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Tag Archives: Analysis

Battle Lab: Headquarters in Wargames

Originally published in Battles! Magazine, here’s a look at HQ units on your tabletop ~

Brant Guillory, 3 May 2017

How are headquarters units implemented in wargames, and what functions do they serve? As wargamers, most of us have enough appreciation of history to understand the value of a headquarters in combat and its ability dramatically affect a battle as it unfolds. There are a variety of ways in which headquarters units can be portrayed on the tabletop.

But first, let’s look at what they do in real life (as always, “the disclaimer”: the doctrine being discussed is American; it’s what I know).

GrogHeads Reviews Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming

The new “big book of wargaming” goes under the GrogHeads microscope ~

Brant Guillory, 15 May 2016

Zones of Control is the book that wargaming has been waiting for.  Seriously.  And that’s a pretty grandiose statement, but the truth is, it’s a long-needed book from a hard-to-ignore-and-harder-to-impugn publisher that tries to comprehensively examine the breadth and depth of wargaming under one cover.  ZOC-CoverWhere previous ‘seminal’ works of wargaming – Simulating War or  The Art of Wargaming or The Complete Wargames Handbook – were concerned with specific facets of wargaming (academic explorations, professional uses, or hobbyists, for example), Zones of Control brings them all into one giant melting pot, and then sprinkles in the occasional dose of aesthetics, role-playing, and digital design.


Interestingly, Zones of Control is able to swing such a wide arc precisely by avoiding the overly-pedantic and never-solved argument about “what is a wargame?”  It is conspicuously absent throughout the book, and there isn’t even a cursory attempt at it.  Avoiding that discussion allows the editors a wide range of latitude to include discussions of Twilight Struggle, Tunnels & Trolls, and battlefield re-enactors.  And truthfully, the book is much richer for it.

It is that very breadth that can make Zones of Control a challenge to review, however.  To what are we comparing it?  It’s scope alone puts the book in its own category among the wargaming literature.  There’s no comparable volume in the pop music world, whose attempts at a broad-scope literary volume end up more an inventory of artists than an exploration of types of music.  One might compare this book to something like a collected academic volume like the Communication Technology Update, but with technology and its markets moving as they do, that textbook is updated every 2 years. The collected essays of Zones of Control are almost “the greatest hits” of a year or two of erudite magazine articles from a flagship wargaming analysis journal, if such a thing ever existed.  Spread over 5 years of quarterly issues, rather than collected into a consolidated volume, the essays of Zones of Control might have have become the catalyzing agent around which a comprehensive cross-domain association of wargaming might have coalesced – a worthy literary companion to the Connections wargaming conference.  But to deconstruct the book and instead attempt to feature the writers over the span of several years would have cost the critical momentum needed to even publish the book at all.  Instead, we’re forced to hope that someone picks up the baton and starts a recurring publication as a companion to this volume.  But that’s putting the cart at least a mile or two before the horse that Kirschenbaum & Harrigan have saddled for us.

Battle Lab: The Fog of War(gaming)

What don’t we know about what we don’t know that we don’t know?

Brant Guillory, 8 July 2015

Note that this is a reprint of this article.
Click images to enlarge.

What is the Fog of War?

If ask 10 different people, you’ll get 10 different answers. In fact, I did just that, and here are some excerpts:

“Fog of War is the state of affairs on the battlefield (or pertaining to it) that is beyond a commander’s knowledge. For example, a commander may have a unit which has achieved a specific objective, but the commander is unaware of it due to the fact not having been relayed back to him. A second example may be that a specific objective may house an enemy commander’s HQ but that knowledge is withheld for whatever reason; in terms of conditions on the battlefield may appear to be an irrelevant objective or one that seems a dangerous, undefined, or irrelevant mission.”

“the enemy’s course of action is unknown and/or unconfirmed.”

“Fog of War refers to the confusion and lack of certainty a commander faces while making decisions on how to conduct a battle or war. Since modern war occurs over an area too large for a single commander to view, they rely on information from various sources to develop a mental model of what is occurring. They make their judgment and issue orders based on what they believe is occurring. Lack of information, wrong information, late information, all contribute to create an imperfect perception of what is occurring. This disconnect between what the commander thinks is occurring and what actually is occurring is referred to as the Fog of War.”

