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Tag Archives: Peter Perla

Peter Perla on wargame design

The following report was submitted by PAXsims research associate (and King’s College London student) Harrison Brewer.


 

1200x630bb.jpgAlmost anyone versed in wargaming will have heard Peter Perla’s name and rightly so. Perla is as close to a household name as one can get within the wargaming community, barring James Dunnigan and Avalon Hill. Perla has done it all – he has been a wargamer, a designer, a Navy defence researcher, a contributing editor to wargaming magazines, the subject of a Private Eye cartoon, and author of what could be referred to as the holy text of wargame design, The Art of Wargaming.

I first heard of Peter Perla during my conflict simulation seminar, taught by Rex Brynen at McGill University. The Art of Wargaming was one of two textbooks we used and quickly, you get a sense of how Perla straddles the schism of wargame design – is wargaming an art or a science? This question has been chasing myself during my brief experience as a wargame designer, first at McGill and now at King’s College London under Phil Sabin’s equally grand tutelage. With this in mind, I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to hear Peter speak at King’s as part of the Conflict Simulation module I am enrolled in.

Peter began by saying that the process of creatively interpreting historical events is the same as writing fiction – you must identify the hero, the villain, and the conflict. Wargaming is no different although the content is almost always more macabre. Any designer must first decide where the key conflict lies in the minds of the participants. Who were seen as the protagonists? Is the battle of Waterloo about Napoleon or is it about his generals? Peter emphasises that you must decide who and what you want to focus on before you begin the creative process. Secondly, no conflict is fought in a vacuum. Once you have decided who features and what they are fighting about, a wargame designer must decide what story they are going to tell. Is it about the political economy, the social tensions, the diplomatic negotiations, or the political compromise? There is no rule to understanding the context, but it is the bread and butter of any wargame and so, should be the first ingredients you find and from the best sources. Peter is a self-confessed tank man, despite his long career in the Navy, and uses the acronym TREADS to help guide any new project he embarks on. TREADS stands for time, resources, entities, actions, dynamics, and space – these elements are the building blocks of your wargame. How you connect these pieces and how you communicate them to your audience will help to communicate the story you are trying to tell.

\Next, Peter outlines his three paradigms of design, the analyst, the artist, and the architect, and explains that any wargame will have a little of each. How much or how little is dependent, once again, on the story being told. The analyst is concerned with how well your model models the real world quantitatively. It involves equations, data, mathematical modelling, and simulation – think of operational analysis. Persian Incursion is such a game, at least in its highly detailed treatment of air operations, aid defences, target hardening, and weapons capabilities. The artist wants the player to experience the emotional and intellectual challenges of the situation and is concerned with the more intangible elements of the conflict. The artist’s main design problem is how to get the tension of the actors involved to drive player decision-making – The Grizzled, a WW1 survival simulator, or the Vietnam Survival Game are good examples. The architect focuses on the structure of a wargame. What decision points will the player face and how do you build a framework that creates these decisions and lets them reflect the real-world dilemmas faced by the actors within a given conflict. AFTERSHOCK is an example of a game that has complex dilemma frameworks and a wide range of interconnecting decisions.

Peter ended by offering some words of wisdom to the fledgling game designers in the room – the importance of the ‘proliferation of complexity followed by ruthless simplification’. Every designer should make the game complex beyond belief in order to create a model that reflects the environment of the conflict before trimming and pruning it down to be as simple as possible. Whilst you are head down, submerged in memoirs, orders of battle, and statistics, it can be easy to forget that your design must be digestible by the layman wargamer. Indeed, the job of a designer is to take something complex, translate it into a new medium, and make it believable, understandable, and simple.

Harrison Brewer

Peter Perla makes Private Eye

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Peter Perla’s recent inaugural lecture for the King’s College Wargaming Network has, it seems, made it to the esteemed pages of the British satirical publication, Private Eye (larger image here).

h/t David Knowles
(former member of the famed Lymington & District Wargames Club)

MORS wargaming AAR

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On 17-20 October 2016 the Military Operations Research Society held a special meeting on wargaming. PAXsims’ very own Tom Mouat was there both to help facilitate the event and to bring us the report below.

Additional details from regular PAXsims reader Paul Vebber follow after Tom’s report.


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I was privileged to be invited, along with colleagues from the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), to the MORS Wargaming Special Meeting on 17 to 21 October 2016 in Alexandria, VA. Rex couldn’t make it, so again I was deputised to provide PAXSims readers with a report.

It was clear in the lead-up to the event that this was to be a more in-depth look at a few things, rather than the usual conference offering of a shallow look at a large number of things. This was unusual and I’m not entirely sure that it provided the best fit for the stated aims for the workshop:

  • How best incorporate rigorous and well-designed wargaming into the department’s larger analytical and acquisition focus.
  • As the demand for wargaming continues to grow we need to increase the pool of wargamers and wargame designers to meet those needs now and into the future.

