Tel : +44 (0) 773 446 4583

Email :

The importance of the Test Exercise (Testex)


Why do we need a Testex?

The ‘Design’ phase steps of the wargame creation process, above, are listed on the How we do it page.

The Testex is probably the most important element of the next phase: ‘Develop’. The article ‘The Top 3 Errors in Computer Assisted Exercises and How to Avoid Them‘ available from the Resources page (Avoiding common errors in Computer Assisted Exercises (CAX)) lists the ‘Develop’ steps:

  1. Validate the scenario, simulation(s) and data. Ensure that these support the exercise aim and Training Objectives (TOs). They must also be sufficiently realistic (verified) to enable participants to ‘suspend disbelief’ and believe in their immersive virtual environment.
  2. Play-test the simulation(s) and systems; try to break them. Ensure that the simulations contain the correct level of detail and are playable in accordance with the exercise level, timelines etc. Capture all Lessons Identified (LI).
  3. Play-test the exercise processes. This is the principal testing of the procedures that will make or break the exercise. Rehearse staff in their game roles, preferably in a mini game. Capture all LI.
  4. Prepare the final rules. Incorporate LI from the wargame Design phase and steps 1 to 3 of the Develop phase.
  5. Create an audit trail. Document all decisions taken and the reasons for them.

Steps 1 to 3 and much of steps 4 and 5 can be covered in a single Testex, although preparation and follow-up actions are obviously required. To attempt these often diverse activities separately and outside a consolidated Testex is difficult and risks not identifying weaknesses.

Testex Agenda Items

The following are suggested as Textex items in an educational/training context (as opposed to an analytical event):

  1. Confirm the Testex purpose: to try to break the proposed processes and systems. Stressing these is the best way to identify points of weakness in time to rectify them before the actual event.
  2. Confirm the wargame TOs. Blindingly obvious but too often forgotten.
  3. Processes. Test the following as far as resources allow, ideally in a 24-hour mini-exercise that replicates the actual event:
    1. Player HQ battle rhythms. Walk these through, ideally in real time but, at the least by talking through the various boards, meetings, VTCs or whatever. Will any be held in central plenary so that all players can watch?
    2. Excon battle rhythm. This must fit around (not disturb) the player HQ battle rhythms. The same 24-hour mini-ex should be held concurrent with the player HQ one to ensure meetings align. Again, if a real-time mini-ex can’t be held, a walk-through talk-through should suffice. This should include each meeting’s:
      1. Purpose.
      2. Attendance list.
      3. Outline agenda items.
      4. Inputs and outputs.
      5. Anticipated duration.
    3. Excon processes. See the diagram at the bottom of the What is Wargaming page (a ‘generic setup for a training/educational wargame’). Every text box and arrow on the diagram should ideally be set up during the Testex and stressed with activity that is as close to the reality of the event as possible. For example:
      1. Excon/player interfaces: COP update process; RFI system; e-mail etc.
      2. Exercise Management System (Exonaut, JEST, MEEDS etc) if used. Otherwise, how will injects be managed?
      3. AAR. How, by whom and when are points collected? When are AARs scheduled? Who will lead them?
      4. Player pressure. How is this gauged and fed back to Excon so the degree of pressure on the players can be adjusted as appropriate?
      5. Simulation result adjudication. If featured, this should feature as a meeting(s) in the Excon 24-hour mini-ex.
      6. Locon and simulation operator processes. What is the Locon/player HQ relationship (Secondary Training Audience, Response Cell etc?) How will orders be passed to Locons? Test this during the 24-hour mini game if possible.
      7. Role players. How many are required, and to cover what areas? How will they be briefed and controlled?
    4. VIP visits. How will these impact the exercise?
  4. Scenario. Ideally give the scenario to someone unfamiliar with it to read and then ask their judgement. Is it too simple or too complex? How long does it take to assimilate? Is the amount of COE and CJIIM representation broadly correct? Does the scenario include enough of the following to allow players to start planning:
    1. Geo-strategic information.
    2. Theatre of Operations information.
    3. Strategic Initiation documents.
    4. Crisis Response Planning information.
    5. Force Activation and Deployment information.
    6. Startex material (INTSUMs, ‘Road to crisis’ video etc).
  5. MEL/MIL. Although dynamic scripting during the actual event is most flexible, the Testex should include a MEL/MIL workshop to review draft topics and themes. All injects must be tied to the TOs and have enough guidance to be developed by SMEs in-game. Identify where the modification/introduction of MEL/MIL injects creates a requirement for additional supporting paperwork (e.g. the text of a new UN resolution, media product etc). Agree how these additional products are to be created and by whom.
  6. Mapping. Agree the exercise requirement for both paper and electronic mapping, considering the geographical areas to be mapped and the size/scale of the maps. Also consider if environment-specific maps are required (e.g. air or sea charts). Determine which applications (e.g. PowerPoint, ComBAT etc) will need to ingest electronic maps, and the file formats they require.
  7. Adversary COAs. Ideally get someone (maybe the person who just read the scenario papers) to develop an outline ‘Red’ plan in a 1-sided game, and both sides’ plans in a 2-sided game. This quasi-Red Teaming approach gives a feel for COAs but also provides a start point for play-testing and assessing balance of forces.
  8. Play-test execution/post Time Jump situations. Ensure that any post Time Jump situations can deliver a narrative that will satisfy the TOs.
  9. Play-test balance of forces. In a 1-sided wargame the balance of forces needs to deliver a narrative that satisfies the TOs. Should a 2-sided game be fair? Play-test vignettes to get a feel for likely outcomes.
  10. Technology:
    1. Simulation and sTimulation setup, integration and testing. Use the outline COAs developed above as a vehicle to test systems integration, plus COA development and rehearsals of likely event outcomes (experimenting with simulation results).
    2. COP. Including all required symbology, annotations, MOE etc.
    3. Laptop configuration.
    4. Room layouts, terminal and projector requirements.
    5. RFIs, e-mail as above.
    6. Exercise Management System as above.
    7. Stand-alone logistic and planning tools. Compare outputs against the primary simulation(s).
    8. Internet and intranet access.
  11. IT training burden. Once identified, when will this take place?  Who will perform this training?  Who will provide “helpdesk” software support during the exercise?
  12. Briefing points and in-briefs. Much of the above will result in points that need to be briefed to students and/or Excon staff. These points need to be captured and in-briefs prepared and rehearsed.
  13. Summary & Action Plan.  This is the audit trail. Produce notes summarising the Testex against the agreed agenda (formal minutes are usually not required), then agree a plan (details, owner, due date) for all actions raised during the Testex.

