October 2020 #Wargame #Boardgame #RPG #Books Month in Review

Games Played & Times Played

Note that Here to Slay included the Warriors & Druids Expansion

Games Acquired

  1. Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (Standard Combat Series, MultiMan Publishing, 2020)
  2. Star Wars: Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games, 2016)
  3. Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018)
  4. Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)
  5. Nations at War: White Star Rising (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)
  6. Nations at War: White Star Rising – Airborne (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2012)
  7. Nations at War: White Star Rising – Operation Cobra (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2012)
  8. Here to Slay: Warriors & Druid Expansion (Unstable Games, 2020)
  9. Moonrakers (IV Games, 2020)
  10. Cortex Prime: Game Handbook (Fandom Inc., 2020)
  11. Hell’s Paradise (A Clement Sector adventure from Independence Games, 2018)

New Preorder Games

Key Reading

Blog Activity

#Wargame Wednesday – Go Ohio Blue! (?) -or- It ain’t your daddy’s Harpoon (admiraltytrilogy.com) navy anymore

You might of heard the story about a young LTJG Larry Bond in 1976 who wanted to make a different training aid for his wardroom. Fast forward 40 years and we have Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Group) in commercial release. One would think that, given it’s provenance, Harpoon would be in widespread use in the US Navy. Alas, no. However, the US Navy does use wargames, and I don’t mean the video kind.

In the July 2020 issue of Naval History magazine, CDR Thomas Dixon who recently completed a tour as Executive Officer (Blue Crew) aboard USS Ohio (SSGN-726) relates a wargame played in the wardroom “designed to stress the critical thinking and innovation among the officers.” He describes the game as this:

First, the executive officer develops a scenario appropriate to the submarine’s upcoming operations, including the nations involved, the geographic location of the game, orders-of-battle, and victory criteria. The two senior department heads are assigned as leaders of the Blue (United States and allies) and Red (opposition) forces….The executive officer then informs the Blue and Red leaders of the game’s specific geographic location, assigns the Blue and Red teams their orders-of-battle, and explains the campaign objectives and victory criteria.

Dixon, T. T. (2020). Introduce Wargaming to Wardrooms. Naval History, 82–83.

Dixon goes on to explain why a wargame is needed in the wardroom:

First, it focuses wardroom training on the capabilities of U.S. and regional partner orders-of-battle against those of the rival nations. Second, it focuses study on U.S. and rival national objectives and doctrine. Finally, the wardroom learns what defines victory for each side and contemplates how their specific platform fits into achieving victory in a major campaign.

Dixon, T. T. (2020). Introduce Wargaming to Wardrooms. Naval History, 82–83.

Actual game execution is simple. To be honest, this sounds more like a structured tabletop exercise (TTX) than a wargame. Materials used appears quite minimal.

The required materials…consist of an appropriate chart of the region, several game pieces, and notepads with pens. The game is conducted in approximately eight hours (one training day) and consists of several turns. At the start, all Blue and Red land-based, surface, and aviation assets are placed on the chart in the locations chosen by each team. This assumes that both forces had time to position units in strategically appropriate locations, realizing hostilities were about to commence. The locations of undersea assets are known only to friendly team members, and notes with those locations are shown to the commanding officer and executive officer.

Dixon, T. T. (2020). Introduce Wargaming to Wardrooms. Naval History, 82–83.

The Commanding and Executive Officer are the judges. I wonder what sort of adjudication aids are available or if this is just a “that’s about right” sort of resolution system.

The first turn commences hostilities. Both teams confer among themselves and determine their movements and actions for the turn, and this consists of everything each team desires to accomplish for that turn….These moves are written down by each team and when they are concluded are shown to the commanding officer and executive officer. Using this method, both teams execute maneuvers simultaneously. The commanding officer and executive officer then adjudicate any action that would take place-for example, the success of an air raid, undersea combat if two submarines cross paths, or the extent of damage from a missile attack. Once adjudication is complete, the second turn commences and is adjudicated.

The game concludes when victory objectives are reached by one of the sides….The commanding officer and executive officer decide which team is closer to the preestablished victory criteria.

Dixon, T. T. (2020). Introduce Wargaming to Wardrooms. Naval History, 82–83.