If you were a beginner, unsure as to the role and range of wargame tools and techniques, you might have got lucky in choosing the workshop sessions that met your requirements; but if you weren’t it is perfectly possible you would get stuck in a session unsuitable for your needs. This wasn’t helped by the descriptions issued prior to the event being a little less than clear and a number of session being classified and NOFORN (no foreigners). This was exacerbated when there were a number of last minute changes to programme aims, the sessions and their classification.

I had originally intended to look at a number of the sessions and provide assistance to the “Project Cassandra, Envisioning Possible Futures” session. However one of the wargaming sessions (when I say “sessions” it was actually four half-day sessions spread over three days) had the organisation running it (US Army Training and Doctrine Command/TRADOC pull out. I was invited to stand in and run the session on matrix gaming instead—which I was delighted to do.

Travel and subsistence budgets being what they are, the cheapest flights from the UK are on a Saturday, giving us the bonus of recovering from jetlag as well as the opportunity to do some additional professional development in visiting the battlefield of Gettysburg. This is a quite outstanding battlefield, well preserved and with an excellent visitor centre. There are a large number of different lessons that can be gained from looking at details of the large battle, over the two days of the fighting. The Dstl staff, led by their own historian, took advantage of this. Sadly I was unable to participate as I was doing last minute preparation for the sessions.

The hotel recommended for the event was excellent and ideally placed for the subsequent events which were held in the hotel and at the nearby Institute for Defence Analysis (IDA).

Monday, 17 October 2016

The first day included a course, “Wargaming Introduction and Theory,” run by Dr Peter Perla and Dr Ed McGrady, which lasted all day. In addition, a shorter course, “Executive Overview of Military Wargaming,”  was run by Mike Garrambone. I attended the first of these because the UK Defence Academy is intending to run its own “Introduction to Wargaming” course, and watching how two of the foremost experts in the field do it was likely to be extremely educational.

Peter Perla started and covered wargaming history, from the earliest games and models used for training and education, through to the birth of modern wargaming. This included Kriegsspiel, Johann Hellwig’s wargame, the introduction of geomorphic maps, real topographic mapping and the use of experienced umpires in order to reduce complexity and include military common sense. He also covered the rise of the hobby game, sparked off by H G Wells’ Little Wars; the crossover from RAND’s use of hexagons to regularise movement; and the game company Avalon Hill and its success in publishing games for the hobby market.

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Peter Perla reviews the evolution of wargaming.

The course went on to cover the rise of wargaming as a fundamental part of the analytical process in the inter-war years, particularly in the US Navy War College. This is probably one of the most innovative periods of concept and doctrine development which helped shape the conflict to come, not just in the USA but also among the German General Staff.

I noted that from this period that there were two observations that emerged from these wargames:

  • Some people are dicks.
  • Innovation takes time.

Some of the participants in the wargaming process are unable to see the value of exploring a situation or problem through a game, fail to take it seriously and behave inappropriately. This is not helpful, but wargame facilitators need to be aware of this, and develop mitigating strategies to deal with it or valuable opportunities will be lost. (I would also offer that this phenomenon is not limited to manual wargaming – computer simulation is also afflicted with personnel who seem unable to grasp what the process is trying to achieve and are negative or disruptive, however well run the game.)

Innovation is not a simple process with a short timescale. It takes time to breed the open minded and intelligent organisational culture where ideas are valued from wherever they arise and where change is embraced. It is only from this basis that sustained advances can be generated and genuine advantage realised.

We then moved on to Dr Ed McGrady who covered the theory of games, how they work, what approaches work best and the human response to games. He started with a warning that, while efforts are improving, there is still no proper epistemology of wargaming and no coherent theoretical treatment—especially of manual games although there is a reasonable amount of work dealing with computer games.

Diversity in this area is a challenge and there is no simple one definition to cover all wargames.

He went on to cover the elements that make up a game, wargames vs peace games, what is not a wargame and some of the foundations of the concept of “play.” In many professional and analytical games the designers seem to want to eliminate the “play” aspects of the wargame. This is wrong, fails to get buy-in to the process, followed by a lack of understanding of the problem space and ultimately results in a bad game.He covered the elements of play, the role of making them enjoyable in a defence analytical context, their internal structure and most importantly the psychological and neurological concept of narrative (leading to engagement, and the “entre deux”, the in-between space where disbelief is suspended and insights are gained).

This included the significant observation: Lunch is important! If you are going to the time and effort in order to involve the participants in a game, where future possibilities are envisaged, disbelief suspended, and the players fully engaged, it is foolhardy to jeopardise the event by refusing to provide lunch—forcing participants to disperse, lose the game immersion and focus, and ultimately much of the value of the process.

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Some of my notes from “Wargaming: Theory and Introduction.”

I have made many pages of notes, including the dramaturgical aspects of games, the concept of “flow”, games vs simulations, hard vs soft assumptions, the big questions about the effect games have, sociological work, and theoretical principles. Indeed, it was all much too much to be able to present a coherent commentary here without significant additional thought and the risk of boring you!

