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UK military opens new center for tabletop wargames

The Defense Experimentation and Wargaming Hub will use board games and roleplaying to test responses to real world security threats.

A red chess pawn wearing a green military helmet, representing a new tabletop wargames hub for the UK military

The UK Ministry of Defense has opened the Defense Experimentation and Wargaming Hub, a new venue that will have the space, resources, and personnel to let defense leaders test their plans using military wargames. In normal gaming terms, imagine a bunch of generals and academics playing massive hybrids of tabletop wargames, war board games, and roleplaying games based on real world challenges.

An announcement by the UK Ministry of Defense Strategic Command, given on March 27, states the hub will use “simulated scenarios and tabletop exercises” to “explore alternative futures, assess the effectiveness of different courses of action, and anticipate emerging threats”.

A BBC news report states that the centre will be able to run wargames based on “military conflicts, cyber-attacks, and economic coercion”. According to Lieutenant General Tom Copinger-Symes, quoted in the MOD announcement, this should make it possible for the military to make “evidence-based decisions”, informed by the outcome of tabletop wargaming exercises, more rapidly.

Members of the Welsh Guards play chess during their downtime. 35 British Army soldiers, from 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, are providing support to the Zambian government as part of their counter poaching operation to help tackle the illegal wildlife trade in Kafue National Park. On Op CORDED 9 the British Army have been delivering two mandated courses, following Zambian Government request for training under the MOU. The two training courses delivered are; The Counter Poaching Instructors Course (CPI) and the Conservation Data Analysis Course (CDAT). This week soldiers from the Welsh Guards demonstrated the culmination of months of training Zambian Park Rangers as they deployed on their first live foot patrol with Specialist Anti-Poaching Unit (SAPU) North. Park Rangers that had been trained on the Conservation Data Analysis Course (CDAT) by the British Army, identified areas of poacher activity for the joint patrol to take place. Op CORDED 9 is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Tabletop wargames and war board games both have their origins in military wargames. The first recognisable wargame, Kriegsspiel, was created by the Prussian army officer Georg von Reiswitz in 1812, with rules were based on real world military statistics. While Reiswitz gave the first game set to the Prussian king as gift, the Prussian military adopted it as a training tool for officers.

Military wargaming can have multiple components, from paper exercises, to simulated battles – the world’s most intensive LARP. Bad wargame design can be counterproductive: we recommend anyone interested in modern military history read about the disastrous Millennium Challenge wargame, and this great post mortem of what went wrong.

Soldiers with 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards, plan a reconnaissance exercise during Saber Strike 18 with Battle Group Poland at Bemowo Piskie Training Area, Poland. Saber Strike is a multinational exercise currently in its eighth year. This year's exercise, which runs from June 3-15, tests allies and partners from 19 countries on their ability work together to deter aggression in the region and improve each unit's ability to perform their designated mission.

The new Defense Experimentation and Wargaming Hub is based at Southwick Park in Hampshire, and was developed in partnership with the Defence Science Technology Laboratory. How far through development the facility is, is currently unclear: BBC news reports that preparation of the site began in September 2023.

The MoD states that the finished facility will contain a “500m² reconfigurable wargaming facility”, “a repository of wargaming data, tools and scenarios”, and an “experienced team of professionals” who can advise military planners and assist with designing wargames.

The BBC reports that the centre will run games including ‘Hope and Glory’ “which focuses on infrastructure threats” and ‘Contested’ “which deals with high-level military strategy” – titles that sound like they could have been published by GMT games.

The Defence Experimentation and Wargaming Hub building

This just may be the largest wargaming centre in the UK where Warhammer 40k isn’t the most popular game. Though we can imagine a few after-hours sessions taking place – there’s a major overlap between service-people and miniature wargamers.

Check out Wargamer’s interview with the commander of a Ukrainian drone hunting volunteer unit who uses remote games of Blood Bowl to keep in touch with his evacuated son; and this interview with disabled tournament wargamers, including ex military personnel. We also have a guide to the best tabletop roleplaying games, if you want to amuse yourself with the mental image of military theorists and generals playing Pathfinder together.

Photographs by:
Top – Spc. Hubert Delaney, UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021.
Middle – Daniel Harrison, UK MOD © Crown copyright 2022.
Bottom – UK MOD © Crown copyright 2024