Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: MORS

The Chief of Staff of the Army game


The most recent Military Operations Research Society (MORS) Wargame Community of Practice “brown bag” lecture involved a presentation by Kenneth Long of the US Army Command and General Staff College on “Appreciating complexity: The Chief of Staff of the Army game.”

Dr. Long started his talk (slides here) by noting the challenge of teaching Army officers—who might be used to operating in more certain and clearly-defined contexts—about the fuzziness and uncertainty of the world at the strategic level. He argued that lecturing “at” officers was often not a very effective way or promoting critical thinking about such topics.

The game therefore emerged out of using more interactive methods to promote discussion about the role of the Army Chief of Staff and the importance of budget, investment, research, and deployment issues. In it, players make decisions about investing and maintaining various types of force, and potentially forward deploying these to several different strategic theatres. Different forces have different costs, and different capabilities in different environments (major combat, irregular warfare, peacetime operations). There are also costs associated with building and refitting forces, deploying and maintaining these, investing in research & development, and gathering intelligence about the opponent’s interests and assets. A commercial version of the game—Future Force (2011), designed by Jim Lumsford—is available from HPS Simulations.


In addition to the slides linked above, this article from Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning 38 (2011) provides a very good overview:

When Army officers are promoted to the rank of Major, they become field grade officers with the responsibility of planning, organizing and leading large unit formations, working on high level staffs and running the Army day to day. The “Future Force” game is an experiential learning simulation designed to introduce them to the complexity of supporting the current force in its world-wide missions while simultaneously designing and shaping the force for all possible mission profiles for the next 20 years. Played early in their change management curriculum, the game provides a common frame of reference for further detailed technical lessons. This paper describes the game design process from conception to application.


I was particularly impressed by the explicit way in which he addressed curriculum integration and practical constraints such as available time (a point I’ve often made myself).


All-in-all it was an excellent presentation, and it is a shame there was not more time to discuss it.

(UPDATE: Added link to commercial version of the game.)

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 8 October 2015


Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers. Nikola Adamus, Ryan Kuhns, Christian Palmer, and Swen Stoop contributed items to this latest edition.


Vol48 N3The current (September 2015) issue of Phalanx—the journal of the Military Operations Research Society—has an article by Virginia “Robbin” Beall (Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations) on “Defense innovation through wargaming.” Highlighting the recent US DoD emphasis on reinvigorating wargaming, she warns that “some of the wargaming in the Department of Defense is not done well and has no or little lasting impact.” She goes on to highlight three areas for improvement: game design, game adjudication, and appropriate application of analytic techniques. I’ve excerpted some of her key comments below.

Game Design

Many games appear to depend upon the notion that if you just get the right players together in a room, you will achieve the desired intellectual breakthroughs. This approach underestimates the importance of game design and does the players a disservice.

If the objectives of the game are too broad or ill defined, the likely game outcomes are either vague generalities or obvious solutions, no matter how talented the players may be. It may not be apparent to players or stakeholders that the game was poorly designed until it is too late to recover.

Rigorous attention to game design in a manner that forces the players to confront one or two essential dilemmas can focus that talent on specific areas of deficiency that may lead to innovative strategic or operational approaches or technological solutions.

Game Adjudication

Some form of adjudication is often necessary to keep games progressing, and a game timeline is generally not compatible with the real-time use of rigorous quantitative modeling and simulation. For that reason, most games are adjudicated either through simpler quantitative methods or by BOGSAT (bunch of guys and gals sitting around a table). Both of those approaches, like any other analytic endeavor, need to begin with the basic tenets of good research:

  • a review best performed by reaching out to an extensive network of analysts to understand what previous work has been conducted; and
  • unyielding technical rigor in fully understanding the technical capabilities of assets or technologies examined.

Too often these basic research steps are shortchanged.

I would suggest that an overarching principle for adjudication is, as with the Hippocratic Oath, to above all else, do no harm. Players may be taking a single day away from commanding the same units that are represented in the game. Decision makers may be formulating the arguments for or against an investment. Poorly conducted adjudication creates a risk of leaving players with a fundamentally mistaken belief in the viability of a CONOPS, tactic, system, or technology and in doing so, fails to advance the state-of-the-art of our knowledge base or support good decisions.

Appropriate Application of Analytic Techniques

It will be tempting in an environment where there is an intense focus on wargaming to assume that it is always the analytic technique of choice.

However, as analysts we should realize that no single technique is suited to addressing all problems or questions. As the members of the defense community with the most comprehensive training and knowledge in analytic techniques, it is up to us to lead the discussion on what the appropriate analytic technique should be for a given application.

Her article is very similar to the presentation she made at the recent MORS special meeting on professional gaming, and is well worth reading in full.



Although PAXsims wasn’t able to attend the recent Connections Netherlands interdisciplinary wargaming conference last month, Swen Stoop has kindly passed on a summary prepared by the organizers (as well as some artistic impressions by Yuen Yen).

You’ll find further details at the Connections NL website, including a few of the conference presentations.




My PAXsims coeditor Devin Ellis quite literally posted a report on JadedAid while I was typing this, so go see what he said. You’ll find more on the game at Foreign Policy, The Guardian, and WhyDev. Via YouTube you can also hear co-creater Jessica Heinzelman talk about the genesis of the game at Nerd Night Phnom Penh.


At Nautilus, Jonathon Keats asks “Could war games replace the real thing?” His starting point is Buckminster Fuller’s proposal for a global peace game as a tool for conflict resolution and international cooperation:

As the Vietnam conflict spiraled out of control, Fuller had a solution. His idea was simple: Instead of playing secret war games deep inside the Pentagon, the United States should host a world peace game out in the open. The concept was an elaboration on his proposal to build a geoscope inside the U.S. Pavilion of the 1964 World’s Fair. An animated Dymaxion world map would show all the resources on the planet, as well as all human and natural activity, from troop deployment to ocean currents. On this map, the world’s leaders and citizens of all nations would be invited to publicly wage peace. He cast the world game as a political system, a completely democratic alternative to voting in which people collectively played out potential solutions to shared problems.

“The objective of the game would be to explore for ways to make it possible for anybody and everybody in the human family to enjoy the total earth without any human interfering with any other human and without any human gaining advantage at the expense of another,” Fuller wrote. “To win the World Game everybody must be made physically successful. Everybody must win.”

He then offers a broader overview of the development of modern wargaming, ultimately suggesting that modern synthetic and digital worlds might now make Fuller’s dream possible:

Crucially, these virtual worlds would not be neutral backdrops in the vein of Second Life. Like SimCity and war games, they’d be logically rigorous and internally consistent. There’d be causality and consequences, and there’d be tension, drawn out by constraints such as limited resources and time pressure. Also like SimCity and war games, these virtual worlds would be simplified, model worlds with deliberate and explicit compromises tailored to the topics being gamed. There could be many permutations, so that none inadvertently becomes authoritative. The only real guideline for setting variables would be to adjust them to breed what Wright has described as “life at the edge of chaos.”

Within these worlds, scenarios could be played out by the massive multiplicity of globally networked gamers. Players wouldn’t need to be designated red or blue, but could simply be themselves, self-organizing into larger factions as happens in many MMOs. Scenarios could be crises and opportunities. Imagine a global financial meltdown that destroys the value of all government-issued currencies, provoking the United Nations to issue a “globo” as an emergency unit of exchange. Would the globo be adopted, or would private currencies quash it? And what would be the consequences as the economy got rebuilt? A single universal currency might be a stabilizing force, binding the economic interests of people and nations, or it could be destabilizing on account of its scale and complexity. It could promote peace or provoke war. Games allowing players to collaborate and compete their way out of crisis would serve as crowdsourced simulations, each different, none decisive, all informative.

As the number of players increased through the evolution of world gaming, the outcomes of these games would inform an increasingly large proportion of the planet. At a certain stage, if the numbers became great enough, gameplay would verge on reality—and even merge into reality—because players would collectively accumulate sufficient anticipatory experience to play their part in the real world more wisely. Whole aspects of game-generated infrastructure—such as in-game non-governmental organizations and businesses—could be readily exported since the essential relationships would have already been built. Games would also serve as richly informative polls, revealing public opinion to politicians.

Or they could play a more direct goal in governance. One of Fuller’s ideas—that gaming could serve as an alternative to voting—could potentially be realized with a plurality of people gaming national and global eventualities. For any given issue, different proposals could be gamed in parallel. As some games collapsed, gamers would be able to join more viable games until the most gameable proposal was played through by all. That game would be a surrogate ballot, the majority position within the game serving as a legislatively or diplomatically binding decision. Provided that citizens consented from the start, it would be fully compatible with democratic principles—and could break the gridlock undermining modern democracies.

When Fuller presented the world game as a method of reckoning how to achieve world peace, he wasn’t ambitious enough. The act of gaming must make peace in its own right. Operating at the scale of reality, the game that everybody wins must build our future world.



One of the challenges we encountered when publishing AFTERSHOCK was finding images for the game that weren’t restricted by copyright or the need to pay royalties. In our case the folks at the UN photo archives, United Nations Development Programme, and World Food Programme helped us out by making photographs available.

Another new and useful source for game images would be Konflictkam:

Konflictcam is a free and independent new media site dedicated to curating and archiving images related to human conflict and presenting them to the public in a transparent and accessible manner. We were founded in the summer of 2014 by a group of young professionals passionate about history, politics, human rights and conflict resolution. Recognizing the absence of a platform dedicated to the systematic curation of global conflict imagery, past and present, the Konflictcam platform was developed with the aim of filling that void. In our capacity as a non-profit, apolitical public archive, we hope to build awareness of the critical events shaping our world and encourage users to gain a broader understanding of human conflict.

Many of the images are covered by a Creative Commons license, and are available for reuse within the terms specified by the original image owner.