The list above comprises suggested items; it is not comprehensive. Please bear in mind, also, that it pertains primarily to a staff college educational/training environment. In an analytical context far more attention would need to be paid to considerations such as data capture, the recording of insights, the choice of analytical methods and so forth.

1-sided or 2-sided (or more!) wargame considerations

What do we mean by ‘1-sided’ and ‘2-sided’?

Peter Perla told me there is no such thing as a 1-sided wargame; even if the Training Audience (TA) plays just one side then Excon and its constituent cells are the de facto adversary. This is true even if the primary role of Excon is to simulate oppositional factors (friction, fate, the meddling hand of politicians etc) rather than a conventional adversary. However, for the sake of discussion in this blog, let’s assume that 1-sided means that the TA is all on the same side, be it in one HQ or a number of coalition or subordinate HQs. 2-sided means that the TA is divided into two or more adversarial teams each trying to defeat the other(s) singularly or in alliances. 2-sided hereafter is taken to mean ‘2 or more’.


Without trying to answer the question which is better, the factors the wargame designer(s) should consider when deciding between a 1-sided or 2-sided wargame include:

Confirmatory 1-sided wargames

The obvious advantage of a 1-sided wargame is that Excon does exactly what it’s name suggests: it controls and steers the game to ensure that all learning objectives are achieved. This is not to say that task is necessarily easy! This control can extend to player courses of action (COAs) and contingency plans (for example by having the players’ commander or superior HQ be part of Excon), engineering injects to shape events and – crucially – controlling adversarial (enemy) actions and oppositional factors. This latter is usually achieved by having a Red Cell in Excon, plus White, Brown, Green, Orange, Black Cells et al as required. Hence a 1-sided wargame tends to be more suitable as a teaching exercise where specific learning objectives are being taught or confirmed.

