Category Archives: Wargames

Naval Wargaming SITREP: Join our First Community Fight Night This Friday

By Dmitry Filipoff

This Friday, April 8th, from 730-830pm (Eastern Time), CIMSEC’s dedicated naval wargaming server will be gathering for our first ever community fight night. Join us to play and spectate naval wargames, especially Nebulous Fleet Command. We will be facing off in head-to-head multiplayer matches, with players pitting their custom fleets against one another in contested matches. Join us this Friday to play and spectate naval wargaming on our growing community server, and make sure to get a glimpse of the action down below.

Join our public CIMSEC Wargaming Discord server here.

A salvo of missiles breaks through flak defenses to land devastating hits on a light cruiser.

A fleet under missile fire closes to short range to bring lasers to bear on an immobilized enemy light cruiser while deploying chaff and point defenses.

Heavy cruiser RICK Heart of Tempest floating in space, heavily damaged and combat ineffective after an intense exchange of railgun fire.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: Author screenshot of Nebulous Fleet Command.

Wargaming: A Tool for Naval Intelligence Analysis

By Ian Sundstrom

Intelligence is a key enabler of wargames conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense. Intelligence analysis provides the factual backbone of wargames, from orders-of-battle and weapons system capabilities to strategy. Intelligence analysts themselves routinely play the role of adversaries in so-called “red cells.” Often, however, wargame sponsors have specific training or analytic objectives that require deviations from the most likely or most realistic “red” courses of action. Intelligence analysts playing red must therefore guess at how the adversary might respond to unusual situations or deliberately make decisions they believe are inaccurate just to support the game’s purpose. This is a source of frequent frustration for analysts and the cause of numerous gripes about the “unrealistic” nature of wargames. Rather than decrying this, analysts should embrace this fact and use wargaming to improve their assessments.

Wargaming Is Distinct from Other Structured Analytic Techniques

Numerous structured analytic techniques have been developed to help intelligence analysts overcome their biases and improve their assessments. How is wargaming different and/or better than these techniques? Wargaming is unlike any other technique for its ability to put analysts in the adversary’s position and capture the interactive nature of warfare.

One common technique used to see the world from the adversary’s perspective is red team analysis. This technique involves analysts putting themselves in the adversary’s position and asking what factors influence its decision-making process and how it responds to different stimuli. In that way it is similar to the act of playing the red team in a wargame. Wargaming improves on red teaming by adding a thinking, reacting opponent, and repeating the process over the course of the game.

Wargaming also embodies the nature of warfare in a way that no other technique does. Wargaming captures the iterative interactions between the actors in a conflict. In this way it helps analysts see beyond the first order effects of any adversary course of action and identify how different actions might shape the future actions of the parties to a conflict. Wargaming also captures the sequencing of military operations in time and space. This helps illuminate constraints on military action that more abstract techniques do not.

Wargaming Can Enable Other Analytic Techniques

Wargaming can also enable the use of other analytic techniques. For example, wargaming can help check key assumptions. If an assessment depends upon an assumption that an adversary’s political leaders do not see war in their interests, analysts can put themselves in those leaders’ place in the context of a game and see if the assumption holds. When facing a thinking opponent on the other side of a wargame, that assumption might not seem quite as valid.

Wargaming can also increase the likelihood of capturing alternative assessments. If pressed, many analysts would reveal that they only consider alternative hypotheses at the end of their analytic process, contrary to best practices. Wargaming can help bring analysis of alternatives to the front of analysts’ minds because of its sequenced, iterative structure. Each turn in a wargame presents players with decision points, each of which can reveal plausible alternatives for consideration. Alongside these alternatives, wargaming can illuminate the indicators that would accompany an adversary’s choice of one course of action over another.

Each turn of a wargame further provides the context for a structured brainstorming session. The analyst or analysts on a team can employ the technique to identify the broadest range of possible actions an adversary might take and then consider which actions are supported by evidence, which are most likely, and which might be most dangerous to the United States.

