Reading for Roleplaying…or #Wargame? – The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity by Jon Peterson (@docetist) – or – I’m a Munchkin Grognard (#RPG #TravellerRPG)

My first role-playing game (RPG) was Traveller from game Designers’ Workshop back in 1979. In the same little store where I discovered my first wargame, Panzer by Jim Day from Yaquinto Publishing (1979), I found a small, very plain black box with three Little Black Books inside. So started my RPG adventures which would parallel my wargame experiences. As I was a solid military history reader and generally avoided fantasy science fiction in those days I never felt the urge to play Dungeons & Dragons like a few of my friends. But that was OK; we played the heck out of Traveller for RPGs and Star Fleet Battles (Task Force Games, 1979+) for wargaming back in those days. All of which means I entered the world of RPGs without realizing that I was amongst defining moments of the hobby. The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity by Jon Peterson provides a “lost” history of how Dungeons & Dragons and other games came to define a new genre of gaming – the role-playing game.

As Peterson points out, Dungeons & Dragons (1974) did not call itself a role-playing game. Indeed, the cover stated it was, “rules for fantastic medieval wargames campaigns” (Peterson, 15). Starting from this observation, Peterson in The Elusive Shift takes the reader on a historical survey of how role-playing games came to be defined; or, as Mr. Peterson says:

It is not the ambition of this study to settle on a tidy dictionary defintion of role-playing game but instead to show historically how the game community came to grapple with agreeing on one.

Peterson, The Elusive Shift, p. 19

A Munchkin Grognard Traveller Perspective

Like I already stated, my first foray into RPGs was through Traveller, not D&D. At the same time I was entering the wargaming hobby. Forty years later I consider myself a wargame Grognard, that of an “Old Guard” of players who have been involved in the hobby a long time. So it was interesting to realize that in RPG terms of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that I was a “munchkin.” As Peterson relates:

It was around this time that the pejorative term munchkin entered the role players’ vocabulary. The Wargamer’s Encyclopedic Dictionary (1981) defines a munchkin as “a young wargamer, generally under 14 or 16 years of age,” in contrast to a grognard, “a wargamer who has been in the hobby a very long time.”

Peterson, The Elusive Shift, p. 232

As I was 12 years old when I got my first wargame and RPG, I was actually a very young munchkin which is probably why I missed out on so much of the background fighting over what the RPG hobby was; I simply did not have the money to subscribe to all those newsletters or magazines where the discussion was taking place! Even if I did subscribe, as a sixth-grader the discussion may even had gone right over my head (figuratively and literally).

Through reading The Elusive Shift I also came to discover just how much of an influence Traveller has on my definition of an RPG. Peterson goes so far to call Traveller a “transcending design” (p. 173) and devotes an Intermezzo in his book to the game. Since Traveller was my first, and for several years my only, RPG* when I read the “rules” I accepted them as “the way” without question. Peterson points out that how one plays Traveller is a matter of player preference; “There are three basic ways to play Traveller: solitaire, scenario, and campaign. Any of these three may be unsupervised (that is, without a referee; the players themselves administer the rules and manipulate the situation” (Traveller Book 1, p. 3). To this day I have no problem playing an RPG solo; it has always been an option from the beginning. I also have no problem setting up a one-shot scenario or digging into a campaign. Again, that has always been “just the way it is.” I also was very happy to see Jon Peterson call Traveller, “perhaps one of the most adaptable of the designs of the 1970s” (p. 173) though he says that because the game exemplifies the extremes of both open-ended (with a Gamemaster) and close-ended (no referee) systems. Without trying to ignite an “Edition Wars” argument discussion here I’ll just say that these days I am very happy with the Cepheus Engine version of Traveller which is very similar to the original Little Black Books Classic Traveller from decades ago.

In The Elusive Shift Peterson shows how Dungeons & Dragons grew out of both the wargaming and science fiction fan communities. Again, as I entered both genres of hobby gaming at the same time I didn’t really see any “legacy” issues . All of which means I never really got into the whole “D&D is a wargame” controversy discussion because RPGs and wargames were always two related-yet-distinct facets of hobby gaming to me.

