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Category Archives: simulation and gaming news

Russian documents from Russo-Japanese war sought

Does anyone have access (or a reference librarian who does) to the following? I have tried our own reference librarian but to no avail so widening the call:

  1. “сборник тактических указаний данных начальниками в войну 1904-05 гг.”  собрано по генералъ квартирмейстера при главнокомандующем. Ст. Петерсбург, 1906
    Or in English:
    “A collection of tactical instructions given by the commanders in the war of 1904-05” collected by the quartermaster general under the commander-in-chief. St. Petersburg, 1906
  2. сборник систематических сообщении по истории Русской-Японской войны. 2 Tom.  Вильнюс, 1908.
    Or, in English:
    “A collection of systematic reports on the history of the Russian-Japanese War.” 2nd Vol. Vilnius, 1908

Many thanks.

USAWC War Room: What Strategic Decisions on the Horizon for the Department of Defense can best be Shaped through Wargaming?

This is the second in the series of short articles on wargaming presented by the US Army War College web journal War Room. The prompt this time is “What Strategic Decisions in the Horizon for the Department of Defense can best be Shaped through Wargaming?”. Six scholars and practitioners offer a response:

  • Sebastian Bae (RAND)
  • Ellie Bartels (RAND)
  • Stephen Downes-Martin (US Naval War College & PAXsims)
  • Jim Lacey (Marine Corps University)
  • Krisjand Rothweiler (US Forces Korea)
  • Natalia Wojtowicz (Hague University

Please add any thoughts of your own in the comments section here on PAXsims or over in the War Room.

From the “Oops” Files: Who are our “Adversaries”?

Sometimes how we label things in wargames matters way beyond the scope of the particular, or even the underlying questions the game was set to address. And sometimes what those labels say can be… problematic. Without further comment, the news below:

—————————UPDATE!————————————————

The training has now been made mandatory within the DOD as part of Secretary Esper’s crackdown on leaks – however he has ordered a change to the wording, which will replace “adversaries” with “unauthorized recipients”

—————————————————————————————–

PENTAGON LABELS PRESS, PROTESTERS ‘ADVERSARIES’: A new mandatory Pentagon training course aimed at preventing leaks refers to protesters and journalists as “adversaries” in a fictional scenario designed to teach Defense Department personnel how to better protect sensitive information, Seligman reports.

The Pentagon defended the use of the term “adversaries” in the public training materials . “An adversary — a common generic term for a person or group that opposes one’s tactical goals — is acting counter to our information security objectives and therefore personnel must understand that threat,” Lt. Col. Uriah Orland said in a statement. “Attempting to read more into the use of the term obfuscates the clear purpose of the training: to prevent information from falling into unauthorized hands regardless of its potential use.”

But George Little, who was a Pentagon press secretary and CIA spokesperson in the Obama administration, called the characterization “appalling and dangerous.”

In one section of the course, trainees are given a fictional scenario in which news of a secret military exercise gets out, and TV cameras and hundreds of “anti-government protesters” show up. The course instructs trainees to identify the “adversaries,” who it says are driven to exploit “vulnerabilities” for their own gain.

Others with experience in military-media relations expressed alarm at what they consider a warped — and dangerous — view of the role of the press. Price Floyd, who served in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, said in his experience the training materials inaccurately portray the overall relationship.

“If for some reason a reporter got wind of something that was classified or secret, all it would take is a conversation with public affairs and someone to say, ‘look this is classified, it is secret, talking about it right now puts lives in danger,’” Floyd said. “I think this witch hunt by Esper is just a way to try to clamp down on what they view as fake news, when in fact all the media is doing is reporting the facts.”

Japanese to English Translators wanted for Russo Japanese War Documents

In 1907 the Japanese Military translated into Japanese a number of captured Russian Staff Documents dealing with the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War. The belief is that parts of these documents deal with Russian wargaming pre-, during-, and lessons learned post-, the war.

I’m looking for interested volunteers to translate one or more 20 page blocks of text — or as many pages as they can tolerate.

This is asking a lot, I know, but hopefully the result will be interesting to the wargaming community.

CNA endorses the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion

We are very pleased to announce that CNA—one of the world’s leading centers of wargame design and practice—is the latest organization to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

CNA President and CEO Katherine McGrady writes:

CNA is committed to building and sustaining a diverse workforce and an inclusive environment. We believe that employees with differing​ frames of reference and ranges of life experiences bring an energy and unique advantage that is essential to delivering on our mission.

At CNA, we believe diversity reflects the world in which we live. Inclusivity creates a dynamic work environment that fosters trust, innovation, and excellence, while providing an atmosphere where every employee feels respected, motivated, and empowered to perform at peak level.

