Small Wars Journal

Wargaming: Leave your 8 sided dice at home, this isn’t D&D

Wed, 12/01/2021 - 5:37pm

Wargaming: Leave your 8 sided dice at home, this isn’t D&D

Keegan Guyer

Max Rovzar

Ron Sprang


            Wargaming is often discussed as a necessary step in the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) for Army units, but it is an often misunderstood, or poorly executed due to time constraints. FM 6-0, Commander and Staff Organization and Operations, outlines the process and outcomes, but it doesn’t provide practical examples of useful tools or tactics, techniques, and procedures to reach the desired outcomes. “War-gaming results in refined COAs, a completed synchronization matrix, and decision support templates and matrices for each COA. A synchronization matrix records the results of a war game. It depicts how friendly forces for a particular COA are synchronized in time, space, and purpose in relation to an enemy COA or other decisive action tasks. The decision support template and matrix portray key decisions and potential actions that are likely to occur during the execution of each COA.”[i]


This article attempts to provide a tried and tested technique with the goal of informing and educating staffs how to successfully use the course of action analysis step of MDMP to build a better understanding of the operation and to develop fighting products that will synchronize the fight, enable commander’s decision making, and ultimately, mission success.  The lessons were adapted from testing at the Corps level over multiple warfighter exercises, but they can be adopted at various echelons with an adaptation to the roles and responsibilities assigned to warfighting functions in MDMP.

Wargaming, or Course of Action analysis, enables “[c]ommanders and staffs to identify difficulties or coordination problems as well as probable consequences of planned actions for each COA being considered…it is a disciplined process, with rules and steps that attempt to visualize the flow of the operation, given the force’s strengths and dispositions, the enemy’s capabilities, and possible COAs; the impact and requirements of civilians in the area of operations; and other aspects of the situation.”[iii] Once COA(s) have undergone an intentional failure drill (if directed) and the commander is satisfied with the results, the staff will conduct a wargame on directed COAs. Regardless of the echelon conducted, the wargame is primarily a synchronizing tool to ensure that COAs are feasible, suitable, acceptable, and complete. The wargaming process will focus on identifying potential branches and sequels and establishing the priority for future plans development.

Establish Clearly Defined Roles and Responsibilities

Discipline of the staff and planning processes is critical for every step of MDMP. Clearly defined roles and responsibilities allows for a more detailed process with the necessary intellectual rigor, which ensures all participating members know exactly what to bring to the process and empowers them to voice their perspective from their subject matter expertise. The larger the staff, the more functions represented, the more disciplined the process must be. The following roles and responsibilities generally follow the warfighting functions, however, additional duties were created to clearly delineate necessary boundaries for the conduct of the game. The following are requirements, roles and responsibilities assigned to each staff section and OPT representative outside of specific doctrinal requirements to assist in a timely and effective process.

Planning (OPT) Lead. Controls use of time and wargame sequence within the planning timeline.  

Wargame Lead. Develops the war-game event template, scripts the actions to occur within the decided war-game methodology, and develops the initial framework and the products that the wargame will produce. Additionally, the wargame lead designs the wargame adjudication method and assigns key tasks to staff planners, as needed, to assist in execution.

S1/G1. The HR planner analyzes each COA and refines the status and location of all HR friendly forces, refines the replacement plan and availability of personnel, lists critical HR events in wargaming, determines how to evaluate HR events, and assesses the results of the wargame.

S2/G2. Provides the ENY scheme of maneuver, event template and matrix, adjustments to enemy COAs and the friendly scheme of collection (ICSM, NAI overlay and initial PIR), enemy DSM, and any pertinent time distance analysis products.

Red Team. The Red Team provides wargame support, to include updated maps (correct scale), enemy decision support matrix and collection plan, clear acetate overlays from GEOINT (MCs, Boundaries, Civ Population Centers, Underground Facilities (UGFs), Multi-domain threat capabilities provided through Reverse Warfighting Functional analysis by functional leads, etc.), OOB icons to the BTG level for M2, as well as IFC, AVN and A2AD equipment – laminated and adhered to magnets. The Red Team lead plays the role of the Enemy Commander throughout the wargame and all briefs to the commander.

