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Tag Archives: US Army War College

USAWC War Room: How can wargaming improve government response to catastrophic events?

The US Army War College web journal War Room is featuring a series of short articles on (War)gaming: What is it good for? This week’s prompt is “How can wargaming improve government response to catastrophic events?” Seven scholars and practioners offer a response:

  • Kristan Wheaton (US Army War College)
  • Stephen Downes-Martin (US Naval War College and PAXsims)
  • Ed McGrady (Monks Hood Media)
  • Jim Lacey (Marine Corps University)
  • Rex Brynen (McGill University and PAXsims)
  • Sebastian Bae (Georgetown University and RAND)
  • Ken Gilliam (US Army War College)
  • Krisjand Rothweiler (US Army)

You can add thoughts of your own in the Comments section of the piece.

Wargaming Instructional Fellow, US Army War College

bp0277_us_army_war_college_decal_grandeThe US Army War College is seeking a Wargaming Instructional Fellow.

This is a part-time civilian position at the U.S. Army War College (USAWC) as provided under Title 10 USC 4021. Initial appointment will be for 6 months. The appointment may be renewed for up to one year in total. The position is structured for current or recently matriculated undergraduates with an interest in developing and teaching educational wargames for use in strategic-level education.


  • Collaborate with professional strategic game developers and faculty to design, develop and teach custom strategic games in graduate-level curriculum and to inform senior leader decision making
  • Collaborate with Department of Defense Officials to determine the scope and applicability of wargames as a technique for conducting research into issue of military strategic importance
  • Serve as a member of a gaming team in teaching games in graduate-level education and inform senior leader decision making
  • Participate in wargames and workshops, and write and publish on matters of importance related to strategic wargaming
  • Engage in internal and external service in support of institutional missions

Applicants must be US citizens, and will be rated based on the following criteria:

1. Pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree or a recent graduate with Bachelor’s Degree in a field relevant to strategic gaming.
2. Understanding of game principles or theory.
3. Strong written and oral communication skills – able to develop and teach a game’s fundamentals or outcomes to students
4. Ability to learn and act in a fast-paced environment.
5. A high level of energy and motivation.
6. Demonstrated potential to work with a team of wargamers, faculty and other leaders to conceptualize, program, test, teach, or document games for use by students.
7. Active involvement in networks relevant to wargaming or gaming.

You will find full details at USAJOBS. The application deadline is April 10, 2020.

Professor of Strategic Game Design, US Army War College

bp0277_us_army_war_college_decal_grande.jpegThe US Army War College is seeking a Professor of Strategic Game Design.

This is a full-time civilian faculty position at the U.S. Army War College (USAWC) as provided under Title 10 USC 4021. Initial appointment may be up to four years, with the first year a trial period. The appointment may be renewed in one- to five-year increments thereafter. Academic rank and salary will be based on the selectee’s academic credentials, experience, and professional accomplishments.


  • Collaborate with strategic leaders and faculty to develop and teach custom strategic and serious games for use in graduate-level curriculum and to inform senior leader decision making
  • Develop and teach protocols and systems to virtual existing strategic games to allow online play in support of distance education
  • Serve as a thought-leader on the implications to game programming of innovations such as 3-D technologies, artificial intelligence, big data, remote and autonomous systems
  • Serve as the Army War College expert on the potential revolutions in game design that will impact the character of strategic gaming and the education of senior leaders
  • Assist in the development and delivery of graduate-level curriculum which focuses on strategic and serious gaming; teach at least one elective each academic year
  • Participate in wargames and workshops, and write and publish on matters of importance related to strategic/serious game programming and wargaming
  • Engage in internal and external service in support of institutional missions

You will find full details at USAJOBS. The application deadline is April 7. Only US citizens eligible for a Secret may apply.


Matrix games for student learning at the US Army War College

The following article was contributed to PAXsims by Lieutenant Colonel Joe Chretien and Major Abe Goepfert of the Strategic Simulations Division (SSD), Center for Strategic Leadership, US Army War College. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.


Matrix Games at the US Army War College

At the US Army War College (USAWC), the use of matrix games falls into three categories. The first category is lesson reinforcement.  In this category, the goal is to reinforce the key concepts of historical, current, or future potential conflicts.  As an example, the USAWC resident course ran four simultaneous games for the European Region Study Program (RSP) to explore a future Baltic scenario based on a NATO isolation of Kaliningrad.


Figure 1: DDE SCS poster.

The second category is games for familiarization.  Familiarization can include a region, actor, situation, or problem.  A great example of a familiarization game was conducted at the University of Richmond in April 2017.  The USAWC Strategic Simulations Division (SSD) ran a Syrian-based matrix game where five teams split into multiple factions. In the University of Richmond game, there were only four teams.  However, each team consisted of multiple nations, organizations, or factions (15 individual team entities).  Each student (15) received a role on a team and had to create their own narratives for their individual piece of the team.  The narrative had to include a summary of who they were, who they aligned with, who they could not align with, and their goals and objectives. Interestingly, one of the teams disassociated itself from one of its own factions (represented by a student) as a show of faith to one of the major powers in the area.

The last category of a USAWC matrix game is a capstone, or course-culminating, event.  The culminating matrix game takes the USAWC year-long program of study and uses a matrix-type game to evaluate the progress of each individual student.  This article will focus on the culminating game conducted for the Department of Distant Education (DDE), second-year resident course (SRC) Course in July 2017 (Figure 1, DDE SCS poster).

The Start of Something Big

A matrix game is a low-overhead (low cost/easy setup), facilitated, multi-player, role-playing game. Games are argument-based. Players weigh arguments and counter-arguments then propose an action. Success or failure of that action depends, primarily, on the strength of a player’s argument. The use of dice in the game introduces the elements of risk.

The material, time, and personnel required to run a matrix game is relatively low compared to a large, constructive simulation exercise. Matrix Games only require a written scenario with analog map and counters for execution. Play requires a facilitator, a subject matter expert, and 4-6 players or 4-6 teamsof players.  A play session typically lasts 2-3 hours, but playing time can be tailored to meet learning outcomes (LO).

Matrix-type games are easy to learn and quick to play. Of particular value to faculty, matrix-type games can be played without constraints and with an open-ended format.  Some constraints could include a scripted non-thinking opposition, limited actions for teams, or even preordained results.  An open-ended format allows players to explore any action if it can be tied to team objectives or goals.  It also allows the gameplay to dictate the scenario as it moves forward. Through two years of using the matrix model for experiential learning, SSD staff have observed that participants are always fully engaged and retain more information than through regular seminar-based instruction. The matrix game format forces participants to articulate actions or arguments orally while also having to make decisions more quickly than normal.

It was because of their proven value as an experiential learning tool that, in October of 2016, faculty from the (DDE), U.S. Army War College approached members of the college’s Strategic Simulation Division (SSD), with the idea of using a matrix game as a culminating exercise for the DDE second-year resident course (SRC), Class of 2017. The SRC consisted of 23 seminars comprised of over 250 senior US military officers, Department of Defense Civilians, and international military officers that spent two weeks of residency at Carlisle, PA prior to graduation.  The DDE faculty were looking for a capstone exercise that tied in all the lessons learned and had the students demonstrate knowledge of the elements of national power, synthesize information, and develop and deliver compelling oral arguments.  A matrix game is the perfect tool, and SSD took on the task of developing and delivering that learning event.