This sounds like a very free-form type of game that focuses more on the decisions that must be made vice operating gadgets like wargames Harpoon or Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations bring to the table (or video screen). I hope that organizations like the Center for Naval Analysis in Arlington, VA are assisting in this effort by providing basic materials (especially guides to adjudication) and scenario development. I also hope this effort is not just done at the initiative of the CO and XO; it needs to be part of a broader initiative like the UK Fight Club (@UKFightClub1 on Twitter) that has the great motto “Think-Fight-Learn-Repeat.”


Feature image: PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (Oct. 22, 2007) – USS Ohio (SSGN 726) arrives at Naval Station Pearl Harbor to take on supplies before continuing on their maiden deployment to the Western Pacific following their recent guided-missile overhaul. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Luciano Marano

#Wargame #ThreatTuesday – The Russian Way of War (Foreign Military Studies Office, 2016)

One of the oldest challenges to wargame designers is understanding the threat. Many times the challenge comes from security classification – “If I tell you I have to kill you.” Finding a good, comprehensive study in the unclassified world is all to rare. All of which makes Dr. Lester Grau and Charles Bartles’ The Russian Way of War: Force Structure, Tactics, and Modernization of the Russian Ground Forces a very valuable publication.

As Grau and Bartles tell us in the Introduction:

Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, activity in eastern Ukraine, saber rattling regarding the Baltics, deployment to Syria, and more assertive behavior along its border have piqued interest in the Russian Armed Forces. This increased interest has caused much speculation about their structure, capabilities, and future development. Interestingly, this speculation has created many different, and often contradictory, narratives about these issues. At any given time, assessments of the Russian Armed Forces vary between the idea of an incompetent and corrupt conscript army manning decrepit Soviet equipment and relying solely on brute force, to the idea of an elite military filled with Special Operations Forces (SOF) who were the “polite people” or “little green army men” seen on the streets in Crimea. This book will attempt to split the difference between these radically different ideas by shedding some light on what exactly the Russian Ground Forces consist of, how they are structured, how they fight, and how they are modernizing.

As an added bonus for wargame graphic designers, check out the last part of the book on Russian Military Symbology. What better way to make your Russian forces, uh, Russian?


Feature image courtesy Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

#Wargame #ThreatTuesday – “You fight like a North Korean!” North Korean Tactics, US Army ATP 7-100.2, July 2020 Edition

There are very few modern wargames that cover modern tactical combat on the Korean Peninsula. If there were, then players would need to study North Korean Tactics – July 2020 or ATP 7-100.2. As the preface tells us:

Army Training Publication (ATP) 7-100.2 describes North Korean tactics for use in Army training, professional education, and leader development. This document is part of the ATP 7-100 series that addresses a nation-state’s military doctrine with a focus on army ground forces and tactical operations in offense, defense, and related mission sets. Other foundational topics include task organization, capabilities, and limitations related to military mission and support functions. ATP 7-100.2 serves as a foundation for understanding how North Korean ground forces think and act in tactical operations. This publication presents multiple examples of functional tactics in dynamic operational environment conditions. The tactics in this ATP are descriptive, and provide an orientation to tactics gathered from North Korean doctrine, translated literature, and observations from recent historical events.

The principal audience for ATP 7-100.2 is all members of the profession of arms. Commanders and staffs of Army headquarters serving as joint task force or multinational headquarters should also refer to applicable joint or multinational doctrine concerning the range of military operations and joint or multinational forces. Trainers and educators throughout the Army will also use this publication.

What’s in this manual. Much more than you expect!

ATP 7-100.2 addresses the tactics, organization, and activities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s ground forces. Part one of this document focuses on the strategic and operational levels, and includes North Korea’s military structure, organizational philosophy, and an introduction to functional tactics. Part two focuses on the tactical level, and describes Korean People’s Army Ground Forces (KPAGF) offensive and defensive tactics in detail. Several appendixes provide additional information on specific military functions and their use in tactical actions.

There is alot to unpack here. Even if you are not playing a modern Korean War game there is still much that can be learned from studying this potential adversary.


Feature image “North Korean military conducts a ‘strike drill’ for multiple launchers and tactical guided weapon into the East Sea during a military drill in North Korea.” (Reuters/KCNA pic).

