Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

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Simulation and gaming miscellany, 7 April 2015


Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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JDMS header

The Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation features a forthcoming (gated, OnlineFirst) article by Gregory Reed, Mikel Petty, Nicholaos Jones, Anthony Morris, John Ballenger, and Harry Delugach on “A principles-based model of ethical considerations in military decision making.”

When comparing alternative courses of action, modern military decision makers often must consider both the military effectiveness and the ethical consequences of the available alternatives. The basis, design, calibration, and performance of a principles-based computational model of ethical considerations in military decision making are reported in this article. The relative ethical violation (REV) model comparatively evaluates alternative military actions based upon the degree to which they violate contextually relevant ethical principles. It is based on a set of specific ethical principles deemed by philosophers and ethicists to be relevant to military courses of action. A survey of expert and non-expert human decision makers regarding the relative ethical violation of alternative actions for a set of specially designed calibration scenarios was conducted to collect data that was used to calibrate the REV model. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey showed that people, even experts, disagreed greatly amongst themselves regarding the scenarios’ ethical considerations. Despite this disagreement, two significant results emerged. First, after calibration the REV model performed very well in terms of replicating the ethical assessments of human experts for the calibration scenarios. The REV model outperformed an earlier model that was based on tangible consequences rather than ethical principles, that earlier model performed comparably to human experts, the experts outperformed human non-experts, and the non-experts outperformed random selection of actions. All of these performance comparisons were measured quantitatively and confirmed with suitable statistical tests. Second, although humans tended to value some principles over others, none of the ethical principles involved—even the principle of not harming civilians—completely overshadowed all of the other principles.

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The Georgetown University Law Center recently conducted a two-day simulation that examined fictional national security crises, and the legal issues they raise:

Whether it be bombs going off at the Boston Marathon finish line or a D.C. sniper on the loose, the country’s top decision-makers are tasked with keeping the U.S. safe from any and all national security threats. Now, law students are being prepped to deal with hot seat situations, too. At least that was the goal of a two-day simulation at the Georgetown University Law Center last weekend that asked students to use law, politics and public opinion to mitigate a threat.

A total of 80 law students from nearly a dozen law schools participated the National Security Crisis Law Invitational, a simulation developed by Laura Donohue, director of Georgetown’s Center on National Security and the Law, eight years ago.

“There is a lot about how we teach in law school that doesn’t work for students who are jumping into national security law,” Donohue said in an interview with The National Law Journal. “We teach the law as it is written, not how it is applied. Law is one of many competing considerations during a national security crisis. How do you talk with policymakers? How do you bring the law into the conversation?”

Donohue said that she created the simulation as a way to help students understand how best to apply the law during real world, high-pressure crises. It’s in these stressful times that your gut reaction has to be the right one. Your actions have consequences.

Leading up to the National Security Crisis Law Invitational, students spend several months hitting the books on national security law, as their performances on Georgetown’s campus are accessed by highly regarded national security experts, including James Baker, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and Rosemary Hart, special counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.

This is only the second year that law students from outside of Georgetown have been invited to take part in the simulation. Students at this year’s invitational came from American University Washington College of Law; Cornell Law School; George Washington University Law School; Indiana University Maurer School of Law–Bloomington; New York University School of Law; Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law; Stanford Law School; Syracuse University College of Law; University of Virginia School of Law; and The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School.

Teams acted as departments within the National Security Council and were paired with mentors with a background working within the agency students were assigned.

You’ll find more on the simulation here.

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What can the UN learn from a game about aliens? Mark Turner reports on the recent Watch the Skies 2: The Megagame of Alien Terror held in London.

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Watch the Skies! and John Hunter’s Peace Game have inspired high school teacher Shaun Macmillan and his students to develop their own political science game, Alliance: World Wide Crisis. Follow the link to find out more.

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Phli Sabin (King’s College London) was featured as designer of the month on BoardGameGeek in March:

Mr. Sabin has been a wargamer for over 40 years, and became Professor of Strategic Studies at King’s College London’s War Studies Department. Over the past 20 years, he has published several board games on ancient warfare through the Society of Ancients. In 2007, his book Lost Battles was published, reconstructing three dozen different ancient battles using a common rules system. A deluxe board game edition was published by Fifth Column Games in 2011. In 2012, his book Simulating War was published, containing eight different simple wargames which he has used in his military history classes. One of these (Hell’s Gate) was published in a deluxe edition by Victory Point Games in 2013, and VPG has just published a second game from the book (Angels One Five).