This is the Police is a game being developed by Weappy Studio in which you try to survive as a corrupt chief of police amid a morass of crime and seedy local politics.

This Is the Police is a strategy/adventure game set in a city spiraling the drain. You’ll come face to face with the ugly underbelly of Freeburg, taking the role of gritty Police Chief Jack Boyd (portrayed by Jon St. John, the voice of Duke Nukem).

Immerse yourself in a controversial tale of corruption, crime, and political intrigue. Manage your staff, respond to emergencies, and investigate crimes in a city on the brink of chaos. The mafia underworld maneuvers behind the scenes, sinking their claws ever deeper into the city, even as the mayor is ready to exploit every situation to his political advantage — even if it means hanging his police chief out to dry, or plunging the city into riots and protest. Choose your approach to each situation as it unfolds. Sometimes you’ll be responding to a developing crisis at a crime scene, or negotiating with Freeburg’s crime bosses. Sometimes you’ll find yourself dodging questions in the press room, or even the occasional cross-examination in the witness box. Can you keep this pressure cooker from exploding, at least for long enough to stash away a nice retirement nest egg? Or will you land yourself behind bars — or worse?

It seems to be intended more as a (Sim City-meets Tropico-meets Grand Theft Auto) game than social commentary, but it is an unusual project nonetheless.


economistMeanwhile in the yet-another-mainstream-media-article-on-the-renaissance-of-boardgaming department, The Economist (3 October 2015) features an article on, well, the renaissance of boardgaming:

The market for such “hobby games” is booming. ICv2, a consulting firm, reckons it is worth $880m a year in America and Canada alone. “We’ve seen double-digit annual growth for the past half-decade,” says Milton Griepp, ICv2’s boss. Some of the games at Spiel will be aimed at children, but grown-ups are doing most of the buying. There is something for every taste, from “Fluxx”, a lighthearted card game whose rules change with every card played, to “Power Grid”, a fiendishly tricky business game featuring aspiring electricity tycoons, to all-day chin-scratchers such as “Twilight Imperium” (pictured), a game of galactic civilisation-building.

Steve Buckmaster of Esdevium Games, a British distributor, says that far from diverting people, video games—especially ones on smartphones—have brought gaming to a larger audience. App versions of popular games often boost sales of their physical counterparts. The internet has helped fans organise get-togethers, tournaments and the like, while crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter have made life easier for aspiring designers. They, in turn, are integrating computers into their games. “X-COM”, a board-game tie-in to a popular video-game series, uses a smartphone app that takes the role of the incoming aliens which players must battle on the table top.

Meanwhile bricks-and-mortar game stores have adapted, running tournaments and providing the face-to-face sociability that online gaming lacks. And with “Game of Thrones” on TVs everywhere and cinemas packed with superhero films, the general triumph of what used to be mocked as “nerd culture” has made the fantasy and sci-fi themes featured in many games less of a turn-off. Not every analogue pastime is suffering in the digital age.


In a not entirely dissimilar vein, Wired magazine thinks the media still owes Dungeons & Dragons an apology:

TODAY DUNGEONS & Dragons is flying high, gushed over by movie stars like Vin Diesel and Wil WheatonDan Harmon plays D&D live onstage, and popular podcasts like Nerd PokerCritical Hit, and The Adventure Zone take listeners on regular D&D adventures.

But David Ewalt, author of the recent book Of Dice and Men, remembers when things were different. When he first started gaming, back in the early ’80s, the very idea of fantasy role-playing terrified parents and teachers.


Want to know what Brian Train is working on? It’s not all counterinsurgency! Check out his summary of forthcoming wargame designs at Ludic Futurism.

Report: MORS special meeting on professional gaming

PGW IconThe recent Military Operations Research Society (MORS) special meeting on professional gaming set itself the following task:

The meeting will produce initial content for a Professional Gaming Practitioner’s Handbook and bring together members of the community of practice to consider best practices, design, existing applications and appropriate analytic methodologies in an effort to codify the fundamentals of game design and analysis. The meeting is designed for information exchange and participant exposure to professional practice.

The main conference started off on Monday with several plenary presentations.

George Akst (Senior Analyst, Marine Corps Combat Development Command) highlighted the value of wargaming as a midpoint between large exercises and operations research analysis. Wargames are, he suggested, are generally a single/deterministic (n=1) approach to a stochastic problem, illuminating one possible plausible scenario. He pointed to the value of wargaming in identifying capability gaps, developing doctrine, and experiential training and learning. They can also help narrow the scope of problems for subsequent (OR) analysis. He also noted weaknesses in many wargames: analytical follow-through, adjudication rules and procedures. Operations analysis can address some of these shortcomings by bringing additional analytical rigour, including sensitivity analysis. Analysts should be integrated into the process early to make the combination of wargaming and OR analysis most effective. I thought it was a useful presentation on the strengths and weaknesses of analytic gaming, although I would prefer to see as gaming as a tool in the analytical toolset, rather than something performed by the gaming tribe to which OR analysts must somehow relate.

Robbin Beall (Head, Campaign Analysis and Modeling at Assessment Division, Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations) stressed the growing appreciation of wargaming as a tool to help identify innovative approaches (and to weed out those that may be less useful). She also identified three areas of concern:

  1. More attention need to be devoted to innovation in gaming and game design. Designers need to be smarter, effectively pinning players into the puzzle they are expected to address. A cadre of good game designers needs to be fostered within DoD. This year’s US Navy Title X game is an example of greater innovation, with a traditionally large and monolithic game being broken into a series of smaller, more highly focused games.
  2. Adjudication remains a challenge. If a game has weak adjudication, the game fails and participants leave with a wrong impression.
  3. Despite the current renewed emphasis on wargaming, it needs to be remembered that wargaming is only one tool in the analytical toolbox. Games are not always the best approach.

E.B. Vandiver III, former Director of the Center for Army Analysis, delivered the keynote address. He focused many of his comments on CAA experience and some of the problems of wargaming. He summarized some of the most common objections to wargaming: it is too subjective, too qualitative, they aren’t repeatable, they learning effects overwhelm functional effects, and they are too time-consuming and resource intensive.

He also discussed the development of a training wargame at CAA to train junior analysts with little or no background in military history or the military decision-making process. The initial version was too complex, so they designed a new, simpler, faster, and more strategic game—but never ran it, because they were tasked to develop a front end analysis for a new Korea operations plan (building in part on the prior game development).

He also discussed using games in 2006-07 to analyze the security force requirements of the Iraqi government in the context of the US withdrawal from that country. The questions asked required specific answers: force size, deployment, and so forth. A computer-assisted, open player game was developed, based on research, COIN doctrine, data on violent acts, and assumptions vetted by the sponsor. The processes highlighted the value of participation from the actual theatre, that there was a need to address speed, efficiency, and errors in the game process; and that the game really required a precursor training game. The game was later refined and used for drawdown risk assessment and a range of other questions. It was even modified top examine Afghan drawdown risks.

Overall he suggested that many or most of the shortcomings of gaming could be mitigated.


Given the abject failures of the Iraqi security forces in recent years, it would have been useful to more fully discuss why the games Vandiver described fell so short of anticipating these shortcomings. I would argue that the poor performance of the ISF has more to do with leadership, patronage, corruption, morale, sectarian polarization, and internal politics and similar social and political “intangibles” than it has with capabilities, deployment, or formal organization. I asked Vandiver about this, and he responded that the games had not explored political context and effects, or even force motivation and morale. To my mind, that’s rather like wargaming without physical terrain or weather or visibility effects, and underscores Beall’s point about the need for more innovative approaches to gaming. (As one colleague noted in a side-comment, hobby wargame rules have long addressed morale issues, so it isn’t exactly an impossible challenge.)

Mark Gallagher (Studies and Analyses, Assessments and Lessons Learned/A9, USAF) emphasized the human-in-the-loop, adversarial character of wargaming, and suggested it ought to be seen as part of analytics. He distinguished it from military exercises. He argued that the “single output” nature of wargaming didn’t necessary limit its usefulness. The particular decision points in games can be examined, for example.

Bill Lademan (Director, Wargaming Division, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory) made a very lively presentation in which highlighted in the ways “next generation” wargaming could be done better. He noted that the Marine Corps will be developing a state-of-the art wargaming center (adjacent to their intel facilities, to enable access to TS/SCI SAP material). He stressed the need to “wargame at the speed of thought,” rather than being handcuffed by developing powerpoint presentations. Knowledge needs to be “maneuvered, not managed,” in a way that effectively addresses problems. He emphasized human intellectual input into wargaming, and was critical of relying on computers. Analysis, he suggested, was all about the decomposition of a problem and striving for precision. Wargaming, he argued, was about many variables, and what emerges from their dynamic interaction with player decision-making: “what comes out the soup” of a complex situation.

Addressing the purposes of the MORS special meeting, Lademan expressed the view that wargaming should not be preoccupied with achieving rigour and repeatability, in which the manipulation of data becomes a substitute for wisdom.

He pointed at length to the Vietnam War, where “analysis replaced strategy” and failed to appreciate that the war was not about kill ratios but rather about winning over people. Later, the bodycount became the analytical measure of success. The disagreed that wargaming ‘was an analytical methodology,” arguing it was an assessment methodology. Analysis, he argued, was about exact conclusions, while wargaming (and assessment) is about a judgment. “Assessment is to analysis the way philosophy is to science,” he suggested. He disagreed that wargaming struggled for acceptance. Wargaming, he argued “isn’t broken”—and efforts to fix it with greater supposed analytical rigour would be counterproductive, since it could squeeze out creativity. Because of human learning and cognition, wargames are never truly repeatable. They’ll also never be rigorous, and models will never be adequate.

