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MORS: Designing tactical wargames

The Military Operations Research Society is offering a three day online course on designing tactical games on 3-5 May 2022.

In this class, we will focus on building tactical games. Such games require us to represent the details of battle. Whether we do this using computer or manual techniques, it demands no small degree of simulation. We need to simulate the interaction of forces, the effects of human factors and technology, and the effects of the environment on combat. We also need to understand how tactical elements are commanded, and how to incorporate representations of command into our games. Any good wargame strives to produce realistic adjudications and outcomes, but the realism of tactical games is tested even more stringently because the players can more easily relate game mechanics and adjudication to their own, personal, experiences.

All of this can make designing tactical games different—and even more challenging—than designing operational or strategic games. This class will examine some of these challenges and their possible solutions in both theoretical and practical terms.

We will address the subject according to the different combat domains: ground, naval, and air. For ground combat we will discuss how good design must address basic concepts such as mission, time, space, forces, and command relationships. How do you bring all these variables together to create a realistic tactical environment for players to engage in ground warfare? We will review the development of different ways of representing ground combat based on a wide range of commercial and professional games and explore future challenges and innovative approaches.

Naval and air tactics are even more technically complex and interactive, involving systems from space to cyber and beyond. Games must represent not only putting ordnance on the target, but also the entire kill chain from identification to battle damage assessment. We will also explore requirements for gaming ground tactics primarily using manual games. Although these sorts of games lend themselves to digital simulation, digital simulations can limit designer and player creativity in the game design and execution processes. We will focus on designing exploratory games—games to create or test new tactics, weapon systems, or operational concepts. Our discussion of naval and air games will focus on the mid-to-high tactical level—more concerned about formations of multiple units and systems rather than individual ships or aircraft. This will allow us to examine games that incorporate multiple tactical options for the players and integrate the joint kill chain.

Participants will be able to influence the topics and detail covered depending on their interests and desires.

For example, we can go beyond traditional ground, naval, and air to delve into less common types of tactical games, such as tactical special operations games, requiring the representation and simulation of actions by individual operators. As part of these, we expect to draw from concepts in miniatures gaming to examine the challenges of micro-detailed games. We could consider as well the tactical issues in emergency response, cyber operations, technology assessment, humanitarian assistance, and disease response.

The course will be taught by Ed McGrady, Peter Perla, Phillip Pournelle, and Paul Vebber. Additional details and registration at the link above.

MORS: Certificate in gaming homeland security

The Military Operations Research Society is offering an online certificate course in gaming homeland security on 14-18 March 2022.

The course will consist of lectures and exercises designed to help build confidence in the topic of homeland security game design.

Course Sections:

Game Design for Federal, State, and Local Response, including the HSEEP program

Games for Homeland Security and the National Exercise Program

Terrorism, Bio-security, and Public Health

Student Game Design Final Project 

Our instructors have years of experience with designing homeland security games at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. Combined, they have worked for multiple government agencies and have experience with a wide range of homeland security challenges.

The course will be taught by Roger Mason and Ed McGrady. For more information, see the MORS website.

Military Operations Research Society 90th annual symposium (13-16 June 2022)

The Military Operations Research Society’s 90th annual symposium will take place in Quantico, VA on 13-16 June 2022. The deadline to submit an abstract for a presentation is February 11.

Further information is available at the MORS website.

MORS certificate in wargaming course

The Military Operations Research Society will be offering its Wargaming Certificate Course online on 24-28 January 2022.

This course is designed to increase Analyst capability and knowledge in research, design, development, execution, analysis, and reporting of professional games for analytical and training purposes. Analytical games entail the development/execution of a research design through problem discovery, data gathering, scenario development, experiment design and execution, and results interpretation and documentation. Training games emphasize the development of learning plans and objectives to provide experiential learning for student retention.

Schedule

Day 1: The Architect: What is a Wargame, How Wargames Relate to Red Teaming, and How the Architect Designs Games

Day 2: The Artist: Wargames as a Design Activity

Day 3: Special Topics: Strategic Gaming, Game Facilitation, and Constructing Game Materials

Day 4: The Analyst: How Does the Analyst Design Games? How do we Analyze Them?

Day 5: Practicum

Instructors

Lt Col James “Pigeon” Fielder, USAF (Ret)
Mr. Michael Markowitz
Dr. Ed McGrady
Dr. Peter Perla
Mr. Phil Pournelle

You will find additional information at the MORS website.

