RAND has published the full ruleset, player’s guide, and game aids for the Information Warfighter Exercise wargame, a matrix-style game intended to give players “an opportunity to employ operations in the information environment (OIE) theories, tactics, doctrine, and techniques in a fast-moving, competitive, notional scenario.”
The Marine Corps Information Operations Center (MCIOC) conducts an Information Warfighter Exercise (IWX) — an event designed to provide training on operations in the information environment (IOE) — one to two times per year. MCIOC asked RAND to help develop a structured wargame for IWX with a formal adjudication process. This document contains the ruleset developed, playtested, and implemented during the 2020 IWX cycle.
The IWX wargame is an opposed event in which two teams of players compete in and through the information environment to better support their respective sides in a notional scenario. Teams represent an Information Operations Working Group (IOWG) or information-related Operational Planning Team (OPT), or its adversary force equivalent, as dictated by the scenario. During the game, each team generates a plan for OIE, and players are then called on to add details to their plan, amend that plan dynamically in response to in-game events, prepare discrete game actions as part of plan execution, and make cogent arguments in favor of their team’s actions and against the actions of the opposed team. A panel of expert judges uses a structured process and a random element (dice) to adjudicate the success or failure of actions drawn from the players’ plans.
This document presents the full ruleset for the IWX wargame, including a host of optional rules to allow tailoring the game to specific preferences, needs of the training audience, or scenarios. Handouts and aids for playing the game, as well a brief Player’s Guide, are also available for download.
First of all, let us be clear that there is no typo here: RAND’s recently-published game of strategic resource management really is called “hedgemony” and not “hegemony.” There’s a good reason for that, too. In Hedgemony, the Blue side is preoccupied with allocating scarce resources, investments, and actions to counter challenges from Red. Much of this involves what international relations scholars call hedging: that is, using a mix of military and economic resources to both balance and engage, while trying to avoid costly large-scale conflict.
Hedgemony is a designed to be played with up to six players (or teams of players) divided into two sides. Blue consists of the United States and its EU/NATO allies. The Red side consists of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. The game also requires a White cell (game control, adjudication, and facilitation) of 2-4 persons. A game would typically take a half or full day. You can see RAND’s nice promotional video below
The game sequence functions like this:
Red signalling. Each Red player chooses up to three investment or action cards that they might play this turn. They then brief these possible actions to the Blue side.
Blue investment and actions. Have been briefed on possible threats, the Blue players decide what actions and investments they will make. Although they too have cards, they are not limited to these and may propose other actions and investments (to be adjudicated by the controller). The US will also have to spend resources to sustain its desired level of readiness.
Red investment and actions. Red may now to choose to play any or all of the cards that they signalled at the start of the turn, provided they have adequate resources for this.
Annual resource allocation. Players gain new resources based on the scenario and developments within the game.
In any phase, the White cell may inject international and domestic events, selected from an event deck or crafted for the scenario and current situation. Finally, they summarize the state of the world based on the most recent gameplay, thus setting the stage for the next turn.
Key to the game is the struggle for “influence points,” which largely define success or failure. Various actions (or responses to events and actions) tend to increase or decrease each players influence.
The board is divided into theatre zones, conforming to the US system of combatant commands. Because this is a strategic game focused on national resource allocations and theatre-level capabilities, military assets are abstracted to “force factors.” There is no differentiation of land, air, maritime, cyber, or space assets. However, forces do have a modernization level, which shapes their effectiveness for military operations. The game also tracks national technology levels, as well as certain critical capabilities (such as C4ISR, special operations forces, long-range fires, nuclear capabilities, integrated air and missile defence). There are also special rules for proxy forces.
Hedgemony comes with an extensive rulebook, player’s guide, and glossary, all of which are available as free downloads from the RAND website. There is also a game board/map (27’x36″), markers for forces, indicators for national displays, information displays and place tags for each actor, quick reference charts, and dice. The game materials are generally of very high quality. The force markers are rather small (and with very small printing on them), however. They are also laser-cut and rather sooty—I had to frequently wipe my hands when using them to avoid transferring black carbon smudges to other game materials. If I was using Hedgemony regularly I would probably invest in some plastic chips and laser-printed round labels to make them all a bit more substantial.