Which brings me to a concern. This was not really an introduction to wargaming. Instead, it was a masterclass in the theoretical underpinnings of the art, that included some really deep stuff. I found the day incredibly useful (and I am anxiously awaiting copies of the slides because I’m afraid that my hurried notes may well have missed something), but I am also a wargaming practitioner of many years, including running and designing games used by defence as well as the wider community. I suspect that a novice, seeking an initial understanding, might well become lost and confused…

…until they decided to demonstrate what they meant, by the use of the matrix game “Lasgah Pol” dealing with peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan (available as part of Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming). Since I designed the game , and was asked to demonstrate an example move, they are obviously geniuses!.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

This was the start of the special event proper, and followed the more usual format of a plenary keynote and panel sessions until shortly after lunch.

Following introductions and the US national anthem, we started with a keynote from Andrew Marshall, former advisor to the Secretary of Defence for Net Assessment. At first glance it looked like the organisers were rolling out someone from an earlier era, but he quickly contradicted that impression, demonstrating sharp and timely insight. He gave a brief history of the Office of Net Assessment and pointed out that reading long papers on a subject can take time and are likely to only explore the subject from a single point of view. Games, in contrast, were very quick at distilling issues to their essential fundamentals, but he also underlined the importance of a proper opposition (the Red players).

An example he gave was dealing with the Strategic Bomber programme. This was during the Cold War—strategic bombers were expensive compared to ballistic missiles, and there were calls to make cuts in the bomber fleet. Looking at the problems through a series of wargames demonstrated that the bomber fleet forced the enemy to invest in large quantities of air defence weapons. Since the enemy was resource limited, this was advantageous to the US. On the other hand, cutting the bomber fleet would permit an enemy to switch in investment from weapon systems that were essentially of limited use, to areas that would present more of a threat. This lead to the conclusion that when thinking about a subject it is often essential to look widely at the problem to ensure a holistic solution

Marshall also pointed out, from his vast experience, that if you want innovation you should select the best players and if you want good games you should use the best facilitators. Choose the best for the most important problems.

This was followed by the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group (DWAG) Quad Chair panel. This covered the initiative resulting from DEPSECDEF Robert Work’s February 2015 memo to institute a repository for wargames and their reports. It currently includes some 550 high level games on a wide range of topics, as well as including funding for additional games and wargaming projects (including funding the US DOD and foreign government attendance at the MORS event). They issue a monthly report including a listing of upcoming games, highlighting previous games that are in the depository, the usual statistics about the depository, and other areas about DOD wargaming.

I was initially very cynical about the value of such a depository, but it appears to have access at the highest levels and is being managed effectively. I was particularly impressed by the definite focus on innovation, increasing the decision space for the leadership, and the particular emphasis on “so what?”—that is, proper explanation of the value of the work done and links to real change. Of course, the repository is a US-only classified capability, but it certainly sounds useful. I’m now jealous!

The panel also covered the intriguing idea of using wargames to educate members of Congress. This was, of course, difficult, and would probably have to focus on their direct staff, but it still looks like a really good idea. They also mentioned the lack of value gained from games that generated obvious conclusions: “Don’t tell me we have a lack of a particular resource —we already know that. Tell me what you did to compensate for it and did it work!” which is, of course, intrinsically more useful.

The Services Panel followed, with a number of useful observations:

  • An understanding that putting on more, smaller sized, games helps frame specific problems.
  • Wargames and quantitative analysis are not enemies – they are complimentary, depending on each other.
  • There needs to be robust cost modelling in games – stop inventing stuff with ridiculously cheap costs.
  • Wargames help frame a problem properly for greater understanding (a recurring theme across the ages).
  • Wargaming as a discipline encourages plagiarism – get the best ideas to work for you from anywhere.

I was interested to see the Department of Homeland Security present, happy to learn from the mistakes of others and present with a sense of humour. They hope to avoid the OODA loop problem where it ends up as “Observe, Overreact, Destroy, Apologize,” instead of what it is meant to be.

The Combatant Commands were next and I was impressed at the real efforts to reinvigorate wargaming after decades of decline. It was acknowledged that the efforts were a little patchy in places, but equally there seemed to be a real appreciation of the value to be gained.

This was followed by the Allies panel, with contributions from the UK, Holland, Sweden and Canada. These showed that wargaming efforts were in place in each nation, even if at a vastly different level of effort to the USA. The UK chose to highlight the essential work of Dstl and the Connections UK conference, and Canada mentioned publishing a wargaming doctrine publication, something the UK are also working on.

Lastly we had a panel on Red Teaming from specialists in that discipline. They were initially surprised to be invited and explained the aim of Red Teaming is to get “better decisions and better plans”, through knowing oneself, mitigating group think, fostering empathy and through applied critical thinking.

Working Groups, Courses and Wargames

At this point we broke up into smaller groups to spend the rest of Tuesday, all day Wednesday and Thursday morning in our respective session. Because of this I lost sight of what else was going on, although Paul Vebber provides some additional insight at the end of this report.