It was a powerful and stimulating presentation, and a credit to the bluntness for which the Marine Corps is known. It was also something of a riposte to the earlier OR-focused comments by Akst and Beall. In a dialectic sense I suppose the clash of views of useful. Or, perhaps, Lademan’s comments only reinforced the view in some of the OR community that gaming is a sort of nebulous witchcraft claiming insight into the free will and the human soul. Towards the end of his comments he offered more conciliatory comments, calling for a productive union of wargaming and analysis where each offset the weaknesses of the other.

I enjoyed it a great deal, but I’m concerned by the absolutism of some of it. Analysis and gaming, I think, have very fuzzy boundaries. Drawing sharp dichotomies between quantitative and qualitative analysis is counterproductive. Sharpening tribal divisions around these issues only contributes to hedgehogism.

Wargaming for analysis within DoD

Wargaming for analysis within DoD (from the back of the room).

After lunch an OSD panel discussion examined “wargaming for analysis within DoD.” The session was chaired by Mike Ottenberg, and featured the quad chairs for the current initiative on wargaming and innovation: COL Mark Gorak (OSD CAPE), Jacob Heim (OSD Policy), COL Neil Fitzpatrick (JS J8 SAGD), and CDR Phil Pournelle (ONA). Among the many points that were made:

  • Small games are often more useful than large, complex ones for some purposes. (Phil)
  • “Blackbox” modeling and simulation can alienate players from a game, as they are unable to understand cause-effect connections. (Phil)
  • The professional military education process needs to develop wargaming experience and skills. (Phil)
  • The style and design of a game needs to be selected according to the problem to be addressed. (Phil)
  • In the past, the senior leadership hasn’t necessarily seen their questions and priorities being addressed by wargaming. (Mark)
  • Given the natural biases of the services and the combatant commands, how can gaming help to develop DoD-wide perspective and priorities? (Mark)
  • Wargaming needs to explore left and right boundaries of issues. (Mark)
  • When inputting data into the new (OSD CAPE-managed) wargame repository, please put greater thought into significant key insights generated. (Mark)
  • SAGD is high demand for POL-MIL games, for clients such as the NSC. (Neil)
  • The next DoD-wide wargaming summit is scheduled for early November.
  • There appears to be less capacity within D0D for multi-move, adjudicated games with an active Red side. (Jake)
  • The DEPSECDEF is especially interested in games that offer insight into key challenges as well as programmatic issues. (Jake)
  • How wargaming initiatives by the services will be integrated with DoD-wide efforts? (Mike) The first step is dialogue, and trying to understand what is going on out there, and who is doing what. The DoD wargame repository is one important element of this. (Neil) Most current games address the “big five” potential adversaries—it is important to examine how to develop insights and synergies across those wargames. While resisting the temptation to impose a single set of metrics to assess the utility of games, there is a need to think about how to differentiate a good game from a bad one. (Mark)
  • How should best practices be recognized, taught, and promulgated within DoD? (Mike) We don’t want to be in a situation where a formal standard is established and wargamers are “certified.” Instead we need to invest in analysts and PME. (Phil) We also need to also educate sponsors. (Jake)
  • One audience comment challenged the anti-quantitative thrust of Lademan’s earlier comments. Phil warned about the false precisions of much M&S work.

Following these plenary sessions, we broke into several working groups:

My hotel roommate (and former fellow UVic wargaming club alumnus) Brian Train and I served as cochairs/facilitators for WG8, along with Joe Saur (Georgia Tech Research Institute), Eric Greenburg (JHUAPL) and Clyde Smithson (JHUAPL). This was primarily intended as a continuation of yesterday’s training course intended to further develop wargame design skills by actually designing a wargame.

Working Group 8 at work.

On Wednesday we started the day with another plenary address by Robbin Beall, this time on “challenges in design and execution of wargames.” She identified several of these:

  • insufficient initial research
    • lack of situation awareness of similar or complimentary supporting analytic efforts
    • lack of authoritative data on capabilities
  • flawed game design
    • overly broad scope leading to shallow conclusions
    • lack of innovation
    • failure to focus players
  • unsound basis for adjudication
    • linked to shortcomings in initial research
    • conclusions reached on anecdotal evidence
    • lack of qualified subject matter experts
    • overly simplistic wargaming tools
  • team/player issues
    • player fear of failure
    • game too short for team cohesion
    • one or two strong personalities dominate game play
  • no objective post-game evaluation of game effectiveness

I thought her points were excellent. Her final point is a particularly important one: far too much of the serious games community—wargamers included—are far too willing to assess the value of the game based on anecdotes, game enjoyment, or the designers’ own confirmatory self-evaluation.

She also discussed the synergies between wargaming and quantitative analysis. Game objectives, she suggested, should be set to utilize the particular strengths of wargaming. Game designs should focus players on a limited number of dilemmas unresolved by previous analysis. Game execution should inform players with what is known from previous analytic efforts. Game adjudication should mine what goes on in the analysis world to support adjudication decisions. Finally game lessons should be determined and new ideas should be incorporated into quantitative analysis.

The implicit thrust of some of her comments seemed to be to frame wargames as adjunct to quantitative operations research, addressing those areas that quantitative analysis could not easily answer. I would tend to view things rather more broadly, arguing for qualitative research as a more equal partner, and also suggesting that findings are most robust when they are triangulated by variety of methods. Indeed, much of the discussion at MORS has struck me as akin to the quantitative vs qualitative skirmishes that afflicted political science a decade ago, but which in that case have now largely been superseded by widespread appreciation of mixed and plural methods.

Interestingly, the one wargame she did praise—a simple, apparently largely conceptual game that modeled a basic guns/butter or kinetic/nonkinetic tradeoff—doesn’t appear to have been particularly rigorous by OR standards or anchored in research and data, but rather intended as a spur to discussion and reflection.

Much of the rest of the day was spend with the working groups. In WG8 the participants divided into two groups:

  • One group (Marcus Tregenza, Shawn Zackey, Christophe McCray, and Bob Turner, aided by WG cochair Eric Greenburg) set about designing a naval platform and technology acquisition game.
  • The other (Stacie Pettyjohn, David Maxwell, John Montonye, Stephen Mackey, aided by Brian Train and I) decided to develop a game that would explore how ISIL balances its strategic options, and how it might respond to coalition efforts in Iraq and elsewhere.

In the afternoon there was also a games expo. PAXsims had a display booth, featuring AFTERSHOCK, ISIS Crisis, and various other simulations I’ve run at McGill and elsewhere.


The MORS game expo.


AFTERSHOCK, with Brian Train in the background displaying his many game creations.

I also had an extensive discussion with Stephen Ho (Dstl) about the potential impact of llamas on modern special forces operations. This is clearly an area ripe for exploration through good game design.


Special forces combat llamas, one of the great military topics yet to be gamed.

The final afternoon we all reassembled to hear brief-backs from each of the working groups.

  • WG2 (wargame objectives). The group emphasized the importance of initial problem identification and research design. They also addressed educational wargame objectives. There was substantial discussion of the relationship with game sponsors, and what to do about sponsors who don’t know what they want, who want a game to address a non-gameable problem, or who are inclined to micro-manage. A long list of “wargame pathologies” were identified.
  • WG3/7 (game design, development, and execution). They reviewed the typical game design process: concept development; research; identification of game elements; building components, prototyping, and initial rules concepts; playtesting; finalizing components… and only after all this, the game itself. Feedback and critical evaluation needs to be continuous throughout all steps of the process. They also noted that analysis must be persistent through the design process, and that execution considerations need to be incorporated into the design and development process.
  • WG4 (data collection, analysis, and tools). The group ran through a revised and abbreviated version of the ZEFRA wargame, which was used to spur a discussion of data collection and analysis issues. Among other issues, they argued that the analysis team needed to specify player requirements (qualifications and other characteristics); the value of a GICOD (“good idea cut-off date”); to consider constraints, limitations, and assumptions; and the need to regularly review collection during the event. The game design and game analysis teams should be an integrated part of an overall project team, rather than entirely separate. The Data Collection and Management Plan (DCMP) should specify what data will be collected on each issue and sub-issue of interest; where in the scenario the data might be generated; what methods and tools will be used; and when during the game such collection needs to occur. If data looks wonky, corrective action should be taken sooner rather than later. A list of tools that can assist in data collection and analysis can be found here.
  • WG 5 (adjudication). The group reiterated Robbin Beall’s point that adjudicators should “do no harm.” Adjudicators need to be facilitators too, need to communicate with players to reduce frustration. Adjudication issues are often intimately tied to game design. Adjudicators need to be well trained and prepared, aware of the dangers of overtasking. Players must feel their choices make a difference. Overall the WG suggested it was hard to identify universal best practices.
  • WG 6 (aligning games with other studies). This group explored how to best integrate various decision analysis methods with wargames, especially in the context of various “wicked problems.”

As for our own WG 8 (quick turn-around game design) presentation, Bob Leonhart presented some overall impressions from our collective game design efforts. He noted how time pressures sparked considerable energy and enthusiasm. He also underscored how much one learns about a topic from designing, and not simply, a game. The two game design groups then presented their games.

In Buying Victory: Budget Battle Wargame the Red and Blue sides invest in hulls and various (surface, subsurface, and air) technologies. Mature technologies are cheaper and safer investments, while potentially more effective future technologies involve more time, risk, and resources. The combat power of the Red and Blue fleets then confront each other three times during the game to determine the overall winner.

Buying Victory: Budget Battle Wargame

Buying Victory: Budget Battle Wargame

Countering ISIL: The Board Game pitted ISIL against a US-led coalition. ISIL has six possible lines of kinetic operation:

  • In the Anbar/Fallujah/Ramadi area, against the Iraq security forces
  • In the Baji/Takrit/Samarra area, also against the Iraqi security forces
  • In the Irbil/Kirkuk area, against the (Iraqi) Kurdish Regional Government
  • In northeastern Syria/Kobane/Hassakeh, against the Syrian Kurds
  • In Aleppo province, against various rival Syrian armed groups
  • Around Damascus, against the Syrian Army.

