Sunday, 22 July 2018

CoW D-Day+1 [Part 2a - Saturday (up to dinner): Fighting my way off the beaches]

Saturday (morning, very early): I awoke with the birds, lots of them, that is of the feathered kind [they are always a noisy bunch when you are out camping]. The next experience with nature happened when I opened the tent flap and scattered a warren of rabbits that were seemingly taking unusual intense interest in my pitched tent strings. Thankfully the sun was up and it was such a beautiful day (no I didn't start singing [thankfuly]). However I found that I was not the earliest of the risers, as I approached the Hall I heard a "wargaming conversation" was already in progress between two old WD CoW die-hards sitting on the seats at the front of the hall (I think they had been to sleep). Meanwhile I showered, bimbled about [the 'bring and buy' is always a draw] and then followed the orderly queue into breakfast, a full-English is the best of starts to the day [again the food was simply first class, and none of the cereal stuff for me today].

Knuston Hall again (my tent was around the back on their vast 'sloping' lawns, though I did find a flat bit next to a picnic table to pitch up in):

Gametime: Now the first game intrigued me from a purely professional basis [I am in IT, please don't judge, I have to earn a living somehow] so the Red Team/Blue Team was a "must" and had been an early 'banker' on The Wall. Anybody who has been told to read a fifty page IT security document would really want to know if you could translate the process into a practical "active learning" exercise instead, even if for the sake of the amount of trees that had to be cut down to make the paper if nought else.

Playing: "Red Team/Blue Team" (by Mike Elliott). Mike controversially split the IT boys (and there were a few of us here) into one big baddie 'Red Hatter' Team ('V for Vendetta' Hackers). We were asked to play our natural opposites, to actively "hack" and "sin" which is always a good learning experience. Churlishly we met each others eyes and started grinning in naughty school boy fashion. We would get told off for doing this at work. Mike walked away knowingly - he had went through the exact same experience when he played it himself .. he knew we were going to have "fun" (and boy we did). The 'others' (Muggles?) had to protect a water treatment company from any invasive 'hacking' that stopped them functioning or caused distress. I guess they were told to 'be yourself' and go about your normal duties. The game was very realistic IMHO as we had what I call a 'man on the inside' (even though he didn't know it himself), the Finance Director (FD) who didn't want to spend any money on Cyber Security! After the Red Team had gotten over a "storming" phase of name dropping a multitude anecdotes of real-life cyber security "things" (the likes of Stuxnet and "Dancing Pigs") that we all had seen or heard happen, we did a clever thing and actually focused on the game. Our budget was 'our time spent' on what we wanted to do (we had 'three actions' to initiate per turn). The difficulty of these 'actions' progressed from 'Green' (easy, no prerequisites), 'Purple' (slightly harder needing a prerequisite Green action in play to achieve) and the deadly 'Black' (hard, which needs an appropriate 'Purple' action in play first, maybe even 'two' for the real nasty ones). We [Red Team] were hooked. Mike had put on a superb asymmetrical game - it was like watching the history of Vietnam play itself out - two different wars being fought. The 'Company' didn't see things until it was too or almost late and when they stopped one avenue of attack the focus simply shifted to another. One unsavoury finding was that the public perception of compromise was probably deadlier than physical destruction and knowledge (data) loss - you didn't have to do the crime to get the benefits of the crime. The plant was pumping clean water but Social Media was aflame with hacker activist scandal ["we managed to do this" - lists of passwords etc] and defamatory "Fake news" [cholera in the water] and slurs about the companies activities [CEO, MD, FD doing naughty things with company assets - all distractions from the data we were actually sucking out of the company]. In the end we were in through numerous 'open gates' but could also could in theory away to 'similar target' (another company) if the heat turned up too much. In fact we were given several 'blank cards' to devise new 'threat vectors' and ways of attack. That was fun! An unnamed academic (and there was a few of them about in the Red Team) at this point was spinning in a "I want to be able to break something physical" cycle for one last throw of the dice (too many Stuxnet seminars and case studies methinks). It had to be said that we fell short of that objective. Both sides were to be congratulated at the end of the game but I have to say that I felt somewhat 'professionally dirty' in how much fun I had at being 'bad', in doing so much 'pretend' damage 'just for the hell of it'. People will hack because they can. You can blame it on the tight-fisted FDs at the end of the day for simply making it all too easy IMHO.

