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Tabletop wargaming with miniatures

Military scientists partner with video-gaming company

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The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) has placed a contract with a commercial gaming company to use strategy-based video games for educational purposes.

‘Wargames’ vary from commercial entertainment such as the Battlefield video game series and tabletop games like Chess and Warhammer 40,000 to computer simulations developed by world-leading academics to test military strategies in a safe, private and controlled environment. Wargames can be extremely complex, with multiple powers battling for influence through military, political and economic means.

According to DSTL experts, commercial wargames - as well as being straightforward to learn to play - can offer a novel way of developing and testing combat strategy. Traditional military analytical wargames are rarely developed with usability and engagement in mind and can require extensive experience to operate.

“We work on computer-assisted wargaming and manual wargaming,” Nick, a Principal Analyst at DSTL, said in a statement. “I have played strategy video games myself – even some of the titles that we looked at for this project. They are generally easier to learn how to use and have far larger user bases than analytical defence simulations.”

DSTL has formed a partnership with an Epsom-based video game developer, Slitherine Software, to use commercial wargames for military decision support use. Slitherine has developed hundreds of military strategy video games, mostly set during periods of historic conflict such as the Napoleonic Wars, as well as manuals for a tabletop wargame, Field of Glory. Their games feature enormous and detailed simulated battlefield areas, along with modelling of both modern and historic combat operations, vehicles and weapons.

The commercial games will not replace analytic simulations, but will provide a means of visualising military problems in an accessible way. DSTL experts are working with the Royal Navy to trial the use of a Slitherine game for educational purposes, with a contract worth up to £1.5m over two years.

“We’ve been able to train users quicker by going out to DSTL staff who have played these games and training them to use them in a professional capacity,” Nick said. “We’re always looking for things to give us a wargaming edge. These games help us to think more creatively around issues.”

Rob Solly, Division Head for Defence and Security Analysis at DSTL, said: “We are excited to be working with a non-traditional supplier such as Slitherine, supporting the UK’s prosperity agenda. We are always looking for creative, collaborative solutions to the challenges of effective and user-friendly wargaming and simulation.”

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