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On using dice with a military audience

I recently gave an ‘Introduction to Operational Analysis‘ presentation to the UK Joint Services Command and Staff College’s Advanced Command and Staff Course students and Directing Staff. At one point I left the security of the lectern, walked to front centre stage and, laying my professional credibility on the line, produced a large rubber 6-sided die and told a story.

Some years ago I was a Course of Action (COA) Wargaming Subject Matter Expert floorwalker at a corps level CPX. HQ 1 (UK) Div was a player HQ and were conducting a COA Wargame. The success of the plan being wargamed was predicated on breaking through an enemy blocking position, and the HQ staff had applied sufficient combat power so that the supporting operational analyst assured them that the force equivalency ratio was 3:1 in their favour. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and assumed the attack would, when the time came, succeed. We all ‘know’ that a 3:1 ratio ensures a brief fight then home for tea and medals. Or does it…?

I asked the analyst what 3:1 actually meant. He told me that it gave an approximately 70% chance of success, based on historical analysis of planned attacks versus a hasty defence. I translated ‘approximately 70%’ to 66% for obvious reasons explained below.

At this point (and knowing him quite well) I approached the General Officer Commanding (GOC). Armed with the analyst’s figures I gave the GOC the self same large rubber die and asked him if he would be happy rolling it in front of his peers and commanders when his plan was executed. If he rolled 1-4 his plan worked, but a 5-6 meant his plan failed; the enemy would remain firm and the entire corps plan stall. With almost no hesitation he called his COS and the plan was revised; more combat power was applied to increase the chances of success.

So what? The point of the story was to illustrate:

  • Holding the die represents the owner of a plan holding the risk.
  • Considering rolling the die in front of peers and superiors makes the point that you only get one shot, and you will be judged on it.
  • This also emphasises the fact that the plan will be executed; it is not just a planning activity.
  • Understanding the numbers is what OA brings to the party.

I then roll the die, having reminded the audience that a 5 or 6 equals failure. Inevitably all eyes follow it… at which point I shout at them not to look at the die! To do so is to search fruitlessly for a predicted outcome, which we all know cannot be delivered.

Having lambasted the audience for following the tumbling die I tell them that the mental image I want them to take away is of themselves holding the die in front of their peers, ready to roll. Understanding the numbers (the OA), would they be comfortable, as the risk-holder, to roll the die when it comes time to execute their plan?

Indeed they shouldn’t roll the die, just picture themselves holding it; it represents the risk they are taking, and OA allows them to better understanding the numbers therein. Because, of course, OA can only support decision making and assist military judgement; it should not pretend to be predictive.

That was 2 weeks ago…and I haven’t yet been invited back. Even if I’m not, it appeals to the recreational wargamer in me to think that I might be the only person to have ever rolled a large rubber die across the Staff College main lecture theatre!

Professional wargaming information on the web

Recent Presentations

The US National Defense University’s Centre for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL) has recently initiated a series of lectures on Strategic Gaming. The first two in the series are particularly noteworthy and are essential listening for any wargame professional. It is not easy to find the links below directly from the CASL web site.

Update: both of the above presentations are now co-located at and the third in the series is also announced there (Mr. Alec Barker on “Scenario Design”, 26 October 2012).

Forums and sites

Click on the forum/site title to be re-directed

Wargaming Connection

Wargaming Connection deals primarily with serious wargaming and wider gaming in the defence (e.g. military science, operational research etc) and social science (e.g. anthropology, sociology etc) domains. The site hopes to ‘improve the ability of wargames to support the increasingly complex needs of customers exploring problems of strategy and policy formulation, technology development, education, military concept and doctrine development, and competition in general.’ It is now the official blog of the US Military Operations Research Society (MORS) Wargaming working group in addition to being the blog for Connections.


PAXsims ‘is devoted to the discussion of simulations and serious games that address issues of peace and conflict for educational, training, and policy purposes.’ It considers areas including: simulations; conflict, peace-building and development; and training and education. It therefore attracts a wider range of respondents than Wargaming Connection, but contributions remain serious-minded and well-considered.

Simulating War

The purpose of Simulating War is to ‘discuss the design and use of conflict simulation… The group is particularly focused on manual rather than computer simulations, and on the use of such simulation games as a vehicle for teaching and research within academia and the military.’ Hence Simulating War attracts more recreational wargamers and gamers than Wargaming Connections or PAXsims.


Milgames ‘is a private (not everyone can get in) email discussion list (listserv) for those interested in developing professional wargames. This means people in the military and those who develop wargames for the commercial market. It is an unofficial (no government support) and unclassified listserv. Milgames is a place where military game developers can ask others military and, most importantly, civilian game developers questions.’ The process used to join the list is at the link above.

Wargames Used in Support of Analysis

This page ‘forms only the beginning of an online wiki on the use of wargames by the military OR community. Long and very detailed books and book-length histories have been written on the history of “professional” wargaming. While this wiki will mention historical instances and examples of specific wargames being used to support analysis, it is not meant to replace these studies.’

Red Team Journal

Red Team Journal ‘was launched in 1997 to further the practice of red teaming and alternative analysis. The current iteration of the site is designed to help analysts and decision makers improve their ability to generate effective national security and business strategies.’

Professional wargaming information on the web

This is a cross-post from the LBS Blog page as it is both a Blog item and a Resource – and we’d hate you to miss it!

There is a wealth of information sources pertaining to professional wargaming on the web. Sites and links considered most useful are listed in the full Blog, although the listing is not in any priority or ‘good to bad’ order. The list is certainly not exhaustive so please add comments or e-mail LBS with additional sources. There are a number of places where you will also find attempts to collate web-based wargaming material, some of which you will find by following the links in the Blog. Sites and forums dedicated solely to recreational wargaming are not included but there is increasing cross-fertilisation between recreational and hobby gaming, so expect some cross-over when you browse.