MORS: Sabin on simultaneity of action in rigidly adjudicated wargames

On Wednesday, January 27, Prof. Philip Sabin will be speaking to the MORS wargaming community of interest on “How to Achieve Simultaneity of Action in Rigidly Adjudicated Wargames.” The session starts at 1130 ET.

Philip Sabin retired a year ago as Professor of Strategic Studies in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London and is now Emeritus Professor. He worked closely with the UK military for many years, especially through the University of London Military Education Committee, the Chief of the Air Staff’s Air Power Workshop, and KCL’s academic links with the Defence Academy and the Royal College of Defence Studies. Professor Sabin specialises in strategic and tactical analysis of conflict dynamics, with a particular focus on ancient warfare and modern air power. He makes extensive use of conflict simulation techniques to model the dynamics of various conflicts, and since 2003 he taught a highly innovative MA option module in which students design their own simulations of past conflicts. He has written or edited 15 books and monographs and several dozen chapters and articles on a wide variety of military topics. His books Lost Battles (2007) and Simulating War (2012) both make major contributions to the scholarly application of conflict simulation techniques. Besides co-organising the annual Connections UK conference at KCL, he has taken part in several defence wargaming projects, and he worked with the British Army’s Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research on the initial design of the Camberley Kriegsspiel with which officers may practise battlegroup tactics. Professor Sabin was also co-director of the King’s Wargaming Network, which is taking forward KCL’s leading role in the academic study of wargaming after his retirement. He is continuing to design a succession of innovative games modelling the grand tactics of combat (especially air combat), and to lecture internationally on aspects of wargaming and airpower.

See the link above for more details. A copy of Prof. Sabin’s paper can be found here:

MORS online course on gaming emergency response to disease

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The Military Operations Society will be offering an online course on gaming emergency response to disease on 15-16 April 2016.

Games are a way to develop disease response plans, to rehearse organizational processes and relationships prior to an event, and to build an understanding of the challenges involved in an actual response. While the current pandemic highlights that large-scale disease outbreaks can create some difficult policy, medical, and communications choices, response to smaller disease outbreaks is something that happens all of the time. And the implications of deliberate use of disease in war or terrorism has been the subject of much research in the past few decades. All of these topics give professional game designers a rich set of topics and questions to incorporate into organizational, research, and rehearsal games.

In this two-day, class we will focus on the application of professional games to the problems associated with disease response. We will cover pandemic response games, both national and international. We will also examine problems of novel or unique organisms, biological warfare and terrorism, and public health response. The objective throughout the class will be to identify unique or challenging aspects involved in designing games involving disease response. We will also incorporate emerging lessons from the current pandemic response into our discussions.

The instructors have designed, developed, and executed a wide range of disease and pandemic response games at the organizational, national, and international level. They have extensive experience in the areas of response to biological terrorism and the planning and coordination required in that response.

The current pandemic is a reminder that disease can produce unusual, unique, and difficult challenges for decision-makers at all levels of government. Games provide an opportunity to bring those decision-makers together and let them understand the challenges before they actually happen. In this class we will consider how to build games that help decision-makers with those challenges.

The registration fee varies from $700 to $800. You will find additional details at the link above.


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

MORS certificate course in cyber wargaming

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The Military Operations Research Society is conducting a certificate course on from 27-31 January 2020 at the MORS office in Arlington, VA.

How do we go about understanding operational and policy decisions about cyber?  They involve a complex mix of human decisions, technical capabilities, and social interactions.  As we have seen from recent events, peoples’ reaction to cyber can be as important as the capability.

One way government and industry professionals go about understanding the complex linkages in cyber operations is through gaming.  Games allow you to bring together all of these diverse aspects of cyber policy.  Games place people in decision-making roles during a simulated real-world problem—historical, contemporary or projected into the future.  These “professional games” are used by decision-makers within government, industry and academia to examine policy issues and potential outcomes.   They also allow operational professionals to assess requirements, plan budgets, and practice response procedures.  Professional games on cyber policy and operations are run by a variety of agencies as part of an effort to develop national strategies, permissions, and capabilities.