“The Fog of War is the lack of certainty in regard to the intent and composition of the enemy.”

“It is summed up as uncertainty based on lack of knowledge.”

“The Fog of War is that period of uncertainty from when the Enemy’s intentions are surmised and the enemy’s actions are known.”

“All the things everyone doesn’t know for sure during an armed conflict.”

So, generally, the “fog of war” is the lack of perfect situational awareness that comes about naturally as a result of actions on the battlefield. Of course it can be present in varying degrees – it is never either “on” or “off”. Curiously enough, the US Army and Marine Corps have no official definitions in their field manuals defining operational terms and graphics.

When examining the issues around “fog of war” however, how can we apply the problems, and their potential solutions, to boardgaming. This is one area in which our computer-gaming brethren have our butts kicked. Computer models can integrate a variety of fog of war effects, in large part because the computer can hide or reveal as much or as little as the programmers desire. It’s much harder to hid information when it’s all printed on a counter in front of you.

Battle Lab: Integrating Tactical Intelligence into Board Wargaming

Brant Guillory, 10 December 2014

How does intel work in board wargaming?  How could it work?  Here are a few thoughts.

What is Intelligence? What is Tactical Intelligence?

Intel is critical information needed to make decisions; that information is currently unknown, or known but likely to change. Tactical intelligence is specific to the battlespace in which a commander operates, and is needed to make decisions of a direct military nature, involving the employment of battlefield operating systems to accomplish his mission.

For example, a commander may not know the strength of the enemy’s force at all – a situation common in naval combat. In this case, he is dealing with a “pure” unknown. In another case, he may be familiar with the enemy’s initial strength, but following attrition for maintenance and expected harassment and interdiction (H&I) fires, it can be expected that the enemy will hit the commander’s main defensive belt at something less than full strength, but the exact strength is uncertain.

Another common occurrence in reality, but rare in games (especially historical ones because of the way that scenarios are designed), a commander might have a fairly complete enemy order of battle – and his reconnaissance may even have eyes on the enemy – but he has no idea what the enemy objective is.

In any case, there is information about the enemy that the commander needs. That information is intelligence. It’s often developed through inference, and it’s rarely an exact science. Based on what can be seen, what does that tell us about the enemy’s strength, intentions, and capabilities? Based on what is known, what can be extrapolated?

These are the challenges that commanders face in a real-world intelligence development environment.

Battle Lab: Mission Planning

Doug “panzerde” Miller, 18 October 2014

What happens when doctrinal planning meets your friendly neighborhood wargame?  This.

This summer I had the good fortune to spend most of a week hanging out at Origins with the Grogheads team. During that week I participated in and observed several sessions of the wonderful Staff Wargaming sessions run by Dr. James Sterrett and Mark Graves (USA Retired). I’m going to apply the planning approach we used during these sessions to the first US campaign scenario from Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm. I’m partial to doing this with Flashpoint Campaigns because it’s really perfect for this sort of planning. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Jim Snyder and Rob Crandall of On Target Simulations at Origins and discussing the game with them as well as using it during the Staff Wargaming sessions. I’m going to run through the process of terrain analysis using OCOKA, develop several potential enemy Courses of Action (COAs) and then plan my defense based on those COAs. To begin with, lets get an overview of the battlefield.


An overview of the battlefield in Google Earth. The Soviets will be advancing from east of Buchholz toward the western edge of the map on the route to Bremen. Note that the game map stops on an east-west line just south of Schierhorn-Tostedt.

It’s time to do some terrain analysis. I’m going to use the OCOKA method, which stands for:

  1. Observation and fields of fire
  2. Cover and concealment
  3. Obstacles (and mines)
  4. Key Terrain
  5. Avenues of approach
Looking at the map above, the features that dominate the map are the town of Buchholz and the gap to the west through the line of hills running north and south. In considering Observation and Fields of Fire, observation east-west is pretty much constrained by that line of hills. There looks to be another line of hills to the west. Between the hill ranges is an open area. That area is most easily accessible (and can probably be somewhat observed) via Buchholz and the gap behind it.