We recognize that wargames benefit from a diverse range of participants, designers, developers, and analysts. Since the best wargames reveal the unexpected, they are always enriched by a diversity of viewpoints.We pledge to carry these values forward in the wargames we execute, consistent with the Derby House Principles.

If your organization would like to be listed as a supporter of the Derby House Principles, email us.

Simulation and Wargaming Study Group of SISO endorses the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion

Recently, the S&W Study Group voted overwhelmingly to affirm their support for, and adherence to the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in wargaming.

The Simulation and Wargaming Study Group of SISO (Simulation Interoperability Standards Organization) is an open study group, looking at a variety of different research areas related to wargaming.  We are an international organization, open to members of academia, government, industry, and other individuals interested in the art and science of wargaming, and how to make it better.  Those interested in participating can write to Charles Turnitsa (cturnitsa@gmail.com) to find out more about regular meetings, and how to get involved.

Current art and science of wargaming as it is practiced – Survey

The Simulation and Wargaming Study Group of SISO (Simulation Interoperability Standards Organization) has initiated a survey to find out more about the current art and science of wargaming as it is practiced.  They are investigating a broad look into wargaming, across many institutions (military, academia, industry, government, etc.) to find out what current practices are – especially in the areas of where and when it makes sense to introduce digital tools, computer simulators, visualization techniques, and other technology methods. Results will be publicly available, and will be the focus of a future SISO report.

Here is the link for the survey.  You will be asked for your email address, but it will not be used for anything other than to distribute results of the survey.

German Wargaming

The history of German Wargaming in the 20th Century is one of how an armed force can systematically develop successful military concepts, provide training and practice operations despite debilitating resource constraints (as dictated by the Treaty of Versailles). The best article on this history is by Milan Vego, “German War Gaming“, Naval War College Review, Autumn 2012, Vol. 65, No. 4.

In that article Professor Vego references “War Gaming”, by General der Infanterie a.D. Rudolf M. Hofmann (and colleagues), 1952 (document P-094) writing for the US Army Foreign Military Studies Branch as prisoners of war. The link here is to a cleaned up OCR’d fully text-searchable version of the original poor photocopy. Hard page breaks ensure the page numbers correspond to the original, so references to page numbers made in other documents remain accurate.

The most recent wargaming handbook from Germany, specifically the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College is their 2004 “Wargaming – A Guide to Preparation and Execution“. If anyone knows of a more recent one please let us know using the Comments section, thanks.

Marine Corps removes Neff from roster of wargaming SMEs after racist posts revealed

Task and Purpose reports that Blake Neff, who resigned as a writer for FOX News commentator Tucker Carlson after he was revealed as the author of numerous racist and misogynist online postings, was also a wargaming subject matter expert for the US Marine Corps—an association that the Marines have quickly ended.

Neff, 29, who resigned Friday from his role at Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, was “immediately removed” from a list of experts helping to support war gaming exercises at the Marine Corps War College, an official told Task & Purpose on Thursday after being asked about Neff’s ties to the Marine Corps.

Neff had been a “wargaming subject matter expert” for the college since Oct. 2016, the official said, and had taken part in wargaming exercises with Marines more than a dozen times.

“We recently learned that a wargaming expert who had previously provided support to the Marine Corps War College was responsible for racist social media posts,” said Capt. Monica Witt, a Marine spokeswoman. 

“We immediately removed Mr. Neff from the list of experts who support our educational wargaming program. Mr. Neff’s language and behavior do not represent Marine Corps University or the United States Marine Corps.”

The Marine Corps “does not tolerate racist, sexist, or homophobic behavior,” Witt said.

Australian Defence Force Wargaming Association endorses the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion

We’re pleased to announced that the Australian Defence Force Wargaming Association is the latest group to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming, noting that “giving everyone a ‘fair go’ is an integral part of Australian culture, but in challenging times this idea needs champions.”

For more about ADFWGA, see this recent article by Major David Hill or visit their website at the link above.

Practical lessons from teaching online with wargames at CGSC

The following was written for PAXsims by Dr. James Sterrett, Directorate of Simulation Education (DSE), U. S. Army University.


The Directorate of Simulation Education (DSE) at the Command and General Staff College (CGSC), U.S. Army University spent mid-March through early June 2020 to prepare for, and then to conduct or support, three elective courses online using commercial wargames.  This article outlines our key lessons learned, and then discusses some details of what we did.

