Use Free Kriegsspiel Rules
One definition says that Free Kriegsspiel is: "A mechanism where two
opposing courses of action are explained to an Umpire who decides on
which course will prevail, based on historical precedence, personal
experience, reasoned debate and his own judgement. There are no rules
to resolve battles..." So, it may seem simple: seminar war games and other
professional games are much like Free Kriegsspiel: no rules!
Well, actually, it is a bit more complicated! It may look
like there are no rules, but there have to be some rules. However,
some rules are so complicated that they can hardly be written down. Often, it
will come down to the facilitator or umpire (or a control staff if the
activity is large enough to require that) using their best judgement to
General Professional Gaming Rules
"War gamers need to:
- Remain objective, not allowing personality or their sense of "what the commander wants" to influence them.
- Avoid defending a COA [potential course of action] just because they personally developed it.
- Record advantages and disadvantages of each COA accurately as they emerge.
- Continually assess feasibility, acceptability, and suitability of each COA. If a COA fails any of these tests,
- Avoid drawing premature conclusions and gathering facts to support such conclusions.
- Avoid comparing one COA with another during the war game. This occurs during COA comparison [another step later
in the Military Decision Making Process]."
Two additional points from the Army's doctrine (p. 4-27) that should be part of preparation for and conduct of
professional gaming are:
- "List Assumptions": As development of the game proceeds, a list of assumptions should be developed. "The
commander and staff review previous assumptions for continued validity and necessity." The assumptions on the
list (a living document) may be critical subsequently to determine if the game results are still valid: a point
may be reached where assumptions that previously seemed true are now patently false. Such circumstances may
invalidate all results of a game, or they may force a re-evaluation and adjustment with newly discovered gaps
previously filled by judgement, or they may warrant an ensuing game with revised assumptions.
- "List Known Critical Events and Decision Points": "A critical event is an event that directly influences
mission accomplishment. Critical events include events that trigger significant actions or decisions (such as
commitment of an enemy reserve), complicated actions requiring detailed study (such as a passage of lines), and
essential tasks. The list of critical events includes major events from the unit's current position through mission
accomplishment. It includes reactions by civilians that potentially affect operations or require allocation of
significant assets to account for essential stability tasks." [Note: This list should be invaluable in developing a
scenario; a well written scenario should guide participants through most of the critical events and decision points
that can be anticipated.]
Adaptation of War Gaming Rules to Professional Gaming Rules
War gaming has a history of being used rigorously in professional military applications
for more than two centuries. Applications of rigorous gaming techniques outside of a military
context is a relatively recent phenomenon, so the development of procedures, and particularly rules,
is less mature than for war gaming. Nonetheless, guidance such as that quoted above is as
applicable outside of the military domain as inside it with appropriate translation for
specific military terms.
Rules of the Facilitator, Umpire, or Referee and the Control Staff
- The principal objective of the control staff should be to
promote full and frank discussion, particularly over critical events and
material relevant to decision points. Control staff includes the
facilitator, but also specialist advisors, observers, liaison
officers, and adjudicators, if the scale of the activity warrants them.
Here are some tips (rules?) for the control staff:
- Arrive prepared -- When feasible, engage in preparation
for the game to develop an intimate familiarity with potential
critical events and decision points, as well as the general background
the participants will be using (e.g., the scenario). Then review the
scenario and other background material before the game begins.
- Know the language -- In professional circles, jargon is rife,
and this is particularly true in military circles. Be aware of
elementary professional issues, e.g., sizes of units, levels of
command, rules of engagement before the war game starts. If a point
comes out that that is unfamiliar, ask for a brief explanation (keep it
factual and specifically on what the unfamiliar term means). Do not
proceed with debate on some important professional point if issues and
debating points will be expressed in impenetrable jargon. Note that the
credibility of a facilitator will decline quickly if participants
conclude that he is out of his depth. Pretending to know obscure jargon
will generally not help a facilitator gain credibility. Indeed many in
the room will probably be relieved when the facilitator asks that
jargon be defined in "layman's terms" -- not everyone knows
- Involve participants from the beginning -- If participants are
not known to each other, have them introduce themselves and provide a
summary of their interest in the game. Consider scheduling some
social event ("a meet and greet") to precede the start of the game
so participants can get to know one another in a low-stress situation.
