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Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: matrix games

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:

Jane’s Intelligence Review on matrix gaming

The September issue of Jane’s Intelligence Review has an excellent article by Neil Ashdown assessing matrix games as an analytical tool.

Key points

  • Matrix games are comparatively simple wargames, emphasising creativity and original thought, which have been used by a range of government agencies and militaries.
  • These games are focused on the participants’ intentions, which makes them better suited for analysing political-military strategy and novel or obscure subjects, such as cyber security.
  • However, this technique is unsuitable for analysing granular tactical scenarios, and the games’ relatively low cost and complexity can reduce their attractiveness.

 

JIR1809_OSINT2

I would like to thank Neil and JIR for making it available (pdf copy at the link above) to PAXsims readers. If you are interested in reading more about the technique, there are many matrix gaming articles available here at PAXsims, the History of Wargaming Project has just published the Matrix Game Handbook, and you can purchase the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) User Guide as a downloadable pdf.

The Matrix Games Handbook now available

IMG_0031.jpgThe History of Wargaming Project has just published The Matrix Games Handbook: Professional Applications from Education to Analysis and Wargaming. Edited by John Curry, Chris Engle, and Peter Perla, the 303 page volume is packed with matrix gaming goodness:

Section 1: The History of Matrix Games.

  • The Early Days of Matrix Games in the UK by Bob Cordery
  • The American History of Matrix Games by Chris Engle.
  • The Rise of Professional Matrix Games by Tim Price.

Section 2: Practical Advice

  • Running Matrix Games by Tim Price
  • Checklist by Tim Price
  • Sample Game: Baltic Challenge: NATO and Russian posturing in the Baltic Sea
  • The Australian Perspective by Todd Mason

Section 3: The Theory of Matrix Games

  • Walking in the Dark: An Allegory of Knowledge by Chris Engle
  • The Intellectual Underpinnings of Matrix Games by Chris Engle
  • Verbal Algorithms and the Human Machine by Chris Engle
  • Emerging Themes from the Matrix Game Based Narrative Methodology by John Curry

Section 4: Matrix Games and Education

  • Gaming Multi-Agency Responses by Helen Mitchard
  • Using Matrix Games in the Classroom by Dorian Love.
  • Effective Learning at the Swedish Defence University by Johan Elg
  • Language Training by Neal Durando
  • Reflections on Military Language Training by Jose Anibal Ortiz Manrique

Section 5: The Professional Application of Matrix Games

  • Gaming the Wars of the Future by Chris Engle
  • Operations Research Tools by Ben Taylor
  • Building Boyd Snowmobiles: Matrix Games as a Creative Catalyst for Developing Innovative Technology by Paul Vebber.
  • ISIS Crisis: Using a Matrix Game to Explore Contemporary Conflict by Rex Brynen

The Matrix Game handbook sells for £14.95, and is available from the History of Wargaming Project website.

 

Adjudication in matrix games

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A Game Lab session at the recent Connections US wargaming conference examined the different methods of adjudicating the outcomes of arguments put forward in matrix games,  with an eye to examining which methods might be preferred more than others in different circumstances.

The current guidance for assessing arguments in Matrix Games, contained in the MaGCK User Guide[1] is as follows:

Consensus. Some players prefer to reach agreement on the most likely outcome of the declared ACTION. This can work well in highly cooperative games but can be more difficult to implement in cases where actors have conflicting or opposing goals.

Umpired. Once PROs and CONs have been identified it might be left up to an umpire (or White Cell or Control group) to determine what happens. This has the advantage that the game outcomes can be aligned with research or doctrine, or nudged along a path that maximizes their educational value. It can also be useful when the players themselves have only limited knowledge of the game subject matter. However, having a third party determine success and failure can make the game seem rather scripted. If players may attribute the outcome of the game to obtuse or heavy-handed umpiring rather than to their own decisions and interaction with their fellow participants then much of its value may be lost.

Weighted Probabilities. This system of adjudication places a great deal of emphasis on the arguments put forward by the players, while introducing the element of chance. It is slightly more complicated than the previous systems. There is also risk that some professional audiences may recoil at the sight of dice—associating these more with children’s games than serious conflict simulation and gaming[2]. In this system 2 six-sided dice are used, with a score of 7 or more being required to succeed, with each strong and credible PRO argument counting as a +1 dice roll modifier, and each strong and credible CON counting as a -1, with especially high or low results representing more extreme outcomes. This also provides a “narrative bias” to the game as a score of 7 is actually a 58.3% chance of success and helps contribute to the evolving story.

Voting. The success and outcome of actions can be determined by a vote among participants. This can either be a straight majority vote, or the odds of an ACTION can be assessed by the distribution of votes. In the latter case, if 75% of participants think an action might succeed, then it has a 75% chance of success, and percentile dice or some other form of random number generation is used to determine this. Alternatively, players can each be asked to assess the chances of success, and these can be averaged. In analytical games, this provides potentially valuable insight into how participants rate the chances of a particular course of action. Voting systems do risk players metagaming, however—that is, voting not based on their honest assessment of the ACTION and its chances of success, but rather to affect the probability assigned to it to advantage themselves within the game.

Mean/Median Probability. Alternatively, players or teams can each be asked to assess the chances of success, and these can be averaged. In analytical games, this provides potentially valuable insight into how participants rate the chances of a particular course of action. Although not included in MaGCK, there is an add-on set of estimative probability cards which can be used for this purpose. Following discussion, players or teams simply select the card from their hand that, in their view, best represents the probability of an ACTION’s success. These are then averaged (whether by calculating the mathematical mean of all cards played, or by using the value of the median card), and percentage dice are used to determine success or failure.

Discussion

The most popular method for assessment is that of using Weighted Probabilities as this reflects the early widespread use of matrix games in the hobby community. As a method, it is inherently understood by anyone with any familiarity with games and is relatively easy to explain for those without. It is fast and provides the adjudicator more licence in influencing the pace of the game to ensure it doesn’t get bogged down in excessive debate.

The main concern from those present in the Game Lab session in Connections US 2018, was that this, and all the alternatives above, failed to specifically address to one of the academic underpinnings of matrix games, that of crowdsourcing[3] the results.

Based on Surowiecki’s popular book, there are a number of elements required to form a “wise crowd”:
Description

Criteria
Diversity of opinion Each person should have private information even if it’s just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.
Independence People’s opinions aren’t determined by the opinions of those around them.
Decentralization People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.
Aggregation Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.

As the MaGCK User Guide already covers crowdsourcing ideas from diverse participants[4], it was felt that the element of aggregation would be best served by the use of Estimative Probability cards[5]. These are available from the Game Crafter, but  a set of print-and-play cards can be found here that have the same utility. It was generally felt that this was a more accurate method to leverage the work on crowdsourcing, as well as making the resulting probability more accessible and acceptable to the participants. The terms on the cards also reflect those commonly used in the intelligence community[6]. It also follows that the participants in the Estimative Probability method should be from all those present and not just be limited to the specific roles in the matrix game.

