What is a war game?

As I write this John Hulsman is moderating a war game on the UK-EU reform renegotiations and – maybe – Brexit. This brilliant ploy is brought to you by the think tank Open Europe. The game is being live streamed here and it’s fascinating to watch. If you think any of this is a black and white issue, think again …

A war game is a moderated and time-limited game which requires a number of competing  players to respond to simulated scenarios and attempt to achieve the best possible outcome for themselves. Often the players have to work on what limited information they have been provided by the moderator. As the game pans out the moderator may introduce new information or unexpected developments which change the relative standing of each player and force them to re-assess their interests and decison-making. The objective is to pin down the most likely resolution to a problem, however messy. A good war game mimics the real world.

War games have been used by US military and security agencies since WWII to test strategic assumptions and explore possible outcomes to a range of actions.

When he was working as a policy analyst in Washington DC, John moderated and played in games for the State Department, Pentagon and the CIA. The experiences made him realise how these games can help illuminate complex issues, and help interested parties generate solutions to problems that have a pretty good chance of working in the real world.

back in 2013 John and I sat down and developed a game structure that we thought might work well for Chartwell’s corporate and conference clients. We came up with what John dubbed the Hinge Point game, a model which obliges  players to respond to real-time (and real-world) disruptions, and make sometimes agonisingly difficult choices between a range of options. Since then, John has moderated the Hinge Point around the world exploring a wide range of strategic contexts including geopolitics (it doesn’t get much more challenging then the South China Sea game, which can get its players – the US, China, Japan … close to World War III in just three plays), regional networks and rivalries (Europe’s energy crisis anyone?) and corporate strategies.

For more information on how the game works, and how you might be able to use it to your advantage, please email me alex@chartwellspeakers.com

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