- Monitor time and apportion it wisely -- Generally a fixed
amount of time will have been allocated to game activity.
Nonetheless participants may need some extra time to provide their
contributions. Be wary of cutting off a participant with "Sorry, we're
out of time" -- that will only make participants feel they are there
merely for "cosmetic reasons", and will consequently suppress further
debate. Keep a reserve of time (shorten coffee breaks or lunch breaks
if necessary) so all participants feel they have time to make points
they feel are important.
- Draw in all participants to engage in discourse -- Solicit
responses from those who seem reticent. Watch for nonverbal clues
that participants who hardly participate may have still more to say,
and then call upon them. If important constituencies have not been
heard from, call upon them directly, e.g., if representatives of the
intelligence community have not yet spoken up during a staff discussion
to provide their perspective, an important point of view is likely to
- Listen -- Attend to the ideas and feelings of the participants.
Note that there may be non-verbal clues to attitudes of participants.
If participants feel their opinion do not count with the control staff
(and non-verbal gestures can be critical indicators), they may cease to
contribute -- "no one is listening anyway".
- Encourage use of feedback mechanisms other than discourse when
appropriate and in the interest of time -- Since time is usually in
short supply, advise participants that they can pursue points in
greater detail through other means, e.g., submitting to post-game
interviews, filling in observer comment sheets. However, ensure that
points that deserve rebuttal are placed in front of all of the
participants during deliberations and not inadvertently hidden through
submission in written comments later.
- Observe -- Notice who is responding and who is left out, and
ensure that all participants are engaged.
- Encourage debate -- Introduce open-ended questions like
'What will be the consequences of…?' Or 'What can we do about...?'
A question that can be answered with a simple 'yes'/'no', or 'black'/'white'
will not accelerate debate. Do not let participants off with a 'yes/no'
answer and ask them for reasons or for their assumptions that got to
the 'yes/no' response.
- Employ "branches and sequels" -- For branches, say something
like: "now, let's wind back the clock and see what would happen if we
had gone in a different direction". For sequels, challenge the
participants with: "so, how would your opponent react to that, and how
would the locals react, and what would your coalition partners do now,
or the other governmental departments?"
- Use silence from time to time -- Participants may need time to
think about issues. Before introducing a new point, or when
summarizing a previous discussion, or when about to ask a substantial
question, announce you will soon be seeking their input. Then give the
participants 'a pause to reflect' before recognizing or calling on them
for that input. Some really big questions can be put out just before a
break (coffee or lunch) so participants can mull over their reactions
in full complexity before they are obliged to voice a response.
- Rephrase questions or issues -- If participants don't respond
well, try asking the question a different way or reframe an issue,
perhaps with some evocative example.
- Ask for examples and support for opinions -- Probe deeper
than the initial response. The first response may have come without due
consideration. For example, challenge participants with: "But why?"
- Test consensus -- Be careful of premature consensus before an
issue has been explored. Restate an incipient conclusion and ask if
anyone has a different view. Some voting or social choice methods can
determine where internal minority schools of thought may be hidden.
- Summarize -- Provide a summary or conclusions as appropriate,
at transition points during the discussion and at the end. Be prepared
to have participants contradict the facilitator's summary -- they may
have drawn conclusions or made interpretations that differ from those
of a facilitator. Ask: "Did I get that right?" or "Does anyone see
- At the conclusion of the discourse during active gaming,
ensure that participants know they can still follow up on points, e.g.,
with observer comment forms. Also remind senior leaders that they may be
asked to participate in an interview.
