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Tag Archives: matrix games

Engle: COVID-19 hospital matrix gaming ideas

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Chris Engle, the inventor of matrix gaming, has passed on some ideas for a COVID 19 general hospital simulation. We are pleased to post them below.

The world is facing a pandemic. It is testing our systems to the extreme. Maximizing utilization of resources is all important. This requires the following.

  • Effective intelligence
  • Pre-planning
  • Pre-deployment of resources
  • Public policy to slow the spread of the illness
  • Maintenance of public order
  • Distribution of goods and services
  • Medical treatment as needed
  • Maintenance of front line essential workers
  • Evaluation of effectiveness and alteration of intervention
  • Data-based decision making on when to return to normal

It is a highly complicated situation that is in a constant state of flux. Simulating this in a timely meaningful way is a huge challenge.

What follows is a simple, inexpensive, easily run, quick to initiate simulation that might be helpful. The game is about a general hospital in a moderate sized city in Middle America: imagine it being in a city of 100 to 250 thousand people. Or it might be in one district of a much larger city. The players are healthcare providers, administrators, and other stakeholders. The game consists of play sessions of around 10 participants each engaging problems and solutions, and the problems that flow from them. Sessions last between 30 tp 120 minutes and can be done by phone, video, email, or in person. The game requires a facilitator/moderator/host who does not have to be an expert. Their job is to encourage people to participate.

The Matrix Game

General Hospital is run using a Matrix Game. This is a type of game that uses words and discussion rather than numbers and mathematical algorithms to track what happens, The approach has been used since the 1980’s as a planning/training tool in a variety of fields. Chris Engle, a psychiatric social worker, invented Matrix Games in 1988. Games consist of players making statements about what they think happens next in a given situation. They are narrating events, which they make up out of their imagination. The session is a conversation between participants. The outcome of sessions is a list of brainstormed problems and solutions, with some indication about which ones are more or less likely to happen. The complete rules of the game are as follows’ The host of the event starts the session by stating a problem. They then ask the players “What happens next?” The host then allows the players to speak. The host’s remaining job is to encourage people to speak, to recap what is said, to help players through the technical rules, to occasionally re-ask the question, and to wrap the game up on time. The players make things happen by jumping in as the spirit moves them to say what happens next. This might be an event, a plan, or another problem. Whatever the player says automatically happens, it is part of the story. Other players may jump in and add to this or they may alter it or even say that something else happens instead. These also automatically happen, and overwrite the first statement. If a player says something that people think is unlikely to happen they may ask the player to roll for it. The player must then roll a six sided die. On a roll of 1 to 3, the event does not happen and cannot be repeated in this game. On a roll of 4 to 6 the event does happen and cannot be overwritten, As many players as wish may ask a player to roll and the player must pass each roll to have their event happen. This is evidence or how unlikely people believe certain moves are.

The game ends when the starting problem is solved or when the players run out of time.

Dice rolls are never required and it is not uncommon for there to be sessions without any rolls. The ideas that players come up with will range far from their areas of responsibility and expertise. They will identify problems and interventions that touch on society at large. Some input will even be silly and fantastical. All this is allowed because with each statement, the players open up a little more which makes it possible for them to speak and share incites that will help. To this end, it is helpful for top leaders to say little or nothing in games since they may overly influence participants.

Debriefing

It is vitally important for time be given after each session for the players to talk about and summarize what they learned. This cements lessons. This can be done by the players talking to one another or by the game host recapping events and highlighting the important points. These recaps should then be passed back to the administrators and decision makers who sponsored the event so they can make use of the intelligence for planning purposes.

Participants

Any health professional or stakeholder in decision making can usefully participate in Matrix Game sessions. They do not need any simulation expertise or area knowledge beyond what they already have. All they need to know before the event is that they are going to participate in a low key, planning meeting that will give them deeper knowledge of the big picture of the present problem and how they fit into it.

Using Technology

Matrix Games are usually played in face to face sessions. But they work just as well as email/text messages. They also work in phone meetings or video conferences. The medium is unimportant, and because the game consists of conversations between players, there is no need for expensive computer programs or equipment. This approach can be implemented in a high tech city or a village with no paved roads. One advantage of using video or email is the potential to have a record of each game. These records form a data set that can be analyzed at a later date using computational models.

On Use of this Game

Permission is granted for any person, institution, or company to use this game and the Matrix Game approach in general for planning and training purposes. The only request is that they cite that Matrix Games were invented by Chris Engle in 1988. Please pass this document onto any and all people you know who might be helped by it.

