Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: North Korea

DIRE STRAITS: the video

On February 25, McGill University will host its 3rd annual megagame: DIRE STRAITS, a game of crisis and confrontation in East and Southeast Asia. The video we will be using to introduce the game scenario is below—assuming, that is, that no one starts a real nuclear war on the Korean peninsula in the next three weeks.

While most of the tickets for the event have been sold, there are some remaining via Eventbrite. We hope to see you there!

DPRK matrix game

North Korea Map

The mysterious “Tim Price” is at it again, quickly putting together a matrix game that explores the growing tensions in the Korean peninsula. At this link you will find the latest version (v2) of the rules, a map, and markers/assets/counters. The game involves six players:

  • USA
  • North Korea
  • Japan
  • China
  • South Korea
  • Russia

DPRKThe game components even include Twitter indicators, allowing you to deploy the formidable 140 character rhetorical broadsides of the US president.

While the rules describe how a matrix game operates, if you have never seen one in action the concept of a freeform narrative game in which the participants make up the rules as they go along through discussion and assignment of weighted probabilities might seem a bit strange. As in most matrix games, players are free to take any plausible action they wish simply by describing: (1) the action they wish to take; (2) the effect this would have if successful; and (3) arguments why the action might succeed. Other players then add other arguments for and against success. Each solid argument is used as die roll modifier, dice are rolled, the action and its effects are adjudicated—and it is then the next player’s turn.

Still confused? Fortunately you will find lots of material here at PAXsims describing various matrix games in action.

Using a matrix game as an intelligence training tool


The following report has been written for PAXsims by Christopher Davis, a Captain in the United States Army Reserve with a passionate interest in games.


In early March, my Army reserve unit, a military intelligence battalion, conducted an internal simulation using the “matrix game” format. We intended to encourage intelligence analysts to think about a problem-set in a consequence-free environment and to hone structured analytical skills. The exercise proved extremely successful in both inviting active learning by the participants and reinforcing analytical skills.

The scenario selected centered on North Korea – the road to war specifically involved a nuclear test by the DPRK in April 2016. The analysts were randomly assigned to the following country teams: North Korea, South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and the United Nations. Each country team received two vital interests assigned to them; i.e. ‘preserve the Kim regime’ (DPRK) or ‘firmly follow the path of a peace-loving nation’ (Japan). Two wall projectors depicted a map of East Asia and the actions log. In addition to the basic framework of matrix games, the North Korean team received an immediate free turn for every double rolled with the dice. Before each turn, players were given ten minutes to negotiate and plan their actions. Because of the casual nature of this simulation, the participants and moderators focused more on constructing logical arguments than maintain any strict sense of realism.

Turn 1

North Korea opened the first turn with a successful attempt to evade sanctions and cash out $10 billion. Needless to say, this raised immediate alarm as to the intended purpose of the cash. South Korea opened with an effort to initiate peace talks. The United States followed by adding denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as a condition to any talks. The Chinese team surprisingly cut all material relations with DPRK, citing a need to deter North Korea from further escalation. Japan moved to quickly integrate its self-defense forces with future American-South Korean military exercises. Russia, in a bid to undercut the United States and China, and to assert itself as a Pacific power, invested $1 billion in the DPRK in exchange for a military base in the northern mountain ranges. The United Nations closed the turn with a speech on the need for calm.

Turn 2

The DPRK initiated the second turn by petitioning to join the Collective Security Treaty Organization, alarming all the other country teams. South Korea attempted to remove the U.S. condition of Korean denuclearization, but this failed, sparking protests in Seoul against a ‘weak’ Park administration. A move by the Obama administration to place further sanctions on North Korea and Russia was blocked by a Republican-controlled Congress. Recognizing that it was losing influence over North Korea, China reached an agreement to deploy an infantry brigade for a joint Russian-Chinese base in the country. The Japanese government responded by conducting joint U.S.-Japanese maritime patrols in the Sea of Japan, leading to +1 to all future Japanese and American maritime actions. Due to a lack of coordination, Russia failed to organize joint Russian-DPRK military exercises. The Secretary General of the United Nations ended the turn by summoning all heads of state to Geneva to de-escalate the situation, resulting in -1 to all future military actions on the Korean Peninsula.