Besides using wargames to help his BA students to understand conflict dynamics, since 2003 Mr. Sabin has been teaching a very innovative MA option module in which students design their own simple board games of past conflicts of their choice. Many of these are available for free download (Google ‘Sabin consim’). He also writes regularly for Battles magazine, and works closely with defense wargamers in the UK and overseas.

For discussion of his design philosophy and views on conflict simulation, see the thread here.

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Engadget has an article about a proposed digital game intended to promote greater understanding and empathy between Israelis and Palestinians.

Navit Keren grew up in Israel. She’s lived through the signing of historic peace treaties, and horrific terrorist attacks. Just as important though, she’s witness to the dramatic deterioration of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. The biggest problem she sees, is a lack of empathy. Those living on the other side of the divide are not people, but enemies. “Others” to be feared and hated. Her effort to bridge the gap between the two sides is a pretty novel one: a location-based game. Welcome to the West Bank is merely a working title, but it gets right to the heart of the game. Israeli citizens, primarily teenagers, would play as Palestinian teenagers living in the West Bank. Basically she’s asking people to walk a mile in someone else’s virtual shoes.

Right now, there is no prototype, only screen mockups and ideas about game mechanics. The most important part is creating a “sincere and appealing narrative” that will help someone understand the experience of being on the other side of this seemingly intractable conflict. A lot of that means lifting directly from the personal stories of Palestinian youth. As you move through the world you’re offered information about the city you’re virtually visiting, landmarks and historical figures. But eventually you’ll be presented with a choice. Like this passage ripped straight from one Palestinian teen’s personal experience:

You are interrogated because of a suspicion of teaching boys in your village how to build Molotov Cocktails, which you deny. During the interrogation you are kept in a room that stinks of feces and rotten food. You are hit with a chair and threatened with a knife. You are also told that if you did not admit to the charges against you that you would be “taken to an electric chair to help you.”

You’ve already been held for 30 days, and your options are falsely confess and be released, or deny the charges and be held for 10 more days. And your choice will impact future events. If you admit guilt you’ll be placed under house arrest, be unable to attend school and therefore won’t graduate.

The game, however, is only in the concept stage—there’s no actual playable prototype yet.

h/t Anya Slavinsky 

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By contrast, Gaza Man is available for download (Android) or online play. In the game the player assumes the role of a Palestinian fighter defending Gaza against an Israeli invasion. Not surprisingly, that’s made it popular in Gaza, and controversial within Israel.

Google briefly removed the game from its Play Store after complaints, but later restored it following complaints about its removal.

The game itself is pretty standard arcade-type shooting game. It only involves combat between opposing military forces, and no attacks on civilians or any other form of terrorism. Other than a red kaffiyeh worn by “Gaza man,” it also avoids strong political symbols or ethno-religious stereotypes. The game’s introduction shows the hero initially coming to the defence of a Gazan family being harassed by Israeli troops.

For information on other digital games that examine the Arab-Israeli conflict, see these PAXsims reports:

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8553b66975c51ed620046cf1b483803fThe next issue of Yaah! magazine by Flying Pig Games will feature two abstract Brian Train games, both on the general theme of insurgency:

In UPRISING, the State knows where the rebel units are, but not what they are– violent radicals, passive sympathizers, or simply shadows? The Rebels must misdirect the State to buy themselves the time to build a loose-knit network born of popular unrest into a force capable of declaring open revolution– but will they overthrow the current regime, or be crushed?

In ARMY OF SHADOWS, both players have their own map and set of counters– but only the Insurgent Player knows for sure where his units are located. It’s a tense and desperate race as the State tries to find and destroy the insurgency before the army of shadows can seize the capitol.

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The Polish gaming magazine Tactics & Strategy may publish a wargame of the crisis in the Ukraine, Mariupol 2014-15.

