Conducting a War Game

With the planning complete the invitations are sent out to the participants. You receive an order to report to the wargaming institute Monday morning at 0800 sharp. Entering a large briefing room, you find a seat and are bombarded with the in-brief. Depending on your rank or expertise, you may be part of the training audience, the response cell, or the control cell. The training audience consists of the decision makers. There you find the commander and staff of the red and blue forces. The whole game is set up for their benefit. The rest of the personnel that surrounds them are just support folk.

The people in the response cell are the buffer between the training audience, the computer model, and the control cell. They take the battle orders from the staff, convert them into simulation lingo, and feed them to the beast, while keeping the control cell informed of the moves. The output of the computer is relayed back to the commander and his staff. The response cell is vital to the realism of the game. They organize and operate the joint and combined armed forces; portray the correct levels of allowances, supply, and logistics; and exercise appropriate operational doctrines, tactics, and procedures.

The control cell consists of the umpires, analysts, and computer operators. Here you find the experts and most likely the planners who set up the game. Any technical and modeling issues are resolved by them, and they are responsible for debriefs and final reports.

After the prebrief the groups go into their team rooms, and the action begins. You have very little warm-up time. The action is fast paced, combat like, and the training audience is directly immersed in the conflict. The competition is intense. The blue commander, usually the highest-ranking officer, feels that his reputation is on the line. It can happen that a staff member is fired on the spot if his performance is lacking.

Following the intelligence briefing, the first move is made. The red commander decides to invade the oil-rich territory. His staff passes the order of battle to the response cell. There it is checked, fed into the computer, and the control cell is notified. The result is given to the red and blue forces in the appropriate format. Now, the blue commander must counter with the deployment of his forces. He responds with a massive assault, engaging his Air Force, Navy, and Army Corps. This force structure is passed to the response cell, checked, and entered into the computer. Casualties are calculated, loss of war materiel is recorded, and territorial gains are drawn on the maps. One cycle is complete.

These cycles can be time phased or event driven and continue until the exit criteria are reached. Usually time-phased games are more realistic because they portray more faithfully the pressure that limited time can inflict on the decision makers. It is important that the players act out their roles as faithfully as possible and that the losing party does not fall into the temptation of blaming the game setup for their misfortune.

After the play the training audience gets a good night’s rest while the control cell burns the midnight oil analyzing the data and composing the debrief. This hot wash is given the next day. It summarizes the events from an overall perspective and provides red and blue with the rationale behind all of the important decisions. The sponsor of the games is given an assessment of his objectives. Any discrepancies of the conduct of the game and modeling deficiencies are addressed and hopefully resolved. With the quick-look report in hand, the warriors say goodbye and, despite some ruffled feathers, part as friends until the next encounter.

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