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1-sided or 2-sided (or more!) wargame considerations ← Back to Blog index

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.

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