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The folks at Red Team Journal remind you the “Mind the Gap“—that is, the gap between your model and assumptions, and the real thing.

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GMT Games will soon be publishing Labyrinth II: The Awakening, 2010 – ?, an expansion set by Trevor Bender that updates Volko Ruhnke’s very successful Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ? game to the post-Arab Spring era. For more on the expansion and the issues it addresses, see Trevor’s comments on the GMT blog. For the original game, see our PAXsims review here.

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What’s a GrogCast? It’s the new podcast by our friends at the wargaming site GrogHeads!

Simulations miscellany, 17 August 2014


Some recent items that may be of interest to PAXsims readers on serious games and conflict simulations:

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Games for Change has a brief listing of games (in production or development) that examine war away from the battlefield:

Countless games have thrown players into heated warzones, whether as a soldier holding a gun ready to fire or an almighty commander who oversees the entire battlefield, moving units around.

What’s less examined in games is what’s happening off the battlefield and the consequences of violence. Recently, however, we see more developers who are examining war’s impact on civilians. We’ve made a list of games that we’re looking forward to and a list of thought-provoking titles to play right now.

Some of those mentioned in the short piece have been discussed before at PAXsims, including PeaceMaker and This War of Mine.

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The current conflict in Gaza spurred  the development of several games on the theme. According to Time:

In Bomb Gaza, a game about doing precisely what its peremptory title commands, you play as the Israeli Air Force, tapping a touchscreen to pour red-nosed bombs into a 2D multi-level landscape filled with cartoonish people wearing white robes and clutching children — meant to signify civilians — as well as others draped in black, clutching rifles, touting greenish headbands and grinning maniacally. The goal is to hit those black-garbed militants — presumably members of Palestinian militant group Hamas — while avoiding the white-clad civilians.

At some point in the past 24 hours, Google removed Bomb Gaza from its Android Play store (the game was released on July 29). It’s not clear why. Google’s only officially saying what companies like it so often say when handed political hot potatoes: that it doesn’t comment on specific apps, but that it removes ones from its store that violate its policies….

It’s unclear which of Google’s policies Bomb Gaza might have infringed, but in Google’s Developer Program Policies document, it notes under a subsection titled Violence and Bullying that “Depictions of gratuitous violence are not allowed,” and that “Apps should not contain materials that threaten, harass or bully other users.” Under another titled Hate Speech, Google writes “We don’t allow content advocating against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity.”

Bomb Gaza isn’t the only Gaza-centric game Google’s removed: another, dubbed Gaza Assault: Code Red is about dropping bombs on Palestinians using Israeli drones. Its designers describe the game as “[bringing] you to the forefront of the middle-east conflict, in correlation to ongoing real world events.” It was also just yanked, as was another titled Whack the Hamas, in which players have to target Hamas members as they pop out of tunnels.

Politically-themed games about touchy current issues have been around for years, from depictions of deadly international situations like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to others modeled on flashpoints like school shootings. In late 2008, a game called Raid Gaza!appeared around the time Israel was carrying out “Operation Cast Lead,” a conflict that left 13 Israelis and some 1,400 Palestinians dead. In that title, you’re tasked with killing as many Palestinians as you can in three minutes, and actually afforded bonuses for hitting civilian targets, all while listening to a version of the Carpenter’s saccharine “Close to You.”

In the past, quick browser or app games have developed for the purpose of sitar or political commentary—as is immediately evident if you play Raid Gaza!. In this case, however, it seems to have simply been a case of game developers cashing in on the widespread destruction in Gaza to create a quick “how many Hamas militants can you kill” game.

There was also at least one Arabic game that put the player in the role of Hamas. According to the BBC:

The US-based firm has now removed Rocket Pride by Best Arabic Games, in which players attempt to outmaneuver Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system, from its Google Play app store.

It also deleted Iron Dome by Gamytech, which challenged players to “intercept the rockets launched by Hamas”.

Other titles that do not name the “enemy” remain online.

You’ll find further discussion of this phenomenon at Slate, The Guardian, and Haaretz.

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The Connections Australia website has been updated with a general conference program and registration information. The conference will be held on 8-9 December 2014 oat the University of Melbourne.

