Background and History of Seminar War Games
Distant History (including First Generation war games)
- Chess and similar games are often claimed to hold the
war gaming. Apart from having two opponents with elements moved on a
two-dimensional surface, there is little resemblance to war games of
the last two centuries as practiced by military professionals.
Kriegsspiel, which originated with the elder von
Reisswitz, but was much improved by his son, emerged as an excellent
means for officers in the Prussian Army of the era (1830s-1870s) to
study military issues. However the game became
progressively more competitive, and the procedures were developed to
deal with the minutiae of movement and interaction. Many
players began to use (and abuse) the rules to win, rather than to study
military issues. The
adverse effect was that tactical reality
gave way to the rule book.
Kriegsspiel. Some time after Kriegsspiel had become established, Free
Kriegsspiel was developed (originally by Verdy du Vernois in the
1870s) to simplify what had become a rather meticulous, even tedious,
set of rules. In particular, the adjudication
procedures of Kriegsspiel had become cumbersome and time consuming and,
in many ways, a distraction from key elements of Kriegsspiel as a means
of studying military strategy and tactics.
Rigid rules were replaced by an umpire who would use his own experience
and judgement to adjudicate outcomes. By then war games had
somewhat unpopular due to the cumbersome,
time-consuming rules of adjudication. But with combat-experienced
officers providing their military judgment as a replacement for the
cumbersome rules, war gaming became much less tedious. The new
resulted in games that were faster and thus more
popular, hence played more often.
- Free Kriegsspiel worked well when the umpires had
experience and well-honed judgement to contribute. Their adjudications
were plausible to players (who generally had considerably less
experience). And the umpires, because of their credibility gained from
recent combat, were rarely challenged. However, Germany’s
officers who were veterans of the campaigns of the 1860s and 1870s
gradually retired from
military service and the new generation of umpires could not adjudicate
with the same credibility. A second problem is what today may be called
"opinion of the senior officer present". When one of the
players outranked the umpire, an umpire might feel obliged to give way
to his senior's opinion for some adjudication. These two factors
created problems for Free Kriegsspiel.
The Twentieth Century (Second and Third Generation)
- US Naval War College
- British and Canadian War Games of 1950s and later.
- The British Army developed manual war games at the
level after World War II. In the 1950s the Canadian Army Operational
Research Establishment reviewed gaming activities in allied armies and
developed a gaming capacity based largely on the British model. One
feature of the Canadian Army gaming was to gather players at regular
intervals to collect what were called "Judgements and Insights". This
practice has continued to the present. It amounts to conducting a
seminar with the participants to gain their insights on the operations
- Commercial Board Gaming
is the name of a now-defunct
game publisher that was the centre of the hobby gaming industry in the
1960s and into the early 1970s. Many of the old
Hill games remain available.
Publications, Inc or SPI and Strategy and Tactics
magazine succeeded Avalon Hill as the leader in the hobby war game
market. James F Dunnigan started SPI partly to take over a failing
magazine called Strategy
SPI and S&T
were dominant forces in hobby gaming through the 1970s and into the
1980s. Dunnigan has widely published on military topics. His Wargames Handbook,
now in its third
edition with the second
edition available on the web, provides a good description of
gaming during the period of SPI's dominance. Dunnigan
has gone on from this start in hobby gaming to become a widely known
commentator on military issues and on the professional use of war game
methods. At his web site, Dunnigan has something to say about operations
- "Hypotheticals", "Crisis Games" and "Role-playing Games"
television has been airing seminar war games for more than two decades.
PBS has used this technique in an educational mode to draw out the
issues in many contentious topics. Many of the PBS broadcasts might
better be called "Crisis Games" as there is no war and very little
- National Defense University. NDU's Center for Applied Strategic Learning applies
seminar war games in a variety of contexts. Those with little or no military context might better be labelled crisis games,
as war in the conventional sense is rarely a dominant feature. An example would be
Wargaming the Flu. Indeed CASL often uses the term
"strategic simulation exercises" for many of their activities.
- Dungeons and Dragons D&D), and other
fantasy role-playing games have elements of seminar war games. Although D&D is set in a purely fictional world,
and the intent is exclusively to entertain those involved, the commitment of the participants shows how appealing seminar
games can be.
Military Applications of Seminar War Gaming from the Recent Past
NATO Land Ops 2020 and NATO Urban Ops 2020 studies 1999-2000 included some of the larger seminar war activities within the
Alliance as it looked to the future of land operations. The gaming aspects exploited the familiarity of the British operational
research participants in running Technology Seminar War Games for their own Army.
In 2001 and 2002 the Canadian Army conducted seminar war gaming to address the army structure of c.2025. Army staff
worked closely with scientific staffs to assess the impact of new technology on land operations more than two decades on.
DoD Title X Wargames
These are seminar war games conducted at the highest level the US military services.