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The Game

Dark Networks focuses on the organizational structure of terrorist groups and how these structures can be altered to make the terrorist group more or less effective. It reinforces many of the concepts and ideas from the field of social network analysis (SNA). It is a two-player, strategic game between the state and the terrorist. Each player may have a strategy to defeat the other, but they must adapt their strategies over time to maximize their advantages. 


  • Terrorists/Insurgents
  • State


Concepts from SNA: This game reinforces several key concepts from social network analysis: nodes and links, and the importance of size, centrality, and external ties.   

Security/Effectiveness Tradeoff:  The core tradeoff in this game is between security and effectiveness for the terrorist group. Measures taken to increase effectiveness (growing, centralizing) will diminish the terrorist group's security, and vice versa. This forces players to think about which attribute (security or effectiveness) they wish to maximize. This will change depending on the timing in the game and players' strategies.

The core tradeoff for the State is applying limited resources to detection or prevention and the optimal time to invert those tradeoffs.

State view of Dark Network early in game.

Playing the Game

The terrorist player can take several types of actions to change the structure of the network and/or the activities it engages in.  It can grow or shrink, centralize or decentralize, conduct attacks, increase its popular support, and gather resources that are necessary to conduct attacks.

While the terrorist player sees the entirety of the terrorist network, the state player sees only a few nodes to begin the game.   The state can gather  intelligence to learn more about the network and reveal more nodes and links.  The state can also deny resources to the terrorist, kill/capture specific nodes, deny the terrorist's popular support, and increase its security presence to mitigate the effects of terrorist attacks.  The state, like the terrorist, can only take three actions every turn.  This game highlights the dilemmas of a state operating with incomplete information and limited resources (actions per turn).


Winning the Game

Generally, the game ends after the 15th turn. For the terrorist to win, it must raise the terror level to a certain point.  If it fails to do so by the final turn, then the state wins. 

Terror level by the final turn of the game: 0-20% strong Blue win, 20-40% weak Blue win, 40-60% draw, 60-80% weak Red win, 80-100% strong Red win

Terrorists View of Their Own Dark Network.

90%-100% terror level for four consecutive turns ends game immediately with a terrorist victory

Popular support below 30% for four consecutive turns ends the game immediately with State victory

Popular support can be affected negatively or positively by both players via attacks, propaganda, social services and conducting information operations.


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