Turn 3

The DPRK unsurprisingly directed its cash gifts into improving its military capabilities, specifically its ballistic missiles; leading to +1 for all missile actions but also +2 for all political and economic actions for the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. At this point, the DPRK received a free turn, which it used to conduct a test of said ballistic missiles, only to have the rocket explode on the launch pad. Alarmed, South Korea responded by requesting 100,000 U.S. troops in addition to theater ballistic missile defense. The U.S. initiated a covert intelligence program to infiltrate agents into the North to incite unrest and possibly rebellion. In response, China sold its available intelligence on the U.S. to North Korea. Japan’s attempt to modify its status of forces agreement with the U.S. to also increase troop levels and missile defense was blocked by pacifists in parliament. Russia expanded its military infrastructure in North Korea. The Secretary General attempted to mobilize the United Nations to pursue sanctions against North Korea but this failed in the Security Council.

Lessons Learned and Feedback

I was personally surprised by how quickly the soldiers immersed themselves in the scenario. They were quick to cut deals, promote their own interests, and to respond to perceived threats. The analysts observed a number of things:

  • There are multiplayer layers to decision-making; within the country-team, among countries, and so forth, such as the disagreement between the U.S. and South Korea on denuclearization. This impacted the decisions that were made.
  • Life isn’t fair. Some teams were better positioned than others; i.e. the United Nations team felt helpless as the scenario continued to escalate.
  • In regards to escalation, the players found themselves trapped in a cycle of brinkmanship from which it was difficult to disengage. The U.S. and South Korea did not take up the Secretary General’s call for peace talks because they did not want to legitimize the Kim regime.
  • Many players were surprised by the actions of the other teams. Even though they were all in the same room engaging in open conversations that could be easily overheard, critical information about the intentions and actions of others were missed. This reinforced the constant challenge of maintaining an accurate threat picture in intelligence problems.

The analysts were unanimous in the view that this simulation was very effective in encouraging critical thinking and demonstrating some of the basic challenges in national security.

Christopher Davis
US Army Reserve 

Wargaming North Korea

North Korean soldiers in undisclosed location

Following on from the success of my earlier (and still ongoing) listing of recent Iran-related wargames and crisis simulation, I have now started a list of North Korea-related games  at the Wargaming Connection blog. Suggestions regarding any additional items for inclusion are welcome (although not this one, as fun as it was).

See also our earlier PAXsims post on gaming a new Korean war.

simulations miscellany, 11 April 2013


Having now partially recovered from the 2013 Brynania civil war simulation (and the 13,148 emails that the participants made me read over that week), I’m now back to offering the usual periodic PAXsims assemblage of simulation-and-serious-games-related news.


GCN features an article on “Gaming moves to the forefront in government:”

As a learning tool, Hackathorn thinks games have no equal. “Games have a unique ability to engage people, to make them do things,” he said. “They can make a child do homework, or improve someone’s data entry skills.”

Hackathorn said that most of the current game-like efforts in government actually fall into the more general category of gamification, which is different from games. He explained that what makes games interesting to players are the elements in them, which can be broken down and applied to everyday tasks. “We can take game elements that we know players enjoy — like earning badges, getting names posted to leaderboards and reward schedules — and use them to help a player reach ‘flow,’ where time just stops,” he said. “And that can make learning effective, even for tasks that would otherwise be uninteresting” and thus difficult to teach.

President Barack Obama supports gamification efforts through the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  In 2011 he issued a call for more educational games as well as games that address national challenges during a speech at the TechBoston conference. “I’m calling for investments in educational technology that will help create…educational software that’s as compelling as the best video game. I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teaching you something other than just blowing something up,” the president said.

Part of that effort led to the formation of the Federal Games Working Group, which is affectionately called the Federal Games Guild by members, a name invoking World of Warcraft, where likeminded players organize themselves into guilds. Today that group has over 200 members representing 34 agencies, four White House offices and four other federal entities. The group regularly meets to discuss gaming strategy and share experiences.

Not surprisingly for a CGN website that is all about public sector IT issues, the piece all about digital gaming only. Somewhat surprisingly, it says nothing about the largest user of digital games in the US government: the US military and Department of Defence.



Michael Peck defends North Korea from the imperialist aggressors at Foreign Policy magazine.


The latest issue of  the US Department of Defense Modeling and Simulation Coordination Office M&S Newsletter (January-February 2013) is now available. At the moment the link on the M&SCO website is wrong, but with some guessing at the probable file name I found it here.


Want see what they’ve been up to lately in terms of online learning and simulations at the Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding at the United States Institute of Peace? You’ll find a video overview below.

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