CIMSEC Wargaming Week

This week has seen some interesting articles and discussion over at the CIMSEC blog

The highlight of the opening post was the response by Dean Barney Ruble of NWC’s Center for Naval Warfare Studies: 

The next post in the series brings up interesting points about the use of croudsourced gaming to gain insight into problems and test solutions. One of the original ideas behind the CNO Rapis Innovation Cell “Battle School/Lab” game system was along these lines, as are “battle problem” puzzles in magazines like the Marine Corps gazette and Armchair Commander. Give a scenario or vignetter to a lot of people an see who comes up with the most interesting solutions.

A caveat to some of the more “indistrial” crowdsourcing is that in these kinds of efforts the “Crowd” has to have a minimum level of knowledge to be able to addres the problem in a meaning ful way. This gets to the “size of the crowd” – getting 6 or 8 doctors to noodle on a complex surgery is far more likely to have a positive outcome than a million random people on the internet… “Crowdsourcing” military concepts and solutions has to be carefully managed and provided with the right tools, or they risk becoming large and cacaphonous “mega-BOGSATs” (bunch of guys/gals sitting around talking). The more specialized the knowledge-base of the problem, the more vetting must be done before leeting someone join the “crowd”.

The comments here are highlighted by Peter Perla discussiong the role of technology as it relates to wargaming in general and crowdsourced gaming in particular.

In the next post on “gaming the game”, the author points out that sometimes it is necessary to play the “game about the game” in order to win.

This is a very interesting subject that itakes on almost mythic proportions on the one hand (Young James T. Kirk’s victory in the Kobyashi Maru scenario and the classic naval aphorism “if you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin'”) but have strict limits of scope – Military academy cheating scandels are BAD things…

Anyone who has been part of a coherent gaming group knows about idiosyncracies of different player that can be exploited in  different games. I fell victim to such in a recent game where I lost the first game on bad combat rolls, complaining as I am wont to do about my horible dice rolls. My astute opponent tokk advantage by goading my into early attacks offing success to distract me from a diplomatic focus on victory and it worked.

In a similar vien, interpersonal relationships among those on the same side are CRITICAL to quickly establishing trust relationships and “backdoor” lines of communication within and between staffs that, while the bane of Chief’s of Staff, will save your bacon in the chaos of real conflict. Paying attention not just to the “game at hand” but the “game about the game” is something that should be emphasized more in the military gaming context.


The third post in the series discusses the use of a “Test, Adapt & Retest” approach in wargaming for military applications.

The last installment focuses on the type of wargaming staff planners use in creating, valdidating, evaualting and understanding various courses of action to achieve objectives in accordance with Commander’s Intent. The author astutely points out that short shrift is often paid to this part of the planning process – in my experience because of the time crunch that is ever-present. (always time to do-over, but never time to do it right the first time…) together with poor staff direction (“what are idiots doing over there – you know what the Boss wants, get it together for him and be ready to brief in half an hour…)

Even when time is taken to “do it right” – planning doctrine for years has included a totally ‘innumerate’ methodolgy for evaluating COAs that amounts to adding “Red” and “Yellow” and getting “Tall”… (and thankfully, the Navy at least, is purging form its doctrine – Thank You Dr. SDM!).

I am 100% behind the author’s call to re-invigorate the Navy’s planning with activities akin to the gaming recounted in Friedman’s “Blue vs Orange” book on post WWII gaming at NWC. Adaptability gets confused with ‘ad hocery’ in nearly every major “STAFFEX” I’ve been involved with. I’ve even heard Flag level commander’s say words to the effect of “make sure you planning guys tick all the planning activity boxes for this event, I’ll be in Current Ops running the war…” Invariably things go to hell in a handbasket, and in the hotwash, the Commander  blames the planners for not having given him a decent plan… No, you can’t make this stuff up.

Given the above, the author’s exhortaion to “retest” – using an example of a quarterback facing a team a second time – is almost beyond wishfull thinking. Unlike QBs who hope to play 20 games in a season (and go to Disney World!) A senior commander is lucky to play in 2 major wargames in a career, and a hadful of smaller ones, all of which will be totally different situations, in totally different roles with a totally different cast around him. The money quote in the piece bears repeateing:

The ironic piece is that although many of the wargaming departments are located within the confines of educational institutions, the opportunities to stress the personal development and take a critical look at the students own abilities, emotions, and personalities are overlooked.



About Paul Vebber

"If you read about something, you have learned about it. If you can teach something, you have mastered it. Designing a useful game about something however, requires developing a deep understanding of how it relates to other things."
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1 Response to CIMSEC Wargaming Week

  1. Bill Haggart says:

    Great comments, Paul about several important issues. “Gaming the game” has long been something that game designers have been aware of. It is human nature to search out any and all advantages a system can provide in winning, no matter how minor. Players will massage the rules any way they can to the practical [and even unethical] limits. Hobby wargamers often identify such players as ‘rules lawyers’.

    ‘Playing the players’ is something else entirely. In Poker there is the game rules and card play, and then there is the deeper game beyond the rules, figuring the odds and reading the opposing players, using psychology as your opponent did in the example you gave.. Obviously, in a game, whether chess, poker or a wargame, this is as important as the procedures and processes of the system itself.

    It is ironic that in education, as well as military [and hobby] wargame efforts, the system and procedures can get all the attention when it is the people and their responses that are not only the real foundation of both enterprises, but also what all the systems are supposedly designed to influence and support.

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