To this day, the wargame community constantly grapples with the age-old question “What is a wargame?” Heck, even I took a stab at answering that question in an episode of the Mentioned in Dispatches podcast for the Armchair Dragoons. Peterson’s The Elusive Shift shows us how a closely related community grappled with a very similar defining issue. This book won’t give wargamers an answer to their question but it certainly can promote understanding of how the RPG community came to some agreement.

Coming together. In agreement. What a novel concept!

Citation

Peterson, Jon, The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2021 (Apple Books electronic edition)


*I’m not sure what my second RPG was, but it may have been Commando by SPI (1979) which Peterson notes is both a wargame AND and RPG. I know my copy has marked up charts where we tried to convert Commando tables for use in our Traveller activities. Behind Enemy Lines (1st Edition, FASA 1982) is clearly my next RPG after Traveller, though some might argue that it is more a skirmish-level wargame adventure guide than a “true” RPG.

#RockyReads for #Wargame – Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor (Viking Press, 1998)

BLUF

Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor is two books in one – the first is a political and military treatment of the events leading up to the Operation Uranus and the second is the story of the very human tragedy of the encirclement of the German Sixth Army.

A Real Wargamer’s Book

Why do you play wargames? Personally, I play wargames to engage with the history and gain a better understanding and appreciation of a topic. For me, the first part of Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor is very much a book that I use to play a wargame. The first part of Stalingrad is a military-oriented treatment of the political, and especially military, situation and events from the end of 1941 through the German offensive that reached Stalingrad in September 1942 and continuing through the Soviet counteroffensive that cut off Paulus’ Sixth Army in November 1942. I can use this part of Stalingrad to better understand the historical flow of events and see what I might of done different when playing a wargame like The Dark Valley: The East Front Campaign, 1941-45 by designer Ted Raicer from GMT Games. I can even use it to better understand the situation as presented in David Thompson’s Pavlov’s House: The Battle of Stalingrad from Dan Verssen Games.

The second half of Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 inevitably follows the military activity, but that is not the main focus. Antony Beevor pivots from a story of the military action into the immense human tragedy that befell the German defenders of Stalingrad and, to not so much a lesser extent, the surrounding Soviets.

Arguably, the second half of Stalingrad is more important to wargamers than the first. It is very easy for wargamers to push counters or tokens or little minis around a map and forget that those are humans. It’s exhilarating to roll a natural 12 on a Combat Results Table and get that “DE – Defender Eliminated” result. It means nothing more than removing that little piece of cardboard from the map and casually throwing it into the “dead” pile, all while pumping your fist and smirking at your opponent.

Reality is not so fun. In Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 author Antony Beevor reminds us, no, shouts at us that we must face the terrible human cost of war.

Yes, we play war GAMES for fun, but at the same time we need to remember that our “fun” is a depiction of war far removed from the brutal reality. Sometimes we need to learn that lesson and a wargame is not always the right vehicle. Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1941-1943 is the right vehicle to remind us of the brutality and horror of war.

Wargame Application

Read it. Read it so you better understand what the CRT really means.

Citation

Beevor, Antony, Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943, New York: Viking, 1998.

#SundaySummary – Stepping into Combat Commander: Pacific (@GMTGames), a throw back to the Falklands (admiraltytrilogy.com), red alert kudos for No Motherland Without (@compassgamesllc) and Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (@StrongholdGames) #wargame #boardgame

Wargames

I was able to pull off an excellent local trade to land a copy of Chad Jensen’s Combat Commander: Pacific from GMT Games this week. It only cost me my 1984 copy of Ranger from Omega Games. This is my first foray into the Combat Commander series of tactical infantry games from GMT. As there were several snow days in my local area I had the opportunity to do a sort of “deep dive” into the game and get multiple plays in. My major discovery is that Combat Commander: Pacific may be built on many “new-age” mechanics but it is thematically highly realistic. Those thoughts will be the subject of a later posting.

In 1982, the Falklands War occurred at an important time in my wargaming career. I was in high school so “aware” enough to follow the geopolitics and I had friends with common wargame interests for playing game like Harpoon II (Adventure Games, 1983). So it was very interesting this week to read The Falklands Wargame which is an unclassified, publicly released study prepared in 1986 for the Strategy, Concepts, and Plans Directorate of the US Army Concepts Analysis Agency. What really caught my attention is the study lead was none other than CAPT Wayne P. Hughes, USN (Ret.) who wrote the foundational naval text Fleet Tactics and was greatly admired by the designers of the Harpoon series of naval wargames available these days from Admiralty Trilogy Group. It’s a very interesting document which has made me think of many of my Falklands wargames, especially those using the Harpoon series of rules. So of course, more thoughts to follow!

Boardgames

Got No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (Compass Games, 2021) to the gaming table several times this week. I played the solitaire module provided in the rules. Mechanically it works fine, though the hard part for me is now trying to get those mechanics to do what I need them to do. Component wise, well, this title is a bit of a miss. The red game board is good looking but all the red counters and markers get lost on it making it very hard to see the game state. More detailed thoughts are coming in the future.

<soapbox on> A shout out to Compass Games is also in order. There was a minor production issue with my copy of No Motherland Without but it was quickly resolved by Compass Games. Awesome customer service. And no, I didn’t mention it before because I was giving John and company a fair chance to resolve the issue which they did to my utmost satisfaction so I will commend, not condemn Compass publicly and share with you a positive story not an undeserved negative one. </soapbox off>

Kickstarter

After lamenting a few weeks back on my reluctance to back any Kickstarters I succumbed to the pressure – to back Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (Stronghold Games via Kickstarter). My hope is that this can be a Family Game Night title. Speaking of which, we have sadly fallen off the Weekly Game Night bandwagon. Time to get back up….

The Pratzen, Austerlitz 1805 by Peter Perla from Canvas Temple Publishing will fund later today. As this posts I have less than 20 hours to resist temptation. Yeah, Napoleonics is not my thing but I absolutely respect Dr. Perla, love CTP productions, & would need a bigger gaming table.

Books

With the arrival of new games and my “Falklands Excursion” this week the reading for My Kursk Kampaign was put on hold this week. As I resume my reading I am through the events of July 12, 1943 and the Battle of Prokharovka so now turn to the aftermath and follow-on actions – which means The Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, by Trevor Bender from RBM Studios should land on the gaming table again.

#RockyReads for #Wargame – China’s Global Navy – Today’s Challenge for the United States and the US Navy (@NavalWarCollege Review, V73 Nr 4 Autumn 2020)

BLUF

In the past decade, China’s navy has not only risen, it has arrived.

Captain Jim

Have you ever heard of James Fanell? I’m talking about Captain James Fanell, US Navy (Retired). CAPT Fanell got into hot water back in 2013 when he served as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (N2) of the US Pacific Fleet and spoke publicly about the rise of the Chinese Navy. Fast forward almost a decade and we find he is still pushing the same message.

In many ways, CAPT Fanell’s “China’s Global Navy – Today’s Challenge for the United States and the US Navy” is a short version of a book I previously discussed, China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power by Michael A McDevitt (Naval Institute Press, 2020). Both Fanell and McDevitt contend that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has already arrived as a global naval power and must be dealt with from that perspective. Written at the end of the Trump Administration, CAPT Fanell notes, “there remains significant practical tasks that must be completed if Washington is to disrupt Beijing’s designs successfully.” He goes on to say:

…the world can expect to see a Chinese naval force that enjoys a global presence composed of multiple aircraft carrier and amphibious strike groups, a credible submarine-launched ballistic-missile capababilty, an ever-present network of warships at sea around the globe 27/7/365, and the concomitant influence and power this would provide to the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)

Fanell: China’s Global Navy, Naval War College Review v73, Nr. 4 Autumn 2020, p. 3

Wargame Applications

If you want to play out a hypothetical conflict between the US and China at sea, Fanell warns that reality is much closer than some may expect:

Given the PLAN’s decadelong experience operating in the far seas, the service’s operational and naval-construction trajectory, the PRC’s overall economic strength, and the regime’s established track record of intimidating neighbors into forfeiting their coastal-state rights to China, we can assess the PRC as being on track to become a global power as early as 2030, that it may be able to dominate the seven seas by 2049, and that it will use its power to expand China’s interests at the expense of others.

Fanell: China’s Global Navy, Naval War College Review v73, Nr. 4 Autumn 2020, p. 28

However, Fanell’s solutions may be a disappointment to wargamers looking for him to serve them up a scenario. Rather than calling for kinetic actions, Fanell advocates a “whole of government” approach. The result is an article that is more policy-prescriptive thus making it more suitable for deep background but not campaign or scenario creation.

