Wargaming from Hobby to Career – Big Board Gaming Games News

Wargaming: From hobby to career

by David Garwin

From autumn 2006 to early spring of 2007, I was a student at the Canadian Army Command and Staff College (CACSC) in Kingston, Ontario. I was one of the many students on the Army Operations Course (AOC). The aim of the course is to take mid level captains and train them to become staff officers for unit and formation level headquarters. The course is done in three “tutorials”, the first is done when you dial in from home using the internet, phone, etc. to complete the initial training. The last two are done in Kingston and it is a fairly fast paced course. Tutorial 2 is unit level staff training and tutorial 3 is done at formation level, hence brigade and higher.


Picture 1 “Tell Marty to call Minerva”

We never really knew what the motto meant, so we just came up with our own meaning. but I digress. As we move into Tutorial 3, we learned a planning process known as a Plan and Course of Action (COA) wargame. These were the prescribed procedures by which a formation staff could develop a plan and then test it against enemy responses, so that we could adjust our plans and anticipate enemy moves based on possible responses to our actions. Can you The process is much as if you were able to reset your chess moves based on your opponent’s moves.

I was the first to run a COA wargame in my syndicate. My syndicate instructor nominated me for this because he knew I was a board warrior and thought I would understand the mechanics of the process. he was right. My assessment said words to the effect that I ran the initial COA wargame with impressive results; Generally, it took a few run-throughs for the syndicate to understand the process. It was a difficult process but I was able to lead the syndicate through what they gave us.

At the end of the course, my syndicate instructor noted that I was to be posted to an infantry battalion, but a sister battalion was to be stationed in Kandahar within the year. He asked if I’d prefer to go there instead, as he believed my planning skills would be an asset to that battalion. I initially put off; However, I changed my mind and sure enough, I received an updated posting message within weeks: I was out by 3 a.m.third Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment.

I trained and deployed with the battalion in Kandahar where we conducted combat operations from September 2008 to April 2009. I issued over 100 operation orders and I trained planning staff in the Operational Planning Process (OPP), which I learned from. My AOC. The planning team was fast and we were able to develop and issue orders in a tight time. I think my skills were remarkable, as I got the Chief of Defense Staff Commendation for my performance after the tour.


Figure 2 Chief of Defense Staff Commendation

I play several board wargames, mostly advanced squad leaders. But the one game I’ve played the longest (since it came out, to be honest), is the Assault series by Game Designers Workshop (GDW). It is a platoon-level tactical combat game covering the “modern” (for the time) armies in Central Europe. Four games in the series (and one expansion) cover ground units, artillery, engineering and tactical helicopter aviation. The units are platoons and in some cases special vehicles sections, such as engineering and other specialists. Hexes cover a distance of 250 meters and the time scale is said to be 5 minutes per turn. The game lends itself well to cover tactical battles with modern vehicles and weapons.


Figure 3 Invasion: Strategic Combat in Europe

I played Assault mostly alone in the late 80s and early 90s, and then later I found out that it could be played online using VASSAL. I did this and was able to play it remotely with human opponents. The game was instructional for me, however, through playing it I learned to better understand the Soviet (and later, Russian) method of tactical warfare, especially in terms of its theory in advance and attack. I was able to take this knowledge and excel at my AOC as we fought digital versions of forces like the Soviets.

But the main thing is that these games trained my mind to see war as a series of actions, reactions and countermeasures between opponents. I am definitely far from the best warriors out there, after all, I play to have fun and if I win, even better! But when it came to actual use of these talents, I took great care to ensure that the planning crews and I did everything possible to ensure that soldiers in the field got the most benefit possible.


Figure 4 The Soviet Union advancing on the defenders in Germany

In the picture above, as an example, let’s say I am the protector. I know when reconnaissance forces are hitting the treeline about 750 meters in front of me that a company of tanks is right behind them. The tanks would probably be in columns on the side of the road so they could move more quickly. Given the difficult treeline to their left, they would probably try to hit me from the hills to the south. So, what could I do?


Figure 5 Artillery ready to fire

Anticipating the Soviet move, I have planned and prepared my auxiliary battery of artillery ready to hit that road. The pattern is a linear shot of high explosive. Casualties on enemy tanks are less likely; However, this can cause some disruption, and I need to create a separation between the recon elements and the advance guard. Now I’ll feel free to shoot straight at the BMP and BRDM and then move on to my next fight position. It may sound rudimentary, but it took me years to nail this simple lesson into my fat skull. And that, along with formal instruction on my AOC, helped me become a better military planner.

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