Oinas-Kukkonen has made a number of conjectures based on Surowiecki’s work[7], asserting that “too much communication can make the group as a whole less intelligent,” which we can address by the encouraging relatively quick moves, and the intention to avoid too much detailed debate following a player’s argument. This means the game can have a reasonable number of moves, requiring that the participants to have to live with the consequences of their actions made earlier in the game. I would suggest at least six moves, to allow for two cycles of Action-Reaction-Counter Action by the players. I would therefore recommend, at least for high level policy and analytical games, that the Estimative Probability method is used in future.

The procedure should be, following the arguments, to have all participants with their own deck of cards, and assess the probability of success independently and without discussion. They should then all reveal them simultaneously to the facilitator for adjudication. My preference would be to select the MODE or the MEDIAN of the results, rather than the MEAN as it is quicker and avoids lengthy arithmetic. Excessive outliers can then be discussed quickly.

It should be noted that, when using percentage dice to determine the final result, it is usually best to be consistent in expressing exactly what the dice roll is for (the success of the argument) and what score is needed with participants who are not gamers (e.g. “A 70% chance of success, which is a score on the dice between 1 and 70”). There is evidence that participants perceive “a 70% chance of success” differently to “a 30% chance of failure” despite their mathematical equivalence[8], so consistency in expression is advised.


[1] MaGCK User Guide at https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/pdf-only-magck-matrix-game-construction-kit-user-guide

[2] Edwards, Nicholas. 2014. What Considerations Exist in the Design of the Elements of Chance and Uncertainty in Wargames Utilised for Educational and Training Purposes? MA thesis, Department of War Studies. King’s College London.

[3] Surowiecki, James. 2004. The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. Doubleday.

[4] 1.0 Introduction to Matrix Gaming, in MaGCK User Guide, 2017, p7.

[5] MaGCK Estimative Probability Cards at https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/magck-deck-1.

[6] Sherman Kent, 1964. “Words of Estimative Probability,” Studies in Intelligence (Fall), via CIA website.

[7] Oinas-Kukkonen, Harri (2008). Network analysis and crowds of people as sources of new organisational knowledge. In A. Koohang et al. (eds), Knowledge Management: Theoretical Foundation. Informing Science Press, pp. 173-189.

[8] Hohle, Sigrid Møyner & Teigen, Karl Halvor. More than 50% or Less than 70% Chance: Pragmatic Implications of Single‐Bound Probability Estimates. 2017. Behavioural Decision Making, Volume31, Issue1, pp 138-150.

War Plan Tangerine

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From the ever-prolific Tim Price comes yet another matrix game, War Plan Tangerine. In this, the government of the UK must prepare for the impending state visit of the rather unpopular President of the Generic Senior Ally.


This is, of course, a COMPLETELY FICTIONAL scenario. Any resemblance between the President of the GSA and any current world leader is ENTIRELY COINCIDENTAL.


 

The scenario allows for six players or teams:

  • UK Government
  • Police and Emergency Services
  • Generic Senior Ally (GSA) Government
  • Anti-POTGSA Activists
  • Pro-POTGSA and UK Alt-Right Supporters
  • UK Media

You’ll find the scenario details and player briefings here. Maps and counters are included, as is a short introduction to matrix gaming. The scenario is, of course, fully compatible with the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

MaGCK

Personally, if I were playing it I would either use two competing teams of activists (one more militant than the other), or allow the activists to make an immediate bonus move every time another player rolls a double (thus reflecting the tendency of the President of the GSA to say or tweet inflammatory things at sensitive moments).

 

Matrix games for student learning at the US Army War College

The following article was contributed to PAXsims by Lieutenant Colonel Joe Chretien and Major Abe Goepfert of the Strategic Simulations Division (SSD), Center for Strategic Leadership, US Army War College. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.


 

Matrix Games at the US Army War College

At the US Army War College (USAWC), the use of matrix games falls into three categories. The first category is lesson reinforcement.  In this category, the goal is to reinforce the key concepts of historical, current, or future potential conflicts.  As an example, the USAWC resident course ran four simultaneous games for the European Region Study Program (RSP) to explore a future Baltic scenario based on a NATO isolation of Kaliningrad.

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Figure 1: DDE SCS poster.

The second category is games for familiarization.  Familiarization can include a region, actor, situation, or problem.  A great example of a familiarization game was conducted at the University of Richmond in April 2017.  The USAWC Strategic Simulations Division (SSD) ran a Syrian-based matrix game where five teams split into multiple factions. In the University of Richmond game, there were only four teams.  However, each team consisted of multiple nations, organizations, or factions (15 individual team entities).  Each student (15) received a role on a team and had to create their own narratives for their individual piece of the team.  The narrative had to include a summary of who they were, who they aligned with, who they could not align with, and their goals and objectives. Interestingly, one of the teams disassociated itself from one of its own factions (represented by a student) as a show of faith to one of the major powers in the area.

The last category of a USAWC matrix game is a capstone, or course-culminating, event.  The culminating matrix game takes the USAWC year-long program of study and uses a matrix-type game to evaluate the progress of each individual student.  This article will focus on the culminating game conducted for the Department of Distant Education (DDE), second-year resident course (SRC) Course in July 2017 (Figure 1, DDE SCS poster).

The Start of Something Big

A matrix game is a low-overhead (low cost/easy setup), facilitated, multi-player, role-playing game. Games are argument-based. Players weigh arguments and counter-arguments then propose an action. Success or failure of that action depends, primarily, on the strength of a player’s argument. The use of dice in the game introduces the elements of risk.

The material, time, and personnel required to run a matrix game is relatively low compared to a large, constructive simulation exercise. Matrix Games only require a written scenario with analog map and counters for execution. Play requires a facilitator, a subject matter expert, and 4-6 players or 4-6 teamsof players.  A play session typically lasts 2-3 hours, but playing time can be tailored to meet learning outcomes (LO).

Matrix-type games are easy to learn and quick to play. Of particular value to faculty, matrix-type games can be played without constraints and with an open-ended format.  Some constraints could include a scripted non-thinking opposition, limited actions for teams, or even preordained results.  An open-ended format allows players to explore any action if it can be tied to team objectives or goals.  It also allows the gameplay to dictate the scenario as it moves forward. Through two years of using the matrix model for experiential learning, SSD staff have observed that participants are always fully engaged and retain more information than through regular seminar-based instruction. The matrix game format forces participants to articulate actions or arguments orally while also having to make decisions more quickly than normal.

It was because of their proven value as an experiential learning tool that, in October of 2016, faculty from the (DDE), U.S. Army War College approached members of the college’s Strategic Simulation Division (SSD), with the idea of using a matrix game as a culminating exercise for the DDE second-year resident course (SRC), Class of 2017. The SRC consisted of 23 seminars comprised of over 250 senior US military officers, Department of Defense Civilians, and international military officers that spent two weeks of residency at Carlisle, PA prior to graduation.  The DDE faculty were looking for a capstone exercise that tied in all the lessons learned and had the students demonstrate knowledge of the elements of national power, synthesize information, and develop and deliver compelling oral arguments.  A matrix game is the perfect tool, and SSD took on the task of developing and delivering that learning event.

The Greatest Number of Matrix Games Played, at One Location, in a Single Day

The initial discussion, more of a “back of a napkin” analysis of requirements, included three initial courses of action (COA) for the exercise.  The three COAs were:

  1. Mega Game – One large matrix game that includes all 23 seminars in the same game.
  2. Discreet Game (A) – 23 seminars playing their own individual games on the same day.
  3. Discreet Game (B) – 12 seminars playing on day 1; the remaining 11 seminars playing on day 2.

A brief description and analysis of the COAs follow:

  • COA 1: The least resource intensive and the COA that provides the least amount of individual student interaction. Each student would be assigned a role within a select team (i.e. a student on the Chinese team could be assigned as the economic advisor) and would only provide arguments if the action required an argument from that specific role.  The danger in games this large is that some of the participants provide no input to the game.  As a result, those students would not have had the same learning experience as others and could receive a poor evaluation.
  • COA 2: The most resource intensive; would require twenty-three (23) facilitators in separate rooms, as well as twenty-three (23) copies of the game. During concept development and initial planning, SSD had two trained Matrix Game facilitators and DDE had none.  In retrospect, DDE would not be able to provide any facilitators for the game anyway because the faculty would be observing the student interactions. However, this COA had the potential to provide each seminar a discreet game that would keep the teams to 2-3 players each.  Therefore, each student could participate actively in the game while being monitored by their faculty instructor (FI).
  • COA 3: Moderately resource intensive and would require only twelve (12) facilitators and rooms, as well as twelve (12) copies of the game.For CSL, this was more advantageous because of limited resources available for the game.

DDE faculty selected COA 2 because they did not have the scheduling flexibility to break the exercise into two days.  To alleviate some resource concerns, Root Hall, the main academic building at Carlisle Barracks, opened 11 seminar rooms for the execution portion of the exercise.

Wargame Development

SSD’s formal role was to develop and execute a South China Sea (SCS) Wargame during the Second Resident Course (SRC) 21 July 2017 as a capstone event for the two-year Distance Education Program (DEP). The wargame’s purpose was to exercise and assess the students’ ability to take a strategic approach to solving complex problems in a South China Sea setting.  The standards were that the students use the South China Sea Matrix Game to articulate oral arguments for furthering the goals and objectives of their assigned country team. The students would also have to demonstrate knowledge and synthesize elements of national power and operational design learned during their 2-years of instruction. Finally, during this game, students would practice creative and critical thinking while demonstrating negotiation skills at the strategic level in accordance with national interests and goals.

Army simulations officers are trained to tease out requirements before concluding how a “game” should look and feel. Form will follow function – meaning that game design is based on desired learning outcomes.   The game, theoretically, will provide the tool for the faculty to evaluate the learning based on the LOs.

For the purposes of the SRC culminating exercise, three primary and one secondary LO were identified.  The first primary LO was to apply strategic and operational art to develop strategies and plans that employ the military instrument of power in pursuit of national policy aims.  The second primary LO was to think critically and creatively in addressing national security issues at the strategic level.  The last primary LO was to communicate clearly, persuasively, and candidly.  The secondary LO was to demonstrate as a proof of concept the viability for future DDE use of this wargame method. With the COA chosen and LOs well defined, SSD officially accepted the request and began formal planning.

Planning the Event

In the US Army, during a normal planning process, lead agencies/ organizations follow a standardized Joint Exercise Life Cycle (JELC) per TRADOC Regulation 71-20, Concept Development, Capabilities Determination, and Capabilities Integration that outlines an in-depth timeline that begins 180 days prior to the execution of a required event (Figure 2, DDE SCS JELC). For this event, SSD had the entire 180 days to conduct planning and coordination that included hosting multiple conferences, meeting critical milestones, conducting planning-team deep-dives with the DDE operations team, setting up the venue, conducting rehearsals, and executing the event. In this particular planning cycle, SSD conducted three planning conferences with their DDE counterparts and CSL support personnel, Additionally, multiple progress meetings were conducted with the U.S. Army War College Commandant, Deputy Commandant, and the director of CSL.

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Figure 2: DDE SCS JELC.

As with every planned event, there were critical milestones that enabled the planning to move forward.  The first milestone was to produce a South China Sea Matrix game that was capable of meeting each of the three primary learning outcomes.  The six main parts of a Matrix game are the scenario, teams, team narratives, map, special rules, and game pieces.   Slightly ahead of schedule, all elements of the matrix game were agreed upon and a copy of the game was created and used for playtesting.  The initial playtest, internal to SSD and DDE, met all three LOs and validated the matrix game as the proper tool.  The playtest also led to some minor changes to the scenario, map, gameplay, and counters. More playtesting was conducted, particularly with Harrisburg University and the National Defense University (NDU).

The second milestone was to train, at a minimum, twenty-three facilitators.  The facilitator training took place over two months at various locations.  The first training session was conducted at Harrisburg University (HU).  SSD trained three facilitators at the Harrisburg University main campus. Two of those three served as official facilitators during the wargame.  This training also served as a playtest event. All the game’s final changes resulted from finally playing the game with a mix of faculty (HU), students (HU), and trained facilitators (SSD).

The training at NDU provided the opportunity for wargame experts to play and to train on the game. Of the more than ten NDU players in the game, six trained as facilitators and subsequently supported the DDE event.

The final training session took place at the Army War College three days before the event. SSD set up a round robin training program and successfully trained sixteen more facilitators.  In total, SSD trained over 25 facilitators for the event to allow for the eventuality of someone not being able to participate on game day (which happened).

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Figure 3: DDE SCS map.

The third milestone was to create “How to Play Matrix Games” videos.  This task included writing scripts, getting actors (SSD interns), coordinating with the AWC audiovisual team, reserving a room, filming the videos, and providing assistance for the editing of the videos.  This task had to be completed in time for the DDE Class of 2017 to watch the videos before execution of the wargame.  The videos were completed ahead of schedule and were used for two other SSD supported events.

The fourth, and last, milestone was to build twenty-three South China Sea Matrix games.  This was very labor-intensive and took a full week to complete.  Without the help of four interns, this milestone could have required much more time from the SSD team and could have thrown the timeline off.  Each South China Sea matrix game consisted of the following:

  1. Large 35’x45’ map of the South China Sea (Figure 3, DDE SCS Map).
  2. Team folders (five player teams and a control team) that included scenario, individualized team narratives, matrix “how to” sheets, and mini-maps.
  3. Counters: Each packet included “chits” or “counters” that represented a national element of power (Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic).  The players used the counters to mark spots on the map where an action took place.
  4. Supplies:  Each team received a pen, note pad, and post it notes pads to capture notes, to plan actions, and to communicate with other teams.
  5. Other items:Each player received a country-team name tag to provide visual delineation of team composition.  Each facilitator and SME had nametags to differentiate themselves from the students.  Additionally, SSD created seminar tags that hung on individual game doors, Collins Hall and Root Hall room diagram posters, and agenda posters.

 

Rehearsal, Training, and Cross-coordinated Wargame Events 

The key to successful execution is nearly always dependent on the work put in prior to execution.  The week prior to execution was packed with walkthroughs, rehearsals, facilitation training, and wargame support for DDE SRC electives. Two SRC electives used board games/ Matrix games as the main tool to execute their lesson plans.  One of the electives used a South China Sea board game where students role-played one of six teams to meet goals or objectives based on a set scenario.  While this game did not have the same mechanics of a matrix game, it did introduce the students to the South China Sea region and forced them into negotiations. The second senior seminar used a matrix game and an SSD developed Kaliningrad scenario.

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Figure 4: Panel Discussion>

In addition to the above events, CSL sponsored a wargame panel featuring four highly experienced wargame professionals who discussed “innovative ways to include wargames in the classroom.”  At the end of the wargame panel, the experts led participants through some wargames currently used at their institutions. (Figure 4, Panel Discussion).

Conclusion

A matrix-type game is not a suitable tool to meet all learning outcomes.  Matrix game observations and outputs are qualitative versus quantitative, and that makes it hard to gauge results.  Matrix games are also highly dependent on the skill of the facilitator for success. It is not the tool, rather matrix-type games are tool for faculty to use to meet learning outcomes.

From a planning and execution standpoint, this event was very successful. At the end of the wargame, over 300 students had received more than six-hours of hands-on experiential training and evaluation.  The planning conducted between SSD and DDE was very detailed, but leadership was not swamped with minutia.  Wargame sponsors do not always provide enough time to plan for the event. DDE, however, came to SSD with enough lead time so that the full JELC timeline was available to plan, to prepare, and to execute the event. Additionally, AWC, CSL, and DDE fully supported the event and provided resources to ensure its success.  This included the funding of facilitators and subject matter experts from outside organization.  Of course, every wargame or large event has areas that are very successful and areas that need refinement.  As successful as this game was, lessons were learned and have been applied to games used in resident courses at the Army War College.

Lieutenant Colonel Joe Chretien
Major Abe Goepfert

 

Using MaGCK to evaluate tactical challenges

The following article was written for PAXsims by Paul Strong, Stuart Vagg, Richard Perkins, and Major Tom Mouat. It is published under public release identifier DSTL/PUB108778.


 

Since the release of MaGCK (including the Matrix Game Construction Kit and associated resources)it has been used to support a range of analytical games at the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, including the evaluation of strategic scenarios, tactical vignettes, and projects looking at thematic challenges.

The strength of  the MaGCK resource pack pack lies in the discussions created by the matrix game process. Unlike other approaches, disagreements during MaGCK games often unlock deeper insights and usually facilitate the overall narrative. On numerous occasions, we found that the process highlighted potential emergent trends far earlier than we would expect when using more conventional approaches. The process is also highly flexible and the associated materials can easily be adapted to fit a wide range of scenarios and challenges. A major selling point was that it only required limited time, resources, and space to design and set up a series of games. In all of the studies where the process was utilised, we have found that the narrative-based exploratory gameplay that MaGCK enables can be used to highlight the sort of contextualised evidence that is sometimes difficult to obtain in a conventional structured wargame or a purely discussion-based event.

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MaGCK in use at an earlier matrix game design session at Dstl.

Players in a matrix game make decisions as if they are in the roles specified in the scenario. This variant of ‘role-playing’ creates context-relevant dynamic interactions between both allies and adversaries and can be used to explore the wider implications of player decisions. The process rewards players who frame and articulate both arguments and counter-arguments to achieve their objectives (a combination of their proposed action and the intended result) in the context of the role they are playing. These arguments are then used as the basis for an adjudication process based upon the quality of the claims made by the players that contributed to the discussion. The process is a very effective approach for exploring human factors in political and strategic decision-making.

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Matrix gaming tactical challenges.

The basic matrix game process in a two faction game (each faction including several players) would be as follows: The Overall Mission Narrative sets the conditions for each Narrative Challenge. The Blue player outlines their Intent – i.e. how they will overcome or exploit the situation (outlining the general arguments that support their intent) and the Effect they hope to create. This is considered by the adjudicator and, if not countered by Red, may be approved without further consideration. If the adjudicator believes that these arguments need to be explored further (or Red claims they can be countered) the Matrix approach is used. If this occurs, the Blue Player sets out a number of concise Arguments that show that their approach will achieve the objectives set out in their intent. Red then sets out a number of counter-arguments (both using their own capabilities and by highlighting real-world problems that might emerge) that provide reasons why Blue’s intent will fail. All other attendees are also encouraged to suggest either positive or negative factors, and to note any contextual issues that may influence the outcome.

Blue is then allowed to suggest appropriate mitigations that might counter Red’s arguments. The adjudicator then considers and scores the arguments of both sides – either deciding an outcome immediately or rolling dice (with a bonus for the team that presented a superior argument) to derive a stochastic result. These assumptions are recorded and the narrative continues with the new situation establishing the starting conditions. Once the adjudication is complete, the next challenge in the narrative is described and the wargame continues (the challenges do not alternate between the players – the narrative may require one side to address a series of issues before initiative is passed to the other team).

A multi-faction game (as used in political scenarios) would follow a similar process but the player actions would go ‘around the table’ in a set order (as required by the scenario context).

Unlike a general seminar discussion, both the arguments presented in the earliest turns and the outcomes decided by the adjudicator can and will be exploited by adversaries! The key to the success of the process is the adversarial interaction between the players within the framework of an evolving narrative.

In contrast to a conventional structured wargame (such as “free” kriegsspiel), where there are tables defining probable outcomes for each encounter, the players provide the tactical and technical detail that enables adjudication to proceed. This is a vital factor when the purpose of the game is to elicit insight into a force structure or challenge.

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For example:

BLUE INTENTI will order Police Unit A to occupy the bridge

EFFECT OF INTENDED ACTION: A check point will be established that will block movement across the bridge.

BLUE ARGUMENTS (pros):

  1. Police are nearby.
  2. A checkpoint can easily be established and the bridge blocked with vehicles if necessary.
  3. (etc.)