At the time of writing, the pandemic precludes a proper playtest: to do the game full justice you really need a dozen people in a room for a few hours discussing resource allocation and strategic options. However, I had the good fortune to take part in a few moves of the game via a Zoom call with the RAND designers and others. I liked what I saw.
Hedgemony is very much a serious game intended to spark thoughtful discussion on strategic issues, rather than a game designed for hobby play. The game strikes a good balance between the structure of a rigid, written ruleset and opportunities for more freeform adjudicated improvisation. If I were running a session I could even see switching to a quick round of matrix game-style argumentation to resolve actions outside the written rules and cards.
You do, however, need controllers and facilitators who know what they are doing. While the action and investment cards are clear enough, some of the resource bookkeeping could get a bit confusing for players, and they probably need to be talked through how the combat adjudication charts works if they have never seen a CRT (combat results table) before, especially given the need to take force modernization levels into consideration. It might be useful if RAND were to post a a “how to” video showing a full turn of game play to help those who are thinking of using it.
For my part, I will certainly be using it in my conflict simulation course at McGill University when we return to regular teaching next academic year.
U.S. defense strategists and policymakers have the perennial challenge of developing capstone documents that can coherently articulate and guide how the U.S. Department of Defense will deliver and maintain combat-credible military forces to deter war and provide national security in alignment with national strategy. These forces must be ready to fight and prevail should deterrence fail against a variety of threats in an evolving and uncertain global security environment, and they must be able to do this with acceptable risks — both in the present against today’s threats and in the future against threats that might emerge. Key audiences for these capstone documents include defense planners, programmers, budgeters, managers, analysts, and policymakers who support the development and management of forces that can be postured and employed in alignment with a given defense strategy to accomplish objectives.
Against this backdrop, RAND researchers developed Hedgemony, a wargame designed to teach U.S. defense professionals how different strategies could affect key planning factors in the trade space at the intersection of force development, force management, force posture, and force employment. The game presents players, representing the United States and its key strategic partners and competitors, with a global situation, competing national incentives, constraints, and objectives; a set of military forces with defined capacities and capabilities; and a pool of periodically renewable resources. The players are asked to outline their strategies and are then challenged to make difficult choices by managing the allocation of resources and forces in alignment with their strategies to accomplish their objectives within resource and time constraints.
The game itself is multi-sided, with an umpire/facilitator.
Hedgemony is a global, multi-sided, turn-based, facilitated, adjudi- cated wargame designed to teach U.S. defense professionals how dif- ferent strategy and policy priorities could affect key planning factors in the trade space at the intersection of force development, force manage- ment, force posture, and force employment. Players, representing Blue (the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], and the European Union [EU]) or Red (Russia [RU], the People’s Repub- lic of China [PRC], the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [DPRK], and Iran [IR]), are presented with a global situation, competing nation- al incentives, constraints and objectives, a set of military forces with de- fined capacities and capabilities, and a pool of periodically renewable resources. Players are also asked to summarize their strategies and ob- jectives in writing before play starts. The game is about players making difficult choices by managing the allocation of resources and forces in alignment with their strategies to accomplish their objectives within re- source and time constraints.
Hedgemony is designed to be expertly staffed and facilitated. Facilitation is provided by a White Cell, a team composed of two or more experts who act as game masters and referees. Facilitators are responsible for
•Advising players on game rules and play strategies to accomplish learning objectives
•Keeping play on pace and on track through the various phases of each game turn
•Advising and walking players through the adjudication procedures for each action and event
•Maintaining and summarizing the overarching “story” of what player actions or interactions, game events, and their outcomes would likely represent in the real world
•Resolving disagreements over interpretation of game situations and rules
•Overseeing notetaking and data collection.
Although players are expected to try to “win” by achieving a certain amount of Influence—either in absolute terms or relative to one or more other players—within a certain number of game turns, the game is primarily focused on the learning objectives of the U.S. player, with the NATO/EU player, the Red players, and the facilitators all serving, essentially, as “training aids.” Thus, play balance, particular strategies and priorities of specific non-U.S. players, and the specific sequence and frequency of events played by the White Cell may all be shaped by session learning objectives as part of a given session scenario.
