Wargame SITREP 230507 N7 Design – My Wargame Education from Panzer to Littoral Commander

Sebastian Bae’s wargame Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific (The Dietz Foundation, 2023) unabashedly labels itself “A Grand Tactical Educational Wargame.” Through Sebastian’s wargame one is shown another use of wargaming beyond just an evening’s entertainment. I hope others embrace this opportunity to use wargames for education in the same way I have been doing for over 40 years now.

“Sebastian J. Bae’s Littoral Commander” is now MINE! (Photo RMN)

Education wargame

Wargame practitioners Col. Jeff Appleget, U.S. Army (USA) (Ret.), Col. Robert Burks, USA (Ret.), and Fred Cameron in their book The Craft of Wargaming: A Detailed Planning Guide for Defense Planners and Analysts (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2020) identify three purposes of wargames: educational, experiential, and analytical (Appleget et al., 5). They acknowledge a fourth purpose, entertainment, which they note “dwarf all other types, in terms of dollars spent on them” (Appleget et al., 5). Col. Appleget and his co-authors look closely at educational wargames and tell us:

The purpose of an educational wargame it to educate its players. It is designed to convey knowledge of some subject to the participants. Most of DoD’s [Department of Defense] professional military education institutions use educational wargames to reinforce learning objectives, while exposing the students to historic or future scenarios. The intent is to present the students with situations that they are likely to encounter during the course of their professional careers and to reinforce the knowledge they gained in the classroom. One of the U.S. Navy’s most famous series of wargames, the Plan Orange (war against Japan) wargames conducted at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) from 1919 to 1940, were run as educational wargames (chart maneuvers) for the college’s students. The U.S. Marine Corps War College has used modified off-the-shelf hobby games as capstone events to drive home the concepts taught in the classroom and to help the students understand “the range of strategies and options.”

Appleget et al., pp. 5-6

When I look back on my personal wargaming experience, I see that I played wargames first for learning and second for entertainment. From my very first wargame, I fully embraced how wargames offered a chance to convey knowledge to me. It was with that sense of background that I looked at this post and comments from Jim Owczarski on Twitter. For reasons I hope to explain to you, this exchange strongly resonated with me:

What resonates? I so see myself in this tweet; a middle school-age kid playing long, clunky wargames modeling real-world conditions that drew my attention and taught me so much more than any class in school could do.

Those were the days

I started playing wargames back in a time when the games were unmistakably different than today’s titles. Wargames back then were, by some accusations, not as “aesthetically pleasing” and presented in a style that is not as “accessible” as some demand today. Here is the list of bestselling games by SPI in 1979. While there are some real gem titles in there you have to admit the field is dominated by hex & counter components with combat results tables, often printed using case format rules and graphics in a limited 8-color palette.

Going into the 1980’s I dare say the “state of the art” of wargaming had barely advanced since TACTICS II was designed by Charles S. Roberts and first published in 1958 (1973 edition shown below).

In 1980—my first full year of wargaming—I was but a wee lad of 13 years old. That made me a 7th grade junior high school student with much yet to learn. Looking back, I see that many games taught me so much. With the benefit of hindsight, I also now see that games taught me more than school did.

Ogre (Steve Jackson, Metagaming, 1977). The original asymmetric game. Immediately taught me to analyze strengths and weaknesses and devise a strategy for dealing with the situation. That was far beyond the demands of 7th grade! Admittedly, in my early years my analysis focused on tangibles—often weapon systems or platforms—but it still provided a solid foundation for how to analyze wicked problems.

Traveller (Marc W. Miller, Game Designers’ Workshop-GDW, 1977). Many years later I came to realize that all the sub-games (and especially the wargame sub-games) in Traveller make it a “system of systems” design. Discovering and studying the various sub-games taught me network analysis which was useful in developing targets for my real-world job once upon a time. At the time though, I learned how even radically different systems can co-exist and build off of one another by discovering links, nodes, and dependencies; all topics school would not introduce to me until years later.

Mayday (Marc W. Miller, GDW, 1978). Vectors! Hated them in school but understood (and enjoyed) them here. In school I never enjoyed physics…but on the wargame table I embraced it.

Panzer: A Tactical Game of Armored Combat on the Eastern Front, 1941-1945 (Jim Day, Yaquinto Publications, 1979). The armor penetration model taught me about the design advantages of sloped armor. Reinforced basic geometry that was uninteresting to me in school, but after playing Panzer I knew lots about angles.

Star Fleet Battles (Steven V. Cole, Task Force Games, 1979). While many deride Star Fleet Battles as “accountants in space” it actually is a very good game teaching resource management and how to make decisions on a tight budget. The somewhat similar Star Trek III Starship Tactical Combat Simulator from FASA in 1984 that used different control panels for various bridge positions taught me how a team really works; every member has a role and responsibility and must carry out their orders to the best of their ability. Sometimes you come up short, which means you must communicate with your teammates so they don’t fail in turn. Real. World. Skills.

Fifth Frontier War (Marc W. Miller, Frank Chadwick, John Astell, GDW, 1981) / Striker (Frank Chadwick, GDW, 1981) / Book 4: Mercenary (Frank Chadwick, GDW, 1978). These were the wargames that showed me various ways to portray different generations of technology on the battlefield. Prescient lessons for a young man growing up in the U.S. military at the end of the Cold War and into the uneasy peace that followed. Not to mention the 20 years of counterterrorism “small wars” and now a new, high-tech fueled 冷战 (Cold War).