Note for Facilitators

People are naturally shy when it comes to making things up. It is helpful to start the game by asking each player to say one thing that people in their role would do in the face of the presenting problem. Once that is done the ice is broken and the host can take a more backseat approach.

The facilitator is responsible for establishing and maintaining a good work environment. If players engage in abusive or intimidating behavior, it is the facilitator’s job to intervene and establish order. There can be no useful work accomplished without a good working environment. It is okay for participants to say little or nothing is a game. When they do this they are being the audience. They still learn from the event and may come up with the most useful observations during debriefing because they were looking at it in a bigger picture way.

The facilitator does not have to be an expert in technical subject matter. It is perfectly acceptable and expected that they will not know certain details. This allows them to model how to ask questions and listen to answers. The facilitator does need to be an outward going person who will engage the players actively. Aside from encouraging people, the facilitator is also a player. But they need to not take too much role in the game so that they do not unduly influence play. The facilitator needs to gather up all materials from the game and return them to the administrator who sponsored the event. This may involve writing a short report.

Lastly, end sessions promptly. Make certain there is time to do debriefing within the time of the meeting. Healthcare worker are very busy, especially now, and will appreciate meetings that end on time. Overstepping their time will reduce how much they take away from it. A good opening problem to start a game is: “The coronavirus is coming. We need to deal with it. How do we prevent a disaster?”

Chris Engle


PAXsims offers substantial resources on various matrix games, including the Flattening the Curve matrix game scenario, game icons (if you are using physical displays), and the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

See also our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

“Flattening the Curve” COVID-19 matrix game

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From deep in his secret social distancing bunker at an undisclosed but secure location, mysterious matrix game guru Tim Price has put together yet another matrix game: Flattening the Curve. This examines the current COVID-19 pandemic, with five players/teams: the UK government, the general population, the World Health Organization, the US government, and “mishaps and markets.” To apply it to any other national case, replace the UK player with your own national government.

The package includes background materials, briefing, and game components. A pandemic timeline is used in place of a map, although you can supplement this with a map if you feel the need to represent localized events or actions. Remember that it is a matrix game, so you are meant to modify for your own purposes!

In addition, PAXsims has put together a a growing list of COVID-19 serious gaming resources, including game icons, examples of other pandemic gaming, and guidelines on “do no harm.” If you want to learn more about matrix games, there is further information available both here at PAXsims and at Tom Mouat’s matrix games webpage. In cooperation with The Game Crafter we have also made the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MGCK) available at cost for professionals involved in pandemic gaming, although you don’t need it to play this or any other matrix game.

MaGCK

Pandemic response game icons

In order to assist the designers of pandemic response serious games, I have compiled and prepared a set of 68 COVID-19 themed game icons. These are available in zipped folders in three graphic formats: jpgs, pngs, and transparent pngs.

We typically use these in conjunction with 25mm or 37mm disks, the latter being the size included in the Matrix Game Construction Kit. These can be formatted for 3/4″ and 1″ Avery labels respectively using Avery’s excellent online design application and label templates. However, you can use them in any way you wish for the purposes of education and scenario analysis relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For further resources, see PAXsim’s COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

Matrix Game Construction Kit special offer for COVID-19 pandemic response

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UPDATE: The Game Crafter has had to suspend operations in compliance with state coronavirus directives. As a consequence, they are not able to produce or ship copies of MaGCK until those restrictions are lifted.

It is still possible to order the game, but neither we nor TGC knows when you might get it.


In partnership with The Game Crafter, PAXsims is making copies of the Matrix Game Construction Kit available at cost ($136.99) to those developing serious policy games to address the current COVID-19 global pandemic. The Game Crafter will treat any such order as urgent and expedite processing to the best of its ability.

Please note:

  • This offer is only available to organizations working on pandemic response matrix games for serious (policy-development or educational) reasons.
  • This is the regular edition of the Matrix Game Construction Kit—it contains no specific guidance or game materials on COVID-19. However, the PAXsims team stands ready to offer additional assistance.
  • To order a reduced-price copy of the Matrix Game Construction Kit, please email rex.brynen@mcgill.ca outlining who you are and how you propose to use it. You will then be provided with a link to the special game order page and additional instructions.
  • This offer only covers copies of MaGCK, and not other items published by PAXsims or The Game Crafter.