Experimental 2-sided wargames

A 2-sided wargame implies that some or all control over COAs developed and executed is ceded to the players. The degree to which this is done is variable; it is not an ‘all or nothing’ decision. Both players’ plans could, for example, be shaped by respective superior HQs, both of which are in Excon. However, to constrain the players’ options too much is to neuter their freedom of action and risks their disengagement from the wargame. The primary advantage of a 2-sided game is that it frees players and enables innovation when facing a truly adaptive enemy – it allows experimentation. Make no mistake, this can deliver exciting opportunities and enormous training benefits, including experimenting with novel tactics, doctrine, HQ procedures – and anything else innovative players can devise! Do not be surprised at the inventiveness of players in a competitive and adversarial environment. This being the case, how do you ensure that you achieve learning objectives in a 2-sided wargame? There is an argument that 2-sided wargames are conducted only when all necessary learning objectives have already been achieved and confirmed.

Controlling a 2-sided wargame

The central role of Excon has already been touched on, and is a key consideration for the wargame designer(s). Aspects of Excon in a 2-sided wargame that require Deep Thought include:

  • Shaping or controlling player COAs. Will there be a superior commander in Excon to shape player plans? If so, is this one person or body overseeing both (all) player teams or a separate authority for each side? Peter Perla’s point is pertinent here: even if part of Excon how do you stop the superior commander(s) becoming partial? How do you ensure all decisions are fair?
  • Degree of free play. Maybe you don’t want to control player actions. There is a case for unshackling players from the constraints of a superior HQ and politicians to unleash their inventiveness.
  • Adjudication. Will simulation results be adjudicated? Will combat outcomes and the effectiveness of non-kinetic actions be moderated or allowed to stand as produced by whatever simulation method is used? Adjudication can take place anywhere along a control spectrum of nil (results and outcomes stand) to complete (all results and outcomes are subject to moderation).

HQ procedures and Operational Staff Work (OSW)

Many 1-sided wargames concentrate on staff procedures and the production of OSW. These are certainly valid learning objectives, as is just planning without execution. The degree of completeness that is required of player OSW is a consideration in all wargames; valuable time can be taken up producing Annexes A-Z of every conceivable staff product. This is fine if that is a learning objective, but the time taken versus learning achieved has to be assessed. So, too, does the provision of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to ensure realistic consideration of any areas not requiring full planning or staff work. HQ procedures and OSW need particular consideration in 2-sided wargames. Generally the players will not be the people entering orders into whatever simulation is used (computer or manual); this is usually done by Locons or operators. Hence the question of required completeness of staff products must be addressed: will a player being able to give quick direction and guidance to Locons result in false lessons being learned? Players striving to increase the operational tempo of their HQ might end the wargame thinking that the planning process and delivery of orders can be achieved more quickly than in reality; is this acceptable? Maybe a degree of completeness is required in OSW delivered to Locons; if so, to what extent? Should Locons be physically remote from player HQs or are verbal orders acceptable? If a distributed approach is required, but within a confined area such as a staff college, how do you prevent players holding covert meetings with people supposedly geographically distant?

Subordinate HQs as a secondary training audience (STA)

Following the point above, are subordinate HQs a STA or part of Excon? They can be either, but their role is crucial so must be considered in detail. Maybe training benefit can be derived by both player and subordinate HQs, for example in the necessary transmission of orders and understanding of the higher commander’s intent. However, the learning benefit to any STA must be weighed against detractions from the primary TA. These considerations apply to both 1- and 2-sided wargames.


A 1-sided wargame need not be ‘fair’. The degree of pressure on the TA must be constantly assessed and then raised or lowered as required to ensure learning objectives are achieved – but that does not mean that events and outcomes have to be ‘fair’. Friction and adverse results are part of military operations so should feature in wargames. The same argument might not hold true for 2-sided games, however. Do you want each side to start on a completely level playing field? Should they have the same forces available, the same constraints etc? This would make the wargame fair – but almost certainly unrealistic. How often do two sides face each other in such a situation? This is not to say that having equal conditions is wrong, simply that the degree of equality must be considered. Unless everything is identical (force elements, terrain etc) how do you ensure fairness? If you don’t, how do you assess which side and which individuals performed better?

Asymmetry and the Contemporary Operating Environment (COE)

1-sided wargames represent asymmetric attacks and the myriad factors that constitute the COE using a combination of scenario, simulation outcomes and SME-produced injects. All of these can be used in 2-sided wargames but, continuing the point above, how do you do this without disadvantaging one side or the other? If that doesn’t matter (if the wargame is overtly unfair) it is not a problem; if fairness is desirable then consideration is required as to how to inflict asymmetry and the complexities of the COE in equal measure. This, then, must be briefed to players and control staff so that everyone knows what to expect.

Bring back execution!