Harpoon II (Larry Bond, Adventure Games, 1983). I learned so much about the “physics” of modern naval warfare, from radar horizons to convergence zones to probability of kill (and more generally probability as a whole). I had read many books on the future of warfare, like John Bradley’s World War III: Strategies, Tactics, and Weapons (New York: Crescent Books, 1982), but it was through wargames that I took what I read and tried to really understand how it all worked together. More than any other wargame in my collection Harpoon set me on the path into my U.S. Navy career.

Courtesy Amazon

Flight Leader (Gary C. Morgan, Avalon Hill Game Co., 1986). Fighter combat is all about “energy management” where your energy is measured in altitude and airspeed. Was also my first introduction to Boyd’s concept of the OODA Loop (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) which goes beyond just fighter combat.

There are many other examples of games in my collection that taught me valuable lessons for life. I hope you get a sense of the variety of topics wargames covered…and I have not even talked about my intersection of wargames and history.

History and my wargaming

As a 7th grader new to wargaming I read as many books on warfare that I could. CNN and the 24-hour news cycle, along with cable TV as a whole, were still a few years away for me. I was lucky that my neighbor was a seller for Ballantine Books which meant on weekends he would sling a box over the back fence full of military history books. Which I read. All of them.

At that time a middle school history project demanded reading the encyclopedia and checking out the one or two books on the subject in the school library. If one was lucky your parents would take you to the county library or, for really big projects, into the Big CityTM to go the a “real” library. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times it was the Designer’s Notes and comments in the back of a wargame rule book that shaped my early and basic understanding of a battle or weapon or historical event. Because I had a variety of sources to draw upon, I also quickly started seeing the disagreements in historical interpretation. Wargaming taught me to start interrogating history with a keen eye towards looking at sources. It wasn’t in my vocabulary back then, but I was becoming aware of bias in historical interpretations. Another side-effect is that I often became agnostic in my reading, taking in works from multiple sides of an issue. By high school I was on the debate team where I specialized in Lincoln-Douglas format debates which, though forcing you to “take a side,” also forced you to be ready to talk persuasively on either side of an issue. Though you might accuse me of stretching to make a point here, by playing both sides in wargames I became accustomed to looking at both sides of an issue and considering the advantages and disadvantages from each viewpoint. This ability to “Red Team” issues has served me very well over the years.

A History of [Lincoln-Douglas] LD Debate: How Did it all Begin?

In 1858 there was a Senate Race in Illinois between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. At the time, Stephen Douglas was the incumbent, but in an attempt to take Douglas’s seat, Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of debates. Although the exact format of the debates were slightly different than the Lincoln-Douglas of today (back then the first speaker spoke for 60 minutes, the second had a 90 minute rebuttal, and then the first speaker had a 30 minute rebuttal/time for closing arguments) the adversarial nature of the debates was similar.

What is Lincoln-Douglas Debate Now?

Lincoln-Douglas debate (more commonly referred to as LD) is a competitive speaking activity that involves two debaters arguing for and against a resolution that is selected by the NFL (National Forensics League) and voted on by coaches. Today, somewhat like the old debates, LD focuses on the conflicting values of social and philosophical issues, for example, by examining questions of morality, justice, democracy, etc. Typically, LD debates concern themselves with deciding whether or not certain actions, or states of affairs, are good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral.

Taken from “Lincoln-Douglas Debate: An Introduction” courtesy National Forensics League.

Littoral learning

Which brings me back to Sebastian J. Bae’s Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific. In the Introduction of the rule book, Sebastian lays out the intent for Littoral Commander:

Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific (LC) is a 2- to 6-player wargame that explores future tactical concepts, emerging technologies, and all-domain warfare. The wargame is designed to be accessible to both professional military and hobbyists. Extensive wargaming expereince is not necessary. LC offers fast-paced, accessible, and flexible game play meant to be fun and competitive, while also serving as an “intellectual sandbox” on “what-if” conflicts that could arise between the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) and the People’s Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps (PLANMC) in the year 2040 or beyond.

When creating LC, the design team emphasized three underlying principles: accessibility, engagement, and adaptability. The game play emphasizes coordinated team planning and rapid player action cycles. With experience, you can create your own scenarios!

Littoral Commander, 1.0 Introduction
Littoral Commander with hexes, counters, cubes, cards, & multi-sided dice (Photo by RMN)

In the early weeks after Littoral Commander was released, I am personally very happy to see the many different folk who are showing off their copy of the game as it arrives. Yet, I suspect there are some hobby wargame players out there who see Littoral Commander as a wargame by—and for—wargame practitioners and only wargame practitioners.

Which is too bad. Attitudes like that will make some miss a very entertaining learning opportunity.

Littoral Commander is a wargame that simultaneously embraces both traditional and new-age design concepts. Littoral Commander is traditional in the use of a hex map with a very simple color palette—only this time chosen not for the limits of printers but for color-blind accessibility. It is traditional in that the game attempts to model real-world conditions (though Ardwulf calls future games science-fiction) and places players in the role of decision-makers. At the same time, Littoral Commander embraces the latest state-of-the-wargame-art design concepts like card-driven play and polyhedral die for combat resolution instead of the bog-standard IGO-UGO with six-sided die (d6) on a 3:1 combat odds table. The multi-player, team format of Littoral Commander also makes playing the game akin to taking part in a participation game which in turn widens the group engaged in every game.

To me, Littoral Commander is but the latest step in my personal wargame journey that brings me ack full circle to my original wargame roots. Sure, I will play the game for fun, but I will also look to see what I can learn—with others—about multi-domain warfare in the coming decades. With the Davidson Window supposedly just over the horizon (much closer than 2040) maybe more wargamers—practitioners and hobbyist alike—should consider playing it too.

Feature image courtesy Rhodes Cartography thinkinginspace.com

The opinions and views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and are presented in a personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Navy or any other U.S government Department, Agency, Office, or employer.

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2023 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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