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Australian Defence Force

Background for the Basic and Advanced Analytic Wargaming Courses from the Naval Postgraduate School in Canberra, 17 February to 6 March 2020

Conduct Phase

The fourth phase of a wargame project is to conduct a war game, or series of war games. As indicated in the diagram this consists of four steps.

At this point, the game should be ready to play. The whole game struture and its components should passed appropriate tests. For preparation, all that should remain is setting up the venue and ensuring the players are ready to go.

Procedures for collecting the data from the play of the game should also be initiated at this point. These procedures should have been subject to appropriate testing in Step 9, just as other components of the game were tested.

Step 10: Preparing Participants and Venue

Preparing Participants. There are various means to assist participants to get ready for gaming. For example, a read-ahead package can be distributed (see side bar). Also, early on the first day, there should be an "all participant" meeting where all concerned can get preparatory briefings on what is about to unfold.

Gaming Room.

The layout of the needs to be considered carefully (assuming all game activity can fit into one room).

Generally a horseshoe shaped central table is best to allow the main role players to have direct eye contact with the facilitator and with other players. Generally the number of players who should be accommodated at the main table should be no more than about 15. A few more could be accommodated if required, but the larger the number the greater the demands on the facilitator. Larger numbers also mean that each player will get less time for putting a point of view.

Those responsible for recording the activity (data collectors and analysts) should be in a location where they can see all of the discourse and can easily identify who is speaking at any point. Generally this is in a corner at the front of the room where they can easily see the faces all of the main participants.

Advisors to the main role players, e.g., the G-3 for a division commander, can sit along the wall behind their principal. Other subject matter experts might go there too, e.g., a political advisor for the commander. In rows at the back of the room seating can be provided for observers and an audience, if appropriate.

Note that those sitting in these rows should not have major speaking roles as they will be hard to see for many of the participants. The facilitator might occasionally call on someone in these rows to provide background on some very specific topic.

For games that include computers, communications systems, or audio or video support, a space should be allowed for technical personnel. This can be at the back of the room where they can move in and out unobtrusively, but can react quickly if a technical problem arises.

A large room configured like this should accommodate about 15 players at the main table, 20 more sitting along the walls behind the main players, and 30 more in the audience rows. If the room is configured as an auditorium, e.g., with tiered seating for an audience, considerably more people can be accommodated, but they are not likely to be given speaking roles as the facilitator will not be aware of them.

Syndicate Rooms.

From time to time, the main group might spin off specialist groups or syndicates to discuss specific matters. For example, a main table for a game on campaign analysis for a COCOM, might spin off a synicate to address logistics, or sharing classified information with coaliton partners. For these discussions, only a few of the participants in the main room may be needed and they may move to a smaller room.

This smaller room should be configured along similar lines to the main room, but at a different scale. About 12 participants can be seated at the tables or desks in the horseshoe pattern, with a syndicate leader acting as facilitator, if one is not available. A space for data collection and analysis should be provided, usually in a front corner of the room where they can observe all of the discourse. An additional 8 to 12 personnel can be accommodated along the walls as advisors to the principals, or as observers.

Sight Lines. One pernicious violator of clearing sight lines is the laptop computer. It has become routine for participants in some group activity to walk into a room and immediately set up their laptop computer. In the modern era, this may seem natural, and it may seem efficient for players, say to check reference material that they have on their computer or that they can reach over the net. However, the laptop screens inhibit inter-personal interaction. Also, since the laptop is so readily available some players may be distracted by doing something on their computer, even when the impact on the flow of discourse seems innocuous.

Support and Relief Areas. The infrastructure should be such that players can easily find suitable places for breaks. There should be areas where participants can use smartphones or internet computers to check with their "home station". If not provided, many players will be distracted imagining what might be happening back at the office, or with family members. Also providing opportunities for such communications may seem frivolous in some respects, the purpose should always be to remove any distractions to players devoting their full attention to the game.

Step 11: Collecting Game Data

The data that needs to be collected during a game should be specified in a Data Collection and Management Plan. It is desirable that this plan should be competed at an appropriate time before gaming commences.

Nevertheless, some flexibility may need to be retained to change or extend the DCMP while the game is in progress.

The types of data that will be collected during a game consists of three types:

Step 12: Conducting the Game

For the most part, a game consists of moving players through a scenario. At various points some or all of the players may be confronted with decisions. They may make plans that have to compared to plans of other players. The games generally involve conflict and there may be points where two or more players are in conflict and that has to be resolved before the game can move forward.

There are many ways to develop scenarios. For information on this, see the section on scenarios.

Conflicts that develop during a game are dealt with through adjudication. There is a section on this.

Other aspects of procedure may have rules. These may be in the form of written rules for manual game. Or they may be rules that have been captured by using computer-based models and simulation. There is a section that discusses game rules.