The sessions were:

  • Working Group 1: Analytic Process with Paul Davis and Matt Caffrey. Classified. NOFORN.
  • Working Group 2: Communication and Implementation, with Paul Vebber.
  • Working Group 3: Adjudication, with Tim Wilkie.
  • Course 2: Red Teaming, with Steven Rotkoff.
  • Course 3: Structured Analytic Techniques, with Joseph Cyrulik.
  • Wargame 1: Project Cassandra – Envisioning Possible Futures, with Yuna Wong.
  • Wargame 2: Phase Zero Baltic Operations with Scott Simpkins. Not Classified, but NOFORN.
  • Wargame 3. Matrix Gaming, with Tom Mouat.
  • Synthesis Group: This was an oversight group with Peter Perla looking for common themes and best practices.

 

Matrix Wargaming

Since I had 4 sessions of about 4 hours each, and one of the benefits of matrix gaming is that games are quick to design and play, we did a different game in each session.

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Matrix game materials ready for play.

We started the game with a presentation on matrix wargames looking at different approaches and the value of roleplay in predicting the outcome of conflict. This was followed with “Kazhdyy Gorod” a game about a city in a former Soviet state on the border with Russia.

The game started extremely well, with everything looking on track to being sorted out with the minimum of trouble or bloodshed. Well, that was until the Chief of Police acted against orders from the Mayor, who promptly assassinated her in a scene of the finest “Godfather” tradition in front of the rest of the city council. Chaos ensued (not least for the facilitator) but soon resolved itself with the Rebels kidnapping and murdering the Mayor, the Militia Commander sitting neatly on the fence and the Protest Leader ably supported by the power of international media (in the shape of the Press player) being elected the new Mayor of the city.

I was quite shocked and wondered if anyone was going to turn up for the following session after the adjudication difficulties, but with hindsight it was a good stress test of the system and showed the participants that the game can cope with wild play.

Wednesday, 19 September 2016

The following morning began with a short presentation on my guidance tips for facilitating Matrix Games, followed by the Cyber game “All Your Secrets Are Belong To Us“, a game about stealing the next generation stealth fighter plans.

This game went extremely well with very good participation all around and it was quite rewarding to see that the flow of the narrative was appreciated by the players. This meant the consequential requirement of detailed formal adjudication was much reduced, now that the players were more familiar with the game and gameplay.

That afternoon, after another short presentation, this time on some facilitator techniques that could be helpful for facilitators, we decided to design and run a complete matrix game on a subject chosen by the participants within the time available.

Baltic Challenge

The subject chosen was the current crisis in the Baltic States, especially as we had a Swedish and Dutch participant in the group. The game was entitled “Baltic Challenge” and the game design followed the following steps:

  • Define the game scope: modelling the current crisis in the Baltic States.
  • Define the “Actors” involved in the crisis and the order of play.
  • Define the Objectives for the Actors (simple bullet point objectives).
  • Design possible “triggers” as pre-conditions to possibly upset the current equilibrium.
  • Generate a suitable visualisation (map) for the area.
  • Allocate markers representing effects in the game (DIME/PMESII/FRIS).

We had a long discussion about who to represent as players (required to influence the game) as opposed to being mainly there to be influenced by others. In the end, we chose the following “Actors”:

  • Russian separatists in the Baltic States.
  • The Baltic State Governments as a single actor:
    • Estonia
    • Latvia
    • Lithuania
  • Poland as a separate actor.
  • The USA as a separate actor.
  • The Nordic States as a single actor:
    • Sweden
    • Finland
  • NATO

We generated the objectives for each party quickly and then commenced play. A number of possible “triggers” were also discussed:

  • Iskander deployment to Kaliningrad.
  • Russian troop movements on the border.
  • An economic report demonstrating ethnic disadvantages for Russian speakers in the Baltic States.
  • Airspace violations.
  • Soviet fleet manoeuvres in the Baltic.
  • Soviet ship breakdown on the way to Kaliningrad (assumed Iskander missiles and S-400 air defences on board).

The preferred option was a mix of an economic report indicating Russian speakers have a justified grievance and the Soviet resupply ship breaking down off Tallinn on the Estonian coast.

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A later version of the “Baltic Challenge” map.

The game worked very well, highlighting a large number of points to the participants that they were unaware of. The chief insights from the game were that the Baltic States may well try to “do the right thing” for the Russian speaking minority, but they were largely pawns in the game between Russia and the West. There were a number of treaties that affected the participants (the 1997 Founding Act, EU sanctions against Russia, and NATO relations with Sweden) that were important and needed to be understood. The fact that Poland has a right-wing government keen to demonstrate that it will not be bullied by Russia might not necessarily be a good thing as NATO depended on Poland to play a key role in the area and felt limited in the sort of pressure it could bring to bear.

It was also noted that the Inkander missiles, with a range of 500km, may violate the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty (missiles with a range of 500-5,500km) and there was speculation as to why the USA or NATO governments have not challenged Russia about them. The following morning, this was the subject of a Wall Street Journal article, neatly showing the game was on the right track highlighting this issue.

