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Scoping a training wargame using a Seminar Wargame based on Course of Action Wargaming mechanics

The UK’s Land Warfare Centre (LWC) is investigating the potential to enhance mission specific training by deploying a mobile wargame to unit lines. This would be used by unit and sub-unit commanders and their staffs to practise, by way of example, operations room procedures and command and control at sub-unit level. The proposal was to deliver a ‘mini Command and Staff Trainer’ wargame with a small Excon to a Training Audience in their own unit lines. The wargame would have one or two simulations supporting it, providing situational awareness, combat outcomes and influence – or non-kinetic – outcomes. It would be delivered by a small team deploying all the kit they needed from a single transit van. They would have discussed the Training Objectives with the unit previously and would set up and conduct the wargame with the minimum of disruption to the host unit.

The wargame design team was presented with an opportunity to debrief personnel just returned from operations. This opportunity would be used to investigate the user requirement for the proposed training wargame, based on the experience of people who had just gone through mission specific training and then deployed on an operational tour; who better to ask whether such a training wargame would be of use? Participants ranged from several key brigade staff and augmentees (for example a Cultural Advisor) through a unit 2ic, company commander and down to a multiple commander.

The event was run as a seminar wargame. The UK Dstl definition of a seminar wargame is to ‘promote structured discussion between experts in several fields and to elicit opinions and judgements from them, and to increase understanding’. This was adapted and the event aim was to ‘elicit opinions and judgements from experts to shape the development of all elements of a mobile training wargame’. A seminar wargame is a qualitative technique and is therefore useful for conducting a preliminary sift of options; exactly what was required in the scoping study phase for the training wargame.

Note a key element from the Dstl definition, above: ‘…structured discussion…’ A well considered and controlled discussion is a key component for success; otherwise an event simply becomes a BOGSATT (bunch of guys sat around a table talking). A BOGSATT rarely delivers as much as a well structured seminar wargame.

The format selected to ensure a structured discussion was lifted directly from doctrinal Course of Action (COA) wargaming. The mechanics of a COA Wargame are discussed in detail in articles found on the Resources page; suffice to say that the fundamental Action-Reaction-Counteraction process between two teams guaranteed that the research topics were fully covered and the necessary opinions were elicited. One team was essentially ‘blue’ while the other was ‘rainbow’, covering all other actors.

A basic scenario was presented to the participants. They were then taken through a series of vignettes, designed to cover all aspects of operations in the contemporary operating environment. Plenty of thinking time was allowed. Whichever side was considered to have the initiative started with the ‘Action’ and presented their plan and the factors they had considered. The other team had the ‘Reaction’, detailing their pre-considered plan and the factors they had considered. The ‘Counteraction’ had two parts (after a suitable time for consideration): the classic response by the side with the initiative (as per a COA Wargame); but then – far more important – how the discussion affected the development of the proposed training wargame.

At the end of the event a final plenary was held to ensure that all research topics and specific questions had been covered, and to give everyone a chance to make any final points.

The fact that the approach adopted ensured that everyone remained engaged and took ‘ownership’ of the event outcomes is incidental. The main point of this case study is to highlight some of the differences between three types of wargame: the training wargame; a seminar wargame; and COA Wargame mechanics. Each of these has difference aims, objectives and mechanics. When these differences are well understood it is possible to harness the required aspects of each to deliver powerful benefits; in this case the successful shaping of a training wargame that will, it is hoped, better prepare troops for operations and possibly save lives in the process.

History of Wargames – Matthew Caffrey

Matthew Caffrey’s Jan 2000 article provides one of the most comprehensive studies of the history of wargaming. It is an unbiased account of the good and the bad of historical wargames and a recommended read for any serious student or practitioner of wargaming. It is written from an American perspective, which is very much in evidence during Caffrey’s discussion of late 20th century wargame developments. (Download here)