And yes, in case you are wondering, the game IS called “Hedgemony” with a “d”:
The name Hedgemony arose from the nature of a common challenge facing those who craft U.S. defense strategy. For the past 30 years, U.S. defense policymakers have been focused on an environment that has presented the United States with options for employment of defense forces in many different roles (such as humanitarian assistance, counterinsurgency, and major power conflict) and in many different locations (such as Afghanistan, Estonia, Haiti, Iraq, Korea, and Somalia). U.S. defense policymakers must prepare for a variety of near-term contingencies while also building U.S. armed forces for the future. The tension inherent in this set of challenges led us to think in terms of “hedging strategies”—the kinds of strategies investment professionals use to deal with uncertainty in the investment markets. This challenge also typically entails efforts to either maintain parity or achieve overmatch with one’s adversaries. Hence, we have the term Hedgemony.
The U.S. Marine Corps and joint concepts and thinking increasingly emphasize the role of information in military operations—from maintaining situational awareness to influencing adversary decisionmaking and understanding the behaviors of noncombatant populations. At the same time, wargaming is enjoying renewed prominence in the defense community as a tool to explore potential future conflicts and shape strategy. Yet, the information environment (IE) remains underdeveloped and underrepresented in wargames, both in the Marine Corps and across the U.S. Department of Defense.
An examination of requirements, principles from military theory, current doctrine, and commercial gaming practices points to solutions and changes to game mechanics to better incorporate information considerations into wargame planning, development, and play in ways that can be customized according to available resources, capabilities, and goals. Recommendations target wargame sponsors, wargame designers, and those who are responsible for procuring new tools and recruiting personnel to support wargaming.
Operations in the IE play a role across the spectrum of conflict, and their effects and consequences extend beyond the IE. As the nature of conflict changes, it is critical that wargames reflect realities on the ground, supporting forces in using and defending against increasingly important information-based tools of warfare.
Their key findings…
The IE is receiving greater attention than ever from operational planners, but it has not universally found its way into wargaming.
•Information is playing an increasingly important role in military planning in the U.S. Marine Corps, across the U.S. Department of Defense, and among potential near-peer adversaries. These operational considerations include how certain types of information, misinformation, or sources of influence affect the decisions, beliefs, and behaviors of forces, military leaders, and noncombatants during a conflict or military campaign.
•Concurrently, wargaming has seen an increase in popularity as a method to explore future conflicts in a low-risk environment. However, these games have mostly retained traditional attrition-based models or focus on a small subset of information-related challenges, such as situational awareness or the fog of war.
• Everyone involved in wargaming should acknowledge the role of information in operations and seek to better represent the relevant aspects of the IE in games.
• Wargame sponsors should ensure that games serve a broader purpose of preparing forces for realistic operational scenarios, which will inevitably be influenced by the IE. This means emphasizing the role of the IE and its relevance to the game’s purpose at each stage of a game’s design and execution.
• Wargame designers should work with sponsors to identify options for incorporating the IE into games from the earliest stages of planning.
• Those who procure wargame capabilities, including game materials and technologies, should select tools that are able to represent all three spheres of conflict (morale, mental, and physical), a range of conditions that could affect a game’s outcome, and robust models of human dynamics, psychological factors, and information flows.
• Those responsible for recruiting personnel to support wargame design, testing, and execution or identifying subject-matter experts to assist with specific aspects of these tasks should ensure that these contributors have the requisite knowledge of the concepts and practices related to operations in the IE and that they stay current on changes in operational realities.
The Center for Gaming promotes the use of games in research to improve decision-making across a wide range of policy areas. The Center supports the innovative application of gaming, the development of new gaming tools and techniques, and the evolution of existing forms and methods.
The RAND Centre for Gaming is not only a world leader in the development of serious games, but has also done much to support women and other underrepresented groups in professional wargaming.
If your organization would like more information on the Derby House Principles or would like to endorse them, email us here at PAXsims.
One of the primary responsibilities of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (USD[A&S]) is to ensure the health of the overall defense acquisition system (DAS). USD(A&S) can bolster the health of the DAS by developing and promulgating sound acquisition policy that improves the function and operation of the DAS at the enterprise level. The premise of this report is that acquisition policymaking should be data driven. However, there are limitations to relying on empirical (e.g., historical) data to guide acquisition policy. In light of these limitations, the authors argue that acquisition policymaking should be evidence based, in recognition of a wider variety of analytic tools that can be brought to bear on acquisition policy questions. This report, intended for acquisition professionals, summarizes the case for a broader evidence base and then focuses on one specific tool that the authors suggest might add analytic value: policy gaming.
Policy gaming can be used to generate observations about how stakeholders might change their decisionmaking and behavior in light of changes in policy. Because the strengths and limitations of games differ from those of traditional tools for acquisition analysis, the authors argue that games complement the existing portfolio of analytic approaches. The authors describe a prototype game focused on Middle-Tier Acquisition (MTA) policy that RAND researchers developed to enrich the available evidence base to support acquisition policymaking, summarize insights from the game, and offer several next steps for USD(A&S) to consider.
Among their findings, they suggest:
Games can provide useful evidence about proposed policies by providing a sandbox to observe decisionmaking.
Games appear to be valuable in cases where relevant real-world data are not available because the new policy or other condition of interest has not yet occurred.
It’s out! Ellie Bartel’s long-awaited PhD dissertation on Building better games for national security policy analysis is now available on the RAND website.
This dissertation proposes an approach to game design grounded in logics of inquiry from the social sciences. National security gaming practitioners and sponsors have long been concerned that the quality of games and sponsors’ ability to leverage them effectively to shape decision making is highly uneven. This research leverages literature reviews, semi-structured interviews, and archival research to develop a framework that describes ideal types of games based on the type of information they generate. This framework offers a link between existing treatments of philosophy of science and the types of tradeoffs that a designer is likely to make under each type of game. While such an approach only constitutes necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for games to inform research and policy analysis, this work aims to offer pragmatic advice to designers, sponsors and consumers about how design choices can impact what is learned from a game.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Games for National Security Policy Analysis and How to Improve Them
Towards a Social Science of Policy Games
Four Archetypes of Games to Support National Security Policy Analysis
Designing Games for System Exploration
Designing Games for Alternative Conditions
Designing Games for Innovation
Designing Games for Evaluation
Trends in RAND Corporation National Security Policy Analysis Gaming: 1948 to 2019
Conclusions, Policy Recommendations, and Next Steps
Appendix ASample Template for Documenting Game Designs
RAND has released a new report by Stacie L. Pettyjohn and Becca Wasser on Competing in the Gray Zone: Russian Tactics and Western Responses. This addresses two major sets of research questions: first, “How are gray zone activities defined? What are different types of gray zone tactics?” and second “Where are vulnerabilities to gray zone tactics in Europe? What are those vulnerabilities?”
Recent events in Crimea and the Donbass in eastern Ukraine have upended relations between Russia and the West, specifically the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). Although Russia’s actions in Ukraine were, for the most part, acts of outright aggression, Russia has been aiming to destabilize both its “near abroad” — the former Soviet states except for the Baltics — and wider Europe through the use of ambiguous “gray zone” tactics. These tactics include everything from propaganda and disinformation to election interference and the incitement of violence.
To better understand where there are vulnerabilities to Russian gray zone tactics in Europe and how to effectively counter them, the RAND Corporation ran a series of war games. These games comprised a Russian (Red) team, which was tasked with expanding its influence and undermining NATO unity, competing against a European (Green) team and a U.S. (Blue) team, which were aiming to defend their allies from Red’s gray zone activities without provoking an outright war. In these games, the authors of this report observed patterns of behavior from the three teams that are broadly consistent with what has been observed in the real world. This report presents key insights from these games and from the research effort that informed them.
Can a game model gray zone competition in a empirically ground sound yet playable way?
What is the game design process for developing a structured strategic game for a complex political-military issue that simultaneously operates in two different time horizons?
How can structured strategic gaming help researchers gain an understanding of adversary gray zone tactics and tools?