The Greatest Number of Matrix Games Played, at One Location, in a Single Day

The initial discussion, more of a “back of a napkin” analysis of requirements, included three initial courses of action (COA) for the exercise.  The three COAs were:

  1. Mega Game – One large matrix game that includes all 23 seminars in the same game.
  2. Discreet Game (A) – 23 seminars playing their own individual games on the same day.
  3. Discreet Game (B) – 12 seminars playing on day 1; the remaining 11 seminars playing on day 2.

A brief description and analysis of the COAs follow:

  • COA 1: The least resource intensive and the COA that provides the least amount of individual student interaction. Each student would be assigned a role within a select team (i.e. a student on the Chinese team could be assigned as the economic advisor) and would only provide arguments if the action required an argument from that specific role.  The danger in games this large is that some of the participants provide no input to the game.  As a result, those students would not have had the same learning experience as others and could receive a poor evaluation.
  • COA 2: The most resource intensive; would require twenty-three (23) facilitators in separate rooms, as well as twenty-three (23) copies of the game. During concept development and initial planning, SSD had two trained Matrix Game facilitators and DDE had none.  In retrospect, DDE would not be able to provide any facilitators for the game anyway because the faculty would be observing the student interactions. However, this COA had the potential to provide each seminar a discreet game that would keep the teams to 2-3 players each.  Therefore, each student could participate actively in the game while being monitored by their faculty instructor (FI).
  • COA 3: Moderately resource intensive and would require only twelve (12) facilitators and rooms, as well as twelve (12) copies of the game.For CSL, this was more advantageous because of limited resources available for the game.

DDE faculty selected COA 2 because they did not have the scheduling flexibility to break the exercise into two days.  To alleviate some resource concerns, Root Hall, the main academic building at Carlisle Barracks, opened 11 seminar rooms for the execution portion of the exercise.

Wargame Development

SSD’s formal role was to develop and execute a South China Sea (SCS) Wargame during the Second Resident Course (SRC) 21 July 2017 as a capstone event for the two-year Distance Education Program (DEP). The wargame’s purpose was to exercise and assess the students’ ability to take a strategic approach to solving complex problems in a South China Sea setting.  The standards were that the students use the South China Sea Matrix Game to articulate oral arguments for furthering the goals and objectives of their assigned country team. The students would also have to demonstrate knowledge and synthesize elements of national power and operational design learned during their 2-years of instruction. Finally, during this game, students would practice creative and critical thinking while demonstrating negotiation skills at the strategic level in accordance with national interests and goals.

Army simulations officers are trained to tease out requirements before concluding how a “game” should look and feel. Form will follow function – meaning that game design is based on desired learning outcomes.   The game, theoretically, will provide the tool for the faculty to evaluate the learning based on the LOs.

For the purposes of the SRC culminating exercise, three primary and one secondary LO were identified.  The first primary LO was to apply strategic and operational art to develop strategies and plans that employ the military instrument of power in pursuit of national policy aims.  The second primary LO was to think critically and creatively in addressing national security issues at the strategic level.  The last primary LO was to communicate clearly, persuasively, and candidly.  The secondary LO was to demonstrate as a proof of concept the viability for future DDE use of this wargame method. With the COA chosen and LOs well defined, SSD officially accepted the request and began formal planning.

Planning the Event

In the US Army, during a normal planning process, lead agencies/ organizations follow a standardized Joint Exercise Life Cycle (JELC) per TRADOC Regulation 71-20, Concept Development, Capabilities Determination, and Capabilities Integration that outlines an in-depth timeline that begins 180 days prior to the execution of a required event (Figure 2, DDE SCS JELC). For this event, SSD had the entire 180 days to conduct planning and coordination that included hosting multiple conferences, meeting critical milestones, conducting planning-team deep-dives with the DDE operations team, setting up the venue, conducting rehearsals, and executing the event. In this particular planning cycle, SSD conducted three planning conferences with their DDE counterparts and CSL support personnel, Additionally, multiple progress meetings were conducted with the U.S. Army War College Commandant, Deputy Commandant, and the director of CSL.


Figure 2: DDE SCS JELC.

As with every planned event, there were critical milestones that enabled the planning to move forward.  The first milestone was to produce a South China Sea Matrix game that was capable of meeting each of the three primary learning outcomes.  The six main parts of a Matrix game are the scenario, teams, team narratives, map, special rules, and game pieces.   Slightly ahead of schedule, all elements of the matrix game were agreed upon and a copy of the game was created and used for playtesting.  The initial playtest, internal to SSD and DDE, met all three LOs and validated the matrix game as the proper tool.  The playtest also led to some minor changes to the scenario, map, gameplay, and counters. More playtesting was conducted, particularly with Harrisburg University and the National Defense University (NDU).

The second milestone was to train, at a minimum, twenty-three facilitators.  The facilitator training took place over two months at various locations.  The first training session was conducted at Harrisburg University (HU).  SSD trained three facilitators at the Harrisburg University main campus. Two of those three served as official facilitators during the wargame.  This training also served as a playtest event. All the game’s final changes resulted from finally playing the game with a mix of faculty (HU), students (HU), and trained facilitators (SSD).

The training at NDU provided the opportunity for wargame experts to play and to train on the game. Of the more than ten NDU players in the game, six trained as facilitators and subsequently supported the DDE event.

The final training session took place at the Army War College three days before the event. SSD set up a round robin training program and successfully trained sixteen more facilitators.  In total, SSD trained over 25 facilitators for the event to allow for the eventuality of someone not being able to participate on game day (which happened).


Figure 3: DDE SCS map.

The third milestone was to create “How to Play Matrix Games” videos.  This task included writing scripts, getting actors (SSD interns), coordinating with the AWC audiovisual team, reserving a room, filming the videos, and providing assistance for the editing of the videos.  This task had to be completed in time for the DDE Class of 2017 to watch the videos before execution of the wargame.  The videos were completed ahead of schedule and were used for two other SSD supported events.

The fourth, and last, milestone was to build twenty-three South China Sea Matrix games.  This was very labor-intensive and took a full week to complete.  Without the help of four interns, this milestone could have required much more time from the SSD team and could have thrown the timeline off.  Each South China Sea matrix game consisted of the following:

  1. Large 35’x45’ map of the South China Sea (Figure 3, DDE SCS Map).
  2. Team folders (five player teams and a control team) that included scenario, individualized team narratives, matrix “how to” sheets, and mini-maps.
  3. Counters: Each packet included “chits” or “counters” that represented a national element of power (Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic).  The players used the counters to mark spots on the map where an action took place.
  4. Supplies:  Each team received a pen, note pad, and post it notes pads to capture notes, to plan actions, and to communicate with other teams.
  5. Other items:Each player received a country-team name tag to provide visual delineation of team composition.  Each facilitator and SME had nametags to differentiate themselves from the students.  Additionally, SSD created seminar tags that hung on individual game doors, Collins Hall and Root Hall room diagram posters, and agenda posters.


