Improving the Tactical Decision Games

by BGen F. P. Henderson, USMC(Ret)

The authors of your tactical decision games (TDGs) may be interested to know that their problems in the Gazette each month do not seem to be generation sensitive. From my experience, a Marine trying to find the right solution to one of them a decade or more from now will not feel that they are “Old Corps” stuff. I must solve them with my recollections of the Fleet Marine Force of 1959, plus the changes I have learned of in the Gazette since then. Despite this handicap, I find them interesting, challenging, and that my solutions are usually acceptable, sometimes in the black, and possibly even better. In working one I always wonder why it took so long for the TDG concept to be thought of, accepted, and become a regular feature in the Gazette. It should have happened a couple of Marine generations ago.

However, I would like to recommend adding some elements to each problem that I feel would give them additional reality, factors that certainly would be considered by the problem commander in making his decision if it were actual combat. These are the weather, the length of day and night, and the combat effectiveness of his command. The Gazette has published articles on how the first two affect combat operations (Mar88 and Jul89).

The commander of any force, regardless of type or size, must consider existing and forecasted weather in arriving at an operational decision. Is it the torrential rains and debilitating heat of Guadalcanal? The freezing temperatures, snow, and driving winds of the Chosin Reservoir? In temperate zones around the earth is the foliage in full leaf or are the trees and shrubs bare? Many of the TDG problems have woods that play a role in the commander’s decision. How will the season and the weather affect the length of time it will take him to accomplish his mission? Will helicopter resupply or movement of the reserve be hampered by what tomorrow may bring?

The same consideration must be given to the seasonal length of daylight and darkness in the area of operations. Daylight generally favors a superior force with an offensive mission. Darkness favors an inferior force with a defensive mission. In either case, the commander must determine how he can use each condition to his advantage, especially when he has been given a time limit to accomplish his mission. (A recent TDG informed players that it was now 2030, a key factor in making the command decision. But, depending on the season and latitude, that could have meant it was daylight, twilight, or darkness.)

A common weakness of many map problems is a failure to give a realistic statement of the friendly force’s combat effectiveness. The general assumption is that it is at authorized strength, fully equipped, and rarin’ to go chew up the enemy. But this is rarely, if ever, the happy situation a unit commander will have in combat. Every day since his unit was first committed to combat its combat effectiveness has been eroded. Whether it is a company or division, a squadron or aircraft wing, it has incurred casualties in men and equipment and felt the stress of continued combat. Key personnel and experienced leaders have been lost. A map problem should introduce some of these considerations, without unduly complicating it, to make it more “combat real.”

It seems to me that TDGs can be as addictive as The New York Times crossword puzzles are to people who like to accept an intellectual challenge and triumph. If so, one a month is not a very sturdy diet for today’s Marine warfighters. As a start to correct this the Gazette and the Marine Corps Association (MCA) might consider joining forces to collect and publish all of those prior to 1992 in a soft cover form. These could be sold in exchanges and through the MCA Bookstore. The same could be done for each year’s problems. This would give those favored few who join the Corps each year a backlog to work on between Gazette issues.