Sunday 29 October 2017

Military History Through the Prism of Wargaming

Col Richard Kemp and John Weigold have been investigating Alderney, Channel Islands and found several previously unrecognised V1 launch sites. The key factor to me is the tunnel configuration is similar to those in mainland Europe. The conclusion of the two historians is that the launch sites were almost ready and using nerve gas they could have fired at Plymouth and Weymouth. They conclude this would have thrown the Allied invasion plans into chaos, D Day would not have happened on the 6th June 1944 and the whole course of WWII would have been drastically altered.

What does wargaming add to this analysis?

If a V1 had launched from the Channel Islands, the islands would have been subject to bombardment by sea and air. Based on my WWII bomber command games, I know that targets were selected in the morning for the night time raids. So it would take 10 hours to direct England’s heavy bombers to the new target. Based on my naval games I also know that heavy cruisers with 8 inch guns were available the RN Channel flotilla. They could get up steam in a few hours and they could fire from 17 miles away. It would take 24 hours to get battleships into position to hit the islands.

Alderney is approximately 100 km south of the English coast, so in 1944 the Allies would have achieved air superiority over the islands within hours. This would allow daylight bombing raids and daylight ship to shore bombardment.

The conclusion is the island of Alderney would have been destroyed within a few days and the threat of V1 rockets with Sarin from them would have been ended.

Wargaming experience also allows the history to be explored further. If the Germans used Sarin, they would fire it from as many of their V1 sites as the German chemical industry could supply. How would the Allies retaliate? Having explored this in a very dark committee game of the English War Cabinet in 1944 I would say Anthrax. The Allies would have dropped Anthrax on cities and random agricultural areas. This would have been likely to have created a panic such as the world has not seen in modern history. It would have ended the war in Europe quite suddenly.

To understand military/ political history requires, reading, lectures (for the stuff no yet published), seminars (to discuss the reading/ lectures) and I would also add wargaming to the list. Having sport with ideas is the way to wisdom and serious historical wargames are certainly having sport with ideas.

Friday 29 September 2017

John Candler's (1964) Miniature Wargaming:

John Candler's (1964) Miniature Wargaming: Napoleonic Wargaming du temps de Napoleon.

Without the literary charm of Featherstone, Grant or Young, this book was none the less a key one in the early development of American Miniature wargaming.

My next book is on Duke and early American wargaming

Friday 15 September 2017

Connections UK, the Professional Wargaming Conference, Sept 2017

The event was the place in the UK where the great and the good of professional wargaming gather to discuss, wargaming...
The conference was well attended, with people from 18 different countries (not including undergrads and post graduates) and many serving military or reservists. Interestingly, 50% were attending the conference for the first time.

It is clear there is momentum behind wargaming and it is on a roll, but the question is whether we are still on a ‘Peter Perla’s sine wave’ where the perceived value of wargaming goes up and down. OR wargaming has a sustained momentum to keep it going. There have numerous major developments over the last 12 months in the UK and across the world e.g. UK launched its Defence Wargaming Handbook, the RAF doing first large-scale wargame for years, etc.

Wargaming is on a roll.


·         wargaming is far from institutionalised e.g. Connections is self-funding.

·         Change in leaders in USA means there is a counter attack against value of wargaming

The aim Connections Conference is:

1.       Share good practise

2.       Develop international wargaming community

3.       Institutionalise wargaming, including governing and assurance

4.       Develop techniques

5.       Demo utility address real world problems in a safe to fail environment

6.       Show wargames save lives and save money

I was amused to find that the History of Wargaming Project is seen as a sort of FAQ contact centre for questions about who is doing what in professional wargaming. I was also interested to see that of the many professional wargames mentioned at the conference, at least some have been made available via the publications of the project. Hopefully, I will have more published over the next 12 months.

Mega Game

The first day was largely taken up with a large multi-player game, a megagame. It went as expected. It must be first said that the organisers were experienced, unpaid volunteers who put huge effort into the game.

Standing Joint Force HQ Group Wargaming

This is a new HQ that includes Joint Expeditionary Force (which is France and UK thing). Wargaming is a part of what they do. They have been using matrix games (Baltic Challenge, Black Sea Challenge, see the various scenario books on matrix games books published by History of Wargaming Project). They have been playing other games, including one where the blue players found themselves suddenly running the battle from the other side’s perspective.