More information on the Matrix Game Construction Kit can be found here. For examples of pandemic response games developed with MaGCK, see the following PAXsims reports:

See also our PAXsims COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

Basic Law: a Hong Kong protests matrix game

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From the ever-prolific and always-mysterious Tim Price comes yet another matrix game, this time exploring the current civil protests in Hong King: Basic Law. The game allows for 6 players: the Hong Kong Government, Pro-Democracy Protestors, China, the USA, the UK, and Taiwan. Included is a brief background, briefing materials, basic matrix game rules, a series of maps, and counters. You will find it all here.

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Interested in designing your own matrix games? Check out the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK).


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

BEAR RISING matrix game

I would like to thank Dani Fenning of NATO Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander Transformation for making the BEAR RISING briefing materials available to PAXsims readers.

The full description of the scenarios, together with briefing materials and a map, can be found here. The map alone can be found here.

The briefing pack does not include counters or initial set-up—if running a session, use your best judgment as to what needs to be included. Remember that in a matrix game an asset need not be displayed on a map to be used—it need only exist.


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BEAR RISING is a matrix wargame that examines the political and strategic military pre-crisis actions within the Baltic region amid a failing Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.  Earlier this year NATO Allied Command Operations used BEAR RISING to challenge NATO deterrence planning, strategic thinking and decision making.  Opposing player teams were invited from several external organisations who were subject matter experts in the nations they played, including some more experienced wargamers from US Center for Army Analysis and US Army War College. The game was played over a three day period, with player teams of 2 to 3 in size, beginning a new vignette each day.   Overall, the game met its objectives to challenge NATO’s decision making with deterrence plans and activities, however, one of the unexpected outcomes of the game was the development of a unique narrative through the employment of a white cell “Press Officer” role.  During the game the “Press Officer” supported the development of the narrative by injecting likely media (including social media) and news headlines in direct response to actions made throughout the game.  The vignettes explored three different situations in which NATO nations and Russia faced escalating tension:

  • A Darker Shade of Gray: Ethnic Russian protests in Latvia turn violent because of recent changes to laws regarding language instruction in schools; Russian minority groups in Estonia begin to stage sympathy protests with a widespread social media campaign. Through hybrid tactics Russia seeks to exploit the situation in Latvia to win the narrative and gain popular support.
  • The Islanders: Tensions rise as a NATO vessel returning from a large exercise crashes into a Russian trawler, an unfortunate series of events result in a Russian threat to a NATO partner nation’s territorial integrity in a geo-strategic location.
  • A Bridge Too Far: Social unrest rises as pro-democracy Russian protests against a ‘rigged’ regional election spread across Kaliningrad. Russia demands that Lithuania allows a large-scale deployment of Russian National Guard units via rail. Tensions begin to rise as military postures heighten in the region.

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Practical advice on matrix games

PracticalAdviceOnMatrixGamesV11.jpgI have been running Chris Engle matrix games since 1988. With the increase in popularity and use of matrix games, both recreationally and for more serious matters, I felt that I should be prepared to stick my neck out and try to provide some practical advice on how to run the games in order to get the best results.

I have collated my notes into a small booklet, with short comments on the following topics:

  • What are Matrix Games?
  • Academic Underpinning
  • My Version of How to Play a Matrix Game
  • Argument Assessment
  • Diceless Adjudication
  • Notes about arguments
  • Turn Zero
  • Number of Things you can do in an Argument
  • Use of Dice
  • Reasonable Assumptions and Established Facts
  • Turn Length (in game)
  • Game Length
  • End of Turn “Consequence Management”
  • Inter-Turn Negotiations
  • Elections
  • Secret Arguments
  • Measures of Success
  • Killing Arguments
  • Spendable Bonuses and Permanent Bonuses
  • Levels of Protection and Hidden Things
  • Big Projects or Long-Term Plans
  • Number of Actors
  • Writing the Briefs for the Participants
  • Recording the Effects of Arguments
  • The Components (and Characters) Affect the Game
  • Starting Conditions
  • Cue Cards
  • Large-Scale Combat
  • A House Divided
  • Announcements
  • The Order in which Actors make their Arguments
  • Random Events
  • Dealing with Senior Officers, Dominant People and Contentious Arguments
  • Nit-Picking vs Important Clarification
  • Why I like Matrix Games
  • A few Words of Warning

Please bear in mind that this was chiefly written as “notes” to support demonstrations and course I have run using matrix games, rather than as a guide for someone who has never seen or heard of a matrix game.