In total, the class events we ran totaled 10 different games, each running from 2.5 to 8 hours, each preceded by at least one 3 hour preparation session.  In addition, many of these involved numerous internal trainup sessions with each game, plus many trial runs of many games to assess their suitability for use, or in testing VASSAL modules we built for some of these games.  For around 9 weeks, from 30 March through 2 June, we averaged one 3-hour online wargame session a day, for testing, preparation, or classes.

We ran wargames for 3 different courses:

  • Bitter Woods for the Art of War Scholars Program (2x 4 hour classes)
  • Aftershock for the Defense Support to Civil Authorities elective (1x 3 hour class)
  • Eight games for History in Action, which we teach in collaboration with the Department of Military History.  (8x 3 hour classes)

Key Lessons

Top lesson 1: Online wargaming works, but it’s harder than live. Compared to running wargames live, it requires more manpower, time, effort, and technology from both students and faculty.

Top lesson 2: Success requires scaffolding.  Don’t assume students are ready with their technology or that they understand the online engine.  Plan for on-call tech support during every class. Plan to explicitly teach both the online engine, and the game itself in that engine.

VASSAL (http://www.vassalengine.org/is our tool of choice.

This is the most surprising outcome to us.  Several of us had prior experience with VASSAL and were not very fond of it; we are now converts.  VASSAL proved to be simple, reliable, effective, and made lower demands on computing horsepower and networks – and it is free.  In addition, it was an easier and more powerful tool to make new game modules for. 

(Read the detailed section for a more nuanced view of some of the other options.)

Test your tools in online classroom settings before committing to them.

Our initial impressions of tools were frequently overturned after gaining more extensive experience with them in testing.

Ease of use beats flashy presentation.

The more you can minimize the friction of using the online game tool, the more effort you can put elsewhere.  This is why VASSAL became, unexpectedly, our favorite application.

Running a wargame online needs more manpower than running the same game live.

Running wargames live, a skilled facilitator can sometimes run 2 or 3 games.  Online, you must have one facilitator per game.  When teaching the game, you must have one person doing the instruction while another monitors a chat window for questions and puts them to the instructor at appropriate moments.

In addition, we found we needed to have a separate person as dedicated on-call tech support, every time.  Although a few classes did not turn out to need tech support, most did, and dedicated tech support meant that the game facilitators could keep the games running while the students with tech problems got helped.

Running a wargame online requires a higher level of skill across the facilitators than running the same games live in one room.

Running wargames live in one room, one person can be the expert whom the others can rapidly turn to for help.  Running online, everyone is necessarily in separate rooms, and even with side-channel communications, the question and answer interchange is much slower.  Each facilitator needs to be an expert.

Keeping the game moving is harder online due to the limited communications.

Live, you can see what students are doing.  You usually know who is thinking, who is confused and needs help, who is done making a move.  Online, you usually have no idea.  Is the student silent because they are thinking?  Confused and lost? Conferring with their partner? Done but forgot to announce it?  Done, and announced it, but failed to activate their microphone or had some technical issue?  When do you break in to ask, possibly breaking their concentration and creating more friction?

Everything takes longer online.  

Your game is hostage to hardware issues beyond your control.

A bad internet day makes for a bad class day.  Students come with widely varying degrees of computer savvy.  They also come with widely varying quality of equipment.  We had one student whose computer was a low-powered laptop around a decade old, which created frequent technical issues.  Another used a Surface tablet, which had no direct technical issues, but the small screen caused usability problems.

Ideally, each participant should have least 2 large monitors.

A reasonably modern computer, preferably with at least one large monitor, and, ideally, with two or more large monitors, definitely worked best.  Multiple monitors enabled placing documentation and chat windows on one screen while placing the main game map on the other.

Those with only one monitor, especially if on a small screen, found themselves constantly paging between windows and struggling to manage limited screen space.

Some students and faculty took to using a high definition TV as a second monitor, which worked well.

Technology in More Detail

Communications

Ideally, we would have done extensive R&D into both a wargame engine and into a communications solution.  However, we rapidly determined that Blackboard, which the Army already had on contract, provided a communications system that was both sufficient for our purposes and that students already knew how to use.  While not perfect  (the interface for splitting students into small groups can be a pain to use), Blackboard worked well for us. Specific features we came to rely on:

  • The ability to break students into breakout groups, and to have instructors move easily between breakout groups.  Each breakout group was one game.  Also, we could easily recall all the breakout groups into one room when it came time to return to group discussion.
  • Screen sharing to assist in teaching the games.  While the shared screens were sometimes very fuzzy (which we worked around by zooming in when details were important), the shared screen allowed us to direct people’s attention to the item currently under discussion.  In a perfect world, the game engine itself would provide a means of directing attention.
  • Multiple chat lines: Direct 1 to 1 chat, alongside breakout room chat, alongside group discussion chat, all at the same time.  The major feature we wanted, and did not have, was a direct chat line between any subset of people without creating a new breakout room – so that 3 or 4 people on the same side could coordinate their strategy and tactics, for example.  We worked around this by having students use their cell phones.