Rehearsal, Training, and Cross-coordinated Wargame Events 

The key to successful execution is nearly always dependent on the work put in prior to execution.  The week prior to execution was packed with walkthroughs, rehearsals, facilitation training, and wargame support for DDE SRC electives. Two SRC electives used board games/ Matrix games as the main tool to execute their lesson plans.  One of the electives used a South China Sea board game where students role-played one of six teams to meet goals or objectives based on a set scenario.  While this game did not have the same mechanics of a matrix game, it did introduce the students to the South China Sea region and forced them into negotiations. The second senior seminar used a matrix game and an SSD developed Kaliningrad scenario.


Figure 4: Panel Discussion>

In addition to the above events, CSL sponsored a wargame panel featuring four highly experienced wargame professionals who discussed “innovative ways to include wargames in the classroom.”  At the end of the wargame panel, the experts led participants through some wargames currently used at their institutions. (Figure 4, Panel Discussion).


A matrix-type game is not a suitable tool to meet all learning outcomes.  Matrix game observations and outputs are qualitative versus quantitative, and that makes it hard to gauge results.  Matrix games are also highly dependent on the skill of the facilitator for success. It is not the tool, rather matrix-type games are tool for faculty to use to meet learning outcomes.

From a planning and execution standpoint, this event was very successful. At the end of the wargame, over 300 students had received more than six-hours of hands-on experiential training and evaluation.  The planning conducted between SSD and DDE was very detailed, but leadership was not swamped with minutia.  Wargame sponsors do not always provide enough time to plan for the event. DDE, however, came to SSD with enough lead time so that the full JELC timeline was available to plan, to prepare, and to execute the event. Additionally, AWC, CSL, and DDE fully supported the event and provided resources to ensure its success.  This included the funding of facilitators and subject matter experts from outside organization.  Of course, every wargame or large event has areas that are very successful and areas that need refinement.  As successful as this game was, lessons were learned and have been applied to games used in resident courses at the Army War College.

Lieutenant Colonel Joe Chretien
Major Abe Goepfert


US AWC: Wargaming in the classroom poster

Wargaming in the Classroom Flyer V2.jpgAdditional details can be found here.

USAWC: Wargaming in the classroom


The US Army War College will be hosting a panel discussion on wargaming in the classroom from 10:00am to 11:30am on Saturday, July 22 at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA. The event is open to the public.

The speakers for the event will be:

  • Dr. Peter Perla (CNA)
  • Dr. Jim Lacey (US Marine Corps War College)
  • Dr. David Lai (US Army War College)
  • Dr. James Sterrett (US Army Command And General Staff College)

Immediately following the panel, gaming will ensue using games that are currently implemented in some classrooms.

“Blue Mountain” Army ROTC conducts training at US Army War College

The following item has been contributed by Malcolm D. Parrish, FSR III/VBS3 – Warfighter FOCUS, Tapestry Solutions. Photos by SSG Joshua Balog.



On 23 February 2017, the US Army War College hosted the “Blue Mountain” Army ROTC battalion for training using the Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3) simulation tool. The Blue Mountain Battalion is headquartered at Dickinson College in Carlisle Pennsylvania. The cadet trainees for this exercise were Junior (MS-3’s) students from Dickinson College, Gettysburg College, Millersville University, and Penn State Harrisburg. The coordination with the Blue Mountain Battalion began in December when LTC Joseph L. Wyszynski, the Dickinson Professor of Military Science, attended a demonstration of VBS3 in the Strategic Simulations Division (SSD) computer lab. After the demonstration, LTC Wyszynski agreed that the VBS3 simulation could enhance the training of the cadets and agreed on further collaboration with the Army War College.

BM2.pngThe SSD is part of the Center for Strategic Leadership (CSL) at the Army War College. The CSL and SSD normally focus on strategic-level wargames, educating senior military and civilian leaders. However, over a year ago SSD began to formulate new ways to incorporate simulations and wargames into classrooms at the Army War College. One of the ideas included using VBS3 as a tool to capture realistic video that would be included into scenarios for the students. An unseen benefit of this was the opportunity to partner with the Blue Mountain Battalion as VBS3 was originally developed, not for video creation, but as a flexible simulation training solution for tactical-level scenario training.

BM3.pngIn the 23 February training event, 13 cadets under the leadership of CPT Edward Park (Assistant Professor of Military Science) conducted squad-level training utilizing VBS3 to further develop skills required to complete the US Army Cadet Command’s Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) this summer at Ft Knox, Kentucky. The LDAC training is the most important training event for an Army ROTC cadet or National Guard Officer Candidate according to Cadet Command.

The training began at 6:30 AM with a train-up session that allowed the Cadets to learn the “buttonology” of the VBS3 system before conducting their first virtual battle drill- “react to an ambush (near)”. During the rest of the morning training session, the Cadets were able to execute this battle drill twice – with marked improvement after each attempt.


One of the benefits of training with VBS3 is the cadet’s ability to conduct training on the same simulated terrain that they will use during LDAC. Every aspect of the terrain, elevation, vegetation, man-made objects to include the sounds of birds and mosquitoes are replicated. “It’s the next best thing to live training” commented COL Bill Jones, Director of the SSD. Jones went on to say “… nothing will ever replace live training. What this type of exercise allows you to do, is enter a live training event at a higher level of proficiency”.

During live training, Cadre control most of the variables – friendly, neutral, and enemy. This includes adversaries’ reaction and casualty adjudication. In VBS3, artificial intelligence within the simulation replicates those controls. This includes the possibility of wounds and even death for a cadet. Just as in actual combat, in the VBS3 simulation, “the enemy gets a vote”.

Dwayne Parrish

Clashing in the classroom


Yeah I’m working in Harrisburg
Working hard in Petersburg (working for the clampdown, working for the clampdown)
Ha! Gitalong! Gitalong!
Beggin’ to be melted down

What do early 1980s  The Clash punk lyrics  have to do with serious games? Nothing at all, other than I’m writing this in the airport in Harrisburg, PA. Ever since we flew over Three Mile Island on the incoming flight I have had the song Working for the Clampdown stuck in my head.


The morning sun bathes scenic Three Mile Island in a faintly radioactive light. It would have been nice to linger, but we had to SCRAM

Rather than working for the clampdown, however, I spent Saturday in nearby Carlisle taking part in a US Army War College panel discussion on wargaming in the classroom. The primary focus, not surprisingly, was on professional military education (PME). I also ran two of the several demonstration games featured at the event. Over two dozen people participated.


Setting up the event.

The first panelist was Peter Perla (CNA), who made the general case for the value of wargaming. Key to what Peter had to say was the emphasis he placed on process rather than outcome: while the outcome of a game is not irrelevant, it is what goes in the mind of the player that is of key importance. I couldn’t agree more, and it points to why building an engaging game narrative is such an important part of effective wargaming.

