Monday, February 26, 2007

Jones: On Free-Form Gaming

Another RAND note, this time from 1985. William Jones wrote On Free-Form Gaming based on his decades of experience working on gaming at RAND.

This is a 55 page document, but it is so dense with practical insights into gaming procedures that it is almost impossible to summarize adequately. Anyone looking for a better understanding of gaming techniques is well advised to find a copy somehow. It is not available for free online at this time, but it is available through interlibrary loan for those with access. The price at RAND is steep for 55 pages ($20.70), but quite possibly worth it.

Jones focused mainly on two-team games, like the classic crisis games (mentioned previously here and here, but his suggestions and insights pertain to any team structure, and he discussed several alternative structures in the course of the note. One interesting detail is that his vision of free-form gaming involved set move periods, requiring each team to produce a comprehensive set of instructions by the end of the move period. There was no opportunity to take action on the part of the teams (besides making specific requests for information to the control team) during the move period, meaning that "game time" effectively did not advance during the teams' deliberations. After the move period, the control team would assess what the timeframe and situation would be at the start of the next move period. That required them to assemble all of the teams' move papers, decide what the results of the requested actions would be, decide on when to advance the game time until (based on their view of the next interesting point for study), and produce new scenario papers for the next move period.

In contrast, using computer systems (like the ICONS project's web-based software, but more on this another time), exercises today can more easily allow teams the option for action during moves, implicitly or explicitly advancing "game time" during the move period. That probably creates a very different atmosphere within the teams. It also opens the door to diplomatic interaction between teams, something very difficult to manage if move orders are only processed at the end of each move period.

This is an excellent paper. Rather than try to go into further detail now, I'll refer to it when discussing things in the future, since there is something related to almost every aspect of pol/mil gaming.

UPDATE: Alert reader persis notes in the comments that this paper is now available for free download at RAND. Go get it!


Clay said...

Hey Tim! Seeing your mention of the ICONS project made me think of the various improvements that it needed when I last saw it used. Did you use it again this year? Was it any different or better?

Tim said...

Woo hoo, first comment ever!

Yep, Simulex used it again this year. I was working media on the control team, so I didn't see it from the participant side at all. It worked alright from where I was sitting, though the message volume was amazingly high since I had access to pretty much everything. One thing they changed was that they allowed face-to-face meetings in addition to online conferences. I don't remember if they actually used any, but it was a new option. But the program itself was pretty similar. I think they did a better job explaining it at the beginning, both for the control team and the students. In part, that's because they knew what the rough spots were last time around. I believe they explicitly told teams that if they flooded the system with messages, it would take longer for the control team to get back to them, so they encouraged a little more balance that way.

I need to do a post on Simulex sometime.

persis said...

By the way, the Jones paper is now available for free download on the RAND website:

Maribel said...

People should read this.