Most people know Rand Corp. as the think tank that helped win the Cold War, developed the first spy satellites and whose wargaming expertise led to the creation of the internet.
What it couldn't see coming was just how popular its first publicly available game would be.
Now, anyone from military officers in training to international relations graduate students to civilians who love geopolitics can take control of one of six state actors in this "Dungeons & Dragons" meets "Risk" tabletop game.
But putting all your troops on New Guinea isn't going to cut it for this game because the United States Indo-Pacific Command is much too big for that.
Rand's "Hedgemony: A Game of Strategic Choices" seems like an updated version of "Risk" -- if that game was actually designed by Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington to test their geopolitical strategy -- because that's what "Hedgemony" does.
The spelling of the game's name isn't an accident, either. The object is literally to hedge strategic trade-offs among wants, needs and outcomes while confronting hostile action in the real world and still coming out on top.
So while "Risk" will teach you where Siam used to be, "Hedgemony" will teach you how to strategically implement U.S. defense policy. And though major wars can be decided with a dice roll, that's not the point.
"It's not a war game; it's a strategy game," said Michael Spirtas, associated director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at Rand. "It's a sandbox to test candidate strategies -- five years of defense planning in four hours."
In the game, players lead Iran, North Korea, China and Russia on the "red" teams. The European Union, NATO and the U.S. secretary of defense are the "blue" teams. They will all jockey to acquire the most influence.
It's also the first tabletop game that was used to help craft a policy guidance document, the 2018 National Defense Strategy.
"Rand has been making games since the 1950s," said Spirtas, who helped design the game. "But it has never made one available to the public until now."
Like any other secretary of defense, the blue forces are constrained by logistics, resources and public opinion. The players will outline their strategic objectives then employ (and deploy) their forces accordingly -- and in response to the circumstances of the game.
The world map/game board is divided by country but, more importantly, it is divided into combatant commands, such as U.S. Central Command, European Command or Africa Command.
Just like in "Risk," players are given resources to allocate on the map, which are used to build and maintain forces or defend positions and conflicts. To advance one goal using resources means sacrificing another goal.
Unlike "Risk," however, Rand Corp. uses "event cards" to introduce elements of uncertainty to every turn. These simulate possible real-world events, like a terrorist attack or the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Actions are decided by a dice roll. These International Event Cards are designed to test the U.S. commitment to strategy -- does it commit or realign forces?
How players respond to these events can affect their numbers of influence points, which they are acquiring to win the game. It sounds simple, but the game is more than red vs. blue. Each nation is in competition with all other countries, even if they are allies.
"It's meant to teach strategic-level perspectives," said Michael Linick, a game designer and senior defense research analyst at Rand. "'Hedgemony' seeks to enable a more holistic understanding of the big strategic questions, in a rigorous and repeatable way."
Anyone interested in learning more about defense policy can pick up a copy of the game for $250 on the Rand Corp. website.
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