Archive For The “Columns” Category

Battle Lab: Do We Really Need Another ____ Game?!

Battle Lab: Do We Really Need Another ____ Game?!

Brant Guillory, 2 July 2019

There’s an interesting thread / discussion over at BoardGameGeek about an oft-tread topic of “how many ____ games do we really need?”

This question is invariably muttered under the breath whenever a new Stalingrad, Gettysburg, D-Day, Waterloo, or Bulge game is released, we’re rapidly approaching those saturation points for Sicily, Jena/Auerstedt, Battle of Britain, Shiloh, Midway, Leipzig, strategic-level AWI games, and Kursk.

Great, another game about the same old battles, in the same old places, with the same old contestants, resulting in many of the same old results and lessons learned. The fact that no one even needs to reference a map or any further details when discussion the Peach Orchard, or Hougoumont, or Sainte-Mère-Église, or the Tractor Factory tells you how well we’ve over-gamed these topics.  Or have we? (more…)

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Battle Lab: Recon & Intel in Wargaming, Deep Dive on COA Development

Battle Lab: Recon & Intel in Wargaming, Deep Dive on COA Development

Brant Guillory, 14 May 2019

originally published at

Note that this is a companion piece to the original column on recon & intel in tabletop wargaming.

In the tactical world, we have several different tools we use to ensure that we get the right data at the right time.

One of the key methods involves the use of map graphics. We use transparent overlays on standard-size military maps (1:50k) and use graphics to indicate enemy actions: locations of units, routes for movement, places we expect them to attack or defend, etc.

For every operation we draw at least two sets of these graphics. The first is the most likely course of action (COA), based on our knowledge of how the enemy fights. That knowledge may come from doctrine, observed behavior, or (best of all) an inside source. The second course of action is usually what we call the “most dangerous” and is based on what we think the enemy would do if they had perfect knowledge of us and our plans.

For these examples, we’re using a hex-grid version of the central corridor at Fort Irwin, the US Army’s National Training Center.

Enemy COA 1


Enemy COA 2


as always, click to enlarge the images

Once we have two sets of graphics drawn out, we take the two overlays and lay them one on top of the other. This lets us visualize where the differences/similarities are between the courses of action. Where the COAs diverge are areas that we need to target with some form of observation, to try and identify which course of action the enemy is pursuing.

In a time-constrained environment, these graphics will often become the basis of our own plan, where the divergent points become the focus of recon efforts, and the similarities become target reference points or engagement areas, since we expect the enemy to appear there regardless of COA.

NAIs – Where to look for differences


Targeting/Engagement Areas – Where you expect to find the enemy


as always, click to enlarge the images

Once we’ve identified where we need to look, the next step is to identify when we need to look there, since some information is time-specific. When I say “look” I don’t just mean literally “a guy on a hillside with binoculars and a radio.” It can be a variety of sensors: ground surveillance radar, JSTARS, UAVs, counter-battery radars, or other sensors. We determine when we need to have what type of coverage based on (a) what we are looking for, and (b) how easy we can get the appropriate sensors in place. Sometimes the best we get is a satellite overflight from the NRO, but we have to take what we can get.

Those NAIs are important because they give us clues to the enemy’s expected course of action.  If we identify the airborne units in the mountain passes on the north side of the battlefield, then we would expect the enemy to commit to something similar to COA1.  If we find them closer to town, then we’re looking to confirm the enemy following COA2.

In the end, we have our list of Named Areas of Interest (NAIs) and what indicators we are looking for there. Then we assign at least 2 sets of sensors to each. Some may be duplicative; some may only be backup measures. The commander may also give us some guidance on his priorities, and require that we have three or even four sets of eyes on certain things, if they’re deemed critical. Based on what we find in each of the NAIs, the commander may trigger certain actions among our forces to react to the new info.

Depending on the amount of time available to (a) plan and (b) execute, we may develop more than two COAs, but we virtually always develop at least 2. We may also alter the amount of analysis we do during the mission of before the mission. NAIs are often based on analysis conducted before the mission, where we project certain indicators and the meaning of those indicators. If the indicators are triggered, then that adds to the overall picture we can confirm/deny.

This is pretty specialized, I know. But it’s also pretty important, and we practice/refine/rehearse this a lot.

Here’s some random annoying guy explaining all of this, using graphics that look awfully similar to what’s up above.


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Battle Lab: Command Post Exercises at Origins, The Interview

Battle Lab: Command Post Exercises at Origins, The Interview

Brant Guillory, 7 May 2019

Brant Guillory: The “Sterrett Games” at the Origins War College seem to keep growing in popularity.  Aside from the nomenclature, what can you tell us about the origins of these ‘exercises’?
Dr James Sterrett:  I struggled to figure out how to present a paper at the Origins War College that would explain how CGSC uses games for military education.  No approach worked well until I realized that the key was to stop talking about how the exercises worked – and instead to run an exercise.

