Dr. Jon Compton presents and discusses the process he has used to design, run and analyze analytic wargames in support of senior decision makers faced with serious national security related problems.
“Wargames are conducted for purposes of education and training, concept exploration or development, or sometimes done to raise awareness about certain issues or concepts. Within OSD, however, the style of wargame required is referred to as Analytical Wargaming, and is nested with other analytical or Operations Research techniques to generate contextualized knowledge and recommendations for leadership.”
UPDATE: I have updated the report with corrections. Delete the 22nd August version and replace with this one dated 23rd August.
COVID-19 made distributed wargaming a DOD requirement for both safety and economic reasons. One effect of DOD’s COVID-19 pandemic response has been the effort by many DOD organizations to shift their wargames to a distributed online environment. The success of some of these efforts, the likely presence of new pandemics, and some undeniable benefits of distributed wargaming makes it likely that distributed wargaming will be a growing part of the DOD toolbox. A key design decision is now “online, face-to-face, or hybrid?” It is therefore necessary to examine the theory behind distributed gaming, capture experience, design best practices, and identify practices to avoid when designing and executing distributed wargames.
In response the Simulation and Wargaming Standing Study Group of the Simulation Interoperability Standards Organization started a Working Group on “Distributed Wargaming”, the focus of which is to:
“examine how technical, social and design processes can exploit the advantages and overcome the disadvantages of professional wargaming in a distributed environment, and produce a resource document for anyone required to design and execute such a wargame”
A core international group of seventeen members, with experience in Government, Military, Industry, Academia and Education started work at the beginning of December 2020 and wrapped up at the end of August 2021. The nine month period of performance allowed the group time to think, discuss, challenge, write and refine, and to do so in depth. The group produced nine research papers covering background theory, lessons learned from research into online education, lessons learned producing and running distributed wargames with several different designs, and an overview of moving in-person events in general (including wargames) online. Deep discussions between group members dealt with the papers and introduced additional topics, all of which are reported in this document.
Earlier this summer, the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) hosted the first in-person event of the Women’s Wargaming Network:
IDA hosted the first in-person event of the Women’s Wargaming Network (WWN) on June 26. The event was organized by Yuna Wong, founder of the WWN and research staff member in IDA’s Joint Advanced Warfighting Division (JAWD).
The event was held at IDA’s current headquarters near the Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia. Women from IDA and their guests gathered to network and play board games. These types of in-person events are what the WWN is hoping to have more frequently to build connections and provide mentorship opportunities for women with an interest in wargaming.
Men are much more likely to have spent their adolescent years playing hobby gamming whereas women did not grow up with the same experiences. The mission of the WWN is to help women thrive in professional wargaming, a historically male-dominated field. These efforts contribute to bridging the gaps between men and women and raising the visibility of women in the discipline.
Addressing barriers specific to women in professional wargaming is key to getting more women involved in the discipline. “All too often, women are assigned as note takers and announcers; they don’t receive the core tasks of game design and adjudicators,” says Wong. “Minority women face even more barriers. The WWN is committed to having a place for all women.”
Paris Nero, research staff member in IDA’s Operational Evaluation Division (OED) was among the participants who is new to the discipline. “One of my favorite pastimes is playing board games with friends,” says Nero. “I left the WWN event thinking about how the game’s mechanisms capture various aspects of warfare and how I could apply wargaming in my research. It’s nice to be part of a community that can gather around an activity I enjoy so much.”
More seasoned wargamers also participated, including S. K. (Sue) Numrich, JAWD adjunct research staff member. She has experience in theater and training simulations, so wargaming is a natural extension. “In wargaming, every perspective is valuable, and it’s especially important to include women as they tend to approach situations differently than men do,” says Numrich. “These are games of the mind and the ability to see from different perspectives and craft solutions along different lines is critical to developing a creative solution to a strategic problem.”
