Wargame SITREP 230512 N5 Plans: Georgetown student final success in Initial Success or Total Failure

This week I was granted the privilege of attending the finals of Sebastian Bae’s Georgetown University wargaming class. There were three games being shown this particular night; a naval combat game covering the Battle of Guadalcanal, a DIME (Diplomatic-Intelligence-Military-Economic) influence game in the Indo-Pacific, and a tactical game for the USMC explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) schoolhouse.

As a self-proclaimed Navy GuyTM I could of played the Savo Island naval game but there were already more than a few players like Kevin Bertram of Fort Circle Games sitting around the table. I would not have minded getting in on the Indo-Pacific influence game but by the time I arrived all the player slots were filled and there was a large gallery of observers. So I ended up at the EOD table.


Initial Success or Total Failure takes its name from the motto of the USMC EOD schoolhouse in Twenty-Nine Palms, California. The students were give the task to create a tactical wargame for use in the schoolhouse. Not only should Sebastian give these student designers a very, very good passing grade, the schoolhouse is going to take delivery of an AWESOME wargame. As several of my fellow players said, we would happily play this wargame if it ever came to a commercial release.

The EOD schoolhouse wanted a wargame that emphasized personnel and equipment. Initial Success or Total Failure leans into that requirement by giving players a card-driven game where two teams of two players compete to clear their “AO” (Area of Operations…aka their side of the board) before the other team does. The tools you have on hand is your team (represented by personality cards) and equipment. During a turn each player has three actions and can choose from Move (and draw a Challenge Card), draw a FRAGO card (bonus or penalty possible), or Diffuse Ordnance (aka “Bombs”). Different bombs have different challenge numbers; to diffuse ordnance you roll a d6 and add personality and equipment bonuses in an attempt to pass the challenge. Failure can result in damaged equipment or injury and, if the die roll fails by a sufficient margin, even death.

Initial Success or Total Failure

The gameplay in Initial Success or Total Failure reinforces the schoolhouse objective of team and equipment match. The personality cards (hand drawn by one of the designers in Notability) have actual personality. The effectiveness of different equipment is easy to see on a quick look-up table on the Player Aid card. The FRAGO cards add bonuses like “Rip It!” that allows for a personality to be used again when otherwise exhausted or penalties like “Bad Weather” that limits movement. Each is very thematic and appropriate.

Notice also the crayons on the table. No, they are not there to mark the map. In Initial Success or Total Failure crayons are used to track your score. Marines and crayons. That’s inspired game design!

Playing Initial Success or Total Failure was a blast. My teammate, Ian Brown (@IanTB) had a team member who could “scout” ahead which allowed us to see that scoring ordnance tiles once we were close enough. I got a timely Resupply that gave me a randomly drawn bonus piece of equipment that fortuitously was exactly the piece of kit we needed for the last two bombs to diffuse with success. We also saw the other team suffer a casualty in the death of a valuable team member…only to be replaced (again, through the luck of a random draw) with a “FNG” (F****** New Guy/Gal) that actually has a penalty when attempting diffuse ordnance. So much realism in this simple design!

If you can’t tell by now I am very fond of Initial Success or Total Failure. As we conducted our After Action Review (AAR) with the design team afterwards, I think it was Ian Brown (@ian_tb03) who commented that once this wargame gets into the wild it is almost guaranteed that players will quickly make their own custom personality cards. One of the objectives of the game was to make it easy enough to carry that in a pocket or play on the hood of a HUMVEE. I think Initial Success or Total Failure will be finding its way into many pockets and adorning many HUMVEE hoods in days to come.

The designers of Initial Success or Total Failure have a game that is easy to teach, easy to learn, easy to play, and most importantly of all is incredibly immersive. Their use of theme, from personalities to equipment to the FRAGO card bonuses/penalties to the crayons for scoring comes together in a game that you want to play again.

Best of luck to Savannah, Lauren, and Michael as they finish their studies at Georgetown. I hope that this wargaming class has taught them valuable skills in their careers ahead. One thing is for sure; the USMC EOD school house is getting a very good wargame that will go a long way towards assisting them in teaching about explosive ordnance disposal.

Feature image courtesy RMN

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

4 thoughts on “Wargame SITREP 230512 N5 Plans: Georgetown student final success in Initial Success or Total Failure

  1. “Playing Initial Success or Total Failure was a blast.”


  2. Maybe you could talk the designers into making their game available for print-n-play.

    1. I’m sure Sebastian is quietly working behind the scene to make something like this happen.

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