Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Getting the most out of your wargame


At War on the Rocks today, PAXsims associate editor Ellie Bartels has some ideas on getting the most out of your wargame:

Wargaming is enjoying a renaissance within the Department of Defense, thanks to high-level interest in wargaming as a way to foster innovation. However, for this surge of wargaming to have a positive impact, these wargames must be designed well and used appropriately. For decision-makers with limited wargaming experience, this can be a daunting challenge. Wargames can be deceptively simple — many do not even use complicated computer models — so it is all too easy to assume that no specialized skills are needed for success. At the same time, wargames are hugely diverse: interagency decision-making seminars that involve conflict without fighting, crisis simulations adjudicated by subject matter experts, and operational warfare in which outcomes are determined by complex computer models. For sponsors who may have only seen one or two games, it can be hard to understand the full range of wargaming possibilities and the common approaches that underpin them all. How can a sponsor discern whether wargames and the resulting recommendations are actually worthwhile?

Her eight main points—what we like to think of as “Bartel’s Rules“—are:

  1. Not all problems can be helpfully analyzed with a wargame.
  2. Wargames should have a specific and relevant purpose and objectives.
  3. Wargame design should be shaped to meet purpose and objectives.
  4. Blue losing is a sign of a fair game and a terrific learning opportunity.
  5. Wargame design isn’t over when the game starts.
  6. Those who learn the most from wargames are those who participate in them.
  7. Transparency in wargame results is critical to justify faith in findings.
  8. Wargames are most valuable when they are linked to a “cycle of research”.

Those interested in how to wargame better may also find much of interest among the presentations and discussions at the 2015 Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference (here, here, here, and here).

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