They have had some problems

·         Last turn madness- where players do something daft as it is the last turn

·         Wrong map scale/size

·         Articulation of risk e.g. calculate the risk, give players a dice and then tell them to roll.

·         Some players find it hard to articulate of effect i.e. what they want to happen

·         Some players find Consequence management hard e.g. thinking about consequences of actions before doing them

·         When to use wargaming

·         Some reaction about the use of name wargaming (some see it as too aggressive)

·         Live military exercises are all fake scenarios, but they are allowed to wargame with real scenarios involving real potential opponents.

Royal Navy starting to use wargaming (again).

Basically wargaming fell out of use in the RN since the early innovations. (You can explore these early RN games in the book 1906 Fred Jane including 1921 RN wargame rules published by me).  However, over the last 10 months the RN has been running wargames regularly again. Attitudes are now changing. However, my advice is they need look at what our NATO allies in their well-developed naval wargames, so we are not reinventing the wheel in the UK.

The navy has used TACEX/OKX which are heavily scripted games (basically to deliver a lecture in a different form). Now RN wants adversarial games with the other striving to win.  

They are finding some problems

·         The RN finding the leap from someone who can play games, to someone who can design games is huge.

·         Players want to win so much, they can cheat or act unrealistically.

·         Not all senior officers are happy with concept of playing games and failing (and learning from this to win next time).

·         Needs to be a culture of wargaming e.g. introducing it in officer training.

·         Current work is Project PROTEUS wargame, with stepped learning through each scenario. E.g. exploring River class offshore patrol vessel (batch 2). RN not used to rolling dice, or game spinning off in completely different direction from the planned path.

·         One of the issues is to capture data during the wargame that is useful afterwards.

RN wargaming is back, but at an early stage of development.

Bringing Wargaming to Training  e.g. for ASW training for helicopter squadron Cornwall, UK.

Basically, it is hard to changing traditional education delivery methods, e.g. a lecture is seen as an effective alternative to a wargame. This ignores modern education practise which is all about doing. One of the problems is finding people with enough skills at a unit level who can be wargaming umpires. Another question is what does remedial training look like for someone who fails at wargaming?  Another question is how often does wargaming need to be carried out?  The basic problem is the lack of academic literature on effectiveness of training using wargaming.

Air Warfare School Wargaming RAF

There is a computer wargame, Storm, but it is used just 3 times a year,

However, they are introducing wargaming as part of their training system. The Winged Exile game is about managing the air battle over the UK and was run for the first time in air warfare course in UK in Sept 2017.. It has been used with air cadets and university officer training corps to raise awareness for recruitment purposes. The game is a bit strange as both sides are the RAF, but this is to teach both sides about RAF capabilities. I was also intrigued by the accompany Control of the Air Card Game. The writing is now on the wall, the RAF going is going to be producing games for training.

UK MOD Wagaming Surveys

UK VCDS wargaming Initiative- UK is trying to discover what its wargaming capability actually is through a series of surveys. The UK MOD is apparently unsure who is doing what and who can do what.

US Ongoing wargaming Initiatives

Phil Pournelle is the chair wargaming for MORS. He told us that MORS is trying hard to develop rigorous analytics wargame practise.


·         Insufficient master game designers

·         Need to identify best practise and improve the art and science of wargaming

·         Need to integrate wargaming into wider analytical effort.

·         How to set up an iterative cycle of games and analysis.

In October 2017, MORS are thinking deeply about these issues at a big conference in Washington.

Matt Caffrey Taking the Long View

This talk illustrated issues in trying to attribute positive outcomes to professional wargaming. Basically good wargames helped in war; wargaming is just one edge in war fighting, but it can be overcome with other edges. Examples of wargaming giving a military advantage were Germans in Franco Prussian Army, WW1, WW2 (early), WWII Wolf Pack tactics, WATU Western Approaches, Iran v Iraq, Gulf War I and II.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Wargaming

They tried Matrix game ISIS crisis in Sept 2016. This worked surprisingly well at the FCO. Upon reflection, the game did offer some real insights. They also tried an African presidential Succession Game, May 2017, but this has not progressed further. The insight from this was players and umpires were surprised how quickly the game became violent. The FCO has major doubts about using dice to decide the outcome of a meeting or a conference. Currently gaming is limited due to lack of time. i.e. they can spend their time better doing other things than wargaming.