Citation

Fanell, James E (2020) “China’s Global Navy– Today’s Challenge for the United States and teh U.S> Navy,” Naval War College Review: Vol. 73 : No. 4, Article 4. Available at: https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/nwc-review/vol73/iss4/4


Feature image courtesy http://www.defenceconnect.com.au

#SundaySummary – From Kursk to Karelia to No Motherland Without; complete Scythe, Dicing with @ADragoons, Cepheus Engine, and too much Kickstarter #wargame #boardgame #TravellerRPG

Wargames

Still working on my Kursk Kampaign reading. Have gotten through July 12, 1943 and am now looking at my tactical armored combat wargames like Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel 3rd Edition (Academy Games, Panzer (GMT Games), or Blood & Thunder (GDW) to see how they approach the the first part of the offensive and especially the signature Battle of Prokharovka.

At the same time I am exploring my newest Standard Combat Series (SCS) title from Multi-Man Publishing, Karelia ’44: The Last Campaign of the Continuation War (2011). So far it’s pretty “bog-standard” SCS with the added splash of “The Boss’s Patience” rules which vary game length. More to follow!

Boardgames

My copy of No Motherland Without from Compass Games was supposed to ship this week. I don’t have a shipping notice yet so I hope it’s on the way. It arrived! It may have spent the night out on the porch. Did I accidentally order the “Frozen Chosin” edition?

My corrected copy of Scythe Complete Rulebook (Stonemaier Games) arrived this week. The major changes were in the Automa for solo play. Using the Automa for solo play was a part of the Scythe design I have shied away from; maybe that needs to change?

Check out another episode of Mentioned in Dispatches podcast from Armchair Dragoons where we talk about dice for over an hour. Did we have a purpose for the podcast, or was this just a good ‘ole bullshat session?

Roleplaying Games

Issue #4 of Cepheus Journal is out. If there is one thing I find interesting about this issue is the range of settings that are using the Cepheus Engine rules. I mean there is everything from classic space opera to more hardish sci-fi to historical to fantasy to modern. This issue may be the best one yet showing off the versatility of Cepheus Engine.

Kickstarter

Lot’s of wargame content being offered with closing dates before the end of the month; so much so I can’t possibly back them all:

Pro Wargame Reading Recap

Via Micah Zenko (@MicahZenko)New Defense Science Board report on state of US military gaming, exercises, simulations. –>”strategic gaming has become a rarely employed tool for analyzing today’s larger and longer term challenges.”

Via Major General Mick Ryan (@WarintheFuture) An awesome Friday #PME read – #Strategy, #War, and the Relevance of Carl von Clausewitz, from the Military Strategy Magazine.

Via designer Brian Train“Commercial Wargames and Experiential Learning” by Roger Mason PhD.


Feature image from Team America: World Police

#RockyReads for #Wargame – War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, 2017)

BLUF

War by Numbers is a book on modeling warfare. It is a summary of the work of The Dupuy Institute (TDI) and a call out to the wild that their studies of large-scale, conventional, attritional warfare is still relevant even in the age of “Small Wars.”

The CRT

If you’ve been playing wargames as long as I have then you are undoubtably familiar with a Combat Results Table (CRT). You are also likely familiar with the classic 3:1 combat odds wherein if, as the attacker, you want to guarantee success in combat you always attack with odds of 3:1 or better.

Combat Results Table in Battle for Moscow (C3i Magazine Nr. 25) [Free download]

Where did this CRT come from? Well, you can thank an ORSA.

ORSA Defined

Operations research (also called operational research) began in World War II but really picked up steam in the 1960s under then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. He wanted to use systems analysis to make Pentagon decisions on force requirements, weapons systems, etc. This work built upon computerized combat models that had been introduced in the early 1950’s. The need for hard data to build the combat models upon yielded the need for somebody to collect this data. This is where Trevor Dupuy got started, and why today we have an ORSA.

