09 May 2012

Liveblogging the Special CASL Strategic Wargaming Roundtable featuring Dr Philip Sabin

There's a special CASL roundtable going on today, as Dr Philip Sabin, author of the books Simulating War and Lost Battles, is giving a talk.
(edit the next day: here are the slides, so you can see the charts/diagrams below for yourself)

Your liveblog follows...

The Continuing Merits of Manual Wargaming

Talking primarily about tabletop wargaming... contrasting with Roger D Smith's book Military Simulation & Serious Games, that treats manual wargaming as "ancient history"

Key topics we're covering today
- What are wargames?
- What use are wargames?
- Why manual wargames?
- Accuracy vs simplicity
- Fog of war
- Luck of the dice

More after the jump!

What are wargames?
- Mathematical modeling (Lanchester and Dupuy, etc)
- Operational research (WWII research)
- Game theory (from poker to economics to strategic planning)
- Role playing (seeing through another's eyes)
- Verbal analysis (we talk about it... not qualitatively different from others on this list)
A book about war is not the same thing as a war - "it's small, sits on a table, and is quite inoffensive." All of these things are examining war but are not a war itself
- Wargaming (ties in aspects of everything above)

Describing a venn diagram about forms of conflict modeling that I'll have to try to get drawn in later (it's in his book, too).
Very few academics take wargaming seriously, which causes difficulty among members of his profession.

Definitions of wargaming, comparing Dunnigan and Perla
(hint: Dunnigan's is shorter!)
Sabin's definition... 2 essential elements
1. underlying mathematical model
2. decision inputs by opposing players
"reflects the essence of war as a battle of wits as much as a blind collision of armed masses"

Variable elements
-- codification of rules; number of participants; size & complexity: form of representation
Any of these can vary based on type and purpose of the game

Terminology matters
Dunnigan: "a conflict simulation is another name for wargame, one that leaves out two unsavory terms - 'war' and 'game'."
See my thoughts on the terminology over here

What use are wargames?

Active learning
Wargames help us learn by actually doing
Giving the students a feel for how things work on the battlefield

Who learns the most from a wargame?
Not the player - the game designer
The first cut of the design ends up blowing up in your face, which means you've modeled the fight incorrectly and have to analyze the problem and start over.

Synthetic experience
Learning without the costs
"Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others' experience" - Bismarck

Logical analysis
plotting and graphical analysis of data points

Dynamic Experimentation
An opportunity to actually try the fight without having to do it for real
How to abstract the view of the war, and put decisions in the player's hands?

What Manual Wargames?

Slide of wargame magazines: Vae Victis, ATO, Battles!, World at War, S&T
Continuing publication of manual wargames, with a trend line going continuously up
1999: 39
2000: 42
2010: 133

Benefits of computerization (view of Conquest of the Aegean)

Cost and convenience as an advantage for board wargames
- easy to throw a manual game on the table and play 6-8 people around the table
- computer-based game would've required significant hardware preparation

Board wargames are independent of technology
Back in Dunnigan's last version of The Complete Wargames Handbook, he lists a series of computer wargames that were recently published as an example how computer wargaming is taking over the industry. None of those are playable today without a *really* old computer.
Can pull down a 60-year-old tabletop wargame and play it right now with no technical prep.

Focus & Transparency
- Board wargames focus in on those facets that really matter
- Computer wargames "over-model" because they can, with no limit on variables that can be manipulate under the hood
- Transparency comes from player understanding of the rules needed to play the game

Design Accessibility
- can pick up and learn and play easier than most computer games

Accuracy vs Simplicity

The costs of complexity
Example is a statistical equation from Dr Stephen Biddle about breakthrough operations in WWII
Unless you understand the underlying math, you have to take the author on faith that they're getting it right

Dangers of oversimplification
Example of Lanchester, with bad modeling about how to defeat the enemy in detail by dividing his forces

Top-down vs Bottom-up Modeling
Example of VBS2 as bottom-up modeling and hitting the button just to see what happens
Top-down modeling imposes certain known constraints (soldiers tend to duck when getting fired at, whether you tell them to or not).

Research and Validation
How to transfer knowledge of the past into the future for projections / predictions?
Hobbyists need to focus on entertainment value for commercial audiences, which causes tradeoffs

Detail & Speed of Play
(visual representation of battles of Korsun Pocket)
Hell's Gate from his book can be played in a few hours.
Compared example can't be set up that quickly

Fog of War

War is the realm of uncertainty - Clausewitz
Direct simulation of FOW: double-blind game, block game, etc
Does that mean that games that don't model FOW are worthless?
FOW can be a distracting factor that becomes the focus of the game rather than other elements of the game.
Previous thoughts on this topic on GrogNews here
Example of how Liberty Roads achieves some fog of war effects just by sequencing the setup of the game - Germans set up first, knowing that allies have a primary and secondary invasion coming. Mimics the effects of the allied deception exercise (Operation Fortitude)

Command Sim vs Working Model
Are you playing the commander (i.e., Hannibal)? Requires the proper assignment of players to the roles for which they are most historically suited
Or do you program into the game the sorts of advantages that players actually had?

The Luck of the Dice

How to incorporate the chaos and chance of the reality in the game?
The Hinges of Battle
The Black Swan

Delicate balancing act between reality-skill-chance
How do you incorporate the 'random event'? The commander sneezes at the wrong time...

You're late for the office, the same day a car breaks down on the highway. How do you incorporate this without modeling every car on the freeway? Roll a die to see if there's a breakdown.
"A volcano in Iceland has erupted and stopped all trans-Atlantic air traffic" sounds pretty ridiculous until it happens.

Range of Variation
Likelihood of Outcome vs Historical Result on a graph I can't easily represent here
How to cluster the results close to this historical, without being completely wacky, while still incorporating the "chaos" factor?

- Manual wargames can be simple, cheap, and quick. Need not be overly-complex monsters.
- Can still effectively simulate selected aspects of real conflicts
- Can be produced and tailored by non-experts to fit specific active learning requirements (no need to program a computer to design and modify a wargame)

Discussion coming up... working on the technical details

Request for a comment comparing manual vs computer gaming
How does the social interaction vary?
How does process vs content vary btw the two?

Sitting in the room is a fundamentally different experience. When interested in the interactions of the humans within the side (think: staff wargame) with the argument and dominance of the personalities, manual wins out
Process vs content: learning from the words and seeing how they're articulated in practice, and focus on the interactions
Downside of manual wargame is that players will start to play the game rather than playing the scenario
Comment from person from Center for Army Analysis: can work around the "playing the game" by forcing development of the course of action ahead of time, and sticking to it rather than vary b/c the rules would give an advantage elsewhere.

Mr Romero, BAH: How to make a transition from game player to game designer, w/ Dr Sabin's MA students at King's College.

Start with playing the games in class, and the start working on their preferred treatment / era / battle, etc
Loan them some maps and rules from personal collection, from games of similar domain
Start off playing games, then focus on a subject, then start discussing ways to simplify the designs you like... modify, develop, etc

Question in by email from NWC: how do you work with the abstraction of time?
Target for his game designs for students at Kings College is 10 turns / game, so the math works out reasonably well.
Key constraint for the students is that the game must be playable within 2.5 hours. Focus the scaling of the map in such a way to support the time factors represented in those 10 turns, and scope the overall game to make sure it fits within the gameplay time limit.

(question about the venn diagram from earlier... I'm going to skip it b/c w/o the diagram, this discussion won't make sense, but it's about how that diagram focuses on inter-state conflict, rather than sub-national conflict / irregular warfare)

Question from Volko Ruhnke: Talk about learning from games that are designed for fun. How does the 'fun' factor play into the engagement needed for the learning objectives?

The key thing is to achieve the educational objective. How do you prepare them for the learning, rather than the fun? If you start making compromises that trade out the key learning objectives because they're "not fun" then you're on a slippery slope in a bad direction.

Question from MCWL: What made you choose the First Battle of Fallujah?
He didn't choose it, the student did. They tend to want to examine conflicts within their experience / lifetime. (download the game here - .zip file)
Sensitivity within the recreational gaming market that focuses on manual wargames as Dunnigan's "paper time machine." How to approach a commercial game design with appropriate sensitivity for a contemporaneous topic?
Writing a book or an essay is infinitely easier than designing a game about the topic, especially contemporary topics where information on both sides are hard to get.

Question about innovation in manual game design from Dr Matt Kirschenbaum
Layers of complexity on top of known conventions in the quest for "something new" but is it as productive as it might be?
The novelty aspect is certainly sought after for marketing purposes, but not always in the best interest of the gameplay.

(I'm finding myself listening more to the discussion, rather than taking notes... slowing down right now)

Link to page of Dr Sabin's students' work - downloadable from that page as .zip files of their games

By: Brant

1 comment:

Brian said...

Thanks for the excellent liveblog!
Wish I'd been there.