The Defence Wargaming Handbook

Is the UK’s effort to define and justify the use of wargaming. This is available from the web

25th May 2010 Kandahar saw OP HAMKARI wargame, which saw the UK forces playing out their plan to occupy a piece of Afghanistan. The red team in the game were actually ex-mujahedeen who had faced the Russians on the same ground in the past. The UK plan was similar to the original Russian plan that failed. So the UK changed the plan as a result of the wargame. The actual operation worked, UK did not lose anyone killed (but with some casualties). This was a fine example of wargaming working. That wargame was clearly a well spent afternoon, mind you it does help to have ex enemies being the Red team.

MOD Initiatives

Basically, the UK is doing a fair amount of strategic gaming- regional, assisting allies, options if sanctions do not work etc. It would not be appropriate to discuss the subject for games in more detail.

Unprofessional Wargames by Charles Vasey

He has been 1 of the key figures in board game development in UK and he was reflecting on developments in hobby wargaming from the early games hex and counter games.

New hobby games are full of innovations:

·         Highly visual e.g. meeple shape pieces that tells a story. Shape or colour passes information.

·         Stickles- thin kriegsspiel type counters with visual information

·         Cards- full of information, a form of pre-printed EXCON

·         Large number of ideas comes from Eurogaming, where there are no nasty wars but have plenty of aggression. These game are co-operative games e.g., THUNDERBIRDS.

·         IRSEM is an example of the subversion of wargame norms e.g., can attack several times with 1 unit, area movement, uses cards.

·         Brian Train, series of games on e.g. Ur-COIN. Gov players, 2 guerrilla movements and drug cartels.

·         Colonial twilight, French train, garrison, etc… resistance movement do different actions.

·         New techniques mean wargaming and peace gaming are becoming bigger. Twilight Struggle is a huge seller and it is encouraging new people in wargaming.

His message was professional wargaming needs to look very carefully at what the hobby is doing.

Western Approaches Tactical Game

This was the key wargame to help Britain’s campaign against U-boats. The actual place is now a museum the Western Approaches Command – in Liverpool.

Commander Gilbert Roberts- had experience of wargames and could not serve at sea, so he was asked to help develop better tactics against the U-boats. He had a team of 9 wrens and 3 staff. He interviewed those in convoys to understand the convoy battles, then he developed a wargame. The game had 2 mins turn and written orders. Ships moved on floor. U boat moves were drawn in brown chalk on the floor which could not be seen by player captains. Wrens offered tactical advice and no doubt became very proficient at tactics. The games was used to trained 5000 captains, escort and convoy commanders including GB, Ca, Fr and Norwegian. Curiously Prince Philip ran the games for a two week period.

There were a tactical games and operational analysis (OA) games. The OA games changed the tactics e.g. use of Raspberry or the importance of attacking shadowing U-boats, tactics in the face of the acoustic torpedo. More details of the game will be published by the HoWP in due course.

Wargaming in education

This covered the well-established ground of the use of games in education. Games are well established as another learning tool from primary to undergraduate education. It was amusing to hear the story of a 12 year old ‘president’ sack another child for corruption in a game set in a school. Children love games and wargames can be a part of that. However, one must still be careful using the term wargames in an educational school setting.

UCL are using wargames to help teach some aspects of naval architecture e.g. a short course on submarine design. The problem was students were making ridiculous design decisions due to their lack of understanding of naval warfare. So they used wargames to learn about naval warfare, assess military effectiveness of their design choices and teach vulnerability design. They play 3 different games. For example they have a very complex ship design cards, such as the height of the radar determines the range it can detect the enemy. One game is a double blind game on the floor, another is based on a map based game and another uses the CROWS which is a self-coded computer game. They found that students engage most in the floor game with ship models, the games are slower, but hold the students interest more.

The presentation on Class Wargames by Dr Richard Barbrook Univ of Westminster was different by any standard. They are politically left wing, but proud to be wargamers. Guy Deboard was a key intellectual on the left wing, but he made a wargame THE GAME OF WAR, which he said was his most important work. He embedded military principles in his game to teach revolutionaries how to win next time there is a revolution. Basically teaching von Clausewitz to left wingers in the classroom. Class Wargames created a series of games to teach principles of revolution. The undergrads have to produce a game about political conflict. Many of the games were not successful as games, but the learning experience was successful.

