Wednesday 18 October 2023

New Book- Advanced Matrix Games for Professional Wargaming



The innovation of the method of Matrix Games has taken the Professional Wargaming world by storm. This book aims to bring together some of the best practise since the first book on Matrix Games was published in 2014

This book is divided into three sections.

The first part includes an updated detailed guide to running matrix games based on several decades experience of running these games professionally.

The second part of the book includes five new games about conflict, procurement, the High North and protecting Critical national Infrastructure.

The final part of the book includes the five scenarios about simulating historical conflicts for military education. These games were included in the first book on matrix games Matrix Games for Professional Wargaming that was first published in 2014 (reprinted in 2022).

Taken as a whole, the book includes the best current practical advice on running games, with ten examples of future, current and historical conflicts.

A foreword by Peter Perla, author of the classic Art of Wargaming.

1: Practical Advice on Matrix Games.

2: Current and Future Crises.

     Ukraine 2022: The Sins of Our Father.

     One China.

     The High North: The Future of the Arctic (and the World)

     Hope and Glory: Protecting

     Defence Procurement.

3: Historical Crises.

     The Falklands War (1982)

     Chaoslavia (1993)

     Crisis in Crimea: A Counter Revolution (March 2014)

     The Red Line: Civil War in Syria (August 2013)

     Lasgah Pol: Afghanistan (2008)

This book replaces the previous edition Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming

Note: matrix games as noted in this work is a term used to describe the Chris Engle wargaming matrix game methodology and is not connected or related in any way to Matrix Games Limited or their video game products.

The book is available from Amazon in paperback, hardback and Kindle

Friday 15 September 2023

Ukraine 2023: Fort Leavenworth’s Tactical Game of the Ukraine War


Having played the game a number of times with various audiences, I would say it demonstrated hobby wargamers were routinely better than military professionals in terms of tactics at the company level battle.

The rules were written at Fort Leavenworth, one of the homes of the American Army. First written in 2020 for a US v Russian battle in eastern Europe, the hit probabilities were considerably edited in the light of watching lots of YouTube videos about the actual Ukraine War in 2022. Russian units were downgraded considerably in the light of actual war.

The rules were for a 6mm scale Russian coy in a hasty attack against a standard Ukrainian ad hoc platoon in a hasty defensive position. The game system is ‘you go, I go’ turn sequence, but with overwatch fire. Roll to hit, roll to save in cover. The key innovation, apart from using actual combat data, was if either side moved off its plan, they pause and roll a dice to see if they can change the plan. If not, they just roll again next turn. This means good pre-game orders are crucial and sometimes the battle just stops as the Russians encounter an unexpected obstacle. The Russian advances stops for a random amount of time as the commanders consult and make a new plan. All very realistic.

The Russian company had 10 BMPs, 4 tanks, a ZSU, a truck with military police and another with a section of engineers. The Russian method of organising everything into battalion tactical groups means every sub formation has a bit of the support troops. NATO trained armies just allocate support as needed. Although the Russians had practically unlimited fire support, it had to be all pre-planned like something out of WWI.

The first problem was the professional wargamers largely did not know what the Russian tactics from the Cold War actually were. They have focussed on real world COIN for 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, so were a bit perplexed. The second problem was the professional wargamers largely did not know how to manage an ad-hoc Ukrainian platoon, so were unclear what to do with just 2 tanks, 2 BMPs, 1 dismounted saggar, some infantry, a couple of trucks plus some random obstacles (trees cut down). They had no drones, no mines, no wire, and artillery support availability was random depending on mobile phone reception. Hobby wargamers are quite used to operating with whatever toys come out of the box and improvise.

The result of the battle was the same in every game. The Russians took lots of casualties, but advanced 5 km over 2 to 3 hours, and the Ukrainians lost stuff during the fighting withdrawal. Most wargamers are too aggressive running a fighting retreat; in real war, a fighting retreat consists of a few ambushes, then a hasty withdrawal to the next position. Keeping the unit in being is a critical part of the defensive mission. 

The actual war has demonstrated that analysts underestimated the importance of morale. Tank combat is using a crew served weapon system. To win the battle requires a tank to position itself in harms way, observe, locate the enemy, prioritise, aim and fire. The longer a tank takes to do this the more chance it stands of getting a first-round kill, but the downside is the longer a tank takes to do this, the more chance of the enemy getting the first shot in. After firing, it takes a few moments after the dust, shock, flash and smoke to re-aim and fire a 2nd and subsequent rounds. Staying put and firing again increases the chances of obtaining a kill, but firing increases the chance of the enemy identifying you as an active threat and sending a missile towards you. Therefore, effective tank combat requires high morale for the crew to put themselves at risk in order to kill the enemy. Ukrainians tanks in these rules fire twice as often as Russian tanks, as the Ukrainians were more willing to take risks to fire effectively.

