26 June 2011

Origins Staff Wargaming - Lessons Learned

This is the longest I've had to sit still and write something around Origins going on right now, so this is going to wrap up lots of ideas, thoughts, and feedback into one extended list of bullets.

- This is hard. There's a reason you have to spend a lot of years learning a lot of different parts of the staff process before you're considered to be merely competent, never mind an expert.

- This is hard. James Sterrett is an underappreciated guy. Putting these exercises together takes a lot of time and effort in identifying the scenario, prepping the handouts and player materials, teaching the basics of staff operations, and coaching the staff through the process.

- Process matters much, much more than outcome. The entire point of this is to learn how the staff is expected to function, and how the roles work within the staff, and to gain an appreciation of how much work this is. That's far, far more important than sitting in front of a computer game just trying to pwn a noob. It's one thing to punch buttons to just take down an AI, but an entirely different thing to develop a plan with other people, arrange all the moving parts, conform to something resembling doctrine, and then execute it and adjust it on the fly.

- In the FlashPoint Germany game, the players were the reds, with the US cav running into them in a large meeting engagement. The players had a pretty good read on the US movements but didn't trust their recon, and then didn't reinforce their recon once they gained contact, which ceded the initiative to the cav. After that, the cav came rolling at them. I'm not sure the players had a true appreciation of just how much combat power a cav squadron rolls out with.

- In Battles from the Bulge, the players were a German unit heading west through the Americans, past some place called Bastogne. The thing they really learned in this one was to establish some graphic control measures, as checkpoints, phase lines, and support/firing positions. It saved the players from referring to "this intersection" or "that town" and instead got them all speaking the same language to locate things on the map.

- The Strat/COIN game, using the GEMSTONE system from the NDU, was - unfortunately - a terribly slow game because of the computer interface. To be fair, we are busy fixing that interface, but we never really gave the players a truly tough set of choices to make to have to sort through the different priorities and figure out what to do. This was a failing on the part of exercise control, in not fully preparing a good, solid set of tools in advance, with the worksheets, maps, briefings, game setup, etc. This one was run a little too off-the-cuff, and it suffered for it.

- I was not at the naval wargame, but from all I've heard, a key lesson there had to be that when you lose the key organizing member of the team, it's time to call off the game, or change to something completely different, rather than try to plow ahead with something not quite fully-baked.

- Decisive Action had a barely-engaged, and -interested commander, which trickled down to the rest of the staff. One of the keys to DA is teaching the players how hard it is to integrate all the different moving parts that are more abstracted, or less relevant, in the other games, such as logistics, fire planning, route/traffic management, etc. However, with only a few players, Snyder took on the fires role, and I had the logistics. I was never even asked to brief the log plan, or offered a briefing on the maneuver plan and asked if/how I could support it. Ditto with the fires. I guess they assumed if the exercise control staff had it, then they didn't even need to think about it. In truth, we did, but they shouldn't've been afforded that luxury.

- Persian Incursion had the possibility to really go off the rails, with the us abstracting out a LOT of details from the game, and trying instead to focus on the air campaign planning. We gave them a variety of initial constraints, and turned them loose. Then the game's designer walked in. Oy. In truth, Larry Bond was a delightful addition to the process, in that he was very helpful when we had some resolution/adjudication questions, and he seemed to really enjoy the changes to his game that we made for the purposes we needed in the campaign planning. We had 5 players, and split them as CO, S2, Current Ops, Future Ops, and Ground Boss/maint-readiness (note to USAF readers: no idea if this is realistic or not, but we went with it and it worked). We threw them some curveballs, but they really took well to their roles and reacted as a great team. By the end, this turned out to be one of our better exercises.

- Unfortunately, with the date change next year, we can't be there as a team running these again, which really sucks. Maybe GAMA will come to their senses and realize they're screwing up a lot of really good things. Or maybe not, and we'll try to find a new home for this.

By: Brant

1 comment:

Dan Eastwood said...

Thanks for all your work to make this all happen.

Because it doesn't fit anywhere else -
My best War College "moment" this year was during the Friday panel discussion. You brought up the question of false positives and whether this possibility should be allowed in games or during training exercises. James (or you?) commented that trainees would tune-out all criticism once they learned they made a decision based on a false positive. Now I happen to think the possibility of false information in a game is a pretty cool idea, so I was taken aback that this spoils the games as a training exercise.

This makes me wonder if I ought to consider what other cool ideas make bad games. I'm also a little disturbed that people training for military command should be unable to accept the possibility of bad information. Maybe you don't want to train leaders to doubt what they are told?