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Gaming the headlines!

We felt that the game would have benefitted (as would any game) from a specialist subject matter expert in the region to assist the facilitator with the briefings, objectives, consequence management, and adjudication but nevertheless we felt that three hours of work had demonstrated the value of the game and wider regional understanding.

The game is now available via a link at PAXsims.

Thursday, 20 September 2016

On the final day, we elected to have a game run by the participants as, given the level of experience they had achieved with the game process and mechanics, they should be able to run and facilitate their own game. The game chosen was “ISIS Crisis“, with updated briefing and dispositions to reflect the current situation.

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Playing ISIS Crisis.

The pre-game discussion indicated a strong feeling that if the game was to be wider than just Iraq, it needed the involvement of Turkish and Russian actors, even at risk of slowing down play, so these roles were included.

The game ran well, even if the most up to date developments were not reflected in the initial set up. The inclusion of Russian and Turkish actors, did change the balance of the game and showed just how far things had changed in the years since the game was designed. It was felt that it would benefit from updated quality briefings for these actors to match the other briefings.

Closing Plenary Sessions

Finally, there was a closing session in which back brief were given on the different workshops, courses and wargames as well as a keynote by DEPSECDEF Robert Work.

The Deputy Secretary of Defence commenced his remarks with the inevitable senior officer’s joke and seemed, at least initially, to be a straightforward explanation of what he was trying to achieve. After a few minutes though, when he had warmed to his subject, the presentation was transformed into an inspiring call to arms that was quite different to the usual rhetoric. Having your DEPSECDEF being quite so disarmingly clear that he wakes up every day thinking of ways that he can mess up the plans of potential adversaries was a breath of fresh air from someone who clearly knows his stuff. He gets my vote and I’m not even an American.

The final thing that stuck in my mind was the realisation that we are facing a new “inter-war period” with all the implications that this brings, and that we need to develop new ways and means to give decision makers strategic choices for the future.

I am looking forward to seeing the presentations being posted on the MORS website so that I can have an understanding of what went on in the other sessions.

Friday, 21 September 2016

The following day the UK delegation (Dstl and I) visited the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at John Hopkins University in order to take a look at the work of APL and the Collaborative Analysis Centre. This was an utterly inspiring visit, generating a raft of ideas and possibilities.

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Visiting JHU APL.

The MORS event continued with additional sessions about Research Design by Dr John Compton, but sadly we were unable to attend those.

Summary

Despite the minor administration problems, mainly affecting us foreigners, the trip was extremely worthwhile. Being able to practice my craft with experienced and knowledgeable participants at this level was very valuable for my personal development and a significant contribution to the UK Defence Academy plans for the future.

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I got a shiny MORS challenge coin too!

I still have reservations as to the value for an inexperienced beginner in this subject area, given the level at which many of the instructional participants were operating. This needs to be addressed if we are to generate replacements for the increasingly old expertise we have in the field (myself included).

Tom Mouat


 

Additional Details from Paul Vebber:

I was a co-chair for a working group looking at the issues of “Communication and Implementation” and the relationship of those issues with technology. First, what information needs to move within the “game world” and between the players? Second, what information needs to move between the game world and players and the adjudicators? Third, what what information needs to move out of the “game world” to the observers and analysts?

Ed McGrady and I sliced the group of about 30 we had into subgroups a couple different ways, and discussed these issues in the context of the sort of problems they typically used wargaming techniques to explore. We then focused on two different types of games—Ed the more POL-MIL type, and I a more high tactical/ low operational—and walked through a game design exercise considering where it made sense to use technologies of different levels of sophistication in this communication focused design approach.

Interestingly the team looking at the more qualitative POL-MIL type of game went “high order” on technology to address the “inside the game world” communication issues linking large numbers of players dealing with a high degree of “interactional complexity”.

The group dealing with a more operational problem (exploring the decision space associated with maintaining a long term—many weeks to a few months—naval presence in a location where an ambiguous adversary occasionally lobs missiles at you, or potentially threatens you by other means, AND you have to deal with other emergent operational requirements nearby) started with a “low tech” representation that developed into a card-driven board game.

Despite initial thoughts that some fairly sophisticated M&S tools may be required, it turned out the tech requirements were more about communicating between the game world of manual game play and observer/analysts to capture situational information about why decisions were made and the risk calculus was assessed. The “high fidelity M&S” tools were then used in analysis efforts fed by information from the game and did not have to integrated into the gameplay directly.

This provided a simpler, quicker playing game which feeds M&S efforts focused on digging into the “structural complexity” of weapon system interaction in a well understood operational context that is emergent from and traceable to player decision making.

There were two other working groups, three opportunities to play in different types of games, and five different classes. Check the MORS website for more info on those events—I’m not sure how much of the material and outbriefs will be made available, my understanding is at least some of it will be.

