Military Strategy Magazine - Volume 8, Issue 1

Volume 8, Issue 1, Summer 2022 39 logic applying ends, ways, and means in a setting that, due to its dynamic environment and asymmetries, prevents dominant strategies. Twilight Imperium’s greatest drawbacks lay in a rather substantial barrier of entry. The tabletop format of the fourth edition costs $149.95, and another $99.95 for its expansion. While this is not much more than many undergraduate courses force their students to spend on textbooks, by no means is it an insignificant cost. Luckily, this can be mitigated through the use of Tabletop Simulator available online for only $19.99. In terms of actual play, Twilight Imperium inevitably has a much greater body of rules literature. The standard ruleset runs only 24 pages, the same as Diplomacy, however, an additional expansion rulebook and several rules references bring the count to over 122 pages.[xiii] Again, not a major requirement for social science students who should be reading much more in their courses already, but a not insignificant one considering most students are likely unfamiliar with many board game concepts. Most significantly though, its utility as a classroom tool is diminished by its long playtime; an average playthrough of Twilight Imperium may take anywhere from eight to twelve hours. Barriers to Play and a Success Story Arguably the greatest hurdle to incorporating wargaming into an academic program is the question of time. Indeed, the opportunity cost in time spent conducting a wargame is among the professional community’s greatest concerns as well. When professors are often already hard-pressed to instill the existing literature relevant to their course topics, the addition of a tabletop game, especially one which may necessitate up to twelve hours to complete, is a tall order. This issue is only exacerbated by the general unfamiliarity of most academics in the execution of wargames, whether hobby or professional. With these barriers to practical implementation in mind, one must wonder how likely widespread implementation could truly become. Observing the key enablers of success from institutions notablyutilizingwargamingmayhelp shed light on solving these dilemmas. Georgetown University’s wargaming initiative has proliferated since its founding in 2018. Its success relies on a combination of key elements: incremental development, university administrator support, partnerships with commercial industry and professional sponsors, and adapting to incorporate online as well as tabletop platforms.[xiv] Ultimately, the initiative has produced a robust network of credit bearing courses, wargaming labs, a wargame library, and student societies that further the mission of the university’s Security Studies Program. Certainly, its wargaming initiative is worthy of review by those interested in bringing the medium to their institution. Conclusion Of course, the shortcomings of wargaming have been extensively explored.[xv] Rightfully so, critics of wargaming as a professional tool often target the disconnect in wargames’ ability to simulate reality, relying on mechanics that abstract real-world factors too far to be useful in making policy decisions (e.g., dice rolling as a simulation of Clausewitzian friction). In contrast, as an educational tool, one of the greatest shortcomings of wargames is likely the potential for students to develop amisunderstanding of why choices that were made in history occurred instead of the potentially more optimal decisions that were made in the play of their game, aside from the concerns of practicality in time and resources. This issue can partly be circumvented by using games that take place in a realistic future or do not utilize historical settings, such as Twilight Imperium, but doing so carries its own concerns. Perhaps none more notably than an even greater need for briefing, debriefing, and post-game analysis to identify the shortcomings of player’s considerations in their decision-making as well as to reinforce learning of desired concepts as demonstrated in the play of the game. In all fairness, similar concerns are expressed regarding the practice of professional wargaming as well.[xvi] Wargames are an experiential supplement to, not a replacement for an educational curriculum. Intellectual examinations in the trends and nature of the international security environment and the application of military force are certainly valuable in building a base of knowledge from which decision makers may draw upon. It remains, however, that students of international relations and security studies remain almost entirely divorced from the practice of their subject matter if they do not have prior foreign service or military experience. By the time many graduate, not including outside internship experience, the only application of their knowledge is likely in the writing of essays which do not necessarily demonstrate one’s real critical thinking capabilities. This is gradually changing through programs like Hacking for Defense, but civilian students’ education in national security affairs and war remains largely conceptual not practical, a reality that ought to alarm given the enormous significance of the positions such students may go on to occupy.[xvii] The value of wargames is precisely in resolving this disconnect by allowing students to utilize the models they learn about in their courses, applying the elements of strategic logic in contextualized environments thereby demonstrating their capacity for critical thinking and decision-making. [xviii] As such, in a field that all too often relies on written abstraction and theoretical arguments in educating its upcoming practitioners, wargames are of unique value in filling a much-needed experiential learning and skill demonstration gap. The opportunity to enhance the crafting of strategic mindsets for future foreign policymakers and national security practitioners is one which cannot be disregarded. Towards Better Civilian Strategic Education: A Case for Tabletop Wargames Benjamin E. Mainardi