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Review: The Confrontation Analysis Handbook

Review of: John Curry and Mike Young, The Confrontation Analysis Handbook: How to Resolve Confrontations by Eliminating Dilemmas, Innovations in Wargaming series (History of Wargaming Project, 2017). 92pp. £14.95 pb.

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Confrontation analysis an approach to the study of conflict, and the conduct of (largely non-kinetic) operations, first developed by Nigel Howard. It treats such issues as a series of linked confrontations, and offers a structured methodology for understanding and resolving these. In this handy volume, Mike Young and John Curry offer an overview of the technique, and show its application to a range of issues: the Bosnian conflict (1995), the Iranian nuclear program (2000-15), the Eurozone crisis (2011), the Libyan Civil War (2011) and Arab Spring, and future tensions in the South China Sea.

Confrontation analysis appears to be a useful technique for enabling participants to identify differences and disputes between conflicting parties, map out their preference structures and key obstacles, and identify ways of resolving these dilemmas. In this sense it overlaps the categories of both “(war)game” and scenario analysis. A skilled facilitator would appear to be essential, one that not only understands confrontation analysis well, but who can also help participants frame their insights and perspectives in a way in way that fits with the requirements of the technique. Even if one does not fully adapt the approach, it is also easy to see how aspects of it might be used to clarify differences in BOGSAT discussions or as a sort of auxilliary non-kinetic dispute resolution/adjudication method in more kinetic games.

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The approach also be used in conjunction with a deck of MaGCK estimative probability cards when one wishes to quickly canvass a group for their assessment of how likely an action is to succeed.

Review: The Sandhurst Kriegsspiel

John Curry and Tim Price, The Sandhurst Kriegsspiel: Wargaming for the Modern Infantry Officer. Training for War: Volume I. History of Wargaming Project, 2016. 123pp. £14.95

 

sandhurstkriegcover.gifRecent years have seen an effort to (re)introduce a greater quantity and quality of wargaming into professional military education, notably in the United States and United Kingdom. This volume contains a number of British examples. It is written by two well-known experts in the field, John Curry (of the History of Wargaming Project) and the prolific but ever-elusive “Tim Price” (a currently-serving British military officer). Another British officer, Ed Farren, has also contributed to the collection. The book is amply illustrated with maps and pictures, and additional materials are available for download at the History of Wargaming Project website.

The book contains four wargames. The first, the Sandhurst Kriegsspiel, is a platoon- or company-level action meant to be played following a TEWT (tactical exercise without troops) earlier in the day. During the TEWT, officer cadets physically visit the nearby “battlefield” and ascertain how they might defend or assault a designated position. During the kriegsspiel, they then play this out against each other on a map using simple wargaming rules. The authors note one absolutely key point that underscores the value of wargames as an educational, training, and planning tool, namely what a fundamental difference it can make when one introduces an intelligent and adaptive adversary into the process:

Experience running these kriegsspiels shloes that BLUE often change their plan for the wargame from the one they have spent the majority of the day considering in the TEWT. When faced by an enemy played by their peers, who have spent the day considering the same situation, the players often realise that they have assumed that the enemy is stupid [and] incapable of thinking from the BLUE point of view. The RED team will know what the likely BLUE attack plan will be and have prepared for it.

The second game included in the collection is the Battlegroup Kriegsspiel, which introduces a simple map-based wargame involving multiple platoons and companies. The Modern Infantry Battle (or “Future UK Army Concepts”) wargame was developed to explore the implications of possible reorganization and reductions in the size of British infantry companies. This is somewhat more dependent on formal rules, and less dependent on umpire adjudication. Finally, Ed Farren’s Counter-IED Kriegsspiel has students play the role of a Blue force attempting to complete an assigned task—and a Red force placing IEDs and ambushes to try to prevent this and inflict casualties. All of these games are quite simple, but in many ways that is the point: even relatively quick and simple wargames can provide insight into military operations in a way that explores their inherently adversarial nature.

The many appendices to the volume include a summary of the UK military decision-making (or combat estimative) process; a (rather critical) British military assessment of the SPI commercial wargame Firefight (1977), notes on British Army weapons, and sample unit counters for the games.

The primary targets of this book are those engaged in tactical and operational military training. However those interested in teaching military operations in other contexts (including in university courses on modern warfare, which are often peculiarly devoid of any exploration of the tactical, operational, and strategic arts) will also find it useful. Hobby gamers may also derive from enjoyment in trying out the rules and scenarios with their opponents, in a “can you beat a Sandhurst officer cadet” sort of way.