 S3/G3. Provides COA development leads. Update commander’s CCIR, DSM, and synch matrix. Serves as war-game recorder for supported COAs.

Fires. During the wargame, the Fires Planner produces Fires Concept Sketches that identify fire support tasks by (sub) phase. Additionally, the Fires Planner provides input to the Synch Matrix and Decision Synch Matrix. The Fires planner builds relevant speed analysis tools for enemy and friendly indirect fire weapons capabilities.

 Aviation. During the wargame, the G3 AVN Planner produces AVN Concept Sketches that identify tasks by phase relevant to the CABs. Additionally, the G3 AVN Planner provides input to the Synch Matrix and Decision Synch Matrix. The G3 AVN Planner must ensure synchronization between fires and aviation, so targets are engaged effectively.

G4. During the War-game, the Logistics Planner produces Sustainment Concept Sketches that identify tasks by phase relevant to Divisions and their supporting Sustainment Brigades (T/P/M format). The Logistics Planner provides input to the Synch Matrix and Decision Synch Matrix. The Logistics Planner also conducts Operational reach analysis and identifies Support area requirements.

G6. During the War-game, the G6 Planner produces G6 Concept Sketches that identify CP locations, line-of-site analysis, retransmission sites, and FM coverage areas within the Area of Operation. Additionally, the G6 Planner provides input to the Synch Matrix and Decision Synch Matrix and conducts mission command node analysis.

G39. During the War-game, the IO Planner produces IO Concept Sketches that identify tasks by phase relevant to the IRCs (T/P/M format). Additionally, the IO Planner provides input to the Synch Matrix and Decision Synch Matrix.

CEMA. During this phase the CEMA planner will analyze each COA from a CEMA perspective, recommend any CEMA task organization adjustments, identify CEMA intelligence gaps, develop a list of high value targets related to CEMA, and update the CEMA running estimate.

Space. During the War-game, the Space and Space and Special Technical Operations Planner provides enabling effects input that support the overall scheme of maneuver. Space and Space and Special Technical Operations effects are tailored to the needs of the commander by integrating with other lethal and non-lethal effects through coordination with IO Support Tasks and Fires Support Tasks.

G9. The G9 planner ensures each course of action effectively integrates civil considerations and represents the point of view of other actors (for example, the American Embassy, other government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, and indigenous populations and institutions) when these agencies are not able to represent themselves. Additionally, provides civil considerations of the operational environment (for example, how operations affect public order and safety, the potential for disaster relief requirements, noncombatant evacuation operations, emergency services, and protection of culturally significant sites).

Protection. During the War-game, the Protection Planner produces Protection Concept Sketch that identifies tasks by phase relevant to the separate sections within Protection (T/P/M format) and provides input to the Synch Matrix and Decision Support Matrix. The lead protection planner briefs the Corps Consolidation Area actions during War-game and their specific section’s actions (i.e. if the lead protection planner is an MP, they brief actions in the CCA and the Military Police units actions). Other protection sections brief their issues following the lead Protection Planner.

Engineer. During the War-game, the Engineer Planner identifies friction points in the scheme of maneuver, highlighting gaps in or stresses on Engineer capability. Additionally, the Engineer Planner provides input to the Synch Matrix and Decision Synch Matrix.

AMD. During the War-game, the AMD Planner produces AD Concept Sketches that identify tasks by phase relevant to the COAs (Task/Purpose/Mission format). Additionally, the AMD Planner provides input to the Synch Matrix, Decision Synch Matrix, High Value Target List, and Decision Points. ID risks to the force and mission related to aerial threats and ENY GBAD or Aerial AD capabilities. Refines task org changes to support the COAs. Develop a synch matrix for each threat and mitigating friendly capability. ID residual risk to mission due to force structure limitations and operating environment.

CBRNE. During the War-game, the CBRNE Planner identifies friction points in the scheme of protection, highlighting gaps in or stresses on CBRNE capability. Additionally, the CBRNE Planner provides input to the Synch Matrix and Decision Support Matrix.

ORSA: Capturing data for the correlation of forces matrix (COFMs) is essential to developing a cogent wargame out brief to the commander. The ORSA or other S5/G5 personnel should capture the aggregate reduction of combat power after each meeting engagement along the avenue in depth. Capturing the combat strength of friendly and enemy units facilitates commander’s decisions and informs sustainment personnel on resupply and force generation requirements.

All staff planners. Provide Warfighting Fighting Function (WfF) analysis and input to COA refinement to include analysis of friendly decision points, DSM information, and task, purpose and effect information into the synch matrix for each COA. Staff inputs across all WfF, to the Red Team estimates is essential to accuracy in predicting enemy engagements and developing appropriate layers across mission command systems as baseline estimates. These estimates established and validated in wargaming become the assessment foundation of the current operations targeting process.

Wargame Structure

To ensure an orderly process for the war-game, the process and layout depicted below identifies the order and time limits for each participant’s input and the layout for the plans structure to support all WfFs participation — enabling a holistic and complete war-game. The enemy commander and Red Team must fight IAW the enemy SITTEMP, ENY CDRs DSM, and fighting products and support the checkbook balancing of ENY capabilities. The Red Team must have at least four members to enable the wargame, one to battle track ENY capabilities, one to conduct COFMS calculations, and one member to assess impacts of the Friendly COA on the ENY CDRs decisions. The G2 typically mentors the Red Team and represents the next higher enemy command or political leadership, for higher echelon decision making.

Recommended additional requirements for support. GEOINT imagery and map product support for imagery and terrain analysis of objective areas and critical event areas. In addition to Task/Purpose/Effect – include Requirements in briefing. This way units, or functions can discuss a requirement the Corps has placed on a subordinate that lacks the capability to conduct with organic task organization. Non-lethal: IO, MISO, CEMA, SPACE, PAO – briefed together not as separate entities shows integration and saves time. All IRCs, enablers, and units need to be able to speak and brief their role to enable shared understanding and issues with the plan. Separate brigades LNOs, CJSOTF, MSCs planners and Air Force representatives need to present to support the COA DEV process and war-game to represent their commands capabilities and provide feedback on whether they can support a specified or implied task with the organic capabilities or their given task org. Primary staff when available should be involved in COA DEV, in the war-game as time allows and attend all MDMP briefings. It is the responsibility of the functional planners at a minimum to keep their directorate leads informed of the process — and any issues within their specialty to seek real time feedback to enable a complete, thorough and realistic war-game process.

War-game discipline is critical to maintain depth of analysis and maintain Action/Reaction/Counteraction for turns. The referees and G5 or designated adjudicator must maintain the process, time management and discipline to enable the war-game’s effectiveness. Referees should remove unit icons who are destroyed to “balance the checkbook.” When the staff wargame participants get sucked into the map – the referees need to be looking at the framework of the war-game to make sure the staff stays in the plan. This can be done physically or digitally, depending on the mode of delivery of the wargame. Referee transition to timekeeper and enforce rules of the war-game and time discipline.  

The Red Team lead, chief of plans, plays the role of the Enemy Commander in developing all enemy products through the IPB process and briefs the role of the Enemy Commander during all MDMP briefs to include Mission Analysis, COA DEV, Wargame, Wargame Results brief and OPORD brief.

Wargame Conduct

 The G5 is in charge of a deliberate plans of the wargame, and the G3 runs the game as the friendly commander. Staff and functional representatives speak in order. Use of a floor-level map board is preferred so that non-briefers can remain seated, so everyone can see. Two referees are empowered to “throw a flag” on any rules violations, or off-course/ off-echelon discussions. Time is NOT strict to allow for relevant discussion. The G3 guides the tempo of the game and determines how much time is spent on a particular turn/topic in order to ensure that they are satisfied with the level of detail and issue resolution. Interjections are controlled through the use of paddles or other markers after being recognized by the G3. Task organization changes can be made prior to LD, but after that they can only be noted as issues. The conduct of the war-game should satisfy the G3 requirement to understand the timing, tempo, and synchronization of key tasks and the G5’s requirement to conduct an analysis of each COA and make a recommendation to the Commander based on pre-established evaluation criteria.

Initial Set: The COA development lead briefs the concept of the operation and scheme of maneuver. The Red Team and S2 brief IPB and initial enemy set. Turns: Friendly actions (usually an attack) initiate the turn. Each functional staff section briefs their relevant tasks and purposes within that action. The enemy briefs their reaction to the friendly maneuver. The G5 ORSA adjudicates all direct unit engagements using a pre-developed COFM (Correlation of Forces) program and briefs the result of the turn. Depending on the time available and wargame method chosen, the turns through the depth of the courses of action tested. At a minimum, it is recommended all critical events are identified prior to the wargame and all critical events must be executed against each COA to test validity.