In this course we examine the challenges of gaming cyber.  How do you develop games that address the challenges associated with cyber?  Why are cyber games inherently difficult to do well, and how do you match technical layers of game play with the operational and strategic layers?  What is the role of computer simulation in cyber games, and how do cyber games differ from exercises?  How do you assess player actions given the potential political, social, and technical impacts of game play?

We will do this through a combination of lectures and practical exercises.  Lectures will focus on games and game design, along with the application of game design to cyber issues.   We need to understand how to think about cyber technology and processes in order to build effective games.  So cyber security will be discussed in this course: but this is not a course on cyber security.  Practical exercises will give students the chance to experience different types of cyber gaming, with the expectation that students will research, design, and present their own cyber game as part of the course.

Successful students will learn how game design can be used to address challenges of cyber operations and policy.  They will build an understanding of how to represent cyber capabilities in games, as well as build games directly addressing cyber operations.  The goal is for students to become aware of the gaming tools available for cyber, and to begin to associate specific game techniques with various cyber gaming requirements.

It’s pretty pricey, though, at up to USD$3000 (!). Details and registration at the link above.

Setting the (wargame) stage

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I delivered a (virtual) presentation today to the Military Operations Society wargaming community of practice on the importance of “chrome, fluff” and other finer touches in promoting better game outcomes through enhanced narrative engagement. Having forgotten to set a calendar reminder I was a fifteen minutes late for my own talk, which only served to reinforce the stereotype of absent-minded professors. Apologies to everyone who had to wait!

The full set of Powerpoint slides is available here (pdf). Since the content may not be entirely self-evident from the slides, I’ll also offer a quick summary.

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First, I argued—in keeping with Perla and McGrady’s discussion of “Why wargaming works“—that narrative engagement is a key element of good (war)game design and implementation.

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In addition to their experience-based, qualitative argument, I adduced some quantitative, experimental data that shows that role-playing produces superior forecasting outcomes…

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..and that the way we frame and present games has profound effects on the way players actually play them.

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I also noted a substantial literature on the psychology of conflict and conflict resolution that points to the importance of normative and other non-material factors in shaping conflict and negotiating behaviour.

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In other words, if your games don’t have players feeling angry, or aggrieved, or alienated, or attached to normative and symbolic elements, they’re acting unrealistically. Since the selling point of wargaming is that it places humans in the loop, you need those players playing like real humans, not technocratic, minimaxing robots.

Doing that, I suggested, requires nudging participants into the right mindset. One has to be careful one doesn’t overdo it—some participants may recoil at role play fluff that makes it all look like a LARP or game of D&D.

What then followed was a discussion of some considerations and ways that I had done it, but which was also intended to spark a broader conversation. Specifically we looked at:

  • How player backgrounds and player assignment will influence how readily participants internalize appropriate perspectives.
  • Briefing materials should designed to subtly promote desired perspectives and biases (without being too obvious about this). Things like flags, maps, placards, and so forth can all be used to make players more closely identify with their role.
  • In repeated games—for example, some wargames in an educational setting that might be conducted every year)—oral traditions and tales from prior games can make the game setting richer and more authentic (although at the risk of players learning privileged information from previous players). Participants might also contribute background materials, chrome, or fluff that you can use in future games—such as the collection of songs from Brynania that my McGill University students have recorded over the past twenty years.

  • Very explicit objectives and “victory conditions” should often be used sparingly, lest they promote both an unrealistic sense of the rigidity of policy goals and promote excessively “tick-off-the-objective-boxes” game play.
  • Physical space should be used to subtly shape player interaction, whether to foster interaction, limit it, or even create a sense of isolation and alienation.
  • Coffee breaks and lunch breaks should be designed NOT to pull players out of their scenario headspace. The last thing you want is Blue and Red having a friendly hour over lunch talking about non-game matters in a scenario where they are supposed to distrust or even hate each other.
  • Fog and friction should be promoted not only to model imperfect information and imperfect institutions/capabilities, but also to subtly promote atmospheres of uncertainty, fear, crisis, panic, frustration, and similar emotional states, as appropriate to the actors and scenario.
  • The graphic presentation of game materials should encourage narrative engagement and immersion. Avoid inappropriate fonts and formats, make things look “real,” and be aware that game graphics can very much affect how players (and analysts) perceive the game and it’s outcomes.

A variety of other issues came up in the Q&A and discussion. Many thanks to everyone who participated—I hope they found it as useful as I did.