It also has two possible non-kinetic lines of operation:

  • Building governance, which generates resources and helps to respond to potential governance challenges in the events deck.
  • Building prestige, which helps attract recruits and facilitates international terrorism.

The design was partly inspired by the solitaire States of Siege games by Victory Points Games, although in our case the system is adversarial and provides players with a far more complex set of options and constraints.

Players start the game by selecting several game objectives from a list of possible options. Subsequent game play is very straightforward, consisting of four sequential phases:

  • Event phase, in which an event card is drawn. This may present the players with challenges or opportunities, or otherwise affect game play.
  • Resource phase. ISIL gain recruits and resources from control of territory, effective governance of the “caliphate,” and prestige which attracts supporters and donations. The coalition gains material resources at a steady rate, but political capital is only slowly replaced.
  • Card selection phase. The players select five cards to play from a large deck of possible options. Most have a cost associated with their play: resources and/or recruits for ISIL cards; resources and/or political capital for the coalition.
  • Card play phase. The players take turns playing their cards, each of which has an effect (and possibly an associated die score to succeed). Some cards may be played to augment the effects of other cards, or complicate those of an opponent. Still others represent key decisions or investments in major initiatives, which are prerequisites to the play of other cards in the future. When both players have run out of cards or choose to pass, the next turn begins.

We took a video of one turn of game play, which you’ll find below. Overall I thought it was an excellent design, and if time allows I may put some further work into developing it, in conjunction with other members of the team.

The MORS special meeting on professional gaming ended with thoughts from the synthesis group, members of which had floated from WG to WG during the meeting. With regard to WG8, the synthesis group (and in particular, Richard Phares, who had been the primary synthesis group spy in our midst) quite rightly pointed to the differences between wargame design for serious purpose versus wargaming for fun. They also noted that game designs are living things that can evolve over time, the key linkage between research and game mechanics, and the critical value of repeated playtesting.

Overall I thought it was an excellent conference. While I regretted missing out on the discussions in the various working groups, I very much enjoyed the design work in WG8, and certainly benefitted from the excellent plenary sessions. MORS—and even more so chief organizer Scott Simpkins (JHUAPL)—did outstanding work. I look forward to the wargaming handbook that should eventually emerge from this effort.

MORS workshop on professional gaming: the course


The MORS special meeting on Professional Gaming started yesterday in Fairfax, VA with a day-long introductory course on wargaming. As was the case at recent Connections conferences too, many or most in the audience were already fairly experienced.

PGW IconMike Garrambone introduced the course, and offered a brief introduction to the various topics that would be covered:

  • Introduction to wargames and technology
  • Fundamentals of wargames
  • Characteristics of wargames
  • Wargames and technology processes
  • Special topics (scenario, preparation, game, seminar)

There was far more substantial content to the day than I can adequately summarize, so this blog post should be seen as little more than an overview. I’ll post a link to the presentation slides when and if they become available.

Mike identified seven elements of a wargame, expanding on each in his presentation:

  1. Objectives
  2. Scenario
  3. Players and sides
  4. Database
  5. Models
  6. Rules, procedures, and umpires
  7. Game analysis

He noted that wargaming is a tool for gaining insights, a source for questions, an aid to practical decision-making, a way to organize technical facts in useful ways, a technique to explore feasibility and implications, and a method of communicating ideas in vivid ways.


Bob Leonhard (Johns Hopkins University) discussed some key fundamentals. Quite rightly, he started with the centrality of purpose and the tensions and miscommunication that can arise between game designers on the one hand controllers and clients/sponsors on the other. He summarized the strengths of wargames, but also addresses the limitations, weaknesses, and dangers too. These points included:

  • wargames diverge from reality
  • wargames don’t convey the battlefield “fear of death”
  • (large, complex) wargames are not inexpensive
  • wargames should not be use to conclusively prove/disprove
  • wargames may hide their models, assumptions, and limits

Mike then returned with a discussion of the wargame-exercise-experimentation environment, the roles of participants, and some of the challenges of red teaming. After lunch, he then expanded on scenario development and game preparation. This included discussion of US Department of Defense structure and its representation in player roles and games.


Finally, participants played a sample (and somewhat simplified) game of Wings of War, both as an introduction to wargaming and as a spur to discussion of wargame execution and analysis. Sadly, my SPAD VII was set alight early in the dogfight, and took heavy fire damage before being shot down in a later burst. Subsequent discussion focused on analysis of aircraft capabilities and assessment of the game system. Certainly the game highlighted for me how much I would have liked my aircraft to have self-sealing fuel tanks and a fire suppression system!


Today the main workshop begins, and runs through to Thursday. I’ll be participating in Working Group 8, which is a rapid prototyping session in which participants will conceptualize and design a game on a contemporary military or political-military topic. I’ll post a report to PAXsims when it is all over

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 27 September 2015


In a few hours I’ll be headed to Fairfax, VA for the Military Operations Research Society (MORS) Professional Gaming Workshop. Several other PAXsims contributors will be there too, and I’ll be running a demonstration game or two of AFTERSHOCK as well (email me for details).

Before I leave, however, here are a few recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers. Corinne Goldberger contributed to this latest edition.


According to a piece by Julia Ioffe in Foreign Policy magazine, a series of Pentagon wargames has highlighted the serious military challenge that NATO and the United States would face in confronting any Russian attack on the Baltic states:

In June 2014, a month after he had left his force-planning job at the Pentagon, the Air Force asked [then Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for force development] Ochmanek for advice on Russia’s neighborhood ahead of Obama’s September visit to Tallinn, Estonia. At the same time, the Army had approached another of Ochmanek’s colleagues at Rand, and the two teamed up to run a thought exercise called a “table top,” a sort of war game between two teams: the red team (Russia) and the blue team (NATO). The scenario was similar to the one that played out in Crimea and eastern Ukraine: increasing Russian political pressure on Estonia and Latvia (two NATO countries that share borders with Russia and have sizable Russian-speaking minorities), followed by the appearance of provocateurs, demonstrations, and the seizure of government buildings. “Our question was: Would NATO be able to defend those countries?” Ochmanek recalls.

The results were dispiriting. Given the recent reductions in the defense budgets of NATO member countries and American pullback from the region, Ochmanek says the blue team was outnumbered 2-to-1 in terms of manpower, even if all the U.S. and NATO troops stationed in Europe were dispatched to the Baltics — including the 82nd Airborne, which is supposed to be ready to go on 24 hours’ notice and is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

“We just don’t have those forces in Europe,” Ochmanek explains. Then there’s the fact that the Russians have the world’s best surface-to-air missiles and are not afraid to use heavy artillery.

After eight hours of gaming out various scenarios, the blue team went home depressed. “The conclusion,” Ochmanek says, “was that we are unable to defend the Baltics.”

Ochmanek decided to run the game on a second day. The teams played the game again, this time working on the assumption that the United States and NATO had already started making positive changes to their force posture in Europe. Would anything be different? The conclusion was slightly more upbeat, but not by much. “We can defend the capitals, we can present Russia with problems, and we can take away the prospect of a coup de main,” Ochmanek says. “But the dynamic remains the same.” Even without taking into account the recent U.S. defense cuts, due to sequestration, and the Pentagon’s plan to downsize the Army by 40,000 troops, the logistics of distance were still daunting. U.S. battalions would still take anywhere from one to two months to mobilize and make it across the Atlantic, and the Russians, Ochmanek notes, “can do a lot of damage in that time.”

Ochmanek has run the two-day table-top exercise eight times now, including at the Pentagon and at Ramstein Air Base, in Germany, with active-duty military officers. “We played it 16 different times with eight different teams,” Ochmanek says, “always with the same conclusion.”

The Defense Department has factored the results of the exercise into its planning, says the senior defense official, “to better understand a situation that few of us have thought about in detail for a number of years.” When asked about Ochmanek’s conclusions, the official expressed confidence that, eventually, NATO would claw the territory back. “In the end, I have no doubt that NATO will prevail and that we will restore the territorial integrity of any NATO member,” the official said. “I cannot guarantee that it will be easy or without great risk. My job is to ensure that we can reduce that risk.”


RCAT-Falklands-at-Connections-UK-2015-Games-Fair-compressedAt the LBS blog, Graham Longley-Brown offers an analysis of two recent wargames of the Falklands campaign fought using RCAT (the Rapid Campaign Analysis Toolset):

This is not a story about HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes; rather it’s a tale of a carrier being sunk in one RCAT wargame and staying afloat in another. This, and other less obvious variances arising from two separate plays of RCAT: Falklands, highlight a number of interesting observations and insights.

Unusually, we ran two back-to-back RCAT: Falklands wargames with different players at Connections UK 2015, simulating the period between the landings at San Carlos on 21 May 1982 and (broadly) the attack on Goose Green. Although the tactics adopted by both sets of Argentinian players were almost identical, the outcomes, while credible in both cases, were dramatically different.

The two games briefly described above (many details have been omitted) might be considered approximate ‘best case’ and ‘worst case’ outcomes. The key decision was to move the CVBG nearer the Islands, but the ensuing outcome was the result of dice rolls.

Imagine if the games had been played at Ascension Island in April 1982. As Julian Thompson and Michael Clapp said at the end of the RCAT OCT: “We liked [the manual simulation] very much and wish we had such a system in Ascension with Fieldhouse, Moore, Trant, Curtiss, Woodward, Comd 5 Bde and us sitting around the map table thrashing through possible courses of action and, hopefully, agreeing a thoroughly well-considered plan.”

One obvious dilemma/trade-off dramatically illustrated was whether to keep the CVBG well off to the east or move it closer to the Falklands to increase CAP coverage over the AOA. Sandy Woodward said that he “was the only man who could have lost the war in an afternoon” (by losing a carrier), and protecting the carriers was paramount. Why, then, were Thompson and Clapp assured that air superiority would be established and maintained over the Islands?