Paul Vebber

US AWC: Wargaming in the classroom— panel discussion and demo games

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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: FriedrichHanabi1944 Race to the Rhine, AFTERSHOCK, ISIS Crisis, Triumph and Tragedy, Axis & Allies (modified/blind play), Guerilla Checkers, Kaliningrad 2017, and Artemis.

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USAWC

Further information on visiting the USAHEC can be found here.

Thoughts on the DoD wargaming workshop at the Army War College

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The following report has been written for PAXsims by Peter Perla. 


 

On March 16 and 17 I attended a special Wargaming Workshop sponsored by DoD (specifically, OSD CAPE) and held at the Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership. After a series of senior-level wargaming “summits” and working-level meetings of the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group (DWAG), this was the first “official” meeting of those who might be considered a core group of Wargaming practitioners. A primary goal of the meeting was to establish more direct communication between the practitioners and the Pentagon staff supporting the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s (DSD) efforts to “reinvigorate” wargaming within the department.

To that end, the meeting kicked off with a keynote by Mr. Greg Grant of the DSD’s office. Greg had a major role in helping to develop the key article by DSD Work and VCJCS Gen. Paul Selva. He spoke at some length about the DSD’s priorities and how he sees wargaming fitting into his effort to develop what he is calling the “third offset strategy.” Comparing today’s evolving security environment to the period between the world wars, Mr. Grant articulated once more the DSD’s belief that the countries most successful during World War II were those who best used wargaming as part of an integrated cycle of research, learning, and innovation to navigate that period of technological and geopolitical instability and to prepare for wartime realities.

When DSD kicked off his renewed emphasis on wargaming about this time last year, he initially characterized the department’s use of wargaming as “atrophied.” His call for a thorough review of wargaming activities surprised him by revealing pockets of robust and quality wargaming he was unaware of at the time. In the midst of this ongoing review and collection of wargaming information into “the repository” of on-line information, the deputy has reoriented efforts to address two problems in his thrust to use wargames to restore Joint combined arms warfare expertise in the Department and invigorate and encourage bottom-up innovation within the Department.

Grant characterized DSD’s definition of these problems as follows:

  • “As currently structured, wargaming has no meaningful effect on the programming and budgeting process – there isn’t a direct link between insights derived from wargames and Department actions”
  • Wargaming is “not doing enough to stimulate innovation and new thinking about the future security environment and new ways of warfighting.”

Hence the importance of the third offset. Much ink and many electrons have been spent arguing about just what that term means. According to Grant, at its heart it is aimed at “bolstering conventional deterrence against nuclear armed great powers”who are narrowing the lead the United States has had in precision weaponry and the tactical and operational use of that lead to achieve strategic ends. The goal is to find the “right combination of technologies and operational and organizational constructs to achieve decisive operational advantage and thus bolster conventional deterrence.

In approaching this problem, the DSD “sees wargaming as an intellectual thought experiment to free ourselves of current operational concepts and think about new concepts, new ways of warfighting.” He “wants to use wargaming to explore new military ways that may create operational dilemmas for potential adversaries – that’s what the 3rd Offset Strategy is all about – how do you put an adversary on the horns of multiple dilemmas?

The keynote concluded by challenging the wargaming community to help the leadership explore evolving operational challenges and break out of a “Phase 0 mindset” to address the real warfigthing problems of Phase 3. We need to help bring senior leaders to the game table so that they can see beyond today’s bureaucratic imperatives to understand better the context and needs of future warfare and “increase their engagement in product development and approval.” To that end, DSD and VCJCS have instituted regular senior-level wargames, as well as provided funding to support innovative game ideas. It is up to the community to meet those challenges.

After this call to arms, the meeting settled down to a series of information briefings. The main group, where I sat, met in the primary auditorium and was treated to the full range of briefings. A second group composed of modeling and simulation experts met one floor below. They watched many of the presentations, particularly the keynote and morning discussions, via a video hookup. Their afternoon session focused on modeling and simulation demonstrations and presentations.

One of the key components of the DSD strategy to engage the wargaming community more effectively is the repository of wargaming activities. Several presenters described the nature of the repository and how the raw data submitted by the sponsors of games is organized, managed, and “curated.” The importance of the repository to the Pentagon bureaucratic processes is hard to overstate. For example, it is the source of regular monthly reports to senior leaders about upcoming wargames, as well as identifying key high-level insights from past wargames. These presentations triggered a great deal of discussion from the participants, who expressed their skepticism about the real value of a rigid format for data and what many perceived as a mechanistic approach to selecting what information the senior leaders received.

The morning concluded with two presentations. First was a short review by OSD Policy of the DSD’s guidance to the wargaming community and his top priorities, this time at the classified level. This was followed by an outline of the Senior Wargame Series from the perspective of the J-8 office conducting them. During lunch, there were several displays of computer and tabletop games to inform the participants about the range of gaming applications. The afternoon was devoted to a long string of more or less short presentations from various participants about what their organizations were up to. The day concluded with a social at a tavern on base, followed by a “real” game session at a nearby game café, neither of which your intrepid reporter attended.