I presented next, identifying a number of serious game “worst practices” that was partially inspired by a 2004 US Naval War College and CNA study on (analytic) wargaming pathologies. Specifically, I addressed the dangers of:

  • Gaming for gaming’s sake. Problems soon arise when instructors devote inadequate attention to how and why they are using a game, and how this might support course learning objectives. Gaming enthusiasm is no substitute for effective teaching. One also needs to be clear about the opportunity costs of using scarce contact hours for games that might be used for other activities. It should be noted that learning is not the only reason to game in a classroom: a game can also serve break the ice in a  new group, promote networking, and to help assess student abilities.
  • Assuming that games teach themselves. How will you know that players are learning the appropriate lessons? Properly prebriefing and debriefing games is essential. I also pointed to the danger of gamer mode, whereby players exploit game rules (such as unflankable map edges, zone of control rules, or using disposable units as “speed bumps”) or computer AI to secure victories in ways that would not work in real life or otherwise be inappropriate.
  • Not listening to participants. If instructors want to know what students are taking away from the game, and whether the experience was worthwhile, be sure to ask them. While self-assessment is not always a reliable indicator of actual learning, eliciting feedback will help to identify problems and shortcomings.
  • All game, no gaming. One can take this last point further, and elicit feedback on the game system itself and encourage students to suggest possible game modifications. Indeed, encouraging students to think as game designers, and not just as game players, appears to improve learning outcomes. In the context of professional military eduaction is also serves to enhance critical knowledge of wargaming, thus leaving participants better-equipped to assess the value of future games, derive the greatest value from a game, or even help to design or facilitate one.

James Sterrett ( Deputy Chief, Simulations Division,  Digital Leader Development Center, US Army Command and General Staff College) then offered some thoughts based on his experience of supporting and encouraging classroom wargaming at CGSC. He emphasized the practical considerations that affect what sort of game will be useful and appropriate, and the need to design educational wargames and scenarios so that they are fit for educational purpose. One-size-fits-all solutions, he suggested, rarely work well. He also highlighted that not all instructors are the same, and that classroom wargaming approaches need to take account of a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses too.

Finally, James Lacey (Marine Corps War College) focused most of his comments on the obstacles to the use of wargames to teach strategy in professional military education. He suggested that PME institutions tend to be too rigid and structured, and discourage instructors from experiment. He also mentioned some of the criticism his critique, has received and—in typical fashion–pushed back hard. In subsequent discussion Peter noted that despite the current DoD push for more and better wargaming (inspired by the DEPSECDEF memo of February 2015), this has largely focused on analytical gaming with no clear direction from the top to more fully and effectively integrate gaming into PME.


Playing AFTERSHOCK. What is the UN so happy about?

After a Q&A period, the rest of the day was devoted to demonstration games. I ran a session of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. The foreign military contengents of the joint HADR-Task Force did an exceptional job of quickly repairing the damaged airport and port. A critical moment in the game came when the NGO team unintentionally delayed implementation of a water infrastructure project in District Five, only to see the area stricken soon after with a dangerous outbreak of cholera. The United Nations—possibly having learnt from its real-life experience in Haiti—already had a cholera response programme readied, and was able to both halt epidemic and provide improved water facilities to prevent future outbreaks.


The United Nations responds to the cholera emergency.

The players were headed for a well-earned victory when we had to call an end to the game for reasons of time (not to mention my need to eat before the cafe at the US Army Heritage and Education Center closed for the day).

After a quick sandwich, I also ran several turns of the ISIS Crisis matrix game. The Iraqi government sought to build on its successes earlier this year in Fallujah and Ramadi by launching a bold, Patton-esque thrust along the Euphrates Valley towards the border town of al-Qa’im—hoping thereby the sever an important ISIS line of communication and further isolate Mosul. The attack, however, was hastily organized and went disastrously wrong. Local Sunni tribes were angered that the campaign had been supported by Shiite militias rather than coordinated with them, while ISIS benefitted from both a  morale boost and the capture of significant military equipment. ISIS also plotted terrorist attacks in Iraq and abroad—one of which, aimed against NATO facilities in Brussels, was foiled in the nick of time by an alert Belgian police officer.

The failure of the operation also aggravated growing tensions between Baghdad’s Iranian and US allies. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi used the defeat to justify a large-scale purge and reform of the Iraqi armed forces in an attempt to build a more competent and professional military. In doing so, however, he relied heavily on Iranian advice, advisors, and money—causing the US to temporarily withdraw some of its own advisors in protest. Washington also signalled its dissatisfaction with the Iraqi central government by providing the Kurdish Regional Government with heavier weapons. That, of course, only further annoyed Baghdad, which briefly closed its airspace to US aircraft. Meanwhile, Iraqi Sunni leaders were dismayed both by growing Iranian influence and by the government’s failure to deliver on its promise of a new law that would see more petroleum revenues invested in Sunni areas. Scandals and acrimony dominated the political process, and national unity seemed more distant than ever. Amidst all this, ISIS capitalized on the disarray by rebuilding its network of supporters in government-controlled areas of Anbar province.

All in all, I very heard some thoughtful commentary at the event, made new contacts, played some games, and otherwise very much enjoyed myself. I’m very grateful to MAJ Dennis Davis and his colleagues at the US AWC Center for Strategic Leadership for having me down.

UPDATE: You’ll also find a report on the event by John Carter McKnight (Harrisburg University of Science and Technology) at his blog Aporia.

Oh, and as for that song…



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


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.



Further information on visiting the USAHEC can be found here.

Kaliningrad 2017 matrix game at the US Army War College

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

LTC David Barsness is a game designer assigned to the Strategic Simulations Division, Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College, in Carlisle, PA. He can be reached at:

Michelle Angert is student at the University of Pittsburgh. She spent nine weeks at the US Army War College as an intern in the Strategic Simulations Division, Center for Strategic Leadership.


On 14 July 2016, Kaliningrad 2017 debuted in the U.S. Army War College’s academic curriculum as part of the Department of Distance Education Elective DE5540 Security in Europe: NATO and the EU, by Dr. Joel Hillison. Kaliningrad 2017 is a matrix game, modified for use in seminar instruction. Gameplay is conducted through structured argumentation and facilitator adjudication rather than a rigid set of rules that does not promote strategic thinking.

Kaliningrad 2017 is the first of seven games, undertaken by the US Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership, Strategic Simulations Division (SSD) which furnishes national security professionals a role-playing forum for examining aspects of non-traditional conflict. The game depicts a fictional clash between Russia and the West over rights of access to the Kaliningrad district across the Baltic States and Poland. It was designed in the winter of 2016, and reflects the conditions of that time. The time period simulated is the late winter and spring of 2017.


Kaliningrad 2017 matrix game map

In Kaliningrad 2017, player teams take on the role of one of five state and composite actors in a potential conflict in North East Europe. Each player team has its own specific objectives and guidelines for action, but the general goal is to preserve sovereignty and deter aggression.

After months of playtesting, in the USA and abroad, this iteration was the first to feature complete player teams and included a resident subject matter expert (SME) assigned to each team. The SME provided the students an expert familiar with their region with whom to coordinate and develop focused policy and positions. Game-specific modifications were incorporated in order to meet learning objectives.[1] Dr. Hillison updated the game assumptions to reflect the British decision to leave the European Union (Brexit), modified the decision-making process on the NATO and EU teams to reflect consensus procedures, added recurring meetings (e.g. NATO Military Committee) to replicate actual structured dialogue within and between organizations and assigned a faculty member to play the Baltic States and Poland.[2]

Organization: The students were divided into four teams (EU, NATO, Russia, USA) and provided team-specific background information and goals. Preparation included analyzing current issues facing the EU and NATO and the strategic approach taken by each organization. Dr. Hillison devoted portions of several in-class seminars for the individual teams to develop strategies to accomplish their team goals. This included crafting concrete objectives, sequencing ways to achieve these objectives using the various instruments of power, and assessing risk. “In-Seminar” preparation ensured the students were prepared to articulate their team strategy and achieve their objectives during the execution of the exercise.

