Thursday 30 May 2024

The Meteoric Rise of Professional Wargaming in NATO


This article is not making a geopolitical statement, it is merely explaining the key driver in the massive expansion of professional wargaming.

The time, effort and money injected into professional wargaming in NATO has increased dramatically in the past five years. The reason is market forces. In defense terms, market forces means war is coming.

A crude summary is that China wants a greater China, which includes areas currently with their own government. A major rival is Japan. Japan’s defense spending is rising and by 2030, it will be the third largest in the world. Shortly after that Japan, own its own, would be able to fight China to a standstill. Anyone who has watched Shogan should grasp that Japan has a warrior culture and when mobilized, the whole national will would be engaged in supporting the war effort.

India is also out growing China. The British Empire valued the contribution of the Indian soldier and no-one who has taught Indian students would doubt they would fight if their country was threatened. So, if China wants to do a regional land grab, it has a limited window of opportunity before its. neighbors reach their full military readiness.

Russia is continually testing Western resolve, on the sea, under the sea, in the air and wants to reclaim the Russian empire. Putin is routinely threatening the West with war and destruction as he seeks to define his legacy. Now Western leaders have broken the cultural norm and have openly threatened Russia (and China) back.  

The impact of Russian/ Chinese rhetoric and policy statements has been to persuade those who really matter in the West, that war is coming. Of course, future history is decided by leaders. Russia and China might decide to become liberal democracies, or at last join the world order again. Western leaders might decide it is not worth fighting over the wilderness of Finland or obscure Baltic Republics. Perhaps some negotiated adjustment of borders might be sufficient to avert war. Wargames are not about predicting geopolitical futures; they are largely focussed on war fighting when diplomacy fails.

In the meantime, there is a surge in the frequency and importance of the wargames behind closed doors. It is no secret that the games are nearly all about fighting Russia and China. War is coming. Professional wargaming is now a career option for school leavers.

Sunday 21 April 2024

New Book: Dark Places- professional wargaming of dark themes

 Stating the obvious, all wargames are dealing with the darkest elements of human experience, that of conflict. However, there is a subset of wargames that are used to explore the darkest elements of conflict. These games are routinely run behind closed doors and rarely, if ever, does the existence of such games reach the public domain, let alone the details. Sometimes these games are part of professional military activity, sometimes part of academic research. Both purposes use the vehicle of designing and playing a wargame as a way to generate different insights from merely reading and attending conferences.

The games in this book were carefully chosen to reduce the risk of offence. They demonstrate the ways of running such games, but without using current or recent conflicts as examples. They include:

Bosnian Mercenary: Gaming the Chaos of the Disintegration of Yugoslavia

WMD 1945

My Aunt’s War: Civilian Experience of War

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Gaming Surrender

Pickett’s Charge: Using Drama

The Button: Nuclear Decision Making

Exercise Hard Rock: Civil Defence

The Tank Factory: Military Management of the Economy During Wartime

The reader should be clear that these games on dark subjects matter and often have real world consequences. This  book is the first to shed some light on these types of games with actual examples.

Thursday 18 January 2024

New Book- Wargames from World War II: Examples of Axis and Allied Wargaming Rules and Umpire Guidelines


It has only taken me a decade to complete this book. It gives actual examples of games played during World War II, a war in which wargaming was just seen as another tool for training and operation planning.

The games played just before and during World War II mattered. As a result of those wargames, battles were fought, campaigns were launched; lives were lost, lives were saved. An overview of such games has been covered in the literature before. This book is different as it aims to examine the detail of these wargames by including primary material; extracts from source documents, wargaming rules and umpiring guides from the pre-war period until 1945.

Included are detailed guidelines on the German use of wargaming during the war based on post war analysis by the American military. This includes outlines of best practise and the value of these games.

Samples of the German map based tactical exercises set at platoon and company level.

An example of a British attack on a village.

British and American umpire manuals with rules for arbitrating field exercises, sand table and map wargames.

A Royal Navy carrier wargame: Find Fix and Strike (1944).

I did a talk and uploaded it to YouTube History Wargaming Book Channel

Wednesday 18 October 2023

New Book- Advanced Matrix Games for Professional Wargaming



The innovation of the method of Matrix Games has taken the Professional Wargaming world by storm. This book aims to bring together some of the best practise since the first book on Matrix Games was published in 2014

This book is divided into three sections.

The first part includes an updated detailed guide to running matrix games based on several decades experience of running these games professionally.

The second part of the book includes five new games about conflict, procurement, the High North and protecting Critical national Infrastructure.

The final part of the book includes the five scenarios about simulating historical conflicts for military education. These games were included in the first book on matrix games Matrix Games for Professional Wargaming that was first published in 2014 (reprinted in 2022).

