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Seminar War Game Course

Defence Technology Agency, Devonport, April 2013

The Zefra Scenario

The Zefra scenario provides the background for a short role-playing game. It will be used as an example during discussions about planning and conducting analysis of a seminar war game.


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 determine outcomes.

General Professional Gaming Rules

"General Wargaming Rules" are provided in Commander and Staff Officer Guide, ATTP 5-0.1, 14 September 2011 (p. 4-23)
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

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 response.

Combat Results

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 conditions.

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 professional gaming.

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., Janus, OneSAF, JCATS, or VBS2. When 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.