ORSA is the acronym for the scientific field “Operations Research/Systems Analysis,” but ORSA is what many an “ORSA Analyst” simply call themselves. Here is how the US Army defines what an ORSA does:

ORSAs use analytical methods and mathematically based procedures to enable leadership decisions in a constantly changing global environment. [ORSAs] introduce quantitative and qualitative analysis to the military’s decision-making processes by developing an applying probability models, statistical inference, optimization, and economic models.

….

ORSAs integrate military knowledge and experience with the scientific and managerial fields. They serve as subject matter experts in designing forces, allocating resources, analyzing effects, performing course of action and trade off analysis, and they effectively communicate potential solutions to complex problems to decision makers.

The Deployed Analyst Handbook, CAA-2015094, p. 1-2

Wargamers, especially those engaged in professional wargaming through the design of analytic wargames, certainly sound like ORSAs. I’m sure there are ORSA who are wargamers. Don’t be fooled, however, for ORSAs thrive on building qualitative analysis on the back of a huge body of quantitative analysis. That quantitative analysis is the focus of War by Numbers.

War By the Numbers

War by Numbers is a look at historical conventional combat using the work of Trevor Dupuy (Col. USA (Ret.)) and The Dupuy Institute (TDI). The book showcases TDI’s quantitative analytical efforts by attempting to tie that work to a comprehensive theory of war. Although you will find studies on Force Ratio here that statistically bear out the 3:1 attacker-victorious thinking, the deeper studies look at what Dupuy termed “Human Factors” and how they contribute to the ultimate goal of a combat model; casualty estimation:

What are human factors? Trevor Dupuy listed them as morale, training, experience, leadership, motivation, cohesion, intelligence (including interpretation), momentum, initiative, doctrine, the effects of surprise, logistical systems, organizational habits, and even cultural differences. Human factors are hard to measure, and as such the analytical community often ignores them.

These factors, added together, made up what Dupuy called the combat effectiveness value (CEV). He could add this value to his combat model to try and represent the differences in relative performance of two opposing armies. For example, he used a force multiplier of 1.2 for instances when the German army faced the US Army in World War II in 1943-44. This indicated the German army (which, when lowercased here, indicates a combination of forces and not only the German Army proper) was 20 percent more effective, given that all other factors were equal. For the Eastern Front in World War II, we have tended to use a combat force multiplier of 3.0 to represent the difference between the German army and the Soviet Army in 1943. This is the same combat force multiplier Dupuy used to represent the differences between the Israeli Army in 1967 and 1973 and the various armies opposing it.

For any student of military history, to state that human factors are really important in warfare is stating the obvious. It is what enables attackers to win when outnumbered. It is what allowed the German army in 1943 to succeed in attacks at or greater than 1.91 to 1 while the Soviet Army still failed 44 percent of the time at those odds.

War by Numbers, p. 17

War by Numbers also takes a look at combat models by providing a historical overview and a bit of a deeper dive into TDI’s own QJM (Quantifiable Judgement Model) and TNDM (Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model).

Wargame Applications

War by Numbers is useful to wargamers, both professional and hobby, to better understand models of warfare, and especially to gain a better understanding of the mathematical foundations of combat adjudication models. Beware though, some designers might try to use the Dupuy’s TNDM, or what they see as the outputs of TNDM, as combat results. without fully understanding all the factors that go into the model. Further, there is a danger here in that too much dependence on the combat models advocated by TDI could push your wargames into the Modeling & Simulation arena. At the end of day what do you want to play, a simulation or a war game?

Citation

Lawrence, Christopher A., War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat, Lincoln: Potomac Books, 2017

#SundaySummary – My Kursk Kampaign with @RBMStudio1, Standard Combat with @MultiManPub, Going Social with @consimworld, a Dice-y Podcast with @ADragoons, and Going West with @IndependenceGa6

Wargames

I continue to work on my Kursk Kampaign History-to-Wargame (or is it Wargame-to-History?) project. This is a special series I am working on to look at the Battle of Kursk using both books and wargames. The “core wargame” I am using is Trevor Bender’s Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, 1943 from RBM Studio as found in C3i Magazine Nr. 34 (2020). I don’t know if the series will feature here or at Armchair Dragoons yet.

Multi-Man Publishing found some wayward stock in their warehouse. Good for me because I was able to pick up another Standard Combat Series title; Karelia ’44: The Last Campaign of the Continuation War (2011). As with every SCS game, I am interested in the “gimmick” rule; in this case the “Boss Point” system which varies game length.