Bob's Blog caught the game debrief on camera (but for the record I claim to be the 'one true hacker' as I am the only one positioned out of camera shot and so my identity is not revealed):
Read Team/Blue Team Participants - apart from me

End Note: Mike passed on these interesting resources (links) as the game was an extension of an existing Cyber Security game from the University of Lancaster (NOte: We did it without the Lego playing pieces):

Playing: "To Sail The Spanish Maine" (by Sue Laflin-Barker). This was a pleasurable CoW find of a game. One I can take home to the kids [the ship counters used in the game come from "The Battle for Britain - Wargame the Spanish Armada 1588 Peter Dennis" paper cut-out game - which I already have]. I also had the pleasure of meeting one-half of the Barkers and Sue was a delight as an umpire. A fleet (three players, twelve ships, four per player) of merchant ships make their way across the table (or rather Mediterranean) to seek cover of their home port after a long season of trading spices and exotic good for Spanish gold. A (bigger) dastardly Pirate fleet (four players, sixteen ships and again four players per ship) had other ideas, "booty be thar' me lubbers!" (See below, as the game unfolded the "fleets" intermingled and gunshot and cannonade was all heard in the 'minds eye [or should that be ear]"):

Thankfully tides and winds were factored into the game ingeniously, so it was no Napoleonic naval sailing course required before you could play (which is my pet hate of Napoleonic naval). All players had an arc of about 120 degrees in which they (randomly) could travel (1d6) and another (1d6) inches they would go. You could make tight turns but did not know exact;y where you were goinmg to end up. Bumping into somebody from your "own players fleet" (or rock) would mean "death" to you or the other. Line of battle formations it would not be, rather an unseemly scramble for safety. Combat was equally simple as a 1d6 roll higher wins sufficed. (See below, even if two ships "bumped" they fought):

With only one winner (see below):

It seemed we were 'tough' Merchants and they were 'poor' Pirates (just more of them). It also became apparent that the Merchants were up against a Pirate clan, as three out of four of the pirates were closely related (father, daughter) or married into (son-in-law) "the family". This was going to be interesting, either a slick oiled killing machine or internecine bloodshed? On the question of 'Tactics'? Everybody plotted a safe course, only to be confronted with other (friendly) players ships and dangerous reefs. The Merchants all laughed as a pirate ran aground and sank on a reef, but then cried as we "blue-on-blued" one of our own (time to call 'ship-insurance-claims are us!'). The Pirate patriarch reciprocated as he took out one of his son-in-laws (or possibly the 'unrelated' pirate's) ships. By the time the two fleets met four ships had been sunk by "geography" or "friendly bow-to-bow" action. All semblance of coordination had gone from the Merchants and it was "every man for himself". The Pirates were just "Out for booty!" Even stealing off other pirates if need be. By fortunate placement my ships were furthest away from the Pirates, so by fair winds and luck I managed to split the Pirate blockade-line and gain sanctuary of the harbour for the good ship "Henifer"(See below, a blurry picture due to the worsening sea-state, but the top smudge of 'blue' is the "Henifer" running safely to port betwixt and between angry [in the theatrical sense of the word] enemy pirates but under the safety of the harbour's land guns):

I had by the same fate lost my straggler, the little ship "Emma" and her treasure went  to the 'Pirate Queen' who had ran a succession of successful boarding actions. The "Emma's" captain had a brave plan to take the action to the pirates, but fell in battle and handed the Pirates more gold. The "Henifer's"cargo of gold was safely delivered to the port and was counted as nine chests but the Pirates had plundered more than fourteen, with many more valuable merchant ships driven way from port, to be picked off another day or battered by hostile stormy seas. So the Pirates claimed the Seas. I did mention the prospect of a trade agreement to the Pirates at the end of the game, to which the now firmly established Pirate Queen said "Yes, we'll just take what you got! Like it or leave it!" which seemed to conclude matters nicely in time for lunch. Farming seems a much better career prospect in hindsight ;)

Lunch: simply first class (and three courses), by this point I know I am going to be gaining weight this weekend, but I don't care and the deserts were to die for. I did have qualms and a moral dilemma regarding the England  v Sweden Quarter Final (betraying the national trust we were putting on the lads, but there seemed to be only three people who cared) but also I had nabbed a spot at the exclusive Tom Mouat DSTL Matrix Game "Reckoning of Vultures" which I simply felt I could not pass up - at exactly the same time as the game ... I went to the Matrix Game, I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do and the Swedish strikers had been pretty poor.