- After the discourse phase, run an after
action review (AAR). Most military
participants will be familiar with this process, and many civilian
participants are growing more familiar with it. Many of the
above points on the behaviour of control staff apply equally well to an AAR.
Many aspects of
the lessons learned process will also apply.
Areas Where Rules May Be Appropriate
While many aspects of game procedures may rely upon the Facilitator's judgement, this may be augmented
in various ways. The objective is to ensure that outcomes are more credible, and judgements less arbitrary.
Time, Distance, and Speed
In military operations, time, distance, and speed are inexorably linked. In that regard, Nathan Bedford Forrest
said "I got there first with the most men". Thus it is appropriate in games involving combat that these factors
be appropriately reflected. The analysis of the combat part of military operations is often addessed with considerable
computer support (e.g., a combat simulation) that can account very precisely for movement of units around the battlefield.
While the nature of many non-military games may be different from war games, some will benefit from similar handling
of units. For example, a game for first responders in the context of disaster relief may represent the speed of emergency
vehicles, the quality of roads, and so on. This can be used to ensure that optimism does not obscure the true speed of a
Results of combat interactions are typically based on ability in fire and movement. These are often evaluated within
a combat simulation. In some cases these can require considerable precision, requiring ballistics characteristics of rounds,
nature of explosives, dispersion patterns of shrapnel, nature of the target. Often the determination of a result becomes
so intricate that computers are required to complete very sophisticated calculations for the effect of a given munition on
a given target. In simpler assessments, manual rules may also be used, e.g., where force ratios determine win/loss
Outside of the war gaming context, the results of interactions in a professional game may be represented by some
specific rules. For example, in a game reflecting aspects of commerce, a firm's investments in research and development
or in marketing may determine the success of some new business venture. Or a game reflecting spread of some disease may
include transmission rates to determine the speed with which contagion infects a population.
Use of Planning Formulas
Professionals in various fields often use planning formulas to determine time or other resources that may be needed in
some activity. For example, logistics, convoy planning, flight planning, or casualties and medical treatment
often have associated planning formulas based on past experience. These formulas can often be incorporated into rules for
Use of Look-up Tables
In some applications, results may be determined by look-up tables. In manual war games, these tables might take the
strengths of two sides in a combat interaction and give some indication of result, e.g., a probability that one side will
be victorious or some indication of combat losses; this could be accompanied by the introduction of a random factor, say a
dice roll, so that outcomes are not solely dependent on force ratios.
In a war game, look-up tables could be used for many aspects other than combat, e.g., a table might be provided that shows
how many days a unit could survive without getting re-supplied.
Use of Subject Matter Experts or Expert Panels
For some particularly complicated or unexplored area, a facilitator may have to call upon some specialists with expert
knowledge of some issue. For example, in a political-military game dealing with the poppy crop in Afghanistan it may be
appropriate to call in an economist to discuss the impact on local commerce of burning the crop in the field, but also
consult to an expert in agriculture to indicate if local farmers have alternative crops they might switch to if given suitable
incentives. Particularly in a game where participants who may be particularly innovative are given considerable latitude
for freeplay, it may be difficult to establish rules in advance for all possible outcomes. So a variety of experts may
have to be consulted on the fly to determine the consequences of a player's move.
Use of Models, including Computer-based Models
The military community has developed many combat simulations over the years, e.g.,
use of such simulations include one or more human in the loop, participants have to make decisions that affect the outcome.
More recently, simulations for various other activities have been developed. To illustrate a purely civilian activity
consider SimCity. This allows
a participant to build a city, and deal with a multitude of municipal issues along the way (with a focus on entertainment).
As with combat simulations, the participants are forced to make decisions as the game proceeds. And the results of the
decisions affect the outcome of the game.
A Role for Operations Research Analysts
Those who develop rules for a professional game do not need an operations research background... but it helps.
Many rules of professional games are based on quantitative formulas and on reflecting random effects based on probabilities.
Game designers for rules of this sort need a good grounding in quantitative methods, and this is where operations research
personnel can provide considerable benefit.