Ultimately, wargaming in all forms, digital or analogue, professional or hobby, contributes to the ability of our people to tackle a broader range of more complex problems; it will contribute to our Army’s ability to be Future Ready.[1]

In 2020, I wrote an article for The Cove – Reinvigorating Wargaming – which highlighted how commercially available wargames had been employed in the United States and United Kingdom to support their reinvigoration of wargaming. Both countries recognised that wargaming had the potential to enhance the critical thinking and decision-making skills of their personnel; it enables their personnel to think, fight and win in war. The recent release of the Commander Forces Command Directive, Army Wargaming: 2021 – 2025 acknowledges that wargaming has the potential to enhance our cognitive capacity by providing opportunities to exercise decision-making in safe-to-fail adversarial environments. Critically though, the directive noted that while wargaming has been revitalised in the United States and United Kingdom within the Australian Army more investment is required. The Director General Training and Doctrine has just released the Australian Army’s first Professional Gaming List; it represents the first of the Army Wargaming: 2021 – 2025 initiatives.

This article aims to explore the value of the Professional Gaming List and outline how these games can be incorporated into a unit Professional Military Education program. For a variety of reasons, the idea of playing games as part of a unit training program will seem foreign and perhaps even wrong to many. To understand the potential value of this approach it is necessary to define wargaming and in particular dispel the notion that Course of Action – Analysis is wargaming. Incorporating one of these games into a unit training activity is a deliberate decision that requires some preparation; this article will conclude with a suggested format for these training activities.

Wargaming options

Humans have been playing games about war for thousands of years, from the ancient Chinese game of Wei Hai to early versions of modern chess, but these games were primarily for entertainment. Over time, the complexity of the games increased but even games such as War Chess failed to accurately represent military conflict. The development of Kriegsspiel, in Prussia, would represent the first time that a wargame had a direct military application. It is often quoted that when Kriegsspiel was presented to the Chief of the Prussian General Staff, General von Muffling, he proclaimed:

"This is not a game at all! This is training for war! I must recommend it to the whole Army."[2]

The Prussians used Kriegsspiel to rehearse and refine their plans for military campaigns during the 1860s and 1870s. Their quick and decisive victories against the Danish, Austrians, and French caught the attention of many European nations; playing Kriegsspiel had enhanced the ability of Prussian officers to think and act independently. As a result, Kriegsspiel spread rapidly throughout Europe and to the United States. Its role influencing both world wars and beyond is well documented; Matthew Caffrey[3] and Peter Perla[4], among others, provide a detailed history of the development wargaming throughout the 20th Century.

A modern adaption of Kreigsspiel

A modern adaption of Kreigsspiel

What is Wargaming

There are numerous examples of where commercial wargames are used to support training and education; the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence’s Wargaming Handbook provides details on how they have incorporated a variety of wargaming tools into their military courses. Importantly, these games are not just played at the lower ranks, they are being included as part of the curriculum at staff colleges and war colleges. Australian officers have been exposed to this through various exchange programs and last year commercial games were introduced into the Australian Command and Staff College. This leads to the question, why is wargaming considered a ‘nerdy’ fringe activity with only loose mainstream links to foundation warfighting. The answer is reflective of Army’s collective understanding of what wargaming is; the observation by Major General Krause, AM (Retd) during the Forces Command Wargaming Conference highlights this point:

When you speak to some in this audience and you mention wargaming they will go straight to Course of Action – Analysis in the Military Appreciation Process; [Course of Action – Analysis] is actually an extremely poor example of doing a wargame.[6]

'Up the Guts' at the 2019 Army Tactics Competition

'Up the Guts' at the 2019 Army Tactics Competition

Despite its long history of influencing human conflict there is no commonly accepted definition of wargaming. Part of the cultural challenge that Army faces with wargaming is derived from how it has been taught to a generation of soldiers and officers; wargaming is broadly understood as the fourth step of the military appreciation process.[7] This view is reflected in the current authorised definition of wargaming in the Australian Defence Glossary; wargaming is:

A step-by-step process of action, reaction, and counteraction for visualising the execution of each friendly course of action in relation to enemy course of action and reactions [8]

In my previous article, I explored some of the alternate definitions of wargaming used in the United States and United Kingdom, these provide an interesting contrast to the definition in our glossary. The definition above has several key omissions, most notably the importance of decision-making and creating an environment where it is safe-to-fail. As noted in the United Kingdom’s Wargaming Handbook, wargames should be dynamic events in an adversarial environment driven by the decisions of the participants. Interestingly, a review of Australian Army doctrine, namely, Training Information Bulletin 52, Training Simulation Techniques released in 1980, provides a definition that more closely aligns to these views.