Do you know that ConSimWorld has a new social site? I’m trying it but am really unsure. I can be found there as (you might of guessed) RockyMountainNavy. What do you think?

Boardgames

Not a very busy boardgaming week except for recording an episode of Mentioned in Dispatches for the Armchair Dragoons. Look Listen for the episode to drop next week. In the meantime check out my meager dice collection here.

My pre-order for No Motherland Without by Dan Bullock from Compass Games should be shipping next week. As a guy who spent nearly 1/3 of my military career on the Korean peninsula to say I am “interested” in this title is an understatement.

Role Playing Games

I’m not really into Western RPG’s but I am sure tempted with the release of Rider: A Cepheus Engine Western from Independence Games. I love what John Watts has done in The Clement Sector setting for his Alternate Traveller Universe and am sure he has brought the same level more love to this setting. Here is how he described Rider in a December blog post:

Rider will use the Cepheus Engine rules as a base with modifications made to fit with the “Old West” setting. Rider will draw inspiration from both fictional and historical Western lore but will definitely side with fictional portrayals. To paraphrase Larry McMurtry (who was misquoting “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”), we will be “printing the legend”.

Books

As part of my Kursk Kampaign series this week I read parts of The Battle of Kursk by David Glantz and Jonathan House (University of Kansas Press, 1990) and The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Battle at Kursk, The Largest Clash of Armor in History by Christopher A. Lawrence from Stackpole Books (2017).


Feature image nolimitzone.com

#RockyReads for #Wargame – Armor Attacks: The Tank Platoon – An Interactive Exercise in Small-Unit Tactics and Leadership (Presidio Press, 1991)

BLUF

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).

Interactive Fiction

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.

Wargame Use

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….

Citation

Antal, John F., Armor Attacks: The Tank Platoon – An Interactive Exercise in Small-Unit Tactics and Leadership, Novato: Presidio Press, 1991

#SundaySummary – Taking Flight with atomagazine.com, Loading Up with @UltraProIntl, Going Solo with @GMTGames, and Going Bananas with @bananagrams (Shout out to @playersaidblog) #wargame #boardgame

Wargames & Boardgames

This week I got Buffalo Wings 2 – The Deluxe Reprint, a 2020 Kickstarter campaign by Against the Odds, to the gaming table multiple times. Although this is one of the more “simulationist” titles in my wargame collection it really works as a game once you get past some initial rules learning. Bottom Line: I love it! Look for a more detailed discussion in a future blog post.

…and he’s dead! Buffalo Wings 2 training scenario in progress (Photo by RMN)

After seeing a Tweet by Alexander of The Players’ Aid I ordered two Ultra PRO Top Loader sheet protectors. I got two, an 18″x24″ and a 24″x34.” I used the larger one this week for some of my Buffalo Wings 2 games. There is a bit more glare than I expected but it does do a nice job of protecting the mapsheet. I also like it better than a plexiglass overlay because the mapsheet, being inside the protector, moves with it. No longer do I risk jostling the plexi and losing all the alignment. Yes, I taped the edges with Painters Tape but it sometimes was not enough.

Buffalo Wings 2 with map in an Ultra PRO Top Loader. Here the glare is not bad at all…. (Photo by RMN)

This week saw the January delivery of the GMT Games update. Included were their new P500 releases. I was very happy to see that Stuka Joe’s Card Driven Game (CDG) Solo System is going to get a formal publication. As a matter of fact, apparently over 700 wargamers to date were just as happy because we all pre-ordered it giving it “Made the Cut” status in about 18 hours. I own four of the six games that will be custom-supported out-of-the-box so my P500 investment of $14 should be well worth it!

This past week Mrs. RockyMountainNavy and I were in Target and checked the boardgame aisle. She found My First Bananagrams which comes in a green banana pouch because it, of course, still needs to ripen! We purchased it for her students to use as a word game to supplement their classes. The game is aimed squarely at the early reading crowd with a better tile distribution of letters and even some real neat combo-letter tiles.

Books

I’m still reading through the huge The Secret Horsepower Race: Western Front Fighter Engine Development by Calum Douglas. However, I also started Antony Beever’s Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942-1943 (Penguin USA, 1999). This made me realize I don’t actually have a Stalingrad wargame outside of Pavlov’s House (DVG, 2018). Hmm….

