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

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


 

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

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

Learning Objective:

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

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

Thus, our current overarching Learning Objective is:

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

 

Defining “Wargame”

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

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

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

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

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

 

Constraints

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

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

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

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

 

Key concepts

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

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

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

 

Planned Lessons

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

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

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

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

 

Session 1 in more detail

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

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

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

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

Assignment for session 2:

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

 

Session 2 in more detail

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

Session 2 covers Space.

Opening question: How would you map Wall Street?

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

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

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

Why space and time inter-relate:

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

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

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

Assignment for Session 3:

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

James Sterrett

The Chief of Staff of the Army game

MORS

The most recent Military Operations Research Society (MORS) Wargame Community of Practice “brown bag” lecture involved a presentation by Kenneth Long of the US Army Command and General Staff College on “Appreciating complexity: The Chief of Staff of the Army game.”

Dr. Long started his talk (slides here) by noting the challenge of teaching Army officers—who might be used to operating in more certain and clearly-defined contexts—about the fuzziness and uncertainty of the world at the strategic level. He argued that lecturing “at” officers was often not a very effective way or promoting critical thinking about such topics.

The game therefore emerged out of using more interactive methods to promote discussion about the role of the Army Chief of Staff and the importance of budget, investment, research, and deployment issues. In it, players make decisions about investing and maintaining various types of force, and potentially forward deploying these to several different strategic theatres. Different forces have different costs, and different capabilities in different environments (major combat, irregular warfare, peacetime operations). There are also costs associated with building and refitting forces, deploying and maintaining these, investing in research & development, and gathering intelligence about the opponent’s interests and assets. A commercial version of the game—Future Force (2011), designed by Jim Lumsford—is available from HPS Simulations.

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In addition to the slides linked above, this article from Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning 38 (2011) provides a very good overview:

When Army officers are promoted to the rank of Major, they become field grade officers with the responsibility of planning, organizing and leading large unit formations, working on high level staffs and running the Army day to day. The “Future Force” game is an experiential learning simulation designed to introduce them to the complexity of supporting the current force in its world-wide missions while simultaneously designing and shaping the force for all possible mission profiles for the next 20 years. Played early in their change management curriculum, the game provides a common frame of reference for further detailed technical lessons. This paper describes the game design process from conception to application.

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I was particularly impressed by the explicit way in which he addressed curriculum integration and practical constraints such as available time (a point I’ve often made myself).

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All-in-all it was an excellent presentation, and it is a shame there was not more time to discuss it.

(UPDATE: Added link to commercial version of the game.)

CGSC stability operations simulation follow-up

As you may remember, last month some of the folks at the Digital Leader Development Center, US Army Command and General Staff College asked PAXsims to help crowd-source comments and ideas for a proposed stability operations simulation. That request prompted quite a few comments, both at PAXsims and elsewhere, as well as some broader media coverage.

James Sterrett has now sent us this update:

About a month ago, Rex kindly posted CGSC’s draft Stability Operations requirements documents.  Expecting a handful of replies, we were hit by a large wave of responses, both at PaxSims and elsewhere.  We are busily reworking the draft in light of the feedback.

THANK YOU to everyone who responded.  We truly appreciate the time and effort you put in to assist us.  Also, THANK YOU to Rex for posting it!

The various replies have proven helpful in four ways:

1) Design commentary

Number of Actors: Modeling the number of actors involved in stability operations emerged as a common theme in the commentary.  We were trying to incorporate this and are working to strengthen and clarify it.

Flexibility emerged as a common theme as well.  The community agreed that the game needs to foster a deeper understanding of conducting stability operations, that any simulation used should be descriptive rather than prescriptive in its nature and strongly instructor-driven. Implicit in this is the assumption that the instructor must have as much control and flexibility of the simulation as possible.    We strongly agree with this, and thought it was codified in our documents; this is an area we are working hard to clarify.

2) We received a number of suggestions of simulations to look into, including GEMSTONE, PSOM, IW TWG, Athena, SENSE, and the Oz Wargame Integration Toolkit.  We’ve already had demonstrations of some of these are and working on demos for the rest; some we have seen in the past but they have grown new capabilities.  Even when we can’t see how to utilize them directly, it is always useful to see others’ design concepts.  PAVE (part of TRAC-MRO’s IW TWG) is soon to undergo a closer look to see if we can modify it to meet our needs.

