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The Wargame Designer – explaining the role essential to successful wargames

Although key to the successful delivery of any wargame, the role of wargame designer is little understood. Indeed, many wargaming and simulation practitioners fail to even recognise the need for such a person. The result? Wargames that fail to deliver the massive benefits described on the What it delivers page.

So, what is a wargame designer? He or she is, above all, a facilitator. Someone who can weave together all of the stands involved in designing, developing, executing, validating and refining a wargame, as described on the How we do it page. To do this effectively a wargame designer must have sufficient knowledge of the skills required in each of these steps. He or she might have a background in any of Perla’s principal categories of professional wargamer (military, Operational Analyst or software engineer) but must not be so entrenched in any one silo so as to be predjudiced or risk being drawn into, or distracted by, unecessary levels of detail in any one field. That tends to be the problem when wargames are designed by an expert in any one of Perla’s categories; they focus too much on their area of expertise and do not have the breadth of vision to consider the holistic elements of the wargame.

Furthermore, the Wargame Designer needs knowledge of all 7 elements of a wargame, as described on the What is wargaming page. Hence he or she needs a skill set that encompasses: training design and analytical design (for example of experiments); scenario design and writing; IT; military exercise processes and procedures; and analysis techniques (for example after action reviews and scientific analysis).

Due to the complexity of many modern wargames it is also desirable to have knowledge of project management (including change management and configuration management) and more general skills such as stakeholder management.

Add to all this the necessary communication and people skills and you will find that such a combination of talents is rare indeed! In 20 years LBS has come across no more than a handful of such people throughout the UK, NATO, ABCA and Netherlands wargaming and modelling and simulation industries. And yet a wargame designer is vital to maximising the huge benefit that a wargame can deliver.

Finally, remember Peter Perla’s quote from the How we do it page: ‘It is important to make one thing clear at the very start; designing a wargame is an art, not a science. Experienced military officers, practised operational research analysts, and accomplished computer programmers are not necessarily capable of designing useful wargames. Although some or all of the knowledge and skills for such people are important tools for a wargame designer to possess, the nature of game design requires a unique blending of talents.’ (Perla, P. The Art of Wargaming, Naval Institute Press, 1990).

A good wargame designer possesses this blend of talents, and is as much artist as scientist. A rare find.

Course of Action Wargaming – an indispensible technique

Of all the doctrinal tools and techniques available to the command and his staff, COA Wargaming is second only to an effective Mission Analysis in terms of ensuring – as far as one can – the success of a plan. That is a bold statement, but true.

COA Wargaming remains little understood and is too often badly executed. The result is a common misappreciation of the benefits that COA Wargaming can deliver and a widespread belief that it is time consuming and adds little to decision making. This could not be further from the truth.

Although COA Wargaming is increasingly accepted as part of the decision making process, current doctrine still fails to adequately explain its aim or the benefits that can be derived. There is no official aim of COA Wargaming given in any current doctrine so what follows has been developed by LBS. The aim of COA Wargaming is to ‘identify risks and issues in a forming plan for subsequent analysis.’ From this you can see that a COA Wargame is absolutely not a Mission Rehearsal, or Review Of Concept (ROC) drill in US parlance; that is something entirely different, even though they might look superficially similar.

Executed properly, a COA Wargame will give you the best possible chance of identifying risks and issues in a plan, and then mitigating them, whether by developing contigency plans, amending the forming plan to reduce them or by avoiding them altogether.

LBS advocates conducting a COA Wargame once a COA has been selected by the commander. Assuming you have conducted a good Mission Analysis and so know what you are expected to achieve, and why, a good COA Wargame will allow you to refine your chosen COA and, quite simply, give it the best chance of succeeding. It will do this better than any other doctrinal or decision making tool or technique. Yes, it is that powerful.

For more detail on all of the above, and to see how a COA Wargame should – and should not – be run, go to the Resources page and download ‘The do’s and dont’s of COA Wargaming’ article.

Avoiding common errors in Computer Assisted Exercises (CAX)

This article describes the 3 errors most commonly made in the design and delivery of Computer Assisted Exercises (CAX). Most importantly, it tells you how to avoid them!

Whether an experienced professional wargamer or newly posted to a position that involves wargaming, reading this article will help you deliver more successful wargames in any domain (Download here)

Still the best book written on professional wargaming – ‘The Art of Wargaming’ by Peter Perla

20 years on, The Art of Wargaming by Peter Perla remains the best book written on designing wargames. It was published in 1990 by the US Naval Institute Press. Remember the term ‘wargame’ refers to the holistic elements of wargaming, not just the simulation; don’t buy this book if you want to know how to code models!

Paste the ISBN 0-87021-050-5 into Amazon or any other book retailer to find it. It’s about £16 ($25) for a used copy. If you are involved in any way with professional wargames you MUST own this book. The sections on hobby gaming might seem irrelevant; they are not (even though they are obviously dated), but many people might wish to skip them to save time. Whether you read them or not, make sure you get to the chapters on designing professional games.