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Tag Archives: Iran

Iranian Ambition matrix game

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From the ever-prolific Tim Price comes yet another matrix game scenario: Iranian Ambition (pdf).

Iranian Ambition.jpgThe ongoing crisis between Israel and Iran escalated when Israeli jets struck dozens of Iranian targets in neighbouring Syria recently. The strikes came after a rocket attack against Israeli forces in the Golan Heights, which the Israeli military said was from Iranian forces. Israel retaliated and destroyed “nearly all” of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria, according to Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

It should be noted that much of the Golan Heights are Syrian territory but have been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. The Syrian Government in Damascus also asserts that, as a sovereign country, it has a clear right in international law to host forces from Iran or any other country if it so wishes

The package is  includes basic briefing materials, an introduction to playing matrix games, and a print-and-play map and counters.

Those who wish to develop and play matrix games might also be interested in the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK), developed by PAXsims with the support of the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

 

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Game design challenges in building a megagame simulation of the Iran-Iraq War

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 This discussion of the recent Undeniable Victory megagame is provided by Ben Moores. Ben is a Senior Analyst at IHSMarkit Janes information group responsible for tracking and forecasting military requirements with an expertise in global defence industry, military exports and regional security. He is a sought after defence media commentator and has a BA and MA in War Studies and Defence Analysis respectively.


 

Undeniable Victory was a recently-run 70 player megagame that explored the military, political and international elements of the Iran-Iraq war over the course of a full day. This article will look at the design considerations and challenges of making a game about a relatively obscure, prolonged, multi-theatre conflict driven by domestic political conflicts and dominated by static warfare.

The base game structure was two teams broken into three core functions and three individual factions. The first function was the council game, the players representing the inner circle of the supreme leader. The second was the HQ game in which players would define strategy for each of their areas of operation. The third function was the operational level wargame. The core game design challenge was to ensure that decision at any one level had a meaningful repercussion at another level. This meant linking together a series of different mechanics and player structures.

This article is going to examine the following challenges and design considerations:

  • Relating Council mechanics to a wider game
  • Making a factional system relevant
  • Integrating domestic politics and morale
  • Building a foreign affairs model
  • Scaling a procurement model
  • Scoping out HQ backseat driving
  • Providing operational decisions in a static military environment
  • Restricting intelligence for improved decision making process plausibility
  • Implementing the evolution of military doctrine and capability
  • Connecting an air model to a wider game
  • Building a naval game for any eventuality
  • Sources and material considerations
  • Post game analysis
  • What happened on the day

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Supreme Leader’s Henchmen: Relating Council Mechanics to a Wider Game

The first challenge was how to represent an imperfect political system led by a leader whose personal goals don’t always match the team goals. The solution was to implement a “Hitlers henchman” structure. This is a game in which the leader is played by control and the team have a sub game to influence the leader to adopt their particular idea via set agenda tokens. The leader gave top level advice and guidance but was quite happy for the various players to get on with their ministerial roles. Each minister role had a “station”, a mechanic that allowed them to make actual decisions.

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Rather than having players  try to convince the control played supreme leader to adopt their ideas the agenda token system allowed some debate backed up with a mechanical structure. Agendas  allowed council players to overrule others, adjust war goals and strategy, replace other players and change the structure of government. This was effectively determined by a bluffing card play mechanic, in which the factions had to figure out how to allocate their hand of cards to which agenda in order to achieve their goals and block others.

Factional Drivers: Making a Factional System Relevant

Another significant challenge was representing the internal politics and the significant changes that occurred during the war. The Tikriti faction replaced the Ba’ath structure in Iraq and the Conservatives pushed  out the other ideological wings in Iran. The solution was to group all players into one of three team factions each representing the various political wings of each team. The factions could attempt to change the type of government, control the government branches and change the players within those elements. Furthermore the military structure was also split between various military types; such as the Regular, Popular and Republican Guard for Iraq. Council and HQ players could try to back their particular military wing and ensure that it got the best reinforcements and wasn’t held responsible for battlefield failings. This created significant pressure on the operational level players throughout the day and led to a series of tensions and imperfect strategic decisions that occasionally led to players or a policy being changed.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman.

Who Do We Blame This Time? Integrating Domestic Politics and Morale

In both Iran and Iraq there were significant domestic challenges during the era with a number of political groups forming to oppose both sides. Representing this with players or control would have been difficult. Many of these groups would never be able to find common discussion ground with the radical government structures and were too different to fit into the core game structure. The approach I took was to abstract this by having the interior minister choose a major domestic faction (Kurds, political minorities or economic elites) to blame every year, adding resentment chips that could eventually spill over into an incident. Players could reduce the chances of an incident by allocating resources to alleviate the pressure or instead allocate chips to the opposing team to to increase the pressure on them. Each of the domestic factions would have to pass a test at the end of each turn to see if there had been a major incident by rolling a number greater than the resentment chip number. These incidents could either lead to Kurdish forces appearing on the operational level map, Political minorities disrupting various parts of the game by random card draw and economic elites would reduce the long term economic income.

The only alternative to placing domestic resentment chips was to galvanize the country in a “Grand Offensive”, publically announcing an enemy target that they would take and hold or suffer morale damage.

No One Likes Us And We Don’t Care: Building a Foreign Affairs Model

The challenge for foreign powers with a stake in the war was that there wasn’t enough of a game for players to play the various other countries that were associated with the war without seriously increasing the scope of an already complicated game. It was decided that external countries would be played by dedicated control; we were fortunate in that we had a number of regional and subject matter experts who were available to support this. I had considered running a parallel club level discussion game covering all the other countries to provide material and a decision tree but recent publications had closely examined the international considerations and provided in-depth material to draw from.

Foreign relations were tracked by a chart that showed the relative relations for both Iran and Iraq with each of the nations the game tracked. A significant design decision was selecting the countries. Firstly all the major potential arms suppliers with an international interest in the region were represented and divided into two groups; imperialists (USA, USSR) and colonialists (UK, France, Italy and Germany). Then the immediate regional countries with a direct interest in the conflict were represented and grouped together (Syria, Saudi, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Turkey). Finally, Israel was also included.

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The status of each relationship gave a particular benefit or disadvantage. For example; Turkish relations impacted Kurdish stability, USSR could supply equipment and Saudi Arabia could lend money. Furthermore relative relations with each group allowed both Iran and Iraq to claim leadership in opposing Imperialism, Colonialism, Zionism and wider regional support which gave a benefit to domestic morale. The mechanic was that there was a trade-off between morale and various political advantages/disadvantages and arms procurement.

Having control generate each and every country relationship wasn’t possible due to time, player and information pressures. Instead approximately 80 pre-prepared events were introduced into the council game with various optional responses that impacted relations, morale and domestic resentment. Whilst these were resolved by the council teams on an annual basis the plan was that the foreign affairs control would interject as the narrative evolved. So there was a structure from which emerging narratives would emerge that the foreign control could handle in more depth such as the hostage crisis, arms deals with Israel or Lebanon complexities.

 Drinking the Cup of Poison: End Game Considerations

The end game was challenging as planning for the unknown in a particularly mechanical fashion wasn’t possible. Therefore the driver for peace was a collapse in domestic morale. As the game progressed the oil price fell dramatically which creates a guns versus butter decision. Once one team’s morale hit rock bottom they could suffer desertions, reach accommodation with the enemy or appeal for international intervention to end the conflict. Using the metrics we had of morale, international relations and the military situation we were able to use experienced control facilitators to start to place pressure on the teams to bring the conflict to a ceasefire. It wasn’t possible to fully explore a negotiated settlement as it would have included only a  small number of players.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman.

Arms Dealers Paradise: Scaling a Procurement Model

The challenge for procurement was capturing a level of arms sourcing granularity that interfaced with the operational level game but was simple enough to keep track of with limited control to oversee it. The game had to be able to capture procurement and the impact that foreign policy had on this. Whilst radical foreign policy led to increased domestic morale it increasingly cut players off from advanced arms supplies and, crucially, spare parts. Advanced weapons and specialist capabilities could only be acquired from Europe, USA or the USSR. As relations degraded countries would be reluctant to sell arms and then increasingly spare parts for existing weapons degrading their capability further.  China and North Korea would sell to either country regardless of the political situation and, although their equipment tended to be of very poor quality, this meant that neither team was ever entirely cut off from arms supply.

Another problem I initially had was trying to connect the right amount of money for procurement. To make the council financial game manageable within the time limits I made the cubes USD3 billion a piece but this was a large sum for the procurement system so they broke that money down into units of USD100 million which worked well when buying equipment at a brigade and squadron level.

There were 107 different types of procurement choices in the game ranging from chemical weapons, T-72s, MANPADS, improved shipyards, MiG-19s and hovercraft and this tied in with the squadron/ brigade/ ship level operational level game. Each piece of equipment or capability could only be sourced from a particular country and some elements only in limited numbers. Each piece was tracked for initial purchase cost, a generic spares cost and a specific origin source. This was manageable at a player level and worked well.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

The structure meant that the dedicated procurement player arguably had too much power, the council minister who was jointly responsible was often too busy with factional matters. This meant that there was often too little oversight which led to some unexpected but interesting procurements, including some very interesting back room arms deals as the game progressed resulting force structures and arms sources changing in fascinating and plausible ways. Maybe involving the wider HQ player base in the decision making process would have been useful.

 Implementing The Unimplementable: Scoping out HQ Backseat Driving

The HQ game challenge was not having them as back seat drivers for the operational level game but as strategic goal setters. I addressed this by having them unable to visit the operational maps for most of the game and issuing geographic maps without the movement areas on them. This meant that the orders they gave and the information they received were not always perfect. This was compounded as air support worked through a slightly different HQ channel. The downside was that the HQ players were reliant on the operational players providing them with information and if that information was not provided they had a limited game.

If I were to run it again then I would need to look at involving the HQ players in the procurement game or having a simple logistics game that they could resolve between themselves that impacted the operational level and perhaps the opposing HQ.  This could impact the operational level players in such a way that the players were keen to come to the HQ. Although part of the problem was the success of the factional system, operational players were very reluctant to share any bad news for fear of being demoted or removed by the council as part of a factional dispute.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

Delusions of Manoeuvre: Providing Operational Decisions in a Static Military Environment

There were a number of challenges in creating an operational level wargame that was dominated by static warfare, with imperfect, evolving military capabilities over an extended time frame.

I decided very early on that I would not capture exact formation nomenclature as over the course of the war there was a huge amount of change and the effort required to capture the exact nature of each formation nomenclature wouldn’t provide any increase in plausibility (the audience not being experts) or realism (due to the protracted nature of the conflict).

In regards to time relative to action I had to consider that there multiple game domains in each team including; a council game (seven players representing the inner trusted circle), a joint military headquarters game (seven players representing the various theatre commanders, procurement team) and the joint chief of staff. The three military games (land, sea and air) had to be on a similar timeline but the HQ game and the Council game could run on looser timelines that coincided at certain points.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

It is neither realistic nor engaging that military stalemate and lack of operational manoeuvre options in a game design mean there is nothing for players to do or plan for. This is a particular challenge in a strategic trench warfare environment. So when it came to handling time I wanted to create a design that kept players engaged in a decision making process even when there were no options for manoeuvre or attack.

For the military games I initially decided that I didn’t want fixed turns I wanted activations determined by logistics driven at an HQ level. The concept being that the various front players would be at various stages of “readiness” and that the long periods of historic inaction could be skipped through until a particular front was able to activate because the logistic resources were in place to enable them to do so. The problem was I couldn’t mesh that idea with the opening stages of the conflict or with the air game. It also meant that I still had to have some sort of turn system at an HQ level to determine when logistics became available. This still left me with the time challenge so I reverted to a proven process of drawing random player activation chits. This worked very well on the day because it provides definitive clarity on who can act and when but I will continue to investigate the initial idea.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

Dancing In the Dark: Restricting Intelligence for Improved Decision-making Process Plausibility

When it came to the operational design in a static trench warfare situation it was important that intelligence was very limited. Traditional closed map games create a much more realistic military intelligence challenge but they also tend to require lots of control, can be slow and can create confusion for player options. So the challenge was to capture imperfect intelligence information that could be managed by the players in an easy manner.

The solution was to hide force structures. Each operational player controlled a small corps, with divisions represented on the table but with the brigades (the smallest game element captured) within stacked on player’s individual command sheet. These were hidden behind a foam board that was on the map table. This allowed control and players to quickly reveal information when requested, resolve missions in short order and worked enormously well on the day with lots of imperfect decisions being made.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

Learning Lessons The Hard Way: Implementing the Evolution of Military Doctrine and Capability

Addressing evolving military doctrinal capabilities, as opposed to technical or force capabilities, over an extended conflict was another challenge. The solution I adopted was to implement a learning curve system called combat lessons. Combat lessons were effectively rules exceptions that were awarded primarily for failing in a combat. To avoid unnecessary complexity the control would give out a sticker that that would adhere to the command sheet. Combat lessons didn’t give bonuses but evolved the rules giving players new capabilities; changing how the various types of forces performed in different periods of the game. Players were only aware of the type of lessons as they learnt them, creating an evolving dynamic.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

Finally, ensuring that players had actions even when they couldn’t manoeuvre was critically important to both realism and player enjoyment. Doing nothing couldn’t be an option. So each player had a list of various missions and postures that they could adopt on a divisional basis that would give them combat and intelligence advantages relative to the opposition in the short and long term.

 The Air Blame Game: Connecting an Air Model to a Wider Game

The air war had to be fairly abstract considering the duration of the conflict. I wanted to capture strategic operations, ground support, air defence, air superiority and maritime operations. As the turns (called seasons) were effectively six months each this meant that the air war had to represent a series of engagements and support missions.

Representing air fields in the game was difficult, there were many of them and it added a level of detail and complexity to the maps that related to range. The problem with range is that it’s not a fixed amount; it’s relative to the mission and load out. However, air field attacks did play a notable element during the war so eventually I introduced them as a holding box in which air defences could be placed.

I also made the air force responsible for air defence in all rear areas for two reasons. Firstly, whilst not entirely accurate it did mean that the game had someone who was responsible for allocating air and ground based assets to defend infrastructure. This also meant that players were largely distracted by the operational air war and repeated the historic errors of the conflict in failing to allocate resources to strategic assets.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

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Carrier Death Ride: Building a Naval game for any Eventuality

The naval game challenge was to capture operations over an extended period that meshed with air power and created interesting decisions. In addition it had to capture the internationalization of the war if one side were to start successfully blockading the enemy and disrupting regional trade. Finally the system had to be detailed enough to represent combat between individual missile boats, evolving maritime air power and a potential death ride against modern carrier groups. It also had to represent hidden movement and imperfect force structures.

I resolved the imperfect force structure requirement by having a refit system that meant that a certain fraction of the previously deployed ships had to be put aside at the end of each season. Furthermore deploying forces into an area didn’t always guarantee that they were able to enter combat, they had to roll to enter combat reflecting what forces might have been available in a particular battle.

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The naval part of the game arguably failed to be engaging enough, whilst it functioned and provided a very realistic result it didn’t provide enough player decisions, rather just a lot of dice rolling. Fundamentally the map needed to be bigger to allow more areas for manoeuvre.

Books and Games: Sources and Material Considerations

The Iran-Iraq war has been relatively well covered by a number of books in recent years after an absence of much published material over the past twenty years. We now have a much better understanding of the internal dynamics of the Iraqi military command (thanks to Kevin Woods) and the Iranian political infighting (thanks to Pierre Razoux). However, there are only two commercially available games on the era; Ignorant Armies, an old school hex game and the very recent Bloody Dawns, a more modern abstracted card driven game written by Pierre Razoux. Neither game was suitable for adaption or inspiration for a megagame. This game was a culmination of a twenty year interest in the war and trips to the region to understand more. Unfortunately political tensions and sensitivities continue to make it challenging to access and understand the conflict in more depth.

Post Game Analysis

The game was largely successful with players being engaged enough to be arguing about who had won two days later and what if things had been done differently. The game was run with 68 people who didn’t know anything about the conflict but the war but the briefing materials and the game chrome (provided by control roleplaying and the events) meant that the participants made era appropriate decisions and considerations. Many of the players were megagmers, not war gamers, and some of them, including me, don’t enjoy traditional wargames. So part of the game consideration and design process was to figure out how to make a wargame interesting to someone who isn’t interested in traditional wargames. Part of that was relatively easy as we cast people according to their interest as we knew it but providing interesting, stressful, time pressurized dilemmas is harder.

