PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

(Matrix) wargaming to support strategic planning

Last year Murray Dixson, Michel Couillard, Thierry Gongora, and Paul Massel of Defence Research and Development Canada wrote a paper on “Wargaming to Support Strategic Planning” which describes DRDC’s study of matrix games as a tool to explore the Force Development Scenario Set used by the Canadian Armed Forces as part of their capability-based planning process:

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) capability based planning process uses a set of force planning scenarios to assess different options for the capability requirements of future forces. A good understanding of the key drivers of the scenario is important so that the subject matter experts can more fully understand and identify the capabilities required for success in it. A project is underway to investigate whether this capability identification can be enhanced through the use of various wargaming techniques. The Matrix game methodology is one that has been chosen for this research and was used in a recent series of research games. An ISIS conflict scenario was used as an explorative tool in all the games which were played out using several combinations of player types. Each iteration of the game was analysed using a set of metrics to help determine the utility of the games for the force planning application. The results are provided in this paper.

Readers of PAXsims will already know something about this, based on Ben Taylor’s thoughtful piece on serious matrix games, our game at the University of Ottawa, and our various other posts about the ISIS Crisis game that was used as a testbed for the study.

The study concludes:

As a result of these experiments a number of useful observations were obtained concerning the intricacies of organising and conducting a wargame; the value of participating in a wargame from the players’ perspective; and the potential applicability of augmenting Canada’s capability assessment efforts with one or more wargames. In terms of conducting a wargame, valuable experience in understanding the importance of the rules and structure of the game; of the principles and limits of keeping players involved in the game; and of the nature and key role that the GM or adjudicator plays in the conduct of a successful game. From the players’ perspective new players gained a greater understanding of the Matrix wargaming methodology, and more experienced gamers gained a greater appreciation of the many layers of complexity and dynamics that characterise this regional conflict. Finally, in terms of the relevance of Matrix wargaming methods to supporting Canada’s capability assessment effort, this experiment was limited by the nature of the game itself. The ISIS Matrix game is a replication of a complex, multiplayer, geo political situation. As such, it was observed to be a useful platform for introducing some of the region’s complexities to the assembled players. This would seem to have similar promise if this methodology were to be applied to one or more of Canada’s defence planning scenarios, but this clearly resides in the realm of future work.

I think Murray and the team are right that ISIS Crisis is a game heavily skewed towards political-military dynamics—in their test games, kinetic actions only accounted for slightly more than half of all player moves. Moreover, because military actions are dealt with at high level of generalization and abstraction, ISIS Crisis may not be very useful at teasing out questions of capability.

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However, that is in large part a function of the scenario design: a better test of the matrix game method for capability-based planning would probably focus on military activities more narrowly, with units on the map representing clearly-defined assets rather than indicators of relative combat power, and a more rigorous time scale for player actions.

On the other hand, as DRDC’s RCAT playtest suggested, some of DND’s current Force Development Scenarios probably hinge far more on political and other non-kinetic actions than is intended. Political-military matrix games as useful for pretesting and refining planning scenarios, and could certainly be used to generate vignettes that could then be explored in greater detail through a capability-based matrix game, another type of wargame, or other forms of analysis.

The DRDC report also offers some interesting insight into the challenges of game adjudication (in the MAGIC 1 playtest they describe, where I was double-hatted as both facilitator and subject matter expert, left an impression among some of heavy-handed adjudication), compressed vs extended playtime, the ease of learning the rules, and other issues. It is very helpful reading for those considering using matrix games as an accessible method for wargaming complex problems.

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One response to “(Matrix) wargaming to support strategic planning

  1. hilarylhartman 10/05/2016 at 10:07 pm

    How would I be able to play ISIS Crisis? It sounds extremely interesting!

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