From Connections to your tabletop


The first ever “game lab” at the 2012 Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference focused on humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations, with participants divided into groups to discuss how they might game HA/DR operations during the 2010 Haiti earthquake. During those sessions Brant Guillory, Gary, Milante, and Brian Train acted as our game design facilitators, while David Becker,  Ty Mayfield, and Joshua Riojas offered expertise based on their direct involvement in Haiti relief efforts.


AFTERSHOCK at the Chilean Joint Peacekeeping Operations Center.

Subsequently I developed some of those ideas into a boardgame—AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game—which was then playtested at McGill University, various Connections conferences, and elsewhere.

AFTERSHOCK at Connections UK.

AFTERSHOCK at Connections UK.

Tom Fisher came on board the project as game developer and graphic artist. The beta or preproduction version was soon adopted for professional training purposes by the Canadian Disaster and Humanitarian Response Training Program, the Chilean Joint Peacekeeping Operations Center, and the US Army’s 9th Mission Support Command.

AFTERSHOCK demonstration at National Defense University.

AFTERSHOCK demonstration at National Defense University.

Now the final production version is available for sale via The Game Crafter:

AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game 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.

Carana has suffered years of sometimes violent turmoil, and has only recently taken the first tentative steps to national reconciliation and reconstruction. Poverty is widespread, government capacity is weak, and political tensions remain high. Nongovernmental organizations and United Nations specialized agencies are active in the country, including a moderately-sized UN civilian police (CIVPOL) contingent.

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 used in the professional training and education of aid workers, military personnel, and others involved in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. However it also presents an unusual and very playable challenge for anyone who enjoys gaming.

For a list of forthcoming demonstration games, check PAXsims.

This year’s Connections 2015 interdisciplinary wargaming conference will again feature a game lab, organized by Paul Vebber and focused on the challenge of anti-access/area-denial warfare:

A2ADventure is a game demonstrating some of the key competitions involved in “anti-access/area-denial” (A2AD) warfighting situations. The attacking BLUE player’s task is to approach the RED player’s coastal area, negotiate passage through a set of Barrier Island choke points, maneuver to one of the objective areas and protect the ATF for a complete turn in order to “offload the Marines” so they can conduct operations inland before RED reinforcements (not actually portrayed in the game, but provides a good reason for a time constraint on the length of the game) to arrive. Critical to BLUE accomplishing this objective is maintaining ambiguity as to the location of the Amphibious Task Force (ATF). The defending RED player wins by either destroying the ATF or delaying the BLUE force until RED reinforcements can arrive (The BLUE ATF does not enter an objective area by the end of turn 7).

The game design focuses on three important aspects of anti-access/area denial warfare situations:

1.1 Hiders vs Finders: The ability to keep a high level of uncertainty as to which game pieces are combat units and which are decoys is crucial for each side. The ability to maneuver units into position to conduct powerful attacks on enemy units that are determined to be the biggest threats while preventing your enemy doing so is one key to victory.

1.2 Firing Effectively First: it is hard to overcome the temptation to immediately shoot at enemy units the moment you find them. High end units, like BLUE’s Amphibious Task Force or Heavy Surface Action Group have highly effective defenses, and require a coordinated attack from multiple units, several times, to sufficiently erode their staying power to the point of elimination. Finding the right balance between firing first and firing with sufficient numbers to be effective in a given situation is another key to victory.

1.3 Counter-Command and Control (C-C2): Each side has an operational and a tactical “observe, orient, decide, act” (OODA) loop. Disrupting the enemy’s operational OODA loop affects their ability to activate their Mission Packages (MPs) when they want to. Doing the same to the tactical “kill-chain” OODA loop reduces the effectiveness of enemy attacks. Picking the right time and place to use these capabilities may well be the most important key to victory of all.

We hope to see you there!

About Rex Brynen

Professor, Department of Political Science, McGill University.
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