#ThreatTuesday – @RANDCorporation “Command and Control in US Naval Competition with China”

RAND Corporation analysts Kimberly Jackson, Andrew Scobell, Stephen Webber, and Logan Ma looks at issues of Command and Control (C2) and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) in their research report Command and Control in U.S. Naval Competition with China which is available as a free download. This report is not only a good backgrounder on the C2 differences between the PLA Navy and the US Navy, it also has poses some questions that could make for a good “serious” wargame topic albeit a difficult one to design because C2 and wargames don’t necessarily go well together.

Research Questions

  • How is C2 exercised in the U.S. Navy and the PLA Navy?
  • How are these C2 concepts reflective of service culture?
  • How do these C2 structures support or challenge each nation’s shift to new maritime missions?

Key Findings

The U.S. Navy and the PLA Navy will likely be challenged to fully shift to new strategic postures if they do not adapt their existing concepts of C2

  • The U.S. Navy’s model of mission command appears conducive to counter-power projection missions in theory, but success will likely require increased investments in education and professionalism across the force.
  • The PLA Navy’s rigid control and command structure is likely to come under increasing strain given the relative independence and greater operations tempo required by power projection operations.
  • Currently, many unknowns exist, particularly in understanding how PLA Navy culture is evolving and how the Chinese Communist Party might weigh its preferred method of tight control throughout the PLA against more-effective power projection efforts.

Future Study = Wargame?

The part that interested me as a wargamer was actually the four topics the authors propose for future study:

  • What is more valuable to China: the ability to project power globally or retaining its rigid control and command system?
  • Will the PLA Navy’s increased experience and professional development affect the trust placed in PLA Navy personnel by senior PLA commanders? And how will increased PLA Navy professionalism affect control and command?
  • Would the Chinese Communist Party tolerate a PLA Navy that is more empowered to make independent decisions?
  • Would the PLA Navy taking a mission command approach to C2 be a threat to the United States?

Each of those study topics, in a way, make for a good jumping off point in a more serious wargame. My problem is finding a commercial wargame that gives one a good taste of C2 challenges out-of-the-box. In order to make it more realistic, one often needs to resort to some sort of pre-plotting or double-blind systems with a referee. Let’s be honest, the real questions about C2 are more than just an initiative roll to see who goes first;. A part of me feels like we need an OODA Loop game like Less Than 60 Miles (Thin Red Line Games, 2019) does for the Air Land Battle of the 1980’s in Europe. Amongst my commercial wargame titles some insight may be gained but it will require lots of tinkering:

  • Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Games, 2020): This wargame that verges into simulation is very good at depicting tactical situations but I am not sure the design can really be stretched to show the more operational-level elements of C2 outside of starting scenario conditions.
  • Indian Ocean Region – South China Sea: Volume II (Compass Games, 2021): This forthcoming second volume of John Gorkowski’s South China Sea-series of games is in many ways the 21st Century successor to the 1980’s Victory Games Fleet-series; however, there are no real C2 rules in the game.

Feature image courtesy cimsec.org

Full Citation:

Jackson, Kimberly, Andrew Scobell, Stephen Webber, and Logan Ma, Command and Control in U.S. Naval Competition with China. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2020. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA127-1.html. Also available in print form.

Threat Tuesday – Projecting a future US Navy for #wargames

BATTLE FORCE 2045. It sounds like a new science-fiction wargame but it’s actually the name of the the latest future force plan for the US Navy. Secretary of Defense Esper unveiled the plan in early October.

Esper’s Battle Force 2045, which he rolled out during an online event today at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, lays out plans for achieving a fleet of 500 manned and unmanned ships by 2045, and a fleet of 355 traditional battle force ships by 2035 – all in a resource-constrained budget environment.

Throughout the rest of October the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) ran a series of articles assembled under the Fleet Force Structure Series. This series of nine article looked at the future force structure in depth.

In particular, I call your attention to “A Decisive Flotilla: Assessing the Hudson Fleet Design” by Robert C. Rubel which in turn links to the Hudson Institute analysis “American Sea Power at a Crossroads: A Plan to Restore the US Navy’s Maritime Advantage.” This analysis includes several nice tables for a future order of battle that can form the basis of wargame studies.