K2017-3Game Play: On ‘game day’, the students gathered in the Root Hall Library and moved into their respective team areas. Awaiting them was a game board, country-specific information and invitation cards for coordinating negotiations. The team venues were spaced out of earshot of the other teams. The game commenced with a ten-minute strategy session, followed by five minutes for negotiations. Afterwards, the teams gathered around the central game board, while the Facilitator reviewed for the last time the sequence of play and any changes to the situation on the ground. The order of play was Russia, the European Union, NATO, USA, BSP (Baltic States and Poland) and Russia (again). During this main phase (15 minutes), the student team leaders made an argument for a given action while the other teams argued sequentially the feasibility or infeasibility of the muted action. The facilitator then assessed the argument and counterarguments, providing a modifier to the outcome die roll (plus or minus), depending on how well each team articulated its position.

K2017-2.jpgWrap-up: The teams made it through five player turns in just over two hours. Having reached the desired time limit, the facilitator and Dr. Hillison then conducted an After-Action Review. Teams talked about their objectives and how actions during the game were meant to effect these. Teams received feedback from the SMEs on quality of preparation, team strategy, team dynamics and the plausibility of actions taken. Students left the exercise with a greater understanding of the relationship between NATO and the EU and the roles of the United States, Russia, Baltic States and Poland and other (non-specified) European nations.

Recommendations: Successful execution of matrix game exercises is dependent on three factors:

  • First, an experienced ‘facilitator’ is critical. This person must be well versed in the mechanics of matrix game play. The facilitator must also have full knowledge of the course material and scenario in order to properly adjudicate arguments. Close coordination with the course faculty instructor is required. The facilitator will guide\demonstrate a full round of play immediately before commencing the actual game. This leads to more effective game play. The demo round might be filmed (e.g. one of the rehearsals), or could be a live demonstration (e.g. move zero).
  • Second, it is imperative to have sufficient faculty expertise on hand in order to facilitate substantive group discussion, provide feedback and ensure learning objectives are met. The simplicity and flexibility of matrix game exercises allow faculty instructors to quickly modify game play in order to meet those objectives. For example, a faculty instructor might translate a teaching point through a particular game move. This is easily done through the facilitator.
  • Finally, and most important, students must come prepared. During gameplay, much like oral exams, students will be called on to properly articulate and employ the instruments of national power in the context of their organization or country and present a reasoned argument in support of a particular action. In this particular exercise, observers remarked that they saw the students demonstrate the use of the ends\ways\means analysis model, using a different “lens” or perspective to look at problems and a marked knowledge of the elements of national power.

From student and faculty feedback, Kaliningrad 2017 was a successful teaching event and validation exercise. All involved were impressed at how the game allowed them to employ lessons learned in the seminar classroom. Kaliningrad 2017 was a ‘proof of principal exercise’ that demonstrated the effectiveness of matrix game-exercises both as a teaching tool and as a measure of effectiveness of course comprehension and learning objectives.

The game materials for Kaliningrad 2017 are complete and are available for reproduction upon request. These materials include the rules, maps, game markers, player aides, and player team goals and descriptions.

 * * *

[1] Apart from numerous playtests at the US Army War College, Kaliningrad 2017 has also undergone testing at the National Defense University and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory of the UK MoD, and has been furnished to the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy, the US Naval Postgraduate school in Monterey, CA, the Massachusetts National Guard, and individuals in the United States and Europe. For more on the design and playtesting of Kaliningrad 2017, see the earlier July 2016 article in PAXsims: Kaliningrad 2017 playtest at NDU.

[2] Subject matter experts from across the Army War College assisted in the game and the three rehearsals. Participants included: LTC David Barsness, LTC James DiCrocco, LTC John Mowchan, LTC Jurgen Prandtner (German Army), Dr. Ray Millen and Dr. Christopher Bolan. COL TJ Moffatt and Dr. Jeff Troxell observed the execution. LTC Joseph Chretien and Michelle Angert (intern) of the Center for Strategic Leadership facilitated.

Kaliningrad 2017 playtest at NDU

The following item has been contributed by LTC David Barsness, a game designer assigned to the Strategic Simulations Division, Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College, in Carlisle, PA. He can be reached at:

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.



Map for the Kalingrad 2017 matrix game.


“Is it already 4 p.m.?” quipped Dr. Callie Le Renard of the National Defense University’s Center for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL), three hours into playtesting Kaliningrad 2017. Time often passes with uncommon haste while playing such free-form “Matrix” games. Nearly another three hours would transpire before the last of her fellow playtesters, Major Geoffrey Brown, Hyong Lee, Luke Nicastro, Ian Platz, Timothy Wilkie, and student interns Christopher Chen and Daniel Matsumoto, called it quits for the evening.

Kaliningrad 2017 is the first of seven games, undertaken by the US Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership, which aim to furnish national security professionals a role-playing forum for examining aspects of non-traditional conflict. The game depicts a fictional clash between Russia and the West over rights of access to the Kaliningrad district across the Baltic States and Poland. It was designed in the winter of 2016, and reflects the conditions of that time. The time period simulated is the late winter and spring of 2017. In Kaliningrad 2017, three-man player teams take on the role of one of five state and composite actors in a potential conflict in North East Europe. Each player team has its own specific objectives and guidelines for action, but the general goal is to preserve sovereignty and deter aggression. Kaliningrad 2017 is a matrix game, modified for use in seminar, whereby gameplay proceeds through structured argumentation and facilitator adjudication rather than a set of formal rules.[1]

The five player-teams in Kaliningrad 2017 are: Russia; European Union; NATO; USA; and the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and Poland. Each team is comprised of three players representing the head of state (President, Secretary General, Parliamentary/Commission Chief and such), diplomatic and information, and military and economic elements of power (DIME model).   One player in each player team represents a significant friendly or allied country not depicted formally (Russia – China, EU – Germany, NATO – United Kingdom, USA – Turkey, Baltic States and Poland – Sweden). Additional players may be added as appropriate to replicate permanent representatives to standing bodies (UN, NATO, EU, International Monetary Fund, World Bank).

Gameplay is represented on a large map of North East Europe (see image above), demarcated to show national borders and ethnic minorities within the playing field. The map also shows the region’s major urban centers, oil and natural gas pipelines, and country affiliations in multiple languages. Smaller boxes off board mark the United States, Germany, Turkey, United Kingdom, NATO, EU, Baltic States and Poland and Sweden on one side and China, Ukraine, and Allied Forces in Afghanistan (Resolute Support) on the other. Tracks depicting world opinion, the influx of refugees into Europe and nuclear escalation line the outer edges. Each player team has a variety of markers representing personnel, assets, equipment, and actions.

