An Interactive Tactical Decisionmaking Game

reviewed by Capt Randall P. Newman

INFANTRY COMBAT: The Rifle Platoon: An Interactive Exercise in Small Unit Tactics and Leadership. By John F. Antal. Presidio Press, Novato, CA, 1995, 304 pp., Paperback $14.95. (Member $13.45)

When he reviewed John F. Antal’s first book, Armor Attacks: The Tank Platoon, for the August 1992 issue of the Gazette, Maj John F. Schmitt made the following statement:

An extremely clever, curious, and innovative fictional form that is part tactical decision game (TDG), part combat adventure page turner, and part The Defense of Duffer’s Drift. One can only hope that the book’s subtitle, The Tank Platoon, indicates that there will be more to follow, in units of different size and type.

As if on cue John Antal, an active duty U.S. Army tank officer, has written the second book in what will hopefully be a lengthy series of TDG-based works.

His second book, entitled Infantry Combat: The Rifle Platoon, is very similar to his first in format and style; however this time the subject matter has changed. The scenario upon which this interactive story is based is not unlike that of the first U.S. forces deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation DESERT SHIELD. A light infantry brigade was rapidly deployed to an allied Middle Eastern nation that was being threatened by a larger, more powerful neighboring country. This brigade of soldiers was given the mission of establishing defensive positions within a critical sector in order to block the aggressor’s progress towards the allied nation’s capital city. They were instructed to quickly dig in and prepare to fight a numerically superior enemy force. Your role for this battle will be that of 2dLt Bruce Davis, a recent graduate of West Point and the newly assigned platoon commander of 1st Platoon, Company B. Your light infantry platoon, reinforced by an antiarmor team armed with Javelins, is protecting the brigade’s left flank by blocking enemy movement along Axis Cobra. Axis Cobra passes through Wadi Al Siree and is not considered to be a significant threat area because of the narrow passages that enemy armored forces would be required to negotiate. Naturally this assumption proves to be incorrect, and you quickly find yourself trying to accomplish your mission while facing a vastly superior enemy force.

Your responsibilities as the reader of this book start with the very basic decision of how to deal with a very experienced platoon sergeant and then quickly require you to decide how to fight the upcoming battle. During your time as 2dLt Davis, you find yourself making decisions about a wide range of issues that military leaders face-everything from troop welfare issues to the security measures required for your defense. The situations are brought to you in the form of 102 individual sections that you traverse based upon fate or the decisions you make. The role fate or luck plays in the combat environment is re-created by a roll of the dice at the end of some sections to determine what happens next. Each section either ends with a decision for you to make or the end of the battle for you through victory, a shattered unit, or possibly your own capture or death. In all instances where your decisions or fate led you astray, a brief lesson in maneuver warfare or battlefield leadership is provided and then you are directed back to the beginning to try again, armed with your newfound knowledge. This is one of the most interesting aspects of this book; the ability to fight the battle over and over again with a number of different endings. Ultimately you will learn the lessons that the author has chosen to concentrate on and conclude your experience having led your unit to victory.

The book has definite Army flavor in weaponry and other areas, but the underlying concepts are definitely applicable to leaders at any level or Service. Undoubtedly many Marines will compare this book with a similar technique that we use widely-our tactical decision games. The biggest difference is that the book restricts your choices to a only few options for each scenario, as it must, in order to provide the interaction and immediate feedback desired. What it lacks in this regard it makes up for by the inclusion of the role that fate or luck plays on the battlefield. It is this factor and the immediate feedback that keep the reader interested and genuinely involved in the progress of 2dLt Davis and his platoon.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fictional tactical scenarios that require them to think and take action. Its lessons are basic but timeless, and should therefore be of interest to any military leader. It should be especially interesting to anyone who read and enjoyed Armor Attacks: The Tank Platoon since the two books are so similar. Once again we can only hope, as Maj Schmitt did, that the subtitle The Rifle Platoon:

. . . indicates there will be more to follow, in units of different size and type.