The WWN started at the 2020 Connections Wargaming Conference. With aims to become a formal non-profit, the network comprises members from around the world including Australia, Turkey, the Netherlands and the UK. “The purpose of the WWN is to become a community for women interested in wargaming, to raise the profile of women in the profession and to find networking opportunities,” says Wong. “We need to continue to create opportunities that allow women to get involved and to grow the numbers.” Upcoming WWN events and the Connections Wargaming Connections Conference help Wong and others to do just that.
IDA will host the 2022 Connections Wargaming Conference on July 26–29, 2022. This in-person event will be held at our future headquarters’ location in the City of Alexandria’s high-tech Potomac Yard corridor. Registration and logistics information will be available closer to the conference.
IDA is a nonprofit corporation that operates three Federally Funded Research and Development Centers in the public interest. IDA answers the most challenging U.S. security and science
The following report was prepared for PAXsims by Elizabeth Thomson, a MLitt candidate at St Andrews. Elizabeth is currently writing her dissertation On the Security Implications of Australia’s Discretionary Power as it Exists Between China and America’s Strategic Competition. She has a background in South-East Asian studies and Political Philosophy.
In the simulation, a shipwreck off the reefs of Pratas Island triggered territorial dispute between the People’ Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (RoC, or Taiwan). Both governments wished to coordinate the search and rescue operations to maintain and assert authority over the territory in question. As the claims on sovereignty could shift Asia-Pacific politics and security the USA was interested in being an arbiter and equalizer to managing PRC and RoC relations.
Three teams represented ‘active’ nations throughout the gameplay: PRC, RoC and USA. Each team of four players need to divide their team to fill specific roles (each team had a different number of players assigned each role to reflect the importance or dominance of that aspect within the different states): economic, executive, and military. Subsequently each position had its own debrief sheet of the role. In the RoC team, we distributed roles according to interest and background of the players.
Part II- Bias
In this simulation I played the executive role for Taiwan, my objective was to achieve independence from the PRC.
My team was comprised of individuals from Western (‘Global North’) nations. I believe this impacted our play, as it was more ‘gung-ho’ in policy and policy execution than the current government in Taipei. We were more focused on achieving our objectives than considering long-term diplomatic relations with the PRC. This was possible due to the one-month timeframe of the simulation, and willingness to see ourselves as completely separate to mainland China. This attitude is culturally inaccurate, as PRC and RoC both consider themselves Chinese.
Furthermore, our team had a fair bit of leeway, which from a gaming perspective made the experience much more enjoyable as you will see in the following section. Yet, I wonder if we would have had the same scope of indulgence as a democratic state has. Whilst I know that the securitisation of situations can provide a sort of blank check to the government, I believe that we would have had to ultimately petition to the elected representatives in parliament for certain actions to be approved. I have played simulations where actions were given a probability and Game Control would roll a pair of dice which dictated the success of a move. A third-party factor to influence the game could have curbed some of the more ‘gung-ho’ actions, making the simulation more reflective of the state and its administrative structure.
Part III- Play
What was our policy? Our policy was to secure authority over the Pratas territory by sea, land, and air. What was our aim? Sovereignty. Sovereignty at all costs, for without sovereignty there is no survival.
Throughout the simulation we reacted quickly to updates in order to control the narrative(s). To push back against the PRC’s enthusiastic attempts to collaborate in Search and Rescue missions, the RoC military established a Total Exclusion Zone (TEZ). This was made possible by negotiations with the USA to deploy minimal naval support. RoC and USA agreed that a physical reminder of the RoC-USA friendship was necessary to promote peaceful negotiations between PRC and RoC.
Throughout the simulation the RoC was conscious of USA’s Taiwanese Relations Act 1979 (TRA79) Section 2b.1. We worked within the scope of this Act, negotiating USA military presence in RoC territorial waters to disincentives any PRC trespassing and subsequent occupation of RoC territory.
