to establish game constraints and boundaries: participants (numbers, skills, enthusiasm), time, space, level, game resolution, equipment needs, and so forth. Having done this, one can consider initial elements of structure: scope (what does the game explore), structure, time/scale, and how open or closed the game is (that is, whether information is public, or private with “fog of war” represented). Next are game mechanisms. He suggested that this was a somewhat easier step than those prior. A key challenge here is balancing complexity/detail/granularity with simplicity and design elegance. In terms of playtesting, he identified three stages: the “unbaked” session in which one brainstorms initial ideas’ “half-baked” when you have some of the initial ideas translated into game mechanics; and finally playtesting the “baked,” near-final game design.

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Jim Wallman’s obligatory design diagram.

Jim correctly stressed that games needed to be assessed against their design aim, and care should be taken that this is not lost sight amid in the enthusiasm of design and play. He warned too that “defensiveness is the enemy of good wargame design”—that one has to be prepared to discard ideas, approaches, and mechanisms.

After coffee, we returned to hear Stephen-Downes-Martin (Naval War College) examined “How NOT to analyse wargames.” Stephen emphasized the importance of using professional analysts, and warned against the influence of senior officials who lack analytic expertise but who do have the power to press their views. Analysts need to be partners with the game designer, thinking from the outset about how they will extract the necessary data from the players and their interaction. Immediate hot-washes, conducted amid the continuing buzz of a recently-completed game, may be inadequate to collect impressions and feedback. He noted that the decisions made in the game are typically less important than the reasons behind those decisions. He stressed the analytic need to treat the White Cell/adjudicators as participants, and understand the rationale for their decisions too.

Stephen too had an obligatory wargaming diagram.

Stephen too had an obligatory wargaming diagram.

Stephen also highlighted the challenge of having the right players in the game. I’ll admit this is an increasing concern of mine, since I’m of the view that game outcomes are heavily shaped by the profile of participants (domain knowledge, risk aversion, interpersonal skills, etc.).

Following on from this there was an excellent panel of analysts from the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) on using data (and models) in wargames. Mark Pickering looked at trials and experimentation as a data source for wargames. Dan Ledwick explored systems and performance modeling, looking at lethality and effects. Stevie Ho addressed the use of historical analysis to generate wargame data. He noted that the Falklands War highlighted how different combat experience was from earlier field trial weapons and performance data. Finally, James King (who had also introduced the session) suggested ways of checking wargame data, and underscored the importance of doing so.

The presentation panel from Dstl. Being Dstl, they had many diagrams.

The presentation panel from Dstl. Being Dstl, they had many diagrams.

After lunch we all engaged in a large participatory wargame, New Dover Patrol. This revolved around a vicious separatist insurgency against the rightful government of Silvania by Kippist religious extremists. Faced terrorist gangs seizing parts of the southern city of New Dover, the government had been forced to call upon the United Nations and the powerful country of Freedonia to assist. (Of course, my perspective in all of this may have been distorted somewhat by playing the role of the President of Silivania.)

Jim Wallman presents the game.

Jim Wallman and Tom Mouat present the game.

My government was anxious to get as many Freedonian troops on the ground as quickly as possible, both to combat the extremist menace and to assure their continued commitment. To this end, Freedonian marines seized the port district while our own battered forces performed gallantly and liberated the airport from Kippist terror gangs. This allowed the rapid follow-on of additional forces.

As evidence of their treachery, Kippist extremists tried to assassinate me. Although bloody, I was unbowed, and called upon the country to redouble its efforts. At the same time I held out a hand of reconciliation to moderate rebels who might wish to abandon violence and seek a political settlement. Sadly our efforts were rebuffed by the fanatics.

The enemy was steadily pushed back, but not without heavy collateral damage that began to eat away at Freedonian political support for intervention. This was compounded by the sometimes less-than-cautious activities of the Freedonian air contingent, as well as a second amphibious landing to the west that captured the area around the New Dover water treatment plant—but at the cost of damaging the facility and risking an outbreak of disease. We pressed for the UN to address the humanitarian emergency, and as the game ended we had also called for a local ceasefire in the area around the water treatment plant so that we could effect repairs.

Following the game we then had an analysis session in which we discussed both how the campaign had been fought as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the game design. I thought the game went very well indeed, despite the difficulty of having scores of players all in one tiered lecture theatre.

For the penultimate session of the first day we broke into three groups: Tom Moaut discussed “wargaming effects;’ Jim Wallman explored “developing insights from wargaming;” and Graham Longley-Brown (LBS Consultancy) led a session on “fully engaging the player.” I took part in the latter. Graham stressed the many ways in which truly engaging play supported games-based learning. He did an especially good job of suggesting how we ought to frame the gaming experience so that students remain in both the flow of game play and the “bubble” (or the “magic circle”) of narrative setting. I absolutely agree, and in my Brynania simulation I spent a great deal of effort immersing students in a fictional conflict in a way that generates enthusiasm and emotional commitment to role and interaction. However, I raised the concern that engagement ought not be allowed to substitute for clarity about learning objectives—after all, it is possible to be enthusiastic about learning the wrong lessons. This, I think, was a problem with the Jane McGonigal/World Bank EVOKE social entrepreneurship game. It is, in a somewhat different way, a problem also explored by Anders Frank, who has written about military cadets entering “gamer mode” wherein they are so motivated to win that they exploit game mechanics in ways that undermine realism.

Graham's impressive diagram.

Graham’s impressive diagram.

Finally, we had a hot-wash discussion of how the day had gone.

Both here and at the US Connections conference these first day lecture/course/introduction sessions face a couple of challenges. The first is how to pitch them: although they are intended to aid relatively new wargamers develop their skills and knowledge, a great many of the people in the room are actually very experienced gamers. That may skew the discussion. Second there is the risk that we all tend to discuss the approaches we habitually use, which may mean that some techniques receive more emphasis than others. Nevertheless I thought it was all very well done.

Tomorrow the main session program starts in earnest, with discussion of wargaming developments in the UK and around the world, as well as a games fair (including a demonstration of AFTERSHOCK: A humanitarian Crisis Game).

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