It would be interesting to see Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Group) data annexes or counters in South China Sea (Compass Games, 2017) for Battle Force 2045.


Feature image courtesy moto1.com

October 2020 #Wargame #Boardgame #RPG #Books Month in Review

Games Played & Times Played

Note that Here to Slay included the Warriors & Druids Expansion

Games Acquired

  1. Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (Standard Combat Series, MultiMan Publishing, 2020)
  2. Star Wars: Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games, 2016)
  3. Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018)
  4. Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)
  5. Nations at War: White Star Rising (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)
  6. Nations at War: White Star Rising – Airborne (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2012)
  7. Nations at War: White Star Rising – Operation Cobra (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2012)
  8. Here to Slay: Warriors & Druid Expansion (Unstable Games, 2020)
  9. Moonrakers (IV Games, 2020)
  10. Cortex Prime: Game Handbook (Fandom Inc., 2020)
  11. Hell’s Paradise (A Clement Sector adventure from Independence Games, 2018)

New Preorder Games

Key Reading

Blog Activity

How I was shocked in my February #wargame #boardgame Month in Review

Shocking few games played…

According to my BGStats app, in February I recorded 26 plays of 21 games. This is a 60% drop in games played compared to February 2018. On the positive side, the 21 different games played is an increase over the 16 last February.

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February 2019 BG Stats

A major factor in the large drop was last February I played 16 games of Rhino Hero (Haba). This year there were few light family/party games played. Need to work on that; maybe trying to play a light weeknight game with the RockyMountainNavy Boys is worth the few minutes of family time spent together rather than just depending on our weekend game.

…a shocking mix of old and new…

This month I accomplished my first play of Colonial Twilight (GMT Games, 2017) which I really enjoyed. It can be a good introduction/refresher on the GMT COIN system. The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself also went a bit retro with an awesome play of Wooden Ships & Iron Men (Avalon Hill, 1975). I also got Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele, 2019) to the table and really enjoyed the tight gaming situation.

Continuing on my Wargame Challenge, I kept up with the retro theme by playing Azhanti High Lightning (GDW, 1980), Car Wars (Steve Jackson Games, 1981+), and Wings (Yaquinto, 1981). As much as I liked these old games, I also got my new games to the table including designer Michael Rinella’s Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 (Take Aim Designs/Revolution Games, 2019) as well as The Expanse Boardgame: Doors and Corners (WizKids, 2019).

I stepped out of my comfort zone a bit this month and tried to seriously playtest a game. To the Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games) has much promise and I hope it gets published. I was also fortunate to get a day of multiple games played during a snowstorm; there are worse things than being stuck with your family! Continuing the bad weather gaming I revisited, and enjoyed, solo versions of Gravwell (Crytozoic, 2013) and Pandemic: Fall of Rome (Z-Man Games, 2018). I ended the month with a revisit to game that I had discounted a bit before; Villainous (Wonder Forge, 2018) and discovered it to be better than I remember.

…shocking few purchases…

In February I tried to limit my spending on new games. Sure, I still purchased a few but more importantly (for me) I passed on several Kickstarter campaigns that tempted me. I also paid more attention to my existing Kickstarter and Pre-order games; in the end I will still be getting new games, but just at a more reasonable pace (and cost). Potentially I could see most of my KS/pre-order list in my hands by the end of 2019 [sure….]. On another positive note, the reduction of incoming new games has let me focus more of what I already have and explore several good titles in already possess.

…shocking blog numbers…

In mid-January I changed my blog theme to the current version and since then my views have skyrocketed. In February I logged over 5,800 views – as compared to 14,000 views in ALL OF 2018! There certainly was a bounce in views as part of the “shocking” kerfuffle I will discuss in a bit but I cannot help but notice that the new format, which is much more visually appealing, gets visitors to click around more. So to all my readers I say welcome and thanks!

…but the real Shock of the Month…

In early February, I talked about a company that was running a Kickstarter and using a game title identical to a “serious” game from a designer/humanitarian I admire. I apparently ruffled more than a few feathers and at one point was blocked by the publisher. The issue was quickly resolved and all made better. Here at the end of the month Stronghold Games has re-Kickstarted their game Aftershock: San Francisco and Venice. Give it a look!