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87th annual MORS symposium

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The 87th annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society will be held at the  US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO from 17-20 June 2019:

This year’s theme, “Advancing Analytics to Support National Security,” emphasizes the Society’s goal of leading the national security analysis community in the development of cutting-edge tools, techniques, and best practices. The 87th Symposium will include hundreds of presentations across 7 Composite Groups, 34 Working Groups, and numerous Distributed Working Groups, Focus Sessions, Special Sessions, Demonstrations, Tutorials, and Continuing Education Unit Courses over the four-day program.  Sessions will be conducted at the classified and unclassified level.

New Working Group: Data Science and Analytics, being led by Mr. Ian Kloo of the U.S. Military Academy.  This working group will pave the way in this very active field of research and applications.

Abstracts are now being accepted through 15 February 2019.

For further information, to submit an abstract, or to register, visit the MORS website.

 

Military Operations Research Society 86th symposium

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The 86th annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society will take place on 18-21 June 2018 at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California:

This year’s sessions will be conducted at the classified and unclassified clearance level with FOUO options.  Corresponding portions of the Symposium are open to U.S. Citizens with or without a clearance and cleared “Five EYES” (FVEY) participants with some restrictions.

The 86th Symposium will include 500+ sessions taking place in 33 Working Groups, 7 Composite groups, Distributed Working Groups, Special Sessions, Demos, Tutorials and CEU Courses over the four-day program.

Take advantage of this unique opportunity at the 86th Symposium to present your work and get valuable feedback from your colleagues across the National Security community.  The submission deadline is 16 February 2018.  MORS Service Sponsors are actively working on conference approvals for the 86th Symposium.

I won’t be there, alas—the clearance procedures and restrictions for FVEY participants are just too much of a hassle—but it is a great place to interact with others in the national security gaming community, as well as to learn about relevant insights from military operations research more broadly.

MORS: Validity and utility of wargaming

Stephen Downes-Martin (organizer and chair of Working Group 2 at the October 2017 Military Operations Research Society special meeting on wargaming) has passed on to PAXsims the group’s extensive (173 page) report on the Validity and Utility of Wargaming  (pdf). It is an outstanding piece of work, and should be essential reading for anyone working in the field. I’ll certainly be assigning it as required reading in my small conflict simulation design seminar next term. Contributors were Michael Anderson, Gil Cardona, Thomas Choinski, Rebecca Dougharty,
Stephen Downes-Martin, John Hanley, Frederick Hartman, John Lillard, Roger Meade, Keith Morris, Peter Perla, Merle Robinson, Vincent Schmidt, Gary Schnurrpusch, Bill Simpson, Eugene Visco, Timothy Wilkie.

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In part because of the structure of the MORS working groups, the report tends to devote more attention to game design and execution than it does to game analysis and interpretation. One of the interesting issues to arise out of the DIRE STRAITS experiment in September, however, was that different groups of analysts can both assess the validity/utility of a game differently, and draw different sets of lessons from the same wargame event.

Building on the excellent work of Stephen and his WG2 team, this is a challenge that I hope to explore more fully at the Connections US wargaming conference in July 2018—conditional, of course, on acceptance of my presentation proposal!

Rubel: Wargame rules as intellectual catalysts

Phalanx 50-3The most recent (September 2017) issue of the Military Operations Research Society’s Phalanx contains a thoughtful piece by CAPT Robert (Barney) Rubel on the role that wargame rules and adjudication can play in encouraging—or stifling—creative thought:

One of the more trite phrases one hears today is the injunction to “think out of the box.” The intent of the phrase is to stimulate creative thinking; to come up with ideas that perhaps do not conform to existing frameworks. This, of course, is easier said than done, the attempt to do so being akin to trying to make a list of things you would never think of. There are any number of individual and group techniques that have been developed to facilitate the process of brainstorming, but perhaps overlooked in the literature is the potential for wargame rules to act as catalysts for out-of-the-box thinking.

The subtle, nonintuitive, and perhaps threatening information and ideas that can emanate from a game can be termed “whispers.” Games often produce more information than their designers intended or expected, often equivocal and open to interpretation. When that threatens organizational equities, ears are deadened to the whispers. Game sponsors, players, umpires, and even analysts are almost never objective about their games, so it requires an appreciation of how novel thinking can emerge from a game in order to take the steps necessary to achieve sufficient objectivity to detect the whispers (Rubel 2006).