#Wargame #ThreatTuesday – 2020 Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China via @DeptofDefense

The US Department of Defense (DoD) released the 2020 version of their annual report to Congress on the military and security developments for China. If you are a wargame designer and want to cover the modern Chinese military then this publication should be one of the first sources you start with. As the DoD press release states:

This year’s report highlights the links between China’s national strategy and developments within China’s armed forces.

Under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, the strategy calls for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049, including the transformation of the People’s Liberation Army into a “world-class” military.

The report comes at a time when the world is witnessing the aggressive assertion of that strategy in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, where China continues to undermine the international rules-based order to advance their own interests. 

This report accounts for the PRC’s national strategy and the drivers of China’s security behavior and military strategy, covers key developments in China’s military modernization and reform, and provides new insights into China’s strategic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

The report also discusses China’s views of strategic competition, the broader purposes of its Military-Civil Fusion Development Strategy, and its ambitions for the PLA as a political entity of the party.

Although there are some order-of-battle type numbers in here, this is not really suitable for development of tactical scenarios. That said, if you are looking to frame an operational or strategic-level game then it is very likely you will find something of value within these pages.


Feature image “Chinese Cops Trained in Posture by Pins and Crosses” courtesy chinauncensored.tv

#ThreatTuesday – New Chinese Type 55 DDG(?) thru the #wargame lens of South China Sea (@compassgamesllc, 2017)

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) commissioned Nanchang, the first Type 055 destroyer in their fleet on 12 January 2019. This ship appears in the wargame South China Sea: Modern Naval Combat in the South Pacific (Compass Games, 2017). For this installment of Threat Tuesday I’m going to look at the ship and compare the in-game version to what is seen in public.

IMG_0477Although the Chinese seem to be calling Nanchang a ‘destroyer,’ it almost anywhere else it would be a cruiser. Here is a datasheet on the ship that accompanied the commissioning ceremony:

IMG_0473In South China Sea, designer John Gorkowski identifies this class of ships as ‘CG TYPE 55.’ Here is the counter for the ship in the game:

IMG_0556
CG TYPE 55 in South China Sea (Compass Games, 2018)

The Quick Reference Card in South China Sea tells us how to decode the counter. It is also useful as we can compare the CG TYPE 55 to the US Navy ‘CG TICONDEROGA.’ Fair warning here – I did not assist in the development of South China Sea so I actually do not have any ‘official’ insight into how the various factors were decided upon. What follows is my interpretation of the factors in South China Sea and how they relate to the announced capabilities of the Type 055 destroyer.

IMG_0557
Decoding Surface ships and Submarines (SCS Quick Reference Guide)

Let’s first start by looking across the bottom of the CG TYPE 55 counter. The first factor is Gun – rated a 2. The Type 055 has a single 130mm gun forward. The Ticonderoga has 2x Mk45 5″/45 caliber lightweight guns. Although the guns are somewhat similar there are no half-factors in SCS so 2 seems fair.

U (Underwater)2: Very similar to the US TICO-class, the Type 055 is credited with a bow-mounted High/Medium-frequency sonar and a towed Variable Depth Sonar (VDS) as well as two helicopters. While Ticonderoga’s have torpedo tubes, the Type 055 carries the ‘CJ-5″ ASW rocket/missile. The U rating of 2 seems fair.

yj-12a-anti-ship-missile-parade-china-1492675706096-1-0-398-640-crop-1492675721684
YJ missiles on parade

A/S (Anti-Surface)4 Range 6. The Type 055 is credited with carrying the YJ-18 anti-ship missile. According to US government sources, the YJ-18 has a range of 290nm, or 6.4 hexes in South China Sea. Although the missile is subsonic, the warhead of between 140-300kg mass is delivered by a supersonic sprint vehicle. A lethality rating of 4 seems fair although I worry that it may be underrated as compared to the Harpoon (4 Range 5) used by the US Navy. Recommendation: CHANGE the A/S rating to 5 Range 6 (Optional).

dh-10-1cs
Courtesy ausairpower.net

A/G (Anti-Ground)4 Range 10. The Type 055 is supposed to carry the CJ-10 cruise missile. Most sources give this missile a range of 1,500+ kilometers (809nm). In South China Sea-terms this would be a range of 17.7 hexes – well in excess of the 10 shown on the ship counter. The US Navy TLAM missile flies between 700-900nm – 15.5 to 20 hexes in SCS – but is only credited with a range of 12 (~2/3rds of max range?). Using that very rough rule, the CJ-10 could be range 12. As for lethality; the CJ-10 appears comparable to the Tomahawk so a lethality rating of 4 again appears reasonable. Recommendation: CHANGE ‘CG Type 55’ A/G rating to 4 Range 12.

