On using dice with a military audience

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

A war-gaming consultant speaks on using dice with a military audience — an audience that doesn’t generally like games:

I recently gave an ‘Introduction to Operational Analysis‘ presentation to the UK Joint Services Command and Staff College’s Advanced Command and Staff Course students and Directing Staff. At one point I left the security of the lectern, walked to front centre stage and, laying my professional credibility on the line, produced a large rubber 6-sided die and told a story.

Some years ago I was a Course of Action (COA) Wargaming Subject Matter Expert floorwalker at a corps level CPX. HQ 1 (UK) Div was a player HQ and were conducting a COA Wargame. The success of the plan being wargamed was predicated on breaking through an enemy blocking position, and the HQ staff had applied sufficient combat power so that the supporting operational analyst assured them that the force equivalency ratio was 3:1 in their favour. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and assumed the attack would, when the time came, succeed. We all ‘know’ that a 3:1 ratio ensures a brief fight then home for tea and medals. Or does it…?

I asked the analyst what 3:1 actually meant. He told me that it gave an approximately 70% chance of success, based on historical analysis of planned attacks versus a hasty defence. I translated ‘approximately 70%’ to 66% for obvious reasons explained below.

At this point (and knowing him quite well) I approached the General Officer Commanding (GOC). Armed with the analyst’s figures I gave the GOC the self same large rubber die and asked him if he would be happy rolling it in front of his peers and commanders when his plan was executed. If he rolled 1-4 his plan worked, but a 5-6 meant his plan failed; the enemy would remain firm and the entire corps plan stall. With almost no hesitation he called his COS and the plan was revised; more combat power was applied to increase the chances of success.

The folks at the Simulating War discussion group add their thoughts, including Sun Tzu’s admonition, used metaphorically: don’t besiege walled cities.

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