Category Archives: Battle Lab

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.

GrogHeads Central Command Countdown:
Command Post Wargaming at Origins

This article originally ran in Battles! Magazine before Origins 2011, to promote the staff wargaming events that year.  Guess what – staff wargaming is back at Origins this year, and this interview really does an excellent job of setting the stage for what happens there.

Ed Note: “Warfare Affair” is the name of Brant’s column in Battles! Magazine. These videos are from Origins 2011.


Warfare Affair: 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.

WA: 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.

Battle Lab: Civilians on the Battlefield

Brant Guillory, 9 August 2013

The following is the set of slides from Brant’s ’06 Origins War College talk about integrating civilians into wargaming.  While the discussion is not captured here, the slides may serve as a jumping-off point for a greater discussion in our forums.

One note: we have no idea how to slow down the slideshow(!), but it does repeat so you can see it the next time through.  There are 16 total slides.

[tribulant_slideshow gallery_id=”1″]

Battle Lab: Games and Sims for Training and Learning

Brant Guillory, 31 August 2012

This might be one of my favorite topics (as evidenced by the bibliography on the GrogNews site as well) and was the subject of much of my academic work, as well.

This article was originally published in Battles magazine #3 and GrogNews, and was cited in Dr Sabin’s book Simulating War.

Dr James Sterrett (of the US Army CGSC) has previously offered his thoughts on the topic, as well.

Games and Sims for Training and Learning

This is a favorite topic of mine, and the Origins War College has hosted several panels over the last few years devoted specifically to the basic topic of “What is a game and what is a sim, and what can we do with them?”

In the world of military training, games and simulations have developed over the years from map exercises to elaborate digital virtual reality exercises. In many cases, the tools developed for training have come from commercial products, or were later converted into commercial products, and thus the wargaming community has the opportunity to poke, prod, and play with comparable tools to those used to train soldiers and sailors around the globe. As the world has gone digital, many of these tools and toys have moved away from tabletops and into computer monitors, but the underlying heart – the game engine – is still of great interest to gamers.

Mapping the conceptual terrain bounded by games-simulations-exercises is more than just an intellectual exercise, as it allows us all to establish a common conceptual framework and vocabulary for the future discussion of the utility of these games and sims. It also allows to discuss with more specificity our exact likes and dislikes, and level of comfort with the features and processes, and the underlying mechanisms that make them go.

When describing the use of games for training and learning purposes, there are several concepts that must first be understood, and their meanings agreed upon, before the best use of games and simulations can determined.