A war game is a simulation technique depicting operations involving two or more opposing forces, conducted using rules, data, and procedures designed to represent an actual or assumed military situation [9]

With this definition in mind it is easier to understand how commercially available games such as those on the Professional Gaming List can be used to support training and education; after all, these games provide rules, data and procedures to replicate military situations depicting two or more opposing forces. Of course the challenges associated with broadening the understanding of what wargaming is and normalising the use of games in training and education remains.

A Professional Gaming List

The concept of releasing a professional gaming list is not new; in 1994, Lieutenant Colonel David A. Bartlett and Major Robert E. Curtis wrote an article for the United States Marine Corps Journal, asking the question ‘Why not a Commandant’s Wargame and Simulation List?’ (July 1994 p. 28-30). The reinvigoration of wargaming overseas, in particular within the United States Marine Corps following the release of the Commandant’s Planning Guidance, has brought this idea to the fore again. Akin to a commander’s reading list, the Professional Gaming List details commercial and professional wargames that can be used to support individual and collective PME activities. This section aims to provide an example of how commercial games could be incorporated into a unit training program or as part of a formal course.

DG TRADOC'S PROFESSIONAL GAMING LIST – 2022

Basic level games. These games will introduce players to a range of common game mechanics and abstraction; while they feature a lower level of complexity they still provide a challenge for players.

  1. Battle for Moscow (Victory Point Games, available as print and play at: https://grognard.com/bfm/game.html#components)
  2. Memoir 44 (Days of Wonder, available via Vassal: https://vasalengine.org)
  3. Take That Hill (UK Fight Club, available as print and play at: https://www.ukfightclub.co.uk/take-that-hill)

Intermediate level games. These games incorporate more complex mechanics and provide opportunities for players to explore different approaches to achieving victory. The games will take several hours to complete; although this can be longer with less experienced players.

  1. Twilight Struggle (GMT, available via Vassal)
  2. Strike of the Eagle (Academy Games, available via Vassal)
  3. Race to the Rhine or Race to Moscow (Phalanx Games, available via Tabletopia, https://tabletopia.com)
  4. Napoleon 1806 (Shakos Games, available via Vassal).

Advanced level games. The two games in this category, the Rapid Campaign Analysis Toolset (United Kingdom, Ministry of Defence) and Assassin’s Mace (United States Marine Corps) have been developed specifically to support PME. An experienced umpire/adjudicator is required to facilitate the game; additionally these games require significant preparation time (scenario, maps, etc.) and rehearsals/examples of gameplay are necessary. Depending on the complexity of the scenario these games can take eight hours or more to complete. The rules for these games are available on request from SO1 Land Simulation and Wargaming, Army Knowledge Centre.

Army Professional Gaming List 2022

The 2022 version of the Professional Gaming List, above, identifies nine professional and commercial games that can be used to support training and education. These games have been split into three groups based on; the complexity of the game, the time it takes to prepare and execute an activity utilising the game and the resources required to support the activity. The introductory and intermediate games can be used to support a half day Professional Military Education activity whereas the advanced games will more likely take a full day to complete, involve significant preparation and require a SME to facilitate and adjudicate. All the games on the 2022 list have been used in various overseas staff and war colleges or as part of the United States Army Introduction to Wargaming Course. Below are my recommendations from the Professional Gaming List for units that are interested in conducting a wargaming activity.

Introductory Games:

Battle for Moscow. Set in late 1941, the Battle for Moscow re-enacts Operation Typhoon, the German offensive to capture Moscow and defeat the Soviet Union. Players act as the operational headquarters controlling either German Panzer and Infantry Corps or Soviet Infantry Armies over the period 2 Oct 41 to mid-Dec 41. The game provides a good introduction into the standard mechanics used in commercial wargames without requiring players to constantly review the rules; albeit there are only four pages of rules. The rules, map and counters are available as a free print and play game via https://grognard.com/bfm/game.html#components. This game has been used at United States Army Command and General Staff College and on the United States Army Introduction to Wargaming Course.

Battle for Moscow: The start of Operation Typhoon

Battle for Moscow: The start of Operation Typhoon

Memoir 44. Following the Allies advance across Western Europe, Memoir 44 allows players to command platoon and company sized organisations from the D-Day landings until the declaration of Victory in Europe. Unlike the turn-based system in Battle for Moscow, Memoir 44 uses an alternate activation system allowing players to react to their opponents moves or rapidly exploit opportunities. However, players will constantly find that they are constrained by the Command and Tactic cards; while the game is not overly complex players need an aggressive but flexible plan to prevail. Designed as a two-player game it is possible to join several boards together to create larger scenarios for up to eight players. Memoir 44 is available for free via Vassal.[10]

USMC personnel from the 3rd Marine Division playing Memoir 44

USMC personnel from the 3rd Marine Division playing Memoir 44

Intermediate Games:

Strike of the Eagle. Following the Communist Revolution in Russia and the conclusion of the First World War the Russians invaded Poland with the aim of spreading their revolution to Western Europe. The Polish Army advanced eastwards with the aim of restoring its pre-1772 borders; Strike of the Eagle models the key events of the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921). Unlike the previous two games Strike of the Eagle features a fog of war system where forces are only revealed to the opponent when they engage in battle (see the picture below). Players can bluff and deceive their opponents and the alternate activation system provides opportunities for players to disrupt their opponent’s plans and cut off supply lines. The game includes several scenarios that focus on either the northern or southern fronts, suitable for two players; and several larger games using both fronts, for four players, which forces friendly commanders to coordinate their orders and resources. Strike of the Eagle is available for free via Vassal.