To explore how Russia could use gray zone tactics and to what effect, the authors of this report developed a strategic-level structured card game examining a gray zone competition between Russia and the West in the Balkans. In these games, the Russian player seeks to expand its influence and undermine NATO unity while competing against a European team and a U.S. team seeking to defend their allies from Russia’s gray zone activities without provoking an outright war. This report details the authors’ development of this game, including key design decisions, elements of the game, how the game is played, and the undergirding research approach. The authors conclude with recommendations for future applications of the game design.
The Balkans gray zone game demonstrated that structured strategy games are useful exploratory tools and this model could be adapted for other contexts and adversaries.
While the gray zone remains a murky topic, this game demonstrated that it was feasible to break the gray zone down into concrete parts, to conduct research on each of these parts, and to link these components to create a playable strategic game that yielded useful insights.
The scoped and structured approach to this game allowed for enough structure to keep discussions on track and provided links between inputs and outputs while still allowing for creativity, flexibility, and transparency.
This gray zone game can be adapted to focus on different regions or adversaries, could include additional allies, or could be made into a three-way competition.
The RAND team started with a series of matrix games to scope out the problem, and then progressed to semi-structured game. Finally, they moved on to creating a structured, three-sided (US, Europe, Russia) gray zone board game focused on the Balkans.
Countries were tracked for governance quality and diplomatic-political orientation, as well as economic dependence (on Russia) and media freedom.
Players acted through a deck of action cards, each specific to the actor(s) they represented. Potential Russian (RED) actions are shown above, and sample cards below)
The report discusses the game design approaches taken, assesses their utility, and concludes with some suggestions as to future modifications.
All-in-all, it is a rare and outstanding example of serious game designers fully documenting their game design approach and research methods so as to inform future work on the issue. Kudos to all!
Despite its global advantages, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s current deterrent posture in the Baltic states is militarily weak and generally questionable. A Russian invasion there would almost surely capture some or all of those states’ capital cities within a few days, presenting NATO with a fait accompli. The United States is currently considering tailored deterrence strategies, including options to use nuclear weapons to deter Russian aggression in the Baltic states. This report examines what role nonstrategic nuclear weapons could play in deterring such an invasion. As part of that analysis, the authors review relevant deterrence theory and current NATO and Russian nuclear and conventional force postures in Europe. They draw on wargame exercises and qualitative modeling to characterize the potential outcomes if NATO, Russia, or both employ nonstrategic nuclear weapons during a war in the Baltic states. The authors then discuss implications for using such weapons to deter a Russian invasion. The insights derived from the research highlight the reality that, even if NATO makes significant efforts to modernize its nonstrategic nuclear weapons, it would have much stronger military incentives to end a future war than Russia would. That is, Russia would still enjoy escalation dominance.
The U.S. Marine Corps has an opportunity not only to adopt wargaming best practices, tools, and approaches from other sources but also to adapt and develop them further to suit its own needs. This report is designed to help the Marine Corps understand the utility of different wargaming tools as the service invests in its wargaming capability and in building its next-generation wargaming concept. The authors have collected information on wargaming processes, facilities, and skill sets through research and interviews at various wargaming centers. They identify tasks by wargaming type in order to provide information on when in the wargaming process certain tools might be useful.
The authors make recommendations for low-, medium-, and high-resourced courses of action (COAs), with the COAs meant to build on each other rather than representing choices between discrete options. The low-resourced COA involves actions that can be implemented with minimal resources and relatively quickly, focusing on improving processes and the wargaming skills of staff already engaged. The medium-resourced COA builds on the previous one, featuring recommendations that require more resources, time, and research and that involve a greater degree of uncertainty, focusing on acquiring additional skill sets, personnel, and equipment. The high-resourced COA builds on the two previous COAs and requires major reorganization or changes in policy or actions of inherent high complexity and financial commitment, focusing on the construction of new and specialized wargaming facilities.
RAND has released a short, glossy video outlining the findings of the many wargames they have run examining a potential Russian invasion of the Baltic republics. You’ll find it on their Facebook page, as well as below.
Their original January 2016 report can be found on the RAND website here.
For the findings of a later CNAS crisis game on Baltic security (and some discussion of the differences between the two game approaches and their respective findings), see the discussion at PAXsims here.
