What were the various processes for wargaming when making strategic plans?

I’m familiar with the concept of wargaming as a form of entertainment, but in that format, realism is not all that critical. When you’re using wargaming to reflect actual, real-world events, you need a way to make the results actually reflect reality.

Obviously this requires some logical simplifications and assumptions about number of troops, how well they will stand up to attacks, etc, but I’m curious about how you would achieve this.

I have seen one video discussing a specific example involving the British RN wargaming out u-boat tactics (seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVet82IUAqQ, though be aware that this particular channel has a strong pro-British bias) that discuss techniques like requiring the RN side of the wargame to be played by people watching through a barrier that somehow rendered submerged U-Boats invisible, and indicate that the technique was extraordinarily effective, including one case where a novel strategy presented by an enemy U-boat was reported to the team in Britain, analyzed through wargaming out possible explanations, and correctly identified the appropriate response fast enough that the ship reporting the tactic was able to take that action and successfully sink the enemy U-boat.

But I’m curious about other examples. Indy mentions in his special on the planning of Operation Barbarossa that this plan was wargamed out (though clearly there was a dramatic underestimation as to the tenacity of Soviet resistance)…just wondering how this kind of thing worked. (This might be more a topic for a special than a quick Out of the Foxholes answer.)


Wargaming, curiously, arose in the other direction. It started as an attempt in Prussia in the 1800’s to be able to exercise through various tactical and strategic problems by staff and command officers. The original form was called “Kriiegspiel”, literally “Wargame”. It later spread to the civilian world a game.

Board-based games euphemistically call losses “friction” and simulate random events like weather and probability of hits with dice and event cards.

A referree is in charge of running the game and enforces rules, assesses casualties and provides random events.

Modern wargame simulations like Hearts of Iron 4 simply automate this process, permiit more simultaneous events and use more computing power to provide a more realistic feel. The fundamental assumptions and structure are identical.

What kriegspiel falls short on is that it assumes soldier is a rational automaton. It can’t simulate fear, emotion or elation. General Sherman, as Superintendent of West Point after the US Civil War forbade the use of kriegspiel at West Point on these grounds. He felt it was too artificial and unrealistic and lulled commanders into a mechanical way of thinking.

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