I commenced by saying hobby wargamers were better than military professionals at tactics, but this does not mean one could drop a hobby wargamer into commanding a troop of tanks in combat. Leadership in war is not just about tactics, but includes leadership, morale in the face of death, actually making the tank move and shoot, etc. Tactics are only a part of the professional warrior’s job description. However, based on the sample of people who have played my modern wargames over several decades, it suggests that professional warriors need to spend more time on the tactics of warfighting. This includes a deep understanding of how the Russians currently fight. Of course, how you fit that into the new British Army’s social calendar and ethos is an interesting topic of conversation.

Thursday 17 August 2023

Academic Distain for Wargaming


Academic disdain for using wargaming as a tool is a classic example of legacy skills being allowed to override innovation in the academic world. This attitude also explains the near complete absence of academics from professional wargaming; one would expect that military historians would be embedded in professional wargaming, bringing their extensive knowledge to bear. As I wander around the strange world professional wargaming I do not encounter many academic historians, especially after Phil Sabin went to South America.

Stating the obvious, the military and supporting civilian services use wargames for training, education, force development, and practising war fighting. The computer industry uses cyber wargames continually to test business continuity. Education uses games as there is a huge track record of application and value. Emergency planning uses exercises; these use many of the techniques from wargaming. Many disciplines use the tools of wargaming and would think anyone challenging their professional use to be very strange indeed. There are parallels in other disciplines where new tools have been resisted by academics for decades.

I remember GIS (geographical information systems, huge digitised maps linked to spatially referenced databases). The established geographers and planners were anti-GIS as they largely did not have the skills to use it. A planning conference had an academic paper by an established academic guru where the latter looked at one case study and demonstrated Green Belts (an area of protected land in the UK) were shrinking rapidly. Along came the PhD student who used a GIS with the maps of all 14 of England's Green Belts to demonstrate that as a whole, Green Belts were growing.  Obviously, the student was failed. It took perhaps 5 years for GIS to become mainstream and 10 years for the planning world to accept Green Belts were not shrinking.

The computer industry of the 1980’s was a complete shambles, but the tool modelling introduced by the new discipline of systems analysis revolutionised the delivery of IT. I remember saying at my leaving speech from the electricity supply industry that there was no point in me trying to communicate with developers who had not been trained in the new tools. Half of the existing staff then failed the training courses in systems analysis introduced after my departure, so left the industry or were redeployed. Some people could not make the transition and academic consultancy to the IT industry went off a cliff edge as the academics did not initially embrace systems analysis

I could give further examples, such as the arrival of UML modelling in computing, the use of big data to replace tiny case studies, etc. All of these initially struggled for acceptance in the academic world, despite mainstream applications of the new technology.

I regularly talk to academic military historians, but I am often sceptical of the views on anything to do with operational history. They are proficient at narrating key events of an individual soldier’s life, but not when it comes to campaigns and battles. When I talk to a serious wargamer I know they have looked at the military geography, the human terrain, ORBATs, weapon ranges, time, space, the weather etc. A wargame is a model that integrates all these elements, subject to abstraction and generalisation. Unless the academic historian has wargamed the topic, I have no evidence they have evaluated all these different elements of war in their narrative. In the computer industry, it would be inconceivable for someone to talk about a new system without their having used the industry modelling standard tools such as UML. I am perplexed how military historians are tolerated who do not model war.

Over the last 12 months I have looked at the academic literature on Operation Sealion (1940, German non-invasion of England) and found gapping errors in it. The issue is the historians do not seem to have a concept of operational and tactical warfare. One example will suffice to illustrate this. A number of academics suggest that all Hitler had to do was bomb the fixed and mobile radar stations to blind the RAF. This sounds plausible, unless you have an understanding of the operational level of war. Bombers missed their targets routinely by many kilometres. Stukas dive-bombers would then be the best option. They actually stood a 1% of a hit per aircraft. Of course, the Stuka attack pattern makes it very vulnerable to even a fixed Bren gun sited to defend the radar station. The nature of the attack, Stukas stacked up in the sky waiting for their turn to dive, makes them very vulnerable to enemy fighters. A Stuka squadron attack v radar might stand a 10% of getting a single hit, but would loose perhaps 4 Stukas and more damaged. If the Germans had started an all-out dive-bombing campaign on a Sunday, by the end of Tuesday, they would have had almost no Stukas left, and most of the radar stations would still have been working. Serious wargamers understand the constraints of the operational, but from my experience few academic historians do.  

So why are academics reluctant to embed wargaming in their curriculum and academic writing? Judging by innovations in other disciplines, many academics would not be able to make the leap. A lot of the existing military narratives in the academic literature would be now judged inadequate when evaluated through the prism of wargaming. University military history courses that used wargaming would be far more engaging and popular with those that did not. There would be staffing changes as a result of academia embracing wargames.

The academic reluctance to use wargaming has been around a long a time. Paddy Griffith encountered the prejudice of fellow academics against wargamers whilst he was at Sandhurst (1973-1989). Perhaps Paddy’s combination of wargames and military history explains why of all the military history lecturers at Sandhurst from that era, he was the one to influence NATO operational policy. There are real opportunities for academics who can use wargaming; research bids, professional wargaming and student recruitment/ engagement. On a personal note, I am quite happy with the current dearth of academic wargamers; ‘in the valley of the blind, the one-eyed man is king’.