Friday, 4 September 2015

The Relationship between recreational and professional wargames

I am speaking next week at the UK Connections Conference at Kings College London

Connections Conference

I am talking about the tricky subject of the relationship between recreational and professional wargames.

I am wrestling with tricky questions such as can recreational games be used for military training? What problems might occur?

If anyone has any thoughts, I would be most interested.


  1. Reply from

    I’ve not yet used my Mission Command (primarily recreational) game in a real professional context, but it has been played by various military and ex-military players. I think some of the issues from my limited experience are:

    · Use of dice. Recreational wargamers mostly *expect* dice (or maybe playing cards) for randomisation, whereas professionals may look somewhat askance at that, as Professor Sabin has discussed elsewhere. Those doing both professional and recreational wargames don’t really care, I feel. For some people, they don’t want to feel that outcomes are overly governed by things not under control – even if random stuff happens. So using a recreational game in a professional context might have to get around this somehow.

    · Duration of the session. Recreational wargamers are happy to put a lot of time in – it’s a hobby - whereas professionals are not. This always seems a bit odd to me, in that recreational wargamers might spend a day or two, fairly regularly, gaining insights by using simulation games (not ‘just’ recreational games), whereas the pros are much more reluctant to spend the time. So recreational games can be designed for a longer duration for learning the mechanics, which might not translate well to a pro audience.

    · Complexity. Also linked to duration. The professional wargame often has to be simple enough to engage the audience in a short training session, unless it’s a major exercise with large time slots. There’s therefore a danger of either over-simplifying, or trying to deliver too much in too short a time. In contrast many recreational games can be more complex, played over several sessions, and some players at least are prepared to digest complex and lengthy rules (eg Battlegroup Panzergrenadier) – and argue over interpreting them. For example, I think that teaching about the complexity of WW2 combined arms force employment is very difficult in a relatively short session ‘from cold’.

    · Umpires. Professionals are presumably very happy with umpires, though with recreational wargamers it’s less likely, as most folks want the opportunity to push the troops around. This means that a recreational wargame, particularly a commercial one, is usually designed without an integral umpire role. One result of this is that the recreational rules have to be more comprehensive (and possibly higher production quality?), whereas umpires can fill in any gaps, or at least deliver the session with judgements rather than with reference to rules. Fewer arguments over the rules!

    · Planning and analysis. Professionals are *much* more focused on planning, analysis and outcomes than recreationalists. The latter are quite happy to walk away at the end without looking back on what happened (other than anecdotal story-telling). However, for professionals a structured and insightful analysis of what happened is crucial. Professionals = learning; recreationalists = entertainment.

  2. In military simulations, there are usually training objectives involved. For example, when testing Battalion Staffs, training objectives might be:

    1. How well does the staff move and act upon actionable intel received from the field?
    2. How quickly does the staff act upon supply requests? Casualty dust-offs? Requests for fire support?
    3. Does the staff actually staff incoming messages? (Does Intel (G-2) get copied on after action reports? Does the PAO (G-9) get notified of civil unrest as well as the Commander?, etc?
    4. Who (like the Lead Operations officer on shift) makes the decision to notify the Commander if a message comes in that he might be interested in? (Or does the applicable G code have access to notify the Commander?)
    5. The Quality and timeliness of incoming reports critiqued?

    Until a recreational wargamer gets exposed to the internal workings of how a staff operates, the time it takes for the right people to act, time it takes for decisions to be made and communicated for action, that wargamer will continue to expect instantaneous results. Notice I have used a modern setting above so pre-radio days, times would be longer.

    Just one suggestion for you to ponder over.

    Tom Dye