A few of the ‘so what’ questions that should have arisen from such a back-to-back (or more) playing at Ascension, as occurred at Connections UK, are:

  • What will be the effect of losing a carrier? Shades of Midway!
  • Are Exocet targets randomly determined?
  • Will air superiority over the islands be assured? If not, so what?
  • How effective is the ‘picket ship’ tactic (could the T42/22 combo have been envisaged before the shooting war started)?
  • Will the Argentine pilots have time to target specific ships or will attacks be random?
  • How many ships are we likely to lose, best case, worst case and most likely?
  • How can Argentine Special Forces attacks against the AOA, and logistic supplies in particular, be prevented?
  • Can the Argentine land forces launch an immediate counter-attack against the AOA?
  • Do we need to defeat the Argentine positions at Goose Green? If so, what forces will be required? See the OCT blog for the modelling of Goose Green and the operational commanders’ reaction to that.

It’s rare that a course of action can be played through back-to-back like this. The fact that two very different, but still credible, outcomes resulted from facing similar Argentine tactics reinforces the utility of rapid manual simulation. These wargames took 2 ½ hours each and concentrated on a critical aspect of the campaign; a full play through of the entire campaign takes a day. ‘So what’ questions arising can be examined in detail after the wargame, using reach-back to SMEs if necessary. Ideally, the answers would then become inputs to another series of rapid wargames.

Finally, and on another tack, it’s worth reiterating Cdre Clapp’s comment at the end of the RCAT OCT: “I feel that I’ve been properly de-briefed for the first time in 33 years.”

All these potentially significant outcomes can be achieved in just a few hours by rapid manual simulations.


Lancaster County, PA recently used a simulation to help prepare personnel for dealing with refugees:

“I think when people have a real idea of what someone has been through, it helps them respond better,” said Mary LeVasseur, Lancaster General Health manager of community health.

That’s why about 35 employees of Community Services Group spent Monday pretending to be refugees, working their way through an informative simulation.

“Our services are being called upon to respond to people with language barriers that are a challenge to our established practices,” said Susan Blue, president and CEO of Mountville-based Community Services Group. “ And the need continues to grow. Many of our staff are inspired to try to help CSG expand our definition of community to meet the many needs of these new people.”

So the employees visualized being persecuted. They were assigned to crowded “refugee camps.” They carried rice on their heads. And they ran into reams of red tape.

Jessica Knapp of Lutheran Refugee Services, who ran the simulation in collaboration with staff and volunteers from Franklin & Marshall College, Church World Service and Lancaster County Refugee Coalition, said the simulation was “frustrating on purpose.”

It worked; at the end, participants described the experience as overwhelming, eye-opening, uncomfortable. They said it helped them understand why refugees might be reluctant to divulge problems, scared to send their children to school or slow to trust people.



In Denmark, a mock game trailer has been used to satirize (or provoke discussion) about the current migrant crisis in Europe:

The Danish late night talk show “Natholdet” (“The Night Shift”) has posted a suggested trailer of a new board game entitled the “Refugee Game”, which has at least one hard copy. It challenges the players to block migrants as they attempt to enter “happy little Denmark”; and left the audience at a loss: how do you respond to such a teaser?

The trailer features a family of four, two adults and two children, playing the game, trying to block what apparently look like Middle Eastern refugees from entering into their country

The game has a playground with a map of Denmark and its neighboring countries, a set of cards, blocking fences, a boat with refuges, the figures of refugees (also mostly families with children), and the figures of four Danish politicians.

The politicians are Inger Støjberg, Danish Minister of Integration; Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the leader of the center-right liberal party Venstre, Kristian Thulesen Dahl, the leader of the Danish People’s Party and his fellow party member Martin Henriksen.

It, however, remains unclear whether the idea behind the game is sarcasm or criticism of the government in its policy towards the refugee crisis.

You’ll find the video here.



As of late, Adam Elkus has been musing even more than usual about the challenges of computational exploration of strategy. Since he keeps offering new thoughts on the subject, I’ll just direct you to his columns here.



The Active Learning in Political Science blog is always worth reading. Recent contributions include the sad news that the excellent Inside the Haiti Earthquake simulation (which I’ve often used in courses myself) is no longer online; a very critical review of the political science boardgame Agenda; and a discussion of simulations: what are they good for?


The Red Team Journal discusses the value of adversarial interaction—and hence wargaming–in effective red teaming:

Since 1997 I’ve called for more and better red teaming. I’ll continue to do so, but I also believe we must red team the practice itself. In this spirit, I offer a cautionary argument in three parts:

  1. Reciprocal action is the essence of conflict and competition.
  2. Much if not most red teaming inadequately addresses reciprocal action.
  3. Wargaming better exercises the dialogue of reciprocal action.

“But,” you protest, “red teaming is the practice of introducing reciprocal action into decision making!” And I agree, at least in theory. When the client uses the output from the red team to enhance the dialogue, they are to some degree accounting for reciprocal action, certainly more than when they fail to consider the adversary at all.

Risk-and-Opportunity-450Too often, however, clients view the vulnerabilities red teams identify as the penultimate phase of the game. All the clients need to do then is fix the vulnerabilities, and they win, right?—game over! (If only the adversary would agree to play by these artificial rules.) This kind of thinking perpetuates a static, defensive, and short-term mindset, which, as we know, can set a client up for a long-term fall.

In the security domain, you might call the blue team the client’s trusted fixer, someone who collaboratively works with the client to address the red team’s recommendations. From a wargamer’s perspective, however, this is all somewhat counterintuitive. Yes, the blue team should defend its position against risks generated by the adversary (represented by the red team), but it should also reciprocate against the adversary and generate risks for them as well. By definition, however, security blue teams perform only the first function, and in so doing help perpetuate a defensive mindset.

In reality, an organization should address both risks and opportunities, and this is precisely what a blue team typically does during a wargame. In fact, a blue team that seeks only to address risks will fail, as will the real-world organization that does the same. In this sense, then, a wargame blue team is much more expansive and realistic than a security blue team….

You can read the whole thing here.


David Vallat (University of Lyon 1) recently pointed me towards a paper he and several colleagues wrote on using serious games to leverage knowledge management. You’ll find it here. See also his blog post on fun learning.


At VICE earlier this month, Giaco Furino discussed how Dungeons & Dragons went mainstream.

Such is my geekiness, it comes as a shock that anyone ever considered it anything but normal….



If you’ve recently had trouble ordering AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, it is now available again via The Game Crafter. (The publisher had run short of 10mm supply cubes, so we’ve swapped them for a slightly smaller 8mm version.)

Paul Vebber on Fleet Battle School

This week’s MORS Community of Practice talk featured Paul Vebber from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, presenting on a game sandbox tool, “Fleet Battle School”. Vebber has shared quite a bit about the development process over time, and has posted many material in conjunction with this talk, so this is a good project to look at for folk interested in how digital game development actually happens in DoD.

Vebber started with a general information on gaming and game design he uses for audiences that are less familiar with gaming. While not the focus of the talk, I wanted to highlight two of his graphics, both of which provide some useful synthesis of recent debates on the nature of gaming. The first integrates the “cycle of research” with some of our recent discussion about what type of logic is used in games to generate new knowledge.

Vebber--cycle of research

The second discusses the relationship between OR analysis, gaming, and the level of problem, which is a common concern in my work and the broader field.

My interest in broad methods issues aside, Vebber’s presentation was focused on a overview of the current state of the Fleet Battle School game sandbox.

The core goal of the project was to design a capability game to determine what point does the change in capability cause changes in player decision making. As a result, the platform should have the ability to support very interesting sensitivity analysis about the intersection of combat effectiveness and decision making that is often elided or ignored in current gaming.

Right now the focus of the Fleet Battle School game is weapons and sensor capabilities of different platforms (though features like speed and fuel use are also built into the current rules). The game instantiates relative differences in capability rather than trying to mimic specific current capabilities. While you can input values that mimic specific real world platforms, that isn’t really the focus of the project. Again the focus here is how the ratio between different platforms’ capabilities impacts player decision making. As a result, the adjudication model was built to focus on plausible results, rather than claiming any type of predictive power.

Vebber-Gaming and OAFleet Battle School is a digital platform for naval operations planning game built on krigspiel principles (that is rigid rules for physical movement and combat, in contrast to a seminar table top game that would use looser rules focused on organization and political decision making). The system allows the game designer to edit the map terrain, platform capabilities, order of battle, and rules (though some programming skills are needed for really deep changes here) within the game platform.

The game also allows for multiple “levels” of players on both the blue and red team, so that the gap between commanders and line officers can be included in the game. The commander can set a daily intent, individual “officers” can then set more specific orders which the commander then approves and submits. C2 is largely handled outside of the game platform in order to accommodate different networks, but it will require that C2 be documented outside of the platform.

The system can then either auto-adjudicate or allow an umpire to override outcomes either in all cases or only in less probable die rolls. There are also some nuanced setting to represent friction that can also allow penalization of bad leadership and declining capabilities over long deployments.

That’s all is a pretty superficial description of the platform and its capabilities, but if all this sounds interesting, I would urge folks to check out the Wargaming Connections blog where Paul has posted more materials in association with the launch of the beta.

One point that I think is critical to highlight is the way Vebber’s development experience also allowed the project to avoid many common pitfalls with computer game development in the government. This has been a long development process with lots of paper playtesting, use of off the shelf products for some game functions where appropriate, and “good enough” graphics until end-users articular clear priorities. Having been involved in computer game development from within the government, I’ve seen how a lot of these can go wrong, so in many ways I think Fleet Battle School is a great case study about how to do this kind of development. Vebber’s regular and detailed updated on the development process should be a reference to anyone attempting this kind of project in the future.

