Design x Dragoons: The White Cell, and Wargame Injects

Each week, our #DesignXDragoons panel will offer their thoughts on a talk about game design, game development, or gameplay.
You’ll see what they have to say, and get a chance to chime in yourself, either in the comments below, or in our forums

This week’s question:
So what sort of injects should the White Cell give you during a wargame? Do they provide distractors to see how well you focus? Additional resource challenges to force you to prioritize? Or are they simply throwing extra work at the teams that are moving faster to keep everyone on pace?

Brian Train ~ Game Designer / Game Theorist (and military reservist!)
You are speaking of professional games, or unusually well put together hobby matchups. Though I suppose an elaborate and nasty Rand Events table or tables can stand in for a White cell. Injected events can do any of the things you mention, depends on the ingenuity of the team.

 

COL Eric Walters, USMC (R) ~ DoD Wargaming Practitioner
So now I have to speak with my Department of Defense exercise designer and controller hats on; I did this for the Marine Corps when a captain in 1988-1989 in I Marine Expeditionary Force Wargame Center and then as a major in 1995-1997 as the intelligence planner and intelligence scripting cell OIC for the huge bi-lateral ROK-US annual command post exercise, Ulchi-Focus Lens. I was never happy with those “injects,” which were pre-scripted (or “canned”)–usually hand-drafted messages– that were released to the training audience according to a rigidly set timeline. These injects were formulated to meet articulated training objectives for the various organizations and were often laughably artificial, simple, or otherwise felt to be useless. These typically provided nothing more than an irritating distraction from the otherwise dull business of conducting the exercise. At best, they provided additional friction for staff members to cope with, typically before a very big brief to the senior commanders and it mattered that the “injected” information was incorporated quickly and accurately (and, in Korea, must include a translation that exactly matched what was in the other language).

I’d been through many exercises being a member of the “training audience,” but only rarely thought much of any scenario “injects;” the good ones were usually formulated by some creative reservists on the control staff who thought “outside the box” and provided us some really meaty mysteries to uncover and solve. So that inspired me to do the same when it was my turn to design an exercise scenario and run a scripting cell.

As a Marine captain, I often relied on movies and fiction/defense thrillers to provide story lines to work into exercises. During one where the 2nd Marine Division was exercising from Fort A. P. Hill to Fort Pickett to Camp Lejeune and points in-between, I lifted a few pages from such entertainment sources to paint a picture of the enemy government trying abscond with the national treasury gold bars when it was fleeing the country. None of the training audience had any idea this was going to be part of the exercise; we inserted bits and pieces of the existence of such a stash throughout the week and indications that the enemy was trying to cart it off. Some of the training audience caught on and were trying to tell their commanders about it; others saw it as a distraction until they received a warning order that the unit was going to be tasked to capture the gold. Suddenly priorities changed and everybody was trying to figure out not only where the stash was coming from and how it was being moved, but where it was going (and we made sure there was more than just a couple possibilities that had to be actively checked on to disconfirm and leave the real transit as the last hypothesis standing). Think of it like playing a giant game of Parker Brothers’s/Hasbro’s Clue!

As an exercise controller for the Joint Function of intelligence, I tried to keep as much of rote staff procedural requirements to a minimum; I wanted our “injects” not to originate from some pre-formatted and “canned” Master Scenario Event List, but to be dynamic and match the situation that was taking place in the computer wargames. Ideally, when there was going to be a major enemy operational offensive in a particular location, sufficient indications and warnings signs could be reported, buried amongst a lot of ambiguous, distracting, and downright deceptive intelligence information. My favorite injects involved tracking the whereabouts of “Junior” (our nickname at the time for the DPRK “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il), SCUD Missile launchers, possible fissile/nuclear material, various governmental personalities and units of interest, and more. These were often independent of what the enemy “pucksters” were doing but nevertheless posed various analytical puzzles for both US and ROK intelligence analysts to solve independently (in some cases). Mostly, though, we provided parts of the puzzles to both sides so they had to bring puzzle pieces that did not make sense alone to the other partner so that the analytical challenge was successfully met by working together.

 

Caitlyn Leong ~ President, GUWS
I think the type of injects given to players in a wargame depends on the objectives of the wargame and amount of time players have to actually make decisions in the game. If the wargame is designed to simulate and test crisis thinking among high-level decision-makers, then injects that provide updates on world news and interesting rabbit holes that serve as distractors can be really useful. If a wargame is focused on logistics or operational/strategic analysis, then the injects could be focusing players on resource constraints and trade-offs between their given options. Overall, as a player, I think that injects should always be something that help keep the players immersed in the game “world” – whether that’s a fictional conflict between fictional countries, future warfare against a known adversary, or a crazy space battle with aliens. I personally dislike the idea of injects as “busy work” for player teams who are advancing through their turn sheets or moves more quickly than others, because the players that are moving quickly tend to know that the injects are busy work and it also puts a lot of pressure on the White Cell to generate something on the fly. As a game designer, if the injects don’t advance either the player experience, one of your key research questions, or a learning outcome, then they shouldn’t be included, especially if the injects are being generated in advance. I think it’s a little different if injects are being generated during the game on an ad hoc basis, but again, if the material in the inject is totally unrelated to the wargame scenario or is intended just to occupy some more advanced players (unless they are asking for more to do), I would leave them out.

 

Anthony Gallela ~ Game Designer / Convention Founder (and military reservist!)
I think white cells are more-useful the more sandbox the game is. If you’re doing a broad simulation where the players have anything in the real world (at the time of the events being enacted) available to them, then the white cell is not just good for the game — it’s nessesary. If you’re playing a tabletop game with strict resourses, then it’s distracting.

 

David Enteness ~ Designer/Owner, The Wargaming Company
Comes down to the style of game, in an RPG like D&D, the game is all about and driven by, really defined by such injections. In a players vs the game cooperative there is also a need for such. With tactical or grand tactical miniatures games you really see this fairly rarely and often only as a management technique in really large games to keep portions of the battlefield connected so that the game doesn’t end because of what happens at one end without the other end getting to be part.

 


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Design x Dragoons: The White Cell, and Wargame Injects

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