#RockyReads for #Wargame – The Craft of Wargaming (Naval Institute Press, 2020)

BLUF

The title of this book, The Craft of Wargaming: A Detailed Planning Guide for Defense Planners and Analysts tells you exactly who this book is aimed at and who will get the most use out of it. This is a book for professional wargame practitioners, not casual wargamers.

Come Here, My Young Apprentice

The introduction of The Craft of Wargaming makes it quite clear what the authors goals are:

This book is designed to support defense planners and analysts on their journey from wargaming apprentices to journeymen in the craft of wargaming. Our focus is on providing those individuals a window into wargaming, which is part of their professional development. Despite the book’s focus on wargaming apprentices, we believe that professional wargamers, senior leaders, and all decisionmakers in government and industry will gain something from the principles covered in this book. Hopefully, these individuals will acquire new insights or wargaming techniques to augment their capabilities or simply a better understanding of what wargaming can do for them. Despite our focus on the Department of Defense (DoD), the topics covered in this book will apply to the whole of government and any groups or individuals wrestling to gain insights into complex or wicked problems. We also believe that hobby or commercial designers will find part II of the book, with its focus on designing the wargame, of particular interest int he design and development of their own wargames.

Introduction, p. 2

Analytical Wargame

If you are a hobby wargamer and pick up The Craft of Wargaming you may get lost. This book focuses on analytic (or analytical) wargames which are quite different from what many wargamers may may think when they hear the word “wargame.”

An analytic or analytical wargame focuses not on educating the players but on extracting knowledge or information from the game to support a sponsor who is seeking answers or insights to a particular problem. The primary products of an analytic wargame are the insights and findings that address the sponsor’s problem, usually communicated with a written analysis report. Planning wargames, many of which seek to assess different COAs [Courses of Action] as part of the U.S. Armed Forces’ formal planning process, are arguably the most important type of analytica wargames as they seek to identify risks and vulnerabilities, enabling the organization to produce viable, executable plans for future military operations.

Introduction, p. 6

Breaking it Down

Part I of The Craft of Wargaming cover the “Foundations.” Here are the necessary definitions and the obligatory “What is a wargame?” content along with the historical review.

Part II is more a “doer’s” section which gets into the mechanics of how to design and run an analytic wargame. Here the authors use a five-step process of Initiate-Design-Development-Conduct-Analysis. This is the section that the authors think has applicability to commercial wargame designers.

Part II covers more of the management of wargames and other wargame forms. There are sections covering Course of Action Wargaming and other “less structured” wargames (like the BOGGSAT – Bunch of Guys & Gals Sitting Around a Table). There is also a section on Educational and Experimental Wargames which is where the use of commercial hobby wargames for education comes up. The authors also have a section of Best and Worst Practices which further supports their “teaching an apprentice” approach.

Appendix 1-6 in The Craft of Wargaming is a practical exercise in developing a Matrix Game. It is literally a ready-made lesson plan showing the process of developing an analytic wargame from beginning to end. Appendix 4 is the “Wargaming Gateway Exam” that tests you on the content of the book! Appendix 5 includes eight case studies; I really want to see these designs! Appendix 6 is The Crisis of Zefra: A Matrix Game.

Useful for Wargamers?

If you are a defense planner or analyst who uses or is charged with wargaming then The Craft of Wargaming can be an invaluable resource, even a “bible” of wargaming in some respects.

If you are an educator, inside or outside the military and looking to teach wargame design, there is much of value in The Craft of Wargaming.

If you are a wargame designer, even commercial, the approach used in The Craft of Wargaming is probably worth studying.

If you are a commercial hobby wargame player, and especially if you are a historical conflict simulation/wargame player, then the Craft of Wargaming may be of limited value. If you are looking for a history of wargames the authors themselves recommend Matt Caffrey’s On Wargaming: How Wargames have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future (Naval War College Press, 2019).

On Wargaming

Citation

Appleget, Jeff (Col., USA (Ret.), Col. Robert Burks (USA, Ret.) and Fred Cameron, The Craft of Wargaming: A Detailed Planning Guide for Defense Planners and Analysts, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2020.