MORS Professional Gaming Workshop, 28/29 September – 1 October 2015


There is still time to register for the Military Operations Research Society’s forthcoming Professional Gaming Workshop in Fairfax, VA:

A three day workshop (29 Sept. – 1 Oct.) plus optional 1 day course (28 September) on professional gaming as an analytic practice.  The meeting will produce initial content for a Professional Gaming Practitioner’s Handbookand bring together members of the community of practice to consider best practices, design, existing applications and appropriate analytic methodologies in an effort to codify the fundamentals of game design and analysis. The meeting is designed for information exchange and participant exposure to professional practice. There is no intention to conduct a game or for attendees to participate in game play.

Working Groups Include:

1. Event Synthesis

2. Objective Development

3. Game Design & Development

4. Data Collection, Analysis Methods and Tools

5. Adjudication procedures

6. Aligning Games with larger studies and methods

7. Professional Game Execution

8. Quick-Turn Design – continuation of hands-on training course

I’ll be one of the facilitators for WG8, as will be sometimes PAXsims contributor Brian Train. There will even be an opportunities to play both AFTERSHOCK and ISIS Crisis!

Fred Cameron (Operational Analytics) has created an excellent website for the MORS meeting, with information on the key steps of wargame design, implementation, and analysis. You’ll find it here.

Saur on Teaching Gaming

Joe Saur gave a good talk on teaching gaming at the MORS Community of Practice. I’ve been remiss in not posting my notes before now, particularly because teaching gaming is a subject near and dear to my heart.


Saur’s presentation focused on his experience teaching 70-plus students across the military, many who lead organizations that use wargames for analysis and training. One point that Saur highlighted was that even though his students had extensive operational experience and are quite likely to be game sponsors, very few had previously seen a wargame. This is a critical point to consider as the community thinks more about how to best communicate of methods and results to our sponsors. It really reinforces the need to spend more time and energy thinking about how we as gamers to educate sponsors and stakeholders. While Saur was working within one of the military school houses, we are going to need more approaches in the long run to get a broader understanding of the benefits and uses of gaming.

Saur noted that there are not many syllabi for wargaming classes. He was able to reference a UK wargaming and combat modeling class, but that was largely focused on the math required for combat and campaign modeling with participation in a staff game. As a result, this course provided limited guidance on how to teach gaming.

In building his syllabus, Saur aimed to teach mechanics that staff officers can actually use. His goal was to expose students to a range of games as a starting point to support student development of operations game. As a result, he tended to focus on concrete mechanisms like dice, hex grids, miniatures, and cards drawn from hobby gaming, with only limited coverage of less structure techniques like matrix and seminar games.

One point that I found particularly interesting is that during student discussions, they hypothesized that as the average member of the force has less combat experience moving forward (or their combat tour is further in the past), rigid adjudication will become more critical. Students argued that free adjudication relies on operational experience.

Not surprisingly, I’m fairly skeptical of this claim, particularly in the case of operational and strategic games. Most of the strong game designers I know are civilian analysts, because members of the military are rotated through positions too quickly to gain mastery. Furthermore, rigid systems of adjudication rarely survive analytical games intact, as players almost always seem to do something not anticipated in the game rules. As a result, even highly formalized rules will often require impromptu adjudication calls. Finally, I’m fairly skeptical of rigid adjudication’s ability to capture interpersonal social and political dynamics that strongly impact strategic and operational outcomes. Limiting ourselves to rigid rule sets cuts off from gaming many of the complex, unstructured problems that games are best suited to examine.

The presentation concluded with a selection of the games built by the students. These covered an impressive range of topics and game design approaches. In part, the approach seemed particularly impressive because Saur instructed the students to tie the games they designed to their follow-on posting. As a result, the games were designed to be practical and helpful, rather than academic in nature. I’ll be interested to see if any of the students follow up with notes about how deploying the game in their new posts goes!

A visiting foreigner’s perspective on MORS 83


Last week I attended the Military Operations Research Society 83rd annual symposium in Alexandria, VA. MORS has a full working group and conference track devoted to wargaming, and many other panels and tracks of interest to national security analysts.

Unfortunately, MORS also has a very uneven record with regard to the participation of non-American nationals. For many years it was NOFORNed entirely, meaning that while any American registered for the conference could attend any unclassified session, non-Americans couldn’t participate at all (even if they were from allied countries and held security clearances). Last year the procedure changed, and the majority of sessions were opened to FVEY (UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) participants—including almost all of the WG30 (wargaming) sessions. This year, however, almost all of the wargaming sessions were not held in the Hilton as in 2014, but rather at the Department of Defense’s nearby Mark Conference Center. While most of these were unclassified, non-Americans had to submit site visit requests well in advance of the conference through their embassies to even access the building. For those attending on official business this was an irritating, but achievable, process. However, FVEY embassies aren’t in the business of processing for paperwork for academics or others attending MORS in a non-government capacity (even if they do hold security clearances).

The MORS misfit Green Badge of Death, so reviled it isn't even mentioned in the conference program.

The MORS misfit Green Badge of Death, so reviled it isn’t even mentioned in the conference program.

The net result was I received a Green Badge of Death, severely limiting the panels I could attend. Indeed my own session had to be specially moved to the Hilton so that I could deliver my presentation. Equally unfortunately, the coffee and snacks were in the Mark Center too, resulting in severe caffeine withdrawal.

My own presentation summarized work that Ben Taylor and I have been doing on matrix gaming. We were severely tempted to make it Canadian Eyes Only.





You’ll find the full slide presentation here.

Ben and I also ran a shorter version of the “ISIS Crisis” matrix game. This saw the Iraqi government successfully push through legislation to establish a new (Sunni) National Guard in the face of parliamentary opposition. While this antagonized some hardline Shi’ite militias, US advisors did make progress in training Sunni tribal volunteers. ISIS conducted some probing attacks around Tikrit (where a number of sectarian atrocities occurred on both sides), an unsuccessful surprise attack on a newly-established National Guard training base, and then—in response to an overconfident YPG attack in Syria, unleashed a counteroffensive that drove the Kurds out of Kobane and seized much of the area around Hassakeh.

Little did we know that—at the very time we were gaming—ISIS had done much the same in real life, (temporarily) infiltrating Kobane and launching attacks in the Hassakeh area.

I was also able to take part in the WG30 “Drive on Metz” wargame. The game—designed by Jim Dunnigan and included in the first edition of The Complete Wargames Handbook (1980)—depicts efforts by General Patton and three divisions of the American 20th Corps to seize the city of Metz and cross the Moselle River before the retreating Germans can form an effective defence. Three games were held simultaneously, with the US and German players in separate rooms. I was happily coopted into the CNA dream team consisting of E.D. McGrady and Peter Perla, playing the German defenders.

The 106th Panzer Brigade locks down much of the US 7th Armoured Division in its ZOC while refusing to die.

The 106th Panzer Brigade locks down much of the US 7th Armoured Division in its magical ZOC while refusing to die.

The purpose of the games was not, it should be stressed, to teach participants how to play wargames. Instead the exercise was really about how to document and analyze them. Accordingly, several teams were assigned to track and assess each game, each using a different methodology. The games were also recorded in SWIFT (Standard Wargame Integration Facilitation Tool) software for subsequent playback and analysis.

Unfortunately, the computers set up in each room proved unable to talk to each other, meaning that each move had to be laboriously recorded in one room, then the magnetic map board need to be carried into another to also be recorded there. The result was that it took 5 minutes or less to make each move, and 15 minutes or more to document it.

I am also unconvinced that Drive on Metz is a very good game for this purpose. There are no supply requirements, and no step losses. It uses locking zones of control (meaning that once adjacent to an enemy unit you can no longer leave), and the combat results table only allows for retreats, never losses due to combat or attrition. As a result, the game largely involves pinning units and trying to maintain a safe line of retreat, with even foot infantry able to safely retired from massed armour assaults if they leave a path open. Ironically, since the rules permit no stacking, a defence in depth means you are more likely to die since you cannot retreat on top of a friendly unit. Because of the way locking ZOCs work, through most of the game we were better to guard the Moselle by leaving sections of the river unguarded, thus preventing the Americans from crossing it through advance after combat. Overall it is a simple, but rather gamey, system that doesn’t represent ground combat (or highlight the value-added of wargaming) particularly well.

On top of that, and despite having the players in different rooms, there was no fog-of-war. Instead we knew where every US unit was every time, thus failing to reproduce either the chaos of a rapid US advance/desperate German retreat or allied air superiority (and hence superior reconnaissance) in September 1944. We would have been far better to have wargamed using proper double-blind play. I also think something like the Battle of Midway or the hunt for the Bismarck would have worked better, with lots of uncertainty, calculated risks, interesting choices, and difficult trade-offs.

Since I couldn’t attend the later debrief in the Marks Center, I am also not sure how much the analysts could capture. In our case discussion was very quick and partially in “gamer speak” with a lot of finger pointing at hexes and retreat paths, followed by idle chatter as we waited for the move to be processed.

German Player #1: If we move here [points at hex] the ZOC will pin these units [points at units], and we can retreat here or here [points at hexes].

German Player #2: Let me check the CRT. Even at +13 the most they can force is a DR2.

German Player #3: Sounds good.

All-in-all it was a good effort into which a great deal of work had been put, and the organizers certainly couldn’t be held responsible for most of the technical hiccups. However, I think a better game design would have served the purpose better.

I had many very useful side-conversations at the conference. However, limited access meant that, overall, I found the MORS 83rd symposium disappointing. If MORS can’t find a way of making most of the unclassified programme readily accessible I won’t be attending the annual meeting again. Really folks, most of this stuff isn’t at all sensitive.

I am, however, looking forward to the MORS Special Meeting on Professional Gaming, to be held in Fairfax, VA this fall.