You’ll find the full piece here.

 

MORS wargaming workshop III

The Military Operations Research Society will be holding its third wargaming workshop on 17-19 October 2017 at the DoD’s Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia.

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You’ll find additional details at the MORS website.


Note that access to the Mark Center by non-US nationals will require submission of a visit request well in advance of the event, even to attend the unclassified sessions. MORS is working on a process to streamline this, which will be announced closer to the date.

Since most embassies will only process visit paperwork for their citizens if they are on official business, non-Americans may be out of luck if they hope to attend in a private or academic capacity (whether or not one holds security clearances).

Phalanx: More MORS wargaming

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The most recent (June 2017) issue of Phalanx, the magazine of the Military Operations Research Society, contains a couple of wargaming items.

Phil Pournelle contributes an article on “designing wargames for the analytic purpose,” drawing upon the insights of last year’s MORS special meeting on wargaming as well as his own extensive experience. Specifically, he discusses what a wargame is, what it can be used for, and the characteristics of different wargaming approaches.

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He also highlights several key elements of a good wargame:

Wargaming is most effective when people are making decisions under uncertainty, in a fair competitive environment, with adjudication to generate consequences of actions taken. Such games should be repeated in an iterative process complementary to other techniques. These iterative efforts can enable organizations and individuals to gain insights into competitions. Wargames identify potentially successful strategies and diagnose the key competitive elements.

Game designers should borrow techniques and methods from existing games, particularly the vast body of knowledge in the commercial gaming community. They should also be aware of limitations and pitfalls of using methods without understanding the purpose of the game from which the methods are being taken.

There are different categories and styles of games each with their own purpose. While this essay was focused primarily on analytic and exploratory style games, it acknowledges there are similarities between such games, commercial games, and training games. Each has their own purpose and it is important to recognize that using one category for a purpose different than their proper design has certain pitfalls. Different styles of games exist within a continuum of games addressing generalities to specific, from creative to rigorous. To be the most effective in the cycle of research, games should move from the general to the more rigorous design during each iteration of the cycle. Movement may not, and does not have to be, uniform through the continuum, particularly as new aspects are discovered.

The core attributes of a good wargame is an adversarial environment where the game focuses on the players and the decisions they make. It is important to record the decisions of the players and why they made them. Good wargames are small and have an aggressive and dynamic red team. They avoid adjudication processes that conceal why decision or results occurred.

They are best when they are iterative in nature. Wargames do not validate or prove anything, they provide insights into competitions, and allow players and observers to think through the complexities of operations within those competitions.

Wargaming can be extremely valuable, but gaining full value will require a long view of the practice. Wargames can provide the means for generating potential strategies and solutions to challenges facing the department and leaders ready to meet them. Their best bene t does not occur with one-off games, but in series as part of the cycle of research. To harness the best benefits from games and analysis within the department will require identifying the questions and challenges and a committing to iterative efforts to identify and re ne the solutions.

The same issue also contains a brief report on the 29 individuals who received the a MORS professional Certificate in Wargaming, following the programme launched last autumn. Four of the group were women (13.8%), which is far from where we want to be, and well behind Phil Sabin’s MA course in wargaming at King’s College London, but still far better than the wargaming hobby (or the PAXsims readership) has managed. The next certificate programme will begin in September.

Teaching wargame design at CGSC

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Today, James Sterrett made a presentation to the Military Operations Research Society’s wargame community of practice on teaching wargame design at the US Army Command and General Staff College. James is Chief of Simulations and Education in the Directorate of Simulation Education at CGSC, and a periodic PAXsims contributor.

This lecture will feature a discussion of game design within the context of professional military education.  DEPSECDEF Work talked to the need to incorporate wargaming into the formal military education system.  One approach to executing this issue is to offer a course in wargame design to students at multiple levels of professional development.  However, questions on how to implement this approach remain:  At what point(s) within an officer’s career should they be exposed to wargaming?  What aspect of wargaming should be emphasized?  What level of proficiency is desired?  What portions, if any, of the remaining curriculum should be dropped or modified to accommodate this requirement?

While the lecture wasn’t recorded, you’ll find his slides here. For previous discussion on this same topic, see his earlier (January 2017) blogpost.

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