RED ARGUMENTS (cons):

  1. Police unit A is known to be corrupt (smuggling will thrive).
  2. The police are unlikely to stand firm if attacked and the vehicles could be removed in minutes
  3. (etc.)

BLUE MITIGATIONS:

  1. Mentoring team attached to Police Unit A
  2. (etc.)

ADJUDICATION:

  1. Where the arguments (in the context of the scenario) clearly favour one faction, the adjudicator can opt to allow the narrative to continue.
  2. Where there is no clear winner or the advantage is marginal, dice can be rolled to decide the outcome.

Examples of analytical Matrix games at Dstl

Future force concepts

Dstl were asked to evaluate a potential future force concept intended for consideration by the UK military (the Royal Marines Lead Commando Group). The concept used a combination of emerging technologies to facilitate an innovative approach to warfighting across a range of scenarios.

While many force evaluation exercises have tended to select from a menu of technologies and then try to understand how they might be used at the broad scenario level, the approach used for the Lead Commando Group (LCG) tested the current force and an agreed future force against a series of illustrative tactical vignettes (each set within an approved scenario). The narrative of each vignette was designed to stress each force and highlight a series of plausible ‘left and right of arc’ challenges that the LCG might have to overcome.  Some were based upon the current threat while others looked at how potential adversaries might exploit similar technologies and systems.  These Matrix games were run with the intention of fully investigating the potential strengths and weaknesses of each force, as well as establishing a finalised Scheme of Manoeuvre for subsequent combat modelling. This would then allow Dstl to identify insights on which of the future concept’s key capabilities could and should be integrated into the current force.

The narrative only covered the general background and wider operational objectives of the Blue force and their adversaries (conventional and irregular). This enabled the decisions of both Red and Blue to influence the evolving narrative. The pro-argument / counter-argument / adjudication approach enabled the concept to continuously evolve as it faced new challenges. Thus strengthening the concept and identifying areas where more detailed analysis might need to be conducted.

The matrix game approach proved to be a powerful tool for exploring capability. The argument/counter-argument approach rapidly identified issues and opportunities that could be explored by more detailed simulations and the discussion enabled the players to review a number of specific requirements and capabilities that might need to be adapted or developed. We found that two Blue and two Red players, with 2 or 3 neutral (but appropriately qualified) observers, was about the right mix with both sides using the discussion to develop their ideas and consider the wider implications of their chosen force design. The only negative remark about the process is that the players always wanted more time for discussion!

Security case study

Dstl were also asked to review a security-based case study. We were asked to look at the planning challenges for an adversary intending to attack a known strategic target so that an appropriately detailed and plausible narrative could be run through more detailed simulations.

The huge benefit of the matrix game approach is that we could tailor the discussion to key issues and explore a range of options for representing various real-life security counter-measures. For example, the security threat level was assumed to constrain Red’s freedom of manoeuvre but that it could not be sustained for extended periods unless it was localised. Understandably, Red adjusted their strategy to minimise any increase in threat level (and quickly developed a healthy level of paranoia about Blue knowledge and capabilities) so this simple mechanism helped to heighten the realism of the game.

The narrative looked at each phase of Red’s plan, from smuggling in weapons and personnel, establishing a safe-house in the target city to setting the conditions for the final attack. The adjudicator used the arguments and counter-arguments to review each phase and to indicate to the Blue players their perception of the level of threat, and the probable targets they needed to watch or secure. The game process encouraged players to lay the foundations for future success by planning for contingencies and the discussions on how these options might develop enabled us to identify a number of useful indicators and warnings for real-life security scenarios.

Overall Insights

  • The matrix game approach is a powerful tool for eliciting subject matter expert insight on complex questions. The process is fast flowing and highly flexible; enabling the group to highlight emerging issues and exchange views on both scenario specific and general challenges, and to evaluate potential mitigations.
  • “Matrix Game Style Resolution” can easily be inserted into conventional games. Anything that isn’t explicitly covered by clear rules and verified tables can be handled by a matrix game style discussion/argument.
  • We recommend using between five and nine people (including subject matter experts). You need enough players for a wide-ranging discussion to emerge naturally as the narrative unfolds.
  • A decent sized room with a large map is vital. In addition, the importance of providing food and drink should not be underestimated – too many breaks (or discomfort) can undermine immersion and break the flow of information exchange.
  • The best way to learn how to adjudicate a game is to take part in a couple of matrix games and watch how an experienced adjudicator facilitates a narrative. The core challenges are subject matter awareness (expertise is useful but not essential) and the ability to maintain narrative momentum.
  • Players quickly recognise that strong arguments help them achieve objectives and the astute ones also realise they can cunningly lay the foundations for future success.
  • While more effort may be required to provide analytically rigorous quantitative data from a matrix game, it is an efficient and cost-effective process for generating qualitative output which can then be subjected to quantitative analysis. It can also be used to identify the key areas where the next phase of detailed analysis needs to be concentrated.
  • The concepts being tested need to be more than a single technology. We found that the capabilities of a coherent system (including basic tactics, techniques, and procedures) were easier to articulate and evaluate.
  • Each system needs a champion. The advantage of a champion is that they understand the system (often playing a key role in its development) and will thus be keen to explore its potential. We were extremely lucky with our concept champions as they were both enthused about their concepts and keen to debate their merits.
  • The champion needs to be open-minded and happy to hear counter-arguments. While you want someone who is keen to develop and then defend their concept, you don’t want someone who will become defensive or angry.
  • The Adversary (Red) team need to be highly experienced in the area you want to examine. The optimum is to have an established critical thinker (to play the adversary and to introduce plausible reasons for friction) and at least one subject matter expert (to ensure that the challenge of each vignette or mission is both appropriate and realistic).
  • It is best to test your new concept against a current threat first. This ensures that Red fully understands the concept being tested and they are therefore better equipped to develop a plausible version (or counter) for the mission adversary. This approach also enables the concept champion to identify and correct fundamental issues (the kind that would naturally emerge as the concept develops) before the more challenging scenarios are explored.
  • The process requires at least a day to review each vignette as most games will require at least six turns to establish a coherent narrative.

Matrix gaming is a powerful narrative-based analytical approach that we found both useful and engaging/immersive. Tactical challenges are often difficult to quantify in look-up tables and we found that these complex questions can be more fully explored through Matrix game-based discussion and argument in the context of a tailored scenario.

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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Israel-Hizbullah matrix game (beta)

Lebanon map.jpgA few people have asked me for this, so here it is: the current beta version of an Israel-Hizbullah matrix game. This game was first developed as part of a matrix game design session at Dstl, and revised versions were then played at both Connections UK and McGill University.

The “narrative cards” mentioned in the scenario are not included. These are simply pictures of conflict (destruction, the human cost, political figures, etc) that players may incorporate into matrix arguments. You can easily generate your own with pictures found online, or dispense with the game mechanism altogether.

