[ELI5]How do war games work? How do you get points or win?

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[ELI5]How do war games work? How do you get points or win?

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It’s a real life game of pretend. 2 opposing forces have a set of objectives. “Points” are based on meeting those objectives, players can disable or destroy opposition equipment and people so they can no longer use them during the game or they have to wait a preset amount of time to simulate replacements. Other challenges include communicating changes in strategy to your units and keeping them supplied.

“Wargame” is a very wide term, so the answer is that they vary a lot in how they work.

The defining feature is at least *some* degree of similarity to how war works in real life (or in some imagined setting). So even though chess is a game and have *some* things in common with a real war, it wouldn’t generally be classed as a wargame.

Some wargames are very stylised and streamlined, aiming to capture only a couple of key aspects of a real scenario. Some are extremely detailed, trying to simulate as much as possible about a particular area of warfare as realistically as possible.

Real-world militaries will sometimes play wargames with referees and very loose rules, where each turn players can argue to do anything that’s plausibly possible. They also carry out in-the-field exercises that are called wargames – for example using laser weapons to determine hits, or simply practising manoeuvres and tactics without an opponent (the latter, of course, can’t really be classed as a “game”, but it sometimes called a wargame).

A war game is challenging your forces with something as realistic as possible.

For example, fleet A has to defeat fleet B. Instead of shooting, they decide beforehand that the first to spot the other has won the fight. Or the first to find the range for a shot. So ship from teamA spots a ship of team B, finds the range, then make a radio call to HQ reporting it. HQ is the referee. It will say to ship A “yes you sunk something”, and say to ship B “you are sunk go home.

Each team has to try fool the other. The goal is not to have a winner but to learn what actually works and what not in a real scenario.

Sometime the simulation is of a very broad spectrum, and may include actual intelligence, spies, real ships and entire armies, and even include a full on travel around the planet with all the cost and logistic nightmares included.

For example, in the 30s, during a naval game, fleet A was on the east coast and has to react to fleet B simulating an attach on the west coast. So part of the usa fleet was actually crossing Panama for real to get to the “fight”. At some point a battleship was declared sunk and the canal closed. What happened? The opposing team sent a properly dressed real navy officer to the canal, the guy waited in a hotel watching the canal. He saw a battleship, waited for it to pass close. Then he went to the dock, then onto the ship, walked down to the main magazine, then told another sailor “hey you know? I’m from team B and I just detonated your ship!”.

Tell me if this is not a good example on how to score a point!

Games like this are what really makes an army/navy actually strong. After the exercise I described, the navy reviewed all the procedures and checks to let people on board. If that had been a real war they would have lost 1000+ lives and a capital ship and got the canal blocked by its wreck, all this by leaving a door unattended.

**TL;DR, most of the time, the outcome is predetermined. It’s not about “winning,” it’s about identifying and improving where you’re weak.**

I can only speak to these in a US Army capacity, but there are many types of war game. But, at the end of the day, you’re testing your systems and your training; however, the end result is almost always predetermined.

Every unit has a specific list of tasks that they, as a unit, are responsible for being able to execute. And that applies to every level, from the 7th Army all the way down to your platoon, everyone has “their” list. So when your brigade packs all its things up and goes down to a training rotation, it will be evaluated on those tasks. And to make sure that happens, every unit gets assigned an “Observer/Controller” (commonly called OC) who has a background in that job to watch as their assigned unit performs those tasks and makes notes.

The purpose of the war game is to try to make the situation where the units are performing these tasks resemble actual combat as closely as possible so that the OC can give the most accurate evaluation to the commander and the troops so they can go back to their home station and, theoretically, adjust their training to improve on their weaknesses.

But in order to make sure that every item on the list gets filled out, the “game” itself has to be highly controlled. These war games aren’t just dropping two units into opposite ends of a box and telling them to fight. The “enemy” (called OPFOR) is highly, highly controlled in order to make sure that the evaluators can be in the right place at the right time for all the major events and give the most accurate evaluation possible. There are things that happen organically, but all of the major events are preplanned to some degree or another.

I’ve been on 8 or 9 of these rotations and, in the last few, spent time in my brigade’s tactical operations center as well as have buddies go out and be OCs; so I’ve gotten to peek behind the curtain a little bit and it’s actually very impressive to see what the OC team and the OPFOR have to juggle in order to make things happen.