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Request for feedback: Teaching wargame design at the US Army Command & General Staff College

PAXsims is happy to post this request for feedback on behalf of Dr. James Sterrett, Directorate of Simulation Education (DSE) at the US Army Command & General Staff College (CGSC). Comments may be left below or emailed to him directly.


 

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Michael Dunn and I are creating a Fundamentals of Wargame Design elective at CGSC. This course will first run in the spring of 2017, in two iterations. We seek constructive feedback on our course concepts while we still have a little time to correct course.

The students in this course will be U.S. Army Functional Area 57 (FA57 Simulation Operations) officers, plus other interested students attending CGSC. FA57 students will take the complementary elective on Exercise Design at the same time.

Learning Objective:

Students taking this course will design and create a prototype manual wargame. By doing this, we intend them to learn not only the process of designing a wargame, so they can design other games later, but also to begin to come to grips with the art of wargame design. In addition, we believe that designing wargames will make them better users of wargames, more aware of the design decisions behind the curtain and better able to select the best tool for the task they may have at hand.

We are still debating if it is better to have students do the project alone, or in small groups.

Thus, our current overarching Learning Objective is:

  • Apply the wargame development process. Application will include:
    • Students will learn the process of developing a wargame by creating a workable draft prototype. Students will demonstrate the prototype in class along with a presentation explaining their logic for its design choices.

 

Defining “Wargame”

We define “wargame” very broadly, relying on both Peter Perla’s definition:

 “A warfare model or simulation in which the flow of events shapes, and is shaped by, decisions made by a human player or players during the course of those events.” (Peter Perla, The Art of Wargaming, p. 280, 2012 edition)

…and on the Army Modeling & Simulations Office’s definition:

 “War game: A simulation game in which participants seek to achieve a specified military objective given pre-established resources and constraints”

Thus, we are not limiting the course to Title X wargames, or research wargames, or testing wargames, or Military Decision-Making Process Step 4 Course of Action Analysis Wargaming, or any other subtype… from the perspective of this course, all of these fall inside the big tent of wargaming.

 

Constraints

Inevitably, we are operating within constraints of space and time.

We will have at most 16 students per class, and must plan each class being full.

The course will consist of 12 session, each 2 hours long. There will be 2 or 3 sessions per week and the course will last for 4 to 6 weeks.

We recognize up front that we have limited time, and this necessarily limits the quality of the product the students can produce. We have no expectation of a polished, publication-ready project. Instead, the aim point is a workable first draft, with parts in place and comprehensible logic behind them, which would form the basis for ongoing testing and iterative design if more time were available.

 

Key concepts

Our high level view of the design process is shown below. We intend the students to complete at least one round of design and testing. More would be ideal, but a single round is the necessary minimum.

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For our classes, we are treating all wargames as being a system of systems, in a “STARS” model, with those systems being:

  • Space structuring assets’ positional relation to each other
  • Time structuring both movement, combat, and decision opportunities
  • Assets that players control
  • Resolution of how assets interact
  • Systems that tie the other four systems together

 

Planned Lessons

An overview of our current plan for each of the sessions; this overview will be followed by a more detailed look at sessions 1 and 2.

  1. Introduction to the course and its objectives; explain the project they must complete; introduction to game design process, which is their roadmap to completing the project; and to the STARS model.
  2.  Modelling Space: Discussion of terrain modelling; includes direct examples: hexes, squares, areas, terrain boards, point-to-point, tracks, non-spatial maps. Examples of multiple types in use at once.   Issue of scale – need to set to key decision loop and how scale then drives other considerations
  3.  Modelling Time: Discussion of turn structures; includes direct examples.   How turn structure dictates decision structures and C2 during play; how it relates back to the spatial model.
  4.  Modelling Assets: Various ways of modelling commanded assets from the very detailed to the very abstract: tracks & points to subsystem modelling. Numerous direct examples.
  5.  Modelling Effects: Various ways of resolving the outcome of actions: CRT, dice pools, opposed die rolls, card draws, card play; modifiers for modeled factors.
  6.  Quick Intro To Basic Probability – computations for dice, multiple dice, competing dice, cards with and without replacement; CRTs vs dice pools vs cards.
  7.  Putting It All Together: Overarching design paradigms: imposing limits (or not!) on player control of own forces through systems.
  8.  Testing & Iteration: Introduction to testing, blind testing, and sorting through feedback.
  9.  Consultation & Testing Time – in the classroom.
  10.  Consultation & Testing Time – in the classroom.
  11.  Final project presentations
  12.  Final project presentations

In addition to their other requirements, students in this elective will be required to participate in 75% of the Brown Bag Gaming sessions that are held during the elective, in order to increase their exposure to a variety of wargames and design approaches.