Experiences of Hobby Game Players: Motivations Behind Playing Digital and Non-Digital Games

Based on a large online data collection effort back in 2006, the collaboration of GAMA, Ohio State University, and that other website, resulted in a pretty robust dataset that yielded a variety of interesting explorations.

By: CarrieLynn Reinhard and Brant Guillory, 18 April 2014


Central to our understanding of why people play digital games (either video or computer games) is to understand the reason people want to “play” a game in the first place.  Playing, once reserved for only real-life interactions among people, is now the venue for interacting with digital manifestations of reality; but the question remains, is this digital-based playing different than real-based playing?  The purpose of this study was to investigate the patterns of motivation and usage by card, role-playing, computer, and board game players, known in this study as hobby game players.  Through an online survey, we measured the reasons people play these games, as well as the milieu in which they play these games are played.  What does the game player like in a game?  Why does the gamer like this?  What motivates continued game play and preferences for types of games?  The results indicate that digital game playing shares several underlying motivations with its pre-digital predecessors, but in ways that are still different than tabletop gaming.

The GrogHeads Call for Research (again!)

GrogHeads Staff, 29 January 2014

Hobby games and gamers – especially in the strategy gaming and wargaming world – have rarely been the subjects of much serious published research inquiry. And yet, some of us know from personal experience that such research is, in fact, being conducted in graduate schools and academic institutions all over.  Distinct from marketing analyses in that they are not focused on improving commercial performance, these studies are frequently conceptualized and executed by members of the broader gaming community who are seeking to fuse their love for the hobby with an academic pursuit in the social sciences or humanities.

Although there are a few academic outlets for such research – the journal Simulation & Gaming springs to mind – not every paper was written with the intention of journal or conference submission. Nevertheless, the research is still interesting and useful, and for GrogHeads everywhere it is certainly relevant. Papers shared may inspire better research by later investigators, and the ideas discussed may help designers and developers craft better games.

Looking Back and Looking Ahead – the Game Industry Weighs in on 2013 and 2014

We cast our inquiries far and wide in search of opinions about 2013 and 2014.  Respondents were asked two questions:

1. What was the highlight of the past year in gaming for you?

2. What do you think will be the biggest news in gaming in 2014?

We put no other constraints on them for subject matter, self-promotion, or response length.  As you can imagine, we got a wide array of responses.

Mark H Walker, Designer, Lock’n’Load Publishing

2013 – Seeing the explosion of new titles on Kickstarter. Probably the best non-LNLP game that I played was Band of Brothers, but Legendary and Sentinels of the Multiverse were a close second.

2014 – Big deal of next year will be Golem Arcana. It looks to seamlessly meld board and digital. That and the importance of Kindle Direct Publishing as Indy authors continue to erode the market share of the traditional publishers.

Tim Van der Moer, CEO, The Lordz Games Studio

2013 – For me number one has been getting the Panzer Corps series out on iPad. On big games, I really enjoyed GTA V  and Assassins Creed Black Flag.

2014 – Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon cross platform will be our big highlight for sure. On traditional videogames, I am really curious to see how the Xbox One will evolve into a cross media entertainment system.

Matthew B. Caffrey Jr, Command Lead, AF Future Capabilities Game

2013 –  The first Connections UK. Run in the UK by British wargames Connections UK extends Connections mission to advance and sustain the Art, science and application of wargaming to the UK and Europe. As it is less costly in time and money for Europeans to get to the UK 75 individuals from about a dozen countries participated at Kings College London.

2014 –  If it is pulled off, the first Connections Australia.

Brian Train, Game Designer

2013 – My personal highlight in gaming was seeing A Distant Plain roll out. In less than 18 months, Volko Ruhnke and I went from “hey, we should do this” to a beautifully produced, challenging wargame on a very contemporary subject.

2014 – I think the next Big News thing will be wargames produced for tablets (iPads and so forth). No idea how many will actually be produced, or if they will be any good, but people will be talking about them. I won’t be programming any of them, but at least for now they will be ports of manual (board) games, so there’s opportunity there for all of us.