Wargame Engines

We spent several weeks testing online game engines, both for running games and our ability to modify or create new games.

 VASSAL (http://www.vassalengine.org/)

As noted above, several of us had prior experience with VASSAL and did not have a high opinion of it.  However, those opinions were based on the state of VASSAL in the later 1990s, when it was relatively new.  VASSAL has improved a lot in the last 20 years, and those improvements are a great credit to its volunteer coding team.

VASSAL is not the prettiest or slickest engine out there.  However, it had several decisive advantages:

  • Highly reliable, it worked on all the equipment students brought into the classes.
  • Free, while every other solution required either the instructors, or everyone, to buy software.
  • Easier for students to learn than other systems.
  • It was significantly easier for our team to make new or modified modules in VASSAL than in other systems.  
  • Presented the widest variety of ready-to-go games relevant to our courses.
  • Because it is built from the ground up to support wargames, VASSAL’s standard interaction set is tailored to supporting wargames.  The other engines seemed, to us, to have standard interactions best suited to running Euro games or role-playing games (which those other engines chase because those are much larger markets!)
  • VASSAL doesn’t enforce the rules.  We thought this would be a weakness, but when the computer enforces the rules, it prevents the facilitator from fixing mistakes – and with first-time players, it’s very handy to let the facilitator see and do anything they want.

Two key workarounds we used with VASSAL:

  1. Normally only one player can join a specific role.  However, if everyone who is going to join that role does so simultaneously, you can pack many players into one role,  permitting a small team of students to play the same side while maintaining fog of war.  Note that this feature is not officially supported.
  2. Most modules that had fog of war also included a “Solo” player who could see everything, so we used this as a facilitator role.  We modified the Triumph & Tragedy module to include this as well.  Without the ability to see through the fog of war, the facilitator cannot effectively answer questions and solve problems.

Tabletopia (https://tabletopia.com/)

Tabletopia was our initial favorite, with a slick interface and great presentation.  Our favorite feature is the ability to see the “hands” of the other players, which makes it really easy to direct attention – “Look at the Blue Hand”.  Tabletopia is browser-driven and thus is platform independent, which is a great plus.  It is also the only way to play 1944: Race to the Rhine online, which we very much wanted to include in our history course.

However, Tabletopia also had some problems.  Running a multiplayer game requires that at least one player has a paid account ($9.99/month), and the Terms of Service for game creation included language that we were wary of.  In testing, it was much more difficult to make a new game in Tabletopia than in VASSAL, and essentially impossible to modify an existing game we had not made.  We could not figure out how to enforce fog of war in a blocks game in Tabletopia.

The great surprise came when we used it in class.  We expected students would find the interface simple.  However, students found Tabletopia confusing to use and said they preferred VASSAL.  Students with weaker computer hardware or slower internet connections found Tabletopia crashed or refused to start.

While we may use Tabletopia again in order to use the excellent Race to the Rhine, we also know we need to figure out how to work through its issues first.

Tabletop Simulator (https://www.tabletopsimulator.com/)

Tabletop Simulator (TTS) has a very large following, but we wound up bouncing off it.  The large number of possible interactions means it also has a large number of controls and possible customizations.  We found it confusing, and the physics model got in the way of ease of use as pieces bumped into each other.  A friend who likes it admitted it takes at least 10 hours to get comfortable with TTS, which is longer than we can afford to spend for classes.  In addition to these issues, TTS is a $20 purchase.

Roll20.net (https://roll20.net/)

Roll20 is built to support role-playing games.  Unlike the other options mentioned here, Roll20 includes fairly robust voice and chat communications.  It’s reasonably simple to set up a new game in Roll20 as well.   

Roll20 fared well in initial testing, and thus became a strong candidate for running Matrix games.  However, in full testing, its communications fell apart under the load of around a dozen people.  In addition, we ran into significant issues with allocating permissions to move pieces; as far as we could tell, players needed to join so they were known to the game room, then leave, so the GM could make permissions changes, then rejoin, which seemed like an overly complex dance to go through under time pressure in a class with students.

We suspect that our inexperience with the tool is key in some of these problems and intend to retest Roll20 in the summer.  In addition, we know of others who have used Microsoft Teams and Google Sheets to run Matrix games.

No Computer Games – Why?

