Lessons from Wargaming

I've developed and participated in various wargames, tabletop exercises, and conflict simulations over the past few years. Here's a list of my top lessons:

  1. Practice makes perfect. If you play a game several times, and clearly understand the rules and dominant strategies, you can beat smarter opponents with less experience. This is especially true for strict wargames with specific turns and actions, rather than more fluid conflict simulations.
  2. Active roles matter more than prestigious titles. The "secretary" (aka notetaker) and "diplomat" (aka link with other teams) are usually more active than the "President" or other roles that sound important, but may not hold much actual power.
  3. Wargames can be analytical or educational. Analytic games are often iterative, use surveys, and have clear independent and dependent variables. They are designed to support the game developer. Educational games are usually one-and-done and offer far more freedom of action. They are designed to support the players. Games that try to do both are usually bad at both.
  4. Clear communication, clear goals, clear strategy. The team that can communicate well internally and externally will perform well. The team that can do so while also degrading other teams' communications will win. Relatedly, don't let the Control's injects—breaking news or otherwise—distract you from your core mission.
  5. Don't fight the game. If a game has serious defects, then you should raise these with the Control team and/or game designers. But in the meantime, play within the constraints of the game.
  6. If you're roleplaying, roleplay well. Think about your actor's worldview and scenario-specific goals. In other words, don't play North Korea like an American, or you'll break the game.
  7. Be nice. You can be competitive without being mean. Trash talking among friends is fine but be aware of who you're playing with and their tolerance for it. Relatedly, if you're an active wargamer, be patient with newbies, and if you're a newbie, tell your teammates when you're confused.
One of my favorite comic strips, related to lesson #4.

Use Social Science Theory to Win

  1. Psychology: Be aware of your cognitive biases. Are you mirror imaging against your adversary? Projecting your goals, values, or concerns onto them? Are you a good liar or should you avoid bluffing?
  2. Political Science: Consider whether the game values competition or cooperation. Is there a security dilemma taking place, and if so, can you help resolve it? If one player is powerful, can you convince others to join forces against them (i.e. balance) rather than join them (i.e. bandwagon)?
  3. Economics: Consider if scarcity is an issue. Can you resolve it through trade? Can you use it and gain control over a critical resource? How should you manage your portfolio and risk? Are you flexible enough to adapt your strategy based on newfound strengths and weaknesses?