The game is played in turns, with players making their moves in a set sequence: Russia > EU > NATO > USA > Baltic States and Poland > Russia. Owing to the array of options available to players, turns are divided into two phases. During the first phase, the player teams discuss among themselves and record their intended actions in writing. Whichever negotiations or agreements a player team wishes to undertake with other player teams also occur in this phase. On conclusion the leaders of each team rejoin the facilitator and subject matter expert around the map and make their respective arguments. As each game turn represents a period of two weeks, the facilitator must ensure that the actions conform to ‘real-world’ time constraints. At the end of each turn, the facilitator provides a quick summary of any new ‘facts’ established by the preceding actions. Note-taking during gameplay is highly recommended.

Players can take an exceptionally broad variety of actions within the game, including the quartet of actions comprising DIME: diplomatic, information, military, and economic.[2]

  • Diplomatic: Any actions or communications involving more than one player team fall under the purview of diplomacy. It is suggested that players make diplomatic moves before all other types of action. Examples of diplomatic action include (but are not limited to) bilateral and multilateral agreements, covert military support, joint statements of purpose. Diplomacy can also be conducted between a player team and a non-player through the facilitator.
  • Information: Information and espionage operations enable players to acquire vital information or undertake unconventional (and often covert) action. These include geographical, human, and signals intelligence, as well as various special operations (including sabotage, assassination, etc.). Players may also submit in writing actions they wish to keep secret to the facilitator for covert adjudication.
  • Military: Military actions are often kinetic and involve the movement of physical assets, to include combat, occupation, and maneuver. Many such actions (e.g. combat and long-distance transit) require a die-roll for resolution. Nearly all military actions are represented through the movement of tokens on the game board.
  • Economic: Economic actions are actions concerning money, resources, or trade. There is no formal mechanism to track the resources available to each player team; rather, the economic components of actions should factor into players’ arguments and are assessed by the facilitator.

The playtest at NDU was the fourth such for Kaliningrad 2017 and the first outside of Carlisle Barracks. As always, the process benefitted from the presence of fresh faces and perspectives. Equally valuable were the suggestions of fellow game designers, Luke Nicastro and Ian Platz. Their approach to the game differed from that of their colleagues or the playtesters at the US Army War College and was informed in great measure by the successes and failures of their own game: Burning Shadows (previously reviewed in PAXSIMs, 9 March 2016). The biggest setback to date has been in simulating the three-man player teams. At no playtest has there ever been more than one player per player team. As such, it has not been possible to model or test the intra-player team discussions, the recording of decisions, and negotiations with the other player teams. Similarly unevaluated has been the influence of each team’s non-depicted ally (China, Germany, UK, Turkey and Sweden).

These deficiencies will be addressed directly at the next playtest of Kaliningrad 2017, scheduled for 14 June, at Carlisle Barracks. The game will debut in the U.S. Army War College’s academic curriculum in July 2016 as part of the graduate seminar “Security in Europe: NATO and the EU” for the Second Resident Course in the Department of Distance Education, by Dr. Joel Hillison. It is also slated for inclusion, alongside six similar games, in the Regional Studies Program in the resident curriculum in winter 2017, for which Kaliningrad 2017 was originally designed.

The game materials for Kaliningrad 2017 are complete and are available for reproduction upon request. These materials include the rules, maps, game markers, player aides, and player team goals and descriptions.


[1] Matrix games are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winners and losers. Instead, they require players to generate a credible narrative. It is from examining this narrative afterwards that players develop insights into the situation being depicted. The objectives of one player-team will likely conflict with those of others; they may even conflict within player-teams. Similarly, it is possible (and even welcome) for all players to achieve some of their objectives by the end of the game. Matrix games lend themselves well to audiences with fixed time strictures. Being easy to play, they are easy to teach to newcomers. If you can say ‘this happens for the following reasons’ you can play a matrix game.

[2] Multiple placement of diplomatic, information, military, and economic markers. DIME markers differ from other markers in that they may be used sequentially to modify the die roll. Players have the option of placing a DIME marker and adjudicating the action immediately or withholding adjudication and waiting until a subsequent turn and using the marker(s) as a modifier to the die roll. DIME markers may be used to increase friendly die rolls (defined as members of an alliance or union – NATO/EU) by one per marker or decrease an opponent’s by the same. A player may place DIME markers up to the number available at the time of placement. Markers remain in the space until final adjudication, when they are returned to the owning player for reuse elsewhere, regardless of the success or failure of the action. Players may always employ DIME markers to increase their own chance of success or to reduce the chances of an opponent.


The Game of Thrones… at the US Army War College


How better to train US military officers to deal with a treacherous world of war, shifting alliances, and political intrigue than have them wargame the struggle for supremacy in Westeros? As part of its current strategic wargame series, the US Army War College will be hosting The Game of Thrones boardgame:

Test your wits and strategic insights … and in doing so, learn how the game relates to International Relations Theory.

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan – or have just heard about it – you’ll know it’s a dramatic struggle for power.   In this board-based simulation, you’ll formulate strategy by understanding interests, executing diplomacy, and apply international relations theories.

Game of Thrones is part of the CSL series  of serious games or simulations — enhancing the student experience by using optional game events (afternoon/evening) that are tied to the curriculum.

Participants will take part in pre-game discussion, to outline the game and expectations, as well as a post-game AAR.

You’ll find additional information on the event here.

h/t Jerry Hall 

Thoughts on the DoD wargaming workshop at the Army War College


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

US Army War College Strategic Wargame Program

The following report was written for PAXsims by COL Jerry Hall. COL Hall is an Army Simulations Officer, and Director of the Strategic Simulations Division at the Center for Strategic Leadership, US Army War College. He can be reached at

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.



Ashburn Gate, Carlisle Barracks.

Whereas lectures and articles merely disseminate information and ideas, wargames allow active learning in which not only the players but also teachers and game designers are confronted with continuous and often unexpected questions and challenges as they explore, experiment and compete within the artificial model which the game provides. (Philip Sabin , “The Educational value of Wargaming.”

The US Army War College (USAWC) recently implemented a new special program, the Strategic Wargame Program (SWP). The SWP uses commercial and government wargames – physical boardgames, miniatures, and computer simulations – to enhance the educational experience of its students. The SWP offers optional afternoon and evening wargame events tied to the USAWC Core Curriculum. Typical wargames used in the program are at the strategic level, relevant to the curriculum, are easy to teach and play, can be ideally completed in a few hours, include command and control aspects, and can support multiple players or teams of players.


USAWC Strategic Wargame Program overview.

Each event in the program is moderated by an expert (when possible the game designer), and facilitated by experienced players from the USAWC faculty, staff, and students or the local wargame community. Each SWP session begins with the moderator providing introductory remarks and a game orientation. Following the introduction, the facilitators lead players through the wargame for two to three hours, then the moderator leads an after action review (AAR), focused on how the wargame supports USAWC learning objectives.


Fire in the Lake promotion sign.

The inaugural SWP event was Fire in The Lake, moderated by Volko Ruhnke, on Wednesday, 30 March 2016. Fire in The Lake is Volume IV in GMT’s COIN (Counterinsurgency) Series.

From the GMT website:

     Fire in the Lake dives headlong into the momentous and complex battle for South Vietnam.   A unique multi-faction treatment of the Vietnam War, Fire in the Lake will take 1 to 4 players on US heliborne sweeps of the jungle and Communist infiltration of the South, and into inter-allied conferences, Saigon politics, interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, air defense of Northern infrastructure, graduated escalation, and media war.