Modelling the Human Terrain

The west has been so good at conducting regular war, opponents have switched to irregular warfare to beat us. How to model COIN is now one of the questions. For example, the US Naval Post Graduate school has modelled conflict extensively. There was a lot of detail which is written up on the Connections website They also run wargaming courses around the world.

Simulating the Intangible

This started with a question whether politicians are trained to deal with stress in a crisis. The military are trained, but not those giving the political direction. Actually, in the UK, political leaders are expected to participate in games. I remember the SAS saying that when they played their big annual exercise in the UK, Maggie (the then prime minster) played.

‘Someone’ ran a matrix game, BLACK SEA (see the History of Wargaming project books on matrix games) for important people. The game revealed that players needed a better briefing on hybrid warfare, with more time to create initial plan and then play BALTIC CHALLENGE. The actions in the game were then analysed and actions that improved the situation were classified in green if good, red if bad. Then they modelled the actions against the full spectrum of potential actions. Matrix games were found to increase awareness and understanding, but not so good for decision making. Group think can be a problem, so it is key to offer a full range of game components e.g. military units and civilian infrastructure. If you only have military units on the map, then players will focus on the military.

The megagame: A Methodological Assessment

Strengths and weaknesses are the same i.e.:

·         Lots of people

·         Simple rules

·         Semi-organised chaos

·         Fog/ imperfect info

·         Friction/ imperfect execution

·         Flexible facilitation (making it as you go along)

·         Emergent gameplay i.e. hard to predict what the game will do, but stay within game space players expect.

Swedish Wargaming

There are wargames being run at civilian professional course e.g. crisis in Baltics, low level tactics, irregular warfare. They produce games to answer games with short notice, but also for longer term analysis.

Designing a missile defence and nuclear risk strategic decision game

Research project using gaming as the method. The game defined the aims and objectives, involving UK and NATO officials. The research used games for some problems, but not others. It allowed a topic to be examined where governments cannot do the study. Basically, it was about ABM could affect stability e.g. in Korea. However, the games did not look at Russia as these games could be misinterpreted by Russia and lead to unintended/ unwanted consequences.

Based on naval War Colleges games, using decision analysis and risk analyse tools. The games were kept at the high level and avoided operational detail. Moves were made on forms, but captured why players made the decisions. Some were reluctant to fill in the forms (perhaps they felt they were too important), so they had to employ support to record the decisions. The games found some interesting results, but these results are not going to be reported here. My only other comment, is they need to be using Confrontation Analysis as one of their tools.

Future Dates for Connections Conferences

Netherlands Mon Nov 13th  2017 12.00-22.00

Australia 11-13 Dec 2017 in Melbourne

USA 17-20th July 2018 Washington

UK 4-6th Sept 2018 Connections UK KCL

Wednesday 16 August 2017

In the valley of the blind the one eyed man is king

For a number of years, I was always concerned about stepping forward to make a contribution to the field of professional wargaming. I felt that there must be a multitude of experts just out of sight and one day they would descend on my efforts and demolish me in a polite, but comprehensive way. Now I have been to Connections USA (the professional wargaming conference in the USA), Connections UK (the professional wargaming conference in the UK) and COW (conference of wargamers), I finally realise that there is no cabal of wargaming expertise hidden out there. I always assumed they were just too busy to interact with the rest of us. There is in fact a dearth of experts in professional wargaming. 

So what does experience a professional wargaming expert need to qualify in my eyes? Some of the following seems relevant. This is not a checklist that implies all experts need all of these skills. 

  1.  Wide ranging experience of professional wargaming (obviously).
  2.  Experience of hobby games, as the hobby is far ahead of the professional arena in some areas e.g. graphics, maps, clever game mechanisms and layout of rules to minimise the learning curve. However, it should be noted that some lessons from hobby games should not be taken into the professional domain.
  3. Teaching experience, as a lot of what we do involves explaining (rules, scenarios, briefings etc.) and then running after action reviews. Any teacher does this on a daily basis; checking learning is just part of the Kohl Learning cycle.
  4. Knowing the basics of operational analysis and maths is also essential to understand where the numbers come from.
  5. Historical knowledge often helps assess likelihood; being able to give an example from history is a powerful argument that there is a chance that something that has been done before can be done again
  6. Having some experience of game development.  This does not mean that all players of professional games need to be master game designers, they just need enough insight to understand the game design trade-offs of abstraction and generalisation. Realising that developers make these decisions helps players effectively utilise a professional wargame.
  7. Reading a quality daily newspaper or watching the BBC news provides a global cultural geo-political and cultural context to many of our operational and strategic games. How can anyone play a game about the Baltic Republics in Europe without some insights into Polish cultural norms and what these mean for any confrontation with Russia?