Further, wargaming can help identify intelligence gaps. The key to developing valid analytic insights from wargaming is to try to bring intelligence information into the process. When facing an in-game decision, players should ask themselves “what intelligence reporting provides clues about how the target would react?” If there is no information available, a potential intelligence gap has revealed itself.

Wargaming Does Not Need to be Complicated

A common misconception of wargaming is that it requires complex computer programs or detailed map-and-counter systems with intricate rule sets. If it did, wargaming would not be well suited to the often fast-paced requirements of intelligence analysis. Fortunately, it does not. At its most basic level, wargaming requires no formal tools. It just requires players representing the various people or organizations under consideration and an umpire to decide the order and outcomes of actions. A slightly more sophisticated game could involve a map (perhaps simply taken down from the wall of a cubicle), pocket change used to represent various forces, and some simple rules to help adjudicate results. A wargame can easily be held in a conference room or clustered around a desk and completed in an hour or two. That may seem like a long time to commit to a “game,” but most analysts can tell horror stories about much longer meetings with less useful results.

Options for Increasing the Use of Wargaming in Naval Intelligence


Diversity amongst the naval intelligence analytic corps is key to avoiding blind spots and preventing groupthink. Important in building a diverse workforce is hiring analysts who have no military experience. This means, however, that naval intelligence leaders cannot assume these analysts have any particular knowledge of military operations. As part of new analyst training, wargaming can help improve their knowledge in a way that lectures and reading cannot by forcing analysts to engage with the factors that influence real-world military decisions, such as movement, fires, and logistics. Wargaming has already been implemented as a training and educational technique within the Department of the Navy and has been used in a limited scale within some components of the Defense Intelligence Enterprise, but its use could be expanded.

Day-to-day Analysis

Analysts can also add wargaming to the toolbox they use in their daily work. As noted earlier, wargaming does not need to be complicated. Small groups of analysts can gather around a map on a conference table and, with post-it notes and notepads, examine how a specific battle, campaign, or war would play out in a structured but dynamic way. The insights from that effort can then help guide collections or generate new questions for analysis.

Community Collaboration

On a larger scale, wargaming can be a key facilitator of improved collaboration with the broader intelligence community. Naval intelligence analysts develop networks of their peers and routinely coordinate their formal products across communities of interest. This is important, but the former is often ad hoc and personality driven, and the latter is too often fleeting. Large, cross-organizational wargames can bring analysts together for multiple days of in-depth wargaming, during which time they get to know one another, discuss existing intelligence reporting and outstanding intelligence gaps, and explore various avenues for analysis. The experience can help foster deep and long-lasting relationships across organizations.

The Time is Ripe for Expanding Wargaming’s Role

Under guidance issued by the current Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps, wargaming’s time seems to have arrived in the Department of the Navy. Wargaming has been widely employed as a tool to train Sailors and Marines and develop new concepts of operations for naval forces. It should also be used by naval intelligence professionals to improve their analysis. Wargaming is a unique tool that can help reveal potential adversary courses of action and facilitate the use of other analytic techniques. It is time to add it to the analysts’ toolbox.

Ian Sundstrom is an intelligence analyst at the Nimitz Operational Intelligence Center. He is also a reservist at Naval History and Heritage Command and previously served on active duty as a Surface Warfare Officer. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense.

Featured image: March 19, 2018 – U.S. Naval War College (NWC) students participate in a learning game beta test run by NWC’s Joint Military Operations and Wargaming departments. The premise of the tabletop game was based on the Battle of Leyte Gulf during World War II. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jess Lewis/released)

The Shores of Tripoli: Waging the First Barbary War

By Caitlyn Leong and Ens. Brandon Bridges, USN

The Shores of Tripoli (SoT) is a one-to-two-player card-driven wargame by designer Kevin Bertram and Fort Circle games. SoT presents players with the opportunity to make strategic choices on behalf of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps or the pirates of Tripoli during the First Barbary War. Our review focuses on the two-player game experience and we outline the game components, basic rules, and our thoughts on the value of the game as both a wargame and a means of learning history. While not heavily focused on the tactics or international politics of the First Barbary War, SoT accurately captures the high-level strategic decisions and asymmetries of the actual conflict, allowing players to develop insights that are relevant to history and to contemporary conflict dynamics. Overall, SoT is an excellent game for those who are interested in the First Barbary War, and both new and experienced wargamers. 