Renowned designer and modern warfare expert Mark Herman joins COIN Series creator Volko Ruhnke for a collaborative production not to be missed.  Fire in the Lake features the same card-assisted counterinsurgency game system as GMT’s Andean Abyss, Cuba Libre, and A Distant Plain. Each Fire in the Lake faction presents fresh challenges:

  • As the Viet Cong, you must light the people’s fire for the Revolution.  How long do you build in the shadows, and when do you emerge to set the spark?  Your big brother from the North will draw the enemy’s attention away from you, but be careful that he does not take over your movement from the inside!
  • As the Republic of Vietnam, you have a big brother too.  He will help you build a strong Army, control the country, and kill the Communists, but at what cost to your traditional way of governing?  Should you fight hard with the forces and resources that you have, or leave that to the US and just focus on strengthening your political hold?
  • As North Vietnam, you have friends feeding you resources as well.  But you must see to funneling them southward through a well-developed logistical trail, then decide which moment is right for your painstakingly assembled forces to venture from the relative safety of Laos and Cambodia to control the South.
  • As the United States, you have the firepower and the mobility.  A certain number of US casualties is to be expected, but too many will break the public’s support for South Vietnam and the War.  And your air power and incursions into Laos or Cambodia can help or turn counterproductive.  Together with the ARVN, the fight is winnable.

The event began with a facilitator lunch, hosted by Volko Ruhnke, to discuss the best practices for the facilitation of the game to the faculty, staff, and students.  The volunteer facilitators consisted of USAWC faculty and staff, as well as civilian wargamers from as far away as Quantico, Virginia. Their role was to explain the game mechanics to the players and guide them through play after Volko’s introduction.


Facilitator lunch. From left front: Bill Powers (Quantico, VA), Jonathan Squibb (Camp Hill, PA), Jim Cooney (USAWC Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute), COL Jerry Hall (USAWC Staff), Victor Schwartzmiller (USAWC Staff), Volko Ruhnke, LTC Barsness.

After lunch the team set-up five copies of the game, reviewed the rules and variants, and discussed how to gradually introduce the players to the game. Volko recommended the 1965-67 Short Scenario (Westy’s War) with two variants to mitigate a common US exit strategy technique. After the players arrived Volko provided them an overview of the strategic setting for the game and turned it over to the facilitators.


Volko Ruhnke (center) explaining Fire in the Lake to players. The player to the far right is an International Fellow from Vietnam.

After two hours of game play, Volko led the players through a wide-ranging AAR discussion on the game design mechanics and principles focused on two lessons from the USAWC curriculum: escalation in Vietnam and COIN theory. Players liked the conflicting objectives of the four factions: the US seeks to gain popular support and ultimately withdraw forces, while the Viet Cong seek to undermine popular support and develop infrastructure in the form of bases; the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) seeks to control territory and increase patronage to maintain control, while the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) seeks to wrest control of territories from the COIN players and increase its infrastructure in the form of bases and the Ho Chi Minh Trail.


Fire in the Lake game board (reproduced at 150%) looking down from the north.

During the AAR several players questioned the largely deterministic nature of combat interactions in the game, such as assaults and sweeps (vice stochastic or more random outcomes). Volko explained that this was a game design decision to streamline game play, and elaborated that while tactical outcomes may be more random, the overall outcome of a campaign over several months was more predictable.


Three simultaneous four-player games of Fire in the Lake.

Overall, the inaugural Strategic Wargame Program event with Volko Ruhnke and Fire in the Lake was a success. If you are interested in establishing a similar program, feel free to contact the author. Some keys to success:

  • Plan early and account for possible changes to your institution’s calendar!
  • When possible, invite the game designer to moderate the event. They can provide key insights into the game design.
  • Provide relevant institutional lesson plans to the moderator in advance so he/she can tailor the AAR to support learning objectives.
  • Identify and train a group of facilitators who are experts in the game. This leaves the moderator free to check on all of the games in progress.
  • Advertise to get the word out…electronic marquees, Facebook, institutional websites, and mass emails all help (see below).
  • Have enough copies of the game available to accommodate your audience.
  • Reproduce larger copies of the gameboard to facilitate multiple players or teams of players. Educational use allows you to create one copy per game that you own. The maps used were reproduced at 150%.
  • After the event, Volko and the facilitators headed to a local game store and café for dinner and more games, including the latest installment of the COIN series, Liberty or Death!


Electronic marquee advertising at one of the entrance gates to Carlisle Barracks.

COL Jerry Hall
Strategic Simulations Division, Center for Strategic Leadership
US Army War College

Matrix games at the US Army War College

USAWC.jpgThe following piece was contributed by Colonel Jerry Hall and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Chretien of the Strategic Simulations Division (SSD), Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College.

Dr. Rex Brynen of McGill University in Montreal, Canada recently delivered a presentation on “Conflict Simulation and Gaming in the Classroom” at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. During the workshop, Dr. Brynen introduced us to Matrix Games. He also moderated “ISIS Crisis,” a Matrix Game on the rise of ISIS set in the summer of 2014. Matrix Games have the potential to enhance experiential education in both wargaming and Professional Military Education (PME).

A Matrix Game is a low-overhead, facilitated, multi-player, argument-based game where players propose actions, weigh arguments and counter-arguments, and a die roll decides success or failure. Matrix Games typically last 2-3 hours and require a scenario with map and counters, a facilitator/umpire, a subject matter expert, and 4-6 players or teams of players. Matrix Games can be created on any topic, however the focus of this article is on strategic geopolitical crisis Matrix Games.

Chris Engle created Matrix Games in the late 1980s. He wanted to develop a game system in which it was possible for a player to role-play an entire country, but that did not have extensive rules, unit counters and combat results tables (like most wargames).[1] He based his system on roleplaying games, using a free-play framework where players propose actions, state their desired effect, and then posit arguments in support of why they believe the proposed action will succeed (other players may offer counter-arguments). Initially his games included a matrix of cue words, although over time the matrix was dropped, but the name stuck.[2] For additional information on Matrix Games, as well as free Matrix Games, see:


Subsequently, the Strategic Simulations Division at the Army War College hosted its first Matrix Game demonstration session on December 10, 2015 for staff members of the Center for Strategic Leadership. The purpose of the demonstration was to provide an overview of Matrix Games and their potential for use as an additional wargaming method. The War College hosts several strategic wargames a year, using the two-sided seminar format. In ISIS Crisis, the participants represent one of six sides: the United States, Iran, Iraqi Government, Sunni minority, Iraqi Kurds, and ISIS. Prior to the game, each team was provided team-specific background information, objectives, and a special rules card explaining rules unique to each side.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The purpose of the ISIS Crisis demonstration described below was to inform staff members on the Matrix Game methodology, not to formulate policy or strategy. Player actions do not reflect official policy of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

The game began with a strategy and diplomacy phase, during which each team developed its strategy and conducted diplomatic negotiations with other the teams. For some teams, the negotiation session was instrumental in brokering deals that would significantly shape the subsequent gameplay. For others, the negotiation phase provided a sense of where they stood politically with other teams.


