Thinking Like a General: Wargaming with Sebastian Bae

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On September 30, 2023, Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program (SSP) held a skills-based professional workshop on wargaming led by adjunct professor Sebastian Bae. A game designer on the Gaming and Integration Team at the Center for Naval Analyses, Professor Bae led a workshop to introduce students to the foundational principles of wargaming. The workshop also allowed students to participate in an analytical, strategic, and decision-making game that simulates a potential military conflict.

The workshop began with Bae discussing foundational aspects of wargame design. Wargames broadly fit into two categories: analytical and educational. Depending on the objective of the wargame, analytical wargames are designed to collect specific insight from experts to assist in future decision-making and combat scenarios. Educational wargames allow players to develop design-making skills, explore new ways of thinking, and adapt to unforeseen obstacles to beat an adversary.

The basic design of a wargame requires actors. These actors are paired with specific actions and commodities that match the actors’ unique attributes. Wargames are designed to simulate a wide range of issues related to conflict and military issues. Most commercial wargames tend to be historical, while most professional wargames focus on present or future challenges. Bae notes that simulating a historical example may tempt players to follow a certain narrow path. Most games are bespoke for the client that commissioned them; they are tailored to the specific outcomes, learning objectives, and questions for the players to deliberate over. Wargames are most appropriate for decision-based core questions rather than technical questions, such as how an air defense missile would perform against an intercontinental ballistic missile. Due to high levels of customization, Bae noted that designing bespoke games takes a significant amount of time. This process includes research, literature reviews, design, and the execution of the game itself.

The second half of the workshop involved students playing a wargame designed by Bae, Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific. This wargame is not based on a historical scenario but on modern warfare’s future challenges and capabilities. Littoral Commander is an educational, grand tactical wargame. The game is designed around a potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific. The game features the Marine Corps Marine Littoral Regiment, the U.S. Navy, the PLA Navy (PLAN), and the PLA Navy Marine Corps (PLANMC). The game has four different maps; we played on the Luzon Strait at the workshop. Students were divided into two teams: the United States and China. The objective of the Chinese side was to cross its fleet over a designated line on the map, while the United States’ objective was to deny this passage. With each team having to complete its respective objective within a limited number of terms, teammates needed to calculate each decision’s short-term and long-term goals. Every aspect of the game reflected core aspects of military planning, from anticipating the opponent’s counter-moves to making difficult tradeoffs for the sake of victory. As this game is not based on a historical scenario, it allows players to explore a range of capabilities to combat various future battlefield challenges.

Overall, the wargaming workshop was interactive and facilitated lively engagement between the students and Professor Bae on various topics related to wargaming. The workshop offered SSP students a wide range of military and gaming backgrounds and the opportunity to role-play as command-level decision-makers in an engaging simulation set in a region of strategic importance.

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