The second day of the conference began with an intriguing presentation by Professor David Lai of the Army War College. He discussed the differing cultural perspectives of the West and Asia, particularly China, through the lens of comparing chess and Go. We are all familiar with how many wargames use a hexagon overlay on a geographic map; Lai showed how a different perspective is revealed by overlaying maps of East Asia and the Western Pacific, or the entire Eastern Hemisphere, with a Go grid. This perspective for interpreting military, political, and economic actions through the mentality of a Go player is a fascinating alternative to our usual wargamer’s outlook of chess-like moves.

We spent the bulk of day two in several working groups focused on a range of issues

  • Modeling and simulation
  • Decision support in exploring innovation, gaps, and challenges
  • Education (the one in which I participated)
  • Design and methods.

The M&S group met in a different room for the entire conference and addressed two major issues: “tools,” writ large, to support wargaming and wargaming as a teaching method in joint professional military education (JPME). M&S sub groups reviewed data, visualization and adjudication tools. Those discussions raised several issues, many of which centered on expanding the scope of the wargame repository beyond its current focus of supporting the DSD to a tool that would also support wargame practitioners. Useful additions to the repository would fully describe available tools for education, data collection and analysis, visualization, and adjudication. Many organizations have tools that may be of use to others but not all have been entered into the existing repository. The repository could also be expanded to contain more wargame support services such as data sets, wargame training resources, definitions, support to JPME, and other items. Moreover, an unclassified, access controlled version of the repository containing tools and services could potentially be of use to those DoD wargame practitioners without access to the more restricted classified networks.

The discussion in the education sub-group in which I participated ranged across applications of wargaming throughout the life-cycle of a member of the military, especially the career of officers. We discussed not only the use of wargaming to help educate learners in their professional skills, but also how to help teach them more about the creation and use of gaming in their own work. We ended up laying out a progression of the use and teaching of wargaming in two “tracks” aligned with a career. The central thrust was that all needed to be exposed to wargaming at the tactical level in the earliest stages of their careers, partly to allow those with deeper interest to self identify. Those who wanted to learn more could pursue specific billets and training opportunities to develop a specified skill rating in wargaming. They could transition back into the mainstream as teachers or expert practitioners of wargaming, particularly at the operational level of war, helping to educate the mid-level officers. A cadre of such wargaming experts would then progress into even higher skill levels to become the true subject matter experts in applying wargames in support of senior leaders. Similar discussions occurred in the education sub group of the M&S group, with even more detailed discussion of specific military functional areas and civilian professional skill areas that personnel could pursue to qualify as professional wargamers. Although at a very early stage of development, our notions were well received and overlapped with the thoughts of other groups. As a result, the CAPE sponsor of the meeting stated that this was one of the two ideas from the conference he planned to to present to DSD for possible action.

The second such idea flowed from the work of the design and methods group, presented by well known Connections and MORS Wargaming COP participant Jon Compton. Despite initial strong reservations, the group recommended that DoD establish some sort of Senior Wargaming Advisor for the DSD, backed by a small staff and with the remit to speak truth to power about the good, bad, and ugly of the DoD Wargaming enterprise. There was much discussion of how such an office might be created, and some good ideas were put into play. Hopefully the DSD will see both the value of such an effort and the political and bureaucratic means for implementing it.

Several other good points were raised by both the decision support group and the M&S group. I am less comfortable discussing these ideas in this forum, but I expect variants of them will be appearing in future Connections Conferences and subsequent wargaming workshops of this type. There is already discussion of a follow-up meeting this coming Fall (hopefully preceding the election).

Peter Perla
CNA

The Economist: To understand war, American officials are playing board games

Tomorrow’s Economist has a short article on boardgames and strategic policy, featuring more than a few names that will be familiar to many PAXsims readers:

economistMilitary strategy

War games

To understand war, American officials are playing board games

Mar 15th 2014 | From the print edition

TWO evenings a month, four dozen defence and intelligence officials gather in an undisclosed building in Virginia. They chat informally about “what if” scenarios. For example: what if Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites? Recent chats on this topic have been fruitful for a surprising reason, says John Patch, a member of the Strategic Discussion Group, as it is called. Nearly a quarter of those who regularly attend play a board game called Persian Incursion”, which deals with the aftermath of just such an attack. For half the players, such games are part of their job.

You don’t need a security clearance to play Persian Incursion. Anyone can order it from Clash of Arms, a Pennsylvania firm that makes all kinds of games, from Epic of the Peloponnesian War to Pigs in Space. Yet playing a war game is like receiving an intelligence briefing, Mr Patch says. It forces players to grapple with myriad cascading events, revealing causal chains they might not imagine. How might local support for Iran’s regime be sapped if successful Israeli raids strengthen claims that its anti-aircraft batteries were incompetently sited? Might a photo purportedly showing Iran’s president with a prostitute help the Saudi monarchy contain anti-Jewish riots? Might those efforts be doomed if the photo were revealed as a fake?

