Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 05/06/2011

Origins War College Update

With the annual Origins Game Fair rapidly approaching (22-26 June 2011, Columbus, Ohio) rapidly approaching, we asked Brant Guillory of GrogNews to update us on the various “staff wargames” that will be available as part of the Origins War College.

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What the Heck is a “Staff Wargame” Doing at a Game Convention?

So there are a bunch of Origins War College events listed in the Origins master event grid as “role-playing”. Now I know what you’re thinking – what the heck is an RPG event doing in the seminar area the Origins has set aside for military and historical lectures, panels, and seminars? In the meantime, those of us who help run the events can only shrug and point out the following:

  1. There’s no “wargame” event grid anymore, so the best natural fit isn’t there
  2. When you think about it, you really are more in a role-playing event than anything else.

Lemme ‘splain… Players take on roles in a military staff and plan and execute an operation using a wargame… you’ve gotta keep up with current situation and changes to the plan while the fight’s going on. You’ve got an assignment within the command post in a military unit and during the course of the battle you manage your appropriate functional area, as the operations guy, or the intel guy, or fire support guy, and you’re all working together against the OPFOR. It’s a cooperative experience that’s well-guided along by Dr Sterrett and the rest of the gang that’s been doing this a few years. There’s no “wasting time” because at some point the enemy comes rolling over the hill.

It’s a chance to learn what a military exercise looks like, within the context of a cooperative game, and play your way through the scenario in near-real time.

This is a tabletop exercise for the participants. We run a computer for the adjudication, though – mainly to speed things up and be able to project the current situation really, really big on the wall. We’re using a variety of computer games for the event so that we can have a scripted/AI opponent, and not worry about how we’re going to fight something head-to-head.

Complexity of the game being used is irrelevant (and in the case of Decisive Action, can be kinda high-but-still-irrelevant). We act as the filter between you and the game to ensure the plans you guys develop are put into the game properly, and the actions you choose during the play of the game get input by one of us so you can focus on your role, and not on fiddling with the game. (The only exception to the “cooperative” model might be Persian Incursion, which will be head-to-head teams if we get enough people.)

Now, do you need to know how to make the computer do stuff to come play in the event? Nope. The players are all gathered around paper maps and tables, just like a military command post. They are reacting to what’s happening in the game, but are not directly controlling the game. We’ve got someone who works the game inputs for them so they can focus on their roles. In the case of Flashpoint Germany, our puckster is the guy who wrote the code. In the case of the Strategic Counterinsurgency game, the puckster is the guy who designed the code (uh… me).

These are official events in the War College, and you either need a War College ribbon or generic tokens to participate. The schedule, with event numbers:

  • WED 1800-2200: Battles for the Bulge (event #6061) From Panther Games, with a pretty tough AI. The players are operating at the division/corps level. Tactics are a part of this one, but it also has more logistics play than any of the others.
  • THU 1100-1500: Flashpoint Germany (event #6156) Players are a BN/SQN staff. This is the most tactical of all the games, with lots of tanks, scouts, helicopters, and close action.
  • THU 1800-2200: Strategic Counterinsurgency (event #6254) We’re using a game that’s actually in use at the National Defense University, with a recently-retired NDU staffer helping out. Players must balance military ops with other “levers” in controlling the counterinsurgency (econ, governance, etc).
  • FRI 0900-1300: Naval Wargame (event #6384) The last I heard, this will be a Solomon Islands campaign, but it might’ve changed, as I’m not heavily involved in this one. Sorry I don’t have more details.
  • SAT 0900-1300: Decisive Action wargame (event #6629) This one is in use at the Army’s Command & General Staff College for training division operations. This one is a fine balance of a lot of moving parts in ground combat, as you have a lot of tactical pieces out there to manage, and yet have a tough logistical balancing act to do, too. (For more on tactical logistics, see here.)
  • SAT 1500-1900: Persian Incursion wargame (event #6715) We’re trying something new with this one, in using a board game in the middle of the room as the adjudication engine. This is the most experimental of all the games, as we’ve honestly never run one like this before. The focus is on the air campaign.

I think the best endorsement of how much fun people are having is how many unplanned repeat players we get each year. By that I mean people who bought tickets specifically for one of the events, but are back 3 hours later for the next one w/ generic tokens because they had so much fun with the first one. One quote from ConSimWorld was “I was able to participate in the Staff Wargaming (Flashpoint Germany) event at last year’s ORIGINS. It was the highlight of the CON for me.” We *love* this kind of feedback!

For those who care, the other stuff I’m doing at the OWC:

  • THU 1600-1800: Moderating the panel on Designing for Effect at the Origins War College
  • FRI 1400-1600: Moderating the panel on Games and Sims for Military Training at the Origins War College
  • SAT 1300-1400: attending the talk Eyeball to Eyeball with the Soviets: The Early Days of Arms Control at the Origins War College
Brant Guillory 
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