Radically Inept
Monday, May 24, 2004
  Games I like to play

I like Poker, Blackjack, Pool and NSDM. The latter is a game that teaches you a great deal about government. As they put it:
So, what is this game about?
The NSDM Game recreates real-world international crises of the present or immediate future. Ideas for scenarios are taken from current headlines and developing trends. Players take the parts of national leaders, dignitaries, ambassadors, military leaders, and political groups and are given the opportunity to try and solve all the world's problems.

At the opening of the game Controllers will select a scenario appropriate for the number of players present. Players are assigned places within a Country or Organization cell, typically representing major world powers like the US, Russia, China, Japan, Great Britain, France, Germany, Iran, Israel, etc. And organizations like the international media, the UN, NATO, and the EU. Available player cells change with each game, and not all countries are represented in each scenario. In some games countries will be played by Controllers.

Each player is assigned a role and a set of motivations and goals. The object of the game is to play your role well and to accomplish your assigned goals. In some cases players have conflicting goals, just like in real life. As a player you spend time negotiating with allies and enemies, making deals to gain you or your country more power, more weapons, more food, or a national chain of convenience stores. Some players will have roles which require them to set a national budget for the country they represent, in order to fund actions of the military, state, intelligence, research, and business players. Other players, both within and outside of your cell, may be working with you or against you in order to further their own goals. Your opportunities are limited only by your imagination and ambition.
Well, I played the short, 4 hour, introductory version of the game last year at DragonCon. Their standard game is eight hours, and includes a great deal of time fighting over share of the national budget. During the game you start to get an idea of how complex and chaotic things are/can get in national/international politics. In the game I played, I wound up playing the Secretary of State. I had a personal mission of trying to establish a 3 brigade sized, international emergency response unit. I also had a $billion that I had somehow freed from my budget to apply to this goal. During the course of the game, the Turks (in the form of one of the controllers) offered me a three brigade force for peace keeping in Iraq. Now, I turned the offer down, which may have cost me the game (I could have had my three brigades, and than used my $billion to bargain for some other goal), but somehow, I knew that letting three Turkish brigades operate in the Kurdish zone would have caused severe repercussions (in real life). The guy who won, the head of the CIA, arranged for us to secretly 'steal' a damaged Russian submarine off the coast of Hawaii, which almost got us into war with the Russians. He did it w/o the president or the Sec State(me) knowing about it. In fact, it was startling how little control the president has over the agency and dept heads.

The other thing that was eye opening, was have a controller walk up to you while you are in the middle of negotiating, say with the Chief of Staff of the Army, and ask, "What are you doing about the uprising in Sudan?" The first time something like that happens, you get a 'dear in the head lights' kind of look, but later you learn to look to the 'news' board, and you'd see NY Times is reporting a Sudanese uprising. And now you have to scramble for a response. Do ask the President what he wants to do? Do you just go ahead and make a statement? And, about the time you get moving on the problem, some controller walks up and tells you that so-and-so, president of so-and-so has been assassinated, or there's a coup in Brazil, what is your response.

And that's the thing, the president is trapped in an ever shorter news cycle, and has no contol over it (in the game I mean). News happens, you react, you have very little time to work on your own goals, and you aren't really in control of the people you appointed.

So, if you get the chance to play The National Security Decision Making Game, I highly recommend it. At least once. I found the game to be depressingly real, and best played by the cunning and ruthless - much like real life politics. I'm disappointed that they won't be at the 'Con this year, but here's the NSDM Con Schedule, maybe you can work it in to yours. 
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