The current version of the game features three players: Israel, Hizbullah, and the Lebanese government (with the latter drawing a card each turn to determine which political faction the player represents). The original version of the game had a civilian player too—it remains an interesting idea, but players assigned to that role found it a bit dull.

The game has two parts to it: a pre-war game, during which Israel and Hizbullah invest in capabilities that might give them an edge, and a wartime game, where the conflict is fought out. During the latter the IDF will certainly secure a military victory measured in narrowly military terms, but the real issue is political framing: who is seen to have won? Thus the primary metric is domestic political support, modified by one final matrix game argument at the end. The original version used a victory point system, but having it hinge on political support and end-of-game arguments better captures the indeterminacy of those sort of confrontation.

The scenario assumes that you have access to a copy of the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) for the game materials. if you don’t, however, it is easy enough to make up suitable markers yourself.

The scenario also assumes that you know how to run a matrix game. If you’ve never used the technique before, you will want to read the MaGCK User Guide to learn the technique (available as a pdf via The Game Crafter).

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As noted above, this is only a beta version and the scenario is still being developed. Feedback is welcome, and I will post any updated versions here as they become available.

 

High North matrix game

High North cover.jpgTim Price has produced a matrix game exploring economic and military competition and cooperation in the Arctic: HIGH NORTH (pdf).

Climate change is the principal driver of change in the Arctic, with increasing temperatures and precipitation. As Arctic and Antarctic sea ice retreats, many areas that are currently inaccessible could become open to commercial exploitation, particularly of oil and gas. It is possible that some countries – depending on their internal politics – may seek to project power in the Arctic if they consider their interests in the region to be under threat.

You’ll find a description of the issues and situation, simple instructions on how to run a matrix game, and briefings for six players: Russia (political), Russia (military), Norway, the United States, China, the UK. There is also a map depicting the North, Norwegian, Greenland, and Barents Sea, plus the high Arctic.

High North.jpgThe game contains print-and-play counters for assets or effects, although you could also utilize materials in the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK). For more detailed matrix game rules and tips on designing or running one, the MaGCK User Guide is also available from The Game Crafter as a pdf download.

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Matrix gaming chaos: the Syria conflict

The following report was contributed by Anja van der Hulst (TNO) and Shai Ginsberg (Duke), with photos by Leo Ching (Duke). None of the opinions expressed here necessarily reflect those of TNO or Duke University.


 

ISIS was expelled from its strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa and for now has failed to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, but has it been defeated? Will the struggle for the Afrin region open up opportunities for ISIS to re-emerge?

For the second time in five months, we have designed and played a matrix game, exploring the conflict in Syria, at the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University.

Time and again, we are amazed by how powerful the matrix game format is.  The game format is surprisingly easy to explain, which allows us to get right into strategizing and debating outcomes. Also, the Syria conflict is fought with hybrid means: it is as much a war of narratives as of military combats; there is deception, diplomacy, political and economic means, and more.  Besides matrix games, there are very few formats that are both so easy to play and that enable the use of so diverse means, taking advantage of the full spectrum of DIMEFIL (Diplomatic, Information, Military, Economic, Financial, Intelligence and Law Enforcement).

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This is where the easy part ends. In preparation for the version of last week, we realized how much has changed. In October 2017, we named the game the “ISIS aftermath,” as ISIS was just expelled from its strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa and we wanted to explore the consequences of its recent defeats. The main question to be answered from this game was how would the parties engaged in the civil war in Syria respond to this development: Would ISIS rise again? Would it attempt to organize a terrorist campaign in Europe? Would there be a major power struggle with Al Qaida? And what about the Kurds, who had played such a major role in the defeat of ISIS? At the time, they just held their referendum for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, and we wondered whether a century-long quest for an independent Kurdistan might finally succeed. We also felt the civil war was winding down somewhat, and thus, our final question was whether there could be a stabilisation of the situation in Syria.

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So much has changed in just five months, and the set of questions we posed last week was entirely different; we even had to rename of the game: we chose the unimaginative name, “the Syria conflict.” In the past 5 months, we have seen twists that have produced more complexity and even more chaos in the region. The Syria conflict was already a proxy war between Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia but it is turning more and more into a major power struggle. The U.S.- and Russia backed forces had a common enemy is ISIS, but with ISIS losing ground those actors appear to turn ever more against each other. Interestingly, the US-led coalition started training of a 30,000-strong, Kurdish-led border force in Syria, a move which Turkey said “it could never accept.” Conveniently, Russia removed its forces from the west Syrian Province of Afrin and thus allowed Turkey to attack the Kurds in Afrin. With Turkish forces gaining ground, the Kurds in East Syria and Iraq that were holding positions previously captured from ISIS are now moving to Afrin to support their fellow Kurds. As a result, the US-backed coalition will now be fighting fellow NATO member Turkey and now, as I write this, news comes in that ISIS gangs have began to reappear around many villages in east Syria.

But that wasn’t all, between Oct 2017 and March 2018, Iran became more assertive. Israel, which until now has before a rather low profile in this war (in the October version it was not even a playable actor), now had carried out a ‘major aerial attack’ in Syria, targeting 12 military sites, four of which were said to be Iranian. And just this past week, it finally took responsibility for the attack on the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, sending a clear message to Iran, Syria (and possibly Saudi Arabia) about its red lines. Neither side can be expected to back down.

Gaming Syria Oct 2017

Our starting point in the October version was that Assad was winning over rebel forces and ISIS had been marginalised. Back then, there seemed to be open roads that might lead to stabilisation of the current situation. However, our brilliant ISIS-playing syndicate managed to enhance chaos both in the Damascus region and along the Israeli-Syrian border: they kidnapped and murdered an Assad family member and attacked Israeli targets; an Israeli harsh response forced Assad’s counter-measures. In the game, Assad actually attacked Israel and became entangled in a new front, which gave ISIS some opportunities to rise again.

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Our ISIS player on Skype on her way to New York to cheerlead the Duke Blue Devils.

 

Gaming Syria March 2018

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Turkey trying to convince the US, all in vain.

