Gaming WWIII: Lessons Learned While Modeling A Global War

Over the years here I’ve talked about the benefits and trials of simulating and modeling a global conflict from scratch. As is the case with most long-term projects, modeling World War III in large part through commercial PC and tabletop wargames was a journey made up of numerous peaks and valleys. The final product was certainly worth the effort though. This goes without saying. I think it is also worth mentioning that I gained a good amount of knowledge and experience concerning what multi-theater conflict modeling/simulation can and cannot achieve. Admittedly some of what I discovered turned out to be eye opening but will be useful in the future.

For now, I want to share a handful of lessons I learned back in the model/simulation phase of WWIII 1987’s development. In late January or  February I’ll talk about a project currently in the works for late 2023 or early 2024 centered on a military/political game of a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict in 1987. And I’m not referring to a tabletop or PC game but a real world in-person game involving a Red team versus a Blue team with a White (Control) element. Could be an experience and I’d like to involve some of the readers from the blog if the interest is there. 😊

Conflict Models Are NOT Single Person Projects– Honestly, folks. If I could go back and change one aspect of the preparation for modeling/simulating World War III 1987, I’d put together a team of people to help me model the conflict. Realistically, it is just too much for one person to handle alone. I mean, it is possible, but runs the risk of sucking the fun out of the entire project before you even start writing. Bart Gauvin and Joel Radunzel, authors of the novel Northern Fury: H-Hour practically simulated the conflict their novels are based around. I dare say it was easier for a two-man team. 😊

Beware of Tactical Overemphasis and Micromanaging- When modeling a conflict using commercial wargames it is very easy to start paying way too much attention to the tactical situation and consequently wind-up losing sight of the strategic picture. In a model focused on a NATO-WP conflict in Europe in the 1980s, the actions of corps/army groups and fighter wings/regiments matter more than individual divisions and fighter squadrons. Yet it is just natural for a wargamer to select one unit and micromanage it through multiple game turns. Eventually loosing focus of the strategic picture and his/her ability to manage it. Rookie mistake, but one we’re all guilty of making. Even beyond our rookie seasons.

The Nuclear Factor Is Unrealistic- Misperception, panic, anxiety, realizing your nation is on the verge of defeat and only has one option available. No commercial game or War College caliber conflict model can accurately lay out the human behavior. Or more precisely, the thought process and behavior of national leaders as the clock ticks closer to Doomsday. This makes modeling the nuclear factor, at both battlefield and strategic levels, inaccurate at best. Quite honestly, there is no way to determine how a seventy-something year old Soviet general secretary would respond if his SSBNs were under attack, or how a US president would react to the Red Army breaking through NORTHAG lines and dashing for the Rhine. Some elements simply cannot be modeled or gamed.


12 Replies to “Gaming WWIII: Lessons Learned While Modeling A Global War”

  1. I agree about the micro-managing thing …. happens a lot in civilian organisations too. A good example is the Soviet-German conflict in WW2 …. as it went on, Stalin learned to trust his Generals and let the professionals do what they do best. Contrast that with Hitler who never really trusted the higher echelons of the Wehrmacht and increasingly interfered in their decision-making (especially with his ‘no retreat’ orders).
    As regards a very early WW3, I think there are a couple of boardgames on the subject, one called Stalin’s World War III by Compass Games and
    Stalin’s Final War by One Small Step.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think its human nature to an extent. How many senior managers or even officers for that matter fully trust their subordinates to do their jobs?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: