Is Wargaming A Useful Tool to Train Officers?By Ray Janowicz November 17, 2020
“When you study military history get at the flesh and blood of it, not the skeleton” Wavell
There are multiple forms of gaming and wargaming. These include computer games, board games, miniature games, play-by-mail (PBM) and pencil and paper (role play) games. Are any of these able to provide useful training tools for the modern battlefield?
The modern wargame reputedly started in 1812 with Georg von Reisswitz and his father developing a timber and card model simulation of the battlefield played initially on a sand table, but later, on accurate maps representing real battlefields. Generally known as Kreigsspeil, it was reportedly used for training tactics at the Prussian War College established by King Frederick William III at Wilhelmstein. This college produced some of the keenest military minds of that era including Field Marshal Gerhard von Scharnhorst, Field Marshall August von Gneisenau and their favourite student, Major General Carl von Clausewitz.
A much longer recitation would be required to describe the possible value of each type pf wargame. For example Army Tactical Exercise Without Troops (TEWTs) are a form of pencil and paper role play. The subject of this discussion however, is the usefulness of miniature gaming.
The Prussian Kriegsspeil was a form of miniature game that was truer than earlier board games because it allowed for stylised movement and characteristics for each unit. Apparently, it also developed quickly to include attrition of units rather than wholesale destruction and removal of units such as in chess. Unit characterisation and attrition would be a pre-requisite for representation of the modern battlefield. For example tanks can suffer mobility kills (broken tracks) but still represent a formidable combat function and also vice-versa.
There are as many Miniature Games as there are periods in history. Historically the most notable are Donald Featherstone (an early author), Wargames Research Group (with a large range of land based rules), Fletcher-Pratt (Naval) and Ace of Aces (WW1 aerial). Other more modern renditions abound. Ignoring Fantasy and Science Fiction, which have a distinct visual appeal, what are the characteristics necessary for modern officers to practice their art?
The first and foremost characteristic would be the requirement for the gamer to mentally assess the situation, the terrain, one’s opponent and the time required to achieve victory. The game should promote planning and is generally not pre-set. The game’s structure would have to allow flexibility of deployment (within limits) and grouping of units into appropriate task groups.
Secondly, it would require sufficient detailed terrain for realistic depiction of concealment and manoeuvre, including obstacles and elevations. Air and naval gaming may be the exception due to the general sparse nature of their terrain environment.
Thirdly, miniature games require reasonable scaling. Although this is somewhat esoteric, the game should give the player a sense and visualisation of proximity and consideration of the effects of weapon ranges. Consequently, unless a large area is available (or very small forces are involved), a small scale is preferred to allow depiction of realistic manoeuvre. For land engagements a scale 1:100 or smaller is preferable.
Miniature Games are by virtue, representations of the real units involved in the game. Weapon and vehicle characteristics must be realistic, whether determined from tabulated data and/or determined by randomisation (dice rolls). Hence, the rules must depict near real life.
Lastly, unless playing a re-enactment, land based games should have the ability to create some form of fog of war. Whether this is achieved through third party adjudication, or strict order rules, no gamers should have one hundred percent certainty of his opponent’s forces and disposition.
If these characteristics are applied effectively in a wargame, then players (officers) can readily practice Military Appreciations, produce orders and assess their effects in a logical and efficient manner. Different scenarios can be re-run with adjustments. Alternate plans may be considered. Results of alternate plans can be qualitatively and quantitatively assessed and modified. Primarily, the gamers mind is to be exercised in the military art of decision making and self-assessment. The keynote requirement is to exercise officers’ minds in an appropriate decision making format.
Napoleon insisted that his Marshalls should be conversant with some forty texts on ancient and recent battles. This is not enough for operation on the modern battlefield; and changing equipment is too fluid. Even though the principles (of war) are relatively unchanged, application must change dynamically with advances in equipment. Unless we have a very large budget for operation of new equipment, then simulation may be the best way to teach and learn changes in application.