3) We made connections with organizations we hadn’t known existed, such as the TRADOC Analysis Center’s Modeling and Research Office (TRAC-MRO) and the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute.  TRAC-MRO’s office is less than 500 meters from us, but neither of us knew the other existed.

4) We thought we had made the exercise structure and POI clear, but a variety of comments demonstrated that we did not.  If PAXSims readers didn’t understand it from our documents, then we clearly need to improve the description!

                                                                        James Sterrett

                                                                        Deputy Chief, Simulations Division

                                                                        Digital Leader Development Center

                                                                        US Army Command & General Staff College

If any readers still have comments or suggestions that they would like to make, have a look at the original post (linked above) and add your comments here.

Simulating stability operations: the discussion continues

We’ve had quite a response at PAXsims to the recent request from the folks at the US Army Command and General Staff College for comments on their draft requirements for a simulation on stability operations—it has had several hundred page views, and there is now a very rich discussion in the comments section there.

One of the discussion contributors has been Graham Longley-Brown, who offered  the insights below. His graphic couldn’t be included in the comments section, so I’ve reproduced the whole thing here as a blogpost.

The diagram above is a ‘Campaign Tree’ process I developed for a ‘Hybrid Warfare Tactical Wargame’ at our Land Warfare Centre. This supports training for company HQ and/or battalion HQ commanders and staff. It addresses some of the points discussed – and it works! The concept is simple: the Training Audience (TA) move through the Campaign Tree from vignette to vignette along a path determined by their own decisions and actions. Vignettes are played out in real-time and use a real-time (largely kinetic) simulation. The TA decisions and actions taken – under pressure – during each vignette are adjudicated by Excon SMEs and dictate the path taken to the next vignette on the Campaign Tree. The periods between vignettes are modelled using a soft factors simulation and last from 3 – 8 weeks. Hence the consequences of the actions taken by the TA during the vignettes, combined with their ongoing Concept of Operations and decisions taken in response to injects and events fed in by Excon are played out during the longer time periods. The solid lines show one path through the Campaign Tree (with associated TA and Excon briefings) but obviously any path is possible.

The process integrates two simulations, both adjudicated and moderated by Excon ‘Rainbow Cell’ SMEs. MEL/MIL injects are used as required to bring out Teaching Points; these are, in the main, pre-considered but can be dynamically scripted. Likewise the vignettes are pre-considered and pre-loaded in the real-time simulation but can be modified just before going live depending on the TA plan during the preceding time period and can be executed however Excon deems appropriate. The diagram doesn’t show AARs, information flows etc – it’s just the bare bones concept.

Although I think this is quite a simple concept it’s hard work to pull all the elements together in the space of a 1-day training event that spans most or all of an operational tour deployment in game time. But it works…

The thing I love most about it is that it allows the TA to create their own narrative; it’s their actions that determine the path through the Campaign Tree – their story. Hence they are more likely to internalise lessons learned. Check out Peter Perla and Ed McGrady’s Naval War College article “Why Wargaming Works for more on why a created narrative, as opposed to a presented narrative is so strong a learning mechanism.

The process is also very flexible. Delete the soft factors sim and insert a board game if you like. Run it all using just deterministic Military Judgement.

So what? Paul makes the point very well that the GCSC requirement assumes a computer simulation solution that can do everything.  I don’t think such a sim exists, or will do in the near future. A more flexible approach is needed that integrates a number of simulation methods and exercise processes.  Paul’s ‘Right answer’ of a ‘family of games (decision-centric tools) where the students use a variety of small, purpose focused games to get at specific aspects of the problem‘ is spot on. Rex’s ‘preselected teachable moments‘ are encapsulated in various places in the Campaign Tree, and lessons learned are reinforced by the narrative created by the TA themselves. In summary, I suspect that the GCSC solution will need some innovative thinking rather than assuming (hoping?) that someone will come up with a sim that walks on water.

Have thoughts of your own? Go contribute here.

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