Additionally, while our military were engaged with securing the area, our economic representative engaged in Track II Diplomacy with the USA. They discussed a potential oil drilling partnership. This included converting some of our PRC imports/exports to the USA. The economic department established a deal where the USA would compensate any loss of PRC. Additionally, the USA would provide infrastructure to drill and as compensation, they had claim to the first ‘x’ amount of dollars in oil, then the profits would be split evenly. In the event of PRC joining the oil deal, the percentages of cost of infrastructure would be reassessed and a deal would reflect individual contribution.
Yet, to avoid sharing profits and being coerced into a diplomatic relationship with the PRC, the RoC’s internal policy was to provoke the PRC into triggering the TRA79. Thus, creating ‘legitimate’ reasons to declare independence.
We [RoC] began by framing the PRC as the rogue government through phrasing such as ‘our mainland provinces…’. We devised initiatives such as a ‘National Democracy Day’ inviting the Dalai Lama as the recognised leader of Tibet to join. To place pressure on PRC resources and distract their concentration we attempted to open a second front. For this we sought a bilateral military training agreement with India to train in the Himalayan Mountains on the Tibetan border.
Finally, Operation Oppenheimer, was crafted but not launched to reopen the nuclear facilities on Taiwan. RoC would have operated under the protection that they aren’t officially recognised by the United Nations. By abusing a grey area concerning nuclear development programs, RoC hoped to initiate UN recognition.
Part IV- Communications
The format of the game benefited not only the pandemic circumstances but contributed to the overall feel of the simulation. Owing to the high-level security nature of the simulation it felt realistic to separate into our teams and negotiate strategy among members which could be communicated to the control in a ‘real time’, which is how governments would operate.
Additionally, the freedom to negotiate between teams (sans The Control) allowed the players to benefit from track II diplomacy. This was beneficial as The Control, could exacerbate announcements much like the media discourses. Having another avenue to discuss hypotheticals and discuss terms made our progress towards a peaceful resolution possible.
Part V- Replay?
From an economic point of view, it could have been more challenging to face budgetary realities, such as a cap on the military spending on operations. The budget of each state could reflect the extent of the grey zone commitment each state was willing to be bound by. Additionally, it could have made the diplomacy much more creative within and between the teams. As the PRC objective to not fall into conflict meant that they chose to remain silent and ignored our (RoC) taunts which blatantly undermined the CCP. I am quite sure that Chairman Xi would have been more proactive towards our strategies. In addition to incorporating a dimension of chance, I believe that game would gain depth that could provoke the creative solutions to the regional context.
Nevertheless, I would recommend the simulation as it provides an effective learning tool of the regional dynamic of the Asia-Pacific.
References  Hayton, B. 2020.Chapter 7, Territory, (in) The Invention of China. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv17z8490.1
ALEXANDRIA, VA (August 2021) — IDA will host the 2022 Connections Wargaming Conference on July 26–29, 2022. This in-person event will be held at our future headquarters’ location in the City of Alexandria’s high-tech Potomac Yard corridor.
The Connections Wargaming Conference is an annual event that brings together practitioners from every segment of the wargaming community. The conference gives attendees the opportunity to exchange information on achievements, best practices and other elements of the field of wargaming…from military, to commercial, to academic applications.
IDA is moving its headquarters and Systems and Analyses Center to the Potomac Yard later this year. The new facility will enable IDA to hold large meetings, such as this one, with sponsors and industry. There will be a large auditorium that seats 300 people, breakout rooms, a green room for speakers to prepare for events, and other large conference rooms.
Registration and logistics information will be available closer to the conference.
IDA is a nonprofit corporation that operates three Federally Funded Research and Development Centers in the public interest. IDA answers the most challenging U.S. security and science policy questions with objective analysis leveraging extraordinary scientific, technical, and analytic expertise.
