The CIA Uses Board Games as Training Tools

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Working for the CIA is serious business. But that doesn’t mean the agency’s top operatives don’t know how to have fun while sharpening their skills. As Ars Technica reports, the CIA uses specially designed board and card games to train its officers. They unveiled the activities at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

Unlike other exercises that focus on the individual, success in these games depends on teamwork. "This game is really about value of collaboration," David Clopper, the CIA senior collection analyst who launched the game program in 2008, told Ars Technica. "We saw [game sessions] where people took the time to talk to one another ... They tended to win. The tables where someone would go on their own and do what they wanted, or do their own thing, or didn't collaborate until too late, they couldn’t catch up to the crises. It was a simulation of what we do, but also teaching the importance of working together."

The games played by CIA agents look similar to some titles on store shelves. Collection, for instance, is like Pandemic in that players collaborate to solves global crises. There’s also Collection Deck, a card game that Clopper compared to Magic: The Gathering. Only instead of mythical creatures, participants work to collect government intel.

Another game, called Kingpin: The Hunt for El Chapo is "about finding a fugitive from justice who, if not found sooner than later, will likely do harm to innocent people and harm U.S. interests," according to CIA intelligence educator and game co-designer Volko Ruhnke.

Government agencies have used board games as strategy tools for centuries. Before Risk was published in 1957, Kriegspiel was a favorite war game of the Prussian army in the 19th century. A similar tabletop game was used by Japanese forces to plan the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Whether or not hunting El Chapo sounds like your idea of a good time, you won’t be able to do so with these games. They were briefly shared with members of the public during a special event at SXSW. Now that it’s over, the only way to play games like Collection is with government clearance.

[h/t Ars Technica]