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cropped-hsi-logo-red-jpegAdditional details have been announced for the 2014-15 Disaster and Humanitarian Response Program at McGill University (October 2014-April 2015). The program includes a field exercise to be held in May 2015.

2014-2015 Disaster and Humanitarian Response Program

Beginning in October 2014, the Humanitarian Studies Initiative of McGill University will be once more offering its innovative and multi-disciplinary humanitarian training program that advances and improves the quality of humanitarian work and practice to improve the lives of people most affected by war and disaster around the world.

The 2014-2015 Disaster and Humanitarian Response Training Program offers an evidence-based approach on the globally-recognized core humanitarian competencies that are essential for anyone involved in disaster response and/or humanitarian assistance. This course is specifically designed for people with little or no prior experience in emergency settings who wish to undertake a career in the humanitarian sector. Participants will learn about the background and context of humanitarian emergencies, international humanitarian law, doctrines, and operating procedures of in many technical areas.  Instructed by a community of humanitarians and Faculty from around the globe, the program also offers participants an occasion to join an exciting network of humanitarians.

In-Classroom training is on a weekly basis from October 2014 till April 2015.

The 3-day field-based disaster simulation exercise will be held in May 2015.

The course will take place in Montreal at the Department of Family Medicine

Interested applicants can apply directly on our webpage  or send their enquiries to the Program Manager: Melanie Coutu.




Reflections on “A Reign of Missiles”


Last week Foreign Policy magazine posted for comments “A Reign of Missiles,” a draft print-and-play solo conflict simulation of the 2012 Gaza war designed by Paul Rohrbaugh. Not surprisingly both the timing and the topic of the game generated a little online controversy, coming so soon after the war itself.

Nevertheless, my son David and I printed it out and give it a try this weekend. We used the map version originally posted at FP—a much nicer quality version has since been posted at ConSimWorld which you can see above.

In the game the player assumes the role of Israel, attempting to strike at Hamas’ missile capabilities (and win “military victory points”) while at the same time keeping a wary eye on the potential civilian casualties caused by your strikes, and the negative effects this can have on Israel’s diplomatic standing (indicated on a “diplomacy track”). As the Israeli player you deploy Iron Dome anti-missile systems, aircraft, drones, a naval units, and (potentially) special forces. After you have finished conducting military operations each phase the surviving Hamas rocket launchers fire missiles in random directions. If you are unlucky some might slip past your defences and strike populated areas. Random events also affect game play.

Since the game is still in draft form, parts of it are still a bit rough, and the rules certainly need a good edit. There are very few design notes to let you know what the designer was hoping to achieve in the various game rules.

What about the actual gameplay, though? Here we divide our comments into three categories: player choices, representations and realism, and game mechanics/play.

Player Choices

Games are all about choices and trade-offs. In A Reign of Missiles the Israeli player’s primary choices revolve around:

  • Which targets to attack. Typically this is an obvious choice, since the longer-range Fajr-5 are both easier to suppress and are more dangerous. Hamas leadership and supply targets can also be attacked once per turn. It is rarely seems worth attacking the short-range Qassam rocket units.
  • How to attack. Aircraft and drones can attack separately, but if they combine their efforts into a single attack they are more likely to succeed and less likely to cause collateral damage.
  • How to defend. The Israeli player may deploy and redeploy Iron Dome defences, the availability of which can vary from turn to turn. As noted below, this is a bit odd—Iron Dome interceptors are rarely if ever moved during the conflict, and they are used to protect particular urban areas. Once these are deployed at the start of the game there shouldn’t be many more decisions for the Israeli player to make.

Overall, we didn’t think there were enough interesting choices to make the game particularly interesting. This might be addressed by allowing the Israeli player to make some pre-war resource allocation decisions about whether to, say, invest in more Iron Dome batteries, more drones, better intelligence, or other military capabilities. The intelligence collection part of the game could also be enhanced through using dummy markers. If markers were face down, for example, dummies/decoys were also used, and civilians were scattered among them, the Israeli player would face the dilemma of having to decide whether to attack the target on suspicion, or use drones or other intelligence to confirm its identity.

