Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

Cyber Ops: A Game by Lt Col T. Gwyddon ‘data’ Owen

Offside Review by Nick Luft

Data visited CLWG to play test his game about Cyber Ops. Data is a Lieutenant CHooded Hacker - Cyberwarfareolonel in the USAF and is in the UK in a secondment post with the RAF.

Data asked all the players to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before taking part in this game. I have thus passed this offside review to Data for modification so that I do not breach the NDA.  Dstl has given authorisation for this redacted review to be released, provided that the details of the game and how it works remains confidential. All participants are reminded that the NDA remains in force.

The Game

The game encourages players to think outside of the confines of the game and to discuss as the game progresses.

The players were broken into sub teams, the Commander, Mukul; Capabilities, James and Jim; and Plans and Intelligence, Jon and myself. Capabilities were the guys with the cyber tools, the rest of the teams are self-explanatory.

Working Game Title

During the discussion Mukul christened the game “A Breach Too Far” in response to Data’s phlegmatic statement that all systems are breachable, it’s how you detect them and react to them that is important.

Game Play

In our game, Data gave Capabilities what he considered to be the standard toolbox of cyber tools, based on his experience of what should be available.  The game includes several resources and constraints to ensure that players are forced to consider their actions before taking them.

There are a lot of rules to ensure the game plays well – both as a game and as a training tool.  Balancing those two relies on a robust ruleset. The first few turns are critical to teaching the players what options are available to them and ensuring they think as broadly as possible.

Critical Comments

What went well

We managed to play three full turns. At the end of that we had a rich experience developing. We had expended a relatively large amount of resources, had made good progress and had developed what we thought was a good strategy for success.  Our ability to execute that strategy depended on our performance as a team, the opposition and the fog & friction designed into the game.

The game worked really well. It developed in front of us so we were able to see the scenario build and allowed us to develop our own strategies for tracking items of interest to us as well as to measure our own risk. There was very much a sense of shared experience between all the players.

Even better if

Play of “Gather” Cyber weapons

I was a little concerned that some of the action plays required intervention to make their options clear to the players. For example, when we played a Gather we had three different options for the type of results that we could have. I thought this overcomplicated play.

It could have been made more obvious if we played a token with the cyber weapon that made the decision more clear (like spending money).

Or you could take away this extra decision from the players and instead draw random results from the relevant pack for each successful “gather” played.

Making actions more obvious to the players.

One of the challenges the game faces is making the large number of options easily understandable by players. I would suggest these costs are written out on a ‘cheat sheet’ or similar easy reference.

Resources

This occurred to me on the train back home. I think some of the resources should replenish over time to better reflect reality.  So rather than accumulate the costs over the entire game they should accumulate only for a turn and then be removed. Perhaps some remainder could carry over to the next turn.  I would suggest that we add a game turn risk. At the end of each turn a dice is rolled against current resource ratings to see if the team avoids a penalty.

All Costs Displayed

Perhaps all the costs of using a capability could be displayed on a card. I know Jim suggested that the size of the area used to showing card resolution details should be switched with the information area. But a second row could be added to show the modified costs of a target to lessen the cognitive burden of players.

Player Roles

I did not think there was enough decision making for certain player roles.

Our experience may not have been representative, but the workload of the team was not evenly distributed across the respective team members.  I recommend revising the team roles or game mechanics to help re-balance this. This may have been personality-based as well.

For a boardgame, perhaps the roles could be enhanced by giving each their own resources which we could choose to play. But I am not sure how that would work. I am just worried that these roles do not pass the “so what test”.

Developments

Opposition

I suggested to Data that he could get another team to draw up their protected domain for the scenario. Perhaps the opposition could be observers of the game and watch their network being attacked? Perhaps one of the designers would be the facilitator? Perhaps he could have two teams playing live against each other, though that would be an entirely different game.

Boardgame Variant

In effect Data’s game is a cooperative game. All the team are playing together to achieve the same objective. There several published boardgames game that use cooperative game play, like Pandemic. This is a game where players cooperate to fight against various diseases across the globe. They deploy there resources to best defeat the disease etc.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/157789/pandemic-contagion

If it is to be turned into a boardgame I think Data needs to revisit the design of his materials and make some of the complexity disappear onto the text or play. I have reservations about the player roles, perhaps improving the decisions each players can take. I would not think a boardgame version could cope with more than 3 to 5 players.

A boardgame would also require the removal of hidden factors.  This would have to be amended in a board game.

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