Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

MORS workshop on professional gaming: the course


The MORS special meeting on Professional Gaming started yesterday in Fairfax, VA with a day-long introductory course on wargaming. As was the case at recent Connections conferences too, many or most in the audience were already fairly experienced.

PGW IconMike Garrambone introduced the course, and offered a brief introduction to the various topics that would be covered:

  • Introduction to wargames and technology
  • Fundamentals of wargames
  • Characteristics of wargames
  • Wargames and technology processes
  • Special topics (scenario, preparation, game, seminar)

There was far more substantial content to the day than I can adequately summarize, so this blog post should be seen as little more than an overview. I’ll post a link to the presentation slides when and if they become available.

Mike identified seven elements of a wargame, expanding on each in his presentation:

  1. Objectives
  2. Scenario
  3. Players and sides
  4. Database
  5. Models
  6. Rules, procedures, and umpires
  7. Game analysis

He noted that wargaming is a tool for gaining insights, a source for questions, an aid to practical decision-making, a way to organize technical facts in useful ways, a technique to explore feasibility and implications, and a method of communicating ideas in vivid ways.


Bob Leonhard (Johns Hopkins University) discussed some key fundamentals. Quite rightly, he started with the centrality of purpose and the tensions and miscommunication that can arise between game designers on the one hand controllers and clients/sponsors on the other. He summarized the strengths of wargames, but also addresses the limitations, weaknesses, and dangers too. These points included:

  • wargames diverge from reality
  • wargames don’t convey the battlefield “fear of death”
  • (large, complex) wargames are not inexpensive
  • wargames should not be use to conclusively prove/disprove
  • wargames may hide their models, assumptions, and limits

Mike then returned with a discussion of the wargame-exercise-experimentation environment, the roles of participants, and some of the challenges of red teaming. After lunch, he then expanded on scenario development and game preparation. This included discussion of US Department of Defense structure and its representation in player roles and games.


Finally, participants played a sample (and somewhat simplified) game of Wings of War, both as an introduction to wargaming and as a spur to discussion of wargame execution and analysis. Sadly, my SPAD VII was set alight early in the dogfight, and took heavy fire damage before being shot down in a later burst. Subsequent discussion focused on analysis of aircraft capabilities and assessment of the game system. Certainly the game highlighted for me how much I would have liked my aircraft to have self-sealing fuel tanks and a fire suppression system!


Today the main workshop begins, and runs through to Thursday. I’ll be participating in Working Group 8, which is a rapid prototyping session in which participants will conceptualize and design a game on a contemporary military or political-military topic. I’ll post a report to PAXsims when it is all over

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