Monday, January 7, 2008

Simulated War

Off-the-shelf simulations of war are better known as war games. In this postcard at, there is a great synopsis of a talk Dr. Peter Perla gave at the 2005 Serious Games Summit in Washington, D.C.

According to Perla, a war game is:
"A warfare model or simulation that does not involve the operations of actual forces, in which the flow of events affects and is affected by decisions made during the course of those events by players representing the opposite sides."
The events-decisions reciprocal relationship appears to be the core of a war game. One could argue that this relationship is a big part of the appeal of war games.

Perla also explains that the dimensions of a war game are time, space, forces, effects, information, and command. Different off the shelf war games represent these dimensions differently. Time representation in war games can be turn based or continuous time based, space can take the form of hexagons, small squares or polygonal areas, forces can be represented as entities with attributes like amount of soldiers, movement speed, morale, ammunition (etc). In board war games, effects are the so-called "rules". Computer simulations take more or less the same approach, but many computer war games have "rules" way more rich and complex than
board war games. In some war games, transmission of information through the forces is restricted through a "fog of war" set of rules. Another set of rules applies to command (HQ units with limited command radius, disruption rules, etc).

One common opinion is that the more a war game's dimensions correspond with reality, the more valuable or useful the war game is.

"That's another thing we've learned from your Nation," said Mein Herr, "map-making. But we've carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?"

"About six inches to the mile."

""Only six inches!"exclaimed Mein Herr. "We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!"

"Have you used it much?" I enquired.

"It has never been spread out, yet," said Mein Herr: "the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well"

from Lewis Carroll - The Complete Illustrated Works.

As with every process we want to understand better via simulation, there is no substitute for reality. A simulation should focus the factors which are relevant to the process that is to be understood.


Michael said...

Whoa, man. Finally I've read through all of your blog (omitting the "less-interesting-for-me" air\naval simulation entries though) :)

For three days it has been consuming all my free time. And the farther I descended, the more interesting it got. Too bad you write less about books and your own thoughts than you did in your first months. Shame on you! :)

JC said...


I'm honored that you read all the blog. Thank you so much.

You bring up a very good point: I'm not putting too much "me" in the blog. Books are lacking too. You know what? I should go back to my early posts myself and take a look. Maybe I lost my mojo?


Michael said...

Well, if your blog is interesting (and it is), there's nothing to be honored about :)

If I may make a suggestion - no matter how trivial and well-known some of your thoughts or ideas may seem to you, remember - not all of readers are as educated as you are. And even for more proficient person, it is very interesting to read on basics and their "practical" implementations in wargames.

Another suggestion - more books and reviews :) Thanks to you I've learned about William Lind and Robert Leonhard. "But those are established and well-known authors" you say? Well, not for me, and not for many of your anonymous readers (whose name is legion ;) ).

But these are just suggestions - so far you've done wonderful job without them, and it's impossible to please everyone. Keep it up :)