In an effort to explore the benefits of bringing wargaming into the classroom, the US Army War College’s Strategic Simulations Department is conducting a discussion panel and game play event on 27 August, 2016, at the US Army Heritage and Education Center, in Carlisle, PA. The panel will open with discussion from academia and military institutions. Game play will follow the panel and drive home the theories covered by the panelists. The event is open to anyone, educator, gamer, and hobbyist. The event will run from 10:00 A.M until 4:00 P.M.
Speakers (10:30-11:00) will include: Peter Perla (CNA), Rex Brynen (McGill University/PAXsims), James Lacey (Marine Corps War College) and James Sterrett (US Army Command & General Staff College).
Demonstration games (11:00-16:00) will include: Friedrich, Hanabi, 1944 Race to the Rhine, AFTERSHOCK, ISIS Crisis, Triumph and Tragedy, Axis & Allies (modified/blind play), Guerilla Checkers, Kaliningrad 2017, and Artemis.
Further information on visiting the USAHEC can be found here.
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.
James Lacey has an excellent piece in War on the Rocks today on his use of historical wargaming in the classroom at the Marine Corps War College:
The results, so far, have exceeded all of my expectations. For six or more hours at a sitting, classes remain focused on the strategic choices before them, as they try to best an enemy as quick-thinking and adaptive as they are. Every turn presents strategic options and dilemmas that have to be rapidly discussed and decided on. As there are never enough resources, time and again hard choices have to be made. Every war college administrator can wax eloquently about their school’s mission to enhance their students’ critical thinking skills. But they then subject those same students to a year of mind-numbing classroom seminars that rarely, if ever, allow them to practice those skills that each college claims as its raison de`etre. Well, wargaming, in addition to helping students comprehend the subject material, also allows them an unparalleled opportunity to repeatedly practice decisive critical thinking. Moreover, it does so in a way where the effects of both good and bad decisions are almost immediately apparent.
At the end of each wargame, students walked away with a new appreciation of the historical circumstances of the period and the events they had read about and discussed in class. And even though all wargames are an abstract of actual events, I am sure that no student exposed to historical gaming will ever again read about the Peloponnesian War without thinking about Sicily’s wheat, the crucial importance of holding the Isthmus of Corinth, or what could have been done with a bit more Persian silver in the coffers of one side or the other’s treasury. Similarly, the next time one of this year’s students reads about Lee and Grant in 1864, they will also be thinking about how the truly decisive actions took place out west. For, as it was during the actual conflict, in every game the students played, Grant’s role was to pin down the Army of Northern Virginia, while the western armies ripped out the economic heart of the Confederacy.
In fact, I was astounded at the number of students who approached me after the Civil War exercise to mention that despite having studied the Civil War before, this was the first time they realized that the war was won in the west. I could go on for another few thousand words discussing other revelations students experienced through gaming and simulations, but the key point is that these experiential learning experiences linger in students’ minds for a very long time. I once asked my seminars how many of them had discussed the games and their results with their spouses. Every hand went up. I am quite sure that very few of them ever discussed one of my lectures with their spouses.
He goes on to discuss what he needed to make it happen (enough time in the teaching schedule), how to overcome problems of game complexity (including support from the local hobby wargaming community), the need for adequate debrief time, the dangers of critiquing student play, and what he plans to do in the future. The piece is essential reading for anyone interested in the educational use of wargames, especially in professional military education.