Representations and Realism

APTOPIX Mideast Israel PalestiniansWe very much liked that the game tracks both diplomatic and military dimensions, and that you need to do well on both to win the game. This accurately reflects a situation whereby Israel could maximize the damage and destruction it causes (in game terms, this is largely achieved by using drones and aircraft separately), but at the cost of civilian casualties, alienating world opinion, and handing Hamas a diplomatic victory. On the other hand, the game doesn’t model at all the important domestic element of the conflict: in reality, both Hamas and Israel are playing to domestic as well as international audiences.

In the game, the level of diplomatic support each side receives affects the level of military resources available to it each turn. The logic for this isn’t entirely clear—especially since it means that successful Hamas rocket attacks, which can have the effect of weakening Israeli diplomatic standing, also decrease the level of available Israeli military assets in future. In the actual conflict, I would think the reverse is true: particularly devastating Hamas attacks create Israeli domestic pressures for expanded military operations.

1121-iron-dome-israel-630x420The Iron Dome anti-missile system could be better portrayed in the game. In A Reign of Missiles, Israel has up to ten Iron Dome batteries, whereas in real life it only deployed four in the initial stages of the Gaza war, with a fifth being rushed into service to defend Tel Aviv. Iron Dome batteries aren’t moved much, if at all, once a conflict has started (since they would be unable to conduct interceptions while being relocated), whereas in the game their number and deployment usually varies from day to day. The game also seems to reflect a common misunderstanding that Iran Dome has an interception range of 5-75km. While this number is often reported in the press, it actually refers to the types of missiles that can be intercepted: missiles fired from less than 5km don’t leave the system enough reaction time, while those fired from further than 75km away are travelling too fast for the system to intercept. One Iron Dome battery provides protection for about 150km2 around the battery—that is to say, only one city (or square in game terms). The game also suggests that Iran Dome batteries can become depleted, presumably when they run out of missiles. There’s no evidence this ever occurred in 2012, although if it had it might well have been withheld from the public. In the game, Iron Dome seems to have an interception rate of 20%, whereas in 2012 it appears to have been closer to 85%.

Strangely, Sderot—the Israeli town of 24,000 most associated with rocket attacks from Gaza—is not depicted on the map.

Fajr-5 units fire the most rockets in a turn (4) of any rocket launcher type, while in practice these larger rockets were fired singly or in smaller numbers.

We thought the random events could have been much more diverse interesting. During the 2012 war, for example, the presence of visiting dignitaries in Gaza (such as the Egyptian prime minister) sometimes forced Israel to halt certain military operations.

On a minor note, while in the game all Israeli aircraft are depicted as F-15s, the IAF actually has far more F-16s.

Game Mechanics and Play

Overall, we found the first few phases interesting. After that, however, the multiple die rolling for each rocket coming out of Gaza grew rather tedious: a single Grad rocket launcher firing 3 rockets will require roughly 15 dice to resolve (up to 3 dice for movement, 1-2 dice for Iron Dome interceptions, 1-2 dice for each surviving rocket striking the ground). One wonders if this couldn’t all be much simplified into a smaller number of card draws or chit pulls. Overall the game play seemed less engaging than the often rather tense draw of a card in the “State of Siege” series of solo games published by Victory Point Games. A card would also be able to address the effect of the strike, and contain some flavour text.

It seems impossible to hit Ashkelon. Qassam missiles (which can only reach the green boxes) will fall short. Grad missiles (which start on the last black box) will overshoot it, as will Fajr-5s (which carry on to the final boxes).

There seemed to be little incentive to hold back military resources to the second and third impulse of each turn, when instead you could suppress or destroy missile launchers on the first impulse and prevent them from firing for the rest of the turn.

In the game, the Israeli player has perfect intelligence about Hamas assets and their deployment. As suggested above, some sort of blind system would be more interesting. Hamas units might then be revealed either by firing, surveillance (drones), or intelligence collection. Senior leadership figures, civilians, SAMs, and the press could be treated in the same way. As the game goes on, the ratio of military to civilian targets could further shift towards the latter, this modelling the latter parts of the war when Israel’s intelligence existing target list began to run short, and greater collateral damage began to accrue.

The game counts a 0 on a d10 as a zero, rather than (as is more conventionally the case) as a ten. I have no idea why.