In the March version, as said, we had a totally different starting point. In game, our Russia players worked hard to marginalize the US and EU presence and influence in the region and, ultimately had great success in asserting Russia’s position in its place as the key superpower and powerbroker between the warring parties. The US and the EU’s hesitant manoeuvring and reluctance to use military force—for instance, they backed down on the US support of Kurdish forces in Syria—played into Russia’s hand and made its task easier. In response Turkey, who initially tried to work with the US and the EU, switched its alliance and established much tighter relationship with Russia. Assad, Iran and Hizbollah likewise benefitted from the growing Russian presence in the region (though not to the extent one would imagine), while ISIS attempts to reassert itself all felt flat: its attempts to initiate a terrorist campaign, targeting both Assad and Iranian forces fell short. Ultimately, Russia and Turkey engineered a cease fire to be enforced by, among others, Russian forces on the ground and would formal and internationally legitimate continued Russian presence in Syria. Interestingly, the game made it patently clear to our students how complicated the position of the US-led coalition in Syria is. The Russian success in striking a ceasefire agreement, made US military intervention in Afrin unnecessary (and unwelcomed), solving the dicey issue of pitting US forces against their NATO ally Turkey. It also relieved Kurdish forces in Afrin; Kurdish forces in the East of Syria might now stay put, buttressing their positions against a re-emergent ISIS. Still, condoning an enlarged Russian presence in Syria might create a severe strategic disadvantage to the US in the Middle East.

Insights on learning

How well does gaming contribute to learning? If we wish to make students truly understand the dynamics in the Middle East, a number of insights on learning from such gaming sessions emerge. Students were engaged: it was obvious that they studied hard to master their own role as well as the interests of other players in a regional conflict so complex.  Given its complexity, we’re still amazed how well students manage to strategically act in the shoes of regional actors after just a couple of hours of going through background materials. The resulting debates were fierce and lively, and misconceptions were usually corrected by the group. There were also a lot of laughter, serving as yet another proof that they were both engaged and thoroughly enjoyed participating in such games.  As one of them remarked, “This is so cool, we get to play the real version of dungeons and dragons in class.”

 

Two aspects of the game demand additional consideration. First is that the more introvert students have a hard time participating fully. Roleplay and arguing relies partly on debating skills and here we see large differences in participation. One should remember, however, that matrix games is not only about debates: it also involves havey strategizing, which relies in turn on a deep understanding of the domain and the conflict. Besides improving debating skills, we might work on a division of labour where some students mostly strategize while others debate more. In the comprehensive approach game we played at McGill, syndicates had 4-5 people, and there such division of labour usually emerged.

Second is that the students who played the US and EU found it impossible to pursue tactics and strategies they deemed immoral. Whereas they were well aware of the history of the US military, political and economic engagement with the rest of the world (and in the case of these particular students, in Asia in particular), they still could not bring themselves to take actions that would cast a negative light on the US and its allies. Players who played other parties found it much easier to identify interest and pursue them with all means at their possession, questions of morality and ethics notwithstanding. It seems, then, that matrix games pose a particular problem if the players truly identify with the party they are playing.

Some final words: our own experience shows that games form one of the best tools we have in developing an understanding of the current regional dynamic. To do so requires good materials that expounds the interests of actors in the region, their historical ties and traumas. Still, the more one delves into the issue and the more one learns about the participant actors, the more difficult it is to actually comprehend the situation in general. The history of the region is made up of so many traumas, conflicting interests, shifting alliances, and radical changes in leadership. In particular, we (and players) are overwhelmed by the intensity of emotions and entrenchment in beliefs and ideologies. Next time, we’ll just game the tensions in the Korean region…

Insights on analytical value

Then, are such matrix games useful for analytical purposes? Does the game play have any predictive value?  First of all, we noticed many time that the argumentation within matrix games for analytical purposes improves substantially with true regional experts playing the roles.

In these sessions, I assume that the future courses of action we created at Duke were of little value for forecasting. Evidently, in the October version we hadn’t foreseen many of the events that happened in the past five months. Likewise, we do not hold our breath for the events played in the March version to ultimately unfold.

Two observations here:

  1. Lack of malice: We noticed a bias towards mostly “nice” actions on the part of students, such as negotiating ceasefires and alliances. They made this explicit: our students basically did not wish to risk killing people, which cannot be said for most of the current actors in the Middle East.  Although our students seemed to understand the actors and their interests, they refrained from turning truly Machiavellian. This made the courses of action insufficiently realistic for analytical purposes.  For conflict games to have realistic outcomes, we need the will to act against morality and received norms. We have there considered brainwashing our players…
  2. Lack of true future forward thinking: It is a feeling that in roleplaying into the future, we tend to stay very close to the present situation and the dynamics as we understand them, probably far too close. We are sort of linearly thinking into the future. For example, our experiences being that when e.g. gaming, 15 years into the future, one notices that our players tend to look e.g. at Russia as governed by a centralised autocratic regime. As illustrated by all those twists in Syria, in 15 years, a lot can (and will) happen. In 15 years, Russia may fall into utter chaos, disintegrate locally, or be divided between neighbouring countries, but no-one really envisions that in long term strategy-wargames.  We tend to work too much on the basis of our assumptions from today- and assume they will still hold true in the future. It requires a more advanced systems thinking approach to step back from the current situation and to identify and understand the sources of tensions, the polarities existent, and to work from there.  How to get there? We don’t know, but are convinced that we will have to work on improving the predictive value of the less kinetic conflict-games to support meaningful strategizing.

Still, the matrix games we played helped tremendously in educating students about the conflict, and in relatively short time.

To end this report, let us hope that in the next 6 months things take some turns for the better, and that we will not have to rename the next version of our Syria matrix game into “The Middle East War”.

Anja van der Hulst and Shai Ginsberg

 

Matrix Game Construction Kit User Guide

The User Guide for MaGCK is now available as a downloadable pdf from The Game Crafter for only $14.99.

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This is not the full Matrix Game Construction Kit, which you’ll find here. However, the User Guide contains extensive information on how to design, and play, matrix games.

  • 1.0 Introduction to Matrix Gaming
    • 1.1 Using MaGCK
  • 2.0 Playing Matrix Games
    • 2.1 Actions, Arguments, and Counterarguments
    • 2.2 Determining Outcomes
    • 2.3 Preparatory and Secret Actions
    • 2.4 Ongoing Effects
    • 2.5 Spendable Bonuses
    • 2.6 Privileged Arguments
  • 3.0 Maps, Tokens, and Other Matrix Game Elements
  • 4.0 Levels of Protection, Big Projects, and Planning
  • 5.0 Player Interaction
    • 5.1 Announcements
    • 5.2 Negotiations
    • 5.3 Order of Play
  • 6.0 Combat Resolution
    • 6.1 SCRUD
    • 6.2 The Efect of Winning and Losing
    • 6.3 Killer Arguments
  • 7.0 Elections and Other Contests
  • 8.0 Consequence Management
  • 9.0 Common Issues and Helpful Hints
    • 9.1 ACTIONs That Aren’t Actions
    • 9.2 Talking Too Much
    • 9.3 Doing Too Much
    • 9.4 Magical Conjuring
    • 9.5 Representing Time
    • 9.6 Goals
    • 9.7 Social Engineering
    • 9.8 Problem Participants
    • 9.9 Influential Seniors
  • 10.0 Playing ISIS Crisis and A Reckoning of Vultures
  • 11.0 Advanced Matrix Gaming
    • 11.1 Event cards
    • 11.2 Limiting Information
    • 11.3 Multiple Actions
    • 11.4 Larger or Distributed Groups
    • 11.5 Hybrid Games
    • 11.6 Data Collection and Debriefs
  • 12.0 Designing Your Own Matrix Games
  • 13.0 Concluding Comments
  • 14.0 Dedication and Acknowledgements

CATALEXIT matrix game

CATALEXIT.jpgIn his report on the recent Connections Netherlands 2017 wargaming conference, Tom Mouat mentioned the CATALEXIT matrix game development by conference participants during a matrix game design workshop.