The advice also does not cover how such games should be analysed in order to draw out any insights or conclusions. This is an important part of any professional game, but as I primarily use matrix games in an educational context, I haven’t had to that. In the times where I have run games for government departments, they have carried out their own analysis of the games (due to the level of classification), so the booklet doesn’t really cover this area.

More recently I have had the good fortune to be able to experiment with a couple of different game set-ups and mechanics, and I have incorporated them into the guide.

The guide is still a “work in progress”, and probably always will be, but I would like to add more to it in the future, if it is helpful. If anyone has an feedback, please get in touch.

You can download the booklet here.

Matrix games at the Canadian Army Simulation Centre

The following report was prepared for PAXsims by David Banks and Brian Phillips.


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Dave Banks of the Canadian Army Simulation Centre facilitates the use of a matrix wargame during the 2019 Civil-Military Interagency Planning Seminar.

For the first time in its ten year history, a matrix game was employed during the Civilian Military Interagency Planning Seminar (CMIPS) conducted from 18 to 20 June 2019 at Fort Frontenac in Kingston, Ontario. The planning seminar is run annually by the Canadian Army’s Formation Training Group with support from the Canadian Army Simulation Centre (CASC).

 

Background

The intent of CMIPS is to foster understanding among the interagency participants with the intent of building better relationships in advance of any future interaction overseas or domestic settings.  The CMIPS had approximately 50 participants with half coming from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the remainder drawn from other government departments and international and local non-governmental organizations. The participants were broken into balanced groups of military and civilians who then discussed a common scenario by way of a table top exercise (TTX). While this is a proven approach, the event organizer, Steve Taylor, felt that a matrix game could be an interesting improvement to the Seminar this year.

Dave Banks and Brian Phillips, Calian Activity Leads (ALs) at CASC, with the support of CASC and the help of the other Calian Activity Leads, designed, developed and conducted a Matrix Game for one syndicate of the CMIPS. Dave Banks served as the Controller for the activity and Brian Phillips served as the Scribe.

This matrix game was intended to:

  • foster cooperation and understanding among the players (primary goal);
  • be a proof of concept for CASC in applying matrix games as a training and education tool; and
  • introduce the players to matrix games.

 

Conduct

The matrix game was held over two days followed by a review on the third day. Specifically:

Day 1 consisted of an introduction to matrix games,  a briefing on the specific matrix game set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a short read-in, and concluded with two hrs of play (two turns). During Day 1 the problem faced by the actors was the likely arrival of Ebola to North Kivu province. As much as possible, the participants represented their own, or a similar agency, during the game.

Day 2 consisted of two and a half hours of additional play. During this session a random event card was played that depicted the President of the DRC dying in a plane crash on landing at Goma in North Kivu province. While foul play was not suspected, the death of the president was expected to disrupt the political environment and potentially heighten the risk of violence throughout the DRC and in North Kivu in particular.

 

Differences from Other Matrix Games

While there is no definitive form or format for a matrix game, there were a few features of the CMIPS game that might not be commonly found in other matrix games.

Actor Cards.  The CASC product had fairly detailed Actor cards which included:

  • a brief outline of the nature, purpose and involvement of the Actor in the situation;
  • the Actor’s objectives, both overt and covert (where applicable);
  • the Actor’s limitations (ie: actions it would never take);
  • any specific special capabilities the Actor possessed (such as the ability to provide air or ground transport, deploy medical teams, etc);
  • the number, type and general location of map counters allocated to the Actor; and
  • a recap of the basic game procedures and concepts.

Further differences included having turns divided into three phases:

  1. Negotiation Phase (10 mins). During this phase the Players had 10 minutes to negotiate any support or cooperation they required amongst themselves.
  2. Argument Phase. Each player in sequence made their argument for their Actor’s action for that turn. Actions were adjudicated using a Pro and Con system and two six-sided dice.  Each player had a maximum of five minutes for their action which was strictly enforced by the Controller.
  3. Consequence Management (10 mins). During this phase the Scribe read back the Actions for the turn and some of the consequences were articulated including some consequences that the Players were unlikely to have foreseen.

 

Results

Overall, the matrix game was very well received by the participants. While the matrix game participants did not go into as much fine detail as some of the other syndicates did in their TTXs, the matrix game was immersive. One civilian participant remarked that the experience of uncertainty going into the first negotiation phase was exactly the same sort of experience that he had getting oriented on a previous humanitarian mission.

