Adjudication in Wargaming for Discovery


Posted: December 1, 2016 | By: Charles Turnitsa


Wargaming is currently a very important topic, due to the renewed interest in pursuing the activity within the US Department of Defense (US DoD), for the purposes of discovery and exploration of future courses of action. Wargaming itself is very closely related to simulation, especially simulation for military training and experimentation, however there are some important differences. An understanding of what it means to do wargaming for discovery, and also how adjudication (or evaluation of results) of the plans and events that unfold in such a wargame, is the topic of this article. It begins with an overview of what wargaming for discovery might be, based on definitions from literature and from practice, and continues with an overview of what and how adjudication is currently done within a variety of different systems. Finally, a proposed method that combines some of the strengths of existing adjudication methods with the particular needs for wargaming when it is done for discovery, is presented.


Wargaming is a particular activity, and although this issue of the Journal of Cyber Security & Information Systems, M&S Special Edition, is dedicated to the topic, for the purposes of this article, and a discussion of adjudication, it is worthwhile to begin with some discussion of defining the term. For the purposes of the discussion here, a wargame is an artificial replacement for conflict. It is an event experienced by the players and facilitators, but as such it is guided by rules for its execution, which exist to ensure that the participants make decisions and take actions that would be plausible. It is intended that the player roles will be by opposing human opponents, so that impediments to courses of action and plans are made with the highest degree of challenge. In so doing, the wargame is an excellent tool for exploration and discovery. This is true for new courses of action, new plans, understanding the weakness of existing plans, and other reasons. In order to evaluate the results of matching the plans and actions of each side against the other, the rules for the wargame must include mechanisms for adjudicating results when the players’ actions come into conflict with each other. Although this is the understanding of wargaming relied on for this article, it is by no means a new definition. The description of a wargame as a synthetic replacement for warfare, employing live players on both sides, was described well by Perla, “a warfare model or simulation that does not involve the operations of actual forces, in which the flow of events affects and is affected by decisions made during the course of those events by players representing the opposing sides” [1]. The concept of a wargame for discovery is described well by Wiggins1 [2]:

There are multiple reasons for the use of war games; discovery, examination of concepts, and even learning. The value of the war game is to create an enabling environment to achieve the desired objective(s). The benefits of a war game are numerous; however, for the most part they provide new ways of conceptualizing the problem, new courses of action, new elements of information needed for decisions, previously unknown relationships between aspects of a problem, understanding of the problem’s dynamics.

By this definition we see some commonality with, and some differences from, the body of simulators typically employed by the US DoD in its pursuit of Live-Virtual-Constructive (LVC) simulation. Such simulation is often, but not always, done for the purpose of training. Simulators that exist for the purpose of training work quite well with computer generated forces often (but again, not always) taking the role of red forces, allied forces, and civilian or non-aligned forces. Wargaming for the purposes of this article, works best with live human participants controlling the forces of the opposed sides within the game. LVC simulators also exist, and are used for, staff training where the generation of highly detailed data is a highly valued product of the simulation that results from their use. This data is often specifically for realistic and plausible stimulation of Command and Control (C2) devices that staff members will be training to use, in anticipation of actual operations. In the case of wargaming for discovery, such training is not the main goal. The stimulation of a C2 device is also not the goal. The main goals of wargaming for discovery are the devising, executing, and testing of courses of action against an enemy, in order to explore some military problem or proposed future situation. To that end, knowing whether a course of action is executing successfully, or not, and in which areas it is strong, or weak, is what must be conveyed.

Current users and advocates of computerized combat simulation might be surprised to find that many within the professional wargaming community endorse and continue to promote the execution of wargames through a strictly manual process. Such wargames take a number of different forms, but the main distinction is between a seminar wargame, and a tabletop wargame. The terms are not precise, and there is often overlap, but to understand (for the purposes of this article) what is meant by the two ideas, the following descriptions are provided.

A seminar wargame is one where a situation, usually of a military nature (but sometimes of an economic, geo-political, or combination of several of these), is presented to an audience, and then courses of action and their results are discussed in an open forum. Often those that are a mixture of military and other domains (usually political) are called Pol/Mil games (political-military). There is a referee staff that prepares and presents information to the participants that describes the background for the situation (which may, for instance, include fictional countries), and also the resources at hand for each of the participating factions. The starting point of the scenario is indicated, and then, through discussion and presentation of ideas, there is a conversation between the participants and the referee staff. Subject matter experts will evaluate the proposed ideas, and either accept them, or have counter ideas (either generated from themselves, or presented by an opposition force group of players). As the tempo of the game picks up, with proposal and counter proposal, the referee staff relies on their own subject matter expertise to evaluate the results of the player actions, and report back to them a description of the unfolding situation. This method for holding a wargame is extremely flexible, as the timeline can be moved backwards and forwards, and once a proposal is explored and discussed, it can be countered and changed, and then further discussion is made of the alternative. A seminar wargame has a “system” of rules – but they usually define such basic elements including what sides are participating, what the chances are of requesting support from an authority not represented in the game, amount of time allowed to participants to respond to the current situation, and so on. These rules are specifically designed for ease of execution and flexibility, without having to rely on a more formal system for evaluating casualties, or likelihood of success. That is provided through the expert knowledge of the referee staff.

A tabletop wargame is one that is more systematized than a seminar wargame, but perhaps slightly less flexible. It is one where the action of the military and/or political situation is represented on some sort of map, or grid, on a table top. Military units (or other focuses of resource and/or strength) are presented as game pieces (tokens, chits, military models, flags, etc.) that have a place on the tabletop map or grid. Maps and graphics might be employed in a seminar wargame, but typically the movement of forces, and the exertion of power (combat, political, etc.) is controlled by the subject matter experts supporting the referee staff. In a tabletop wargame, a system of rules (similar to those rules that a computerized simulation might employ, although somewhat less complex) is present that declares (for instance) that an armored unit may move so many spaces along a grid. Likewise, a tabletop wargame system will include rules for determining the results of conflict and/or tasks. This may be the removal or reduction of military forces, the expenditure of results, or the consumption of time to complete tasks. The flexibility in the system results from the fact that by simply counting back a few “turns” in the game, and resetting some of the game pieces, that replaying parts of the conflict with changes to plans or outcomes, is easily handled. A recent case for the continued strength and viability of tabletop wargaming was made by Philip Sabin, in a series of lectures at the German Armed Forces University, at Hamburg [6].

In contrast to both seminar and tabletop wargames, computerized combat simulators have the means to offer highly detailed results from conflict and the execution of tasks by units in the wargame. However, such detailed results come with the price of computerized combat simulators being much more complex to set up and run. Usually the individuals that have the expertise to facilitate, narrate, and execute a wargame are not the same that can operate the computerized systems – requiring additional staff, and frequently a large time and resource investment in ensuring that all the factors and data describing the game must be transformed into data products that the simulator can make use of. In the arenas of weapon systems experimentation (for acquisition, as an example), or for staff training – these investments are worth it, because of the high premium value of detailed results (and also the value of distributed simulators being coordinated and working together). But for wargames of discovery, the community of practice will as often as not find it more convenient to rely on a tabletop or seminar wargame.

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