Let us now turn to the combat factors on the upper right, Missile Defense and Torpedo. In South China Sea the CG TYPE 55 is given a Torpedo rating of 2. Yet, on the factsheet, no torpedo tubes appear. An oversight in the datasheet? Look for other sources….

The CG TYPE 55 is rated a 9 for Missile Defense. This is in part because of the 4-panel S-Band AESA multifunction radar with X-Band rotating AESA radars supporting the HHQ-9 anti-air missile. Note the color of the Missile Defense rating – black. In South China Sea, ships with a Missile Defense rating in RED, like US Navy Aegis-equipped ships, are capable of Area Missile Defense:

5.81 Units with MD scores printed in red have Area Missile Defense (AMD). AMD functions like MD (missile defense) but can also protect other friendly units while also threatening enemy air units in the same and adjacent hexes. Air units in air to air combat are the one exception; they are not protected by an AMD score.

5.82 Therefore, with the exception of air units in air to air combat, a targeted friendly unit can always cite the red AMD score of a friendly AMD-capable unit that is in the same or an adjacent hex and engaged in the current engagement. Any number of units can call on the same AMD any number of times.

In the DIA publication China Military Power: Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win, 2019, they make this assessment:

These newer ships use modern combat management systems and air surveillance sensors, such as the Sea Eagle and Dragon Eye phased-array radars. These new units allow the PLAN surface force to operate outside shore-based air defense systems because one or two ships are equipped to provide air defense for the entire task group. (p. 70)

This makes a good case that the MD rating of the CG TYPE 55 should be a red AMD factor. As far as the lethality number? A factor of 9 seems a good place to start. Recommendation: CHANGE the MD factor to RED.

The numbers to the upper left of the counter are Move and Stealth. The Move factor is in line with what is expected of ships like this so we will leave that be. In South China Sea, Stealth is used to evade contact. When a unit enters the Illumination Range of a unit (5 hexes for a surface naval unit) the unit must stop and make an evasion roll (2d6 + Stealth). If the roll is greater than 11 the unit has evaded detection and can continue movement. In the case of the CG TYPE 55 a Stealth rating of 3 is very good, even better than the Stealth rating of 2 for US Arleigh Burke-class DDGs. Indeed, the much smaller Freedom-class has a Stealth factor of 3. Looking at the pictures of the Nanchang, there is some radar shaping but there are also some good radar-bouncing areas. To my (untrained) eye it looks more like an Arleigh Burke. Recommendation: CHANGE the Stealth rating of the CG TYPE 55 to 2

There is one last ‘factor’ I want point out; the number of Steps for the CG TYPE 55. See those three boxes between the Move/Stealth and Missile Defense/Torpedo?  The CG TYPE 55 is a three Step unit, more so than the CG TICONDEROGA with two-Steps. A multi-step unit is flipped on the first hit and destroyed when the number of hits equals the number of Steps. At full load a Ticonderoga weighs in at 9,600 tons, a bit smaller than the 13,000 full load tons of the Type 055 destroyer. Is that extra 30% worth an entire extra Step? Another consideration is the state of damage control training in the PLAN. When I see a Step in SCS I don’t just see how many ‘hit points’ the ship has but also how well the crew is trained to save the ship. The US Navy is amongst the best in the world and, to be frank, there are questions as to the real technical competence of the average PLAN sailor. My gut tells me that giving the CG TYPE 55 three Steps is too generous. Recommendation: CHANGE the number of Steps on the CG TYPE 55 to 2.

I want to be very clear that in making this ‘reassessment’ of the CG TYPE 55 in South China Sea I am categorically NOT saying the original version is flawed. Mr. Gorkowski, in taking on a modern subject like South China Sea, is at the mercy of publicly available information. Even in the few short years since South China Sea was first published, the information available has changed significantly. You can play a scenario with the out-of-the-box CG TYPE 55 or, if you want, look at my attempt to update. Whatever way you chose to play just make sure you are having fun while you do it!

