Thoughts on commercial wargames in RAND report “Will to Fight”

IMG_0056Will to Fight: Analyzing, Modeling, and Simulating the Will to Fight of Military Units. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

Will to Fight is a 2018 RAND Corporation study undertaken on behalf of the US Army G3/5/7 “to explain the will to fight at the unit level and develop a model designed to support assessment of partner forces and analysis of adversary forces” (iii). Within the report, the authors offer a model of Tactical-Operational Will to Fight. Of particular interest to me, as both a hobbyist and part-time professional wargamer, is the report’s use of commercial wargames. Reading these sorts of studies is always interesting because I get to see how others, often outsiders, view the wargaming hobby. In the case of Will to Fight, the view is definitely mixed with some good for the hobby…and some continued (negative?) stereotyping.

Here is how the authors describe war games (note the use of two words):

War games and simulations are approximations of combat intended to help people think about the nature of war, to help people understand complex military problems without actually fighting, to reduce uncertainty in decision making, and to forecast and analyze notional combat outcomes. War games are played between people, usually across a table, and usually across a flat two-dimensional map. Some war games use three-dimensional terrain and figures to represent soldiers and vehicles. (p. 113)

The study defines simulations as, “computer representations of combat” (p. 113). The footnote to this section makes mention of other types of games, specifically matrix games and card games.

On the positive side, the study makes the point that commercial tabletop games and computer simulations are “generally more effective at representing will to fight, but focus varies” (p. 126). This conclusion is based in great part on a nonrandom sample of 62 commercial products and military games and simulations drawn from a pool of 75 products (p. 126). The study broke this sample into four categories (p. 127-130)

  1. Commercial tabletop games using hexagon maps or model terrain, counters, or figures
  2. Commercial simulation, or computer games from platoon level to the battalion level
  3. US military tabletop games typically using hexagon maps and counters
  4. US military simulation from the squad level to the corps level

As much as I want to commend the authors for taking the time to actually learn about commercial wargames, I also feel they missed an opportunity to experience many great wargames that are out there. By narrowly defining commercial wargames as only “hex map” (hex & counter) or “tabletop” (miniatures) they actually exclude many great games that could help their research. Further, the study group actually reveals a bias against many of these games with comments like this footnote talking about Advanced Squad Leader:

Some commercial game players would argue that rules are always fixed. For example, many hard-core players of the game Advanced Squad Leader would never consider bending a rule to speed game play or to account for an unusual situation. Official military tabletop gaming tends to allow for greater flexibility to account for the messy realities of combat to ensure the purpose of the games not lost at the expense of hidebound conformity (footnote 4, p. 113)

There are other little examples, like the seemingly off-hand comments such as, “Complex commercial tabletop war games like Lock ‘n Load Tactical Modern Core Rules 4.1” (p. 130) that show a belief that commercial tabletop wargames are by nature complex. As an long time grognard, I understand I have a different definition of complexity but have to wonder just how much of the study typing is based on “wall-o-text” reading versus actually playing a game.

Looking a bit closer at the commercial tabletop war games chosen for study shows a mix of old and new games and a variety of designers and publishers. Taking games typed as “Hex map” only from Table 3.5 War Games and Simulations Assessed and Coded (p. 128-129) we find:

This is the point where I am supposed to say that there are better, more representative games out there that could be used for this study. I personally missed my favorite Conflict of Heroes series or Panzer / MBT. I am sure there are many games that could of been used. I can only wonder if this “nonrandom sample” is actually someones game collection (and if it is, it’s a great collection…just not mine!).

All that said, the study reports that commercial games are better than military games at depicting will to fight. The authors define this advantage using a near-formula expression:

  1. Will to fight (not) relevant to combat outcomes + will to fight (not) relevant to victory conditions + game or simulation type – US military simulation
  2. Culture affects will to fight (yes) + training affects will to fight (yes) + veterancy affects will to fight (yes) + cohesion affects will to fight (yes + game or simulation type – commercial (p. 130)

I found it disheartening to read the contention that “none of the military war games or simulations…gave priority to will to fight as the most or even one of the most important factors in war” (p. 133). Indeed, military war games and simulations are, in the words of National Defense analyst Michael Peck in 2003, “firepower-fetish attrition models that award victory to whoever has the biggest guns, rather than giving equal weight to soft factors such as morale, fatigue, and cohesion” (p. 133).

So it looks like military war games need to take their cue from the commercial sector. The strongest accolades are given to a tabletop (miniatures) game, GHQ’s WWII Micro Squad rules:

…GHQ’s WWII Micro Squad, place will to fight at the center of the game. GHQ created a cohesion system that rolls together leadership, morale, and other aspects of will to fight. This meta-cohesion system applies at each tactical fight, and it clearly influences the outcome of the game. WWII Micro Squad and a handful of other tabletop games represent the kind of aggressive adoption of will-to-fight modeling that might help make military simulation more realistic (p. 130)

Wargame designers may benefit from the Will-to-Fight Model (p. xx) presented in this study. It certainly provides a different way of looking at those factors that affect a soldier on the battlefield.

My own reaction to the study is mixed; I like the model but shake my head ruefully at the games selected for study. If nothing else, maybe Will to Fight will give another generation of wargame designers and publishers a chance to assist the military and create a better war fighting force. I can only wonder what designers and publishers like Mark Herman or Uwe Eickert or Volko Ruhnke, or even small start-up companies like Covert Intervention Games think as all in the past or presently support government or military gaming.

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Random Gaming Thoughts (Good & Bad) on the First Weekend in May 2018

Sort of a hodgepodge post today. More a collection of random gaming (and beyond) thoughts than anything in particular.

Travel Gaming – Took along several solo games to play while on the road this week. Only got to play one – Merrill’s Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944 (Decision Games, 2016).

RPG Gaming – Gypsy Knight Games had their May the Fourth Sale going on so I picked up the new Manhunters: Bounty Hunters in the Clement Sector (2018). This has a very Classic Traveller RPG and Firefly-like vibe to it. I also picked up Uranium Fever: Asteroid Mining Rules for the Cepheus Engine (Stellagama Publishing, 2018). I really need to get back into RPGs. I am still awaiting my now-delayed Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Roleplaying Game by Cam Banks from Kickstarter. As much as I like Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG I probably should pick up the “generic” Genesys RPG.

Speaking of Star Wars – I hear that FFG is going to be publishing X-Wing Second Edition. This one will be app-enabled.

I think I’ll wait for Ares Games and their Battlestar Galactica version instead.

Speaking of Kickstarter – In April I backed No Motherland Without, a 2-player card game about North Korea since 1953. It really looked interesting. I had really high hopes. It was cancelled – for all the right reasons I am sure. I hope they come back and try again, maybe with a stronger publicity campaign. Personally I watched The Players Aid review and was sold:

Veterans in The Expanse (very mild spoilers for S3E4) – I like The Expanse TV series but one line got me going last week. Alex states he has done his time and is an honorably discharged veteran. His implication is that he is special. As an honorably discharged veteran myself I resent this attitude. Unfortunately, I see it everyday – too many veterans who believe that since they served they have a special privilege above “mere” civilians. They grouse when a place does not offer a veterans discount or the like. Being a veteran does not make you a special citizen. This is not the world of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (the book, not the horrible movie) where only veterans are citizens. Veterans get many privileges; be humble not an entitlement baby!

Visions of VERA (C-GVRA Lancaster Heavy Bomber) from Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (@CWHM)

fullsizeoutput_5b5Flying over the house today was C-GVRA “Vera,” a Lancaster Heavy Bomber belonging to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. The plane is in town for the Great British Fly-In celebrating the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Royal Air Force at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center on Sunday, April 15.

The weather forecast for Sunday is not good so the organizers decided to fly the airplanes in Saturday. I was thinking about going with the RockyMountainNavy Boys to the events but may not; fighting crowds inside will be bad enough and with thunderstorms forecast going out to the flightline to see the airplanes up close may not be an option. In some ways we don’t have to go because we saw Vera today the way she’s supposed to be seen, in flight. Oh yeah, we got to hear Vera too. I have never before heard the sound of four Merlin engines purring along, and it will be a long time before that sound will be forgotten.

The RMN Boys were outside and lucky enough to see and hear Vera as she flew almost directly overhead. Some neighbor boys were stunned; both by the airplane and by the casual way the Youngest RMN Boy explained what it was. In some ways that was the best part – both RMN Boys were absolutely excited to see this piece of flying history. They understand what Vera is and what she represents; the heroic actions of so many in World War II.

It is one thing to see a plane on the ground but so much more to see it in flight. Thanks to the CWHM we enjoyed a great show from Vera today.

#4thofJulyWeekend at the National Museum of the Marine Corps

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Invasion of Tarawa – with Air Support

Little RMN was agitating this morning that we really should go to a nice museum at least once this holiday weekend. So we jumped in the RMN-mobile and made our way to Quantico, VA and the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

This is a beautiful museum that covers the history of the Marines from 1776-1975. What, you say? Why stop there? The docent told us that they are working on a new wing that will bring us up to the 21st Century (scheduled to open in 2018). But what they have is more than enough and quite spectacular!

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M26 Pershing in the Korean War

The museum is beautiful. In addition to the many artifacts and historical items, it has many displays that vividly capture moments in history. These displays bring history alive by not only using static displays but visuals accented by lighting, sound, vibrating floors, blowing winds, and even deep cold. Walking through the Chosin Reservoir  display the room is deeply chilled with a breeze blowing. Not nearly as bad as it was for the real Devil Dogs that were there, but a small glimpse – and feel – of what it was like.

The museum also does a good job of remembering that the Marines were not all just glory in combat. There is a very nice tribute to John Philip Sousa and his music. Indeed, it is hard to imagine to 4th of July parade (or any celebration) without his great music.

IMG_1719The museum also manages to work in unusual bits of history that leaves one shaking their head. Like the story of Sergeant Reckless. Sergeant Reckless was horse that served alongside Marines in the Korean War as a pack animal. It is a wonderful story and it is awesome to see this fine animal proudly placed on the walls of the museum not far from where the Medal of Honor winners are shown.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps does an excellent job in showcasing the history of the Marine Corps and their contributions to freedom  of the United States of America. Surprisingly, admission to this great museum is free. The immeasurably valuable part is all the history shown inside.