Review: Paddy Griffith’s Counter-Insurgency Wargames

John Curry, ed. Paddy Griffith’s Counter Insurgency Wargames (History of Wargaming Project, 2016). 91pp. £12.95pb

 

Griffith.jpegPaddy Griffith—military historian, lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, hobbyist, and founding member of Wargame Developments— was an influential figure in the evolution of British wargaming. In this volume, John Curry and his History of Wargaming Project have collected together materials from two counterinsurgency (COIN) simulations that Griffith developed in the late 1970s, as well as the outline of the main components of a live action exercise. Prolific COIN wargame designer Brian Train provides a Foreword to the collection, placing the wargames in the broader context of developments in counter-insurgency doctrine and practice.

If the first game, LONGREACH VILLAGE (1980), looks rather like a fictionalized British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary hunting for an IRA active service unit in a Northern Ireland border village—well, that’s hardly surprising, for such was the counterinsurgency challenge that would be faced by young British officers at the time. Today,  when most insurgencies and COIN wargames alike involve underdeveloped and failed states, it may all seem of marginal relevance. After all, this is not a setting where there are major impediments of poverty, language, or cultural understanding. Instead the background materials outline the milkman’s daily routine, the opening hours of the pubs, banks, and shops, and details of the local farmers’ market. However, in doing so the game provides an outstanding example of the sort pattern-of-life analysis that underpins local intelligence collection and tactical patrolling in almost all peacekeeping, COIN, counter-terrorism, and stabilization operations. This is something that—with the notable exception of Jim Wallman’s BARWICK GREEN game—is almost completely absent from modern wargames on the topic , which focus instead on either local armed clashes or larger-scale operational and strategic issues. Is Mr. X acting suspiciously, or is he they simply eccentric? Is a meeting in the pub a benign collection of friends, or a plot in progress? Where can you best position an OP to observe civilian (and possible insurgent) activity without being spotted? Where should vehicle checkpoints be established? What sorts of information should you be collecting? Who might be hoarding precursors for IEDs and other weapons, and how would you know?

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The border village of Longreach.

The wargame is largely played by having the Security Force and Red Cell players allocate personnel to missions, schedule their various activities, and plot their locations or routes, with the umpire then adjudicating the outcomes. The book also contains some brief suggestions for resolving some activities on the tabletop. Supporting materials include a map of the village, background information on the villagers, a list of daily routine activities, as well as the assets available to the Security Forces and Red Cell.

The second COIN exercise is SUMMER IN ORANGELAND, which envisages possible terrorist activity by the “People’s Liberation Army” in the fictional town of Dodgem-on-Sea. Any resemblance here to IRA cells (or perhaps 1970s era leftist terrorists) operating in the mainland UK would not be coincidental. In this case the primary government actor is the local police force which, in addition to dealing with a possible terrorist cell, also has to cope with a busy schedule of other challenges: planning and security for the summer carnival, a football final, a concert, gold bullion shipments, and even a royal visit. The terrorists—some of whom have decidedly Irish surnames—must plan and execute a plot before they are discovered. In typical Paddy Griffith fashion, there are a few curveballs and eccentricities to keep the players on their toes.

The final exercise, GREEN HACKLE, is a series of live-action tactical vignettes to be carried out over three days by approximately 250 Sandhurst cadets operating in a mock-up village training area. The book contains a list of scripted events, plus some photographs.

Altogether, this slim volume provides fascinating insight into British counterinsurgency training in the 1970s and early 1980s. Moreover, the first two games highlight key challenges of tactical intelligence and analysis that remain highly relevant to contemporary COIN, counter-terrorism, peacekeeping, and stabilization operations. They are easily adapted or modified for classroom use, or could provide the inspiration for similar sorts of wargames set in other, rather different, political and cultural contexts.

Simulations miscellany, 21 May 2015

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

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Peter Perla’s recent article on “Work – ing” Wargaming has sparked much discussion among wargaming professionals, most notably at Phil Sabin’s Simulating War online discussion group. That in turn has spurred Paul Vebber to offer his own extensive thoughts on the subject, in a blog post at Wargaming Connection: “Wargaming – Does “better” mean more Art, or more Science?