While a game is in progress the analysts should operate some form of quality control to ensure that activity in the game conforms to the Data Collection and Management Plan (DCMP). The purpose of this quality control is to confirm that suitable data is being collected. It should not be necessary to analyze all of the data in real time to ensure that appropriate data is being collected. However, the quality control process should flag missed opportunities, poor record keeping (even bad handwriting), use of obscure, ambiguous, or misleading language. The quality control function should be closely linked to the control cell or the facilitator to ensure that adjustments to game activity can promptly get things back on track.

Step 13: Providing "Quick Look" Report

Soon after the conclusion of a game, the analysis group should provide a quick-look report to the players and other participants. This is usually in the form of a briefing from the analysis team to players and other participants of emerging insights from the game. It should take place while the participants are still in place at the gaming venue.

For players, a quick-look report may provide simply an acknowledgement of their contribution. Beyond that it can give them a bit of an idea of what sorts of tentative conclusions are developing, based on the player input during the game.

For analysts, a quick-look report should be viewed as part of data collection, a necessary part. Before they scatter, the players should be provided with the preliminary insights the analysts are considering. If players feel that those insights are based on misleading or erroneous observations, the quick-look report is the opportunity for players to set the record straight. There can be innocuous reasons for analysts to be mislead: players may use language that is highly technical or full of acronyms or code words, data collectors may have misunderstood aspects of the context so the feedback from the players was correctly recorded but applied to the wrong context.

Analysts should be aware that the quick-look activity is one of the last opportunities to interact with participants. Once participants have left the gaming venue, it will be extremely difficult to get any further input from them. Once they are back in their "day jobs" other priorities will mean they have little time to revisit game issues.

Participant Package

Those who have been assigned roles as game players should be provided with a package to prepare them. This package may include some of the following:

Introductory material, often provided by the sponsor or the sponsor's organization. This should provide context for the gaming activity, the role the game and the participants will have in assisting the sponsoring organization, and motivation for the participants to get fully engaged in the process.

Administrative advice and guidance such as building maps and diagrams, arrangements for meals and accommodation, shuttle bus schedules, information technology support, codes and contacts for submitting travel claims, phone numbers and email addresses for a "help desk" or equivalent.

Organization chart so the players will know to whom they should go with specific matters, e.g., who they should see on administrative matters or to whom they should appeal if they dislike some arrangement for game play.

Schedule hour-by-hour and day-by-day. This allows the participants to anticipate events and to plan their movements.

History behind the game activity, e.g., previous related material such as prelimiary studies of the issues, parallel activity exploring similar issues, and the intentions of the sponsoring organization to take the game results further.

Scenario material may be provided. Generally this would not be a detailed outline of the possible scenarios. But it should include enough material that players can orient themselves before play begins. The material might give the time setting, e.g., the year 2025; a geopolitical outline, perhaps with a low-resolution map of the area of operations; the mission that the player in which the player will be involved; a summary of what other factions could be encountered as the game unfolds.

Adjudication. Many players may be familiar with activities that have many wargame charactistics, e.g., command post exercises, or training activities. To ensure they will not be surprised, players should be provided with background on how adjudications will be made, e.g., by computer-based combat simulation, by panel of academic experts, by a facilitator using best judgement, or according to some book of written rules.

Data collection and analysis. Many players will not be familiar with the need to collect data from them and to analyze this for the game results. The methods intended for this should be outlined, particularly if it could impact upon the players, e.g., to set aside time for one-on-one interviews after the conclusion of the game or to complete questionnaires.

Template package. As an example of such a player package, there is an "read ahead handbook" used by the Canadian Army for a one-week seminar war game on the "Army of Tomorrow".

No Frets

Players are there to play.... well to work(!) and play. While the game is under way, the players should be fully focussed on the play of the game. The hosts for the game execution should anticipate all sources of fretting: those situations that may distract a player from the game activity.

Some sources of fretting are: worrying about flights back to home station, or about how the family back home is coping, or about getting a drive to the airport. Players may wish to get in contact with superiors or colleagues back in the office. Or they may wonder where their next meal will come from, whether someone has thought to make a fresh pot of coffee, or if there is somewhere nearby to get a snack. Thoughts like this can have a detrimental effect on inter-personal dynamics, and quality results depend on players being focussed on the game. Where feasible reasonable measures should be taken to anticipate distractions and remove them.

Some game organizers may feel that resolving such concerns should be up to the players. After all, "they are all adults!" While this attitude is understandable, a distracted player could well ruin a game. So it is in the best interest of having a good product that game organizers should make a reasonable effort to reduce fretting. Players don't need to be pampered, but reasonable forethought should be devoted to their well-being, in terms of reducing distractions.