Game Components 

The Shores of Tripoli arrives as a boxed set, with high-quality wood components, card decks for the American and Tripolitan player, a full-color game map, and a bag of twenty-four six-sided dice. The box also contains a historical supplement with designer’s notes and a copy of Thomas Jefferson’s 1801 letter to Yusuf Qaramanli, the pasha of Tripoli. 

The Shores of Tripoli game components. (Photo by the authors.)

The large three-masted ships represent frigates. The blue frigates represent the U.S. Navy, the red frigates are Tripolitan, and the two yellow frigates represent the Swedish Navy, which had been engaged in conflict with Tripoli since the late 1790s. The smaller single-masted vessels represent American gunboats (blue) and pirate corsairs (red and orange). The orange corsairs represent the pirate forces of the Tripolitan allies in Algiers, Tangier, and Tunis. Ground units are represented by wooden cubes, blue for U.S. Marine Corps, white for Arab infantry that fought alongside the U.S., and red for Tripolitan infantry. The twelve gold coins represent tribute and stolen treasure that the Tripolitan player can attempt to win throughout the game. 

The map has three different types of playable areas. The color-coded circles represent the nine harbors in the region. The colors indicate whether the harbor is friendly for the Americans or the Tripolitans, although they can peacefully coexist in Gibraltar. The lightly-shaded semicircles outside of five of the harbors represent patrol zones, which American frigates can patrol to try and prevent pirate corsairs from leaving the harbor. Everything outside of the harbors and patrol zones is the open sea, where the corsairs may engage in piracy against merchant ships that are not physically represented in the game.

The game map for The Shores of Tripoli. (Photo by the authors.)

At the bottom of the map, a turn tracker marks the year and the season. The game begins in the spring of 1801. The upper right corner of the map also features a designated supply area where extra American and Tripolitan pieces, along with their allies’ pieces may be stored for ease of access during gameplay. 

 Victory Conditions and Combat Adjudication

SoT offers multiple paths to victory for both the American and Tripolitan players. The asymmetries between these objectives make for very engaging gameplay. The American player wins by either forcing the Tripolitan player to sign the Treaty of Peace and Amity (1805 or later) if certain conditions are met, or by capturing Tripoli, which requires defeating both the Tripolitan pirate fleet and infantry. The Tripolitan player has three paths to victory. First, they can sink a total of four American frigates, forcing the Americans to acquiesce on the basis of having lost too much of their nascent fleet. Alternatively, Tripolitan corsairs and their allies in Tunis, Algiers, and Tangier can win by acquiring twelve gold coins, reflecting their ability to prey on Mediterranean trade successfully. Finally, if the Tripolitans can defeat and eliminate Hamet’s Army (the American ground force), they win. If neither player has achieved victory before 1806, the game ends in a draw. 

SoT features two types of combat: naval and ground. In both types of combat, the results are adjudicated by simple dice rolls, which, regardless of the apparent strength of the attacking force, can leave a lot to chance. The American player also has the option to conduct a naval bombardment of enemy infantry. Regardless of the type of combat, players roll dice based on their units’ strength and can modify these rolls for better results using cards. 

The Two-Player Game Experience 

In order to thoroughly test the game’s iterability and the likelihood of in-game events, we played the two-player version of SoT twelve times before writing this review. We noted on our first playthrough that SoT has a very low barrier to entry in terms of learning the rules and understanding the game’s dynamics. This is especially important if one is new to wargaming or wants to play with someone who is. 

Game set-up is fairly simple and outlined clearly in the rulebook. Each player gets event cards that allow them to take certain actions during the game and draws a hand of eight cards from their deck. At the start of each subsequent year, players will draw cards from the deck and discard excess cards from their hand, if necessary. One card must be played per season by each player. 

For the first game, we recommend being very slow in assessing your hand and your options and making sure to move the season tracker. When we tried to move too quickly in our first few games, we each lost track of the season and missed some critical moves made by our opponent. That said, we never had a game last longer than an hour, so SoT is a great game to play if you want minimal setup and quick play. 

Our games made it clear that players must balance competing strategic objectives based on the cards they draw and the current year and season. Some cards can only be played after a certain year or season has passed, particularly the American victory condition cards. Some cards can also be stacked with each other to make their effects stronger or modify combat but using certain cards may permanently remove them from the game. Consequently, successful players must choose their path to victory and identify the cards that they will need to achieve that victory relatively early in the game.

We found that as we gained more experience with the game, we became better at planning our hands and playing the right cards together to achieve certain effects or strategic objectives. This also made the game more challenging, since each of us was more familiar with the other player’s deck and strategic choices. However, we did not have a game that ended in a draw. In our testing of the game, we found that the Tripolitan player is most likely to win by amassing the requisite twelve gold coins, while the American is most likely to win by assaulting Tripoli. 

While much of the game’s progression towards victory depends on a player’s hand, much also depends on the roll of the dice. As previously mentioned, strategies that may work in other games, such as massing forces or stacking modifying cards in one final climactic battle may not be enough to win SoT. In one game the entirety of the American Navy and Hamet’s Army (supported by extra Arab infantry) assaulted Tripoli, but lost four frigates to the Tripolitans, resulting in a last-minute Tripolitan victory. 

Assault on Tripoli: The ill-fated American attack on Tripoli resulted in a Tripolitan victory. (Photo by the authors.)

We also had several games where the Tripolitans reached twelve gold coins just before the American player could play the Treaty of Peace and Amity in 1805. While this can be incredibly frustrating if it happens routinely, (we did play the game twelve times in fairly short order), we felt that this contributed to the opportunity to explore counterfactuals through SoT

The History of the First Barbary War and the Historic Counterfactuals in Shores of Tripoli

Learning about conflict dynamics and history through wargames can reveal new insights and inform understandings of contemporary conflict dynamics. To that end, SoT offers players an opportunity to understand the challenges of strategic decision-making, particularly during a protracted and asymmetric conflict like the First Barbary War. The First Barbary War lasted from 1801 to 1805. The war began in 1801 when Tripoli formally declared war after years of tensions over the tributes required to ensure merchant ships’ safe passage in the Mediterranean. At the time of the war, the US had just started building the first six frigates of the U.S. Navy and had barely been acknowledged as a nation by the European powers.

By contrast, Tripoli and its allies, Tunis, Algiers, and Tangier, were semi-autonomous states belonging to the Ottoman Empire, whose pirate corsairs extorted merchant ships and effectively controlled trade throughout the Mediterranean. England and France had much greater ability to pay the requisite tribute to Tripoli to ensure their trade routes would remain safe, and the steady stream of payment allowed Tripoli to drive up the tribute prices to exorbitant sums that the Americans could ill afford. As a result, American merchant ships were frequently captured, and their crews were held for ransom or sold into slavery. The U.S. Navy was simply not large enough at the time to provide escorts for their merchant vessels, of which the Tripolitans took full advantage. 

As in history, some of the Tripolitan victory conditions in SoT involve making the cost of the war too high for the US in terms of their military assets or the ongoing costs associated with the loss of their merchant ships and ransoming their crews. Similarly, the American player can win by establishing the actual conditions that lead to the Treaty of Peace and Amity in 1805 or by eliminating the Tripolitan fleet and ground forces in that same year or later. 

