The Gaming Lab at CNAS

From armed conflicts to global pandemics, military strategists and policymakers use gaming to gain critical insights into some of the most wicked problems they face. Games help develop and test strategies, support effective decision-making, and communicate vital lessons to key stakeholders across government, industry, and academia.

The Gaming Lab at CNAS makes innovative unclassified games and exercises on a range of challenging national security issues. Experts at the Gaming Lab design and conduct these activities for leaders in government, policy, industry, and academia.

The Gaming Lab leverages extensive game design and subject matter expertise to develop highly tailored games and exercises, all of which support three primary lines of effort:

The Gaming Lab at CNAS supports the Center’s innovative research, ideas, and analysis on the most vexing problems in U.S. national security. Previous games and exercises have tackled important topics ranging from Chinese economic coercion and measures short of war to developing new operational concepts to deter and defeat great power adversaries. The Gaming Lab uses a holistic range of methods to conduct rigorous post-game analysis in support of policy-relevant reports that leverage new insights.

Equipping the next generation of gaming professionals and security analysts lies at the heart of the Gaming Lab’s mission. In addition to innovative game design and creative applications of gaming insights, the Gaming Lab at CNAS also develops tools and programs to enhance learning about gaming as a method. The Gaming Lab is deeply committed to improving diversity and inclusivity in gaming, and in defense and national security more broadly.

To learn more about using wargaming or similar methodologies to explore difficult problems, contact the Gaming Lab at In light of ongoing developments with the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Gaming Lab at CNAS is conducting all games and exercises virtually.

Primary Lines of Effort

Operational Wargaming

The Gaming Lab at CNAS leverages its operational gaming platform to examine critical warfighting issues in Asia, Europe, and beyond. CNAS tailors its gaming platform for each unclassified wargame to examine future conflicts and analyze areas of critical warfighting advantage and disadvantage. Examples of past operational wargames include:

Strategy Games

The Gaming Lab at CNAS designs custom strategy games that explore critical aspects of national security, ranging across diplomatic, information, military, and economic activities. CNAS also runs political-military games that examine the strategic elements of warfare.

Examples of past strategy games include:

Expert Elicitation Exercises

The Gaming Lab at CNAS develops and runs scenario and tabletop exercises, simulations, and red team analysis to explore security issues through subject matter expert elicitation. CNAS also uses such exercises to educate audiences about critical problems in defense and national security.

Examples of past expert elicitation exercises include:

The Gaming Lab Team

Learn More:


It’s Time to Rethink our Wargames

National security practitioners held several high-profile pandemic wargames and exercises in the years prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. Often, these games eerily predicted e...


Slaughter in the East China Sea

The year is 2030. Chinese troops seize a Japanese island in the South China Sea. Japan dispatches an amphibious task force to retake the island. Soon, U.S. warships and aircra...


A Deadly Game: East China Sea Crisis 2030

On July 22, 2020, audience members played along as the CNAS Defense team and leading experts conducted a virtual wargame in the year 2030, exploring command and information co...

Middle East Security

Interactive Tabletop Exercise on the Future of Iran’s Nuclear Program

Nicholas A. Heras, Eric Brewer, Elizabeth Rosenberg, and Ilan Goldenberg lead an interactive tabletop exercise about the future of Iran's nuclear program....

Indo-Pacific Security

No Safe Harbor

Introduction China is challenging America’s and Japan’s long-standing ability to uphold a peaceful order in the Asia-Pacific region. This is particularly true in the East and ...


Virtual Panel Discussion: Serious Games: How the Pentagon Uses Wargames to Develop Ideas and Inform Decisions

Jun 16, 2020