 

Key Findings

  • As this was the first matrix game run by ALs from CASC the three play testing sessions conducted prior to the event proved to be invaluable. Even with facilitators with significant experience in running TTXs, the specific preparation of the play testing was instrumental in successfully executing the matrix game at the first attempt. The time invested in deliberate play-testing and game development is well spent.
  • The two-person facilitation team of a Controller and a Scribe worked very well. Both the Controller and Scribe exercised firm control at different times to ensure the game stayed within the admittedly fairly wide arcs established for play. We strongly believe that this firm control is vital to the success of a matrix game: without it there is a risk that the game may degenerate, particularly if there are strong personalities around the table.
  • The key advantage of the matrix game noted by the players over a traditional TTX was the fact that the players had to participate. They could not sit at the table and just observe one or two participants dominate a TTX, rather, they had to make decisions and actively contribute.
  • There is ample reference material readily available to build matrix games from The Matrix Game Handbook(Curry et al.) to the Matrix Game Construction Kit offered by PAXsims and several online resources. As such it was fairly easy to find useful graphics for game pieces as well as ideas for rules, event cards, and game conduct through a simple web search. Tom Mouat’s website was invaluable and his Practical Advice on Matrix Games v10 was particularly useful.
  • The formal turn-structure of phased turns including, in particular, a Negotiation Phase, directly contributed to achieving the game objective of fostering co-operation and understanding amongst the players. The inclusion of a Negotiation Phase was one of the outputs of the three play-testing sessions.
  • The Consequence Management (CM) Phase was only partially successful. In future, this phase would benefit from some modification in implementation. At the end of the turn there should be a slight pause while the Controller and Scribe discuss CM and how they want it to proceed as it can function almost like a random event card. Thus CM should be implemented with some care and forethought. Whether that should be done as part of the CM phase or perhaps the CM phase should revert to a Situation Update/Summary phase. In the later case, the CM could be determined by the Controller and Scribe during the Negotiation Phase and briefed at the end of that phase. This will be play tested prior to the next running of the CMIPS matrix game.

 

Conclusion

The feedback from the CMIPS participants indicates that a matrix game proved to be a worthwhile investment of time and resources. These games take longer to prepare than a traditional TTX but the players’ active participation in the game experience made it a valuable learning event.

Matrix games have been added to the toolset offered by CASC and future serials of the CMIPS will likely continue to use this innovative activity.

 


Authors 

Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) David Banks served 38 years in the Infantry, both Regular and Reserve. He is a graduate of the Canadian Army Command and Staff College 1990 and is a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College Quantico 1997-98. David has completed a number of overseas operational tours including Afghanistan, and participated in several major domestic operations in Canada. He has worked as an Activity Lead for Calian in support of the Canadian Army Simulation Centre and the Canadian Army Formation Training Group since 2011.

Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Brian Phillips spent 27 years in the Regular and Reserve force initially as an Infantry Officer and later as an Intelligence Officer. Brian holds an MA in War Studies (1993) and an MA in Defense Studies (2015) both from the Royal Military College of Canada and he is a graduate of the Canadian Army Command and Staff College in Kingston (2005) and the Joint Command and Staff Programme in Toronto (2015). Brian’s operational experience includes the 1997 Manitoba Floods, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Middle-East, Haiti with the DART in 2010 and Afghanistan twice. He has been employed as an Intelligence Specialist and Activity Lead for Calian in support of the Canadian Army Simulation Centre since 2017.

A “horrible, one-sided deal”: A US-Iran matrix game

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While I’m not at liberty to divulge anything about him, I recently connected up with the ever-elusive Banksy of matrix game design, “Tim Price,” to put together a quick matrix game scenario addressing current US-Iranian tensions in the Gulf. You will find the scenario description, and briefing sheets here, and the map here). Also included is a quick guide on how to play a matrix game, as well as counters you can use.

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The game includes the US, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the European Union/E3, and Russia. It also includes an innovative mechanism for making some actions through allies and proxies (such as the Houthis, Hizbullah, Shi’ite militias in Iraq, Syria, Israel, the UAE, and Oman).

As this example shows, matrix games can be developed very quickly, and can be useful tools for exploring complex, multi-sided political-military (POL-MIL) issues. If you want to learn more, check out the many other matrix game postings here at PAXsims, as well as Tom Mouat’s matrix game download page.

If you’re interested in developing your own matrix games, you might find the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) useful—after all, that’s why we developed it, with the support of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratories  (UK Ministry of Defence).

MaGCK

Trade War matrix game

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From the ever-productive and ever-mysterious mind of Tim Price, PAXsims is pleased to present another matrix game plucked from the media headlines: Trade War.

