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The power of wargames

Doctrinal Course of Action (COA) Wargames are mandated in most military decision making processes. And no wonder;  COA Wargaming adds more value to the decision making process than any other step save Mission Analysis.  And the power of wargaming is not limited to COA Wargames, which are just one example of the technique. A well run wargame will deliver stunning benefits across the military training/educational and research/analytical domains, in resilience and in the business arena. And a wargame can deliver results that are often difficult – if not impossible – to achieve in any other way.

These are strong statements, but they are supported by the list below. This is a compilation of the benefits and outputs that a wargame can deliver in a military context. Some will be realised in training games, some in analytical games; that distinction always remains. Read the list and try to think of any other activity that can deliver the same results in as cost effective a manner as wargaming – or at all, for that matter. Some people immediately comment that the list is rather obvious. This somewhat cursory analysis can be addressed by inviting people to carefully examine each point before moving on to the next; ask them to describe its significance (large) and then explain how else it might be realised (at great cost and/or difficulty).

A well run wargame will give you:

  • Better decision makers and decision making
  • An opportunity to:
    • identify and mitigate risks in a risk-free environment
    • practise key skills in a joint, combined and interagency context
    • reveal unintended consequences
    • test assumptions
  • Exposure to:
    • the full spectrum of conflict at all levels, current and future
    • the friction inherent in all military operations
    • an adaptive thinking opponent
  • A mechanism for:
    • exploring innovation in the art of war
    • experimentation and exploring ‘what if’ questions
    • developing and refining force structures and operational modus operandi
  • Players facing the consequences of a their own decisions
  • An enjoyable, challenging and engaging environment

This list makes a very effective PowerPoint slide if you ever present on the reasons for gaming.

Maybe worthy of a blog in its own right, the final point in the list is explicitly addressed in a recent article by Peter Perla called ‘Why Wargaming Works’. This can be downloaded from the Resources page. An excellent article, it differentiates between a ‘presented narrative’ and a ‘constructed narrative’. The latter leads to far greater benefits as the wargame players literally construct events themselves, which leads to greater ownership, more engagement and enhanced internalisation of training. Read the article for more detail. Anyone who wants to examine the genesis of this concept might want to read Mindstorms by Seymour Papert. This 1993 book introduced the concept of ‘constructivism’.

Many thanks to Phil Draper and Andy Wrycraft from Newman and Spurr Consultancy Limited for contributing to the list.

For more discussion of this topic see the What it delivers page. If you have any other points that could be added to the list above please e-mail or post a comment on the web site so everyone can share your insights.

Why Wargaming Works

Why Wargaming Works’ by Peter Perla and ED McGrady was published in the US Naval War College Review in June 2011. It is an excellent article that anyone involved in wargaming should read. It differentiates between a ‘presented narrative’ and a ‘constructed narrative’: “…all games derive their power from the same source – their ability to open up their participants to self-transformation through the power of shared and constructed narrative.”  (Download here)