The cards in SoT highlight key events and elements of the conflict that affected the progression of the First Barbary War. In the game, these events may not occur exactly when they occurred in history, which adds a strong element of the historical counterfactual to gameplay in ways that may be fun for wargamers and casual players, but less so for hardline historians and naval tacticians.

What makes SoT interesting and fun to play over and over is the opportunity to test the counterfactual. For example, what if Tripoli and its allies were much more successful at sinking American frigates than they were during the war? Or what if Thomas Jefferson actually provided the necessary naval reinforcements for the intended 1805 assault on Tripoli? These counterfactual events lead to very different victory conditions than what occurred in history (the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Amity in 1805), and present an opportunity for players to consider what elements of the conflict mattered at the strategic level and during what year or season they are most significant. 

Through our numerous playthroughs, we found that certain types of victory are more likely to occur for both the American and Tripolitan player, in ways that occasionally deviate from history. We found that a successful American assault on Tripoli was the most common ending in our twelve games. We debated whether this is a good thing and have concluded that if you are looking to learn more about the strategic dynamics of the First Barbary War and understand that SoT abstracts the majority of tactics, international relations, and logistical challenges that occurred during the war, you will likely get a lot of value out of SoT

Gamers looking for precisely-modeled combat and naval tactics may find that SoT is not the right game for them. However, SoT is a strong entry-level wargame that highlights the key historical events and figures of the war without being bogged down by the minutiae of history.  

Caitlyn Leong is a M.A. candidate and CyberCorps Scholarship for Service Fellow at Georgetown’s Security Studies Program. She currently serves as the President of the Georgetown University Wargaming Society and previously served as Director of Simulations for The George Washington University’s Strategic Crisis Simulations. She specializes in wargaming, emerging technologies, and cybersecurity policy.

ENS Brandon Bridges is a prospective Surface Warfare Officer in the United States Navy. His views are his own and do not represent the views of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense. 

Featured Image: A painting of the burning of the captured USS Philadelphia by Stephen Decatur. Decatur led a small team aboard Philadelphia, which had been captured by the Tripolitans, and burned the ship rather than let it be used as a corsair vessel. (Painting by Niccolo Calyo from the collection of the Mariners’ Museum of Newport News, Va.)

Wargaming at the Academy: Why Invest in NHWL and Building A Culture of Wargaming 

By M. Scott Bond

The reemergence of peer competition suggests the naval services may not operate in the same manner or with the same freedom as they have in recent decades. In response, the Navy and Marine Corps are developing new operational concepts which embrace distributed warfare, which pushes command and capabilities down the organizational chain. As such, junior officers may need to learn combat decision-making skills earlier in their careers than their predecessors. Combat decision-making, like all critical thinking, requires time and practice to develop. As Sebastian Bae notes in the July 12th edition of the Preble Hall podcast, just as “reps and sets” in physical training provides the foundation for athletic performance, wargames provide mental reps and sets for military decisionmakers. Wargames are effective because, as Peter Perla and Ed McGrady note, they provide a space for students to make decisions and deal with the consequences. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Joint Chiefs have also recognized wargaming’s educational value by designating it a leadership development tool. Yet, the professional military education (PME) pipeline only has so much compressibility. As such, there is a growing demand to teach junior officers the basics of combat decision-making. The Naval Academy can try to meet this need by leveraging its nascent Naval History Wargaming Laboratory (NHWL) to give midshipmen the opportunity to think through tough tactical problems before the lives of Sailors and Marines are on the line.