We avoided computer games for several reasons:

  1. Students would need to buy them, and potentially need to buy many games for one class.
  2. Many games of interest run on only a subset of student computers (only Windows, or only high-end Windows computers, for example).
  3. Each computer game has its own interface to learn, on top of learning the game system, increasing the training overhead needed to get to the learning for the class; this is particularly an issue for our history class.
  4. In many cases, understanding the games’ models is an essential component to learning the wider lessons of the class. In our experience, this is harder to do with computer games, whose models are obscured in comparison to manual games.  (This is the price paid for the computer doing the heavy lifting of the model; the payoff of the computer is that it does that work.)

We are not adamantly opposed to computer wargames; we use them in our Simulations Lab during live instruction, and are investigating using them in some courses this fall in DL.  However, in the short timeframe we had, the above complications were sufficient to rule them out.

Teaching the Games

In all cases, we learned that it works best to:

  1. Provide a 15 minute introduction to the game at the end of the prior class.  Students won’t learn the game from this but the overview helps them learn better from the rules and videos in step 2.
  2. Provide the rules and tutorials as homework.  YouTube tutorials were very popular with students, when they existed. Students will not learn the game from these but they will come armed to steps 3 and 4 with a better framework.
  3. Provide a practice session.  We routinely ran a practice session the afternoon before class.  These lasted 3 hours (the same duration as the class) and included the full teaching script plus playing the game.  We warned students that this was partly internal trainup, so they knew to be patient with periodic digressions as we worked out unexpected wrinkles.  Because they actually play the game, students learn the game in these.  If you control the groups, distribute the students who came to the Practice session across the class day student groups. As time went on, we learned to have internal trainup sessions before the official Practice session, so that our people were ready to run a game on their own in the Practice session.
  4. Teach the game at the beginning of class.  We find it always helps to begin by identifying the sides and their victory conditions, because you can tie all the game mechanics in the game back to them.

We establish up front that we will not teach all the details of the game, and thus many of these will pop up as they become relevant.  We try to warn people if they are going to hit a special case, and if somebody winds up in a bad position because of a rule not previously explained, we will try to come to a reasonably fair adjustment so they are not unfairly punished by an unknown rule.

Doing all this requires facilitators who are experts on the game, as noted earlier. 

We find that putting students into pairs on a given side works well in most cases.  Two will tend to plan together, each can compensate for the places where the other finds things confusing, and provide moral support where one sometimes feels confused and alone.  Three on a team, however, sometimes means one gets left out.

Teaching the Courses

Bitter Woods for the Art of War Scholars Program

The Art of War Scholars Program is a highly select group of CGSC students who engage in a wider-ranging and academically more rigorous course of study, focused on studying the art of warfighting through a combination of seminars and research focused on the operational and strategic military history of the past century.  Each student must write a thesis in the CGSC Master’s of Military Art and Science program.

Dr. Dean A. Nowowiejski, the instructor for the Art of War Scholars Program, wanted the wargame to do three things: introduce the students to wargaming, introduce the terrain of the Battle of the Bulge to students for a follow-on virtual staff ride, and to examine the dilemmas facing the Allied forces in reducing the Bulge.

To support this, we need a game simple enough for new wargamers to play effectively, that covered the Bulge in enough detail to gain an appreciation for the terrain and forces involved, and that could be made to start later in the battle in order to cover the reduction of the Bulge.

We selected Bitter Woods for having the best balance of both a simple system (using only the basic rules) and the ability to run the Battle of the Bulge into January 1945.  The runners-up were GMT’s Ardennes ‘44 and MMP’s Ardennes.  Ardennes ’44 is more complex and Ardennes is out of print, the latter being a key criterion when we made the selection in January 2020 and expected to run the event live.

In order to highlight the dilemmas in reducing the Bulge, we created a scenario that began on 27 December 1944, and also modified the existing Bitter Woods 22 December ’44 start point to cover the entire map, both accomplished with assistance from LTC William Nance, PhD, of the CGSC Department of Military History.   After testing both of these, we concluded that the dilemmas showed up best on 22 December, as Patton’s forces begin to arrive.  This start point also made a better set of dilemmas for the Germans, as their offensive is not out of steam on 22 December, leaving them with difficult choices about how to protect their flanks while aiming for victory.  We divided the twelve students into three separate game groups that executed simultaneously.  We had teams of 2 on each side in each game, and each team was split between a northern and a southern command.

Dr. Nowowiejski told us that the Art of War Scholars students would be prepared, and he proved correct.  This group of top-flight students, all very comfortable with technology, had no technical issues.  In addition, while we ran the game, LTC William Nance moved through the 3 game rooms, offering both historical commentary and acting as the high command for both sides to ping students with questions about their plans in order to ground those in the wider concerns of their historical counterparts.  This left Dr. Nowowiejski free to circulate through the groups, observe the students, and discuss wider points with them.