This will consist of a three day workshop (29 September – 1 October), plus an optional one day course (28 September) on professional gaming as an analytic practice. The meeting will produce initial content for a Professional Gaming Practioner’s Handbook and bring together members of the community of practice to consider best practices, design, existing applications, and appropriate analytical methodologies in an effort to codify the fundamentals of game design and analysis. The meeting is intended for information exchange and participant exposure to professional practice—there is no intention to conduct a game or for attendees to participate in game play. I will be cochairing (with Rober Leonhard) WG8 of the meeting, which will augment the introductory course with practical, hands-on exposure to professional gaming practice. Participants in this group will design a professional game by applying the skills and best practices associated with other working groups.

I’ll post more information to PAXsims when the meeting opens for registration.

Military Operations Research Society 83rd annual symposium (June 2015)


The 83rd annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society will be held in Alexandria, VA on 22-25 June 2015. As usual, there will be a considerable number of panels on wargaming, modelling and simulation, and related topics.

Submission of abstracts opened on 1 December (until 15 March). Symposium registration will open on 7 January. As usual, some sessions will be classified, and either NOFORNed (restricted to US citizens) or open to pre-cleared FVEY participants too.

Further information is available at the MORS website. For a summary of the 82nd symposium, see the following PAXsims reports:

MORS 82 virtual symposium


The Military Operations Research Society, which held its 82nd annual meeting last month (see here and here and here and here) was forced to reschedule its online “virtual” sessions due to earlier technical problems. As a result they will now be held on 23-24 July:

With the success of our in-person symposium, we believe the virtual symposium being held 23-25 July 2014 will be the advanced event you won’t want to miss.

In preparation for the Virtual Symposium please use this link to access the 82nd Virtual Symposium presentations, schedule and instructions on connecting to the presentations via DCO. We strongly recommend you visit this site prior to the start of the virtual sessions on 4 June to review the instructions and test your connection. All virtual and on-site registrants are invited to participate in the virtual presentations.

Everyone is invited to join us in the CG A virtual “room” for the kick-off on Wednesday 23 July 0900 – 0930 (eastern time). The 23 and 24 July sessions are unclassified and can be accessed by all (no CAC or government computer required). The 25 July sessions are classified and only accessible to those with access to the SIPR site.

We are looking forward to a great Virtual Symposium.

82nd Symposium Planning Team

The programme includes a few presentations on either wargaming or modelling and simulation that might be of interest to PAXsims readers.

MORS 82 Summary – Day 3


Today was the third and final full day of the Military Operations Research Society 82nd annual symposium. While there weren’t any additional wargaming panels scheduled today, there was a meeting of the MORS Wargaming Community of Practice, several relevant panels in other working groups (such as modelling and simulation), and a demonstration of the NDU counterinsurgency board game COIN of the Realm. In addition, there was plenty of time for the sort of sidelines-of-the-conference conversations with colleagues that can be so useful.

Rather than summarize any of that, however, I thought I would simply present a few tentative conclusions I’ve reached from the totality of this year’s symposium:

  • Differences in language and underlying concepts continue to divide the serious games and simulations community. However, I don’t believe that it is possible to develop a unified professional vocabulary, any more than it is to establish a clearly demarcated profession. Rather, we simply need to be explicit in what we mean by things, and why.
  • In part because of this, we need an evidence-based, practice-oriented approach to the field, in which we clearly identify the problem that a game is meant to address, and draw upon a toolkit of gaming approaches and tricks that might help to address it. For this reason, many of the conference and workshop presentations that I find most useful say something like this:
    1. We wanted to do X,
    2. we were operating under practical constraints Y,
    3. we decided to use gaming approaches A, B, C, D,
    4. all of which resulted in outcome Z (including a discussion of how and why we know this),
    5. …and here are some broader implications and applicability of our experience.
  • Interdisciplinarity and pluralism—in methodology, theory, game design, and members of the team—are valuable. (I was already convinced of this, but Yuna Wong made the case especially well.)
  • It is sometimes said—including repeatedly at MORS—that there are analytical games on the one hand, experiential/learning games on the other, and that mixing the two is a sin so grave that it will provoke some sort of world-wide zombie apocalypse. Certainly I agree that a game can be optimized for analysis, and might as a consequence offer very little learning, and vice-versa. However I would argue that it is possible to do some of both in the same game. Moreover, in many fields one has little choice, since the resources and participant availability simply don’t exist to organize separate games for each task. Humanitarian emergency response simulations, for example, often only get one chance to engage participants, and therefore need to simultaneously increase player knowledge AND allow senior participants to identify shortcomings in current arrangements that might be addressed.
  • The average time it takes Time Wilkie and I to come up with another “game that would be cool to do” is around 4.7 minutes.

With the MORS symposium now finished for the year, the next dates on my interdisciplinary wargaming calendar will be Connections 2014 (Quantico, 4-7 August) and Connections UK (King’s College London, 2-4 September).




MORS 82 Summary – Day 2


I started off the second day of this year’s Military Operations Research Society annual symposium by attending a presentation by Yuna Wong (Marine Corps) on The Search for the Black Herring: MORSS Strategist’s Corner. This wasn’t a gaming presentation per se, but Yuna is certainly well-known in the professional wargame community, and has been particularly active in encouraging the closer integration of social science theory and methods into gaming and strategic analysis. In particular, her talk asked what analytical organizations should do to prepare for future analytical challenges in an era of uncertainty. One of my current research projects looks at the political science of prediction, so I was especially interested to see what she had to say. (For those who might be wondering. a “black herring” occurs when analysts obsessively look for the next “black swans,” only to find “red herrings.”)

blackswanHer primary argument was that analytic communities needed to be multidisciplinary, broaden their methodological expertise, and use experts well. Among the challenges to being more multidisciplinary are the existing (US government) human resource system, as well as organizational culture. As an example of the latter she used the professional wargaming community, who tend to have internal measures of legitimacy (for example, many years of being a boardgamer) that have an exclusionary effect on new and different talent. It is also a risk for organizations to depart from existing practices, and the search and start-up costs of becoming more multidisciplinary may be higher than maintaining the status quo.

She also was critical of the tendency of modern operations research to focus on narrow technical problems and answers. Such approaches may be less useful for addresses issues that are better characterized as a “mess” rather than a “problem.” (For the difference between these and the effective use of judgment-based methods, see NATO’s Code of Best Practices for Judgement-Based Operational Analysis.) The real “black swans,” she suggested, were to be found in the swamp of complex and chaotic environments.

redpacificherringYuna had a number of useful thoughts too on effective use of outside expertise, addressing issues of identification, recruitment, facilitation, as well as practical issues (such as contracting and clearances).

I agreed with pretty much all that she had to say. However (following on from the work of Phil Tetlock and the Good Judgment Project) I asked whether we needed to pay more attention to cognitive styles. It isn’t just a question of finding people with differing areas of expert knowledge, but finding those people who are also not locked into particular paradigms or filter everything through a preexisting worldview.

While not a wargaming panel a great deal of what she had to say was of significant value for analytic gaming. Many wargames, after all, involve need to address messy problems, challenge conventional wisdoms, engage broader expertise in game design and adjudication, and explore uncertain futures.


John Hanley Jr. (formerly ODNI) presented on Gaming and Game Theory: Using Game Theory to Advance Gaming. He argued that understanding game theory helped in both wargame design and analysis. Manual games, he suggested, have their limitations: they are not rigorous analysis; they don’t have fully reproducible results; they are dependent on the quality and characteristics of the gamers; they can be personnel-intensive (and hence expensive), can be error-prone; and they aren’t real (and there is a consequent risk of over-learning from them). Many of these limitations can be reduced however, by continuous gaming and a structure for capturing results. He highlighted this by discussing a series of games over the years at the Naval War College, subsequent analysis of which identified clear clusters of moves, responses, outcomes, and equilibrium strategies for Red and Blue. The data, however, was messy (suggesting that moves and adjudication needs to be more clearly delineated and recorded). Capturing manual games in game theoretic form allows for more sophisticated analysis, helping to poulate the strategy space and identification of dominant strategies and equilibria.


Daniel Stimpson (George Mason University) talked about Using Operational Patterns to Influence Attacker Decisions on a Transportation Network. The challenge he was addressing was how to anticipate an opponent’s IED attacks on transportation and logistics networks. To date, he suggested, much of the academic (and classified) literature did not adequately address attacker dynamics and the interaction between attacker and defender. Boyd’s OODA loop provided some of the conceptual underpinning for his approach.

He offered a useful discussion of the notion of “randomness,” noting that neither “variety” nor “surprise” was synonymous with randomness, nor was it the same as failure to predict (although prediction is only possible in constrained systems, and totally random systems are inherently unpredictable). Surprise, he noted, derives from a failure to predict—the system itself is not “surprised.” In his model, Blue seemed far more constrained in its tactical choices than Red (whose behaviour seemed to be wholly driven by trial-and-error learning). The presenter noted that there were limits in how complex the model could be, given resource and time constraints.


Douglas Samuelson (InfoLogix and Group W), offered a presentation title Anybody Else Wanna Negotiate? Representing Negotiations Realistically in Wargames. He argued that negotiations are generally characterized by non-zero transaction costs and multiple representatives with non-identical interests. Because of this, negotiations often have multiple phases: reaching a deal, then selling a deal to constituents or clients. For a deal to last, it needs to keep producing benefits that outlast the negotiator’s involvement. Negotiations with many parties but clear interests are good candidates for mediation. Problems with shifting interests and unclear identities are more difficult to mediate. (He used the examples of North Korea and Israel-Palestine to illustrate his argument, although I was not convinced of his application of the cases.) He suggested that achieving the best possible deal is not always in a party’s interest, given the importance of promoting trust as a basis for continued interaction. He also addressed coalition-building, as well as conditions under which negotiators may wish to prolong talks, or actors may seek to derail negotiations by attacking the negotiators.