Since January 22, 2018, China and the United States have been engaged in a trade war involving the mutual placement of tariffs. However, the roots of this dispute go much further back. In the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to fix China’s “long-time abuse of the broken international system and unfair practices”. In April 2018, the United States filed a request for consultation to the World Trade Organization to investigate whether China was violating any intellectual property rights.

Among other things, the US accuses China of currency manipulation, espionage and unfair trade practices which disadvantage US firms. Trump has sought to link the trade dispute to other issues of concern including Taiwan and the One China policy.

China is known for taking a long view. Back in 1986, Deng Xiao Peng established “Program 863,” a sort of academy of sciences and technologies charged with closing the scientific gap between China and the world’s advanced economies in a short period of time. The 863 program and its institutional derivatives not only sponsored actual research, they also promoted the acquisition of advanced technologies from other countries with little distinction asto whether it was obtained legally or illegally. Some have argued that the more recent “Made in China 2025” issimply an updated version of this, encouraging and rewarding corporations and private individuals to obtain technology on its behalf.

The New York Times is quoted as saying: Big American companies fiercely protect their intellectual property and trade secrets, fearful of giving an edge to rivals. But they have little choice in China—and Washington is looking on with alarm. To gain access to the Chinese market, American companies are being forced to transfer technology, create joint ventures, lower prices and aid homegrown players. Those efforts form the backbone of President XiJinping’s ambitious plan to ensure that China’s companies, military and government dominate core areas oftechnology like artificial intelligence and semiconductors.

China is increasingly challenging norms and existing power structures; seeking to shape the facts on the ground to benefit China and allow it freedom of manoeuvre. This is occurring on multiple fronts, including:

    • Technology Dominance
    • International Law
    • Military Superiority
    • Spheres of Influence
    • Information control
    • International norms

The growing tension between the US and China, as they increasingly compete across multiple fronts, has stressed the UK policy position, which has maintained twin goals of being open to China and Chinese investment whilemaintaining the ‘Special Relationship’ with the US.

The Huawei issue has brought this to a head. Although successful internationally, Huawei has faced difficulties in some markets, due to cybersecurity allegations — primarily from the United States government — that Huawei’s infrastructure equipment may enable surveillance by the Chinese government. Especially with the development of 5G wireless networks (which China has aggressively promoted), there have been calls from the U.S. to prevent use of products by Huawei or fellow Chinese telecom ZTE by the U.S. or its allies.

In the game players assume the roles of:

  • US government
  • Chinese government
  • UK government
  • Russia
  • Western firms
  • Chinese technology industry

You’ll find everything you need to play here.

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You will also find a great many other matrix game resources at PAXsims. If you wish to design and play your own matrix games, you might find the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MGCK) of use—it was designed by PAXsims with the support the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

Trouble in Paradise II: Melanesia

Melanesia Matrix Game Rules cover.pngCol. Jerry Hall (US Army, Pacific) has passed on to PAXsims his latest South Pacific matrix game, Trouble in Paradise II: Melanesia.

Melanesia is a Matrix Game designed to introduce players to the Melanesia region, its major actors and its most important dynamics. It is the second title in a series of Matrix Games on Oceania using the same core rules as the previous title, Micronesia. An overview of the Melanesia region follows in the next section (references to the game Melanesia will be italicized).

The major actors represented in the game (either as player countries or through game design) are the Melanesian minor powers: the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea (PNG), the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and West Papua; and the major regional powers: Australia, China, Indonesia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and the United States.

The most important dynamic represented in the game is great and regional power influence competition at several levels. At the grand strategic level the United States and China are competing in the Oceania region in what some have called another “Great Game.” In the case of Melanesia, this competition is fueled by Melanesia’s strategic geographic location at the southern base of the “second island chain,” Melanesia’s raw materials and potential markets, China’s ever expanding Belt and Road project, and the United States’ slow “rebalance” to the Pacific. There are several competitions at the regional level. China and Taiwan are competing over recognition; the Solomon Islands still recognizes Taiwan over China (as do five other countries in Oceania: Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, and Tuvalu). Australia is the largest aid donor in the region. Both Australia and New Zealand have historic and cultural ties to Melanesia and vested interests in Melanesian security. Indonesia is attempting to influence the Melanesian countries to minimize support for the Free Papua movement in the Indonesian province of West Papua. The Melanesian countries have their own internal issues that reduce their agency as the great powers compete over and in them. A final wildcard is the separatist movement in the Papua New Guinean Autonomous Region of Bougainville; Bougainville independence could trigger similar movements in its neighbors.

Influence is represented by markers placed on the map for each country and Bougainville; each country has a graphic divided into sectors representing the Government, the People, the Economy and any Government Opposition. Players gain or lose influence markers during the game through their actions; either limited recurring actions (“Turn 0” activities), or discrete and more powerful actions using of the Instruments of National Power (Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic, or “DIME”).

Melanesia introduces two important influence concepts, one grounded the in the core influence dynamic included in Micronesia, the other a new twist: the West Papuan separatist movement and the concept of “Melanesian Solidarity.” The Indonesian region of West Papua is represented as a non-player actor in Melanesia. The Indonesian player may take actions in West Papua (and has DIME Tokens that can only be used there). The separatist movement is represented by the Subject Matter Expert (SME). “Melanesian Solidarity” represents the concept of a Melanesian community that transcends national borders, especially support for West Papuan self-determination or independence. Melanesian Influence Markers throughout the region reflect the level of support for Melanesian culture and independence, most prominently in support of West Papuan independence. See the Indonesian and West Papua briefs, as well as Appendix 4: West Papua Independence Movement, for additional information.

You’ll find everything you need to run the game here.

You’ll also find additional matrix game resources here at PAXsims, at Tom Mouat’s website, and in the Matrix Game Construction Kit. Trouble in Paradise: Micronesia is also available at PAXsims.

Pandemic response matrix game

The following report was provided for PAXsims by Dr. Ben Taylor, Strategic Planning Operations Research Team, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) Centre for Operational Research and Analysis (CORA). His research interests include the utility of games to support strategic planning.


 

On 1 March 2019 Global Affairs Canada hosted a matrix game in Ottawa as part of a research effort into the utility of games to inform policy development. The chosen topic was to explore issues surrounding preparedness for a natural catastrophe, exemplified by an influenza pandemic. A second goal was to explore how a game could capture gender-based policy making. The game was set 20 years into the future.

Pandemic Map.jpg

The game was designed over a series of teleconferences with the author working with the game sponsor and external academic subject matter experts. A fairly conventional matrix game structure was used but some innovative features are shared here:

  • To avoid players getting distracted by real-world details we used a map of the world from ca 200 million years ago divided into generic regions: Westland (advanced liberal democracies), Eastland (centralised authoritarian states) and Southland (disadvantaged developing states). Selected real-world cities were placed in appropriate locations within this geography, essentially “playing themselves” to provide players with familiar anchor points.
  • The three regions were represented by nation state actors and these were supplemented with proxies for the World Health Organisation and Médecins sans Frontières and also a private medical research foundation associated with a major pharmaceutical company. Players were provided with briefing sheets explain their resources, aims, sensitivities and relationships with other actors.
  • The first turn was taken up by an international disaster preparedness conference set some years before the pandemic. This allowed the players to get into their roles and to start discussions between themselves. At the end of discussions each actor was allowed one standard matrix argument about an outcome from the conference. This mechanism effectively gave the players the opportunity for a precursor argument before the crisis struck, although at this stage they didn’t know what was going to happen, or where.
  • Some volunteer players were brought in who had some experience of matrix games, if not expertise in the game subject. They were distributed among the teams, which typically comprised three players.
  • The spread of the outbreak was largely pre-determined with maps prepared in advance showing the state of the pandemic in each turn. Adjustments could be made if player actions were deemed to have significantly altered the course of events. Each turn was also supported with a collage of news stories and social media messages to provide context and to subtly remind players of issues that they could be taking into consideration. Some humour was injected into the new items, with Ottawa’s (currently in 2019) delayed light rail system deemed to be still behind schedule in 20 years’ time.

Overall the game elements worked as intended. A few participants had first-hand experience of health emergencies and suggested that the behaviours of the teams and the priorities that they selected were very realistic. A number of participants also commented upon the quality of the role-play and the utility of the news injects and briefing materials in keeping the players in-role. The presence of some experienced players paid dividends as most teams were quickly able to express their actions in the matrix game argument format. This is frequently the biggest challenge for first-time players and the combination of subject matter experts and gamers working together was effective. As designer and facilitator the most reassuring feedback was the palpable sense of disappointment in the room when it was announced that there was to be no next turn after some six hours of activity.

news slide 1.jpg

Ben Taylor

On Thin Ice: An Arctic matrix game

On Thin Ice Rules image

PAXsims is pleased to make available On Thin Ice, a print-and-play matrix game of geopolitical and economic rivalry and cooperation in the Arctic. The game was developed by COL Jerry Hall and Dr. Dawn Alexandrea Berry.