Some may argue that, despite demand signals, classroom constraints make wargaming a poor fit for the academy. It is true that classroom time and space constrains may limit game effectiveness Additionally, educators often must design, procure, execute, and adjudicate a game without any support to offset costs, in both time and money, or ensure quality. That said, these barriers to educational wargaming are not insurmountable. Jim Lacey and Philip Sabin have separately written about adding wargames to their seminars, and noted increased student preparation, participation, and comprehension of the subject matter as positive results. Institutions such as the Naval War College (NWC) or Army Command and General Staff College have mitigated the above constraints through funding trained wargaming staffs, effectively underwriting wargaming costs for educators. While it is true that the NHWL is already providing curricular and extracurricular wargames under its own funding, its capacity to expand may be limited. The NHWL’s current staff consists only of a part-time director and a part-time adjunct. This minimalist structure likely has little capacity to expand beyond this proof-of-concept stage and could be vulnerable to future personnel changes. The academy will need to invest more in the NHWL to reap the maximum benefits wargaming has to offer.

Equally important is creating a culture of wargaming. The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that make up academy culture play a critical role in setting priorities for midshipmen and educators. If academy culture does not value wargaming as a worthwhile educational tool, then the overall benefit to the academy will be limited. The NWC’s oft cited success during the interwar period was in part due to student and educators’ culture which placed a strong emphasis on wargaming. A similar trend can be found at other PME institutions with records of wargaming excellence. The NHWL and broader wargaming’s benefits may be limited without broader cultural buy-in from midshipmen and educators.

Options for Investment 

There are many ways the academy can invest into the NHWL and foster a culture of wargaming, each with its own costs and benefits. There are five options in particular which might maximize the academy’s return on investment while also fulfilling its mission

Option 1: Explore Creative Funding Options  

It is important to recognize the zero-sum nature of the academy’s budget. Top-down cuts to add funding to the NHWL may hazard budget fights, which could create inter-departmental tensions that undermine the lab’s effectiveness. While some reallocations may prove necessary, the academy could explore alternative funding. For example, the academy could choose to add a “Wargaming Lab” fee to the amount withheld from midshipmen pay, such as has been done for necessities like laundry and haircuts. Along similar lines, the academy could adopt a “pay to play” methodology, with departments paying a fee to the lab for access to game design and execution support. 

Another option is to mimic the success of USNA athletics. The Naval Academy Athletic Association (NAAA) is a 501c3 whose mission is to “promote, influence, and assist in financing the athletic contests of the midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy.” Navy athletics owes much of its success to the NAAA’s ability to secure funding for quality staff and facilities. The academy could set up a similar wargaming association to help find and generate funds for the NHWL, decreasing the need to adjust internal budgets. True, NAAA benefits from the high visibility of sporting events. Yet, the rise of e-sports seems to indicate that wargaming could have similar levels of visibility. 

Option 2: Leverage the NHWL to Incorporate Educational Games into other Subjects 

If the academy wishes to maximize its return on investment and foster a culture of wargaming, it could work with the lab to develop targeted wargames which augment current academic programs. Wargames have educational utility outside of combat decision-making. Educational research indicates that student information retention and comprehension increase when traditional classroom methods are augmented with educational games. As such, the NWHL could be leveraged not only to provide quality games directly to the students but also to assist educators in other departments in enhancing their own curricula. For example, the professional knowledge (or ‘ProKnow’) curricula could be augmented with targeted wargames for each warfare module. The NHWL’s inaugural wargame coincidentally coincided with the players’ surface warfare ProKnow module. While unplanned, most players found the opportunity to apply the professional knowledge to be a valuable experience. Other academic fields can equally benefit. For example, the University of the City of London’s Marine Engineering and Naval Architecture programs use a modified version of the game Harpoon to teach engineering trade-offs in warship design to naval architecture and maritime engineering students.  