Dr. Nowowiejski had students discuss their plans and operational assessments with the entire class at the end of each of the two 4 hour classes, for a mid-point and final AAR.  As the students in the various Allied and German teams uncorked radically different plans, this provided a chance to compare possible courses of action and outcomes for both sides.  Students did find they had more units than they could easily control, but this produced useful discussions on the difficulty of integrating tactics into operations.  Overall, Dr. Nowowiejski judged the event “very successful” and hopes to have us run it, live or on VASSAL, next year.

Aftershock for the Homeland Security Planner’s Elective

We have run Aftershock in person several times in the past for Clay Easterling and Joseph Krebs’ Department of Joint & Multinational Operations Homeland Security Planner elective course. Much of the course examines higher level legal and policy issues.  Playing Aftershock in the middle breaks this up, and also serves as a reminder of the practical impact of the plans and policies they are discussing.  Students regularly name it their favorite part of the course.  Now we needed to run it electronically…!

No computer version of Aftershock existed.  The designers, Dr. Rex Brynen and Thomas Fisher, readily granted us permission to create a version in VASSAL, and Curt Pangracs of DSE spent around two weeks creating and testing the module in time for the course.

There were 33 students in this elective, divided into pairs for each of the 4 teams in the game, making a total of 4 games run in parallel.  Four of us from DSE ran the games, while a fifth stood by for technical support, ensuring the two instructors could circulate between the three sessions to observe and discuss.

We knew that this course tended to have a solid proportion of officers with low levels of experience with computers. Because of this, we set the Aftershock module up with two participant roles:  the Facilitator, who controlled everything on the board; and the Observers, who could not change anything, but could see everything and call up the supporting documentation.  This matched the way we often run the game in person, where the facilitator can keep the game moving by running the board and presenting the players with the next decision. We figured that with some of the students being less technical, making the students Observers would allow them to concentrate on making decisions instead of trying to puzzle out how to make the game execute their intended course of action.

We had far more technical issues than we expected, possibly because the larger number of students – nearly three times the number in any of our other groups – meant there were more opportunities for problems.  As a result, in each of the four games, the facilitators wound up using the backup plan of streaming their VASSAL screen of Aftershock out to some of the students who could not otherwise see the VASSAL screen. This is far from ideal, as those students reliant on the stream could not control the view, and the Blackboard shared screen is often fuzzy, but it was better than not seeing the screen at all.

Despite the technical issues, students found the exercise very useful, and the instructors named it “a highlight of the course”.  As one student wrote in their AAR, “Finally a time at CGSC where we are truly talking with one another to get something done and seeing the results of our decision”.

However, a key lesson here is that the event would have gone a lot more smoothly if we had conducted a readiness check at the end of the prior class session, just to make sure that everybody had VASSAL installed, could load the Aftershock module, and could join the online session – and then to help those who could not, so their troubles were fixed before the main event.

Note that Dr. Brynen’s notes on facilitating Aftershock are extremely helpful!  

History in Action Elective

History in Action is a joint elective taught by DSE and the Department of Military History, run with the aim of teaching military history through wargaming, and also teaching a better understanding of wargaming through learning the history.  Knowledge of history should inform both playing and assessing the game.  Equally, playing the game should help better understand the history; while wargaming can’t let you walk a mile in someone’s shoes, it can let you walk ten feet in their socks.  In prior years, DSE’s partner in this class was Dr. Greg Hospodor, but he moved away and we now partner with Dr. Jonathan Abel, and were also assisted by LTC William Nance, PhD, when he was available.

To be selected for this course, a game has to pass all of these tests:

  1. It has to be a good game – fun is the hook, though it isn’t the point.
  2. It has to be available for our use (some that pass the other criteria are out of print, or, for online, have no online implementation).
  3. We have to be able to teach and run it within the 3 hour class time while leaving time for discussion.
  4. It must be dripping with history.  It has to highlight unique aspects of the historical event it covers, so it both helps teach that history directly, and further helps teach when compared to the other games in the course.  This tends to rule out many less complex games because they wind up being functionally generic.  For example, if the game system doesn’t help drive home the difference between commanding World War 2 armor divisions and Napoleonic cavalry divisions, or treats the employment of the Roman manipular legion as little different from that of the Macedonian phalanx, then it doesn’t drive the learning we are looking for.