Science is indeed a part of wargaming, but we must resist calls to scientism for our tool to prove its worth to those ready to embrace it. There is also art. Powerful art. Art that can greatly complicate efforts to use a “systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject”, but is nonetheless of critical importance to “goodness”. In the various discussions of Dr. Perla’s paper, many have described how to make games “good”. There are as many definitions of “good” as people weighing in. There is good design process. There are innovative and elegant game designs. Some are historically evocative, others effective in achieving specific purposes. I offer another – value. How does a game produce value? One measure is how it changes the way we think about things. I difficult thing to measure because it is a thing we experience, but to give in the idea that if we can’t measure something, it must not be important, or useful, or valuable, is to give in the scientism.

It is must-read stuff for anyone involved in the field.

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Have you registered yet for the 2015 Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference, to be held at National Defense University in Washington DC on on 27-30 July 2015? PAXsims will be there!

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Red Team Journal will be offering a two-hour online introductory course on, well, red teaming:

We are pleased to announce that our first two-hour online mini-course in the Becoming Odysseus series is now open for registration. In the course, titled “Framing the Red Team Engagement,” we introduce our high-level red teaming process model and address the challenge of incorporating your stakeholders’ problems, goals, and metrics in your design—all with the aim of helping you maintain a systems view while promoting analytical transparency. We add frames of reference, stakeholder modeling, and objectives trees to your red teaming toolkit. The course is designed for both beginning and experienced red teamers from all domains. To register, go to our WebEx Training Center page and find the course listed on 4 June. Registration terms and conditions are listed here and again at registration. The cost per individual is $149.

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Students at the University of Portsmouth recently completed a three-day disaster relief and crisis communication simulation, wherein “participants had to respond to a scenario where there had been an earthquake in a region that has a history of political conflict and deteriorating infrastructure, with existing humanitarian concerns.” You’ll find further details here.

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In a recent article in Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy 21, 2 (April 2015), Richard E. Ericson and Lester A. Zeageroffer an analysis of strategic interaction in the Ukraine crisis through a game theoretic lens:

This paper presents an analysis of the Ukrainian crisis of 2014 through the lens of the Theory of Moves as formalized by [Willson, S.J., (1998), Long-term Behavior in the Theory of Moves, Theory and Decision, vol. 45, no. 3, pp. 201–240]. It derives the equilibrium (ultimate outcome) states under various assumptions about Western and Russian preferences over outcomes. The “paths” of their generation, i.e., the sequences of strategic choices made by each side, are also explored, casting light on the structure of incentives guiding behavior in the conflict, and perhaps predicting what the actual outcome will be when the world moves beyond this crisis. Incomplete information on preferences prevents derivation of a unique prediction of the outcome of the crisis, but the analysis enables us to substantially narrow the range of possibilities.

You’ll find further discussion of their findings in an article at Bloomberg View.

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At the History of Wargaming Project blog, John Curry considers future directions for the project. Feel free to contribute to the conversation there.

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Interested in MegaGames? You may find this discussion on Reddit of interest. If you don’t know what they are, have a look at this article in The Independent.

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At the BBC News magazine, Dominic Lawson (President of the English Chess Federation) asks: “Has chess got anything to do with war?

So it seems fitting that one of my guests on the third series of Across the Board – in which I have interviewed eminent chess enthusiasts and the odd world champion while playing a game against them – is the military historian Antony Beevor.

Beevor’s books on the World War Two battles of Stalingrad and Berlin have sold in their millions across the globe, but his first career was as a British army cavalry regiment officer. And since he is also a passionately keen chess player, I was intrigued to know if he thought that great generals were like chess grandmasters – brilliant strategists of iron logic.

“Generals would love that parallel and they tend to see themselves in that way. But the truth is very far from that,” says Beevor. His point is that battle is indescribably chaotic, with luck and chance playing a large role in any outcome.

And he makes an additional point: “In modern warfare the idea of total victory is now almost irrelevant. You’ve won – and then you lose the victory in a short space of time. Look at Iraq.”

At Politico, Michael Peck discusses the hidden—and ometimes not so hidden—politics of video games:

Games and gamers inevitably reflect the values of their times. If today’s video games are laden with violence and frenetic with high-tech weapons, that is the nature of the society that created them.

But do games change their societies? Rivers of ink have been spilled over whether violence in video games leads to the real thing. Whether the link is true or not, a genre that started with harmlessly batting around a virtual ping-pong ball in the 1970s game Pong, now requires games to carry age ratings to shield children from virtual gore. Some politicians have even called for warning labels that would treat video games like tobacco and alcohol.