Commanding more in Less Than 60 Miles (trlgames.com, 2019) – or – the #OODA #wargame

The goal is to collapse an adversary’s system into confusion and disorder causing him to over and under react to an activity that appears simultaneously menacing as well as ambiguous, chaotic, or misleading.

John R. Boyd, “Patterns of Conflict

When I was CONNECTIONS 2019 I stopped by a table sponsored by the Army Command & General Staff College. Amongst the games present was Less Than 60 Miles: C3 Module 1 – Fulda Gap (Thin Red Line Games, 2019) designed by Fabrizio Vianello (BGG member Hanbarca) and published in Trezzano, Italy. The ACGSC folks were gushing about the game, throwing terms like “realistic” and insightful” about freely. I recently acquired the game via trade and dug into it the past two weeks. I am now ready to declare that Less Than 60 Miles may be one of the best “professional wargames” in my collection.

A “professional wargame?”

First off, what exactly do I mean when I say “professional wargaming?” In my working life I dabble in defense wargaming. This is why I try to attend the CONNECTIONS wargaming conference every year. I also recall Jim Dunnigan’s description of a wargame found in his Wargames Handbook:

A wargame is an attempt to get a jump on the future by obtaining a better understanding of the past. A wargame is a combination of ‘game,’ history and science. It is a paper time-machine. (Wargames Handbook, Third Edition, 1)

Dunnigan goes on to state:

The object of any wargame (historical or otherwise) is to enable the player to recreate a specific event and, more importantly, to be able to explore what might have been if the player decides to do things differently.

To be a wargame, in our sense of the word, the game must be realistic. And in some cases, they are extremely realistic, realistic to the point where some wargames are actually used for professional purposes (primarily the military, but also business and teaching). (Wargames Handbook, 3e, 1)

In many cases, realism in professional wargaming is a double-edged sword. Realism can often lead to an unplayable design. A perennial question at CONNECTIONS is “how realistic should my wargame be?” Philip Sabin, in his book Simulating War, describes this as accuracy vs. simplicity:

Perhaps the most pervasive trade-off affecting all human attempts to understand the worlds in which we live is that between accurately capturing the almost infinite complexities of reality and keeping our models simple enough to be grasped by ordinary minds and used as a practical guide for action. (Simulating War, 2)

Sabin continues:

Wargames are particularly severely affected by this trade-off between accuracy and simplicity, for two principle reasons. First…wargames have the virtue of combining most other modelling approaches into one, the downside of this eclecticism is that the complexity of each component approach is even further constrained if the overall complexity of the entire wargame model is not to exceed tolerable limits. Second, whereas some modelling techniques need only be understood properly by experts, with their conclusions being at least to some extent ‘taken on trust’ by lesser mortals, wargames are by their very nature participatory devices in which users need to have a certain understanding of the mechanics in order to benefit from the model at all. (Simulating War, 2)

A recent RAND study titled Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps points out how commercial wargames are addressing the accuracy vs. simplicity problem:

Closely related to this trend is a focus on increasing the playability of games while maintaining high levels of detail and dynamic gameplay. In the past, one of the key dilemmas of manual-style games was the inverse relationship between complexity and playability. As the level of detail increases in a game, rules typically grow increasingly complex, ultimately reducing playability. Many games from the “golden age” of the 1970s hobby gaming required hours merely to read the rules–a trend taken to parody in Campaign for North Africa (1979). Such games were highly accurate, but required players to learn complicated rules that included many exceptions. These were difficult to track even for experienced players. In response, designers began to experiment with different presentations of game rules to make play more intuitive….Commercial developers argue this will help manual games achieve higher levels of complexity while simultaneously enhancing playability. (Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps, 23-24)

IMG_0341
Found at CONNECTIONS 2019

OODA in a Wargame

The Less Than 60 Miles (LT60M) model is a different  look at the (potential) European battlefields of the 1980’s. Instead of focusing on the equipment (like so many wargames often do) the rules present a look at the battlefield through the lens of John Boyd, retired US Air Force officer and the father of the OODA LoopHere is how LT60M first describes itself:

Less Than 60 Miles is a Regiment / Battalion simulation of a hypothetical conflict between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Warsaw Pact (WP) in 1985. The map covers the central part of West and East Germany, including the whole US V Corps Area of Responsibility and its surrounding areas. Players take the role of US V Corps Commander for NATO, and Soviet Central Front Commander for Warsaw Pact. (Rules of Play, 1. Introduction)

After this very vanilla overview, the differences are then called out:

Rules are centered on the problems of Command, Control & Communications (C3), and will force the players to fight against three equally dangerous foes: the enemy, their own plans and time.