Over the past decade I’ve increasingly drifted away from most commercial wargames because I don’t believe that actually resemble or simulate conflict in any meaningful manner. In part the design of this game incorporated the core ingredients that I believe are missing from games that claim to be about war, primarily imperfect intelligence and strategic directives that conflict with operational necessities.

I’ve been ribbed for observing that both sides made major strategic errors but in reflection I’m now very pleased about this because the game was designed to induce imperfect strategic decision making and in that I clearly succeeded without forcing poor decisions making upon players.

The History Of A Ball? What Happened on the Day

The game followed a plausibly historical pattern with Iraq striking out to take the Southern Iranian oil infrastructure and central and northern border regions. Caution left the Iraqi’s fairly short of their objectives but failing to guard the Iraqi Al Faw area almost trapped the navy and led to a series of extremely costly counter attack to regain it from Revolutionary Guard forces. By 1983 Iran had gone on the offensive in the Northern and central regions and a series of battle of attrition slowly pushed back Iraqi forces. Meanwhile in the South, after the initial confusion and repeated leadership changes, Iraqi forces had captured the key border cities of Khorramshahr and Abadan and even briefly took the key oil hub city of Ahwaz.

The Iranians initially got the better of things at sea damaging Iraqi off shore terminals but Iraqi procurements of Airborne ASuW assets in the form of Mirage’s, Super Frelons and Exocets wreaked havoc amongst Iranian platforms. An unapproved Iranian blockade of the Hormuz Straits dramatically escalated the international presence in the region drawing in large US naval forces that formed a critical end game component. Iran naval forces were building “kamikaze” speed boat forces by the end whilst the Iraqi navy had effectively ceased to exist as a fighting force.

By 1982 the Iranians had largely established air superiority and began to attack prestige targets in Iraq including Saddam’s Dam in Mosul and Saddam’s Palace which caused political chaos as an increasingly enraged Saddam lashed out at his council who in turn sought scape goats in the form of the air ministry which increasingly resembled a revolving door. However, large scale procurements in an extremely wide range of air platforms meant the air war continued unabated right until the end when a large successful Iraqi raid on the main Iranian exporting terminal at Kharg was a decisive moment in pushing the Iranians to consider a cease fire.

Both sides had focused on high end procurements over social subsidies which by 1986 began to draw both sides into a morale end game. Furthermore Kurdish forces were able to establish themselves on the Turkish border and around Mosul and caused significant disruption to Iraqi forces and oil fields.

By 1987 the Iranians had been able to break out of the mountains to the outskirts of the Northern Iraqi oil towns of Kirkuk and Mosul, had an armoured division within a season of Baghdad and had stabilized, but not recaptured the Southern border areas. (although they had no immediate chance of retaking them). However, by this point the Iraqi council had realized that they were not able to stabilize the front or domestic morale and had made major political concessions in exchange for US political patronage and around USD21 billion to keep them in the war.

A successful US strike on Kharg followed by the dramatic second Iraqi air strike and a general decline in Iranian morale led to Iran reluctantly accepting the unacceptable in a ceasefire at the end of 1987. Immediate stabbed in-the-back theories began to circulate amongst front line commanders.

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Slightly stunned Iranian players hear that Iraq has taken US patronage. Image credit: Becky Ladley

Ben Moores

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 24 August 2015

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Some items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to PAXsims readers. Corinne Goldberger assisted with this latest edition.

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Shaun McMillan is a high school teacher who, together with his students, has designed a political science roleplaying game to explore the dynamics of international relations:

ALLIANCE is a political science simulation created by my high school game design students and I to help young people understand the dynamics of working towards world peace. In the game as many as 60 players role play as world leaders of 20 different nation teams to try and solve multiple geo-political crises, trade, and develop their nations. They learn first hand the importance of diplomacy, the necessity for self-defense, international interdependency, and cooperation.

The game can be played as a board game by as few as 5 players, or expanded into a megagame by 60 players. The game borrows key elements from Buckminster Fuller’s World Game, John Hunter’s World Peace Game, Settlers of Catan’s trading mechanics, and Archipelago’s economic mechanics. We also developed our own war mechanics. The students have freedom to maneuver economically, militarily, or technologically together or against other teams. There is also a lot of room for open creative ideas in the course of the game so that the students are not limited to conventional problem solving strategies.

You’ll find more details in the video below, and on his website Drawalot.

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The FiveThirtyEight website discusses how crowdfunding Is driving a multimillion dollar board game renaissance:

Kickstarter and other funding platforms like Indiegogo play two roles in the board game universe.

First, they are a handy way to gauge the market’s willingness to pre-order a game. Designers show up, explain their game idea on a Web page, often with photos and a video, and ask for pledges. That lets a designer learn, in real time, what the demand for his game is. If the fundraising goal is met, the game is made. And in return for a significant pledge — $50, say — donors typically get a copy of the game.

Second, they are democratizing tools. Internet crowdfunding has done the same thing for game designers that blogging platforms did for writers: turned them into publishers. In the absence of outlets like Kickstarter, designers would have to pitch games to traditional brick-and-mortar publishers. Those publishers would then typically have control over a game — they could tweak its theme, its artwork and its marketing campaign. Self-publishers can retain control.

These dual roles have led to a flurry of board game activity on Kickstarter in the past few years. Thousands of new games have been funded, and the subject matter of the games is broad, in part because of low startup costs. David Gallagher, the site’s director of communications, told me that a board game project might need as little as $500 to get off the ground — much less than a video game hardware project, for example.

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In further evidence of the growing attention to boardgaming and wargaming in the media, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece on August 14 on “Game Makers’ Quest to Capture the ‘Fog of War’.

When it comes to war, the question for game makers has always been: How much should they try to capture the full complexity of battle—and at what cost to fun?

The topic is interesting, and at the core of all simulation gaming. Unfortunately the article doesn’t go beyond RISK and Memoir ’44—not even Axis and Allies or Wings of War gets a mention (arguably both more “realistic” than Memoir ’44, much as I enjoy the latter).

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The University of Minnesota will be holding its 2015 Humanitarian Crisis Simulation on  11-13 September  2015.

The Humanitarian Crisis Simulation is a 48-hour experience that is designed to immerse participants in an environment typical of humanitarian crises. The exercise begins with interactive sessions that cover important concepts, core standards, and best practices in humanitarian aid. The simulation will equip participants with knowledge, experience and skills that will assist them in working in any humanitarian crisis.

Participants are then divided into interdisciplinary teams representing multiple emergency response (ER) teams. ER teams must apply their skills and knowledge to assess a fictional area experiencing a humanitarian crisis. They will be expected to develop a plan to address the many problems of the region, including malnutrition, poor infrastructure, insecurity and violations of human rights. ER teams will experience living conditions that are common for professionals working in these conditions.

The exercise is developed and administered by professionals with extensive experience in humanitarian crisis management. The framework for the simulation is based on the Sphere standards for best practices in Humanitarian Aid with a special emphasis on the management of medical issues.

You’ll find more information at the link above.

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The Active Learning in Political Science blog raises the tricky of issue of assessing the impact of simulations on learning outcomes. Students can self-assess the effectiveness of a simulation, but this is fraught with methodological problems. For a start, students may rate a simulation highly because they enjoyed it, not because they learned a great deal. Such an approach does not give any indication how much students would have learned through lectures or some more traditional non-experiential teaching approach. It also doesn’t assess how many wrong lessons students derived from the simulation, compared to alternative techniques.

The best way of undertaking assessment, of course, is some approximation of a randomized control trial, whereby one class is exposed to the technique and another class of similar students is taught with more traditional means. As Michelle Giacobbe Allendoerfer notes, however, this is rarely very popular with students:

During one of our planning meetings, my collaborators and I discussed this idea. We were all struck, however, by the lingering question: if we think simulations are such a great teaching technique, why only give half the students this opportunity? Does the value of demonstrating effectiveness (if that is, indeed, what the control vs. treatment experience would have shown) trump providing all students the enriching experience?

Beyond that, the logistics of teaching two classes the same for most of the semester, but doing something different for the final three days (when the simulation will run) is burdensome. The classes would be imbalanced not simply because one had the simulation and the other didn’t, but because the control class would have three days of material or activities that the treatment class wouldn’t. What would I do in those three days that would be fair to both classes, while not contaminating the results of the assessment comparison?

Finally, the students in the program, although in different classes, will still live in the same dorm and know each other. No doubt, they will compare their class experiences. If the simulation is great, the students in the control class may feel left out (and, although unlikely, if the simulation is a flop, those students will feel as if they got the short end of the straw).

After some discussion, we settled on running the simulation in both classes.  Now I must brainstorm other ways to assess its effectiveness.

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Navid Khonsari, an Iranian-born Canadian game designer who has worked on titles from Grand Theft Auto to Max Payne, cofounded and iNK Stories and is now developing a game based on the 1979 Iranian revolution. You’ll find a lengthy—and very interesting—interview at Kill Screen.

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Last but by no means least, a few years ago Smoosh.com posted a series of “honest names for famous toys” that featured retitled boxes for some gaming and toy classics. I hadn’t seen it before, and some of them are pretty good, so go have a look here.

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Simulation and gaming miscellany, 25 July 2015

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Here are some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

miscellanyrulerlyWwqCGy_400x400-1It’s almost here! The 2015 Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference starts on Monday (July 27) at National Defense University in Washington DC—and most of the PAXsims crew will be there, providing a summary of the discussions. You can also follow Connections on Twitter.

The first day largely consists of lectures for those new to professional wargaming, while the main conference takes up days two, three, and four (July 28-30).  I’ll be running a  demonstration game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game at Connections on Tuesday evening—email me if you wish to reserve a place.

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A recent study by The study by Dr. Michael Kasumovic (University of New South Wales) and Dr. Jeffrey H. Kuznekoff (Miami University) in “Insights into Sexism: Male Status and Performance Moderates Female-Directed Hostile and Amicable Behavior” suggests that online game players who harass women are—well, losers. Literally.

Gender inequality and sexist behaviour is prevalent in almost all workplaces and rampant in online environments. Although there is much research dedicated to understanding sexist behaviour, we have almost no insight into what triggers this behaviour and the individuals that initiate it. Although social constructionist theory argues that sexism is a response towards women entering a male dominated arena, this perspective doesn’t explain why only a subset of males behave in this way. We argue that a clearer understanding of sexist behaviour can be gained through an evolutionary perspective that considers evolved differences in intra-sexual competition. We hypothesised that female-initiated disruption of a male hierarchy incites hostile behaviour from poor performing males who stand to lose the most status. To test this hypothesis, we used an online first-person shooter video game that removes signals of dominance but provides information on gender, individual performance, and skill. We show that lower-skilled players were more hostile towards a female-voiced teammate, especially when performing poorly. In contrast, lower-skilled players behaved submissively towards a male-voiced player in the identical scenario. This difference in gender-directed behaviour became more extreme with poorer focal-player performance. We suggest that low-status males increase female-directed hostility to minimize the loss of status as a consequence of hierarchical reconfiguration resulting from the entrance of a woman into the competitive arena. Higher-skilled players, in contrast, were more positive towards a female relative to a male teammate. As higher-skilled players have less to fear from hierarchical reorganization, we argue that these males behave more positively in an attempt to support and garner a female player’s attention. Our results provide the clearest picture of inter-sexual competition to date, highlighting the importance of considering an evolutionary perspective when exploring the factors that affect male hostility towards women. (emphasis added)

I’m sure this will come as no surprise to many women gamers. You’ll find further discussion at the Washington Post, Wired, Ars Technica, and elsewhere.
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The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II multirole fighter/strike aircraft has been the subject of considerable controversy on the grounds of both its very high development costs and continued questions about its performance. The controversy grew still further when the results of one set of air maneuver tests were published by David Axe in an article at War is Boring. The tests seemed to show markedly inferior dogfighting performance. Supporters of the program responded that the F-35 is not intended as a dog-fighter, that the tests were largely intended to examine flight control limits not to evaluate or develop air-to-air tactics, and that in combat the F-35 would largely depend on stealth, superior sensors, and beyond visual range (BVR) kills. Still others responded it was too early to tell, or that the F-16 vs F-35 comparisons being made from a single set of test results meant very little.

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What does this have to do with simulations? Well, amid all the controversy, Tom Robinson of the Royal Aeronautical Society used the high-fidelity simulation Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations to examine the question of “Does the F-35 really suck in air combat?” His answer: no, it doesn’t.

First. The F-35 certainly does not suck at air combat, providing it keeps within its own realm. As this testing demonstrated, the challenge for any future ‘Red Air’ pilot will be detecting the F-35 and then getting close enough to nullify its LO features in the merge. Though CMANO simulation is extremely powerful in modelling kinematics, sensors and is a huge leap from the earlier Harpoon, it does not model a 3D ACM encounter in high-fidelity like say Falcon 4 or DCS. Post merge, like real-life, it then becomes more matter of chance. However a third playthrough, ironically, did see a F-35 close to guns range and destroy a Su-35 leaving the score at 3 Flankers to nil F-35Bs lost. In around 15 runthroughs, the F-35 came out ahead each time, with the worst result being 3 x Su35s lost to one F-35 shot down. As noted above, professional air warfare tactics experts would undoubtedly be able to do better. In only one of these runthroughs did the fight enter the merge – long and medium range shots being the norm.

Two. A LO [low observability] fighter, with high-end sensors to detect (and importantly classify) targets at range when paired with the Meteor BVRAAM [beyond visual range air-to-air missile] is extremely potent. While the F-35 was able to classify the Flankers at extreme range, the Su35’s sensors were still only able to classify the F-35 as a ‘multi-role’ – even when it was nearly within weapon range. This may be fine in a simulation without other hostiles, friendlies and civilians air contacts to sort and track, but undoubtedly would be more complex in real life.

One can debate, of course, whether the simulation accurately models the performance of highly-classified weapons systems. However, there’s little doubt that the experiment is an excellent example of the sophistication of some modern commercial/hobby conflict simulations, and Robinson’s finding suggests that if the F-35 were to fight as it is intended to fight it could do much better than current critics are suggesting.
miscellanyruler

jfq-78In the latest issue of Joint Forces Quarterly 78 (July 2015), Dale C. Eikmeier uses the analogy of waffles and pancakes to examine the differences between operational- and tactical-level wargaming:

Ask people what the difference is between pancake batter and waffle batter,1 and some will quizzically return the question, asking if there is a difference; after all, the batter looks the same. A few might acknowledge some differences but not know exactly what they are. Experienced chefs, however, will tell you the difference is the amount of eggs and oil in the batter. You can put pancake batter in a waffle iron and waffle batter on a griddle and both will cook, but the products will disappoint, especially if you were expecting crispy waffles or fluffy pancakes.

Wargaming at the operational and tactical levels is a lot like waffle and pancake batter: it might look the same and share many of the same ingredients, but it has important and subtle differences. Ask military planners what the difference is between operational-level and tactical-level wargaming methodologies used in course of action (COA) analysis, and you will probably get the same pancake-versus-waffle–type answers, with many telling you that the difference is nonexistent or not important. The truth is the wargaming processes may look the same, but the “ingredients” and outcomes are very different. Using a tactical-level wargaming focus at the operational level can result in the direction of well-planned and synchronized tactical actions at questionable operational tasks and the aiming of mismatched capabilities at ill-defined effects that fail to achieve operational and strategic objectives.

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As most of the world applauds (and the US Congress debates) the agreement between Iran and the EU3+3 regarding Tehran’s nuclear program, Iranian software developers have released a game in which a player fires missiles at Israel in retaliation for an Israeli strike. According to the Times of Israel:

Iran has developed a new mobile game that simulates a missile attack on Israel, according to the semi-official news agency Fars News.

The game — “Missile Strike” — was unveiled on Friday in honor of al-Quds Day, during which vast numbers of Iranians marched against Israel and the US and called for the “liberation” of Jerusalem.

As part of the game, users “break into the Zionist regime’s air defense and target Israel” using “Iranian-made missiles,” according to the game’s developer, Mehdi Atash Jaam.

Jaam said the game was produced in response to the US-made video game Battlefield, which includes scenes simulating attacks on Tehran.

You’ll find the original Iranian report by Fars News here. For more discussion of games and Iran at PAXsims, see the various blog posts listed here.

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A recent item at the  SCM Globe blog discusses how wargaming can help businesses explore the challenges of maintaining global supply chains:

SCM Globe is a serious supply chain game, and like wargames, it uses real world data, and it uses a map of the world as its game board. This is shown in the screenshots below. These screenshots show the model of an actual supply chain for a company that makes furniture in Indonesia and sells to customers around the world. This model is created by defining four types of supply chain entities (products, facilities, vehicles, and routes) and placing them on a map of the world. They are the game pieces in this supply chain game.

SCM Globe leverages Google Maps (or any other mapping application such as Apple Maps, OpenStreetMap, etc.) to create its game board. Players are able to zoom in and out and place products and facilities in specific locations on the map. The information used to define products and facilities accurately reflects the real world. Vehicles and routes can also be carefully placed on the map, and the information used to define them is realistic as well.

Because people can accurately model real supply chains in SCM Globe, they can be confident that the patterns they see in the simulations, and the chunks of information they learn, are transferable to the real world. This capability makes SCM Globe similar to wargames. In each case the same techniques are used to teach real-world skills.

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How better to examine the dilemmas of collective action, cooperation, and the “tragedy of the commons” in a social psychology class than to build one into the final exam? That is exactly what Prof. Dylan Selterman at the University of Maryland has been doing.CI3RVzCWcAUMuocmiscellanyruler

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The Active Learning in Political Science blog has moved! It can now be found at http://activelearningps.com. Update your links—and if you haven’t been following it, you should.
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We’ve posted updated information on the 2015 Connections Netherlands interdisciplinary wargaming conference (14-15 September 2015, near Utrecht) on PAXsims here

Fort Vechten Paint.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 19 April 2015

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

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The recent memo by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work challenging the US military to “reinvigorate, institutionalize, and systematize” wargaming seems to have had some effect—although whether it results in tick-the-box activities, greater attention to what was already being done, or genuine innovation remains to be seen.

One activity that reflected the call for greater use of wargaming was recently undertaken by the US Army Training and Doctrine Command Analysis Center:

Addressing this challenge, the Training and Doctrine Command Analysis Center recently teamed with the Special Operations Forces Element, Department of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations, Command and General Staff College to conduct a wargame event using Synthetic Staff Ride: Mindanao.

SSR: Mindanao is a low-cost, table-top wargame designed to challenge players with a complex environment, encourage peer interaction and applications of negotiation and leadership skills, apply strategic thinking and serve as a practical exercise examining Phase 0/1 Shape and Deter operations.

The synthetic staff ride, wargame structure provided by SSR: Mindanao offers a robust option to explore soldier, staff, U.S. Army, Department of Defense and whole-of-government interactions and operations in the future operating environment. An environment where the United States must work with international partners (nations and non-state actors) to achieve both U.S. and collaborative objectives.

The wargame was designed and developed by TRAC in collaboration with the Center for Naval Analyses, the Unrestricted Warfare Analysis Center, CGSC’s Digital Leader Development Center, and the Capabilities Development Integration Directorate of the Mission Command Battle Lab. The Army Research Institute, the TRADOC G-2 Intelligence Support Activity, the Naval Post-Graduate School, and the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies provided playtest support.

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The January 2015 issue of the NATO Joint Air Power Competence Centre Journal, Colonel Uwe L. Heilmann of the German Air Force praises manual wargames (or “manual simulation systems”) as a “$50.00 Cognitive Swiss Army Knife.” Specifically he argues that manual simulations are typically cheaper and more flexible than computerized simulations, which also tend to hide their assumptions and models within the “black box” of software code.

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The Humanitarian Academy at Harvard will conduct the simulation exercise for its current Humanitarian Response Intensive Course on 24-26 April 2015:

The Humanitarian Response Intensive Course is offered each year to professionals from around the world at Harvard University. Through presentations and hands on table top exercises offered by faculty and guest lecturers who are experts in their topic areas, participants will gain familiarity with the primary frameworks in the humanitarian field (human rights, livelihoods, Sphere standards, international humanitarian law) and will focus on practical issues that arise in the field, such as personal and team security, rapid assessments, application of minimum standards for food security, shelter, WaSH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and operational approaches to relations with the military in humanitarian settings. Throughout the class, students will participate in pre-assigned learning teams to complete in-class projects designed to compliment a humanitarian case study. At the conclusion of class, student teams will present an aid delivery proposal designed to meet the needs of the population portrayed in the humanitarian case study.

Participants will utilize knowledge of the humanitarian field gained in the classroom learning sessions during a three-day field simulation exercise. Attendees will spend two nights in the forest and participate in a complicated disaster and conflict scenario. During the simulation, participants will work in teams representing different humanitarian nongovernmental organizations and will engage with a wide range of local and non-state actors (roles developed and filled by faculty, course alumni, and affiliates) to create a service delivery plan.

The simulation will be held rain or shine.

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hanshakeCRISP and the Egyptian Center for Development Services (CDS) have been conducting a series of simulation games in Egypt with support from the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations and funds from the German Federal Foreign Office:

The specially developed simulation game takes place in the fictional country of Zamposia – the demographic, economic and socio-cultural key data, as well as Zamposia’s political system, reflect the current situation in Egypt, however. During the simulation game, the participants are invited to examine social conflicts and, ideally, to arrive at a joint, viable solution.

The participants analyse the decision-making process together during the final assessment of the simulation game. Democratic principles and the role of civil society are also discussed in the process.

The participants believe that the Simulating Egyptian Transition project has helped them to achieve a greater understanding of social participation at a number of different levels: “Thanks to the simulation game, I have become much more aware of my rights as a citizen and have come away with a number of ideas about the contribution that I myself can make to society”, said Samaher Gamal (22) from Aswan. Zina El Nahel (25), from Cairo, said that the opportunity to find out first hand about the needs of young people from Upper Egypt was an extremely enriching experience.

Creating civil society networks

CRISP project manager Andreas Muckenfuss highlights an important aspect of the project, namely the fact that young socially active people with an interest in politics from throughout Egypt can meet here, establish contacts and discuss different problems in their communities. In a large country like Egypt, there is a great interest in taking advantage of such an opportunity. The organisers received over 600 applications for the 13 simulation games last year.

The Nadi El Mohakah club (Simulation Gamers Club Egypt), which intends to host the Zamposia simulation game in the future, was set up at the end of the project. The club comprises some 30 trainers from various regions of Egypt who completed training on the simulation game method last year. These trainers will now organise the simulation games throughout Egypt – in cooperation with the various youth centres that have been set up and managed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in recent years.

Vision for Egypt in 2025

The aim is for the Simulating Egyptian Transition project to be continued directly in order to pursue these thought processes. A decision was taken to draw up a Vision for Egypt in 2025 as a follow-up project. The project will ask participants how they envisage peaceful coexistence among all Egyptians in the year 2025. Participants will work together to draw up recommended courses of action for civil society, the donor community, the private sector and state actors during the project.

CRISP is a Berlin-based NGO that works in the fields of civic education and civil conflict management. On their website they further describe the Egypt 2025 project:

The project ”Vision for Egypt 2025” intends to create a long-term vision for Egypt for the year 2025. The vision will include a social, an economic as well as a political dimension and in doing so, we want to set a landmark for upcoming decisions.

This is why together with our partner CDS in Egypt we did starting end of March our Info-Tour and visited 7 cities in Upper Egypt and the Delta Region:

( Alexandria,Port Said,Sharkeya,Minia,Assiut,BeniSuweif and Cairo ) to gather the different conflicts they have in those areas,find partners and spread awareness about this year’s project.

Beginning of April we had our Kick-Off Seminar with 30 participants from ”Nadi Al Mohakah” translated ”Simulation Game Club” that we created last year with our Simulation Game trainers and facilitators.

Together with them we created the Simulation Game ” El Wasaaya”. This Simulation Game will be implemented starting next May until September in 10 different governorates with the help of our trainers and partners.The goal of those workshops is to create a vision for peaceful co-existence in Egypt 2025. How to open communication channels and how to create trust for co-operation of the different sectors  those are all questions that will be answered by the participants from all over Egypt in the 10 workshops.

We wish our trainers fun and success during the next implementation phase.

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Can online gamers help improve humanitarian response? The Internet Response League thinks so. They hope to use Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) to help process large amounts of raw data by integrating the task seamlessly into game play.

Such a distributed computing approach has been used before to harness large numbers of computer users to undertake large computational or analytical tasks, such as searching for extra-territerial life or folding proteins. Here they hope to use Eve Online as a participation platform.

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The Reacting to the Past Consortium will hold its  Fifteenth Annual Faculty Institute on 11-14 June 2015 at Barnard College in New York City:

[T]his year’s Annual Institute promises a stellar program, including one keynote address from Sam Wineburg, prize-winning author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, and another from the team of J. Robert Gillette and Lynn G. Gillette, whose presentation on active learning caused a sensation at the Lilly Conference last year. Our own Mark Carnes will provide another  talk on the theoretical foundations of role-immersion games, and we’ll have updates from our publishing partner, Norton, on new texts and support materials.

The conference will also feature concurrent sessions on various issues related to RTTP and student learning, teaching and grading,  curriculum development, and more.

And, then, of course, there are the games—a dozen of ‘em. These include the revised, Norton-published 2.0 versions of The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 BCE; Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791Charles Darwin, the Copley Medal and the Rise of Naturalism, 1861-64Patriots, Loyalists and Revolution in New York City, 1775-76; and Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman; along with a number of unpublished games: Frederick Douglass, Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Constitution: 1845; and Mexico in Revolution, 1911-1920The Second Crusade: The War Council of Acre, 1148The Collapse of Apartheid and the Dawn of Democracy in South Africa, 1993Challenging the USDA Food PyramidConstantine and the Council of Nicaea: Defining Orthodoxy and Heresy in Christianity, 325 CE; and Title IX and the American University. Already some of the games have been filled, so don’t wait to register. You can sign up here.

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The International Studies Journal and the United Nations Information Center in Iran will be holding their 4th annual Model UN Security Council Conference in Tehran on 20 August 2015. The registration deadline is 10 July 2015.

The programme will cover three specific issue areas:

  1. International law and security, peace and human rights;
  2. Simulation methods and Research workshops;
  3. Global and Regional initiatives to protect peace and human rights.

Preparation

Preparing for a Model United Nations conference can be a very challenging task. One time before the simulation, there will be a pre-conference training workshop for the participants at UNIC-Tehran.

Certificate

ISJ and UNIC will award a certificate to all participants who successfully fulfill the workshop assignments, research, and exercises.

Admission Requirements

  1. An accredited degree in law, international relations or a relevant field of study;
  2. Good command of English or French;
  3. Two recommendation letters by professors or sponsoring institutions;
  4. Your recent photograph;
  5. Letter of application including address, telephone, email and language skills(Persian, English, French);
  6. CV/Resume;
  7. Payment of 120 Euros (for Non Iran resident students) and 200 Euros (for other) upon admission. This fee covers registration, courses, booklet, ISJ quarterly magazines and lunch.

ISJ will run an small Cultural Heritage visit of Isfahan for interested participants. This one night and 2 days visits include
accommodation, museums visits, Cultural sites visits, interpreters, transportations from Tehran to Isfahan and Tehran, and meals. The fee for the participants is very modest: 500 Euros.

Application & Contacts

Please send applications by mail to: info@isjq.net

Visas

The ISJ will facilitate obtaining the entry visa.

INSS simulation on the aftermath of a “bad deal” with Iran

INSS The Institute for National Security Studies recently conducted a simulation of the diplomatic and other consequences of a “bad deal” between the P5+1 and Iran on the nuclear issue—or, more accurately, what Israel might consider a “bad deal.”

As the talks between Iran and the P5+1 continue, the INSS Arms Control and Regional Security Program held a simulation exercise on September 29, 2014 to explore possible developments following a “bad nuclear deal” – one that effectively enables Iran to maintain a nuclear breakout capability. The assumption of the game’s opening scenario was that an agreement that might look reasonable could actually contain many interpretation loopholes that render it “bad.” In the simulation, following Israel’s initial reaction to the deal, Israeli, US, Russian, European, Iranian, and Gulf teams grappled with the implications of the new reality. The objective of the game was to spur a dynamic thought process regarding the possible implications if such an agreement is signed with Iran.

The opening scenario was as follows:

On the morning of November 25, 2014, following a marathon session of negotiations in Geneva, Iran and the P5+1 reached a last minute agreement on a comprehensive deal. The agreement removes sanctions against Iran in return for the partial dismantlement of its nuclear program. US President Barack Obama described the deal as a “landmark agreement that distances Iran from a nuclear weapon and sends a message to determined proliferators everywhere.”
Israel is alarmed that the agreement does not deal with Iran’s current stockpile of low enriched uranium, does not dismantle centrifuges, and approves a reconfiguration of Arak that would enable limited amounts of plutonium to be extracted from the heavy water reactor. The agreement acknowledges Iran’s right to continue enrichment, though limiting the amount of 3.5 percent enriched uranium readily available for further enrichment, and provides for the phased removal of sanctions, even though the P5+1 have exposed Iran’s clear violation of the NPT in the weaponization work it has carried out. Israel’s dismay and anger over the deal was reinforced by the reaction of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who declared that the “agreement was a demonstration of Iran’s resolve and its refusal to buckle in the face of pressure.” An Israeli official stated that as a result of the deal, Iran could acquire a nuclear weapon within four months of a decision to do so.
According to the INSS, the main insights of the simulation were:
a. The deal that appears to meet the needs of all the parties could actually constitute a bad agreement, because of a lack of attention to the technical details. The deal in essence enables Iran to remain a nuclear threshold state and grants legitimacy to this status.
b. The assessment of any agreement with Iran requires an extensive evaluation of technical considerations and terminology.
c. In order to obtain international support for Israel’s position, it is recommended that Israel focus its diplomatic activity on no more than the aforementioned five key problems that it identifies in the deal.
d. The opening scenario in which the US President signs an agreement before the prior approval of the US Congress is a distinct possibility.
e. In the event that the agreement requires the approval of the UN Security Council, there may be an opportunity for Israel to take diplomatic action to try to influence the content of the agreement. Nevertheless, once it is signed, there is little likelihood that Israel will succeed in this regard.
f. The simulation demonstrated that US fears of an Israeli attack against Iran’s facilities have diminished. It appears that the concerns over an Israeli strike are no longer a significant factor among United States calculations. This could well lead to strategic surprise should Israel attack after facing a “bad deal.”

You’ll find the full simulation report at the link above. See also the updated Israel vs Iran wargame compendium at Wargaming Connections.

Review: Target Iran

modern_war_9_target_iran-388841374220723dTarget: Iran. Decision Games/Modern War magazine/Strategy & Tactics Press, 2014. Designer: Joe Miranda. $30.00 (including magazine).

Unfortunately, this year has seen a growing backlog of games sitting on my shelf that I have not yet had an opportunity to play. Recently, however, I did try out Target: Iran, a solitaire game of near-future US/coalition war against Iran that was included in Modern War magazine in March/April of this year. The game comes with one 22″ x 34″ map depicting Iran and the Persian Gulf, together with 228 counters representing US, Iranian, Iranian rebel, GCC, Israeli, and NATO units. An electronic version of the rules be found here.

The game starts with a random distribution of face-down distribution of both Iranian  military units and sensitive targets, such as WMD sites, Command and Control (C2) facilities, arms depots, missile sites, and training camps. Each strategic turn the Coalition mobilizes military forces and conducts “hyperwar” operations. The latter includes such things as ISR assets, special forces missions, and cyberwarfare. The player rolls a die to determine Iran’s response, and the target of any Iranian hyperwar attacks.

At some point in the game, either random events or the Coalition player may cause the game to shift from strategic to operational turns. At this point, the Coalition player can then use his or her mobilized military units to attack previously-identified Iranian targets. Additional hyperwar assets (cruise missiles) also become available. For the Coalition, it is essential not to trigger the operational phase of the game until the necessary military resources are in place, and intelligence has been collected on the identity of Iranian units and targets. However, there us always a risk of the war starting prematurely, an eventuality one must be prepared for. During the operational phase the actions of Iran are again determined by a die roll, These might include attacks on neutral shipping or even blockading the Straits of Hormuz.

Throughout the game, “oil points” (representing the price of oil) are used to generate military assets. Certain hyperwar actions and military outcomes can affect oil points, as can the destruction or capture of key targets or blockage of the Straits. At the end of the game, the price of oil determines the outcome: anything below $81 a barrel represents a Coalition victory of varying degrees, while Iran wins if the price exceeds $100. If at any point the price goes over $150/barrel, play ends immediately in a global economic meltdown and a humiliating Coalition defeat.

The rules are generally clear, although it would have helped to have had the move sequence printed on the map. There has been some discussion online as to whether the scenario is fully balanced, but this is easily tweaked by adjusting the starting price of oil (indeed, the rules give one the option of using the actual price of oil as a starting point). Random placement of Iranian units and random generation of Iranian strategic and operational actions increases the replayability of the game.

The Coalition begins to mobilize forces, starting with the 5th Fleet and GCC.

Turn 1: The Coalition begins to mobilize forces, starting with the US 5th Fleet and allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

In my own playtest game, the Coalition spent six strategic turns activating forces, mobilizing bases,  identifying Iranian targets and units using ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) assets, and launching some covert attacks with special forces. As tensions grew, oil prices began to rise to over $100/barrel.

I then shifted to the operational phase. Cruise missile attacks destroyed most of the highest value (WMD) targets and several C2 nodes. These early victories reassured the oil market, and also limited Iranian hyperwar capabilities. In a few cities Iranian rebel units (encouraged by my own special forces) rose up to challenge the regime.

US Marines and a NEST team seize Bandar Abbas and the secret WMD facility there. By this time, most targets in southern Iran have been destroyed by Coalition airpower. However, the 5th Fleet is reluctant to press further into the elf due to the threat of Iranian mines, missiles, and small boat swarms.

It is late in the game, and US Marines and a NEST team have seizes Bandar Abbas and the secret WMD facility there. By this time, most targets in southern Iran have been destroyed by Coalition airpower. However, the 5th Fleet is reluctant to press further into the Gulf due to the threat of Iranian mines, missiles, and IRGC small boat swarms.

US, GCC, and Israeli aircraft struck the remaining targets as a US naval task force pushed its way into the Gulf.  US Marines and a NEST (Nuclear Emergency Support Team) contingent were landed to seize control of the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, where a critical Iranian WMD facility was secretly located.

A dense array of mines and anti-ship missiles deterred the US fleet from progressing further into the Gulf, however. The Iranians even temporarily blocked the Straits of Hormuz twice—thereby spiking the price of oil up—but on each occasion US minesweepers were able to deal with the problem.

In the end, most targets in Iran had been destroyed, and the price of oil had settled down to a comfortable $62/barrel. The Coalition had achieved its goals.

Instructional Potential

Target Iran is not a particularly granular or accurate simulation—nor does it claim to be. There is very little in the way of a scenario or politics, and the oil price track is more a composite way of limiting unit mobilization and tracking victory points than an actual representation of oil price dynamics. Military units are abstractions rather than actual units, and the random placement of Iranian forces can result in some very odd deployments. Similarly, the random placement of WMD targets does not necessarily follow their real-world locations. The impact of cyberwarfare is certainly overblown. While it is reasonable to expect that cyberwarfare might degrade air defences or incapacitate command and control capabilities, it certainly would never place an entire US Navy carrier task force or Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps division out of action. One of the random actions that Iran can undertake is setting its own oilfields alight, requiring that Colation petroleum engineers be deployed to bring the fires under control—something that was certainly done by Iraq in 1991 and (to a much lesser extent) in 2003, but which makes little sense in the context of a limited Coalition strike on Iran.

Quite a bit has changed in the real world since the game was first designed too, although that is hardly anything the designer can be blamed for: the US and Iran are in negotiations over the latter’s nuclear capabilities, Iraq is no longer available as a jumping-off point for US attacks (indeed, it is an Iranian quasi-ally), and the US will soon be drawing down its forces in Afghanistan. Because of all this I wouldn’t want to use the game directly for teaching purposes.

Concluding Thoughts

Even if I wouldn’t use it to explore the real-world challenges of a Coalition strike on Iran, I very much enjoyed playing Target Iran. I certainly recommend it to those who want a relatively low complexity modern warfare game designed for solitaire play in under 2 hours or so.

The game is very easy to modify too. Indeed, I’m tempted to develop a variant that better models some of the current strategic realities in the Gulf—if and when I do, I’ll post the results to PAXsims.

Simulations miscellany, 12 April 2014

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After having read or written some 16,529 emails during our week-long “Brynania” civil war simulation at McGill University that ended on April 7, I’m only now digging out from the backlog of other work that accumulated during that period. As part of clearing up my virtual desktop, here’s the latest PAXsims simulations miscellany!

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MokhtarThe Iranian video games industry provides interesting insight into both domestic and domestic politics. A case in point is a recent game release by conservative game designers (by which I mean “folks who create really crude mods of the 1990s first-person shooter Doom“), clearly aimed at Iranian reformists. According to IranWire:

The release of online video game “The Return of Mokhtar” has hit the headlines, dominating social network debates and commanding the attention of a number of news websites. Its aim, according to the game’s creators, is to pit the player against “symbols of sedition and imperialism”. And the game, which is available via the Nofuzi website, has received enthusiastic endorsement from the Pure Islamic Art Institute.

The symbols of “arrogance” are none other than the leaders of the Green Movement, who emerged during the disputed presidential elections of 2009 – namely, former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, his wife, former reformist president Mohammad Khatami and prominent supporters.

Players move through corridors, advancing to the next stage after successfully shooting and killing an enemy. Instead of being rewarded with points, a player earns “insights”. If he or she fails to hit a target, they lose an “insight”; when they run out of them, the game is over and the player must start again.

The game’s title references the early days of Islam, when, in the 7th-century AD, Mokhtar bin Abu Ubaid Saqafi led a revolt against the governing Umayyad Caliphs. Mokhtar exacted revenge for the murder of Imam Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who refused to pledge allegiance to the Caliph. Though Mokhtar successfully executed many who had played a role in Imam Hossein’s death, he was eventually crushed by the Caliph’s army and lost his life. He became a martyr for Shi’a Muslims.

On its website, the Pure Islamic Art Institute promotes and celebrates “The Return of Mokhtar”. Initially launched as a design company in 2008, the institute registered as a non-profit organization in March 2010. Soon after, the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance granted permission for it to operate a website, an indication that the institute had widespread approval among some of Iran’s most influential political and religious leaders. According to the site, the institute is made up of “a group of committed and expert young people who want to promote Islamic culture and art”. It lists “The Household of The Prophet Mohammad’ and ‘Islamic Revolution and The Holy Defense” among the most important topics it champions.

Despite this endorsement, the game met with some consternation from Hassan Moazemi, Vice-President for Communications at the National Foundation for Computer Games. “The makers of the game never submitted a request for a permit,” he said, “but now that it has been released, we are duty-bound to refer the matter to the responsible authorities, including the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, security forces and the judiciary, so they can take appropriate legal actions.”

“We will gather necessary information and pass it on to competent authorities,” he added, “so they can perform their legal responsibilities.”

Although the game isn’t directly aimed at current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it seems likely to me that his administration is an indirect target too.

Karroubiturbankarobi-25

Update: Sam Razavi notes that the game designers have removed the turban from the late reformist figure Mehdi Karroubi (see left), most likely because they are reluctant to associate “sedition” with a senior cleric.

h/t Sam Razavi 

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While on the subject of Iran and video games, former US Marine (and former employee of Kumar Games) Amir Hekmati has apparently been retried in secret in Iran, and sentenced to 10 years for “practical collaboration with the American government.” According to the New York Times:

Inside Iran, Mr. Hekmati’s case is viewed as highly political. He is considered a pawn in domestic infighting between hard-liners, who want him in prison, and moderates who want him freed as a good-will gesture to the United States.

“Basically the judiciary, which is under the control of hard-liners, is opposed to Hekmati’s release, but the Foreign Ministry, deeply involved in nuclear talks in which the U.S. plays a crucial role, wants him freed,” a person with knowledge of Mr. Hekmati’s case said, asking to remain anonymous in order to avoid complicating the prospects of his release.

In the past, Hekmati’s association with Kumar Games has provided part of the basis for the charges against him. You’ll find background on the case here (via al-Jazeera English), and on the Kumar games angle here (PAXsims).

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0046_05 0046_04

The BBC recalls the the great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons panic:

Looking back now, it’s possible to see the tendrils of a classic moral panic, and some elements of the slightly esoteric world of roleplaying did stir the imaginations of panicked outsiders.

“Since fantasy typically features activities like magic and witchcraft, D&D was perceived to be in direct opposition to biblical precepts and established thinking about witchcraft and magic,” says Dr David Waldron, lecturer in history and anthropology at Federation University Australia and author of Roleplaying Games and the Christian Right: Community Formation in Response to a Moral Panic. “There was also a view that youth had an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.”

While the wilder claims about the nature of D&D tended to emanate from evangelical groups, they prompted wider suspicion.

“The memes from this campaign proliferated and, being published largely uncritically in the initial stages, led to a wide-ranging list of bizarre claims,” says Waldron. “For example, that when a character died you were also likely to commit suicide.”

h/t D&D paranoia from Chick Publications 

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In response to recent events, One Small Step is producing a 2014 update kit for owners of their Millennium Wars Ukraine wargame.

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Recently we mentioned This War of Mine, the forthcoming video game that places the player in the role of civilians trying to survive the conflict. You’ll find more on the project at Gamasutra.

h/t James Sterrett 

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The February-March newsletter of the US Department of Defence Modelling and Simulation Coordination Office (MSCO) is now available online:

This issue presents articles ranging from maximizing the educational value of virtual training to the design process of the velodrome used in the London 2012 Olympic games. Additional articles feature a new simulation and game institute at George Mason University, simulation based training, combat convoy simulator training, and the U.S. Air Force demonstrating energy resiliency in a mission critical environment. This edition also includes a list of upcoming events within the M&S Community.

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The April 2014 edition of the Journal of Defense Modelling and Simulation is now available.

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rttp-header

The latest news from the folks at Reacting to the Past:

We are pleased to announce that Jose Bowen and Judith Shapiro, both champions of active learning in higher education, will be our keynote speakers at the Fourteenth Annual Faculty Institute at Barnard College (New York, NY | June 5-8). Jose Bowen becomes President of Goucher College on July 1, 2014, and is the author of Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning, winner of the Ness Award for Best Book on Higher Education (2013) from the American Association of Colleges and Universities. Bowen has won teaching awards at Stanford, Georgetown, Miami, and Southern Methodist University, where he was Dean of the Meadows School of the Arts. Judith Shapiro is President of the Teagle Foundation, where she promotes curricular reform and broader dissemination of successful pedagogical initiatives. She supported “Reacting to the Past” from its inception, and is President and Professor of Anthropology Emerita of Barnard College. In 2002, Shapiro received the National Institute of Social Sciences Gold Medal Award for her contribution as a leader in higher education for women.

Interested participants are encouraged to register early in order to ensure their space and game preferences at the institute. Faculty and administrators with experience teaching “Reacting to the Past” are also invited to submit a concurrent session proposal.  Proposals will be considered on a rolling basis, space permitting.

We also invite faculty and administrators to participate in our Regional Conference at Schreiner University (Kerrville, TX | April 25-27).  This regional event will feature two game workshops: The Trial of Anne Hutchinson: Liberty, Law, and Intolerance in Puritan New England andVictory or Death! The Consultation of 1835 and the Texas War for Independence (game under review).  Priority registration ends April 11, 2014. Visit the conference page to learn more.

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Existential Comics has had a couple of recent strips involving famous German philosophers playing boardgames. You’ll find examples here and below.

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Simulating Iranian-American nuclear negotiations

PAXsims pleased to present the following guest blog post by Prof. James Devine (Mount Allison University).

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IrannukeThe simulation was intended to model American-Iranian negotiations circa fall 2012. It was conducted in a 3rd year class with approximately forty students. It was not intended for predictive purposes or to actually model the negotiation process. Rather, it was intended as an educational exercise. Its purpose was to highlight the complexities of the issues involved in the dispute and the motivations of the actors involved in the negotiations. It was designed to be carried out over four ninety-minute classes, but a fifth class was eventually required. The first class was for preparation, the next three were for the simulated negotiations and the fifth was for debriefing.

Roles

To ensure that each student had an important role, the class was divided into three groups and simulations were run on three parallel tracks. This helped keep the students engaged and made it possible to compare the outcomes of the simulation across groups during the debriefing. Each of the simulation tracks included twelve full time roles. There were four students each in the American and Iranian delegations, two students in the Israeli delegation and one each for Russia and China. The American delegation included the President, which could be played either as a republican or a democrat. It also included the Secretary of State representing a liberal perspective on the negotiations, and the Secretary of Defense who represented a more conservative, hawkish perspective. There was also a chief negotiator who was ideologically neutral but politically beholden to the President. The Iranian delegation included the Supreme Leader, modelled on the current leader, Ali Khamenei. It also included the President, modeled after the hard-line president of the time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In addition, there was the Speaker of the Majlis (Parliament) modeled on the mainstream conservative Ali Larinjani. Finally, there was a chief negotiator loyal directly the Supreme Leader. The Israeli delegation was constructed to represent a national unity government and had one member each from the Kadima and Likud parties. The Russian and Chinese delegations were each played by a single student. Several students had to miss class during the simulation. They were given part time roles as journalists covering the negotiations.

Given the complexity of the real-world negotiations, it would not have been possible to replicate all of the actors and institutions involved. The European Union and the IAEA, for example, were dropped from the exercise. The roles that were included were therefore chosen and defined so as to recreate particular political dynamics between the players. Domestic competition was built into the American, Iranian and Israeli delegations by defining actors with different political ideologies and party/factional affiliations. In addition, the three delegations were instructed that they would be facing domestic elections upon the completion of the negotiations. Domestic politics were further integrated into the simulation through the presence of student journalists who could influence public opinion by writing articles covering each day’s events. The press played a second role in that the delegations could use the media to signal the other players about their preferences and intentions. China, Russia and Israel were included because whatever Iran and the US wanted to do they would need the cooperation. These states could therefore use the negotiations to pursue their own interests and/or extract whatever concessions they could from Washington and Tehran. Finally, to replicate some of the complexity and uncertainty involved in any negotiation process, only the chief negotiators of the Iranian and American negotiations were allowed to meet directly. The rest of their respective teams had to learn the other side’s position second hand. They therefore had to trust that their negotiator was capable and their opponent’s negotiator had the authority to follow through on the promises they made.

The roles were assigned based on student interest. A list of potential roles was circulated prior to the start of the simulation and students asked to rank their choices from one to three. Students who wished to write a simulation review for their final term paper were given priority in their choices. However, because there were three versions of the simulation being run, it was not difficult to give most students their first or second choice.

Logistical Issues

The negotiating process would require students have the ability to move about freely and interact –sometimes in relative privacy. This would not have been possible in a regular class room. Therefore a room had to be booked through the university that would provide enough space. The students also needed to access media reports after each day of negotiating. The course web page was used for this purpose. Mount Allison University uses Moodle, but other systems such, as WebCT, could provide the same functionality. Finally, because there were nearly forty students involved in three parallel sets of negotiations, it was also necessary to make up name tags for the students so they could keep track of who was who and which negotiation track they belonged to.

Negotiations

Prior to the simulated negotiations, students were provided with background material covering the nuclear issue and the interests and preferences of all of the parties, and a full class was also devoted to preparation. To appreciate the constraints each actor faced during the negotiation process, it was important that students were restricted to realistic choices. To this end, the American and Iranian delegations were also given a ‘menu’ of choices and concessions that they could potentially make. This menu was based on earlier real world attempts to settle the dispute. In addition to including the key demands made by both the US and Iran, the menu used the uranium-swap formula proposed in both the Russian and the Brazilian-Turkish plans as a framework. The challenge for the students was therefore to construct a uranium-swap based on the options available in the menu that would satisfy all of the parties. The negotiations could end with the two sides reaching a formal agreement, it could end with both sides trying to maintain the status quo without a formal agreement, or the US and/or Israeli could engage in a military strike.

The negotiations were conducted over three classes. During the first class, the Iranian and American delegations were instructed to negotiate amongst themselves to establish their bargaining positions. The Iranian and American delegations were not allowed to meet on this first day. They could, however, talk to the Russians, the Chinese and the press. The Americans could also speak to the Israelis. The Iranians, of course, could not. All of the parties could, of course, use the press to signal the others. At the end of the class, each delegation had to write a press release on the status of the talks and the student journalists had to submit their articles. All reports were posted on the course Moodle page so they could be read before the next session. During the second day, the Americans and Iranians held direct talks through their chief negotiators while the other delegates continued to interact with the third party states and the press. Again, at the end of the day, press releases were submitted. On the last day the original plan was for the negotiations to be concluded by half-way point of the class. However, I allowed the delegates to negotiate for the full class. The delegates therefore announced their final decisions at the beginning of the fifth day and explained all of the deals they had made.

The simulation did not end at this point, however. Once the announcements were made, each group rolled dice to determine the final results of their actions, similar to the way wars are fought in the game ‘Risk’. For example, if a negotiated deal was reached, the dice determined if it would hold up over time, or if one side or the other would defect. The dice also determined the effectiveness of any military strikes and who won the upcoming elections. The rational for the dice was that it would make the students understand that there would be consequences to whatever they did and/or said during the negotiation process and that those consequences could not be determined beforehand with absolute certainty. It was hoped that operating within the shadow of uncertain outcomes would make the students act more judiciously. The dice were weighted on the bases of how I judged the outcome of the negotiations and the way the process was presented to the public in press releases and by journalists.

In addition to weighting the dice, my task during the simulation was to oversee the proceedings and answer technical questions. After each session, I provided feedback for the students by posting fake BBC reports on Moodle, which were based on the day’s press reports and statements. The BBC reports were meant to give the actors a sense of how the public was reacting to events and to provide a check when students acted unrealistically.

Student Assessment

Student assessment involved several instruments. Student participation was worth 5% of each student’s final course grade. The grade was based on individual participation (observed during the simulation and the debriefing session) and group work (based on each delegation’s press releases). In addition, students were given the option of writing a ‘simulation review’ in lieu of a research paper. Reviews were worth 20% of the student’s final course grade and involved an analysis of the simulation based the student’s research into the ‘real-world’ crisis. Finally, students were responsible for the simulations’ background material on the final exam. Overall, student participation during the simulation was very good, the press releases were particularly well done. Many of the simulation reviews were well done as well. However, there was a tendency for some students to describe what they did during the simulation rather than analyze and explain their actions as instructed.

Student Response

All of the students who commented on the simulation in their course evaluations said it was a positive experience. Several students remarked that the “hands-on” aspect of the simulation helped them gain a better understanding of the course material. Nevertheless, several wished there had been more preparation time and several others suggested that not all of their classmates were behaving realistically. A few students thought the reading load associated with the simulation was too heavy. Informally, the student response was positive as well. Most students remarked that the exercise helped them with the course material and that they learned from the experience. A few said rolling the dice was fun, though not realistic.

Observations and Future Modifications

There are numerous aspects of the simulation that could be improved. This was the first time I conducted the simulation, so there were a number of rough edges that can be smoothed out in the future. Because real-world events were developing as the class took place, I was still putting the background material together as the semester progressed. If I run the simulation again in January, the reading list will be available to the students earlier in the semester and allow them more time to prepare. I was also working on the negotiation menu, and the organization of the dice-rolling during the semester and both went through several revisions before they were finalized. This made things more complicated for the students. Even with some modification, both will be ready well in advance the next time the simulation is run.

Overall, the negotiating menu proved a useful addition to the simulation. Not only did it help ‘keep things real’, explaining the rationale behind the various options enhanced the educational value of the simulation. However, there were still instances of students acting unrealistically. The menu was also complex and explaining it was time consuming. By laying out the possible options, the menu probably also made it easier for some students to get through the simulation without doing much research. The menu may have also acted as a constraint on student creativity. The menu did not appear to predetermine the course of the simulation: The negotiations ended with two military strikes and one formal agreement settlement, and the events within each track were quite unique. However, it is possible that students may have come up with novel solutions to the dispute if they had been free to develop their own options. Given sufficient time, it would have been better if students discovered the options available to their characters through their own research.

Although the simulation was run in the second half of the semester, preparation could have started earlier. The research material and the roles were distributed about a week before the simulation began. This may have not given students enough time to research the issues and their character. In the future, I will try to give students more advance time to begin preparing, and perhaps integrate some type of written assignment into the process. For instance, students could be asked to write a brief on their character prior to the start of the simulation.

The dice rolling segment of the simulation also needs to be streamlined. Originally it was intended that the dice would be rolled right after the negotiations ended. However, they were pushed back to the fifth day debriefing session. This created a disconnect between the decisions made by the delegates and their consequences. Moreover, the process itself was too convoluted. For instance, in the cases where a military strike was launched, dice were rolled for the strike’s effectiveness, the Iranian military response, the possibility of escalation and then whether Iran would reconstitute its nuclear program in the aftermath. In addition there would be dice rolled for the elections in Iran, Israel and the US. The problem was not just that rolling the dice took time, but that with each round, the rationale behind the weighting of the dice needed to be explained. With three simulation tracks, this process took up most of the debriefing period. In the future I will likely restrict the dice to the election results and only one roll for the outcome of the negotiations. It may also be useful to post changes in the odds, ‘Las Vegas’ style, on Moodle after each day’s events. This would simplify the explanations at the end and give the students more precise feedback during the simulation.

Finally, time management could also have been better. The simulation could have been compressed into two classes and the deadline should have been kept strictly. As noted above, preparation could have also begun earlier. Unfortunately though, time will always be in short supply. Even if the whole process is restricted to four classes, that is still a large portion of the semester. It would be nice to add more time for preparation and debriefing, but it would compromise the rest of the course.

I was generally happy with the simulation and plan to use it again in the future. The basic structure of the simulation is flexible enough to be adapted for larger or smaller classes by adding or subtracting actors or simulation tracks. The simulation can also be adapted to take into account changes in the American-Iranian relationship or other political dynamics. For instance, instead of modeling the Iranian president on a hard-liner such Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it would be simple enough to have students prepare to play the role as Iran’s new, more moderate president, Hassan Rouhani. Instead of presidential elections, it would also be possible to have the American negotiators face the prospect of a congressional vote on lifting sanctions on Iran. The topic would become dated if the two states do eventually reach an agreement. However, the basic framework of the simulation could be adapted to other examples of international negotiations, whether they were real or imagined.

James Devine

Persian Incursion 2013

As I’ve noted in a couple of reviews (here and here), the game/rules engine in Persian Incursion provides a powerful combat model of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear or oil facilities. As a manual, “cardboard” wargame it is also very easy to tweak. With that in mind, I’ll be running a version of the game this Friday at McGill University with some political science graduate students, plus an Iran analyst colleague. Although game-playing is part of the reason for doing so, I also want to use the session to explore some of the issues involved in any possible Iranian military action, and then collect some feedback on how useful participants found the process.

The game will be set in the here and now of 2013. This means that the initial opinion settings will mirror the current diplomatic environment, and the upgrades available to the players will be restricted to those that Israel and Iran might plausibly have obtained by March 2013.

Moreover, as detailed below, the Syrian civil war raises the possibility of an Israeli strike overflying Syrian airspace, rather than having to use the northern (Turkish), central (Jordanian), or southern (Saudi) route. The Syrian route would be risky, exploiting the relative weakness in Syrian SAM defences between Damascus and Homs as well as the severe degradation of Syria’s air force and integrated air defence system caused by two years of civil war. On the other hand, it would not depend on the political acquiescence of the country being overflown, an aspect which otherwise constrains potential Israeli use of other possible routes.

Syrian SAM defences, in 2010, with S-200 (SA-5) ranges shown in purple. Source: Sean O'Conner, Strategic SAM Deployment in Syria (click picture for link).

Above: Syrian SAM defences, in 2010, with long-ranged S-200 (SA-5) ranges shown in purple and the Damascus-Homs gap in medium-range systems readily apparent. Source: Sean O’Connor, Strategic SAM Deployment in Syria (click picture for link). Video below: Syrian rebels overrun a S-200 SAM site. Several early-warning sites may also have been destroyed.

Political Opinion

israelunThe following initial political opinion settings are used at the start of the game:

  • Iran -8
  • Israel +10
  • China -6
  • Jordan 0
  • Russia -3
  • Saudi Arabia/GCC 0
  • Turkey -1
  • UN/rest of world -2
  • USA +2

iranunThe “ally actions” listed in the rules (p. 11) include some rather unlikely possibilities. Consequently, they are replaced with the following:

  • China: If Iranian ally, Iran may purchase the GPS jammer or laser dazzlers upgrades for its nuclear facilities at a cost of 1 MP. 
  • Russia: If Iranian ally, Iran may purchase up to three S-300 batteries at 1 military point (MP) each; R27ER1 AAM upgrade for 1 MP.
  • Jordan: If Israeli ally, Iran suffers -10% penalty to terrorist attacks.
  • Saudi Arabia: If Israeli ally, provides covert support for Israeli strikes. Israel adds 10% to SAM suppression and +1 to CGI fighter rolls when using southern route.
  • UN/rest of world: Use rules as written.
  • US: If Israeli ally and Iran has attempted to close Strait of Hormuz, roll for US airstrike against Iran each turn (p. 11). If Iranian ally, game ends immediately as US diplomatic pressure forces Israel to halt its air campaign.

In the latter case, being an Iranian “ally” doesn’t, of course, mean that the US is actually allied with (or even friendly with) Iran—rather, it just signifies that the US is deeply opposed to Israeli actions.

Most of the “arms sales” rules are not used because, even if China or Russia were to sell Iran additional military hardware, they could not be fielded effectively in the timeframe covered by the game.

Other ally effects listed elsewhere (p. 27) still take effect.

Player Upgrades and Reinforcements

These are set as follows to reflect current real-world conditions, but with some potential for “unknown unknowns”:

  • The Iranian player may purchase any and all air defence systems upgrades, countermeasures/EW defences, additional Tor-M1 batteries, and up to one battalion of Sejil-2 MRBMs. Iran may also purchase EM-55 naval mines, although these do not represent any particular weapons system but rather an increased Iranian investment in combat systems for use in the Straits of Hormuz. Iran may not purchase Pantsyr S1E SAM/AAA batteries, S-300, Buk-M1, or HQ-9 SAM batteries, or any air-to-air missile upgrades.
  • The Israeli player may purchase all upgrades except AIM-120D AMRAAMs.
  • Neither player may gain extra-national reinforcements, although Israel can still benefit from ballistic missile defence assistance from US Aegis class cruisers under appropriate circumstances

Central Route

In the Persian Incursion rules, Jordan is assumed to be unwilling to intercept any IAF strike transiting its airspace. Instead, the US attitude is what counts—especially given (then) US control of Iraqi airspace.

jordanprotestsBy 2013, things have changed. The US no longer controls Iraqi airspace, and Iraq itself lacks the capability to effectively control or even monitor it. On the other hand, the “Arab Spring” has rendered the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan more sensitive to public criticism. Repeated Israeli overflights of Jordan could create serious domestic political problems for the regime. Israeli destabilization of Jordan, in turn, wouldn’t go over very well in Washington.

Indeed, under some extreme circumstances one can even imagine some limited Jordanian military response to Israeli actions. (If this seems farfetched, consider how Jordan entered the 1967 Arab-Israeli war—a war it knew it would lose—when it became clear that failure to do so would severely undermine the monarchy’s political position.)

Consequently, the following modified rule will be used:

Israel may overfly Jordan at any time if political opinion there is 0 (neutral) or better. However, whenever it does, Iran rolls 3 dice on the Jordanian opinion track, and one on the US track.

Syria Route Special Rules

Syrian rebel fighters pose on a destroyed tankUse the following procedure should the IAF choose to use the Syrian route, reflecting the need to deal with whatever functioning Syrian air defences are encountered en route.

The Syria route counts the same as the Central route for the purposes of tanker support and targets that can be struck.

  1. First, Israel may conduct a Suter EW/cyber attack against Syrian air defences.
  2. Next, roll a D100 for each of the five Syrian SA-200 long-range SAM batteries that cover the Israeli route. These have a 33% chance of being able engage in-bound Israeli aircraft, and 66% chance of engage out-bound (return) aircraft. A failure to obtain a sufficient result indicates that these batteries have been overrun by Syrian opposition forces, redeployed to other areas or duties, or are otherwise incapable of responding.
  3. The IAF may conduct SAM suppression missions as usual, or target them with airstrikes.
  4. Surviving Syrian SAM batteries may then engage Israeli aircraft.
  5. After this, dice on the GCI Fighter Table to see whether any Syrian aircraft are able to intercept, subtracting 3 from the result. The IAF may conduct fighter suppression missions. The Iranian player may not spend MP to augment Syrian air defences. The Israeli player gains +1 for every one (not two) MP spent on suppression of Syrian air defences.
  6. Roll D100 to determine the type of intercepting aircraft: 01-50 MiG 23MLD, 51-85 MiG-29, 86-100 MiG 25. The Iranian MiG 29 aircraft data card is also used for Syrian MiG 29s. (Jeff Dougherty kindly generated Syrian MiG 23 and MiG 25 weapons data for the scenario, which I’ve incorporated into these modified aircraft cards at right—click the image to download).

Persian Incursion Syrian MiGsUse of the Syrian route by the IAF would likely give Iran around 60-90 minutes of advance warning of the inbound strike packages. Subtract 5% from the effectiveness of IAF SAM suppression missions in Iran, and add 1 to the GCI Fighter Table when determining Iranian fighter interceptions.

Each time the Syrian route is used the Iranian player may roll 1 die against either the Russian, Chinese, or UN/rest of world opinion tracks.

One small (but non-zero) risk of using the Syrian route is that Damascus might launch its own retaliation against Israel, and that the situation could then escalate out of control.

If at any time the Israeli players rolls a natural 12 while conducting a SAM suppression, SAM strike, fighter suppression, or air-to-air engagement, Syria responds. Roll a d6:

  1. Syria vociferously condemns Israeli actions. Iran gains 1 PP (political point).
  2. Syria lends support to Iranian retaliation. Iran gains 1 MP (military point).
  3. Syria lends support to Iranian retaliation. Iran gains 1 IP (intelligence point).
  4. Syria organizes hasty terrorist attack against Israel next turn, 50% chance of success.
  5. Syria organizes major terrorist attack against Israel next turn, 80% chance of success.
  6. Syria launches limited missile strike next turn (treat as 6 ballistic missiles). If any of these hit with a die roll of natural 12, further escalation takes place. The game ends immediately as the IAF is retasked with striking Syrian chemical weapon facilities.

Hizbullah

While Persian Incursion includes rules for Iranian-backed terrorism against Israel, this seems to represent small-scale bombings, infiltrations, international terrorism, or perhaps Palestinian Islamic Jihad being encouraged to fire a few rockets from Gaza. It certainly doesn’t address Hizbullah’s potential involvement in the conflict, with its arsenal of an estimated 30,000 rockets.

hizbullahI don’t think it is inevitable, or even particularly likely, that Hizbullah would become overtly involved  is Israeli-Iranian hostilities through large-scale attacks from Lebanon—doing so would be deeply unpopular in Lebanon, even among its Shiite constituency, and also leave the organization open to a major Israeli riposte. The slow collapse of the Asad regime in Syria has likely rendered Hizbullah even more risk-averse. However, if the Iranian regime were feeling especially vulnerable it could pressure Hizbullah to act, especially in the context of an extended Israeli military campaign.

Modelling this in the game is tricky, because a major Israeli-Hizbullah war would, in many ways, be an even bigger military operation than an Israeli attack on Iran.

If the Iranian political opinion track is at 7 or higher, or Israel has attacked this turn for a third or subsequent time during the game, Tehran may spend 2 PP and press Hizbullah to attack Israel in a substantial and direct way. The base chance of success of convincing Hizbullah is 50%, plus  10% for each additional 1 PP spent.

Once Hizbullah has entered the war, a “Lebanon War Phase” is added after the Strategic Events Phase in each morning turn for the duration of the game. Israel must commit at least 1 MP and 1 aircraft squadron to the war effort. It may allocate additional MP/IP and additional aircraft squadrons. After it has done so, roll 2D6.

  • Add 1 to the total for every 2 MP/IP allocated to the Lebanon campaign.
  • Add 1 each additional aircraft squadron.
  • Add 1 if Israel purchased an expanded Iron Dome system.

Because of the Syrian civil war Iran has little capability to assist or resupply Hizbullah during the fighting.

Consult the following table to ascertain the effects of the war that day:

  • 2: Hizbullah rockets rain down on northern Israel and points further south. Iran gains 3 PP, and may roll 4 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 3-4: Iran gains 2 PP, and may roll 3 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 5-6: Iran gains 1PP, and may roll 2 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 7-10: Iran may roll 1 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 9-10: The war generates greater Western support for Israel. Israel may roll one die on the US or UN/rest of world opinion track.
  • 11-12: Hizbullah casualties mount. Israel gains +1 to all future rolls on this table (this effect is cumulative).
  • 13+ : Hizbullah suffers severe damage. Iran loses 2 points (PP, MP, and/or IP—Iranian player’s choice), and Israel may roll 1 die on the Iranian opinion track.

Israeli aircraft allocated to Lebanon are assumed to be engaging in airstrikes during the morning and afternoon phases, and test for breakdowns at the end of the latter.

Other Rule Modifications

In general, we’ll be using the full rule set. However, use of  simplified target profiles makes mission planning much quicker, and also allows more effective use of the quick strike chart that the game designers have made available. Resolving aircraft breakdowns/repairs will speeded by using the additional charts for this developed for this.

Rather than treating SAM suppression missions from planned airstrikes at SAM sites as different things, any suppression mission that exceeds its necessary roll by 30% or more is assumed to have permanently destroyed the battery (in the case of older SAMs relying on a single radar system) or half the battery (with more modern SAMs with multiple radars). Players may still attack airfields.

Review: Persian Incursion

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Persian Incursion. Clash of Arms Games, 2010. Designers: Larry Bond, Chris Carlson, Jeff Dougherty. $71.50.

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This is among the games that has been sitting on my shelf for far, far too long, awaiting the opportunity for a proper playtest. I finally got around to it last month—and, as you’ll see in the review below, I found it both to be problematic as a game but insightful as a military simulation.

A Sample Game: OPERATION “LDBICATCSPFAB”

Frustrated by the apparent ineffectiveness of sanctions and viewing Iran’s nuclear program as a growing threat, Prime Minister Netanyahu gave the order: Israel would attack. Operation “Lovingly Detailed but Incredibly Complex and Time-Consuming Strike Planning for a Boardgame” would seek to inflict heavy damage on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and thereby convince the Islamic Republic that there was little point in continuing its nuclear programme into the future.

MIDEAST-ISRAEL-US-F16INot knowing how much time the international community would permit them to complete the task, the Israeli leadership emphasized to IDF planners that first strike needed to be as decisive as possible. Additional tankers were procured to assure that more than 120 Israeli aircraft—F-15s and F-16s, Shavit ELINT platforms, and Eitan drones—would be committed to a long-distance mission via Jordanian and Iraqi airspace. Some aircraft would be allocated to suppressing the air defences that the IAF would encounter en route, and still others to escorting the strike packages. Most, however, were heavily laden with bombs intended  for three major targets: the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, the heavy water plant and reactor at Arak, and the deeply-buried uranium enrichment facility near Qom. Improved EGBU-28C “bunker-buster” bombs were obtained to facilitate penetration of the underground centrifuge halls at Natanz and Qom. Insufficient aircraft were available to target the uranium conversion facility, zirconium production, and fuel manufacturing plant at Isfahan on this first strike, which would have to await a return visit.

Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) grumman F-14 Tomcat supersonic, twin-engine, two-seat, variable-sweep wing fighter missile bvr long range154 AIM-54 Phoenixaim-7 9 132  (2)Initially all went well, with an electronic/cyber attack partially disabling Iran’s air defence network. The SEAD missions were partly successful, but one lucky S-200(SA-5) battery escaped damage, and then was even luckier still when it managed—against all odds—to successfully engage an IAF F-15, shooting it down.

For the most part the obsolete Iranian air force could offer little substantial resistance. However, two patrolling Iranian F-14 pilots detected the strike mission headed for Natanz and managed to shoot down one Israeli F-16 with a long-range AIM-54 Phoenix missile before they were destroyed. No sooner had they done so than a flight of four Mig-29s took advantage of the distraction to close the range, downing a second F-16 before also being destroyed by the Israeli escorts. One IAF pilot survived and was captured by Iranian troops, providing Tehran with a minor public relations coup that it would later exploit. IAF planners had considered the option of allocating more aircraft to escort and fighter-suppression missions, but had opted to maximize the ordnance that could be delivered on target.

Nantaz

The damage from the Israeli attack at Natanz: heavily damaged, but not quite destroyed.

The air defences at the target sites proved less of a hindrance. While the GPS jammers that Iran had installed at its sensitive sites confused some of the Israeli bombs, most found their marks. The facilities at Qom and Arak were completely destroyed, while Natanz was heavily damaged.

As the Israeli aircraft left Iranian air space, they were once more intercepted, this time by small numbers of F-5Es and F-7M fighters. These were quickly and easily downed long before they had closed to within range of their own much inferior air-to-air missiles.

Although Iranian air defences had been lucky, the bombing was largely successful.

In the court of international opinion, however, the Israeli did less well. Perhaps it was Israel’s refusal to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or open its nuclear facilities to international inspection; perhaps it was the impressive skills of Iranian diplomats; or perhaps it was astute card-play and some very good dice rolls, but within a matter of hours and days it was clear that there was little support for a continuation of military operations. Jordan emphasized that it would not allow its airspace to be used again for an attack, and the northern route (through Turkey) and the southern route (through Saudi Arabia) were equally unavailable. Even the United States seemed unhappy at Netanyahu’s unilateral move.

IMG_0685

While domestic support for the government remains (top track), high, the international community is less approving (middle tracks). However, the attack and subsequent Israeli sabotage activities are slowly undermining Iranian resolve (bottom track)

Iranian retaliation was swift but largely ineffectual. Salvos of Shehab-3 missiles were fired at Israel, although only a handful made it past Israel’s Arrow-2 and Patriot PAC-3 ballistic missile defences, and these did little real damage. Twice Iran partially and briefly closed the Straits of Hormuz to signal its displeasure, but these actions only antagonized the international community and were quickly abandoned. Hizbullah and the northern border with Lebanon remained eerily quiet.

For its part Israel—unable to launch another airstrike because of the negative attitude of Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States—instead launched a serious of night-time special forces raids against key Iranian economic infrastructure. These had considerable effect over time, aggravating the domestic economic and political problems of a beleaguered Islamic republic already under severe pressure from international sanctions.

In the end, however, it wasn’t enough. The regime remained in power, undeterred, and committed to rebuilding its  damaged nuclear infrastructure . Israel’s gambit had failed to win more than a brief respite from the perceived Iranian threat, and at the cost of greater international isolation.

Game Review

And thus unfolded our playtest game, which was played using a slightly tweaked version of the “real world” scenario in the game. It was unusual in that Israel able to launch only a single attack (most games involve several), largely due to some very lucky Iranian diplomatic dice. The Iranians were lucky too in managing to shoot down any IAF aircraft, let alone three. The overall outcome was actually quite realistic, both in terms of the damage inflicted to Iranian nuclear facilities and the diplomatic challenges to Israel of sustaining an extended unilateral military campaign.

pic825374_mdPersian Incursion comprises one 17×22″ map, 280 cardboard counters, two decks of cards, data cards for all major aircraft cards, game rules, a target folders (including satellite photographs of each major site), and a background briefing package, and dice. It really consists of two interlinked games, one modelling an Israeli airstrike, and the other representing the broader diplomatic-political context within which military action occurs.

As suggested in the account above, the airstrike part of the game is extremely detailed, with the Israeli player having to quite literally decide on the precise loadout and target of every single aircraft in every single strike, escort, or SEAD package. Since many buildings are individually profiled, some sites include more than thirty different aim-points. The range and probability to hit of every type of air-to-air missile, surface-to-air missile, anti-radiation missile, and guided bomb used by the combatants is rated, as is the effectiveness of each aircraft type. Planning a single attack can take the Israeli player up to an hour—during which time the Iranian player has little do besides practice his rhetorical condemnations of Zionist aggression. Once an Israeli strike arrives on target, the effects must be determined by rolling dice for every single bomb. Since this could conceivable involve a few hundred rolls, it provides another extended period when the Iranian player watches while uttering angry Farsi threats of revenge.

pic774032_mdConversely, the political-diplomatic component of Persian Incursion is a highly abstracted. The changing political position of the various international actors determines how many political, military, and intelligence points a player collects at the start of each turn. These in turn are expended to conduct military operations or to attempt to influence domestic opinion of key regional and international states. Attempts at political influence are carried out through the play of cards, each of which has general labels like “collateral damage,” “spin control, ” or “careful planning,” and each of which affects different target countries to different degrees. Unlike airstrikes, the card play runs proceeds at a rapid pace.

Our play test game was quite exciting in the end, with Israeli special forces raids bring the Iranians perilously close to the point of political defeat before the game ended. However, the ponderously slow airstrike process is problematic from a game design point of view since it exclusively engages only the Israeli player most of the time. Some of this detail is unnecessary too: I’m not convinced there is a real need to have separate aim points for every single building (although it does highlight the need for some targeting redundancy in real-life strike planning with pre-programmed GPS-guided weapons), while the rules of anti-aircraft guns are entirely superfluous given that the IAF almost invariably drops its guided bombs well outside the AAA engagement envelope. Indeed, had our game included the usual several Israeli airstrikes instead of just one, I have a sneaking hunch my opponent would have called it a day before the game ever finished. In an attempt to speed both strike planning and adjudication, the game designers have released several rules modifications that simplify targeting and allow for faster resolution of bombing effects. In similar fashion I also put together my own revised set of target sheets targets that I will likely use in future games, and there are some useful player-made spreadsheets and record sheets available at BoardGameGeek.

The other military options available to players—Iranian ballistic missiles, Israeli special forces operations, terrorist attacks, closing the Straits of Hormuz—are much less complex. The game does not, however, include any option for Iran’s close Lebanese ally Hizbullah to launch major attacks against Israel in retaliation for Israeli attacks on Iran. Indeed, Hizbullah is only briefly mentioned in the  background briefing package, where it is peculiarly placed in the section on the Palestinians. While I don’t believe Hizbullah would necessarily become involved in the fighting after a single Israeli strike, the chances of it doing so would increase if Israel were to launch a sustained campaign. From a game perspective, it certainly would be more interesting for the Iranian player if there were some sort of substantial Hizbullah option that forces Israel to divert its air assets to hunting Hizbullah rocket launchers, but risks a weakening Hizbullah’s military and political status in Lebanon.

Persian Incursion as a Serious Game

How useful might this game be in educational or other “serious game” settings? It certainly has considerable potential, but only if used in certain ways.

This is not a game that can be easily played by students. It is far too long and complicated for neophytes. The asymmetry in role demands and the long delays while Israel plans strikes also would render it highly unsuitable.

On the other hand, the core airstrike game “engine” is excellent, covering everything from the effectiveness of various weapons platforms and ordnance to electronic counter measures, aircraft readiness rates and maintenance, ground control interception, Iranian air defence zones, decoys, and the hardening of targets. The game engine is easily tweaked too, in most cases by simply changing certain ratings or percentages. Playing through a strike or a full game offers considerable insight into the complexities of mission planning, as well as the capabilities and limits of the two militaries. One could even use it to model a potential future “Syrian” route to Iran, predicated on the declining effectiveness of Syrian air defences as the civil war there intensifies.

Given this, the best way of using Persian Incursion in a serious game setting would be with multiple players and an assigned division of labour, some focused on the political side of the conflict and others wholly devoted to military staff planning. One wouldn’t need to use the diplomatic-political subgame that the designers have developed—a standard negotiations role-play or seminar crisis game format could do equally well, or even better if the major international community actors were included too (although this could conceivably also be handled by the game controllers/white cell). The Israeli military staff planners would need to keep detailed tasking orders ready to go for when their political leadership required it, updating this as developments and resources changed. This would also generate some interesting internal dynamics between the political/diplomatic and military components of the Israeli (and Iranian) teams, especially when the politicians wanted more than the military could deliver, or when military hubris might cause it to over-promise mission results, leaving diplomats to make the best of a bad situation. Throughout, only the game controller would really need to know all of the rules, using these to adjudicate the effects of each strike.

An implementation of the game something like this (but exclusively weighted towards the military element) was undertaken by the folks at the “War College” at the 2011 Origins Game Fair—you can see a sample of this in the videos above and below.

Overall Assessment

If you are a serious gamer interested in this era and issue, Persian Incursion is certainly worth buying, but probably best played with the quick strike rules unless the Iranian player has enormous patience and/or something else to busy themselves with while the Israeli plots plots targets, strike packages, and weapons loads. If you’re an inexperienced wargamer, this is not the best game for you. If you are an instructor thinking of using it in the classroom to examine the challenges of airstrikes and preemption and have enough gaming experience to handle its complexity, the game could be very useful—provided you are willing to put in quite a bit of effort in to modify it for your particular needs, and provided you do so in a way that keeps much of the complexity “under the (adjudication) hood” and away from the participants.

If time allows, I plan to give the game a try with students (and possibly a Middle East intelligence analyst or two) in the coming months. If so, I’ll report the results here at PAXsims.

Oil War: The “Unstable Gulf” variant

As promised in my recent review of Oil War: Iran Strikes, I have been thinking about ways in which the game might be modified. To be honest, much of the reason for designing variants is the simple geeky pleasure of tinkering with game designs. I’m not the only one who feels that way, either—there is a very active thread on the Consimworld forum discussing new game rules, units, and so forth. As someone who has a particular concern with the politics of the region, it is also interesting to try to to adapt the game so that it more fully reflects current and future political tensions in the region (albeit within the constraints of the game, map, topic, and counter mix). It also provides an opportunity to illustrate how game design necessarily forces one to think about how various military, economic, social, and political dynamics can best be modelled in a parsimonious (and playable) way. The relative simplicity of Oil War makes it more easily modifiable than many others. Hopefully, “(re)designing out loud” here at PAXsims also provides an opportunity to illustrate to a non-boardgaming audience one of the strengths of manual gaming, namely the much greater ease with which such games can be altered compared to their digital counterparts.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps T-72s on exercise (Press TV).

As the originally configured, the game involves Iranian intervention in a renewed Iraqi civil war, followed by a dash down the Arabian peninsula to capture the capital of at least one Gulf Cooperation Council state (as the GCC tries to slow down the Iranian juggernaut enough for powerful US reinforcements to arrive). While I can certainly imagine scenarios where Iraq tips into renewed civil conflict, and even scenarios in which Iran intervenes in Iraq, the GCC part of the war seemed to be rather implausible.

Compounding this “realism” challenge is a parallel game characteristic that might be labelled  the “Kuwait bottleneck” (or “GCC flypaper”) problem. The layout of the map (and geography) and the configuration of victory conditions means that too many games hinge on a slugfest in a small area around Kuwait, while the Coalition player can usually bog down any Iranian advance further south by deploying a checkerboard of weak GCC military units that Iranian forces must fight their way through.

The Scenario

Protests in Bahrain (AFP).

Hence the logic behind this variant, which adds a GCC preoccupation with domestic security in addition to the military confrontation in Iraq. Specifically it imagines a near future where Gulf monarchies look much less stable than today (an argument that has been made by University of Durham political scientist Christopher Davidson in his recent book After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies). In the proposed scenario the current political confrontation between the (Sunni minority) monarchy and (Shiite majority) opposition in Bahrain has reached the point of near civil war. The opposition, whose initial calls for democratic reforms were brutally crushed by Bahraini and GCC security forces in March 2011, are projected to have slowly grown in strength, and now seek to topple the royal family. The scenario also assumes generally rising Sunni-Shiite sectarian tensions across the Middle East, aggravated by events in Bahrain and Iraq, systematic discrimination against the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia, tensions between Hizbullah and the March 14 movement in Lebanon, as well as by the (future) success of the Syrian revolution against Bashar al-Asad. In Kuwait it is easy to imagine future political protests, especially given the real-life protests that the country has seen in recent weeks. In this case the source of tensions is not a sectarian one (although Kuwait does have a significant Shiite minority), but rather the continuing tug of war between the Emir and the opposition over elections, the role of parliament, and political reform.

In the revised scenario, the Arab Spring has made US policymakers reluctant to be seen too closely tied to authoritarian Gulf monarchies, especially when popular protests erupt. For its part the US public—while alarmed at Iranian intervention—is wary about getting too bogged down in another Gulf or Iraq war.

Finally, the scenario suggests that Iran is far from perfectly stable, the Iranian leadership was not entirely united around the decision to intervene. The Iranian public, which has sombre memories of the human carnage that was the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, isn’t entirely enthusiastic either. The Green Movement opposition—presumed to be still active , if largely underground—is hoping to use anti-war sentiment to mobilize popular support against the regime.

The original Oil War raises the issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but leaves uncertain what its status is, and the issue has no real effect on the scenario or gameplay. I’ve maintained that ambiguity. Finally, I’ve added a little more detail on the actual path to war.

The resulting scenario doesn’t eliminate the prospect for an Iranian blitz into the GCC countries. However, it shifts the balance somewhat, with the Coalition player facing new trade-offs between whether to commit military forces to defence or internal security, on crushing the protests versus maintaining maximum US support, and as to how best to balance the external threat to Kuwait against the risk of a popular uprising in Bahrain.

The scenario setting thus ends up looking like this:

1.1 Game Premise

It wasn’t, in the end, the Iran’s nuclear program that brought military confrontation with the United States. Certainly the nuclear issue was a continuing source of tension. Israel continued to utter threats to strike at Iranian facilities. The US and its allies continued to place diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions on Tehran. For their part the Iranians continued to develop their nuclear capacities, but had thus far refrained from moving beyond 20% enrichment to produce weapons-grade uranium that could be used in a nuclear device. The covert campaigns of sabotage, assassination, cyberwarfare, and tit-for-tat retaliation had all continued too.

