Lacey on wargames in strategic education (MORS wargaming CoP)
Today James Lacey of the Marine Corps War College offered his thoughts on wargames in strategic education to members of the Military Operations Society’s wargaming community of practice. Dr. Lacey had previously written a pithy article on wargaming in the classroom for War on the Rocks (which in turn provoked an equally pithy rejoinder in National Interest from some colleagues at the Naval War College).
The slides from his presentation can be found here. I’ll summarize some of the highlights from his verbal comments that I found especially useful:
- Students do not retain large amounts of reading. Wargaming is experiential learning par excellence. Student response to using wargames in the classroom is very positive (see student comments on his slides), and they talk about it for weeks and months afterwards.
- The use of wargames in the classroom is shaped by how much time is available for courses, and how much autonomy instructors have to experiment.
- The adversarial nature of wargaming gives participants “an entirely different appreciation of how difficult it is to execute a strategic plan.” Students begin to see that sometimes the “best strategic options are terrible.”
- You need to think about who your students are. Colonels are competitive, and don’t like to lose. Military officers tend to regress towards their comfort zone of kinetic operations, and need to be pushed to examine strategic issues and non-military elements of national power. Students should be left with “no place to hide.”
- The wargame is the capstone event of a series of interrelated activities: audio tapes, readings, lectures and discussions, and staff rides.
- Wargame maps can be more useful than conventional maps for highlighting the strategic importance of terrain, lines of communication, and resources (since they tend to depict those elements that are most influential on the conduct of strategy and military operations).
- Initially he did not allocate sufficient time for post-game debriefing, which was a mistake. Also, it would have been more useful to examine why and how students had made their decisions, and let students develop criticism, rather than to have the instructor critique them directly.
- In terms of where future help is needed, he identified:
- video tutorials to teach game mechanics
- experienced gamers in-class to assist with games
- more strategic-level games than integrate across the DIME spectrum
- simple/elegant game designs which involve complex decisions
- games on the “ungameable” that are suitable for a PME audience
- funding to make these things happen
- Next steps will include: refining game selection; adapting games to highlight strategic dimensions; building a repository of appropriate games; developing a megagame that focuses on the conduct of operational-level battle; experimenting with fast-playing matrix games; using more SMEs during gameplay; running several games simultaneously; and encouraging out-of-class gaming.
A number of interesting issues were also raised during the subsequent discussion.
- How can imperfect information and fog-of-war be incorporated into tabletop classroom wargames? Does it always matter?
- Allowing students to replay a game, and therefore refine and tests their plans and approach, can have substantial educational benefits.
- What is the role of digital games in the classroom, and what is the potential value of emerging VR, AR and other technologies?
- How useful are matrix games? Barney Rubel (NWC) suggested that a well-designed matrix game can work well. I argued that if one wants to experiment with matrix games it is probably best to do so for conflicts that involve multiple stakeholders and coordination challenges, examine a broad range of capabilities across the DIME spectrum, and in contexts where you want to encourage innovative approaches that aren’t limited by a predetermined ruleset and game model. There was also discussion of Kaliningrad 2017 and other matrix games in development at the US Army War College.
All-in-all it was a very useful and informative session. It also seemed to be very well attended, thereby underscoring the resurgent interest in wargaming as well as the role of MORS in supporting this.