Unfortunately the presentation didn’t link this very well to wargame design or facilitation. For the most part it simply identified aspects of negotiation, and suggested at the end that a wargame ought to include these in some way. Some of the audience probed this point, asking questions about how we might best built the many complex aspects of negotiations into a wargame—the tricks of the trade, as it were, for manipulating players into realistic negotiation behaviours


1380513184-0A key aspect of this, of course, is building an effective narrative that players will internalize, and understanding what player narratives indicate about perceptions and behaviours. Fortunately the next presentation was by Yuna Wong (USMC) and Sara Cobb (George Mason University) on Narrative Analysis in Seminar Gaming. Unfortunately the presentation was classified as For Official Use Only and those of us Canadians with yellow badges had to leave. (This is known in MORS wargaming parlance as being “Brian Train-ed.”)

With this, our cunning plan to use US government thinking about narratives and seminar gaming to assist in the rapid Canadian military seizure of Seattle, Fargo, and Albany as envisaged in Defence Scheme #1 was foiled. Curses!

(I should add the Working Group 30 chairs were very apologetic about this, and as Canadians we left very politely.)


panel of expertsThe day ended with an excellent panel discussion on Practices in Wargaming that featured such wargaming luminaries as Peter Perla (CNA), John Hanley Jr., Jeff Appleget (NPS), Hank Brightman (NWC), and Ellie Bartels (Caerus Associates).

Three main topics were addressed. Far too much was said by both the panel and the audience for me to accurately record here, so instead I’ve briefly summarized some of the major points:

Gaming for DoD Analysis

  • Ellie Bartels: We need to pay more attention to game design in order to be able to convince clients of the value of gaming methodologies.
  • Jeff Appleget: You really need to pay attention to the human element in wargaming. We’ve been too focused on closed-loop combat models.
  • Peter Perla: We need to integrate all the tools in the toolkit. Does DoD have any organizational incentive to listen to games and OR analysis that tells unpleasant truths?
  • John Hanley Jr.: DoD should be gaming everything that involves the interaction of two or more players. Games are useful for developing concepts, identifying capability and intel needs, etc. However no game results can stand without independent substantiation.
  • Hank Brightman: Our greatest challenges as analysts is we work for senior decision-makers from hard science backgrounds that are most comfortable with quantitative data. We need to look at big problems in whole, and use games to provide insights (but not answers).
  • Audience questions, comments, and discussion:
    • Are decision-makers so saturated with analysis that there is only limited capacity for games-based analysis? Can good analysis drive out bad? Who does wargaming best in DoD?
    • Withholding information can help assure that players don’t get lost in the tactical weeds, and instead focus on operational and strategic levels.
    • Almost all of the key insights of wargames are qualitative. However, there was push-back on this, suggested that some quantitative data extraction was also important.

Making a Playable Game

  • Ellie Bartels: Players are human beings, and need to be treated as such and feel their contributions are valuable. We need to be parsimonious in our game design.
  • Jeff Appleget: I have my students actually design a game for a DoD sponsor. They learn the challenges of deriving clarity from the sponsor. Adequate time for playtesting is important, since there is a design/play/revise iteration that is essential.
  • Peter Perla: The closer the game is to familiar functions the easier it is to play. However you need a balance between a simple “talk it through” game, and formalisms that give players an opportunity to discuss how the game models the real world.
  • John Hanley Jr: You get people responsible and place them in a similar environment and they really engage with the game.
  • Hank Brightman: There are two types of game, experiential and analytical, and they have different requirements. We link the designer and the analyst from the beginning.
  • Audience questions, comments, and discussion:
    • It is important not to confuse one type of game with another.
    • We don’t have a common gaming conceptual language.
    • There are lots of folks who design bad games.
      • There is more to truth to analysis. Games are created universes that can encourage insight but aren’t analysis.
    • A game is in the minds of the players, not in the computer or in the table.

The Future of Gaming

  • Ellie Bartels: The future of wargaming will depend a lot on who future wargamers and leaders are. Findings tend to be both complex and abstract, and you need analysts and leaders who are comfortable with that. We need to be multidisciplinary–even into the humanities!
  • Jeff Appleget: The need for games is higher in an era of higher uncertainty. We need to communicate to senior leaders what games can, and cannot, do.
  • Peter Perla: It seems as if gaming is on the rise again—although I’m nervous that it will do its (boom and bust) cycle again. We need to communicate its payoffs and limits. We ought to be able to communicate to future decision-makers with games.
  • John Hanley Jr: My expectation is more of the same. My aspiration is that we devote more effort into making sense out of sets of games. We could be using online gaming to explore a larger chunk of the strategy space.
  • Hank Brightman: We need to bring in folks from other fields. Future analytical gaming needs to use more analytical triangulation and mixed methods. I think that we’ll have a backlash against the impersonalism of some digital gaming and interfaces.
  • Audience questions, comments, and discussion:
    • What is the impact of having commanders who went through wargaming?
    • Distributed gaming on SIPRInet.
    • What is the impact of the current gaming generation?
    • What is the accountability mechanism for learning from game failures, or insights that turned out not to be very insightful?
    • What are gaming worst practices?

MORS 82 summary – Day 1


There’s more to attend at the 82nd annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society than I can fit into my schedule, but here is a quick summary of the presentations I was able to attend today:

Tim Wilkie (NDU) and I made a presentation on The Decision to Attack: Experiments in Small Group Decision-Making to Study the Leadership of Violent Extremist GroupsThis is an exploratory project being developed by Devin Ellis (ICONS Project, UMD), John Sawyer (UMD), John Wilkenfield (UMD), Victor Asal (SUNY Albany), James Walsh (UNC Charlotte) and ourselves that would use a role play simulations to examine the factors shaping decision-making by violent extremist groups. Part of the intent here is to see whether we can replicate, in a simulation/experimental environment, the actual decision-making processes and calculus of known attacks by non-state armed groups. We also hope to develop a role-play test-bed (using ICONSnet) that would allow us to explore how different variables (such as psychological profile, resources, inter-and intra-group competition, set policies, world-view, etc.) might shape the use of violence. At this point we were largely looking for ideas and feedback as we refine the proposal, and certainly found the discussion useful

Ellie Bartels (Caerus Associates) presented on Methods of Social Inquiry for Game Design. She started with a review of how gaming is used in the social sciences, as a pedagogical tool an—less frequently—as an experimental technique. Its use, however, is limited by a perceived lack of rigour. Game theoretical treatments are often too abstract to examine complex issues. Social science may be used as an input into professional gaming of some topics (insurgency, irregular warfare, but unevenly. Also, she noted, there is only limited published work on how social science can inform wargame design.

She argued that games are not really models, because they aren’t fully portable across cases. Rather they are an instantiation of a model, implemented in a very particular context. Decisions in a game may be an input, and output, or both.

She also suggested that games were much more akin to case studies than statistical analysis, because of the unquantifiable nature of decision-making. Because of this, case study research design can help illuminate important aspect of wargame design.

They also parallel formal models, in that they are artificial and can produce emergent behaviours based on formal rules. Most wargames are too complex and multi-sided than most formal modeling. She noted that the more focused the game the stronger the analytical findings will be. There also needs to be some point of comparison. Variables need to be clearly conceptualized, and decisions need to be considered a key variable. Both “most likely” cases and “least likely” cases provide good cases for games. She also highlighted some of the limits of games, including the limits of gaming single cases and problems of selection bias. Games can be useful for theory development, she suggested, but cannot in themselves validate theories.

Jeffrey Appleget (NPS) and Rebecca Dougherty (Lockheed Martin)  delivered a presentation on Assessing the Value of Weather Knowledge within End Use Context, which used a manual wargame to examine not how weather affects military operations, but rather to look at how actors use weather knowledge, and what weather information is important for mission success. In order to avoid any priming bias, participants were not told the wargame was about weather—most, as it turned out, thought it was about the impact of a new weapons system. The game was driven, in many ways, by the degradation of the current array of US military weather satellites, and a fiscal environment in which it will not be possible to continue all weather data collection. In other words, if the US is to lose weather information capacity in coming years, what information and capabilities can most safely be sacrificed?

Finally, I attended a presentation by Katrina Dusek, (NDU) on COIN of the Realm, a counterinsurgency board game designed to illustrate key COIN principles. Two players vie to control territory (physical and conceptual) and to dominate various sectors (such as  security, rule of law/governance, provision of services, and messaging). Players mobilize resources to generate additional capabilities, but in most cases win the game by securing popular support. We all got to give a copy of the game a spin, and I’m pleased to say that in the version I played we insurgents seemed to be on a slow path to victory when play had to come to an end!

Not-quite-live from MORS 82

MORS82This week I’m attending the 82nd annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society. There is much of interest to the professional wargamer or serious conflict simulationist here. In addition to an entire Working Group devoted to wargaming (WG30, ably chaired by Scott Simpkins of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University), there are related working groups on everything from modelling and simulation through to analysis of alternatives; training and education; and social science methods and applications. Indeed, it’s a veritable cornucopia of simulation and analytic milgeekiness.

For many years the MORS symposium was largely NOFORNed—that is, closed to non-US nationals, even those with allied security clearances. That has changed—my rough estimate is that more than two-thirds of the sessions are now open and unclassified this year. Of the classified material, some (although not much) is REL FVEY, meaning the sessions can be attended by allied (UK/Canada/Australia/New Zealand) participants with suitable SECRET clearance (which, as we all know, is hardly any clearance at all)

Among other things I’ll be making a presentation here with Tim Wilkie (NDU) and Devin Ellis (ICONS Project) about a proposed project that a number of us have been working on that will explore decision-making in violent extremist groups through simulation game methodologies.

As the week progresses I’ll try to post periodic summaries of panels and discussions to PAXsims—or, at least, those I’m able to attend (and hotel WiFi permitting)

If you’re a PAXsims reader and attending MORS, drop me an email and perhaps we can grab a coffee!

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