In an effort to better prepare both sides of the Atlantic to grapple with such challenges, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) conducted a tabletop exercise (TTX) in Washington in February 2016. Spanning two days, the TTX, titled Assured Resolve, featured nearly 50 high-level participants from Europe and the United States, enabling current and former officials to identify gaps in strategy, statecraft, and capabilities. The purpose of the exercise was twofold: to explore assumptions about possible national and multinational responses to future Russian provocations and to examine in real time the threshold for action on the part of international organizations such as NATO and national capitals.
Participants were divided into five teams: the U.S. government, NATO, and the Nordics, as well as the fictitious countries of Baltia and Grosland (the aggressor). These two latter teams were intended to reflect the current dynamics between the Baltic states and Russia, respectively. All five teams were presented with three sequential moves designed to climb the escalation ladder during the two days of the exercise.
As the CNAS press release notes, the game was conducted as a three move seminar game:
Move One began with lower-level conflict inside Baltia that featured a Groslandian incitement and strategic communications campaign to test Western responses to the provocative actions. To determine the viability of bilateral Nordic partnerships with the Baltic states and broader regional dynamics, Move Two presented participants with three near-simultaneous incidents: Groslandian threats to cut of energy supplies to Baltia paired with a Groslandian cyber provocation in the face of oil price disputes between the two countries and the unintentional downing of a European commercial airliner (caused by a Groslandian jet that had turned of its transponder on a probing mission). Finally, Move Three introduced a conventional but accidental military conflict after Groslandian troops entered Baltian territory during a training exercise and Baltian troops tried to arrest them. Teams met in two-hour blocks for each move, developing their responses and interacting with one another through face-to-face meetings. At the end of each two-hour block, participants convened as a group to share insights, responses, and challenges with each individual move.
Overall, “the results of this two-day exercise were surprising and highlighted the need for Europe and the United States to revisit core assumptions about European security.”
Assured Resolve identified a number of areas for improvement in terms of NATO’s strategy and cohesiveness in the face of surprise aggression. Among the key insights, the report touches on future force posture in Central and Eastern Europe, the lack of allied capabilities to counter Russian Anti Access/Area Denial tactics, and the value of relationships with Alliance partners, more specifically, Sweden and Finland. The authors present a series of recommendation, including the need for a new transatlantic strategy resting on the three pillars of unity, deterrence and resilience; an increase in NATO’s exercises; a strengthening of conventional deterrence capabilities; and greater investment in intelligence, space and cyber capabilities. The report also stresses the need for both the EU and NATO to break the longstanding impasse on cooperation in order to focus on resilience.
I’m not sure how “surprising” any of that is for those who have followed discussion of European security in recent years, especially in the wake of Russian actions in Ukraine (and before that, Georgia), annexation of the Crimea, and earlier (2007) cyber attacks on Estonia.
However in many ways the findings of the CNAS crisis game nicely complement those of the earlier RAND study. Indeed, the two offset each other’s largely unavoidable methodological weaknesses.
The RAND study was a traditional force-on-force wargame that focused terrain, combat assets and capabilities, mobility, air superiority, and out-of-theatre reinforcement. It was criticized for some by limiting the Western response to Russian aggression to the use of military measures in the European context—a somewhat unfair criticism, since the sole purpose of the game was to determine how long Baltic forces could resist and how well the rest of NATO could support them.
In contrast, the CNAS study was a focused on broader crisis response, including diplomatic, economic, and other non-kinetic capabilities. I’m not a fan of seminar games for a number of reasons—in particular, they tend to be less interactive and dynamic than a real-world crisis—and there is usually a stark limit to how much granular insight they can offer into military operations. However they do allow one to look at the complex politics of alliance response across the DIME (diplomatic, information, military, economic) spectrum.
On a somewhat different note, I was bemused to see that the CNAS game semi-disguised the Baltic republics and Russia by naming them Baltia and Grosland in the simulation. Some years ago I was at an unclassified NATO conference in Estonia where we all warned by local security officials that agents of a hostile intelligence agency had been spotted in the conference hotel trying to eavesdrop on conversations. A smiling Estonian intelligence official told us all that while diplomatic sensitivity precluded him from identifying the nationality of these suspicious individuals, “I can tell you that they are from a country that borders both Estonia and Japan.”
