Is a Business War Game really a game?

What is a War Game – specifically a Business War Game?

Def: A War Game is a form of simulation, often a group-based exercise in which teams (or in some cases individuals) adopt the points of view of (role-play) others whose actions cannot be known but whose influence in a specific situation may be significant.

Purpose: To project the most likely and realistic courses of action/response in order to correct and strengthen one’s own course of action.

Uses: Business War Games may be used in negotiations, trial preparation, new product launches, new market entries, marketing campaign development, and other situations where significant upfront expense and preparation is required but no means of validation exists.

Method: Traditionally performed by people, today War Games may be performed by complex computer simulations. To date there is little evidence that computer models provide equal or better accuracy than properly structured human-based simulations.

Scope: War Game exercises can range from a few people working over the course of several days to dozens of people working over the course of several months and building multimillion-dollar computer models.

Distinctions: War Gaming is a structured exercise with specified outcomes – the articulation of most likely actions/reactions. During the preparation phase it may incorporate Brainstorming, and it may be considered a sub-set of Scenario Planning but it should not be confused with either technique.


  • The definition of Business War Gaming varies, often depending on the motives of the one providing the definition. Various additional definitions may be found at
  • Role-playing requires historical knowledge, fact-based understanding and intuitive perspective on how other actors think and respond in similar situations.
  • The final phase of a Business War Game is often a meeting in which teams present and justify hypotheses for likely actions/reactions.
  • War Gaming requires preparation. It is not an ad hoc exercise. However, once the base knowledge and skill set is acquired additional War Games for similar and/or changing circumstances can be run with decreased time and effort requirements.