War-game Brief

This optional briefing, when conducted, serves to provide the Commander with war-game results prior to staff analysis and recommendations for selecting a COA. See Annex D for the wargame brief template. (5) COA Comparison and COA Approval – Once the results of the war-game are incorporated into the COA, the COA, the results of the war-game, risks to mission and force, and the DSM will be briefed to the CG, or DCG in his absence, for approval.

            Wargaming is a crucial step in the planning process. When done thoroughly it allows the commander and staff to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the plan. Additionally, it is the critical step in testing fighting products which synchronize the operation in time and space across all warfighting functions and domains. The time invested is well spent and allows the commander to understand decisions in time and space against the enemy. The outputs of the wargame will build the foundation for the targeting process and assessment cycle.


[i] US Army Field Manual (FM) 6-0, Commander and Staff Organization and Operations, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2014), 9-26.

[ii] Ibid, 9-35.

[iii] Ibid, 9-26.

Categories: wargaming

About the Author(s)

CW4 Keegan S. Guyer is a Military Intelligence Technician currently serving as the Senior Warrant Officer Advisor to Army North G2 at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio. He has served as an advisor at every level from BDE to COCOM with five deployments in the CENTCOM AOR.

LTC Ron W. Sprang is an Infantry Officer currently serving as Yankee 06, Infantry Battalion Task Force Senior, for Operations Group at the Joint Readiness Training Center. He has served at every level from platoon through battalion command with multiple deployments in the CENTCOM AOR.

MAJ Max R. Rovzar is a Military Intelligence Officer currently serving as Bronco 09, Brigade Senior Intelligence Trainer, for Operations Group at the National Training Center. He has served as an S2 at every level with multiple deployments in the CENTCOM AOR.



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Sat, 12/11/2021 - 2:38am

Wargaming is frequently considered as an important part of the Army's Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), yet it is sometimes misinterpreted or poorly implemented owing to time constraints. That's why precautionary measures has been scaled with pay someone to take my online class for disturbing anything again, The process and results are outlined in FM 6-0, Commander and Staff Organization and Operations, however it lacks real examples of helpful tools, tactics, techniques, and procedures for achieving the intended outcomes.


Tue, 12/07/2021 - 8:07am

This is an excellent article on TTPs for tactical-level COA analysis but is insulting to and clearly ignorant of what actual wargaming is. COA Analysis may be labeled as "wargaming" in US Army doctrinal manuals, but it really is a method to refine a plan by overlaying enemy actions onto one COA.

Furthermore, the snarky title - while it may score points with other soldiers with tactical-echelon experience unaware of the existence of complex systems exploration or alternative conditions wargames - undersells the purpose of introducing stochastic variables in wargame design.

Lastly, I find it somewhat discouraging this article has only one source, FM 6-0 Commander and Staff Organization and Operations. In no way is FM 6-0 an authoritative source for wargaming as anything other than a tactical-level COA analysis methodology but this article - and specifically the title - seems to imply it discusses wargaming-at-large and not just one step of the Military Decision Making Process as applied in a tactical headquarters. 


Tue, 12/07/2021 - 4:42am

Setting aside the snide title, this article is accidentally a great argument for why the Army needs to rename this process to what it really is - COA analysis. Continuing to call this “wargaming” only displays the institution’s immense ignorance (much like the authors of this piece do) of the vast array of national security war games that use stochastic methodology (which can be distilled into COFMS at the tactical level). Insisting that simply executing a step of MDMP constitutes “real wargaming” is laughable in the face of what ONA, CAA, and the J7 regularly conduct, let alone the depth of what the FFRDCs support. A perfunctory review of the history of wargaming would reveal that yes, the Prussians used dice modeling for Kriegspiel and yes, even complex simulations designed in WARSIM or ONESAF are still using derived PK, which nonetheless provides more rigorous analysis, for a much wider variety of purposes, then sitting the staff around the map and troubleshooting a tactical plan for the benefit of the G3.