BG: If I’m a new participant to this entire process, what should I expect when I walk in the door for one of these games?
JS:  You’ll get a job!  Well, at any rate, a job on a staff for the duration of the event.  Jobs include roles such as the commander, the operations officer, and the intel officer.  We’ll teach you the basics of that job, and then provide an overview of the US Army’s planning process.  Then you start to do your job: you and the others on your staff use the planning process to create a plan for the battle.  Once the plan is complete, or time runs short for planning, we transition to fighting the battle.  At the end, we run a short After Action Review, in which we try to point out things that were done well (or poorly), and to discuss some of the learning points that might have been brought out if this were run at CGSC.


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Conflicts Around the Table & GMT Gets To Publish Whatever They Want

Conflicts Around the Table & GMT Gets To Publish Whatever They Want

Brant Guillory, 9 April 2019


I mean, 25 years ago, this wouldn’t have made any ripples in the gaming world, so thanks, social media.  That said, maybe this was a ripple that needed to be made.

For those of you that missed the kerfuffle, GMT Games elected to remove their upcoming Scramble for Africa game from their p500 list.

Depending on who is screaming loudest in your ear at any given moment, this is alternately (deep breath) the end of GMT, a well-reasoned decision about a difficult topic, whitewashing history, covering up and buying time for a failed design, a travesty of SJWs run amok, the dangers of GMT coloring outside the wargaming lines, walking back from something that never should’ve made it to p500, Marxist censorship, and/or rebooting the game under a different ‘skin’. Of course, which of those reasons you choose to believe is, like many other things, significantly influence by where you stand on most political issues these days.

I don’t know much about the design, other than what I’ve seen reported.  I didn’t play an advance copy of it. I haven’t seen any advance materials on it. I missed the BGG forum meltdown over it, but there are others. But there’s been more than enough to dissect in the reaction to pulling the game, and I think there’s some discussion needed here.


First, let’s get this as out-of-the-way as we can:
GMT Games gets to publish whatever the hell the damn well please because it’s their company and they’ve been pretty successful over the past quarter-century making decisions for their business.

Everybody caught up so far?



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2018 – Looking Back and Looking Ahead, part 2

2018 – Looking Back and Looking Ahead, part 2

Brant Guillory, 1 January 2019

In a tradition carried on from past lives, we’ve reached out to some friends in the gaming world, and asked a pair of questions about the year in gaming.

What was your best game-playing memory, moment, or experience over the past year, and what made it so great?

Part 2 today, to close out 2018, and part 1 yesterday.


Peter Bogdasarian – Wargame designer

Best gaming moment was probably committing the Imperial Guard in Pub Battles: Waterloo and having them shatter the Allied left so I could roll up Wellington’s army.  Just found it very satisfying to see them strike such a decisive blow.

Best gaming experience was completing our campaign of Gloomhaven.  I thought Cephalofair delivered the most polished RPG experience I have ever received from a tabletop game.


Jim Owczarski – Dragoon!

I am almost offended you would ask:  the 1824 Kriegsspiel, as modified by Dr. James Sterrett, as played at the Wargame HQ at ORIGINS 2018.  Seeing that many people excited about my favorite activity, much less game, was very special.

Close runner-up was starting up the 1809 Vol de L’Aigle operational Kriegsspiel currently running on the Armchair Dragoons forum.


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2018 – Looking Back and Looking Ahead, part 1

2018 – Looking Back and Looking Ahead, part 1

Brant Guillory, 31 December 2018

In a tradition carried on from past lives, we’ve reached out to some friends in the gaming world, and asked a pair of questions about the year in gaming.  Part 1 today, to close out 2018, and part 2 tomorrow.

What do you think was the biggest news story in the hobby gaming world over the past year, and why?

Byron Salahor – Dragoon!

Since I am reluctant to quote a single, definitive article, my vote for the biggest news story in the gaming world continues to be the ever-increasing popularity of Dungeons & Dragons.  Over the last couple of years, this hallmark role-playing game has increasingly showed up in the oddest of places – like popular mainstream media.  TV personalities (hullo Stephen!) discuss the game on late-night talk shows; respectable newspapers feature articles on how this odd, niche fantasy game is (surprise!) bringing people together, creating community, or is being used in the classroom.  Local libraries are running D&D game nights; my local FLGS reports having sold “dozens” of starter kits in the run-up to Christmas, and an FLGS in a neighboring province stated on their social media feed that they just sold their 2000th copy of the 5th edition Player’s Handbook.  While D&D will probably never become as popular as Risk, or Catan, or Monopoly, it is – in this gamer’s opinion – very heartening to see how a game that encourages imagination, cooperation, and story-telling  has meaning and value in an age of electronic amusements.


Jeff Tidball – Game designer and GAMA board member

I think that it’s a bit unsung at the moment, and we’re only looking at the beginning of it, but I think that Tabletop Wire’s founding, and their ramp-up of legit daily journalism about the business side of the tabletop gaming hobby, has been really exciting this year. There’s simply no other place that’s doing that kind of work, and it’s been a real need for the business (in my opinion) for a long time.


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