If you want to learn how to develop a defense policy that balances strategic goals, military means, and a tight defense budget, there is a board game for that.
The ink drawing of the pentagon – surrounded by small tanks and airplanes – on the game box is the first indication that Hedgemony: A Game of Strategic Choices is no ordinary tabletop game. It is made by Rand Corp. published, the federally funded think tank known for its political papers and mathematical analysis. "Rand has been making games since the 1950s," said Michael Spirtas, Rand scientist and a designer at Hedgemony. "But we've never put one up for sale to the general public before."
In fact, Hedgemony was not originally intended for the public either. Instead, the Department of Defense helped create the National Defense Strategy for 2018. But the designers at Rand came up with a good idea: why not repackage as a teaching tool for aspiring defense professionals at graduate schools of public order and colleges of military personnel? "There are very few places where people who are interested in defense policy can see the Defense Department capitalized," Spirtas said. “Usually people stay in just one silo to work on readiness or defensive stance, for example. It is very rare to get a broader view of the Department of Defense. "
Hedgemony is a strange animal and not just because its title is spelled with a "d". ("The game forces players to use hedging strategies that weigh between different priorities," explained Spirtas.) It's part of the family game like Risk, part of the paper war game preferred by military history fans, and a bit of Dungeons & Dragons – ish role play.
There is a blue team (US and European Union / NATO) and a red team (perennial Pentagon-Nemes China, Russia, Iran and North Korea). The players are assigned specific roles, the most important being the Secretary of Defense and the secretary's staff of assistants and intelligence officers. The game focuses on blue, with red only there to make the game educational and challenging.
Another proof that this is a Pentagon game is the map. Hedgemony is possibly the only unclassified board game that divides the world not by political or geographic boundaries, but by the US military's regional combat commands such as the Indo-Pacific Command, European Command, and Central Command.
Blue uses his forces with little cardboard tokens between these orders. There are also randomly drawn event cards to simulate global and national developments, from coups d'état and civil wars to terrorist attacks and technological breakthroughs.
Victory is determined by Influence Points, which players win and lose depending on the actions they and their opponents take. (Those familiar with the popular Cold War board game Twilight Struggle will notice the similarity.) To earn these rewards, each nation has a pool of resource points that they can use to build and maintain armed forces that Redistribution of troops between the commandos of fighters and the investment can be spent in researching various skills such as long-range missiles, missile defense and special forces.
Sounds easy? If Hedgemony were easy, it probably wouldn't be a very realistic simulation of how the Pentagon works. For starters, every nation – even those on the same team – has its own goals. This means that while the United States is largely against the red nations, it is also competing with blue Europe. There can be multiple winners, but someone has to lose: for example, Europe loses if Russia achieves its goals, and the US and China both lose if North Korea wins. This means that while the United States and China are opponents in this game, they also have reason to cooperate on some issues.
The United States starts out with a much larger pool of resource points than the other nations, but most of that budget is consumed by maintaining the existing armed forces. Researching new technologies or modernizing the military means giving up something else. The other nations have far fewer resources (North Korea is one-eighth the US total), but they also have no global commitments.
To get the flavor of the game across, consider a single round in a demo game run by Rand. (I had a minor role as an intelligence agent for the red team.) The blue team must formulate a defense policy at the start: in that game, Blue announced that it would focus on maintaining the United States' technological edge and creating a small one rapid reaction force to deal with global crises, even if this was done at the expense of the existing forces. Small numbers of troops would be stationed in Europe, Korea, and the Indo-Pacific region, but U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Centcom to save money and create a reserve based in the United States.
The red team then drew several event cards and was able to play one in this round: China could, for example, invest in ballistic anti-ship missiles or adopt a more aggressive stance in the South China Sea. In Hedgemony, the red team must act as both opponents and mentors for blue. Red must inform Blue of its intentions and reveal which cards it drew, but does not need to reveal which card it will choose. In other words, the United States has an inkling of what its adversary is capable of, but not what it would do. It is the classic dilemma between evaluating an opponent's abilities and figuring out their intentions that every Pentagon decision maker faces.