Wargaming - Military Meets Fiction

Wargaming - Military Meets Fiction

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Crises, wars and disasters disrupt the balance of our economic, political and social life. Could playing games help us to prepare for such calamities? Lieutenant Colonel (GSGeneral Staff) Thorsten K., lecturer at the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College, is an expert in the field of wargaming.

LTC Thorsten K. is a lecturer at the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College and an expert in the field of wargaming.

Lieutenant Colonel Thorsten K. is a lecturer at the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College and a passionate wargamer

Bundeswehr/Lene Bartel

A wiry figure with a bouncy walk and a firm handshake. Anyone meeting Lieutenant Colonel (GSGeneral Staff) Thorsten K. for the first time would think he is a soldier serving in the mountain infantry or airborne infantry. But no, quite the opposite. For several years, Lieutenant Colonel Thorsten K., who is originally from Westphalia, a region in north-western Germany, has been known as ‘Mr Wargame’ at the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College. Why? Because he likes to play, professionally and passionately.

Planning Scenarios

So if your idea of a gamer is an unathletic nerd who besides playing first-person shooter games all night long only knows how to wield a bag of crisps, you’ve got it all wrong. And yet, there are aspects to these popular online games that the Bundeswehr can relate to.

‘Wargames have so many facets to them and are, in some ways, very close to reality. In real life, soldiers also deal with wars and plan scenarios,’ the senior officer says. However, when playing a wargame, the lecturer and his students also want to have a bit of fun. Like in a real situation centre, the walls of the room are plastered with huge country maps, with magnetic chips representing army groups and front lines.

Dice and game pieces are spread out on a map, with four people pondering the right strategy

The dice, game pieces and cards are all in the right place – may the game begin! Wargaming is about finding the right strategy.


Reality is Catching Up

‘We’re not re-enacting anything. We’re thinking ahead,’ says K., tapping on the country map in front of him. ‘This came onto the market a few years ago. The game designers were thinking ahead, anticipating new developments. Now, unfortunately, reality has caught up with the game they created.’

So the game came onto the market – what does that mean? In fact, some professional war games are eventually made commercially available like other games. At the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Future Warfare in the United States, experts regularly create new scenarios that will then be incorporated into games and become generally available.

Anyone looking for the Krulak Center online will end up on a website of the USUnited States Marine Corps. In wargaming, the lines between fiction and the ‘real’ military become blurred. The French military, for example, has also developed its own wargame to reflect possible future crises, conflicts and wars.

Idea Originated in Prussia

Thorsten K. has already bought another wargame. The idea of wargaming originated in Prussia. In the early 19th century, the Prussian Army was lacking opportunities to train for possible battles.

At that time, the Barons von Reisswitz – father and son – developed a game of dice with a military map as its game board and set up rules reflecting the conditions in an army. The wargaming method helped to train young officers so successfully that Prussia emerged victorious from its next wars, causing the ‘Kriegsspiel’ (the German expression for wargame) to become a huge success as well. Modern armies have also adopted this method for teaching and training.

The important benefit of wargames is that the opposing teams have a strong interest in winning. Conventional military and civilian exercises only serve to train tactical principles, teaching participants, among other things, how to coordinate processes. Map exercises in the military usually end with an assessment of the situation and the preparation of a comprehensive order. When playing a wargame, though, you counterattack, and you do not act in the way the adversary would expect you to – all without shedding a single drop of blood.

Game pieces and hazard signs lying on the game board

Wargames are complex: during the game, players must continuously re-evaluate a variety of dangerous situations

Bundeswehr/Tom Twardy

Others Following in U.S. Footsteps

So far, the United States have been a driving force in wargaming. But things are beginning to change. ‘We are facing enormous security challenges that we can only solve multilaterally,’ the senior officer explains. That is why other countries have also been rediscovering wargames.

LTC Thorsten K. is a lecturer at the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College and an expert in the field of wargaming.
Colonel Thorsten K. Bundeswehr/Lene Bartel
Wargaming is a crucial method that we can use not only to train our military and political leaders, but also to anticipate future crises and conflicts. And with so many conditions and dependencies changing rapidly at the moment, we are also reinventing the idea of wargaming.

Possibilities and dangers emerging in reality must be translated into the respective game accordingly – this is not an easy task. Wargames are usually extremely complex and may take several days to play. And the game design must be compelling and logical.

Winning is of Secondary Importance

The purpose of a wargame is not necessarily to find the best strategic solutions. In fact, winning the game is of secondary importance. What is more important is that the ‘right’ persons get to play the game. Playing wargames is a great training opportunity for decision-makers who have to bear responsibility in real life, too. In terms of experience and cultural background, the respective opponent should also represent a ‘realistic adversary’. All of this will help the players to use the experience gained during the game in real-life situations.

Also, wargaming often highlights everyday problems. Thorsten K. remembers a typical case: ‘While playing a game from the U.S., the politician in charge wanted to ask an expert in his office for advice. But he didn’t have his mobile number. It took him four days to get in touch. I’m sure this politician has drawn his conclusions from this situation.’

For the purpose of wargames is not only to provide answers to well-known issues. Rather, they also help to raise new ones.

by Thomas Franke  email

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