This is a Matrix Game intended to explore the issues and options surrounding the 2017 Spanish constitutional crisis, in the run up to Regional Elections on 21 December 17 to appoint a new Catalan Parliament following the suspension of the previous Parliament . It is the product of only a few hours exploratory game design taken from the Connections Netherlands 20 17 conference on 14 Nov 2017.

You’ll find the rules and briefing materials here.

MaGCK launches soon at Connections UK

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MaGCK—the Matrix Game Construction Kit—will officially launch on September 5 at the Connections UK 2017 professional wargaming conference at King’s College London. As soon as it does, we’ll update the MaGCK page here at PAXsims with a link to the order page at The Game Crafter. It all looks excellent, thanks to the graphic artistry of our very own Tom Fisher.

As an added surprise, we will also be publishing our very first MaGCK supplement at the same time—a set of estimated probability cards. These come in seven suits, indicating probabilities of 0/10/30/50/70/90/100%. They can be used in matrix game adjudication, or in pretty much any other context where you want to quickly poll a small group for their assessment of the likelihood of an outcome. They are certainly the perfect geeky stocking-stuffer gift for the methodologically-rigorous intelligence analyst in your life!

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Many thanks are due to the wargaming team at Dstl (the UK MoD Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) for supporting the development of MaGCK.

“One Belt, One Road” matrix game

We are pleased to feature this report on the One Belt, One Road matrix game developed by COL Jerry Hall. The report below was written by Ryan Carragher, a Boston College student, ROTC member, and intern at the US Army War College. We are grateful to Jerry for sharing the complete set of rules and to LTC Joseph Chretien (US Army War College) for passing all of this on to us.


“One Belt, One Road” (OBOR-MG), a new matrix game developed by Colonel (COL) Jerry Hall, United States Army, focuses on China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan for trade expansion and growth.  The game is a six-player game, with teams of China, Russia, India, the European Union, the United States, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). With China’s influence expanding, it is up to the other teams to either determine how to counter China, or find a way to grow with them. The game’s scenario begins in the present day and advances three to five years each round, which replicates China’s end goal of completing OBOR by 2050.

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COL Jerry Hall discussing the rules of OBOR-MG

The goals and objectives of OBOR-MG are to explore where China’s OBOR plan may take the world over the course of the next few decades, to expose players to the growth of China through trade, and to force players to think of ways that China can be countered.   Within the context of the game, agreed upon trade routes must be invested in to be established, and new trade routes can be planned and opened.  More directly, the game requires players to use their National Elements of Power (DIME-Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economic) to exert influence throughout the globe.  In doing so, the game requires players to manage multiple different mechanisms of foreign relations.  This forces players to expand their thinking at the strategic level.  Military leaders playing must consider the diplomatic, economic and information alternatives, while other government officials playing the game must consider the military options as well.   This aspect of the game allows it to accomplish its objective of being an effective tool for strategy development and analysis, to test different courses of action, to determine potential U.S. national interests, and to explore potential outcomes of China’s trade expansion.  The OBOR-MG game is extremely versatile in its intended audience.  Indeed, it is a useful tool for not only military leaders and organizations but also civilian leaders to test and expand strategic plans as well as for students studying any of the countries and regions involved.

The game was built using lessons learned from past matrix games developed at the Center for Strategic Leadership at the U.S. Army War College.  COL Hall recognized the need for a matrix game revolving around China’s planned growth in order to better educate students and leaders on how the future can be handled.  Furthermore, he thought it was vital to include all aspects of the National Elements of Power, as had been done in previous matrix games, such as the South China Sea and Kaliningrad.

A new design element in this game comes in the form of each player having multiple chits (moves for each element of power) per turn.  This allows for a more accurate representation of each player countries’ strengths in individual fields.  For example, China begins the game with three economic chits, and one chit for Diplomacy, Military, and Information.  This is indicative of the enormous amount of investment China is dedicating to the development of trade routes in order to advance its growth.  The United States begins with two diplomacy, military, and economic chits, as well as one information chit.  This shows the fact that the United States has diplomatic and military power in the region, but is not investing as much as China.

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One of the trackers in OBOR-MG used to track open corridors.

OBOR-MG goes one step further in allowing each payer to play a chit in response to another player’s move, directly after the player makes the move.  This allows other players to modify the dice roll by opposing the action with their pieces and making the roll more difficult, or by supporting it and therefore lessening the required role.  By adding this facet to the game, COL Hall made OBOR-MG a more realistic test of foreign policy, as players must manage their elements of power in the most effective way possible and have the ability to respond to opponents’ actions in real time.  In the game’s development stages, COL Hall also refined the mechanism by which countries gain economic chits.  Emphasizing the economic value of the trade routes, countries through which the route travels, upon the route’s completion, increase the number of economic chits they receive at the beginning of each round.  Countries that invest in the routes but are not located along them receive an increase in influence in the region of their investment.  This aspect of the game’s development is vital, as it accurately recreates the incentive for competing powers to invest in spots that will not show immediate economic gains but will further their long term goals.

OBOR-MG was play-tested extensively by the Strategic Simulations Division at the Center for Strategic Leadership.  This play testing recognized the value of players’ ability to make multiple moves and respond to their opponents.  It also brought about minor changes in the numbers of chits given to each player at the start of the game.  For example, China’s economic chits at the start were reduced from four to three, and the United States’ was increased from one to two.  These small changes were made to make the game as reflective of the real world situation as possible.  The play testing also shed light on areas in which the game could expand due to players’ actions.  For example, the European Union and ASEAN can now develop military chits by working with other players or by establishing a military force through “big” actions – projects that may take multiple turns or chits to accomplish.  This rule allows for players to greatly expand the possibilities of what they can do, but in a way that reflects potential real-world developments.  With this ability, players are now more capable of testing potential strategies by different countries.

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Playtesting the game.

China’s “One Belt One Road” plan has the potential to drastically change the economic world and world power balance, if it is as successful as China expects it to be by 2050.  This game has the potential to provide the United States and its global partners a road map on how best to counter China, or how to join them.  COL Hall’s OBOR-MG provides a well-developed platform for leaders to test new strategies and for enterprising students to learn about the future of trade, power, and global politics.

Ryan Carragher

 

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