Paul Vebber, a gameplay instructor in the navy, says that in the past decade the government has started using strategy board games much more often. They do not help predict outcomes. For that, the Pentagon has forecasting software, which it feeds with data on thousands of variables such as weather and weaponry, supply lines, training and morale. The software is pretty accurate for “tight, sterile” battles, such as those involving tanks in deserts, says an intelligence official. Board games are useful in a different way. They foster the critical but creative thinking needed to win (or avoid) a complex battle or campaign, he says.

Some games are for official use only. The Centre for Naval Analyses (CNA), a federally funded defence outfit, has created half a dozen new ones in the past two years. Most were designed by CNA analysts, but commercial designers occasionally lend a hand, as they did for Sand Wars, a game set in north-west Africa.

CNA games address trouble in all kinds of places. In Transition and Tumult, designed for the marine corps, players representing groups in Sudan and South Sudan try to whip up or quell local unrest that might lead American forces to intervene. In The Operational Wraparound, made for the army, players struggle to stoke or defeat a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Avian Influenza Exercise Tool, a game designed for the Department of Agriculture, shows health officials how not to mishandle a bird-flu epidemic.

Board games designed for the government typically begin as unclassified. Their “system”, however, becomes classified once players with security clearances begin to incorporate sensitive intelligence into it, says Peter Perla, a game expert at CNA. If an air-force player knows that, say, a secret bunker-busting bomb is now operational, he can improve the dice-roll odds that a sortie will destroy an underground weapons lab. During official gaming sessions, analysts peer over players’ shoulders and challenge their reasoning. Afterwards, they incorporate the insights gleaned into briefings for superiors.

One reason why board games are useful is that you can constantly tweak the rules to take account of new insights, says Timothy Wilkie of the National Defence University in Washington, DC. With computer games, this is much harder. Board games can also illuminate the most complex conflicts. Volko Ruhnke, a CIA analyst, has designed a series of games about counterinsurgency. For example, Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? (sold by GMT Games of California) models “parallel wars of bombs and ideas”, as one reviewer puts it, on a board depicting much of Eurasia and Africa.

Even training for combat itself can be helped with dice and cards. Harpoon, a game about naval warfare, has proved so accurate in the past that hundreds of Pentagon officials will play it when the next version comes out in a couple of years, says Mr Patch. One of its designers, Chris Carlson, is also responsible for the “kinetic” aspects of Persian Incursion (ie, the bits that involve shooting). Mr Carlson is a former Defence Intelligence Agency analyst; Persian Incursion’s data on the nuts and bolts of assembling and commanding bomber, escort, and refuelling aircraft “strike packages” for destroying Iran’s nuclear sites is so precise that on at least two occasions intelligence officials have suggested that he is breaking the law by publishing it.

NDU: Peter Perla on “The Way of the Wargamer” (April 4)

The Center for Applied Strategic Learning at National Defense University  is launching a series of bimonthly lectures on strategic gaming. Unlike their quarterly roundtables (which are largely aimed at established pol-mil gamers), the new lecture series is especially intended for the “journeyman” (or “journeywoman”) gamer who is relatively new to this area. the first such lecture will take place on 4 April 42012 via teleconference:

The Center for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL) is pleased to invite you to participate in our new series Lectures on Strategic Gaming. These lectures are designed to provide gamers in the early and middle stages of their career with an understanding of key concepts, methodologies and introduce them to leading thinkers in the field. Regular lectures will be held in a live teleconference format where participants will have the opportunity to listen to a presentation by experienced members of the field and ask questions. The presentation and associated resources will be maintained on the CASL website, and over time will form a resource library for the gaming community.

This endeavor seeks to preserve the field’s historic and cross-institutional memory in order to enable gamers to break into the field outside of the dominant “mentorship” training methodology. The library will help to bring gaming expertise and lessons-learned out of isolation and ensure they are accessible to a wider community.

The first lecture of the series will feature Dr. Peter Perla of the Center for Naval Analysis, and author of The Art of Wargaming. We invite you to participate in our opening lecture via teleconference, or to visit our website (http://www.ndu.edu/CASL/index.cfm?secID=46&pageID=8&type=section) at a later date to access the lecture and supporting materials.

What: Lectures on Strategic Gaming: “The Way of the Wargamer” by Dr. Peter Perla

When: Wednesday, April 4th from 1100-1200

RSVP: Please email CASLLecturesRSVP@gmail.com to receive instructions on accessing the teleconference line as well supporting materials for the lecture.

For more information about this program, please contact Ellie Bartels (Elizabeth.Bartels@ndu.edu) or Katrina Dusek (Katrina.Dusek@ndu.edu).

It is difficult to think of anyone who could provide a better introduction to wargaming than Peter, so we strongly urge those interested in serious gaming to (virtually) attend. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with a link to the piece that Peter and Ed McGrady published last year in the Naval War College Review (Summer 2001), Why Wargaming Works.

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