Professional wargaming is 200 years old, but in some ways the art and science of professional wargaming resembles a subject that was only invented ten years ago. Many of the discussions, to me at least, resemble those seminars at the early RUSI meetings in the late 19th century where the basics of naval wargaming were being developed (See Fred Jane, Lieutenant Castle R.N., Captain Colomb R.N.Lieutenant H. Chamberlain R.N. and John Curry (2014) Over Open Sights: Early Naval Wargaming Rules 1873-1904 Early Wargames Volume 6 for reports on those early naval wargames which were the precursors to the Fred Jane 1898 naval game).

The subject lacks quality well researched peer reviewed journal articles about various tools of the subject. There is also a lack of circulated research reports demonstrating wide experience and reading. Conference presentations routinely lack references to contributions of others to support what is being said; instead they have an over reliance on anecdotal experience. Often this is along the lines of “this is my experience”.

To be absolutely clear, I am not criticising anyone who has presented at a conference, written a report, book or otherwise contributed to the development of professional wargaming. For all of these efforts are essential and necessary steps to move the subject into a position where it scholarship and research can drive it on. However, to me at least, wargaming is not an art or science, yet

However, the advantage of this current state of art is summarised by the expression, “in the valley of the blind, the one eyed man is king”.

Wednesday 2 August 2017

Peter Perla Final Keynote Speach

I feel privileged to be sat watching one of the key figures in modern professional wargaming deliver the Keynote speech at the US professional wargaming conference. Peter Perla's (1990) book was key in helping move forward wargaming as a professional tool.

These are just a few quotes from the talk.
"This high-level official interest in wargaming may be new, but serious, professional wargaming has been practiced for nearly 200 years. Sometimes it has pointed the way toward success. Too often it has been oversold by charlatans, abused by the cynical, and ignored by those who most need to learn from the insights it can provide. Today we face a critical historic inflection point. We can't afford to screw up this opportunity. It's time to get wargaming right. It's too important not to."

"The essence of games is found in their basic nature. They are about people making decisions in the context of competition or conflict, usually with other people. All the while plagued by uncertainty and complexity."

"As I have been thinking about the litany of uncertainly recently, it led me back to an even older point, one that I have heard attributed to Abraham Lincoln in the dark days of the Civil War. “It aint what you don’t know that will get you; it’s what you know that aint so.” We have seen a lot of that since spring 2003. We knew that the Iraqi people would welcome us as liberators. We knew that we could get by with a small military force while we rebuilt Iraq and turned it over to a democratically elected government. We knew . . . well, you get the picture."

Success in any art may be regarded as the product of three factors:

a—the right thing,

b—rightly applied,

c—in time.

If either of these factors is zero, the result will be zero. The right thing rightly applied too late, the right thing misapplied, and the wrong thing, whether applied or not—neither of these combinations promises success.

When from a study of the experience of past wars, and of that of artificial wars checked up by suitable trials in the fleet, we shall have discovered what is the RIGHT THING’; when, by the practice of artificial war, we have so familiarized ourselves with the various theaters of war, the situations and their appropriate solutions that we can see the RIGHT THING,’ ‘RIGHTLY APPLIED’; and finally when, by persistent practice of artificial war, we shall have so trained our appropriate mental muscles (the mental processes), that the proper line of reasoning has become the line of least resistance, so that we shall think right even if we have no time to think at all—instinctively, actually quicker than though—thus enabling us to do the ‘RIGHT THING,’ ‘RIGHTLY APPLIED, ‘IN TIME,’ then, and only then, shall we fully realize the true meaning of the saying that ‘the best school of war is war!’”

Games taught decision-making, not decisions.

Gave "an adaptable process to follow and confidence in their decision-making abilities."

Facilitated transformation of tactics, strategy and technology.

Succeeded through "cyclic osmosis" of rotation from students to planners, operators, faculty.

"Research laboratory for every detail of naval warfare."
Games are accurate because:
     they incorporate external and human factors
     they include humans as decision makers
games are accurate  because game designers are predictable.