#ThreatTuesday – The 80’s Are Calling and They Want Their Super Etendards Back!

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Courtesy BGG.com

I have written elsewhere that I am a child of the Cold War and had my wargame coming-of-age in the 1980’s. One of the games I got during that time was Harpoon II. H2 is a miniatures game of modern tactical naval combat. The game system would eventually inform an author by the name of Tom Clancy who famously used the game to play out a key battle of his book Red Storm Rising. That game series is explained in Dance of the Vampires available at Wargame Vault. But Red Storm Rising was still five years away. I was interested in Harpoon because of another war, one that had just happened – The Falklands War.

 

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Courtesy dailymail.co.uk

One of the most dramatic events of that war was the attack on HMS Sheffield on May 4, 1982. Using an Exocet anti-ship missile launched from a Super Étendard fighter, the Argentinians sank the Type 42 destroyer. Many times I replayed this scenario as well as the larger naval confrontation. To this day the Falklands War remains my favorite modern naval battles scenario generator.

 

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Courtesy BGG.com

So it was with much interest that I read Argentina intends to buy six Super Étendard fighters. Sorta proves that everything that is old is new again. It also makes we want to bring out Harpoon 4 and see how the Royal Navy’s Type 45 Daring-class destroyer would fare against this new-old threat.

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Courtesy dailymail.co.uk

 

 

#TechTuesday – Boxer ATV for #TravellerRPG or #CepheusEngine

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Courtesy @biomassart

One of the first vehicles in the Classic Traveller RPG is the ATV, or All Terrain Vehicle. As the TravellerRPG Wiki relates:

 

 

All Terrain Vehicle (ATV): Also known as the ATV, the All Terrain Vehicle is a wheeled or tracked vehicle designed to provide high-quality transportation on the terrestrial surfaces of any number of worlds. It can traverse all but the most forbidding (difficult) terrain and is fully amphibious (capable of water operations).

ATV’s commonly have the following features:

  • The ATV masses 10 tons, and can carry a payload of six tons, including the driver and seven passengers.
  • Cruising speed depends on the terrain being traveled: roads can allow up to 100 kph, while cross-country will rarely exceed 60 kph, and broken ground will keep speeds to 20 kph and under. Tracked ATVs are somewhat slower that wheeled versions, but are more reliable in difficult terrain.
  • An ATV may be powered by a battery charged from a ship’s power plant, or it may contain a small fusion pack requiring water or hydrogen for fuel.
  • The vehicle’s pressurized interior allows up to eight passengers living quarters with reasonable comfort for long periods of time.
  • The major drawbacks of ATVs are refuelling requirements (depending on the specific model), slowness in some types of terrain, and the bulk of the vehicle itself
  • While amphibious, most ATV’s have very poor water performance. Unless intended for short trips, a dedicated watercraft is recommended. And in rough seas or under inclement weather conditions, on large bodies of water, an ATV can be a very dangerous vehicle to be in. Some more advanced ATV’s have better water performance, but most have extremely poor water performance.

Already today we have this:

Looks like the ATV is already here! Now to work up stats using the Cepheus Engine Vehicle Design System.

#ThreatTuesday – Planning the PLA Navy

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Courtesy BGG

Being a Navy guy, I have long played naval wargames. For modern tactical naval combat nothing beats Harpoon in my book. I started way back with Harpoon II in 1983. The current version is Harpoon 4 first published by Clash of Arms in 1997 and now by Admiralty Trilogy Games.

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Courtesy BGG

I am also a fan of the Asia-Pacific theater, having spent way too many years in the Western Pacific. The Harpoon system does have a “sourcebook” for the Pacific Rim in the expansion Sea of Dragons, but it was published way back in 1997!

With the news that China is set to launch it’s first indigenously built carrier any day now, I got to thinking about how one would update at least the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) order of battle information in Sea of Dragons. Fortunately for wargamers, there are several excellent publicly available sources to help!

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Courtesy ONI

The first is from the Office of Naval Intelligence. In 2015, ONI published The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century. In addition to the publication itself, ONI also has provided useful graphics and videos and maps on their website. This should be every wargamer’s first stop when looking at the modern PLA Navy.

But today is 2017, and the Chinese have not been resting on their laurels since ONI printed their book. In another stroke of luck, gamers can look to Ronald O’Rourke of the Congressional Research Service. China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress is updated several times a year and is one of the best running estimates of the threat. It is a very useful publication for bringing the ONI 2015 report forward to today.

I would also point the wargamer to Andrew Erickson’s excellent website. Dr. Erickson is on the faculty of the Naval War College, China Maritime Studies Institute. He specializes in using Chinese-language sources to study the PLA Navy and is a prolific speaker and author on the topic.

Between these three sources one should be able to update Sea of Dragons and get a better sense of what the PLA Navy would look like in a tactical naval game like Harpoon 4. One probably also will need to purchase back issues of The Naval SITREP magazine from the Admiralty Trilogy Group on a site such as Wargame Vault to get many ship characteristics.