On Thin Ice is a Matrix Game designed to introduce seven or more players to the Arctic region, its major actors, and its most important dynamics in a four-round game over the course of three hours.

While climate change is the underlying reason for the game, it is the effects of climate change that are revealed through gameplay. In particular, On Thin Ice highlights the complex interactions between local populations, national governments, and multinational corporations in the region. In so doing, On Thin Ice enables players to not only learn more about regional dynamics in the Arctic, but to experience how moments of crisis impact global geopolitics and security in a tangible way.

The game is structured to demonstrate the complex regional, national, and transnational dynamics in the Arctic. The most important of these are climate change, geopolitics, resources, and development. The effects of climate change are the underlying reason for the game; the Arctic is changing and how the major actors react to that change is the core problem the players need to address. Climate change is represented through a series of preformatted Climate Change cards the Facilitator uses to describe the changing environmental conditions in the Arctic throughout the game. On Thin Ice is not solely a climate change game, although the Facilitator could use it as such.

The geopolitics of the region are modeled through the game design player selection. In general, for the past decade there has been a consensus amongst Arctic states that it is a “zone of cooperation.” However, the rise of China as nascent superpower with global ambitions and a re- emerging Russia are changing the dynamic of the region.

The major actors represented in the game (either as player countries or through game design) are the “Arctic Eight” (including Greenland), and China. The game also represents a number of Arctic indigenous peoples (outlined below). The game is framed by The Arctic Council – the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic states. Although notably the Arctic Council is not a security forum, broader geopolitics and security concerns often impact the Council and its membership.

The game files are available for download as pdfs:

On Thin Ice Rules v4 (dragged) 2

 

Trouble in Paradise: a Micronesia matrix game

Micronesia cover.jpgCOL Jerry Hall has been kind enough to pass on to PAXsims his latest matrix game design, Trouble in Paradise (pdf).

[Trouble in Paradise] is a Matrix Game designed to introduce players to the Micronesia region, its major actors, and its most important dynamics. An overview of Micronesia follows in the next section.

The major actors represented in the game (either as player countries or through game design) are the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the US Territory of Guam, the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), the Republic of Nauru, the Republic of Palau, Australia and New Zealand, China, Japan, Taiwan, and the United States.

The most important dynamic represented in the game is great and regional power influence competition at several levels. At the grand strategic level the United States and China arecompeting in the region in what some have called another “Great Game.” This competition isfueled by Micronesia’s strategic geographic location in the “second island chain,” China’s ever expanding Belt and Road Initiative, and the United States’ “rebalance” to the Pacific. There are several competitions at the regional level. China and Taiwan are competing over recognition; four countries in Micronesia still recognize Taiwan over China (Kiribati, Nauru, Palau and RMI). Australia is the largest aid donor in the region and has a vested interest in Micronesian security. Japan has historical, cultural and economic interests in the region as well. The Micronesian countries have their own internal issues that reduce their agency as the great powers compete over and in them. The majority of countries in the region have unique relationships with the United States: Guam is a US territory; CNMI is a US Commonwealth; and FSM, Palau and RMI are independent countries thathave “Compacts of Free Association” with the US. A final wildcard is the separatist movement inthe FSM state of Chuuk (formerly Truk).

Influence is represented by markers placed on the map in each country and FSM state; each country or state has a graphic divided into sectors representing the Government, the People, the Economy and any Government Opposition. Players gain or lose influence markers during the gamethrough their actions; either limited recurring actions (“Turn 0” activities) or discrete and morepowerful actions using of the Instruments of National Power (Diplomatic, Information, Military andEconomic, or “DIME”).

You’ll find everything you need to play at the link above.

Micronesia map.jpg

Belt and Road matrix game

BeltAndRoadPAXsims is pleased to present a “Belt and Road” matrix game examining Chinese grand strategy, by the ever-prolific Tim Price. The file (which you can download from here) includes a map; counters/assets/markers; briefing documents for China, the US (and allies), Russia, India, and ASEAN states; random event cards; and brief instructions on how to play a matrix game.

BeltAndRoadV2.jpg

Further guidance on playing, facilitating, and designing matrix games can be found in the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) User Guide, available as a pdf download from The Game Crafter. The full Matrix Game Construction Kit (also available from The Game Crafter) contains everything you need to develop and run matrix games for professional, educational, and hobby applications.

MaGCK

For other games on this and related themes, see:

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