Option 3: Embrace Distributed Gaming

COVID restrictions on gathering size have renewed interest in distributed wargaming. Distributed play through digital media, either via digitized tabletop games or combat simulations, may hold special value for the academy. Collocating enough people for enough time to play a manual wargame limits the possible number of iterations, and thereby constrains learning outcomes. Distributed wargames remove the need for collocation and reduce playtime by automating rules adjudication and thereby increase the amount of possible game iterations. Digital wargaming platforms such as OSD’s SWIFT, the open source VASSAL engine, or Command: Modern Operations (C:MO) could allow educators to assign games as homework. It should be noted that there seems to be little reason for the academy to accept tailored game development costs given the breadth of games within the Department of Defense wargaming ecosystem and across commercial platforms. Leveraging these games in assignments could be combined with a player-written analysis of game events and outcomes to leverage traditional educational techniques. Granting midshipmen access to these tools outside of assignments could also foster a culture of wargaming by allowing students to enhance their personal interest in their education.

Option 4: Teach Midshipmen How to Play

The NHWL has already added a wargame design course. This could be an important first step both for developing capable future officers and building a culture of wargaming on campus. Equally important is teaching students how to play wargames. A major hurdle for an analytical wargame’s referee team (or white cell) is shepherding non-gamers through the learning curve while also running the game. A course dedicated to introducing and playing DoD wargames, such as the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s Assassin’s Mace or NWC’s War at Sea, would not only give the mental reps and sets required to succeed in future naval operations, but also could equip students to use the same analytical tools that are already being used in the fleet. This effort might also strengthen the academy’s own connections with the fleet and help integrate it with the wider naval wargaming community

Option 5: Connect with the Greater Wargaming Community

The NHWL has already noted its desire to host inter-academy events. If this becomes a reality it could represent an important start to integrating with the wider wargaming community. Such a program could be expanded to include NROTC or international teams, perhaps in a similar fashion to the Army’s Ranger Challenge competition. Such a program could leverage existing competitive spirits to build interest in wargaming. The academies of several U.S. allies already include wargaming within their curricula, thus this could be an easy sell. Joint events using mixed teams could be used to build joint understanding and camaraderie between future combat commanders.  

Knowing the Limitations

Marcus Jones noted in the same Preble Hall podcast that wargames cannot teach the realities of combat. While wargaming helps prepare students to make the most of their own and their senior officer’s experiences by reinforcing the fundamentals, real-world experience and combat exercising is more likely the master educator. Neither can wargaming replace the time-tested educational techniques at the heart of the academy’s academic traditions. Rather, they complement and enhance each other. Rex Brynen pointed out in 2016 the benefits of educational area function of the games’ design, implementation, curriculum integration, and educational requirements. If any one of these factors is missing, the benefit of the game diminishes. The time and space constraints of the classroom also impose both opportunity costs and limits to game effectiveness. Balancing the expected game benefits against sacrificed lecture material or other teaching methods could be a critical step in safeguarding the academy’s investment.


It is important to keep in mind why wargaming and warfighting education at the academy seems necessary. The naval environment is undergoing systemic changes which have undermined the assumptions upon which the current officer warfighting educational pipeline is built. The Navy and Marine Corps’ new operational concepts could demand that officers be schooled in tactical and joint thinking much earlier in their careers. The days of officers slowly acquiring tactical and operational knowledge in preparation for command appear to be coming to an end. Rather, the fleet will need young officers ready and able to operate jointly in a rapid, lethal, and complex maritime warfighting environment. Creating such officers could necessitate pushing warfighting education down to more junior levels as early as possible.

The Naval History Department and Museum’s announced NHWL could give the academy a valuable new tool to meet this need. The maritime threat environment is changing, and the Navy and Marine Corps are evolving in stride. Military educators – including those at the academy – would do well to embrace this transformation.

M. Scott Bond is a Technical Analyst researching emerging warfare concepts and East Asia with the nonpartisan, nonprofit RAND Corporation. He also services as the Junior Analyst Ambassador for the Military Operations Research Society’s Wargaming Community of Practice.

Featured Image: ANNAPOLIS, Md. (July 18, 2020) The United States Naval Academy holds an Oath of Office Ceremony for the members of the Class of 2024, Companies 16-30. (U.S. Navy photo by Stacy Godfrey/Released)