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A discussion with Natalia Wojtowicz, author of Wargaming Experiences, Part 4: foundational concepts in wargame design

Jeff Warrender
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Here is the fourth post in our ongoing series about Natalia's book, Wargaming Experiences. Today we talk about axioms of design.

I'll note that Natalia, in her response, deviated a bit from the prompt, which is great because her post is thoughtful and interesting. But what I want to say is that actually after reading her book, I think the titular "Wargaming Experiences", 16 bits of wisdom presented as succinct lessons-learned from her own design activities, are actually somewhat akin to my own axioms, and definitely make her book worth reading; I'll surely be thinking about how to apply her W.E.'s to the kind of games I design.

Anyway, on to the discussion!

Jeff: In my book, I identify six "axioms" of game design, principles of good design that all good Euro games (should) exhibit. Would you say that there are "axioms" of wargame design? Does your book get into what these are, and would you share a couple of them? How did you arrive at these? Are they generally agreed upon by wargame designers or are they derived from your own experiences with design?

Natalia: Over the last couple of years, I have built up a method of approaching wargame design based on my experience. Applying the same method to all wargames gives a chance to see how the design works compared to others. That also gives a chance to present them in a transparent way, and let the audience in on your process. Due to the professional character of my wargames, I would add that they are much stricter in a way that they have to serve a specific requirement and generate insights. For this reason, I have started designing with a stated purpose. This could relate to training, or testing a concept, waging courses of action against each other or exploratory studies such as finding new strategies.

The purpose is supported by the problem which the wargame responds to, and that in turn would be lack of available training, or reliable data, or outdated concepts. The problem description provides a clear starting point, because wargame will be serving as part of the solution. Next step is the approach taken to design the wargame, which explains more about the circumstances or context it grew within. For example, if the wargame is being prepared for a military exercise with 12000 participants, it does dictate how it can be made. The same consideration has to be given to the level of the audience, if it is possible to introduce more advanced tools.

The approach is followed by method of conducting the wargame. Here, the designer can explain how the iteration would look like in terms of needed space, personnel or material. With this information, the mechanics can be further explained. It is crucial that the mechanics are aligned with the purpose, because the wargames could be branching into different directions easily, but focus is very difficult. Once the mechanics are established, it is possible to play the prototype and produce the final version.

The results of the wargame in the casual play are winning or losing, but within the purpose of commercial or organizational wargaming, there is a need to collect additional insights. Those can be essential questions such as “what makes players win” in these given circumstances or more complex questions such as “how does this strategy play out in this system”. I would see that in both, hobby and professional, wargames that we always seek to compare with the real-life battles and decisions.

Lastly, I have always ventured to add the meaning of the results. It does pose the question of how the results can be translated into solving the problem we have approached with the wargame.

The seven steps: purpose, problem, approach, method, mechanics, results and their meaning have brought a structured process into the wargaming design, and I would recommend those to designers who are venturing into wargaming with organizations.

I am looking into many ideas for a wargame that could be published and played out with a broader audience. I am very curious about comparison of the two worlds.

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