We are considering requiring additional student reading, with titles under consideration being Perla’s Art of Wargaming, Sabin’s Simulating War, and Koster’s Theory of Fun. The potential problem is the lack of time; one potential way around this is to assign a chunk of each to one or more students, and make them responsible for a summary to the class on their piece.

 

Session 1 in more detail

The room is set up with the games before students arrive and students are expected to have read the rules before the class begins.

  •  10 Minutes: Introduction to the class and similar initial admin
  •  45 Minutes: Play a wargame. We are currently leaning towards Frank Chadwick’s Battle for Moscow, with the expectation that students will complete 3 or 4 turns. Battle for Moscow includes a large number of features we can draw on in subsequent discussion, and is in print through Victory Point Games.
  •  10 Minutes: Break. Students are asked to come up with one change they would make to Battle for Moscow in order to improve it, and to return from the break ready to explain, briefly,
    • What the change is
    • Why the change improves Battle for Moscow
    • Why the improvement makes Battle for Moscow better for a specific purpose
  • 15 minutes: Selected students present their changes. We point out that by going through this thought process, all of them have made the step from players/consumers to designers/creators. Now let’s look at the process.

pic706628_md.jpgWe intend to select students to comment in class discussions (at least initially – balancing this against getting a wide discussion is important), instead of using volunteers, and to use a different selection mechanism each session. Thus Day 1 would be rolling 1 die, Day 2 rolling multiple dice, Day 3 pulling names from a hat without replacement, Day 4 calling on them by date of rank, and so on; possibly even handing them the cards to bid on who speaks next in the manner of Friedrich. The intent is to ensure the students experience some of the resolution mechanisms we will discuss in sessions 5 and 6, even though some of the demonstrations may take place after session 6.

  • 30 minutes: Present and explain the development model, the STARS model, and the project they will each undertake.

Assignment for session 2:

  1. Come up with your initial concept and email it to the instructor. Answer these questions:
    • What do you want this wargame to do?
    • What role will the players have?
    • What are the key decisions/dilemmas/problems they must wrestle with?
    • What significant assets will they control?
    • What kinds of interactions are important?
    • What kinds of terrain influence those interactions?
    • How frequently do the players make major decisions?
  2. Start your research: Find and read something relevant to your project.

 

Session 2 in more detail

We expect each of sessions 2 through 8 to be split roughly in half. In the first half of each session, we will show and discuss various relevant examples. In the second half, students will brainstorm and discuss ideas applying the day’s focus to their project.

Session 2 covers Space.

Opening question: How would you map Wall Street?

A strictly spatial map of Wall Street is great if you want to move troops through it. However, you might also need to map conflict on Wall Street by financial connections, personal connections, Internet links, political influences, and so on. Which of these are more important to model depends on what you want to model.

For the rest of the initial hour of the class, we expect to present, with examples:

  • Miniatures terrain as direct representation, with a discussion that typical Digital Terrain Elevation Data is essentially the same approach
  • Hexes and squares, including grain effects
  • Zones of Control
  • Areas (including Guns of Gettysburg for incorporating Line of Sight into the area model)
  • Things inside hexes, squares, and areas
  • Things on the edges of hexes, squares, and areas
  • Point to Point
  • Maps that are not “real space” – VPG’s High Treason courtroom; Sierra Madre’s High Frontier ΔV map (we are looking for more good examples here!)

Why space and time inter-relate:

  • Scale sets the timing of decisions in conjunction with the Time model
  • Units per space on the map defines force density model and can be used to create traffic issues

During their break, students are asked to think about how they will model space in their project.

For the second half of class, we discuss student’s initial model concepts.

Assignment for Session 3:

  1. Refine your intended model of space. Start working on your map. (We will provide files and printouts for hex paper, and access to Paint, Powerpoint, and Photoshop.)
  2. Continue your research: Find and read something relevant to your project.

James Sterrett

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