After Action Reports

Using Wargame Analysis to Make Reforms

“A defeat, when correctly analyzed, is always productive of reform.”

Rear Admiral Paul Auphan, French Navy (Ret.)

Taking the ‘L’ in a defeat in a competitive situation is rarely a great feeling for competitive people. I myself am one of those people. I am also one of those who subscribe to loss aversion theory that states that losses actually hurt more than wins or gains. A double whammy of loss if you will. In everything I do as a husband, dad, sales professional, below average low post basketball player, podcaster and naval history enthusiast, I always try to learn from my mistakes or more specifically look back on losses and wonder what I could have done differently. Even in a ‘fun’ environment of wargaming solo or with friends, I always rue the L (which happens more often than not) and analyze what I could or should have done to better position myself for the W. 

Which brings me to wargaming. Wargaming (or really any game where choices are made to facilitate an outcome) gives one the opportunity to simulate decision making in a semi-stressful environment. Making sequential choices that create consequences over time to reveal a final outcome, in this case a win or loss for your side, gives one an opportunity to pull from their arsenal of skills without the real world consequences of bodily harm, revenue loss, or career setback. 

Now to be clear, any type of wargaming should never be compared to real-time warfare nor should analysis (more on that in a minute) in the wargame setting reflect real-world war fighting capabilities. Comparing abilities in the sports world, sales environment, or in the sphere of wargaming, to real life combat should never be done due to the nature of warfare and the impact of war and destruction on humanity.

But what we can glean from wargaming (or for my fellow sales professionals, replace wargaming with the ever dreaded ‘role playing’) is to take a look at what actions took place, why those actions were chosen, and how those choices affected the outcome of the game. More specifically, after the game we can analyze our performance in how we allocated resources, directed those resources, and then engaged those resources to meet our end goal. And with historical gaming, not only can we learn history but we can also analyze how we react or would react to those instances of historical events playing themselves out. No matter the type of wargame, one can apply this analysis with basic questions to produce reform in the case of a loss or underperformance or to teach and elevate others with excellent use of tactics and strategy in the case of a win. 

Some example questions supervisors or directors may ask in the analysis phase of a war-game that has just finished would be:

Where did you see the turning point in the action start to work against you?

When you allocated resources at this certain point in the game, what was your thought process in doing so?

Give me one or two ways in which you would have campaigned differently?

Did you feel like you prepared early on for scenarios that would crop up later in the game? (especially relevant if the game is historic in nature with real historical outcomes sprinkled throughout gameplay)

Were you aggressive enough or too aggressive at points in the game and if so, explain where and how? 

Was each action purposeful to meet your end goals and if not, when were they not?

These are just a few of the questions one can ask in a mini-debrief or, if so inclined, a written after action report of the game itself from each combatant. These reports can be useful in evaluating the decisions made in the game and can be extrapolated in making decisions in real life scenarios. In turn, these decisions can reveal much about your team’s skill sets, emotional intelligence in some cases (knowing ahead of time information like their DiSC profile or EQ levels would be coveted information for a deeper emotional conversation), attention to detail, process planning, leadership command, and basic teamwork in general. 

The beauty of analysis is that you can get right to work making reforms in tactics/strategy or at the very least give life to what the choices were that led to the playing out of successful game decisions. Wargaming is not life or death by any means, but it can illuminate what choices you would make and better prepare you for the tactical and strategic decisions that are necessary elements of everyday life. 

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