These are laudable goals. Nevertheless, creating, orchestrating, and observing recent games across the Department of Defense — and conferring with the broader gaming community — has made us aware of a number of potential challenges. These are important to keep in mind for a reinvigorated wargaming enterprise to succeed.
Bonanza or Bust
A failure to appreciate the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of wargames and wargamers could lead to a situation in which “bad games drive out good ones.” This is not a new concern. As wargaming expert Peter Perla has observed, wargames have often been “oversold” and “abused,” and wargaming as a method has suffered as a result. Given the current zeitgeist, this could become a problem again.
Supply and Demand
The growing demand for wargames also might outstrip the wargaming community’s capacity to successfully execute good games. This mismatch between supply and demand could negatively impact the quality of wargames and contribute to a potential backlash against gaming. The professional wargaming community may have already reached a point where the demand for games is exceeding the current supply of experienced game designers, skilled players, and other subject-matter experts vital to conducting first-rate games. As the number of wargames has swelled, the increased operational tempo also has the potential to stress organizations that are now being asked to run many small games each year instead of one large annual or biannual exercise, taxing short-handed staffs (especially if those small games need to be executed simultaneously or in quick succession).
Failure is an Option
To facilitate the dissemination of information about wargames, the Department of Defense has created a wargaming repository that will house the results of all completed games as well as information about planned exercises. Additionally, a Defense Wargaming Alignment Group is being created to ensure that senior leader priorities shape wargames while the insights from wargames inform senior leaders. These are important initiatives. But like all good initiatives, the Pentagon needs to be mindful of the unintended consequences that could emerge.
One of the main virtues of wargames is that they offer a low-risk and “intellectually liberating” environment. Yet the current effort to catalog, scrutinize, and utilize game results might inadvertently undermine this environment by raising the stakes of each game. This, in turn, could have two effects.
First, players might become more reluctant to criticize current plans, policies, and programs. For wargames to succeed, participants need to set aside parochial interests and try their best to identify, assess, and solve problems, even if their insights challenge the status quo. Increased oversight of the wargaming enterprise — and greater dependence on wargame findings to shape budgets in a time of resource scarcity — could actually make games more conservative when the intent may be exactly the opposite.
Second, organizers might exaggerate their findings to demonstrate that games are indeed the driver of innovation that many assume. Yet not all wargames uncover new insights, no matter how well-designed and well-executed they might be. Thus organizers and their sponsors need to adopt a “venture capital” model and understand that the failure to identify new solutions is not itself a failure of the game.
It’s a terrific piece, and well worth reading.
For more on current efforts to reinvigorate wargaming, see also these PAXsims posts:
I’m in and around Washington DC for much of this week, and today had the opportunity to give a talk at the RAND’s Center for Gaming in Alexandria. My topic was “gaming the semi-cooperative,” and it focused on the challenge of designing games that are neither purely adversarial (unlike most kinetic, blue-on-red wargames) nor fully cooperative (unlike say Pandemic, or many emergency preparedness exercises). This sort of challenge comes up often in the sorts of games that I develop and use for both educational and policy/analysis purposes: for example, peace processes and operations where most actors may want peace, but they differ greatly in their approach, interests, and vision of the future; humanitarian interagency games, in which players may share a common overarching goal, but also have institutional interests and standard operating procedures that sometimes put them at loggerheads; or even substantially kinetic campaign games characterized by complex and tenuous multinational coalitions of the not-always-willing.
In the presentation I noted that one can try to generate semi-cooperative behaviour through the explicit rewards, payoffs, and game objectives given to the players. This is what might be termed a game-theoretic approach, since it presumes that players will, in rational pursuit of maximum gains and given a particular payoff matrix, adopt the desired semi-cooperative behaviours. And to some extent they will: AFTERSHOCK, for example, deliberately scores players both on their achievement of collective goals (saving lives, represented in the game by “Relief Points”) and separate individual goals (organizational reputation and political or donor support, represented in the game by “Operations Points”), thereby encouraging general cooperation complicated by occasional friction deriving from divergent interests.
The core of my argument, however, is that structuring rewards and explicit objectives is not enough. Robust evidence from behavioural economics and experimental psychology shows that not all players respond in similar ways to game payoffs: norms, attitudes, and socialization makes a difference. How one frames a game to players has also been shown to have dramatic effect on the proportion of cooperative and non-cooperative actions. From a learning perspective, extrinsic incentives and rewards (scoring points, meeting defined objectives) may be less effective in educational games than intrinsic rewards—the emotional satisfaction—from playing a game well. Role identity and immersion in the game narrative can have powerful effects on game play dynamics. So too do player gaming styles and role assignment importance.
Given all this, I discussed several techniques I have used to manipulate player psychology and narrative engagement so as to foster semi-cooperation:
The use of limited or manipulated player information to generate friction, rivalry, suspicion, or sense of injustice.
Time pressures to spur both bonding and friction.
Manipulation of the physical environment (such as room assignments or game layout) to foster or hamper cooperation.
The games’ findings are unambiguous: As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members. Across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants in and out of uniform playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of the Estonian and/or Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga, respectively, is 60 hours. Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options, all bad: a bloody counteroffensive, fraught with escalatory risk, to liberate the Baltics; to escalate itself, as it threatened to do to avert defeat during the Cold War; or to concede at least temporary defeat, with uncertain but predictably disastrous consequences for the Alliance and, not incidentally, the people of the Baltics.
Fortunately, avoiding such a swift and catastrophic failure does not appear to require a Herculean effort. Further gaming indicates that a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades—adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities—could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states. While not sufficient to mount a sustained defense of the region or to achieve NATO’s ultimate end state of restoring its members’ territorial integrity, such a posture would fundamentally change the strategic picture as seen from Moscow. Instead of being able to confront NATO with a stunning coup de main that cornered it as described above, an attack on the Baltics would instead trigger a prolonged and serious war between Russia and a materially far wealthier and more powerful coalition, a war Moscow must fear it would be likely to lose.
Crafting this deterrent posture would not be inexpensive in absolute terms, with annual costs perhaps running on the order of $2.7 billion. That is not a small number, but seen in the context of an Alliance with an aggregate gross domestic product in excess of $35 trillion and combined yearly defense spending of more than $1 trillion, it hardly appears unaffordable, especially in comparison with the potential costs of failing to defend NATO’s most exposed and vulnerable allies—that is, of potentially inviting a devastating war, rather than deterring it.
The games indicated that lighter and foot-mobile forces could not be expected to substantially slow Russian heavy armour—and that NATO, as currently deployed, has no heavy armour positioned in the Baltics or able to reach them quickly. NATO airmobile forces can mount a stiff defence in major urban areas, but likely at the cost of high collateral damage. While NATO airpower could inflict substantial damage on Russian forces, it would not be able to do enough damage to slow their advance, not would it be able to establish sufficient air superiority prevent the Russian air force from mounting substantial localized air operations against NATO reinforcements (especially given weaknesses in the organic air defence of US formations).
The game itself was conducted as follows:
The general game design was similar to that of traditional board wargames, with a hex grid governing movement superimposed on a map. Tactical Pilotage Charts (1:500,000 scale) were used, overlaid with 10-km hexes, as seen in Figure A.1 [below]. Land forces were represented at the battalion level and air units as squadrons; movement and combat were governed and adjudicated using rules and combat-result tables that incorporated both traditional gaming principles (e.g., Lanchester exchange rates) and the results of offline modeling. We also developed offline spreadsheet models to handle both inter- and intratheater mobility. All these were subject to continual refinement as we repeatedly played the game, although the basic structure and content of the platform proved sound.
Orders of battle and tables of organization and equipment were developed using unclassiffed sources. Ground unit combat strengths were based on a systematic scoring of individual weapons, from tanks and artillery down to light machine guns, which were then aggregated according to the tables of organization and equipment for the various classes of NATO and Russian units. Overall unit scores were adjusted to account for dfferences in training, sustainment, and other factors not otherwise captured. Air unit combat strengths were derived from the results of offline engagement, mission, and campaign-level modeling.
They also note that “full documentation of the gaming platform will be forth- coming in a subsequent report.” We’ll look forward to reading more.