Games can be  criticized for being too violent, or a brain-dead waste of time. But they are not usually criticized for being political. Games are entertainment, not politics, right?

Review: Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming

matrixgamesReview of: John Curry and Tim Price, Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming, Developments in Professional and Educational Wargames (History of Wargaming Project, 2014). 56pp. £12.95 pb.

“Matrix games” were first invented by Chris Engle in the early 1990s as a free-form, umpired alternative to more rigid, rules-based games. In a matrix game players typically take turns making an argument about what they wish to do, why they believe they would be successful, and what effects they expect this to have. Other players may be invited to identify counter-arguments. The outcome is then adjudicated by the umpire, with or without the use of dice.

PAXsims was recently involved in running a matrix game on the situation in northern Iraq, accounts of which you’ll find here and (via John Curry) here. You’ll also find some published games available at Hamster Press, and a large collection put together by Tom Mouat here.

Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming is a slim volume by John Curry and Tim Price that outlines how to play such a game. It introduces the topic, including a brief history of the approach and examples of how it has been used within the UK defence sector and elsewhere. The booklet includes a concise discussion of the rules and procedures used, different options for resolving player arguments, as well as a simple system for determining the outcome of battles between military forces. In addition,  the authors have useful suggestions for how to deal with arguments that players wish to keep secret from others, when outcomes should require multiple sequential successful arguments, dealing with ongoing effects, and how to finish and review such games. More than half the booklet consists of five ready-to-play games, complete with scenarios, briefings, objectives, maps, and (for most of these) copy-and-cut game counters too: The Falklands  War (1982); Chaoslavia (set in the Bosnia c1993); Lasgah-Pol (a fictional tactical scenario set in Afghanistan c2008); Red Line: Civil War in Syria (chemical weapons use in Syria, 2013); and Crisis in Crimea (March 2014, but easily modified and updated for subsequent or future developments). A version of the latter is also available via an earlier PAXsims article on contemporary Ukraine-themed wargames).

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Map for Crisis in Crimea

Certainly the volume contains everything one needs to design, facilitate, and play such a game. I would have liked to have seen a somewhat longer discussion of game techniques, strengths, weaknesses, and challenges, as well as possible modifications and alternative approaches. It would have been useful to examine how matrix games can be linked to other gaming methods (for example, providing the strategic backdrop for a series of operational- or tactical-level games), and how such games could be run by email or otherwise used in a “distributed” approach with players in different locations or playing asynchronously. Indeed, as I write this review I’m struck how easily and effectively an online role-playing game platform like Roll20 (which allows multiple players to share and manipulate an online game board while linked by video, voice and text communications) could be used to host a matrix game.

Not surprisingly for a guide published by the History of Wargaming Project, the volume places most of its emphasis on the gaming of war and warfare. However, as the authors note, matrix games can be used to game pretty much anything in which there are multiple actors with differing or overlapping objectives. It would be very easy to imagine running a matrix game of the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa, for example.

Finally, while I found the booklet clear and straight-forward in its presentation, I do think it would have been useful to have extended at least one of the brief examples to a longer narrative of a few rounds of play in order to give neophyte players or umpires a better sense of how a game might unfold.

That being said, Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming is the most useful publication yet available on how to use such games for serious analytical purposes. I certainly recommend it for anyone wanting to learn about the method, and how to use it for serious and not-so-serious wargaming alike.

Playing a matrix game (picture via History of Wargaming Project).

Playing a matrix game (picture via History of Wargaming Project).

Review: Curry and Price, Dark Guest (Training Games for Cyber Warfare)

John Curry and Tim Price, Dark Guest: Training Games for Cyber Warfare (Volume 1: Wargaming Internet Based Attacks). 2nd edition. History of Wargaming Project, 2013. 97pp.  £12.95

darkguestThis booklet is intended as a guide and aid for those involved in promoting broader awareness of “cyber warfare” and information security within their organizations. It consists of a discussion of the challenges of training on the issue, and overview of cyberwargaming, and a brief discussion of the rise of hacking and hactivism. Thereafter, it presents five games that can be used (or modified) in a training context:

  • In “Enterprise Defender” a hacker team secretly prepares descriptions of possible cyber attacks while a security team identifies IT defences. These are then discussed and resolved by an umpire as a way of both exploring the issue and generating a broader exploration of the topic.
  • “All Your Secrets are Mine” is a matrix game, whereby participants examine hacking and military-industrial espionage through a series of verbal actions and counter-actions that are assigned a probability weight by the umpire, then resolved with dice.
  • “Conspiracy” is a card game in which participants create the cards prior to game play, and is intended to show the interactive and interconnected nature of hacking and cyberwarfare.
  • “Media Wars” involves efforts by a fictional environmental group that has seized control of an oil refinery and is trying to get its message out, while the local government and other stakeholders also compete to influence the information space. Again, the primary game mechanism is one of teams developing media strategies, which are then rated by an umpire, with effects also dependent on a die-roll.
  • Finally, “Talinn  Soldier” is crisis game based on the 2007 attacks against Estonian government and private sector servers by pro-Russian activists.

The games are not technical ones. Indeed, experts in cybercrime, warfare, and hacktivism may find the lack of technical detail and analysis in this volume surprising.

If so, they would be missing the point. Dark Guest is intended to provide resources for those who have the task of spreading awareness of cyberwarfare issues within larger organizations, possibly inspiring them to modify the sample games provided or develop their own for their own particular needs. The games are thus designed to encourage non-IT specialists and managers to think about potential vulnerabilities (although some might also encourage IT specialists to go beyond issues of hardware and software to reflect on more general questions of policy, strategy, and context). All of the games are relatively free-form, and most are rather abstract. They are thus highly adaptable and designed to promote discussion-through-play. Most can also be played quite quickly, making them very suitable as ice-breakers or to provide a change-of-pace as part of a broader training programme. A previous edition of Dark Guest included a full rules-based card game on cyberwarfare, which has been dropped in this edition precisely because the authors feel that a book containing “generic ideas… [with] wider application” would be more useful for those seeking to integrate serious games into their training process.

One key aspect that the authors note, but could do more to address, is the fundamental importance of effective game facilitation and umpiring in free-form games such as these. Considerable skill is required to do this, since the moderator simultaneously needs to run the game, adjudicate actions (in a way that participants find convincing), maintain player engagement, deal with less cooperative players or those “fighting the scenario,” while all the time exploiting the teachable moments that the game generates. Experienced teachers may have some of these skills, and experienced role-playing-game “dungeon masters” have others—but not all neophytes have all of them. Given that this is volume 1 in what promise to be a continuing series—and given its association with the longstanding History of Wargaming research and publication project—this may well be an aspect that the authors turn to in a subsequent volume.

 

Update from the History of Wargaming Project

John Curry, editor of the History of Wargaming Project, has sent around an update, which I’ve posted below. The videos above and below aren’t new, but are well worth watching as an introduction to the project.

The project has gone digital and about 20 of the books/ rules are now available as e-books from ibookstore, the Nook or from www.lulu.com. The rest of the back catalogue will be converted in due course.

Peter Perla’s Art of Wargaming, a book about the professional use of wargaming (as well as much interesting material about the history of wargaming) is now out in paperback.

Donald Featherstone has seen his novel Redcoats for the Raj, back into print and he has completed a new novel, The Badgered Men. See my site for further information.

Donald Featherstone’s classic book Air War Games has now been updated and is now in print.

Innovations in Wargaming Volume 1—A new book about the many different styles of wargaming.

In addition to documenting the history of wargaming, I play games professionally. In about two weeks, a new book Dark Guest, Training games for cyberwarfare will be in print. I co-authored it with Tim Price MBE.

Played in a mega-game at the Defence Academy of the UK about Vietnam. Radio, maps, 20 tables, it was a most interesting game. Also at the Defence Academy, I recently played in a serious game about the Iran nuclear weapons development program with all sorts of strange people.

I have started a series about developments in wargaming called Innovations in Wargaming. Vol 1 shows all sorts of different styles of wargaming- different from the standard games on the table top. This includes two anti-terrorist games. See my site for details.

The next rule book will be the MOD Desert Army Wargaming rules (1968). They were written to rehearse an invasion of Iraq in the 1970’s…

I have also got agreement to produce more classic wargaming books from more authors.

May I take this opportunity to thank you for buying books from the Project and supporting the growing library of wargaming material.

Ludologists, serious historians of professional military wargaming, and every enthusiast who (like me) started into the hobby with a set of Donald Featherstone rules borrowed from the local library owes him a debt of gratitude. Keep up the great work, John!

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