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Management games for deep insight

Peter Checkland’s Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) describes the use of models to help us frame questions to ask of the world, and which help us become explicit about our world views, assumptions, frames of reference, theories of cause and effect, values, and desired outcomes.

Checkland, P. (2006) Learning for action: A short definitive account of soft systems methodology and its use for practitioners, teachers and students.  Chichester, England, Oxford Press

 We’ve developed a deceptively simple Force Mgt practical exercise in the form of a card game. The complete rule set is simple; takes 5 min to scan and understand. 

Rapid rule summary:

1. Students buy forces (5 cards) from a production table (a limited deck) and in each of 5 rounds,  deploy them into 5 regions to compete for Victory Points

2. Win:  first one to 51 victory points OR most points after 5 rounds

3. Game: lasts up to 5 rounds

4. Each round has 5 hands , each hand is worth Victory Points (VP)

5. Hand 1 is worth 6 VP, hand 2 is worth 5 VP etc…

6. Player 1 buys from the red deck, player 2 from the blue deck)

7. After you buy your 5 cards, you place 1 card face down in each region (hand)

8. Once all cards are placed,  cards are flipped over and you determine results

9. If your card wins the hand you get the victory points and keep you card; if you lose the hand, you get no victory points and lose your card. If it’s a tie, you keep your card and no one gets points.

10. Each player has an identical deck to buy from.

 It turns out that the development of strategy and then fielding an appropriate force really matters, AND there are distinct choices that are meaningful, available and feasible.

If you are interested, we’d like you to review the rules, and :

  • 1. Buy your first round of forces
  • 2. Deploy them into the 5 regions for turn 1.
  • 3. Send your “Round 1” move to long-kenneth@conus.army.mil, along with a short description of your strategy

 We are interested in examining the variety of forces and the strategy employed in round 1.  Do you, for example:

1. Buy 4 ea 10s and a Joker to kill any enemy aces and retain max budget  flexibility to see what he has remaining?

2. Buy aces early to get a lead on victory points and then protect them?

3. Buy Jacks to kill 10s while still preserving SOME budgetary flexibility?

4. How do you balance economy of force with winning victory points? (efficiency vs effectiveness)

5. Variations?

 And then tactically employing forces, do you:

1. Put aces against 6 and 5 victory point regions?

2. Put 10s against 6 and 5s to hunt aces?

3. Aim for maximum victory points each round?

4. Aim to capture 11 of the 20 available points each round? (ie bluff on 6 and 3, but try to win 5,4,2?)

 In the actual play of the game we’ll look for adaptability and learning, and how strategies change after teams have played each other a couple times etc. 

We’ve play tested it enough to know there is a rich source of insights available in the game and that it is simple to play. We’ll  play it with decks of cards in the classroom 

We prototyped the game in our Force Management elective and are satisfied that that we generate student interest and insight into broader questions of Army force management in an interesting way.

 Here are some student insights gleaned from our playtesting:

1.  Round 1 results dominate the rest of your strategic choices, so getting Round 1 is crucial.

2.  Round 1 strategies are dominated by uncertainty because you have no information about your opponent’s strategy or adaptive style yet.

3. You have to decide when you want to buy strength: early and aim for quick wins, or later after you have seen pieces of the opponents forces and strategy.

4. Forecasting your opponents moves is problematic and make this more like poker than chess or bridge.

5. Aces are like the FCS: dominating until low-cost alternatives found the weakness. It wasn’t unit Aces were developed that the 10s became meaningful, so be alert to deep flaws in complex technologies.

6. Kings are costly but dominate the field; An opponent with Kings drives you to buy Aces but make you vulnerable to 10s.

6. Jacks (J) are a low cost success strategy against 10s, but can be incrementally be defeated by other mid-weight forces.

8. The costs of transforming cards between rounds is significant but manageable and may lead to strategic advantage. Scenario: You buy Aces on the first round and are successful, opponent buys 10s to kill your aces in the second round, but you trade down to Kings which dominate, and which remain difficult to defeat in subsequent rounds.

9. Deciding where (in what regions) to selectively deploy strength

10. Tactical results can overcome strategic insights and strategic failures. Tacrtics can be game changing.

11. What if the enemy has different victory conditions? Price points? Has different rules?

12. What if new cards are introduced after the first rule set is established?

13. How much would you pay to see the opponents’ hands?

14. What if there are partial wins? Or more than 2 teams playing?

15. Simple games can be powerful learning strategies

 Conclusions: the game serves as a way to dramatize very clearly many of our force management challenges and is a useful way to create rapid, deep awareness of prime issues in this domain.

 Here are some insights from a dedicated gamer and management game modeler:

I suspect that for most people’s first play they are strongly influenced by a form of Confirmation Bias: the As are priced higher, therefore new players conduct their analysis from the assumption that As are more valuable. Depending on the goals of your concrete experience, that may be the best argument for keeping the current price structure. However, an ace of spades loses to seven cards, including four cheap ones, where a KH loses to only four cards that are both expensive and vulnerable — the KH is easily the strongest card in the deck.

I assume trade-ins are secret — in fact that for all practical purposes players are operating behind a screen during their setup phase — because knowing whether your opponent has made any trade-ins is very valuable information. You may want to specify that in the rules.

 Given the prevalence of 10s in everyone’s first turn strategies, it seems like the second-cheapest strategy is far more optimal than the cheapest — that is four tens and a jack of spades. That marginal $15 gives you a pretty good shot at a victory somewhere, and a decent chance of carrying more net capital forward.

 Here are a selection of previously submitted moves for  Round 1: (* = Joker)

Strategy 1
Region Cards Strategy:                  Cost:  102   Carry forward: 48
6 10h I’m trying to kill aces while creating and deploying one, but putting it where it is unlikely to run into an ace-killer unless the other guys is trying an ace-killer strategy like mine.  I’ve got cheap on the ace I bought, which is a risk that may not be worthwhile. I’m expecting to kill an ace in either 6 or 5, win 4 outright, and lose in 3 and 2.  Expected results are thus 9.5 points to me, 10.5 points to the bad guys, I will lose approx $35 worth of cards and kill approx $70 worth.  The enemy is expected to have spent rather more than me, so I will have more cash with which to restructure in light of what I find out. Cost: 102
5 10c
4 As
3 10d
2 10s
Strategy 2
Region Cards Strategy:                   Cost:  150   Carry forward: 0       
6 10s 10 is the ace killer on 6, then we try to overpower each successive category on the way down.  Assumes aces go to 6, which rapidly becomes a tail-chasing assumption. 
5 As
4 Ks
3 Qs
2 Js
Strategy 3
Region Cards Strategy:                   Cost:  123   Carry forward: 27      
6 Jh Hunting the ace-killers, retaining some flexibility, winning early points 
5 10h
4 Ah
3 Jc
2 *
Strategy  4
Region Cards Strategy:                   Cost:  150   Carry forward: 0     
6 Ah Maximum strength in every region 
5 Ac
4 Qs
3 *
2 *
Strategy  5
Region Cards Strategy:                   Cost:  145   Carry forward: 5  
6 Ah Maximum strength in main regions, try to hunt an ace and kill 10s; accept risk in small region 
5 Ac
4 10s
3 Js
2 *
Strategy  6
Region Cards Strategy:                   Cost:  149   Carry forward: 1     
6 10s Hunt aces and accept risk in regions 5,6, steal points with aces & J in regions 2,3,4 
  1. April 16, 2010 at 6:15 am

    la 3D studio 3D

  1. October 6, 2009 at 12:33 pm
  2. October 6, 2009 at 12:34 pm

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