…and my after shock.

I am very conscious that as a wargamer I am already a member of a subset of a very niche hobby. Further, as a sometime “professional” wargamer or “serious gamer” I realize that I am in an even smaller (microscopic?) subset of the wargaming subgroup. In the “shocking” kerfluffle of the month I saw too many comments that denigrated my small gaming clan. Although it admittedly seems relatively benign, the comment that upset me the most was this:

This site is a hobby game site, if someone is coming here and searching for Aftershock, likely they are looking for the Stronghold published game.

The “site” referenced is BoardGameGeek. This poor soul does not understand (nor does he seem to want to tolerate) that BoardGameGeek is used not just for gaming, but as a leading portal to all things boardgaming. This means it is used by hobbyist and “professionals.” I have been at professional wargaming/serious games conferences where the question, “Where do I find games?” is asked. Invariably, the first answer is, “BoardGameGeek.” This is a good thing; BGG serves a wide array of boardgamers, from the very playful to serious. To say it is “just” a hobby game site is ignorant at best. Possibly I am taking the “serious games” moniker a bit too seriously; but then again I am a strong proponent of gaming for fun, learning, and military planning and government policy making.

Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games responded with a very thoughtful post that deserves much more attention that it is getting (emphasis is mine):

All,

As has been posted here above, Rex and I have discussed all of this.

We will make a name change to our game. This will settle the issue completely, and it will make both parties happy.

Neither of us wants the negativity that has been seen throughout this, and most of all, neither of us wants any harm done to the reputation of the other.

What we do want is happiness among gamers, including of course everyone that has participated in this dialogue, whether they favored one side or the other.

This is what it is all about. We are in an industry that creates FUN. There is no other industry in the world like this. We create FUN, so that families, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and everyone, can come together and compete or cooperate across a table in a social, happy, and fun way.

Thank you to all out there for your passion and love of board games. Without all of you, this industry would not exist.

Best,
Stephen M. Buonocore
Stronghold Games

Surprisingly, the event that calmed me down the most was not Stephen’s comment but Villainous winning the The Toy of the Year Award. As much as I love BGG, listening to the comments of Mr. Francke about the 250,000 units sold in late 2018 (as compared to ~5,200 “owned” in BGG) illustrated for me that even BGG is a small portion of the hobby boardgame market. For Villainous, BGG users possibly represent as little as 2% of the players. This makes even BGG a very small niche within a niche.

Still, I cannot ignore the attitude behind some comments from the past month. I really am trying to keep Mr. Buonocore’s comments in mind but it’s hard. This was more than a simple “Ameritrash vs Eurogamer” flamewar;  it was rank intolerance of a minority sector of our hobby. Sure, it was just a few loud-mouthed a$$hats but they did a fine job of showing me a dark side of our hobby. Part of the reason I write this blog is to show my happiness with the hobby I enjoy. This month was very discouraging to do so.

I’m going to leave it there and hope for a better March.

#boardgames versus #seriousgames – or – Hey, @StrongholdGames, #Aftershock is not just a name

Update 08 Feb: Rex & @StrongholdGames have reached an agreement.


This post is a call to action to Stronghold Games to right a wrong, and it all has to do with a name.

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

As I write this post, Stronghold Games is running a Kickstarter campaign for a game from Alan R. Moon  & Bobby West named Aftershock – Deluxe Edition. In the game…

The world has been hit with mega earthquakes. The worst destruction has devastated the San Francisco Bay area. It is a time of rebuilding to restore this area to its former glory.

In Aftershock, players will spend money to acquire planning cards, which are used to increase population, build bridges, and determine where aftershocks occur. Spend money wisely to acquire aftershocks that will allow you to move people into and out of the demolished areas. Planning and careful negotiation are essential in order to maintain your population and score your best-planned cities and bridges.

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Courtesy PAXSIMS

The problem is a game named “Aftershock” previously existed on the market. AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, is the brainchild of @RexBrynen of PAXSIMS. Most boardgamers and wargamers have probably not heard of PAXSIMS or Rex or AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game because Rex and PAXSIMS are part of the “serious games” portion of our hobby. That is, the niche of our hobby that uses games for education or analysis.