Players will find that even simple actions could be quite challenging and need to be planned and correctly executed. Players will also find that their own troops may move and act quickly while following the initial plan, but reacting to contingencies or unexpected events could be painfully slow and might seal the fate of the entire campaign if poorly managed.

Another key element, not explicitly in the rules but interconnecting them, is the OODA cycle (Observe-Orient-Decide, Act) theorized by John Boyd in “Patterns of Conflict” and used as basis for the “AirLand Battle” doctrine adopted by US Armed Forces during the last years of the Cold War.

In the end, being able to get “inside” the enemy’s OODA cycle, short-circuiting the opponent’s thinking processes, will produce opportunities for the opponents to react inappropriately.

In the Designer’s Notes to LT60M, Mr. Vianello expands on his approach:

As probably any other Grognard, I’ve been reading a devastating number of books about military campaigns and operations.

In almost all of them, I’ve found descriptions of apparently simple plans turning into a disaster due to poor planning, wrong orders or bad execution. Even when planning, orders and execution goes smooth as silk, the plan is sometimes outmaneuvered or outsmarted by the enemy.

….

In most operational and strategic wargames, replicating this kind of events is very difficult. Players have almost complete control, and units react instantly to new directives. During years, several solutions have been developed (random events, variable initiative, command points and similar), but the basic problems remained:

  • The typical time frame of a game turn is tailored to allow execution of almost any desired action within a single phase, thus leaving the enemy no possibility to react.
  • The distance covered in a single turn by a unit could be considerable, thus forcing players to adopt a continuous line of units and zones of control as the only solution to avoid being bypassed or encircled during the enemy’s movement phase.
  • Any decided course of action has no inertia and can be rapidly modified should the need arise. You don’t need a real plan, and you’re not taking anyone really by surprise unless the rules decide so.

Less Than 60 Miles tries to convey a realistic approach to the above problems by giving the correct importance and impact to four basic elements: Time, Posture, Orders and Command Chain.

In the end, the interaction between these four elements will force players to confront the underlying concept: the OODA Cycle.…By using the four elements above better and faster than the opponent, the player will get inside the OODA Loop of the enemy, undermining its capability to react in an appropriate and timely manner to the unfolding events. (Scenarios & Designer’s Notes, Designer’s Notes, 21)

Here is how Mr. Vianello describes using those elements to challenge players of LT60M:

TIME

“Probably the most important factor in war is Time. Every action needs to be executed within a certain time frame and become useless or even dangerous if carried out later.”

“…most actions cannot be completed during a single game turn. A dug-in mechanized battalion that successfully defended a town will not be able to instantly launch a counterattack against the attacker, except when using specific tactics like NATO’s Active Defense. It will need to change to an attack formation, leaving itself vulnerable to enemy reactions for the time needed to change its posture.”

POSTURE

“Posture defines the current tactical formation of a unit and has a heavy impact on its movement and combat capabilities.”

“A unit’s Posture is the result of the last orders received and limits the tactical choices available. No unit can do everything at its best at the same time.”

“Changing a Unit’s Posture will require time, and during the transition the unit will be more vulnerable to enemy actions.”

ORDERS

“Ordering large formations to move out or attack is a complicated business, usually more complicated than expected. Even the over-celebrated 90 degrees turn of Patton’s III Army at the Ardennes took 72 hours.”

“In Less Than 60 Miles, most orders will require more time than desired to be carried out. Players will be forced to prepare and execute a real plan, as changing the course of action once things started moving could be problematic.”

CHAIN OF COMMAND

“In order to issue and execute orders in a timely manner, you will need a Command Chain starting from a higher-level Headquarters and going down to the units executing the order.”

“Command Chain is not a abstract concept you’ll worry about only occasionally. Each side will have to balance the advantage of having Headquarters near the Forward Edge of the Battle Area and directly influencing the battle, with the disadvantage of making them targets for enemy air, missile and artillery strikes.”

Yesterday is today…and tomorrow?

