skip to main content
Article Podcast Report Summary Quick Look Video Newsfeed triangle plus sign dropdown arrow Case Study All Search Facebook LinkedIn YouTube

Transforming Naval Wargaming

A Framework for Operational-Level Wargaming
Peter P. PerlaMichael C. MarkowitzChristopher A. WeuveStephen Downes-MartinMichael MartinPaul V. Vebber
Download full report

To transform the way we fight wars we must first transform the way we think about war. One of the major elements affecting the way we think about war is wargaming. The War Gaming Department (WGD) of the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) asked the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) to work with them to develop some new ideas about transforming Navy wargaming as part of the Navy's ongoing efforts to transform U.S. military thinking and practice in response to the perceived changes in the global military-political-technical environment at the start of the 21st Century.

The words wargame and wargaming (and their separated-at-birth synonyms war game and war gaming) have a variety of definitions, many of which are vague and virtually useless to serious scientific discourse. (If we can use the same term to describe both the bustling physical activity of thousands of real troops and vehicles maneuvering across hundreds of square miles and also the largely intellectual activity of two players crouched over a paper map and cardboard playing pieces, then we contend that term loses its utility for many of the discussions important to this effort.) Instead of taking such a broad view of wargames (the thing) and wargaming (what you do with that thing), we focus our attention on “real wargames,” distinguishing them from analytical models, computer simulations without players (CSWP, pronounced “cazwhip”), and field exercises. Real wargames focus on human beings making decisions and dealing with the consequences of those decisions, but not on the action of actual forces.

If we accept the notion of the three domains of real war—physical, informational, and cognitive—then the wargame designer must somehow condense that real universe into the game universe. He does this by combining the six dimensions of wargaming—time, space, forces, effects, information, and command—to form three interconnected topologies—operational, informational, and command. These topologies are the interfaces and engine through which the players enter and transform the universe of the game. The measure of the game’s realism is how well the relationships the players have with the game topologies reflect the relationships real-world commanders have with the real domains. Ultimately, the goal of any “science of wargame design” is to delineate these connections, develop the foundation for understanding the problems by articulating definitions and postulates, and then using those axioms to propose and prove theorems about the connections between war and wargame, and about ways of making coherent connections from reality to wargame, using the dimensions of wargaming to do it.

What we discuss in this paper is an approach to thinking in scientific ways about the underlying concepts and structures that a wargame uses to represent and manipulate these six key dimensions to create the topologies of the game. Together, these topologies and their interworkings form what we call the game system. Just as there are many types of vehicles for travel on land, sea, air, or space, there are many types of game systems we can use to reach our objectives. Just as all physical vehicles must conform to some fundamental physical principles, so too all wargame systems must deal with fundamental objects, forces, and interactions. We propose a particular way of categorizing and thinking about those fundamental principles as a starting point for developing further what we may call a science of wargame design.

Download full report

Approved for Public Release
Distribution Unlimited


  • Pages: 136
  • Document Number: CRM D0010807.A2/Final
  • Publication Date: 9/13/2004
Back to Gaming and Integration