Taken as a whole, the book includes the best current practical advice on running games, with ten examples of future, current and historical conflicts.

A foreword by Peter Perla, author of the classic Art of Wargaming.

1: Practical Advice on Matrix Games.

2: Current and Future Crises.

     Ukraine 2022: The Sins of Our Father.

     One China.

     The High North: The Future of the Arctic (and the World)

     Hope and Glory: Protecting

     Defence Procurement.

3: Historical Crises.

     The Falklands War (1982)

     Chaoslavia (1993)

     Crisis in Crimea: A Counter Revolution (March 2014)

     The Red Line: Civil War in Syria (August 2013)

     Lasgah Pol: Afghanistan (2008)

This book replaces the previous edition Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming

Note: matrix games as noted in this work is a term used to describe the Chris Engle wargaming matrix game methodology and is not connected or related in any way to Matrix Games Limited or their video game products.

The book is available from Amazon in paperback, hardback and Kindle

Friday 15 September 2023

Ukraine 2023: Fort Leavenworth’s Tactical Game of the Ukraine War


Having played the game a number of times with various audiences, I would say it demonstrated hobby wargamers were routinely better than military professionals in terms of tactics at the company level battle.

The rules were written at Fort Leavenworth, one of the homes of the American Army. First written in 2020 for a US v Russian battle in eastern Europe, the hit probabilities were considerably edited in the light of watching lots of YouTube videos about the actual Ukraine War in 2022. Russian units were downgraded considerably in the light of actual war.

The rules were for a 6mm scale Russian coy in a hasty attack against a standard Ukrainian ad hoc platoon in a hasty defensive position. The game system is ‘you go, I go’ turn sequence, but with overwatch fire. Roll to hit, roll to save in cover. The key innovation, apart from using actual combat data, was if either side moved off its plan, they pause and roll a dice to see if they can change the plan. If not, they just roll again next turn. This means good pre-game orders are crucial and sometimes the battle just stops as the Russians encounter an unexpected obstacle. The Russian advances stops for a random amount of time as the commanders consult and make a new plan. All very realistic.

The Russian company had 10 BMPs, 4 tanks, a ZSU, a truck with military police and another with a section of engineers. The Russian method of organising everything into battalion tactical groups means every sub formation has a bit of the support troops. NATO trained armies just allocate support as needed. Although the Russians had practically unlimited fire support, it had to be all pre-planned like something out of WWI.

The first problem was the professional wargamers largely did not know what the Russian tactics from the Cold War actually were. They have focussed on real world COIN for 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, so were a bit perplexed. The second problem was the professional wargamers largely did not know how to manage an ad-hoc Ukrainian platoon, so were unclear what to do with just 2 tanks, 2 BMPs, 1 dismounted saggar, some infantry, a couple of trucks plus some random obstacles (trees cut down). They had no drones, no mines, no wire, and artillery support availability was random depending on mobile phone reception. Hobby wargamers are quite used to operating with whatever toys come out of the box and improvise.

The result of the battle was the same in every game. The Russians took lots of casualties, but advanced 5 km over 2 to 3 hours, and the Ukrainians lost stuff during the fighting withdrawal. Most wargamers are too aggressive running a fighting retreat; in real war, a fighting retreat consists of a few ambushes, then a hasty withdrawal to the next position. Keeping the unit in being is a critical part of the defensive mission. 

The actual war has demonstrated that analysts underestimated the importance of morale. Tank combat is using a crew served weapon system. To win the battle requires a tank to position itself in harms way, observe, locate the enemy, prioritise, aim and fire. The longer a tank takes to do this the more chance it stands of getting a first-round kill, but the downside is the longer a tank takes to do this, the more chance of the enemy getting the first shot in. After firing, it takes a few moments after the dust, shock, flash and smoke to re-aim and fire a 2nd and subsequent rounds. Staying put and firing again increases the chances of obtaining a kill, but firing increases the chance of the enemy identifying you as an active threat and sending a missile towards you. Therefore, effective tank combat requires high morale for the crew to put themselves at risk in order to kill the enemy. Ukrainians tanks in these rules fire twice as often as Russian tanks, as the Ukrainians were more willing to take risks to fire effectively.

I commenced by saying hobby wargamers were better than military professionals at tactics, but this does not mean one could drop a hobby wargamer into commanding a troop of tanks in combat. Leadership in war is not just about tactics, but includes leadership, morale in the face of death, actually making the tank move and shoot, etc. Tactics are only a part of the professional warrior’s job description. However, based on the sample of people who have played my modern wargames over several decades, it suggests that professional warriors need to spend more time on the tactics of warfighting. This includes a deep understanding of how the Russians currently fight. Of course, how you fit that into the new British Army’s social calendar and ethos is an interesting topic of conversation.