New Game, the First Offered by RAND to Public, Challenges Players to Design Defense Strategies for Uncertain World
September 22, 2020
The RAND Corporation has released a boxed version of Hedgemony: A Game of Strategic Choices that researchers originally developed to help the Pentagon craft its capstone guidance document, the 2018 National Defense Strategy. It is the first wargame offered by RAND to the public and carries a $250 price tag.
RAND's history of designing wargames dates to just after World War II. Unlike other games, which typically focus on a particular conflict, Hedgemony gives players a bird's-eye perspective on how tradeoffs among force structure, posture, modernization, and readiness can affect the United States' ability to accomplish its strategic objectives.
The game's name, pronounced heh-JEM-uh-nee, is a play on the word hegemon and the need to hedge those tradeoffs against a dynamic world.
“Hedgemony provided the National Defense Strategy writing team with a sandbox for comparing different strategic defense approaches,” said Michael Spirtas, a designer of the game and associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization. “The team used the game to examine how each strategic approach might play out over time and under different conditions—for example, a world engulfed in civil wars, or a world where one country might be acting in an extremely aggressive manner.”
The players in Hedgemony are the United States—specifically the Secretary of Defense—Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and U.S. allies. Play begins amid a specific global situation and spans five years. Each player has a set of military forces, with defined capacities and capabilities, and a pool of renewable resources. Players outline strategic objectives and then must employ their forces in the face of resource and time constraints, as well as events beyond their control.
“The world is driven by a tremendous amount of uncertainty, and the best way to deal with that is a hedging strategy,” said Michael Linick, another of the game's designers and a senior defense research analyst at RAND. “Hedgemony forces players to take on a hedging strategy against what might happen in the future, and how the future might develop.”
Linick said many people involved with developing strategy at the Pentagon have a fundamental understanding of one of the four critical activities the defense secretary can affect with his or her budget: the military's size, readiness level, modernization level, or posture. But they typically lack awareness or a nuanced understanding of the other three or how they interact. Hedgemony seeks to enable a more holistic understanding of the big strategic questions, in a rigorous and repeatable way.
In addition to current policymakers, the target audience for the game includes war colleges, universities, and other institutions that teach defense policy and strategy—and wargame hobbyists everywhere.
“Considering how useful Hedgemony was to the team charged with one of the most challenging tasks in the Department of Defense, it occurred to us that the game could be an excellent training tool for the next generation of military strategists and decisionmakers,” Spirtas said. “It could be a great addition to the curriculum of those responsible for educating students, officers, policy makers or analysts about how to think about national strategy and the military's role in it.”
Funding to develop the boxed version of the game, which includes a rulebook, player guide, and glossary of terms and abbreviations, was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations.