A military training aid (aka “training wargame”) for modern-ish tank battles in a Middle East conflict. In this era of renewed peer-to-peer competition does this title need a resurrection?
Chose Your Own Adventure
Do you remember those cheesy chose your own adventure books from your youth? You know, the ones that promised that YOU decide but in the end had only one “right” answer? Major John Antal gives us Armor Attacks: The Tank Platoon, which is billed as “an interactive exercise” but is for all intents and purposes a chose your own adventure. YOU are in command of an American tank platoon in a Middle East country. YOU make the decisions (with the occasional need of a six-sided dice to help).
I totally expected Armor Attacks to be written in a very wooden manner. I was happy to see the writing is not that bad; the author has at least some writing ability that makes the various sections readable. That said, the content here is dry by nature; this book intends to teach tactical decision-making and leadership (oh yes, especially leadership) in a combat situation and not to engross you in a dramatic story.
There’s the Wrong Way, the Right Way, and the Army Way
Like every chose your own adventure, you choices drive the story in Armor Attacks. The problem with most chose your own adventures is that, once you start down the “wrong” path, it may be hard to “get back to right.” Add to that the limitations of the book where sections often end in limited decision points. Some of the sections call for the roll of one or two d6 to resolve the action – the fortunes of war I guess. Although these die rolls make some outcomes less deterministic, the reality is Armor Attacks, like so many chose your own adventures, for the most part runs on (or off) the rails. The author certainly communicates lessons here, though some are more forced upon you than discovered.
It would be interesting to see Armor Attacks updated. Although the lessons on tactics and leadership are in many ways fundamental and timeless, what has changed in the 30 years since this book was printed? Although Armor Attacks was written in the heyday of the US Army AirLand Battle Doctrine, I don’t see too much of this very tactical viewpoint that has been superseded by more modern times.
If one wanted to stretch the definition of a wargame, I guess you could say that Armor Attacks is already a wargame. Using the taxonomy in The Craft of Wargaming it is clearly a training wargame. For hobby wargamers who play entertainment/educational wargames, one could use Armor Attacks to create scenarios for a modern tactical armored wargame like MBT (Second Edition) (GMT Games, 2016) although to get the Middle East you might have to search out the older IDF (Avalon Hill, 1993) version. Using a wargame to substitute for the decisions in Armor Attacks likely won’t work unless one can reduce the possible outcomes to the few used in the narrative.
Did it Work?
At the time of the writing of Armor Attacks, the author was Executive Officer of an armored opposition forces (OPFOR) battalion at the National Training Center. Given this is the time of DESERT STORM, one wonders how many of those who fought in the war trained with Major Antal or read his book. Indeed, I’m looking at the book again and trying to figure out if any part of it could really prepare soldiers for the Battle of 73 Easting….
Antal, John F., Armor Attacks: The Tank Platoon – An Interactive Exercise in Small-Unit Tactics and Leadership, Novato: Presidio Press, 1991