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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]

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Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Want to Live as Long as an Olympian? Become a Chess Grandmaster
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images

It’s well known that physical fitness can help prolong your life, so it’s not surprising that elite athletes, like Olympians, tend to have longer lifespans than your average couch potato. But it seems that “mind sports” can help keep you alive longer, too. According to BPS Research Digest, a recent study suggests that international chess grandmasters have lifespans comparable to Olympic athletes.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, examined the survival rates of 1208 mostly male chess grandmasters and 15,157 Olympic medalists from 28 countries, and analyzed their life expectancy at 30 years and 60 years after they attained their grandmaster titles. They found that both grandmasters and Olympic medalists exhibited significant lifespan advantages over the general population. In fact, there was no statistical difference between the relative survival rates of chess champions and athletic champions.

There are several variables that the study couldn’t take into account that may be linked to chess players’ long lifespans, though. Grandmasters often employ nutritionists and physical trainers to keep them at their best, according to the researchers, and exercise regularly. Economic and social status can also influence lifespans, and becoming a world-champion chess player likely results in a boost in both areas.

Some research has shown that keeping your mind sharp can help you in old age. Certain kinds of brain training might lower the risk of developing dementia, and one study found that board game players in particular have slightly lower rates of dementia.

If keeping the mind sharp with chess really does extend lifespans, the same effect might apply as well to elite players of other “mind sports,” like Go, poker, or competitive video games. We’ll need more research to find out.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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Mantic Games, Kickstarter
Hellboy Board Game Raises More Than $1 Million in Two Days on Kickstarter
Mantic Games, Kickstarter
Mantic Games, Kickstarter

When fans were asked to head to Kickstarter to help make a Hellboy board game a reality, they didn’t waste any time. Twenty minutes after the campaign launched on April 25, it had already reached its funding goal of $140,000. By May 1, the total was already past $1.2 million, with nearly 10,000 backers responding.

The game will be based on the Hellboy comic books by writer/artist Mike Mignola, who debuted the character in 1993 and has had a home at Dark Horse Comics ever since. The game lets you control one of four heroes from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) including Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman, and Johann Kraus, as you “explore gothic locations, hunt down clues, discover artifacts, fight horrific creatures, and face off against terrifying bosses,” according to the Kickstarter page.

The game pits you against threats that could wipe out humanity, and it’s your job to gather enough information about them before Earth’s destruction. But there are choices to make along the way, according to Mantic Games on Kickstarter. “Do you spend valuable time investigating the scene to find a vital piece of the puzzle that could expose a crucial weakness of your foe, but risk the Impending Doom track reaching its devastating finale? Or do you forget the clues and rush through to a final confrontation before the monster has gathered its strength? No one said being a BPRD Agent would be easy.”

The game comes with PVC plastic models of classic Hellboy heroes and villains, as well as giant monsters like the Conqueror Worm. The Kickstarter exclusive box even features artwork by Mignola, along with power-up cards decorated with illustrations from the comics.

You can still back the project and help it move toward its remaining stretch goals, which would unlock better quality cards and a Right Hand of Doom token. Hellboy: The Board Game is expected to ship in February 2019 and is priced at £69.99, or about $95.

[h/t io9]

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