The game ends immediately when the Israeli and Hamas diplomatic markers reach the same point on the diplomatic track. I’m not quite sure what the political logic is for this.

Finally, it would be interesting to add a two player option. While Hamas might have only a limited number of decisions to make once the game started, it would have many to make beforehand (for example, whether to invest in fewer long-range Fajr 5s or more shorter-range Qassams and Grads, how much to invest in ground defences, command and control, camouflage/decoys/deception, and so forth).

simulations miscellany, 28 November 2012

As is our periodic habit, PAXsims brings you some recent simulations-related news that might be of interest to readers.

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At the Arms Control and Regional Security for the Middle East blog, Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova recounts the results of a simulated 2012 Conference on a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)-Free Zone in the Middle East:

…a group of 25 United Nations Disarmament Fellows – young diplomats from all over the world – played out the last hours of the planned Middle East conference during a half-day simulation in New York on October 23, 2012. The simulation’s outcome may be too ambitious compared to what the “real” 2012 MEWMDFZ Conference is expected to achieve, considering that many observers still doubt if it would even convene this year (or ever). Certainly, to run a simulation one has to suspend the disbelief, and in this case, we assumed away one of the biggest perceived obstacles: getting all relevant states to attend. The simulation’s scenario thus was that all the Middle Eastern states, including Iran and Israel, showed up and did so in good faith, working toward a meaningful outcome. Unrealistic as they may appear, such exercises help explore what can be achieved if more political will is in place and, at the same time, highlight some of the more problematic aspects of reality.

Negotiating simulations can provide space for greater flexibility, imagination, and compromise. Specifically, by skipping over roadblocks such as lack of political will and direct communication between the major actors, simulations can help look for practical solutions that otherwise seem completely beyond reach. At the same time, simulations can raise new questions and draw attention to challenges that are overlooked or overshadowed by immediate concerns. In the case of the 2012 Middle East Conference simulation, assuming all parties’ participation and goodwill – the most immediate concern about the conference today – brought to the fore a number of other difficult issues. In this sense, the Middle East simulation held up a mirror to a rather harsh reality but did not leave the participants without hope.

For a more detailed report, check out the link above.

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At Foreign Policy, Michael Peck offers readers an opportunity to “launch your own Gaza war” by playtesting a relatively simple boardgame that examines Israel’s response to the threat of rockets from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Readers are then invited to provide feedback via the Foreign Policy website, for possible incorporation into a revised version of the game. The experiment was spurred by an earlier column by Michael, drawing parallels between the 2012 Gaza war and the 1944 V-1 blitz on London via the wargame War with a Vengeance.

I suspect some FP readers may be a little queasy about “gaming” a war so soon after the fact—even as a rather hardened wargamer who doesn’t blanche at  ongoing conflicts, I must admit to a little disquiet at trying to model a conflict in an area I know well, and with the death and destruction still very recent. Still, we’ll try to give the game a try on the weekend and post some thoughts as a way of exploring how design choices might try to capture essential real-life military and political-tradeoffs.

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The PC gaming website Rock, Paper, Shotgun had an interview earlier this month with (past PAXsims contributor) James Sterrett (Digital Leader Development Center, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth) on professional wargaming. In it he offers some thoughtful reflections on—among other things—the requirements of military simulation and gaming, and the differences between this and most civilian/hobby wargames.

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On the subject of military games/simulations, Defense News (Michael Peck again!) reported on November 26 that TRADOC (Training & Doctrine Command of the US Army) has issued a directive “warn[ing] Army training centers against using unauthorized games, simulators and other training aids.”

TRADOC Policy Letter 21, signed in August by TRADOC commander Gen. Robert Cone, decrees that before any TRADOC organization may acquire or develop any games or training aids, devices, simulators and simulations (TADSS), it must contact the appropriate TRADOC capability manager (TCM) at the Combined Arms Center-Training at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

“The Army cannot afford TADSS that provide singular solutions or cannot be integrated with other TADSS in the integrated training environment,” Cone wrote. “We also cannot afford to have money diverted from other programs to support procurement of non-program of record, school-unique TADSS and high-licensing fees.”