Execution is what differentiates a wargame from a mere planning exercise.  It is where plans are enacted and players face the consequences of their – and their opponents’ – decisions.  Lessons are internalised and thought experiments take place.  Novel outcomes emerge and ‘what if’ questions are asked.  Command – as far as it can be outside real operations – is experienced, adverse outcomes overcome and agile attitudes develop.  It is the epicentre of wargaming

It is relatively easy to deliver a planning exercise; all you need is a scenario and some participants. Execution requires more resources and is more challenging for all concerned: participants, organisers and control staff. Maybe this accounts for the predominance of planning exercises over wargames with an execution phase. Planning alone might suffice for some educational exercises (for example if learning the planning process) but execution – actually enacting the plan – is required when teaching points need to be confirmed and during most training.

The benefits of execution during educational and training wargames are significant. They are summarised below; some pertain to commanders, some to staff and some to both:

  • Developing agile attitudes and procedures. The necessity to adapt a plan to a complex dynamic situation is a timeless lesson, and one that is particularly pertinent in today’s and tomorrow’s Contemporary Operating Environment (COE). The agility of a commander’s mind and his or her ability to overcome both an adaptive adversary and Clausewitzian friction is key to success on operations. So, too, are the procedures of his or her staff. Executing a plan (and associated CONPLANs) enhances this mental and procedural agility; planning on its own does not, irrespective of how many CONPLANs and branches are developed.
  • Experiencing command decisions and operations management. The COE is becoming increasingly congested, cluttered, contested, connected and constrained (UK DCDC Future Character of Conflict publication). The only way to experience making command decisions and managing operations in such a dynamic (read chaotic) and complex environment is by execution in a setting that simulates the COE. Planning alone does not deliver the necessary command and staff pressures that execution demands.
  • Practising simultaneous planning and execution. Every HQ has to be able to plan and execute simultaneously. The higher the level of HQ the more demanding the requirement, with additional staff braches and officers dedicated to both roles. Clearly, the ability to plan and execute simultaneously can only be practised when executing.
    • A good example is the production of a plan by J5, which is then passed to J35 (who might add CONPLANs) and then to J3 to execute. How is this best done? Does a staff officer stay with the plan, moving from J5 to J35 to J3? Is the plan COA Wargamed as a handover from branch to branch? Or is it just tossed over the partition to the next branch? This is but one example of the processes required in a HQ simultaneously planning and executing; training in it can only occur during execution.
    • HQ battle rhythm is another. Learning to coordinate the various boards and meetings that constitute the HQ battle rhythm is a challenge that can only be fully experienced and addressed during execution.
  • Experimenting with tactics, doctrine and staff procedures. Wargames provide a low risk place to do high risk things. An execution phase allows participants to experiment with anything they like (or are allowed to); doctrine, tactics and HQ procedures are obvious – but enormous – examples of areas that can be taken apart and played with. Where else can you do this?
  • Assessing personnel. The British Army, for one, seems unwilling to test peoples’ tactical skill. This seems incredible but is true. Maybe we are just too gentlemanly! Planning can never validate a plan beyond an adjudicator putting a ‘wet finger in the air’ and, Caesar like, decreeing success or failure. Execution can. However, following on from the point about experimentation, it should be noted that the mindset of the exercise director in an experimental wargame should be that failure is accepted as a step towards later success; this must be communicated to participants at the outset.
  • Reinforcing teaching points by constructing a narrative. Refer to Why Wargaming Works by Peter Perla and ED McGrady (download from the Resources page). They make the important point that lessons are better internalised when participants develop and experience their own ‘constructed narrative’ (as opposed to a ‘presented narrative’). While developing a plan does constitute a degree of ‘constructed narrative’, actually executing their own plan, warts and all, is a powerful experience that better reinforces learning objectives in participants.
  • Enhancing specific training. Many training lessons will be better assimilated during execution. Examples include: media training; Measurement of Effectiveness; making ethical choices etc.

Much of this is summed up by Peter Perla in a June 2011 blog post:

“… what wargames can do for those who play them (at least when they are designed by insightful, knowledgeable and skilful designers) is give them that dull grey shadow of what a black future might look like and feel like. And getting as much practice as possible at making decisions in those sorts of environments can be very helpful to some of those decision makers (the best ones, I contend), especially if knowledgeable, talented, and skilful mentors and analysts help them understand and profit from those experiences.”

This is best achieved during execution; it cannot be achieved by just planning.