While in past years we tried to sequence the games according to a theme or timeline or the scale of the actions, our test sessions in early April convinced us that we should sequence the games in order of probable complexity to students.  While we began with the list of games we use when teaching the course live, but some of them were not available online, while others we would like to use were.   We used, in order:

  • Battle for Moscow (The 1941 drive on Moscow)
  • Napoleon 1806 (The Jena/Auerstadt campaign)
  • 1944: Race to the Rhine  (The Allied drive across France, with a logistics focus)
  • Drive on Paris  (Schlieffen Plan and Plan XVII in 1914)
  • Strike of the Eagle  (1920 Soviet-Polish War)
  • Triumph & Tragedy  (The struggle for Europe, 1936-1945)
  • Fire in the Lake  (Vietnam War)
  • Nevsky  (Teutonic Knights vs Novogord Rus in 1240-1242)

In each 3 hour class, we began by teaching the game, then we ran it in parallel student groups until there were 45 minutes remaining.  The next 30 minutes or so were spent in discussions, and the final 15 minutes or so were spent introducing the next game in the class.  Between classes, students were assigned material on the history behind the next game, rulebooks and tutorials to learn the next game, and a graded AAR sheet to fill out on the game just played.  The AAR sheet asks for paragraph-length answers to these questions:

  • What was your plan/COA going into the game?
  • How did your plan/COA work?
  • How did the game illustrate the specific contextual elements of the period?
  • Was the game effective in conveying these contextual elements? How or how not?
  • What did you learn about warfare in the game’s time period? What surprised you?
  • What specific lessons can you draw from this game to apply to the future?

We were very pleased with student learning in the class.  Student AAR papers were full of observations on things they had learned about history, about wargaming, and that they could carry forward to future assignments.  As one student wrote in their end-of-course feedback, “more than anything the course provided context and examples that I can use in the future when explaining the challenges at the operational level of warfare”.  Success!  However, we did have to overcome various issues along the way.

We intentionally began with Battle for Moscow, the simplest game, to ensure we could also teach VASSAL in the same class.  This generally paid off, as subsequent games utilized, at most, a few more features of VASSAL each time, and thus the learning curve was well controlled and students seemed comfortable with VASSAL most of the time.  This process worked poorly when we jumped to Tabletopia for Race to the Rhine in class session 3, and then back to VASSAL for session 4 and beyond.  Some of our issues with Tabletopia likely stem from our assumption that its interface was easy enough to need little direct training, and to the ways in which it is different from VASSAL.  Equally, we had a slight uptick in trouble with the VASSAL interface in class session 4, perhaps because the students had been out of touch with it for a time.

We began inviting students to our internal prep sessions once we realized they might be able to attend.  Students who had the time to attend these were normally much better versed in the game than their peers.  We, in turn, had to recall that those unable to attend the optional prep session should be assumed to have a good reason!  We also learned to spread the students who attended the prep sessions across the student groups.  Arranging the student teams ahead of time, and publishing them for students, also helped, as some student teams would strategize ahead of the class.

This course charted the middle ground in the level of technical issues.  All the students were comfortable with technology, but some had poor internet connections or weak computers, including the roughly ten year old laptop mentioned earlier.  This led to those students losing connection to VASSAL or Blackboard.  When using Tabletopia, weaker internet connections and weaker computers completely failed.  Just as we all have learned that internet meetings go better when everybody turns off their video feed, opting for systems, such as VASSAL, that made less intensive use of network and computing power proved better in practice.

Key Takeaways

Online wargaming works, but it is more effort than live, because:           

  1. Test your technology thoroughly and ensure you have support on hand to run it.
  2. Running wargames online will require a higher level of expertise from all of your facilitators, of technology and the games.
  3. Running wargames online will require more preparation from students, both in learning the game and ensuring their technology is ready.

BoardGameGeek (description) and VASSAL (module) links for all the games mentioned:

Whence the Threat to Peace

During the 1980s the Pentagon issued a series of unclassified annual booklets titled Soviet Military Power” (the current post cold war version is “Russia Military Power”).

In retaliation the Soviet Defense Ministry issued “Whence the Threat to Peace” about US and NATO military build ups and which answered the question implied by its title with “the USA“.

Since I can’t find a copy of “Whence the Threat to Peace” online, I thought I’d scan my hard copy of the 1987 version and make available to any cold war wargamers who might be interested.

The need for diversity in wargaming

The following piece was written for PAXsims by Brandon Valeriano. Dr. Valeriano (PhD Vanderbilt University) is the Bren Chair of Military Innovation at the Marine Corps University. He also serves as Senior Advisor for the Cyber Solarium Commission and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. 

PAXsims is a proud cosponsor of the Derby House Principles, and this post is part of an ongoing discussion we hope to encourage on diversity and inclusion in wargaming. If you have something to contribute, get in touch!