Design-wise, LT60M finds success by drawing from tried and proven designs of the past wrapped in a game system that emphasizes OODA. Mr. Vianello tells us, “In order to handle attrition, Less Than 60 Miles refines one of the most interesting and innovating concepts of SPI’s “Central Front” series: Friction Points, here renamed Attrition Points” (Designer’s Notes, 23). The combat system is, as Fabrizio puts it, “inspired by NATO: Division Commander, in my opinion one of the most realistic portraits of modern mechanized warfare” (Designer’s Notes, 25).

38F6CE41-3892-44BF-9982-3975F2A7E7FC_4_5005_c

Lest you think that OODA is best in a wargame of the past, US Marine Corps officer Ian T. Brown, in his book A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare, points out that Boyd’s OODA Loop is highly relevant today. He observes that, “[Boyd] viewed both blitzkrieg and counterinsurgency through the same lens, aimed at the same objective–the adversary’s mind–and implemented with the same tenets of orientation, tempo, ambiguity, deception, and asymmetric application of strength against weakness.” (p. 192) Although LT60M is set in the 1980s, the design is both relevant and easily portable to the modern wargaming battlefield.

Looking at the larger picture, the OODA Loop is not only useful as a basis for the design of LT60M, but for professional wargaming as a whole. Matt Caffrey in his book On Wargaming includes the OODA Loop as one of the three theories or models that explain why wargames writ large work. Caffrey writes:

In time, Boyd realized the F-86’s more-experienced pilots, bubble canopy, and hydraulically boosted controls allowed its pilots to observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA) faster than their adversaries. That, not top speed, made all the difference. In time he realized that staying a move ahead of your adversaries was at least as important at the operational and strategic levels of war also. This lead to the gradual development of his “Discourse on Winning and Losing” (a presentation available on-line). This final theoretical work goes as much beyond his ‘OODA Loop” as Einstein’s general theory of relativity goes beyond E = mc2. 

A fundamental reason why wargames “work” is that the side that makes more-effective use of them (all other things being equal) complete OODA loops more quickly than an adversary that does not use wargaming effectively or at all.

….

The synthetic experience derived from all types of wargames can create virtual veterans far faster than actual combat creates real ones–and at a fraction of the cost in lives, time, and treasure. (On Wargaming, 285-286)

Not a perfect game but once you Observe, Orient, Decide, & Act….

In order to accomplish all the above LT60M can turn fiddly. Units will be stacked with markers for posture and time and maybe more. The map hexes are sized a bit small and the many colors can be confusing (each hex has a Terrain Type and may have Terrain Features). But if you work your way through the fiddling you find a ‘game’ that really makes you think. For some ‘casual’ wargamers the challenges of Time, Posture, Orders, and Command Chain may not be exciting enough and the rules too fiddly. But for a professional wargamer, using the OODA Loop to frame a game design creates insights into the modern battlefield like few other designs deliver.

Less Than 60 Miles is not a perfect game, but it does a very good job of creating a playable version of the 1980s battlefield framed though the lens of the John Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict. I would very much like to see this design pulled forward into today, particularly in a Baltic scenario. I hope the game finds an audience not only with professional gamers, but with ‘casual’ wargamers as well.


Annotated Bibliography

(Unless otherwise noted, annotations are shamelessly stolen from Matt Caffrey in his book On Wargaming)

Brown, Ian T. A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare. Quantico, VA: Marine Corps University Press, 2018. (Download for free online)

Caffrey Jr, Matthew B. On Wargaming: How Wargames Have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future (Newport Paper; no. 43). Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 2019. (Download for free online)

Dunnigan, James. Wargames Handbook, Third Edition: How to Play and Design Commercial and Professional Wargames. Bloomington, IN: Writer’s Club Press, 2000. (Easy to read, all-around guide to wargame history, design, and application.)

Sabin, Phillip. Simulating War: Studying Conflict through Simulation Games. London: Continuum, 2012; repr London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. (Though the book’s focus is designing and developing wargames as a way to understand a given conflict deeply, it is also the best contemporary book on wargame design.)

