The Craft Of Wargaming

The Craft of Wargaming is designed to support supervisors, planners, and analysts who use wargames to support their organizations’ missions. The authors focus on providing analysts and planners with a clear methodology that allows them to initiate, design, develop, conduct, and analyze wargames. Built around the analytic wargaming construct, organizations or individuals can easily adapt this methodology to construct educational and experiential wargames.

The book breaks the wargame creation process into five distinct phases: Initiate, Design, Develop, Conduct, and Analyze. For each phase, the authors identify key tasks a wargaming team must address to have a reasonable chance at designing, developing, conducting, and analyzing a successful wargame. While these five stages are critical to the process of constructing any wargame, it should be understood that the craft of wargaming is learned through active participation, not by reading or watching. This craft must be practiced as part of the learning process, and the included practical exercises provide an opportunity to experience the construction of an analytical wargame.

The authors also discuss critical supervisory tasks that are essential to manage the wargaming team’s efforts. While the creators are focused on the design and development of the game itself, supervisors must set conditions for the wargame to be a success (best practices) and beware of the pitfalls that may set the wargame up to fail (worst practices). The book demonstrates using the analytical wargaming framework to create relevant and useful planning wargames. It also reinforces using the analytical wargaming framework for seminar wargames that, without rigor, are useless. The book demonstrates the benefits of using the analytical wargaming process to design educational and experiential games.


What is the backstory behind “The Craft of Wargaming”?

Peter Perla authored The Art of Wargaming in 1990, a seminal book for the wargaming community. He asserted that wargaming was not a science, but an art. Now three decades have passed and we have come to see wargaming as a craft – blending art with science. Those who want to be wargaming practitioners must pursue both wargaming education and wargaming experience in order to increase their proficiency in the craft of wargaming. This book both builds the educational foundation and provides practical exercises to give the reader the opportunity for some hands-on experience. We do not envision every wargaming practitioner will become a wargaming master, but we believe that we can and should grow the number of wargaming apprentices and journeymen in DoD, especially in our active duty military. This book is focused on creating those wargaming apprentices and journeymen that are in such short supply at present.

Was there an experience that you had that caused you to see a need for “The Craft of Wargaming”?

We started teaching a five-day ‘Mobile Education Team’ (MET) wargaming course in 2011. As we taught this course to some of our DoD Geographic Combatant Commands (GCCs), we saw a real need for wargaming education throughout the U.S. DoD. Many GCC were not able to rigorously wargame their plans and other flag-level commands were struggling to create meaningful wargames to gain insights into the complex problems they are facing, and their senior leaders were asking. We wanted to provide a book that would help both planners and analysts create and execute useful, impactful wargames.

How has writing “The Craft of Wargaming” made you a better thinker and better person?

Each of the three of us brought 30-plus years of experience working with our militaries to the table, and we first set out to develop the ‘wargaming checklist.’ If you are in the military and assigned a task that you have never done before, you first look for the checklist or template that the last person used to do the task.  We tried to create a single, inviolate checklist that laid out linear, sequential steps that you must complete to create a successful wargame. What we discovered was there was no such universal checklist for wargaming, the diversity of defense wargaming objectives and issues make creating such a checklist impossible!  We then went back to the drawing board and began to compile a library of wargaming best practices. From that, we developed a framework of tasks that embrace those best practices, and that framework provided our roadmap for wargame creation. Finding these best practices also validated that our idea that wargaming is a craft; craftsmen don’t pull out a checklist when they are confronted with a dilemma to see what to do next; they think back through their experiences and leverage what they’ve learned through the practice of their craft. As educators, this notion of ‘best practices’ led us to embrace more of our students’ creative ideas that they wanted to apply to wargaming. Instead of telling them they should follow a certain path, we learned more by asking why they thought their approach would work. We became better educators and better wargaming craftsmen by encouraging and embracing the innovations and creativity our students bring to wargaming.

Is there one short story from your book you would like to share?

We were teaching a MET at CENTCOM in 2017, and in our wargaming history module we reviewed the results of the “Desert Crossing” 1999 wargame sponsored by General Anthony Zinni, then the CENTCOM commander. Desert Crossing examined what the possible repercussions would be if CENTCOM were to be directed to invade Iraq and take out Saddam Hussein. The wargame’s results were eerily prescient of the aftermath of the actual 2003 invasion of Iraq. As the U.S. was planning the 2003 invasion, GEN Zinni, now retired, tried to call attention to the Desert Crossing results: “When it looked like we were going in [to Iraq], I called back down to CENTCOM and said, ‘You need to dust off Desert Crossing.’ They said, ‘What’s that? Never heard of it.’[i] After we finished briefing the story of Desert Crossing to the CENTCOM wargamers, we broke for lunch. One of the current CENTCOM planners stayed behind and said, “Wait here, I have something to show you.” He left the room and came back with the AAR from Desert Crossing that he had retrieved from a secure area, still with its original classification markings. (It has since been declassified and is available online.[ii])

I’m not in the Military, I don’t have any life-threatening challenges, and I don’t even know anyone in the military. I’m just an average dad or mom who lives and works in the suburbs, how would this book benefit me and what could I learn from it?

Wargaming within the military community allows practitioners to proceed through a scenario where they make decisions and see the consequences, where they have opponents aggressively trying to deflect them from their objectives. The procedures used in wargaming are easily adapted to non-military contexts so participants can anticipate outcomes of their own decision-making. In the world of commerce these are called bizgames and in other aspects of the civilian world they may be called crisis games or role-playing games, or sometimes scenario-based planning. So, in planning business growth or to prepare for a major event like the Olympic Games or to determine the consequences of decisions in the face of a pandemic, procedures from the book should be applied to ensure that decisions have been analyzed so the best outcomes become the most likely outcomes.  

Is there anything that you had to Edit OUT of you book that you wished was kept in?

As a result of decades of wargaming, we have numerous examples of games done well, some not so well, and a few that turned out poorly. We have described best practices and warned of worst practices. With more space we could have provided more examples to reinforce these practices in a wider array of contexts.

What is the biggest takeaway that you hope a reader will take from “The Craft of Wargaming”?

That wargaming creation is not an exclusive domain for a few mystical wargaming masters—with education and experience, almost anyone can make a significant contribution to designing, developing, and conducting a wargame.

What lessons can a Junior Officer take from your book?

First, that wargaming is a great way for junior officers to learn more about their profession from their peers and their leadership. Good generalship begins by studying past conflicts, and there are many commercial or hobby wargames that allow just that. The experience needed to become better wargaming craftsmen includes both designing and playing wargames. Second, wargames can be played at all levels. Senior offices may play at the campaign level – developing plans and issuing orders for divisions, fleets, and air wings. Junior officers can do the same to see if they would make the same decisions as their seniors, and they may find they can be even cleverer. As well, junior officers can play wargames at the level of individual soldiers, tanks, ships, and aircraft.

Purchase The Craft Of Wargaming here


COL. Jeff Appleget, USA (RET.), raised in Vermont, graduated from West Point in 1979. Jeff served as an artillery officer and an operations research analyst, providing analytic support for combat operations and acquisition programs. Upon his retirement from the Army in 2009, Jeff joined the Naval Postgraduate School’s Operations Research Department faculty, where he teaches wargaming and combat modeling.



[i] https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB207/

[ii] https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB207/Desert%20Crossing%20After%20Action%20Report_1999-06-28.pdf

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