Designing Tactical Wargames

Designing Tactical Games

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In this class, we will focus on building tactical games. Such games require us to represent the details of battle. Whether we do this using computer or manual techniques, it demands no small degree of simulation. We need to simulate the interaction of forces, the effects of human factors and technology, and the effects of the environment on combat. We also need to understand how tactical elements are commanded, and how to incorporate representations of command into our games. Any good wargame strives to produce realistic adjudications and outcomes, but the realism of tactical games is tested even more stringently because the players can more easily relate game mechanics and adjudication to their own, personal, experiences.

All of this can make designing tactical games different—and even more challenging—than designing operational or strategic games. This class will examine some of these challenges and their possible solutions in both theoretical and practical terms.

We will address the subject according to the different combat domains: ground, naval, and air. For ground combat we will discuss how good design must address basic concepts such as mission, time, space, forces, and command relationships. How do you bring all these variables together to create a realistic tactical environment for players to engage in ground warfare? We will review the development of different ways of representing ground combat based on a wide range of commercial and professional games and explore future challenges and innovative approaches.

Naval and air tactics are even more technically complex and interactive, involving systems from space to cyber and beyond. Games must represent not only putting ordnance on the target, but also the entire kill chain from identification to battle damage assessment. We will also explore requirements for gaming ground tactics primarily using manual games. Although these sorts of games lend themselves to digital simulation, digital simulations can limit designer and player creativity in the game design and execution processes. We will focus on designing exploratory games—games to create or test new tactics, weapon systems, or operational concepts. Our discussion of naval and air games will focus on the mid-to-high tactical level—more concerned about formations of multiple units and systems rather than individual ships or aircraft. This will allow us to examine games that incorporate multiple tactical options for the players and integrate the joint kill chain.

Participants will be able to influence the topics and detail covered depending on their interests and desires.

For example, we can go beyond traditional ground, naval, and air to delve into less common types of tactical games, such as tactical special operations games, requiring the representation and simulation of actions by individual operators. As part of these, we expect to draw from concepts in miniatures gaming to examine the challenges of micro-detailed games. We could consider as well the tactical issues in emergency response, cyber operations, technology assessment, humanitarian assistance, and disease response.

Confirmed Instructors:


Dr. Peter Perla

Peter Perla

Author of The Art of Wargaming and Internationally Recognized Game Designer

Dr. Peter P. Perla III has been involved with wargaming, both hobby and professional, for over forty years, an involvement that sparked a lifelong interest in military history and games of strategy. A frequent player of commercial wargames as a youngster, he had already published articles in the hobby press before he was an undergraduate. After earning a PhD from Carnegie-Mellon University with his thesis on Lanchester mathematical combat models, he joined the Center for Naval Analyses in 1977 as a naval operations research analyst.


Professor Phil Sabin

Phil Sabin

Author of Simulating War and recently retired Professor of War Studies at Kings College London

Philip Sabin just retired as Professor of Strategic Studies in the Department of War Studies at King's College London, and is now Emeritus Professor. He has worked closely with the UK military for many years, especially through the University of London Military Education Committee, the Chief of the Air Staff's Air Power Workshop, and KCL's academic links with the Defence Academy and the Royal College of Defence Studies.

Professor Sabin's research and teaching involves strategic and tactical analysis of conflict dynamics, with a particular focus on ancient warfare and modern air power. He makes extensive use of conflict simulation techniques to model the dynamics of various conflicts, and since 2003 he taught a highly innovative MA option module in which students design their own simulations of past conflicts. He has written or edited 15 books and monographs and several dozen chapters and articles on a wide variety of military topics.


Mr. Paul Vebber

Paul Vebber

Specialties: Wargame Design, Execution, and Analysis; Operations Research; Concept Development & Experimentation; Philosophy and Application of Complexity Science

To employ over 30 years of military operations, operations research, and wargaming experience in support of the development of an effective undersea warfare force through the disciplined application of both analytic and synthetic methods within the "Cycle of Research" (Perla 1990) framework.

Promoting research and development into wargaming design, implementation and execution leveraging complimentary aspects of manual "hands on" kriegspiel-style wargaming with "virtual world" and other types of technology that can facilitate player communication and decision-making within the game while also communicating information about why those decisions were made to analysts.

Air and Special Forces:

Dr. Ed McGrady

Ed McGrady

Game Designer and Educator

Dr. McGrady is currently a Research Team Leader at CNA where he directs a team devoted to research on games and how they can be used to enhance decision-making. He develops games and conducts studies on a wide range of topics from force structure and planning to operational deployment of medical forces. He is currently working on projects related to Naval logistics, future amphibious concepts, and gaming cyber operations.

Modern Ground

Mr. Sebastian Bae

Sebastian Bae

Adjunct Assistant Professor - Center for Security Studies (CSS)

Sebastian J. Bae is a defense analyst at the RAND Corporation. For six years, he served in the Marine Corps infantry, leaving as a Sergeant, including a deployment to Iraq in 2009. Afterwards, he served as a defense writer at Foreign Policy Magazine before moving to the U.S. Marine Corps Wargaming Division as a wargaming analyst. His current research interests include wargaming, counterinsurgency, hybrid warfare, violent non-state actors, emerging technologies, and the nature of future warfare. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown's Center for Security Studies, where he teaches military tabletop wargaming. For the Military Operations Research Society, he serves as the Co-Chair for the Wargaming Community of Practice.


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