My father was a proud Latino. I remember quite early on that I found an old button of his that had the phrase “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” It was from Blazing Saddles, a famous scene where the villain gathers up all the scum of the area to harass a local town, including the KKK. The Latinos took their place in line and rejected a need for law enforcement badges.  (The original quote is “we don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you no stinking badges!” from the Treasure of Sierra Madre

My father explained that ownership of the phrase was a statement of pride, a statement of identify, and a statement of action. While the Latino community is often vilified, they more commonly known as industrious, innovative, and dedicated. The Black community in many ways has similar traits, pride, individuality, and drive. Overcoming negative stereotypes often is more about identifying with the positive rather than focusing on the negatives, therefore, “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges” became a statement of action and identity.  

We need action and awareness of identity issues now more than ever. The recent wave of protests over the death of George Floyd has unleashed an enormous amount of questioning and activism in all communities, and the wargaming community is no different. 

Statements of purpose are important, but action is more critical.  We can do no less because inclusive diversity is critical in the process of developing, testing, and engaging in wargames as a discipline. Perla famously applied the phrase, BOGSAT, “bunch of guys sitting around a table” to wargames. We should revise that statement to BOWGSAT, bunch of white guys sitting around a table. It is critical that wargames engage diverse populations because there should be an accurate reflection of reality in our games and because diversity is associated with better solutions to problems. 

If the purpose of wargames is to engage communities of interest, these communities need to reflect the diversity that is inherent in our political systems. The US military is an incredibly diverse body at the topline (although there are many problems with diversity and promotion). Understanding the application of strategy and tactics is imperative. If those that design, participate, and assess wargames are only from certain ethnic or gendered populations, much knowledge is lost. The process of communication and dissemination of the lessons from wargames requires diverse participation from all groups.  

Even more critical than representation is the need to include diverse populations in wargames because they increasingly are demonstrated to produce better outcomes. Diverse teams are required to solve problems because the groupthink is endemic to the wargaming community. We need people who will think outside the box, who will bring in new and innovative ideas, and who will seek to make the red team experience more real through a difference in play style. 

The goal should be to diversify the wargaming community through example and inclusion. I was literally pulled into the wargame community by hook and crook by my friend and co-author Ben Jensen. He has been working on wargames for over a decade at this point and rarely writes on the subject, preferring to just put things into action. We devised a wargame (or simulation) on national security decision making that has led our team to open new pathways in the field examining escalation pathways through technological innovation

We also helped devise the wargame the Cyberspace Solarium Commission used to evaluate its proposals, along with Nina Kollars and Erica Borghard. Our colleague and friend, Jacquelyn Schneider, devised the wargame that was used to kick off the Solarium Commission

The Krulak Center, my place of work, is incredibly diverse. Our current Director and Deputy Director are female, one is Black. Our incoming deputy director is Latino. Our key point person for wargames with Futures Command was a Latino Major who is now off working on his PhD. Many of our wargaming efforts are led by an Asian American former soldier and now academic. We have put diversity into action and are reaping the rewards. 

There has been a great amount of progress in the field of wargaming lately. With interest from Senior officials like former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and the current Marine Corps Commandant, initiatives are coming from the top that seek to transform the field.  Yet, we cannot become complacent and fall into the trap of performative diversity. Diversity must be put in action in a real concentrated way to have an impact on outcomes.

Every organization must ask themselves, what are they doing to promote diversity. Awareness is not enough; we need to move beyond simple token statements or “badges” of good feeling and produce action. How diverse is your organization? How diverse are those playing your game? Did you think about a diversity of perspectives and experiences in developing your game? 

Understanding the purpose and need for diversity is critical in our new era of awakening. While this movement was a long time coming, it is now time to put into practice what we have known academically for a long time. Diversity increases outcomes and it provides innovation though differences in thought. Every organization would be better served by recognizing the utility of listening to diverse voices and engaging the differences in perspective that produce enhanced outcomes. We have more than a moral obligation, we have a service obligation to promote solutions to the challenges facing our world through breaking the mold and seeking to value diversity. 

Brandon Valeriano

The COVID-19 game

This game below was created by Clay Dreslough, the designer and creator of Baseball Mogul.

Defence Academy of the UK calls for diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming

The Defence Academy of the United Kingdom is the latest sponsor of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

The Defence Academy is part of the Ministry of Defence. Our purpose is to develop the intellectual edge needed for success on operations and leadership in government. We deliver courses designed to unlock the cognitive skills of our students to expand their intellectual horizons and capacity. Our portfolio of long and short courses covers leadership, strategy, science and technology, and business skills.

Welcome aboard!

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