Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 15/06/2013

Virtual MORS: Train on “Developments in Commercial Insurgency Wargames”

It is the second day of the Military Operations Research Society (MORS) 81.1 Virtual Symposium , and Brian Train has just delivered a very useful overview of recent developments in the wargaming of insurgency and counterinsurgency within the commercial/hobby sector.

Ploughing in the COIN Field: Developments in Commercial Insurgency Wargames  

COINfieldWhatever their medium, wargames produced for a professional military audience are different in their intention, focus and execution from those produced for the civilian market. And yet, professional military gaming, which started 200 years ago as a training aid, did spawn the “commercial” market for civilian hobby gamers in the 1960s. There has always been a certain level of overlap between the two worlds, with examples both of comercial games used by the military, and of civilianized versions of military games repackaged and released onto the open market. The purpose of this presentation is to talk about manual wargames on irregular warfare topics that have appeared on the commercial market, the challenges of designing and playing them (and getting them played), and the possible uses and insights they may hold for the professional wargaming community.

In the presentation, Brian suggested that COIN games had not historically been very popular among hobbyists, because the topic itself was morally ambiguous and unglamorous; variables are difficult to quantify; both the conflicts themselves and the games that address them involve asymmetric situations with unfamiliar  mechanics; and because such wars involve abstracted play of a nebulous conflict with no clear endpoint. HE suggested that hobby gamers can be quite conservative in accepting the new and unusual game mechanics necessary to model irregular warfare.

He also highlighted what he saw as the main elements of a good COIN game design, namely that the game show the relative importance of the various factors shaping outcomes; that it feature asymmetry of means, methods, objectives and information; that there be transparent assumptions and mechanisms (one of the shortcomings of computer games, in Brian’s view); and that it be mutable. He emphasized that such games are not meant to be strongly definitive or predictive, but ideally they should stimulate discussion.

The presentation generated some interesting questions from the audience.

  • What is the social science body of knowledge embodied in these games? Wargames encode a framework and body of knowledge about the domain, but if the assumptions are wrong, mistraining may result.  Immersive training is known to especially bad in this regard, as wrong lessons are learned very vividly.
  • DoD has struggle to build COIN operations research models. The general conclusion is that the responses and impacts are almost completely depend on the situation. Do you agree? Can wargames help fill the lack of quantitative COIN models?
  • The games can engage some reward mechanisms, and so they can train a person towards rewarded behaivors. What are the advantages and dangers in terms of counter insurgency games with red team option?
  •  Do agent-based models have a role in conducting analysis or ability to be utilized as part of a COIN game?
  • Can you expand a bit on the game design trade-offs between playability versus accuracy in the commercial sector?

You can download Brian’s presentation slides here. Much of the presentation involved analysis of the various games featured on the slides. That analysis isn’t in the slides themselves, however, so we’ll post the recording if and when it becomes available. In the meantime, you can also check out Brian’s useful list of links at

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