The pre-game overview brief.

At the end of the strategy and diplomacy phase, each team announced the results of any negotiations (if they chose to). The United States team used the opportunity to announce a “four point” strategy for defeating ISIS. The final point of the strategy was support for a confederation system of government in Iraq, rather than continuing to support the Shia-dominated “unity” government. This announcement both surprised and immediately impacted the other players, especially the Iraqi, Iranian, Sunni minority and Kurdish teams.

The US team’s policy announcement set the tone for the game. The US built on its policy announcement by conducting a strategic information operations campaign to discredit ISIS and reduce its ability to recruit foreign fighters. Following a successful ISIS attack into Kurdish controlled Hasakah province and a successful Kurdish counter-offensive into Mosul, the US team deployed a significant aid package to the Kurds, in the form of air support, advisors, equipment and funding. Iraq interpreted the US policy statement and its direct support of the Kurds as destabilizing and sought to conduct reforms to increase minority representation in Parliament and its Ministries. The reform movement failed however, and the predominantly Shia Iraqi government faced the situation of a US-backed and resurgent Kurdish minority, combined with a now disenchanted Sunni minority leaning toward ISIS. The Iraqi Government responded by publicly appealing for military support. Iran responded to the call by announcing it would deploy ground forces into Iraq to help combat ISIS (the Iraqi and Iranian teams struck this secret deal during the diplomacy phase, unknown to the facilitator and the other players).


Map orientation.

The US continued its diplomatic efforts to defeat ISIS by approaching the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and asking them for help in cutting off funding for ISIS, then announced their own version of the 2014 Iranian Nuclear Deal, with a caveat that allowed Iran to deploy into Iraq to help fight ISIS. This deal effectively divided Iraq into a three-party state by driving the Sunni minority toward ISIS and further reinforcing Kurdish autonomy. ISIS and the Sunni minority successfully took Tikrit, then Fallujah, while Iranian forces deployed into Najaf, Karbalah and Samarra. ISIS then successfully conducted a covert operation in Samarra, destroying several Sunni mosques with explosives, and blaming Iranian forces. This event further strengthened the fissures between the Iraqi Government, the Sunnis and the Kurds. The Iraqi government attempted to gloss over the situation by conducting a “One Iraq” strategic communication campaign, but it did not reflect reality on the ground and was ignored by the other players. The game ended with Iraq in control of its Shia regions with significant Iranian ground forces, ISIS in control of the Sunni regions, including Tikrit and Fallujah, and the US-backed Kurds firmly in control of the Kurdish region. The new US policy announcement and the clever Iranian deals with the US and Iraq effectively created a three party Iraq. A by turn summary of all player actions as recorded is at the end of this article.


Iranian team deliberations.

The after action review with the players, who were a mix of wargaming and research analysis experts, yielded several insights. Collectively the players thought that Matrix Games could be most beneficial before or during (or even in place of) the prevalent two-sided seminar wargaming method. They felt that the Matrix Game method better promoted participation and engagement among the players. The analysts felt that Matrix Games provided more quantitative data to collect due to the increased interaction, as well as more qualitative data in the form of the supporting arguments and the die rolls. All players thought that Matrix Games would be best for current or future (potential) conflicts to avoid participant knowledge of historical scenarios. They did acknowledge that historical scenarios could be used for Matrix Games to gain insights and understanding into why actors behaved as they did in historical conflicts.

Finally, ISIS Crisis demonstrated the potential utility of Matrix Games in policy and strategy formulation. National Security practitioners could conduct multiple iterations of a Matrix Game, testing a different policy or strategy approach in each one, to gain insights into how the various parties may react. For example, had this game been a test of a “confederation Iraq” policy, the US team would likely discard that policy course of action due to the implications vis-à-vis Iran, the Sunnis and the Kurds.

Since this ISIS Crisis demonstration, we briefed the War College Commandant and began to design our own Matrix Games. We plan to provide the War College faculty training on the use of Matrix Games as another tool in their instructor “toolkit” and look forward to providing future strategic leaders an additional experiential education experience during their time here at Carlisle Barracks.

ISIS Crisis actions by turn summary:

Turns 0-1

  • Turn 0 (Diplomacy Round): US announced new “4 Point” Policy to defeat ISIS; final point was support for an Iraqi Confederation Government
  • US: Global IO Campaign to discredit ISIS (success)
  • Iran: Negotiate covert SOF advisors and equipment to Syria (success)
  • ISIS: Conquer Hasakah Province from Kurds (success; doubles*)
  • ISIS Free Move: Counter US IO Campaign based on taking Hasakah (success)
  • Iraq: Expand minority representation across minsitries (fail)
  • Sunni: Propose law for proportional minority representation in Parliament (fail)
  • Kurds: Conquer Mosul from ISIS (success)

*ISIS Crisis special rule: when any player rolls doubles on two six-sided dice, ISIS receives a bonus action related to the roll.

Turn 2

  • US: Deploy forces in support of Kurds (Drones, SOF, Air, Equipment) (success)
  • Iran: Move SOF (via air) and equipment (via sea) to Syria (fail; moved but detected and attributed to Iran)
  • ISIS: Retake Mosul from Kurds (fail)
  • Iraq: Open request for ground forces in support of fight against ISIS (no roll; Iran agrees to help)
  • Sunni: Conduct uprising in Tikrit: phase 1 build militia (success)
  • Kurds: Retake Hasakah Province from ISIS (fail; doubles)
  • ISIS Free Move: Provide support to Sunnis for Tikrit uprising (success)*

*Umpire mistake, not related to failed roll!

Turn 3

  • US: Soft diplomacy to GCC to stop flow of money to ISIS (success)
  • Iran: Deploy ground forces to Iraq: Najaf and Karbala (success)
  • ISIS: Conquer Tikrit with Sunni militia support (success)
  • Iraq: Conduct anti-ISIS IO campaign based on “one Iraq” (fail)
  • Sunni: Re-propose law for proportional minority representation in Parliament (success)
  • Kurds: Retake Hasakah Province from ISIS (success)

Turn 4

  • US: Announced Iranian nuclear deal in exchange for Iranian help against ISIS (success)
  • Iran: Deploy additional ground forces to Iraq: Samara (success; doubles)
  • ISIS Free Move: Blows up several mosques in Samara; Iran blamed (success)
  • ISIS: Regional recruiting campaign (success; doubles)
  • ISIS Free Move: Conquer Fallujah from Iraq (success)
  • Iraq: Coordinate for Combined Iraqi-Iranian assault to retake Fallujah from ISIS (fail; Iraq attacks alone)
  • Sunni: Appeal to US for support (no roll)
  • Kurds: Recuit/deploy additional Peshmerga into Kirkuk Provice (fail)

[1]Matrix Games: The Origins of Matrix Games,” Wargame Developments,  (accessed January 27, 2016).

[2] John Curry and Tim Price, Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming (Bristol, UK: The History of Wargaming Project, 2014), 7.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

COL Jerry Hall is an Army Simulations Officer and the Director of the Strategic Simulations Division, Center for Strategic Leadership, US Army War College. He can be reached at

LTC Joseph Chretien is an Army Simulations Officer assigned to the Strategic Simulations Division. He can be reached at

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