Characteristics of a Seminar War Game
Seminars following the Socratic method have been used for thousands of years. Socrates would often invite one of his students to make an assertion, perhaps to develop a hypothesis. Socrates would then probe with questions to determine more precisely how and when the assertion or hypothesis should apply.
Amongst the characteristics of seminars that set them apart from other methods of study are:
- Seminars are conducted within a professional organization, often one with strong academic traditions.
- There is little or no "lecturing" -- where an instructor engages in a one-way transmission of information.
- The focus for a seminar is on some particular subject. Typical seminar groups number no more than a dozen or so -- any more and an individual participant may feel that he or she has little opportunity to contribute.
- Small groups are drawn together in recurring meetings.
- Each member of the seminar is expected to participate actively.
- All involved are expected to engage in discourse, with participants challenged by the critical thinking of their colleagues.
- There is often an ongoing Socratic dialogue with a seminar leader or instructor leading (but not dominating).
- Participants should be prepared for advanced study as opposed to being treated as novices in the field under discussion.
War Game Characteristics
War games come in diverse formats, some are almost completely embedded in computer hardware and software, others work entirely without computers. The military profession has used war games for centuries, and recently approaches used in studying crises other than combat. In their initial form, studying warfare, war games shared some essential characteristics:
- Maps and Charts -- these provide, for example, the means for participants to estimate issues of time and distance
- Clock -- time is a critical component of most war games and the clock keeps all participants aware of the passage of time
- Orders of Battle and system characteristics (or, in a non-military context, inventories of capability)
- Rules on movement, detection, engagement, consumption, resiliance, reconstitution, etc.
When the original war gaming approaches have been adapted to studies of crises other than combat, some of the above elements may be missing. For example, war gaming methods can be used to study the spread of some contagion without a map (or maps that do not resemble traditional military maps). Both the US National Defense University and the US Army War College conduct "crisis games" on diverse issues using techniques drawn from wargaming.
Similarly a field called "serious games" uses modern computer approaches (many drawn from previous simulations of combat) to engage an audience on topics very distant from traditional battlefields, e.g., running nuclear power plants, managing city governments, responding to threats of civil unrest from epidemics or terrorism.
Activities that use procedures previously associated with seminar war games for non-combat situations or other forms of crises that have little or no military component may be called hypotheticals or crisis games, or crisis simulations.
Elements of War Games
Upon deeper study of war gaming methods, the elements of such games may be considered under the following seven elements:
- (And analysts!)
Source: Perla, MORS Meeting, 15 Oct 2007
The first six elements are essentially as they were in the Perla-Barrett article of 1985 (p. 71), but here Perla has included analysts, although parenthetically. Of course, at the time, he was speaking to an audience of analysts at the MORS meeting. But, from his text, Perla was not merely trying to be polite to his audience by including them.
From his earlier writings on wargaming and analysis, Perla made it clear that when he said that war games were not analysis, this was caveated by adding that war games were not analysis, at least "in the usual sense of rigorous, quantitative, dissection of a problem" (from the Perla and Barrett article of 1985). After provoking operations analysts, Perla has frequently acknowledged (even recommended) war games as analysis tools.
Seminar War Game Characteristics
Simply put, a seminar war game blends the characteristics of seminars and war games. Some war games will have few or none of the characteristics of seminars (say no discourse, no advanced study, no questions to the participants). Many seminars will have none of the features of a war game: no map, no scenario, no clock. These are not seminar wargames. But for those many activities that are a blend of the two, the term seminar war game suits very well.
- Study of History: Avalon Hill,
- Appreciation of Previous Decisions: Avalon Hill, SPI, S&T
- Evaluation in Lessons Learned.
- Professional Education: Prussian Army Kriegsspiel.
- Military Training: Prussian Army Kriegsspiel,
- Strategic Planning: Royal Dutch Shell, DESERT CROSSING, UNIFIED QUEST
- Anticipating Catastrophies or Crises: NDU and Bird Flu (p. 161).
- Team Building.
- Sharing of Commander's Intent.
- Appreciation of Technological Progress. NATO Land Ops 2020 and Urban Ops 2020.
- Concept Development and Experimentation:
EXFOR 01 and
OMNI FUSION 09.
- Doctrine Development.
Preparation for Seminar War Games
An organization wishing to conduct seminar war games can benefit from considerable experience from those who have gone before. There is published material on how professional organizations have done their own, the National Defense University, the Naval War College, the Army War College, NATO, and the Canadian Army and Navy. In many respects, however, preparing for and conducting seminar war games is still a craft and not quite a science. By good forture, the number of organizations that have experience continues to grow.
Some areas that should be given due attention in preparing for a seminar war game include:
- Selection and preparation of the participants
- Selection and preparation of the venue
A step-by-step guide to seminar war gaming is available. It provides considerably more detail.