This article will be published in Smart Soldier no. 71.
Tabletop wargaming is a strategy game in which players command opposing armed forces on a three-dimensional battlespace in a realistic simulation. There are many different types of games, which will utilise a range of game mechanics; as a result, participants need to develop different approaches to each system. Players can be immersed in all three levels of command; strategic, operational or tactical though they all normally overlap in the challenge of defeating an enemy who is trying to defeat you.
Participants are immersed in an environment that contains a wide range of variables with elements of chance, creating an experience of chaos. Wargaming provides an opportunity to test tactics and strategies in a safe-to-fail environment, which will aid in understanding and improving decision making.
The Australian Defence Force Wargaming Association (ADFWGA) hosted OPERATION WATCH ON THE RHINE, a two-day tournament as part of HEROCON 22 at Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC) over the weekend of 13-14 August 2022.
Defence personnel who participated in this event, from PTE to LTCOL, provided feedback on their experiences.
100 per cent of respondents said that the conduct of this training activity improved their tactics.
HEROCON 22 provided an enjoyable and social environment to compete with new and veteran players and expanded their awareness of potential opponent’s tactics and strategies as well as combined arms tactics. It gave members a broader understanding of what they would have to consider in making a tactical decision within their chosen game system.
Being successful requires an assessment of the opposition’s capabilities against their own capabilities (centre of gravity analysis) and how they interact with each other and the table’s terrain and obstacles (a mental modified combined obstacle overlay). This experience improves an ability to quickly assess situations, react to the enemy’s actions and adjust plans accordingly. Essentially, anyone playing tabletop wargames is conducting their own military appreciation of the game in order to win.
Tactical thinking is not something commonly trained for at the OR level and this provides a great chance to do so.
How to improve the tactical knowledge of your personnel
Bring wargaming into the mainstream for the military; it was suggested that we should support game systems that focus on the analytical, competitive and enjoyable spirit for our service personnel.
Encourage participation in a wide variety of wargames; this will allow members to better understand basic warfighting principles and to be able to adapt and improve their decision-making process when considering options weighted against time and resources. This allows for more rapid, but still processed decision making to be acted on in real time during the battlespace. The games should be facilitated so that there are opportunities for feedback and understanding lessons learned.
In addition to the endorsed gaming systems, smaller ‘fun’ based systems should be considered in the mix to prevent stagnation and also allow for other perspectives.
100 per cent of respondents said the competition helped to improve decision making.
Wargaming provides an opportunity to practice your decision-making process; they get to experience the consequences of their decisions. Participants consider the economy of their decisions: how could they best achieve their objectives with as little effort as possible? They consider the options available and make decisions using information available quickly but not hastily. Doing so builds confidence in their decision making.
Each individual opponent has a different way of solving a problem. By using wargaming, participants are essentially countering a problem whilst solving others in real time. The challenge continues when they need to adjust for another problem that has arisen from solving the problem their original solution has caused. This discourse in a controlled and defined ruleset forces a decision to be made, and the results to be carried out in real time. It has the added benefit of someone actively trying to undo their solution so members need to think of short-term and long-term effects before making a rapid decision.
Going to regular wargames events/activities provides exposure to a wide variety of gamers, with varied skill levels, who can challenge in new ways rather than the same group of people that participants regularly fight against. This exposure enables an understanding of a situation from different perspectives, develops cognitive reflexes, and leads to an opportunity to try different tactics.
Whenever you play a tabletop wargame, you are confronted with a wide array of variables that require unique assessments. These assessments build mind models that can be applied to other scenarios and get people into the mindset of analysing tactical problems.
92 per cent of respondents will seek to improve aspects of their knowledge based on their experiences from this competition.
Respondents will be trying new game systems to further grow their knowledge base to both compete and teach. This includes an improved understanding of the capabilities and rules for other armies (just like learning enemy force ORBATs and capabilities).
Others will deepen their understanding of the rules and tactics/strategies to employ in order to compete better at the next tournament. One member said they consider what their opponent is planning in order to look for opportunities to interrupt their thinking process, take the initiative and force them onto the defensive until objectives are achieved.
Two members said they will further broaden their knowledge of military history to expand knowledge of possible actions to be taken.
Wargaming connection to work
69 per cent of respondents said that this competition has enough connectivity to their work for them to benefit from the experience.
The ADFWGA has set about creating an all ranks environment that encourages tactical thinking at all rank levels. This exposes all ranks to how/why decisions are made in a controlled manner and also the process behind those decisions. By using a mix of both professional and hobby gaming systems, opportunities for networking and cooperation in both the wargaming and work environments that normally would not have been considered occur. There is no monopoly on good ideas.
Direct correlation of wargaming to the workplace will vary for each person, and depend on the position they are currently filling. For example, an Intelligence Analyst said any opportunity to look at/assess any type of tactical situation is valuable. Seeing the results of analysis for better or worse on the tabletop closes the loop on the effectiveness of assessments and whether the plan was successful. Another member whose current position would not benefit from wargaming said it was likely they will be in a position to gain benefit in a future position.
A lot of the game systems can relate to training outcomes in skill development. It provides rare opportunities to simulate a problem set and test thoughts on tactical warfare knowledge.
Incorporate gaming into Army’s training and education
Competitions. Making gaming an official sport would increase not only awareness of gaming, but provide the ability for units to form teams and train together on a regular basis. There could be a yearly brigade-wide carnival, similar to rugby, AFL or soccer. This could be linked in with Army training and education with feedback from adversaries and possibly adjudicators, in the conduct of quick AARs, with potential mistakes or alternative actions being discussed. This would further the ability of members to analyse their own decision making and appreciation processes to move forward and make better decisions.
Link to field exercises. Wargaming is like an interactive mud model. The ability to play out scenarios without having to send dozens of people into the field for weeks is obviously preferable, and cheaper. Gaming can also be used to provide a quick and effective demonstration of skills in a controlled fashion to enhance already developed lessons, such as teaching basic tactics/strategy/MAP, and usage in COA analysis activities. The culminating exercises will likely have to be done in the field but the lead up can be simulated.
Different way to learn. Providing opportunities to conduct this style of training and education to soldiers is a great way for cross loading tactics to various learning styles. As a kinesthetic learner myself, I find this style of learning to be far more effective then reading any pamphlet or other document. Being able to transition these skills from tabletop to ground enables me to function better in the battlespace.
It is clear from the results of this survey that there are many gains to be had from exposing soldiers to wargaming.
Wargaming offers unique opportunities to process information in a way that leads to a better understanding of the battlespace, and an appreciation of your own, the enemy’s, and the terrain’s strengths and weaknesses. This, in and of itself, leads to making sound tactical decisions in a timely fashion.
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If you would like to learn more about wargaming in Army, and how you can get involved then contact your brigade wargaming representative, look for the Decisive Edge – Army Wargaming PME environment on ADELE or contact the ADFWGA.