The move has caused some concern:

A captain at an East Coast training installation fears that depriving local commanders of the freedom to procure training aids will stifle creative solutions.

“In the end, the memo will kill innovation and creativity as organizations seek to maintain the status quo within their shrinking budgets. All the letter reinforces is how the higher level managers are out of touch with where education actually takes place,” said the officer.

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BenthamFish’s Game Blog has a report by Alan Paull on a recent two-day workshop on games and systems thinking at the School of Transformative Leadership, Palacky University, in the Czech Republic:

Our focus for the workshop was on the learners learning about systems thinking. We intended to introduce how to play and think about the games through systems thinking techniques and vice versa

We alternated between playing the games and covering the theory illustrated by the games. We started by having plenary sessions for the theory, but found that getting responses from the whole group was difficult, as individuals were reluctant to speak. Therefore we switched to individual and group tasks, followed by discussions in which we could ask individuals to respond for the group. This worked very well.

Essential systems thinking concepts that we covered were:

  • Holism
  • Interconnectedness and relationships
  • Perspective
  • Purpose
  • Boundary
  • Emergent properties
  • Closed mechanical systems vs open living systems

And we introduced the following techniques:

  • Systems maps
  • Sign-graph diagrams
  • Control model diagrams
  • Very basic process model diagram
  • Systems model diagrams
  • Rich pictures

You’ll find more at the blog.

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At McGill University, we take preparedness for the forthcoming zombie apocalypse very seriously—we really do. However, a recent simulation revealed that only 50% of graduate students were likely to survive even basic academic activities like visiting the library should the campus be overrun by cannibalistic hordes of undead abominations. Clearly more practice is needed.

IDC crisis-games a terrorist attack on Israel

According to an article a few days ago in the Jerusalem Post, the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya recently conducted a crisis game exploring Israel’s response to a “an attack from Sinai, in which 17 people were killed and dozens wounded when two rockets hit Eilat.”

The security cabinet, comprising former senior officials, ordered a strike on the Gaza Strip, where the terrorist attack was said to have been planned by the Army of Islam, while at the same time coordinating with Egypt, the United States and the international community.

The prime minister – played convincingly by the former head of the National Security Council, IDC Prof. Uzi Arad – ruled after hearing the views of his security cabinet members (Eitan Ben-Eliyahu as defense minister, Roni Milo as foreign minister, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Eitan as chief of staff, Ya’acov Perry as director of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), and Col. (res.) Lior Lotan as director of military intelligence) that the IDF should retaliate immediately with a massive air strike – but not a ground operation – on terrorist targets in Gaza.

“We have to react,” he said. “We cannot wait.”

In the second stage of the simulation, major parties in the region played by academics and former officials – including Hezbollah, Syria, Egypt, Iran and al- Qaida – decided, for the most part, not to get directly involved in the escalation following the Israeli military strike, which, according to a mock report on CNN, killed dozens in Gaza.

In the third stage, the US ambassador (played by Michael Singh, managing director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy) vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s excessive response presented by the German ambassador (played by Dr. Daphne Richemond-Barak, head of the International Law Desk at IDC) and supported by other members of the council.

There are a few peculiar aspects to the report (which may be more a function of the Jerusalem Post coverage of the event than the crisis game itself). First, there is no mention of any actions taken by Hamas, arguably the second or third most important actor in the crisis. Hamas has been acutely aware of the potential dangers to itself and Gaza by actions taken by more militant Islamist groups since the 5 August 2012 attack by unknown gunmen against Egypt-Israel border crossing at Kerem Shalom that left 15 Egyptian soldiers dead, and is almost certainly taking measures to prevent the reoccurrence of such attacks. It also has a very strained relationship against the Army of Islam, having threatened or used force against it in the past. Oddly, al-Qa’ida is mentioned as a player in the game, although they have little presence in Gaza. There is no discussion of the repercussions of an Israeli strike for the Palestinian Authority, which has recently faced a wave of austerity protests (and which Israeli decision-makers would have little interest in destabilizing). It isn’t at all clear what the target of a “massive airstrike” that “killed dozens” would be, given that the Army of Islam is small and has no real infrastructure to target.

If any readers participated in the simulation or have further information, please feel free to add it in the comments section below.

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