Wargame Software and Strategy: Useful Matchup, or Useless Distraction?

The best process of developing strategy is always a hotly debated topic across industries – especially in the world of national defense. This article looks at one particular aspect of this debate: what role should wargame software have in an organization’s effort to develop strategy? Is a computer game or simulation that is focused on a synthetic environment suited for real-world planning or even training?

It will discuss some advantages and disadvantages of these computer games, as well as how WarPaths mitigates some of the potential downside of most software-based decision simulation exercises.

WarPaths is wargame software for defense professionals and students. It is designed to allow you to customize a strategic wargame suited to your specific requirements using one of two major formats (matrix or seminar). Rather than relying on an outside game designer, WarPaths gives you the ability to control the game format and quickly create your ideal scenario. To learn more, review our features or how it works, and contact us at the link below.

The Key Elements of a Wargame

Wargaming can be a great tool to explore the dynamics of complex environments. Although typically associated with the military, serious decision games are increasingly being used in other government organizations as well as in private business applications.

The definition of a wargame can vary widely, but typically includes a few key elements:

  1. A realistic scenario-based model of competition (as opposed to an abstract representation, such as chess)

  2. Human players that are competing against each other

  3. An arbitration system that governs player interactions

  4. Consequences that impact the course of the game and its ultimate outcome

With these simple starting points, wargames have been designed to help understand the nuances of situations that range from a small tactical battle to Department of Defense-wide modernization efforts. Other uses can include preparing for a crisis response, making best use of diplomatic maneuverings in negotiations, and delivering local aid to impoverished areas.

Ideas vs. Weapon Systems: What are your objectives?

With so many potential applications, the specifics of a game and its intended outcomes can obviously vary widely. The idea of a wargame is typically associated with mostly tactical aspects of a war, but it also a tool suitable for analysis of higher level concerns.

It is important to note, while many will use the term “wargames” to describe activities that lean more towards simulation (predicting the effectiveness of weapon systems in a battle, trying to predict events with probabilistic approaches, etc), we do not consider these proper wargames that meet the criteria described above. Simulations are an important aspect of many national security activities – one that can certainly benefit from the use of a computer and specialized software – but not true wargames.

Note that this site uses the terms “decision simulations” and “wargames” interchangeably – the former focuses on decisions, rather than mathematical simulations.

The first task in designing any wargame is to determine what your “unit of analysis” is – what are you trying to study, understand, anticipate, etc. The game designer can then build tools into the game to model key decisions that revolve around this unit of analysis. If done effectively, this will help gain insight into how factors in the decision simulation will play out in the real world.

Advantages of Wargames

There have been a number of articles that effectively explore why wargames are an effective approach to the analysis of decisions in crisis situations. We’ll briefly touch on a few of the key factors below.

  • Cost-Effectiveness: Wargames are much less resource intensive than the physical deployment of troops, equipment, and resources, which can be exceedingly expensive. By using a game designer to to simulate scenarios digitally or on tabletops, organizations can explore complex problems without the hefty price tag associated with live forces.

  • Creating a Risk-Free Environment: One of the most significant advantages of wargames is the ability to explore various strategies without the risk of injury or loss of life. This environment can help encourage experimentation and learning from mistakes, particularly when paired with a thorough after-action-review.

  • Replayability and Analysis: Wargames can be reset and played multiple times, allowing participants to explore different outcomes based on varying decisions.

  • Flexibility and Scalability: A game designer can change the scale of the game to simulate various levels of conflict, from tactical engagements focused on the employment of weapon systems on local terrain to grand strategy encompassing entire theaters of war. This flexibility in modeling allows the tailoring of exercises to specific learning objectives.

  • Exposure to a Wide Range of Scenarios: Through wargaming, participants can be exposed to a broader array of hypothetical scenarios than would be feasible with live exercises. These can include threats such as cyber warfare or space conflict in conjunction with traditional enemy actions – providing a synthetic environment that models situations difficult or impossible to replicate in real-world settings.

Advantages of Wargame Software

So now that we’ve established a few key advantages of wargames for use in your next crisis simulation exercise, we’ll discuss why software-based approaches might add some further utility.

  1. Complexity and Detail at Scale: Software-based wargames can help simulate more intricate scenarios that would be cumbersome or impossible to manage on a tabletop. This allows for more detailed and expansive wargames, including realistic logistics, weather effects, and the cumulative impact of strategic decisions over time.

  2. Dynamic Environments: Digital wargames can more easily represent fundamental changes in the state of the game to players in a way that a tabletop game cannot. Changes in terrain, weather conditions, and even the morale of units can be modeled and represented to participants, enhancing the realism and immersion of the decision simulation. .

  3. Accessibility and Convenience: Software-based wargames can be accessed from anywhere, requiring only a compatible device. This eliminates the need for physical space, setup time, and the logistical challenges of coordinating in-person sessions. Players can engage in complex strategic exercises without the constraints of physical components, making wargaming more accessible to a broader audience.

  4. Automated Record-Keeping and Analysis: Software-based wargames can automatically track every action, decision, and outcome, providing a comprehensive dataset for post-game analysis. This feature is invaluable for learning and improvement, as players can review their decisions to better understand advantages and disadvantages of their actions throughout the game.

WarPaths and Your Training

In this section, we’ll talk a bit about how WarPaths implements the advantages of computer-based games mentioned above, while also mitigating some of the potential downsides of a software-centric decision simulation.

Complexity and Detail at Scale

First, WarPaths uses a number of information sources to add complexity to your crisis scenario including scenario backgrounders, key media reports, a social media feed, intelligence updates, and others. You decide on the type of turn inputs you want from your teams, how long they have to respond, and what topics the teams will deal with.

Map colors for countries and regions represent conditions the teams are focused on, while incident icons, unit icons, and map overlays players can toggle on and off help create a rich information environment.

Dynamic Environments

WarPaths provides a number of options for you to control your synthetic environment. The map colors and icons can quickly reveal a completely new set of conditions for players to wrestle with. Change the default map views, release multiple updates to the information feeds, and provide new directions to the participants with the click of a button on the interface.

Accessibility and Convenience

As a cloud-based software system, WarPaths requires only an internet connection to get your players into the game system. Run your games with email-based invites that automatically assign participants to the teams you create with the proper access controls to the information you designate for use by specific teams. Decide upon synchronous or asynchronous play, switch between the two in the same game,

Automated Record Keeping

WarPaths captures key data automatically as the game progresses including messages among teams and between players, all team inputs and impacts from previous turns, and changing incident icons and unit placement/activity. This facilitates the review of key decisions and helps in identifying issues for debate in a future game.

All of these tools reduce the manual work for the white cell/game control group. WarPaths was designed specifically to support the management of games – including multiple, simultaneous games.

Play Games with Your Mission Planning

Use of computer based games will add a number of advantages to your mission planning. At the strategic level, wargames can help develop a deeper understanding of the balance between military, economic, and diplomatic elements of national security matters. Additionally, a wargame can force participants to the concept of opportunity costs in choices at this level, forcing them to consider the the tradeoffs in their approaches to the problem.

Wargames can also serve as models for exploring the consequences of decisions over extended periods. The interactions among players can help clarify the dynamics of unfamiliar environments, ranging from conventional warfare to asymmetric conflicts and even space or cyber warfare. This exposes players to a wide range of strategic considerations, including alliance formation, intelligence gathering, and technological development.

Wargame software enhances these advantages when properly used and can help you lead change in your organization. Interested in learning how WarPaths might help? Reach out to learn more!