Playing: A Reckoning of Vultures (by Tom Mouat). Immediately upon entering "the room" I knew that I was in amongst hardened semi-professional players by the poker-faced demeanour and sparkling intensity of the eyes with everybody unconscious smiling in anticipation. Tom's light-hearted ambience was contrasted the seriousness implied by the setting-up a video camera to capture for posterity all the proceedings (I hope subtitles will be added to aid the understanding of my northern guttural accent!). Hmm, my playing field had suddenly been elevated from the Pirate-Merchant "fun" game. The unpacked "DSTL authorised" Matrix Game Kit had lots of bits ([and I mean lots] I could almost hear Rex Brynen's PaxSims voice speaking as the box was opened). We all stared at the rather daunting number of counters. Tom muttered to himself while reading the scenario description from what reminded me of the beloved Command Magazine zip-lock game instruction booklet. Next our roles were chosen at random (though Tom offered freely to let people have their psychological "preferences": Secret Police, Normal Police, Head of Armed Forces, Oligarch and last of all the Union [Toiler] representative - which is a good 'role playing' tip but no one stood up to be type cast). I was assigned "The Toilers" - and by my brief it was made clear to me that everybody thought I was the lowest of the low (fine - I am the newbie after all). Everybody not so much hated The Toilers (aka workers), but as is in this regime rather expected to be able to boss me around. The affront on these people wanting rights and an opinion on matters. Ho hum, I would be "idealistically" pure to the impoverished underclass as everybody else raced for money and power, then possibly sneak a win in through the back door.

At this point I made an "informal" player friend as the Head of the Secret Police informed me that his wife would be texting "goals" in the England v Sweden match with a wink (he cannot be all that bad after all, despite the uniform) . At least I had inner peace that I was not totally deserting my country in its hour of need. This game was a Matrix Games (DSTL style) and my first 'raw' in the flesh active (you suffer the consequences of your mistakes) Matrix Game. I had high expectations of Tom and he did not let me down, as what I got was a 'tour de force' of Matrix Game umpiring, seeing a master of his craft at play was enlightening. At first we (the players) jockeyed for power around the ailing dictator (whose health started at 10 and took a 1d6 "dive" per turn, until he flat-lines at zero) showing concern at the terminal signs of departure. The players were given tokens that represented their levers of power. A token was assumed to have "relative equality" those each with intrinsic properties [aka a "Tank" would expect to have strong fighting prowess in an 'open' fight]. You could also undermine other player's tokens by placing your influence tokens on them (a word in their ear, or cash in their back pocket so to speak). Something rather 'sneaky' that all the players liked, even if they would not openly admit it. You could see the players early on try to establish their power base without overt confrontation. The "map" had iconic representations of "power (VP) centres" that could change hands, many times, during the course of play. Trebian has two excellent photograph of the "Chief Toilers" (me) toiling over where to place them to make a mark on the map (the "Toilers" deployed last and their power-base was naturally away from the centre of political power and influence [the political "Ministries" and the like]). Note: In the game the Secret Policeman referred to me as "Mr Hopper" - I was obviously on "his list" of undesirables to get rid of. 

The Photo-shoot: Please see Trebian's site for the pictures of the game in progress (click below to see the "Toiler" (me) placing me initial tokens to the 'folded armed disgust' of the Police Chief and the look of alarm on the Head of the Armed Force's face, the Secret Police Chief (Secret Policeman) is naturally out of picture and the Oligarch is taking the picture with a high spec jewel encrusted camera. Tom is to the far left knowing all will not end well [he's after all read the scenario brief in full] despite the players high-hopes, [Note: Only two 'player characters' will walk away from this one and there are five in the room]:

A better shot of the "Chief Toiler's" cranial dome, the Oligarch cheekily said he had to turn the flash setting off on this one for fear of "glare" (see below):

Back to the game: As stated the power play was 'subtle' (non overt) at first as players tried to consolidate their position quietly and clear out the "bad influences" of other players on their home patch. The Secret Policeman and the Oligarch obviously shared no love for each other and the "kit" of the Head of the Armed Forces had to be respected. The sequence of play went as follows: the active player stated the action/outcome they wished to achieve because of the "rule of three" (antecedent conditions) reasons why it "could" happen. Tom (as umpire) was arbitrator of this reason as the opponents raised objections to the validity of reasoning (ranging from the logical to far-fetched, including some whimsical arguments along the way with a DRM of +3 to -3). Assuming a normal distribution of likelihoods (unless it was a done deal) dice were thrown, following the two standard deviations rule, an unlikely event had to throw high, but even simple task could fail on a low outlier dice roll. Normally (or when possible) you 'stacked' the outcome by throwing in an asset like cash. 

The pedestrian manner was abruptly broken by the Secret Policeman successfully poisoning the Head of the Armed Forces [Ugh? - Cheeky!] and "getting away with it" (very risky as this very overt action took place under the very nose of the ailing "Leader for Life"who liked smart uniforms, shiny medals and tanks). To the Secret Policeman's horror "another" Head of the Armed Forces" [this time the Air Force] took his place - he was hoping to remove the player, no such luck he had just rather annoyed him instead! "No holds barred play soon took over from this point" especially as the ailing Dictator "croaked" on the next turn. The "Toilers" meanwhile let the armed psychopaths "knife fight it in a telephone box" and appealed to God. Well actually we gave the Bishop money to buy influence (Napoleon said always treat the Pope as if he has 100,000 men and given the likely outcomes of this game my player character may need a good word in the afterlife). This stunned the gun totting gamers (does not compute), including Tom. It worked and I now had a direct line to the Matrixian Pope (which could earn an end of game VP according to my brief), the same line (without the money) subsequently worked for the Matrixian Muslim Cleric - will all this faith stuff stop the bullets though? Meanwhile there were tanks on bridges, gunfights in the Central Bank and circulation of corrupted Police away from sensitive areas (the Oligarch's money was a bane to the Chief of Police). The game ticker was also winding down as politicians from other parts of Matrixia headed to the capitol to decide the "Leader for Life" succession. The Head of the Armed forces was alarmed by my quiet seizure [I asked the Oligach's thugs guarding the refinery to go home and they did] of the important Oil Refinery (as well as the docks, road transport and power plant ["Workers of the World unite, our God(s) are with us!"]).

Enter the Head of the Armed Forces elite "Matrixian Marines (wearing nice berets) transported on the Matrixian Navy's (one) landing craft to conduct a text book amphibious landing - 'text book' because it was not opposed. The workers looked on, saw the guns and then went home (again to my delight the "soldiers" did not see that simple response coming - workers don't work under duress). Congratulations Mon General you now own one non-functioning, potentially very dangerous (aka read "ticking time bomb"), complex oil refinery with lots of flashing red lights and buzzers going off. To distract the General from this dilemma the Oligarch's elite ex-Spetnaz bully boys (although I likened them more to "night-club bouncers" in sun-glasses) attacked and were unceremoniously repulsed (see, I thought the Oligarch's boys were big sissies in sun-glasses wearing ill-fitting suits). It came to my turn and I played my blinder move [a I'm happy I can go home now move]. I had disposed of my tangible assets with donations to the church but turned to Tom and said "I am going to raise my reserve mob forces [something even Tom had forgotten about - he had to double check my brief], fuelled by anger at the disrespectful actions of the Army [sic Marines] and funded by the Oligarch [to which Trebian went "Eh, OK but only if you attack this turn" damn him, that was rather astute otherwise I would have the biggest private army on the board for next turn] and attack the Marines in the refinery." Even the Secret Policeman and Chief of Police were on my side. "The Battle of the Pipes and Oil Drums" was very short, the tactic of making a lot of noise by clanging pots and pans together and firing shots in air caused the Marines to run away [we've all seen Aliens II - no firing 'hot' ammunition in a refinery full of explosive gases, I can understand it from their perspective]. They even left their pretty "berets" behind in their rush to get away. I was at the height of my success then reports of cavalcades of black limousines full of regional politicians entering the capitol came in. The succession vote counting had already started, damn! [Was this hubris?] This was a turn or two, too early for me, as I had planned a popular uprising at the University and a Demonstration into Parliament on the following two turns as I planned to mobilise the last of my reserve. I had planned to sweep the streets with anarchy, I even had the pamphlets printed. Instead we all had a VP tot up and one of those awful 2D6 dice rolls to make .. unfortunately I rolled low and was eliminated. I held my head up high even when the Head of the Armed Force's (#1) and Oligarch's (#2 [his money saved him]) Death Squads came looking for the Secret Policeman, the Police Chief and the Toiler Chief that night. Another despot Leader for Life assumed power this time wearing an Air Force uniform plus peacock feathered hat.

Conclusion: It was a most satisfying game (I believe several resistance songs have already been written about "The Battle of the Pipes and Drums"), even though my player character was dumped unceremoniously from the dock-side into river in the dead of night, along with the Secret Policeman and the Chief of Police. It was a really, really good game and I felt I experienced a lot. In short a well run matrix game is definitely a strong educational tool as well as being fun. Matrix Games also link strongly to Confrontational Analysis and looking back to the Red Team/Blue Team game, some of its mechanics (a chain of Green, Purple and Black actions) could easily be transported into the Matrix Game framework if you are looking for a more formalised game definition (which I think DSTL are). England 2, Sweden 0: even better no need for penalties, bring on Croatia [Oh!].

Dinner beckoned ... to be continued.


Trebian said...

Good to see you enjoyed the game. You write with the zeal of the convert. As several of us had played a lot of matrix games together before I think you benefited a little from people "getting their retaliation in first". Yes, the HOSP and I have history...

Geordie an Exiled FoG said...


Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

There certainly was a "smokey" poker room "big game" expectation set about this one ;)

The "HOSP" (Secret Policeman)? I will have to Google that. I felt that Jerry was biding his time "waiting for his moment".

I must admit several weeks on and I am still buzzing from CoW :)

Trebian said...

HOSP is a simple acronym for "Head of Secret Police". We have been playing African dictator matrix games for probably 20 years or so now.

Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Thank you :)