Shlapak, David A.; Michael W. Johnson. Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016. (Download for free online)

Wong, Yuna Huh; Sebastian Joon Bae, Elizabeth M. Bartels, Benjamin Smith. Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019. (Download for free online)

 

#MilitaryMonday – Visiting the “Tank Farm” (National Museum of Americans in Wartime, www.nmaw.org)

THIS PAST WEEKEND we went to the Tank Farm.

Didn’t even know it was nearby. A collegue pointed out an ad in the base newspaper that advertised the event. The RockyMountainNavy Boys were most interested, so we traveled down for a look.

OMG!

The Open House was sponsored by the National Museum of Americans in Wartime. It looks like this place used to be (still is?) the Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles. Whatever their name, the collection is most impressive.

Here are a few highlights:

All in all a most impressive collection. Even got to see a few tanks run around the track.

We are going to have to keep an eye on this place and see what events they have in the future.

History to #Wargame – Upton’s U.S. Infantry Tactics Apparatus

This past week I was fortunate to attend the CONNECTIONS USA 2019 professional wargaming conference. This year’s event was hosted by the Army War College at the Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, PA. In a very nice gesture, AHEC offered a “behind the scenes tour” of their facility over one of the lunch hours. In an effort to appeal to us wargamers, they looked through their collection for wargame-related materials.

One item in the AHEC collection is an Apparatus for Demonstrating Upton’s U.S. Infantry Tactics. Emory Upton was one of the most influential military thinkers to emerge from the American Civil War. During the war in addition to leading units from all three branches (infantry, artillery, and calvary) he also innovated new tactics:

However, Upton’s most significant contribution did not come until Grant’s Overland Campaign in May of 1864. Facing the firmly entrenched Army of Northern Virginia, Upton petitioned his superiors to lead a brigade against the enemy’s fortifications.  The young colonel believed that swiftly advancing in a narrow, compact formation without halting to fire would greatly enhance the assault’s probability of success.  Though this approach was contrary to the tactics then in use, his superiors trusted his judgment.  On May 10, 1864, Upton led a small force against the “Mule Shoe” salient (now the “Bloody Angle”) at Spotsylvania Court House.  Though Upton’s charge lacked sufficient support to be decisive, the initial success of his new tactic inspired Ulysses S. Grant to implement it in an assault two days later—this time with General Winfield S. Hancock‘s entire corps.  Similar tactics would later be used against trenches in the First World War.  This bravery and ingenuity earned Upton a much-anticipated promotion to brigadier general. 

Emory Upton, American Battlefield Trust

In 1867 Upton’s tactics were officially adopted by the U.S. Army and printed in a book titled “A New System of Infantry Tactics.” From 1870 to 1875 he also taught infantry, cavalry, and artillery tactics at West Point and served as Commandant of Cadets. 

The wargaming connection is explained in this army.mil article:

In 1878, New York State National Guard Col. William H. Brownell patented an “Upton Tactics Set” to help with instruction. These miniature wooden blocks, some replete with small painted metal flags, simulated units and individual soldiers. They could readily be positioned on tables and in sandboxes to demonstrate the principles of Upton’s tactics. Very few actual Upton-Brownell Tactical Sets are known to exist today. One of them, however, is held by the Army Heritage and Education Center at Carlisle Barracks. After considerable conservation work by the AHEC professional staff and a graduate student volunteer, pieces of that set are now on display in the office reception area of the Commandant of the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks. Although they are a far cry from the computer simulations that our troops use to understand the tactics of battle today, they symbolize the Army’s ongoing efforts to learn from experience and to share those lessons throughout our Total Force. 

“Emory Upton Changes U.S. Army Tactics”
The rules for an Apparatus for Demonstrating Upton’s U.S. Infantry Tactics

I was fortunate enough to view the Upton-Brownell Tactical Set. Although no longer on display to this wargamer it was no-less inspiring. The AHEC staff admits they don’t know for sure what a fully operational set looks like.

The Upton-Brownell Tactical Set. Unassembled. AHEC is not sure HOW to assemble it. Maybe just give it to some wargamers?

I really want to thank AHEC for the wonderful opportunity to view the Tactical Set. When wargamers think of 19th Century wargames they tend to focus on Kriegspiel at the expense of everything else. It was good to see that wargames in the 1800’s was more than just that.


Feature image – End Results: the conserved tactics set pieces are shown here on display, in Root Hall, at the Army War College. (Conservation Department, USAHEC). (Photo Credit: AHEC, 2010)