Since 2015, Rex has been selling AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game which…

…explores the interagency cooperation needed to address a complex humanitarian crisis. Although designed for four players, it can be played with fewer (even solitaire) or more (with players grouped into four teams).

The game is set in the fictional country of “Carana,” but is loosely modeled on disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. At the start of the game a powerful earthquake has just struck Carana’s capital city of Galasi, causing widespread destruction of homes and infrastructure. Tens of thousands of people are in need of urgent aid and medical attention. At the request of the Government of Carana, military forces from several friendly countries—operating as the multinational Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Task Force, or HADR-TF—are en route to assist, as are additional contingents of UN and NGO personnel, together with much-needed relief supplies.

Time is of the essence! How many can you save?

AFTERSHOCK is a tense, fast-paced, and immersive game that players will find both unique and informative. Based on real-world events and challenges, it is also used in the professional training and education of aid workers, military personnel, and others involved in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

AFTERSHOCK has been used to teach students at the Pennsylvania State University and medical students in Germany. AFTERSHOCK is an example of a serious game; that is, a game that can be used for analysis or education.

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AFTERSHOCK game in progress at 9th Mission Support Command, US Army Reserve (courtesy BGG.com)

Using wargames as a “serious game” is nothing new. One famous example goes back to the first Gulf War when, in the immediate hours after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Pentagon put Mark Herman under contract to run Gulf Strike (Victory Games, 1983) and play out the US response. Whether you realize it or not, some game companies like Academy Games support military education and training. In this case, Academy’s new Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon game uses game mechanics adapted from a US Marine Corps “Fallujah game.” GMT Games are used by the Marine Corps War College.

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Marine Corps War College Next War Event – April 8-9, 2019
For the second year in a row, The Marine Corps War College is going to be using GMT Games as the basis for a spring event. This April 8-9, they are going to run a two day global wargame using the Next War Series.  Mitchell Land is going to be on-hand to help run the exercise, which involves three simultaneous fights in Taiwan, North Korea, and Poland. Here’s a pic of one of the Marine War College’s teaching games using Mark Herman’s Pericles (courtesy GMT Games)
Think tanks use gaming, like this CNA Talks podcast from CNA.org explains. Serious games cross over into the video gaming world; there is a pro version of CMANO for government organizations to use. Elsewhere, another form of serious games called megagames – massively multiplayer boardgames games – are used for student orientation at the University of Chicago or to entertain (and teach) about disasters.

So why does all this matter?

I absolutely believe in the value of serious games and strongly support what Rex is using AFTERSHOCK for. Rex does not sell this game for his own profit; all profits from the sale of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game are donated to the World Food Programme and other United Nations humanitarian agencies.

Stronghold Games apparently did not exercise even the most simple “due diligence” before Kickstarting their Aftershock. A simple query of BoardGameGeek would of immediately returned AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis. Maybe they were relying on Alan R. Moon (of Ticket to Ride-fame) and Bobby West to do that part for them, but even if so that is no excuse.

So what can Stronghold do? I am concerned that Stronghold is not taking this situation seriously. (no pun intended). In the comments on a recent PAXSIMS post, Rex related that, “We’ve reached out to them to express our concern (especially since ours raises funds for actual humanitarian relief) but so far the response has merely been “sometimes different games have similar names.”

That’s inexcusable. This is not Gettysburg or Panzer Something.

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Courtesy @ellalovesbg

Now, I like Stronghold Games. Terraforming Mars is an “evergreen” title for #boardgamenight in the RockyMountainNavy house. AuZtralia was my boardgame of the year for 2018. I religiously listen to their Board Games Insider podcast every week. I understand Stronghold Games needs to make a buck but Stephen Buonocore, you’re better than this.

One suggestion made on the BGG forums is for Stronghold to find some way to acknowledge the PAXSIMS predecessor. This approach was graciously endorsed by Rex. I also believe this is a respectable way ahead. It is approach that shows support to both hobby gaming and serious gaming.

Stronghold Games, you are a gaming industry leader. Show us that you truly deserve to be.


UPDATE LATE 3 Feb

Now blocked on Twitter by @StrongholdGames.

Feature image courtesy PAXSIMS.