Instead, it would be a series of local political crises that would tip the Gulf into armed conflict.

Iraq’s August 2014 parliamentary elections had been deeply divisive, marred by sectarian tensions and political violence. While Iyad Allawi and his al-Iraqiyya party had won a narrow plurality by drawing upon both Sunni and Shiite voter support, many other Shiites had voted instead for rival parties: former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s “State of Law” coalition, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, or the Sadrists. Prime Minister Allawi thus depended heavily on support from the Kurdish parties to maintain a majority in parliament, which only further angered the opposition. In response, these Shiite parties drew closer to Iran, which was quite willing to offer political support, funding, and even the occasional covert arms supplies.

The new Iraqi Prime Minister also sought to reorient Iraqi policy closer to the United States and Saudi Arabia. Coming so soon after another strategic reverse—namely the overthrow in Syria of former Iranian ally Bashar al-Asad by the predominately Sunni (and vehemently anti-Iranian) opposition—Tehran saw this as deeply threatening.

In Bahrain, the Sunni Al Khalifa monarchy had, backed by its Gulf allies, continued its brutal crackdown against the Shiite majority. The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and especially Saudi Arabia, were convinced that the reformist movement there was little more than an Iranian-backed plot. Sporadic protests among the long-oppressed Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province only heightened Riyadh’s concerns.

In July 2015, a little over a year after the elections, Iraq’s unstable politics worsened dramatically when a senior Shiite cleric was assassinated in Najaf by unknown gunmen. As each side quickly accused the other of complicity. Angry street protests erupted across the southern part of the country. Some security units mutinied, siding with the protesters. Fighting escalated further as ISCI and Sadrist militias joined with rebellious security forces to battle those loyal to the Allawi government.

On August 12, a powerful car bomb destroyed the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, killing the ambassador and more than a dozen staff. A second, in the southern city of Karbala, killed a visiting a Iranian cleric and several senior ISCI officials. That same day, the Iraqi Minister of Defence flew to Riyadh to discuss a possible defence relationship with the GCC countries. In Washington, the US announced stepped-up military aid to the tottering Iraqi government.

Three days later, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, used his annual al-Quds Day speech to declare that “the Islamic Republic of Iran could not and would not allow brotherly Iraq to once more fall into the clutches of an evil tyrant or his dark Satanic puppeteer.” Within Iraq  a joint “National Islamic Redemption Council for Iraq” was announced by opposition figures in Basra. It called for a popular uprising against Prime Minister Allawi’s government—and for external support.

Hours later, the first Iranian combat units crossed the border into Iraq. For the fourth time in less than four decades, the Gulf was at war.

Rules Modifications

Below I have listed all of the rules that need to be modified or added to make the scenario work . These should be compared with the original rules for Oil War: Iran Strikes, which can be downloaded via BoardGameGeek. The section numbers are consistent with the original rules, with the P.1 to P.7 sections being completely new.

Overall, I’ve tried to make very few changes to the military combat rules. This isn’t for a lack of possible tweaks—on the contrary, the discussion at the ConSimWorld forum offers all sorts of ideas on how to make the military order-of-battle and combat dynamics of the game more detailed or accurate. However, I wanted to focus attention largely on rules changes necessary for the politics of an “Unstable Gulf.”.

2.14 Other Counters

The uses of the following counters are explained at appropriate points throughout the rest of the rules.

Protest Marker (see 11.10)

Modification and rationale: Adds protest markers to the mix. These will need to be made up to play the “Unstable Gulf”—eight or so should suffice. Any other marker will do, as long as both players know what it means!

4.12  Bahrain

If at the end of the game Manama is under the control of Bahraini protesters, roll a d6. On a score of 3+ the Iranian player gains one VP.

Modification and rationale: A successful anti-government uprising by the (Shi’ite-majority) opposition in Bahrain—while not necessarily pro-Iranian—would nonetheless be seen as a major strategic threat by most (Sunni) GCC countries.

3.9 Protest Set Up

Place  a protest marker in Bahrain, Kuwait City, and any Saudi town or city (selected by the Saudi player). The effects of protest markers are described in 11.10.

Modification and rationale: The Gulf countries are suffering from a degree of political turmoil when the war begins.

5.2 Turn Sequence

The game turn sequence is given below in outline. The rest of the rules are organized, as much as possible, to explain things in the order they’re encountered as you go through each game turn’s sequence.

I. Iranian Player Turn
A. Iranian Combined Movement Phase
B. Iranian Basij Combat Phase
C. Iranian Artesh/RGC/Iraqi Insurgent Combat Phase

II. US/Coalition Player Turn
A. Non-US Coalition Movement Phase
B. Non-US Coalition Combat Phase
C. US Movement or Combat or Airpower Phase
D. US Combat or Movement or Airpower Phase
E. US Airpower or Movement or Combat Phase

III. Random Events and Protest Phase
A. Random Events Phase
B.  Protest Phase

IV. Mutual Replacement & Reinforcement Phase
A. Iranian Basij Replacement & Strategic Reserve Release Step
B. Saudi Reinforcement Step
C. US Reinforcement Step
D. Air Support Availability Step

Modification and rationale: A “Protest Phase” has been added during which time players will determine the eruption and spread of political protests. An “Air Support Availability Step” has also been added.

5.8 Syrian Movement & Combat

If Syria enters play (see 13.2), the movement of and attacks by its units always take place as part of Coalition steps II.A and II.B, respectively, in the outline above.

Modification and rationale: Syrian units enter the war on the Coalition side in this variant.

6.4 US & Coalition Stacking Particulars

On the US/Coalition side, US, Kuwaiti, Saudi, Bahraini, Qatari, UAE, Iraqi loyalist , Kurdish, and Syrian units may freely stack, up to a limit of four per hex. Multinational stacks suffer a one column shift penalty when attacking or defending, however.

Modification and rationale: Simplifies stacking rules, while addressing the command and control problems of multinational operations.

6.6 Syrian Stacking

If Syria enters play (see 13.2), it always does so on the Coalition side. They may free stack with other coalition units as outlined in 6.4.

Modification and rationale: Revises rule to be consistent with 6.4.

7.2 Geographic Restrictions

US units may enter any part of the map.

Iranian units may enter any part of the map except Turkey.

Saudi units are initially confined to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Once Iranian units (but not al-Qods Force missions) enter or attack any GCC country, they may enter all GCC countries as well as Iraqi hexes south of Basra (XX28 or higher). No more than half of all Saudi units may be outside Saudi Arabia at any one time. If this occurs a sufficient number of Saudi units must return to the Kingdom as quickly as possible.

The UAE unit is initially confined to the UAE. Once Iranian units (but not al-Qods Force missions) enter or attack any GCC country, or once there are two or more protest markers in any one GCC country, they may enter all GCC countries.

Kuwaiti, Qatari, and Bahraini units may not leave their own countries.

Turkish and Syrian units may only enter their own countries and Iraq.

Iraqi units may not leave Iraq. Kurdish units may not leave Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG).

Units may attack across the border of the region(s) to which they’re restricted. For example, Kuwaiti units may attack across their nation’s border into Iraq.

Modification and rationale: Adjusts geographic restrictions for simplicity and political plausibility. Situated so close to Iraq and Iran and with the bitter experience of the 1990-91 Gulf War, it seems unlikely that Kuwait would weaken its defences in a crisis by sending troops outside the country. The Bahraini and Qatari militaries are small and largely needed for internal security as well as to defend against the threat of Iranian attack. The Saudis also need to keep sufficient troops in-country to assure domestic security. The UAE “Peninsula Shield” force that is included is designed for joint GCC operations, hence allowing it to deploy elsewhere in the GCC (as it did to some extent in Bahrain in 2011).

11.10 Protests

A protest marker indicates the presence of protests in a given hex. It is not a unit. Protests are static and may never move.

Units of any nationality may be stacked with protests. Protests do not count towards stacking limits. Units may move on or through protests.However, the cost of entering or leaving a protest hex is increased by one for all units. This effect is cumulative, so that three protests would cause a penalty of three movement points.

In the case of the Abu Haddryah road/causeway, units may move normally as per rule 9.8 if there are fewer than two protests in the hex they wish to enter (3709 or 3810). They may not, however, cross if two or more protests are present in that hex.

US units may never voluntarily enter a hex containing a protest, although they may retreat into such a hex, and are not required to leave if a protest erupts in the hex they currently occupy. US reinforcements may not appear in a hex containing a protest.

Combat units in the same hex as protest suffer a 1 column shift penalty when attacking or defending.This effect is cumulative, so that three protests would cause a 3 column shift penalty. This does not affect attempts to suppress protests.

Modification and rationale: This rule introduces the effect of protests, which inhibit movement. The protesters may be anti-regime, but they aren’t necessarily pro-Iranian, so the effect is felt by all sides. Protests will also have some bearing on US reinforcements and random events.

PROTEST PHASE

P.1 Protest Phase

During the protest phase, test once each for Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iran, and Iraq, unless the rules below state otherwise.

P.2  Kuwait Protests

Roll 2d6:

  • 2-8: no effect
  • 9-10: place a protest in Kuwait City
  • 11: place a protest in al-Ahmadi
  • 12: place a protest in a-Jahra

Exception: If Iranian forces are in or adjacent Kuwait or attacked Kuwaiti units this turn, do not roll for protests. Instead, the Coalition player may remove one protest from Kuwait.

P.3 Saudi Protests

Roll 2d6:

  • 2-7: no effect
  • 8: place a protest in Dahran
  • 9: place a protest in al-Hafuf
  • 10: place a protest in Ras Tannurah
  • 11: place a protest in al-Jubayl
  • 12: place a protest in Khafji

Exception: If Iranian forces are in Saudi Arabia this turn, do not roll for protests. If there are 10 or fewer Saudi units within Saudi Arabia, add 1 when rolling on this table. Do not place a protest in a Saudi town or city if a Saudi unit is present there.

P.4 Bahrain Protests

Roll 2d6:

  • 2-6: no effect
  • 7-9: place a protest in Manama
  • 10: place a protest in hex 3810
  • 11-12: place a protest in hex 3910

Exception: If Iranian forces are in Bahrain this turn, do not roll for protests.

P.5 Iran Protests

Roll 2d6, and add one for every three Iranian units lost this turn:

  • 2-11: no effect
  • 12+: anti-war protests erupt. Permanently remove one IRGC or Basij unit from the turn track or strategic reserve, as it is committed to internal security duties. If no unit is available, the Iranian player instead loses 1 VP.

P.6 Iraq Protests

Roll 2d6:

  • 2-3: The Coalition player must place a protest marker in Iraq in any town or city.
  • 4-10: no effect
  • 11-12: The Iranian player must place a protest marker in Iraq in any town or city.

P.7 Domino Effects

If a protest phase results in a protest being added to a hex where one or more protests are already present, opposition momentum builds. Place the protest, then roll one additional time to possibly place an additional protest in that same country. This process may be repeated multiple times.

Protests generated by al-Qods Force destabilization (11.1) do not cause domino effects.

Modification and rationale: This entire section is new, and it introduces protests that erupt during the game. Because anti-regime movements are not necessarily pro-Iranian (indeed, even the Shiite opposition in Bahrain has no fondness for the Iranian system), the Iranian player has little influence over where they appear. Protests in Kuwait represent non-revolutionary calls for political reform. Protests in Bahrian represent Shiite opposition efforts to topple the regime. Protests in Saudi Arabia generally represent the pent-up frustrations of the marginalized Shiite minority, although at times they might also be others critical of the regime. Protests in Iran indicated a resurgent Green Movement opposition. Protests in Iraq represent the chaos of the civil war.

10.31 Suppressing Protests

Any GCC unit may attempt to suppress protests within Saudi Arabia or Bahrain. Only Kuwaiti units may attempt to suppress protests within Kuwait. Any units may attempt to suppress protests in Iraq. Units attempting suppression must be in the hex containing the protest. Suppression takes place during the combat phase, in place of regular combat.

Add together the total combat factors suppressing the protests, and subtract the total number of protests in the hex. This gives the suppression differential. There are no column shifts.

Decide on the tactics to be used (brutal, regular, or cautious) then roll a D6. If brutal tactics are used, add one to the total. If cautious tactics are used, subtract 1. Consult the Suppression Table (below) to determine the result.

Suppression Differential
die roll -1 or less 0 +1 +2 or more
0
1 HR HR
2 HR PS 1
3 PS 1 PS 1
4 PS 1 PS 1 PS 1
5 PS 1 PS 1 PS 1 PS 2
6 PC 1 PC 1 PC 1 PC 2
7 PC 1 PC 2 PC 2 PC 2

HR: Humiliating retreat, as protestors force back security forces. Add a second protest marker in the same location.

PS 1 (or 2): Protest suppressed, with little or no loss of life—remove one (or two) protest marker(s).

PC1 (or 2): Protest crushed, with significant loss of life—remove one (or two) protest marker(s). The Coalition player subtracts two when testing for reinforcements during the US Reinforcement Step. Treat this as a PS result instead if the Kuwaiti police unit participated in the suppression.

Modification and rationale: The Coalition player needs to suppress protests, but doing so comes with some risk. Excessive use of force by the authoritarian GCC states could generate a backlash in US and global public opinion, and complicate US reinforcement efforts. The GCC can minimize this risk by adopted cautious tactics, but these are less effective than more brutal ones at crushing dissent.

11.1 Iranian Al-Qods Force Markers

The Iranian player starts the game with three of these in the Turn 1 box, and one in the Turn 2 box. The markers represent covert missions by members of IRGC al-Qods Force.

Each turn the Iranian player must deploy the available Al-Qods Force markers in the current turn box to any of the four missions listed below. This may take place at any point during the Iranian player turn.

al-Qods Force markers that are eliminated are permanently removed from the game. Those that survive their missions, however, are replaced on the turn track during the Basij Replacement step (14.1) as if they were Basij units.

MISSION: Subversion. Place the al-Qods Force marker on on top of any single non-Kurdish militia unit (ie, one that is not stacked with other Coalition forces), and roll immediately:

  • 1-2: The angry locals turn on the Iranian emissaries. The al-Qods Force marker is permanently eliminated.
  • 3-4: No effect. Return the al-Qods Force marker to the turn track in the Basij Replacement Step.
  • 5-6: Iran guns, money, and diplomacy prove effective. The militia is flipped to its pro-Iranian side.  Return the al-Qods Force marker to the turn track in the Basij Replacement Step.

Once an subversion attempt is made against a unit, it may not be repeated for the remainder of the turn.

MISSION: Train and Equip. Place the al-Qods Force marker underneath a pro-Iranian militia. It does not count towards stacking limits. While it is still present, the militia gains a one column shift to the left when defending. In addition, that militia may now conduct attacks against neighboring hexes as if a normal unit, although it still may not move , not even to occupy a hex vacated by the enemy as a result of a successful attack. If at any time the militia is defeated, the al-Qods Force marker is permanently eliminated. Otherwise it may remain in place as long as the Iranian player chooses, or be returned to the turn track during the Basij Replacement Step.

Only one train and equip mission may be active in any given hex at any given time.

MISSION: Destabilization. Assign an available  al-Qods Force marker to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or Bahrain. Immediately roll two d6:

  • If the total score is 5 or less, the effort backfired—the al-Qods Force marker is eliminated, and the Coalition player may instead remove one protest marker from that country.
  • Otherwise, implement the appropriate results (P.2, P.3, P. 4) as if it were the Protest Phase for that country. Return the al-Qods Force marker to the turn track in the Basij Replacement Step.

Once a destabilization attempt is made in a country, it may not be repeated in that country for the remainder of the turn.

MISSION: Sabotage. Roll a d6:

  • 1-2: The saboteurs are caught by alert sentries. The al-Qods Force marker is permanently eliminated.
  • 3-4: Mission aborted. Return the al-Qods Force marker to the turn track in the Basij Replacement Step.
  • 5-6: Mission successful. The coalition player subtracts two when testing for either reinforcements or airpower availability (Iranian player’s choice) during the US Reinforcement Step.

Once a sabotage attempt in a turn, no further attempts may be made for the remainder of the turn.

Modification and rationale: The rule has been completely rewritten to better reflect the sorts of covert activities undertaken by al-Qods Force, and to link more closely with the protest rules.

11.5 US Base Units

All these units may serve as entry hexes for all US reinforcement units other than MEU (see 14.10). Whenever US units defend in, or attack from, a hex containing a US base unit, their combat factors are doubled; however, that multiplication effect never extends to the combat factor of the base unit itself or to that of any non-US Coalition units that might be present. Also see the last paragraph of 10.27.