Strike of the Eagle (Polish forces hidden by the fog of war function)

Strike of the Eagle (Polish forces hidden by the fog of war function)

Race to the Rhine. The Allies are advancing through France with the aim of crossing the Rhine River before Christmas and more importantly before the Germans can strengthen their defensive positions. In Race to the Rhine players take command of corps, representing the commands of General Patton, General Bradley, and Field Marshal Montgomery, as they advance across France. Unlike other games on the professional gaming list, logistics is key to winning the battles the players will encounter; each engagement will require players to expend ammunition, fuel, or both to be successful, not having enough of the right resources will stall the advance. The game captures the tension between the Allied commanders and the challenges of pushing supplies forward with limited transportation assets and infrastructure. Race to the Rhine is available for free via Tabletopia (solo version only).[11]

Games in Training and Education

Playing a commercial game (analogue simulation) in support of military training is arguably no different to utilising a digital simulation such as Virtual Battle Space 3 or Steel Beasts; they are both simulations in that they implement a model over time.[12] The key input to planning a successful training activity utilising a commercial game is the same as planning a digital simulation activity in the Battle Simulation Sites, namely; identifying the training objective/s. Clear articulation of the training objective/s will shape the decision regarding the most appropriate digital or analogue simulation to use. As an example, if the training objective was to explore combined arms approach to tactical problems, Memoir 44 might be an appropriate analogue simulation. This game allows players to control infantry, armour and artillery assets at the tactical level. Conversely, Battle for Moscow, while a relatively easy game to learn would not achieve this training objective; the units in this game are aggregated to Armies and Corps and the employment of infantry, armour and artillery consolidated into the combat resolution model of the game.

'Up the Guts' at the 2019 Army Tactics Competition

'Up the Guts' at the 2019 Army Tactics Competition

The following provides an exemplar of how a Professional Military Education activity could be structured using the Basic or Intermediate games from the Army Professional Gaming List:

Introduction (30-45 mins). This should provide the historical overview of the battle/campaign, a brief walkthrough of the game and identify the focus areas for the post-game reflection. The historical context should outline the challenges faced by the commanders of the day as this will help the participants understand what the game designer was trying to capture in the game. Ideally, the participants should be provided with the questions for the reflection so that they can compile their responses as they play the game.

Conduct of the game (90 mins). While the aim is not necessarily to complete the game, sufficient time needs to be allocated to ensure all participants can complete at least two or three turns. This will enable the participants to understand the mechanics of the game, implement their plan and observe their opponents’ reactions. Additionally, this will provide enough time for the participants to experience the challenges that have been incorporated into the design of the game.

Reflection (45-60 mins). Undertaken as a moderated discussion, the participants should explore the history of the battle/campaign and the associated challenges and dilemmas. This enables reflection on how the game designer captured these aspects in the game as well as enabling discussions on possible enhancements to the game itself. Participants should reflect on their plan and their decision making process as the game unfolded; they should be able to identify alternate approaches that they could employ in subsequent iterations.

The following is an example of the questions that could be used to facilitate a reflection activity:

  • Describe your plan for playing this game?
  • How successful was the implementation of your plan?
  • What were the weaknesses in your plan?
  • What challenges/dilemmas did you face?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • What challenges did the historical commanders face?
  • How did the game designer capture these challenges?
  • What could be modified or enhanced to improve the game?
  • What did you learn from playing this game?

Conclusion

For many readers the idea of playing a game as part of military training and education will be seen as a childish endeavour or an oversimplification of the complexities of warfare, and therefore, unworthy of the requisite time and resources.[13] However, playing games can complement traditional approaches to training and education; after all, ‘experience is a great teacher and well-designed games can deliver experiences that are tailored to drive home learning’.[14] This article has highlighted that wargaming is more than just Course of Action – Analysis; it is about participants making decisions and exploring what works and what doesn’t. As a result, commercial games can and should be used, in the same way as computer-based military simulations, to exercise decision-making in a safe-to-fail environment. Well-structured Professional Military Education activities, leveraging commercial games, will enhance our cognitive capacity by providing participants opportunities for self-reflection and learning.

Any individuals or units that are interested in utilising the Professional Gaming List as part of a unit Professional Military Education activity or would like to find out more information about the Army Wargaming initiatives can contact Land Simulation, Army Knowledge Centre, for further information.

So, shall we play a game?