The Zenobia Award is a competition among submitted historical tabletop game prototypes by designers from underrepresented groups (women, persons of color, and LGBTQ+ persons), with mentoring and industry exposure available to selectees and cash prizes and industry access benefits to the winners.
Finalists have the opportunity to revise prototypes by 15 September for evaluation and selection of three winners 15 October.
The Marine Corps Wargaming Laboratory is currently looking for a wargaming manager.
You will plan, direct, supervise, coordinate, and execute multiple simultaneous wargame efforts and scoping future wargames.
You may serve as the Division’s representative to other Agency and Service wargaming organizations on operational planning, support requirements, policies, and capabilities for wargaming.
You will write, manage, revise, and maintain the wargaming SOP, and maintain a library of models and simulations for use as appropriate in wargaming design.
You will inform and advise the Service, Joint Organizations, other services, and DoD Leadership in the conduct of wargame activities that support visualizing present and future security challenges.
You will provide active oversight of all ongoing WGD efforts, activities, and wargames.
Your resume must demonstrate at least one year of specialized experience at or equivalent to the GS-12 grade level or pay band in the Federal service or equivalent experience in the private or public sector. Specialized experience must demonstrate the following: 1) developing, advising, and recommending wargaming best practices and coordinating the complex efforts of multiple individuals and organizations toward the successful execution of a Wargaming Program; 2) utilizing tactical, operational and strategic military planning processes, including but not limited to the Marine Corps Planning Process, the Military Decision Making Process, the Joint Operation Planning Process, and the Joint Operation Planning and Execution System; and 3) advanced knowledge and use of combat simulations, modeling, methods, and tools and the incorporation of these into wargames
Game Lab is an opportunity for short (40 minute) small group discussions of specific gaming-related issues among Connections participants. Originally conceived and organized by Scott Chambers, they were a highly successful feature of past face-to-face Connections conferences. This year at Connections US twenty-five wargamers brainstormed ten topics using Zoom (of course) and ConceptBoard’s “infinite whiteboard” program.
It’s a very useful source of data on the hobby, so if you’re a wargamer we encourage you to participate. Also, there is an opportunity for comments at the end, so you can share your ideas on diversity, inclusion, and growing the hobby!
You’ll find an archive of their previous survey results (and associated discussions) here.
The Archipelago of Design is looking for an aspiring game designer to assist them with Project Albatross. Applicants must be Canadian citizens aged 15-30 (and hence eligible for the Canada Summer Jobs programme).
Project Albatross will seize the emerging trend of leveraging war gaming and virtual learning systems in professional military education and steer it towards the video game industry’s cutting-edge advancement in creating immersive learning experiences. By fusing game design, engaging narrative, and immersive environments with world leading design education, the virtual learning experience will promote seamless learning of self, organizational and environmental awareness.
This groundbreaking virtual learning and game experience will be tailored for a new generation of officers as they will be the playtesters and co-designers from initial conceptual design, to level design, and further play testing. The learning content will be triangulated with the global leading expertise in military design & planning represented by the Innovation Methodology for Defence Challenges (IMDC) network on game design terms.
The Archipelago of Design is looking for a talented, passionate individual eager to face the challenge of bringing game design into the learning environment of national security professionals. You will be part of this endeavour by developing a proof of concept of a virtual learning experience conducive to the development of a security design mindset. The ideal candidate has hands-on experience designing systems and balancing gameplay mechanics. A strong literacy in game design and the ability to clearly and concisely communicate ideas in both written, verbal and visual forms is key. The game designer will be part of a small collaborative team consisting of team members with backgrounds in multiple disciplines. Accordingly, collaboration with other disciplines and the ability to accept and provide direction to deliver a high quality product is a central aspect of the job. The ability to work in a multidisciplinary team environment and the willingness and drive to learn about security design is desirable. The position is partially funded by Canada Summer Jobs. Accordingly, only Canadian citizens can apply for this position.
You will find additional details here. The deadline for applications is August 8.