The US base indicated for hex 1303 (Irbil) is not placed on the map at the start of the game, but is rather placed in the US reinforcement pool. When drawn it may be placed in or adjacent to any friendly-control capital city, or in Dahran.

Modification and rationale: Resolves the issue of whether there is, or is not, a US base in Irbil (in reality there isn’t; the rules are ambiguous)—now that base unit is deployable, representing the establishment by US military personnel of a new US logistics hub at a regional port or airport. Also eliminates a reference to old stacking rules that have been superseded by revised rule 6.4.

13.2 Random Event 2: Syria Enters the War

Syria sends troops to aid the Coalition side. Each time this event occurs two Syrian units are immediately placed in west-edge hexes between 1001 and 1011, inclusive, by the Coalition player. No placement may occur in enemy-occupied hexes, but placement in EZOC is OK. Because of the negative effects of the Syrian civil war on Syrian military capabilities and logistics, the combat rating of the unit is variable regardless of the number printed on the counter. Roll d6 to determine the unit’s combat factor each time the unit is engaged in combat and halve this, rounding down if attacking and up if defending.

Modification and rationale: By the time the scenario takes place, the current regime of Bashar al-Asad has been overthrown in Damascus by the predominately Sunni opposition. Given Tehran’s previous backing of Asad, the new regime is strongly anti-Iranian.

13.3 Random Event 3: Wahhabi Zeal

Pro-regime clerics exhort Saudi citizens to fight against the Shiite menace. The Coalition player may remove one protest marker in Saudi Arabia. The Coalition side gains a one column shift for all attacks involving Saudi units this turn. All Saudi protest suppression efforts next turn must use brutal tactics.

Modification and rationale: Rule reflects widespread Saudi religious hostility to Shiism.

13.4 Random Event 4: Lebanese Complications

Lebanese politics is complicated, it really is. Roll a d6:

  • 1-4: Hizbullah provides covert assistance to the al-Quds Force. Place an additional al-Quds force marker on the turn track for next turn.
  • 5: Tensions mount between and Hizbullah the anti-Hizbullah “March 14” coalition. Diverting resources to support its Lebanese ally, the Iranian player permanently loses the next available al-Qods Force marker from the turn track (if any).
  • 6: Israel and Hizbullah clash. Move all al-Qods Force markers one turn further along the turn track as Iran waits to see how the Lebanese conflict develops. The US must subtract one from the reinforcement and air availability rolls this turn as it too monitors the situation in the Levant.

Rationale for rule change: Hizbullah works very closely with both the IRGC (including al-Quds Force) and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and likely provides cadres for some external operations. On the other hand, Hizbullah’s position in Lebanon is likely to be weakened by any regime change in Damascus, and the close relations between the new (Sunni-dominated) Syrian government and the (Sunni-led) March 14 coalition in Lebanon. Finally, Israel could take advantage of Iranian intervention in the Gulf to have a go at Hizbullah, or vice-versa.

13.5 Random Event 5: Coalition of the Willing

If there are two or fewer current protests in GCC states, Britain, France and other Western allies send combat aircraft to Gulf to assist US efforts. Add one to all future air support availability rolls. This effect may be rolled more than once during the same game.

Modification and rationale: Replaces previous rules that doubled or eliminated US air attacks for a turn, shifts this dynamic into the air availability roll, and makes European support contingent on the political context.

13.6 Random Event 6: Kuwaiti Political Crisis

If there are three or more protests in Kuwait, roll a d6:

  • 1-2: The Emir suspends parliament and declares martial law. Remove any one protest in Kuwait (Coalition player’s choice). Subtract one from all future US reinforcement rolls. Treat this as “No Event” if Kuwait Political Crisis rolled again during the same game.
  • 3-5: The crisis drags on. Subtract one from the US reinforcement roll this turn.
  • 6: The Emir announces major political reforms. Remove all protests. Add three to the US reinforcement roll this turn. Non-Kuwaiti GCC units must leave Kuwait as soon as possible, and may not reenter. Treat this as “No Event” if Kuwait Political Crisis rolled again during the same game.

Modification and rationale: Raises the possibility of the war contributing to political changs in Kuwait, which in turn affects US commitment.

13.7 Random Event 7: Bahrain Erupts

Place a protest marker in Manama.

Roll a d6. Add the number of protests in Bahrain, and subtract the total combat value of GCC units in the country.

  • 3 or less: The regime remains in control. One protest is removed (Coalition player’s choice).
  • 4: Heavy fighting breaks out. One protest and one GCC unit are removed (Coalition player’s choice).
  • 5 or more:  The royal family is toppled. Treat this as “No Event” if Bahrain Erupts again during the same game.

If the regime is overthrown, place the flipped Bahraini unit on Manama to represent a Bahrain opposition militia unit, having retreated any other Coalition units from Manama to make room. Neither Iranian nor Coalition troops may enter Manama while it is under opposition militia control. GCC and Iranian (but not US) units may attack it.Iranian al-Qods Force missions may be used to try to influence the militia to become Iranian-controlled.

If Manama comes under Iranian control, Iranian ASR and NDC units in strategic reserve attempting to land in Bahrain add two to their rolls on the Iranian Airborne and Amphibious Movement Table (11.4), Iranian Airborne units may move within the country as if they were regular Iranian units, and Iranian units in Bahrain count as in supply (7.4).

Regardless of outcome, television coverage of the Bahraini crisis weakens Western support for the GCC. Subtract two from the US reinforcement roll this turn.

Modification and rationale: the scenario envisages a Bahrain with an increasingly radicalized Shiite opposition, on the brink of civil war. The GCC will need to reinforce the Bahraini security forces, or risk losing it. This is an important random effect, and fear of it is likely to significantly shape Coalition behaviour.

13.8 Random Event 8: Social Media

Images and reports of Gulf protests go viral, shaping regional and international opinion. If there are three or more protests currently on the map, subtract one from the US reinforcement roll this turn during the US Reinforcement Step, and add one to all protest rolls (P.2 – P.6) during the Protest Phase.

Modification and rationale: Suggests that post-Arab Spring US support for Gulf States may be affected by human rights concerns. This rule also attempts to replicate the impact of satellite television and the internet during the Arab Spring of 2011. While in this case it seems unlikely that the two main Arabic satellite news channels, Al Jazeera and al-Arabiyya, would be reporting on Gulf protests given that they are Qatari- and Saudi-owned respectively, this could be offset by the high rates of internet penetration and social media use in the Gulf region.

13.9 Random Event 9: UN Ceasefire

The UN Security Council considers a ceasefire resolution. The US player may choose to veto this resolution, in which case it counts as “No Event.” Otherwise:

  • If the Coalition player attacks this turn, the number of VP the Iranian player needs to win at the end of the game is decreased by one.
  • If the Iranian player attacks this turn,  the number of VP the Iranian player needs to win at the end of the game is increased by one.
  • Players may move and suppress protests as normal, and al-Qods Force missions may continue without restriction.

Modification and rationale: Modifies the UN random events in the original rules to more accurately reflect US strength (and Iranian weakness) in the United Nations Security Council.

13.10 Random Event 10: Major Sandstorm

The US player should immediately make a second die roll. On a one through three, he immediately places the Sandstorm marker in any hex on the map; on a result of four through six, the Iranian player places it. The effect of the marker lasts until the start of the next Random Events Phase: there may be no combat (including airstrikes) in its hex or in any hexes within two hexes of it, and movement costs within this area are doubled.

Modification and rationale: Reduces the frequency and severity of sandstorms.

13.11 Revolutionary Fervour

Inspired by exhortations from the Supreme Leader, the Iranian side gains a one column shift for all attacks involving the IRGC or Basij next turn. Alarmed by this, all GCC units must opt for brutal tactics when suppressing protests next turn (10.31).

Modification and rationale: Modifies the original Event #11 which called for Iranians to rally around the reappearance of the 12th (Hidden) Imam—an effect that seemed somewhat akin to giving US combat forces a shift because someone had declared themselves the second coming of Jesus Christ.

13.12 Random Event 12: Turkey Enters the War

Turkey enters the war on the Coalition side—immediately deploy all Turkish units in hexes of that country (EZOC OK). If rolled again during the same game, Turkey gets cold feet about intervention—immediately remove all Turkish units from the game. In the unlikely event that this event is rolled a third time, Turkey enters the war once again on the Coalition side (and so forth).

Modification and rationale: The original rules allow for Turkey to intervene on the Iranian side, which seems completely implausible.

14.5 US Reinforcements Step

At the start of the US Reinforcements Step the Coalition player rolls 2d6 to determine the arrival of US ground combat units. Add and subtract any modifiers arising from al-Qods Force sabotage (11.1), protest suppression (10.31), or Random Events (13.2-13.12). Subtract one if no Iranian units have yet entered a GCC country. Add one if it is game turn 5 or later:

  • 4 or less: No US reinforcements are drawn.
  • 5-9: One reinforcement chit is randomly drawn from the reinforcement pool.
  • 10 or more: Two reinforcement chits are randomly drawn from the reinforcement pool.

Such reinforcements are immediately entered into play as described in 14.6 – 14.10 (and also see 14.3 and 11.7). Normal stacking limits apply during all such placements and arrival in hexes containing EZOC is OK.

Modification and rationale: US “boots on the ground” are now affected by conditions in GCC countries, both for logistical reasons (protests might hamper transportation) and political reasons (protests and repression might undermine US and Western public support for the GCC states).

14.11 Air Support Availability Step

At the start of the Air Availability Step the Coalition player rolls 2d6 to determine the availability of air attacks next turn. Add and subtract any modifiers arising from al-Qods Force sabotage (11.1) or Random Events (13.2-13.12). Subtract one if no Iranian units have yet entered a GCC country. Add one if it is game turn 5 or later:

  • 4 or less: No US air attacks next turn.
  • 5-9: One US air attack next turn.
  • 10 or more: Two US air attacks next turn.

The US does not receive an airstrike for the first game turn.

Modification and rationale: The build-up and employment  of US airpower is now affected by political conditions in GCC countries, although much less so than the deployment of ground combat units.

* * *

Note that while the game revisions above still envisage a two player game, it could be easily played as three by splitting the Coalition side in two. This would give you Iran versus the US (including Iraqi loyalists and possibly Turkey) and GCC (including possibly Syria). One can even imagine some squabbling between the US and GCC players over appropriate strategy. Further rules revisions might even involve slightly differing victory conditions for the two Coalition players to encourage some dissension.

* * *

Update: I’ve now playtested the “Unstable Gulf” variant rules. You’ll find the results here. The rules can also be downloaded as a pdf (minus the explanations for each modification) here.

Israel vs Iran: The first 48 hours

In September the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Israel conducted a large-scale wargame/crisis simulation of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Yesterday they issued their summary report on the exercise.:

After midnight on November 9, al-Jazeera reports that Israeli airplanes have attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities in three waves of attack. As reports multiply, Israel officially announces it has attacked Iran’s nuclear sites because it had no other choice. According to the scenario, Israel did not coordinate the attack with the United States in advance, and only informed the US once the planes were already en route to the Iranian targets. Initial assessments estimate that the Iranian nuclear program has been set back by nearly three years.

Following the successful attack, Iran decides to react with maximal force, launching missiles from within its borders and urging its proxies – Hizbollah, Hamas, and other radical elements – to attack Israel. Nonetheless, it is careful to avoid attacking American targets. Israel attempts to contain the attacks and works to attain a state of calm as rapidly as possible. The international community is paralyzed, largely because Russia tries to exploit the situation for its own strategic objectives. At the end of the first 48 hours, Iran continues to attack Israel, as do their proxies, albeit to a lesser extent. At this point in the simulation, the crisis does not seem to be close to a resolution.

What is unusual about this Israel-Iran wargame is, as we noted a few days ago, that the simulation was also filmed by the UK Channel 4 current affairs show Dispatches. The resulting 27 minute documentary aired tonight in the UK. (UK viewers that missed it can still watch the video via the Channel 4 website, but those elsewhere are out of luck unless they know how to use a proxy server.)

According to the Channel 4 production team, they were rather taken aback by how easy the Israelis thought it would all be:

And that seemed to sum up the game: ‘Israel’ doing pretty much what it wanted – with little or no consequences. By the end of the proceedings, the picture of almost total ‘Israeli’ victory was clear: ‘Iranian’ retaliation had been limited; ‘Irans’ attempts to get others to enter the conflict on its behalf had largely failed, as had its attempts to get ‘Egypt’ to cancel its peace accord with ‘Israel’.

‘Tehran’ failed to have the sanctions on it removed and also failed to have sanctions passed on ‘Israel’ in the Security Council. A strike against ‘Iran’, it seemed, could be an almost unqualified success.

While it is possible to read the simulation in this way, it seems to me that the INSS wargame actually pointed to some rather complex and important issues related to Iranian retaliation.

  1. Iran has only a limited capacity to inflict direct damage on Israel, largely through its ballistic missile force (which would have to penetrate Israel’s dual-layer Arrow and Patriot ABM defences.)
  2. Iran could press its Hizbullah client in Lebanon to attack Israel with shorter-range rockets (of which it has tens of thousands) and other methods, but Hizbullah might be reluctant to do so for fear of sparking a major Israeli military campaign in Lebanon, especially at a time that its Syrian ally is engulfed in civil war. Dragging Lebanon into war at Iran’s behest would also damage Hizbullah’s domestic and regional political standing. The Iranians know this too, so much would depend on whether they wanted to take the risk, and how hard they were prepared to push Hizbullah to act.
  3. On the Palestinian side, Hamas has a much more distant relationship-of-convenience with Tehran, and would be even less likely to want to risk an unpopular major war on Iran’s behalf. Iran would have rather more influence over the very much smaller Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which might fire off some rockets until Hamas decided to intervene.
  4. Iran could target Arab Gulf states, US facilities in the Gulf, or oil shipments through the Straits of Hormuz. This would risk dragging the US into a shooting war, however—with even greater costs to the Iranians.
  5. In the longer term the Iranians have a number of other indirect retaliatory options, including attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets abroad, supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan, and stepping up their involvement in Iraq, Syria, or elsewhere. However these largely lay outside the 48 hour timeframe of the game

One needs to be very careful about that “48 hours timeframe,” therefore, in assessing the policy implications of the game. The game does not assess whether the Iranians choose to rebuild their nuclear facilities after the attack, much less whether they might decide to develop a much more serious nuclear weapons program than the one they have at present. The game does not assess possible Iranian retaliatory actions in the weeks and months ahead, and the potential for escalatory tit-for-tat. Indeed, the concern that while a war with Iran would be easy to start it would be much harder to end seems to underpin much of the opposition that the Israeli national security establishment has shown to the idea of an attack.

Needless to say, this game has been added to the fourteen others now listed at the Israel vs Iran Wargame Compendium.

h/t Charles Cameron

Channel 4: Nuclear War Games

The Channel 4 (UK) current affairs programme Dispatches will be airing a report on 5 November 2012 that explores the regional and international implications of an Israeli attack on Iran via crisis simulation:

Nuclear War Games: Channel 4 Dispatches

On the eve of the US presidential election Dispatches explores one of the major international issues facing the world: the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The programme has gained exclusive access to an Israeli ‘war game’, in which an Israeli attack on Iran is played out in detail.

The outcome of the imagined scenario could help Israel decide whether it goes to war with Iran. Dispatches examines how such a conflict could have dire repercussions for global stability and goes inside a country that lives with the permanent threat of war…

Behind closed doors in Israel’s elite Institute for National Security Studies, Israeli diplomats, former government ministers and spies are role-playing what could be the most audacious military strike in Israel’s history. All the potential players in this drama – the US, Iran, Israel, the EU, the UN, the Arab World and Russia – are represented in the game by Israelis, who chart out likely responses to an event that will ripple throughout the world. Will Israel escape unscathed? Or will the region explode into war – possibly dragging the West along with it…?

Producer/Director: Kevin Sim

Prod Co: Blakeway

Iranian student simulation of the Syrian crisis

As of late PAXsims has featured a great many US (or Israeli) simulations of Israel (and/or the US) attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, or US simulations of the Syrian crisis. This time, however, we bring you an Iranian simulation of a United Nations Security Council debate on the Syrian crisis.

The “Model UN”-type exercise was organized by the International Studies Journal  in cooperation with the United Nations Information Centre in Tehran on 20 September 2012. It involved some 36 graduate students from various universities across Iran.

The clip above (the third in a series of nine) is the only one to feature a student speech in English (starting at 1:37)—the rest of proceedings, obviously, were in Farsi. You’ll find the full set of videos on the UNIC Tehran YouTube page.

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