Tactical Decision Games

by Capt Nicholas Ferencz III

It was with great interest that I read Maj Marietta’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek assessment of TDG #92-10. (MCG, Jan93). As a former artilleryman turned aviator, I look forward each month to matching wits with your talented TDG staff as a means of refining my own understanding of maneuver warfare while remaining abreast of current tactical thinking.

I was however, a little perplexed by the scenario, solution, and subsequent explanation set forth by the author of TDG #92-10. As Maj Marletto’s clever and candid examination of the engagement revealed, there appeared to be several subtle oversights in the regimental commander’s otherwise bold plan which may ultimately have cost him the victory.

While it is certainly not my intention to suggest any shortcomings on the part of the TDG author (after all, creating controversy can be extremely healthy-especially when discussing tactics), I would like to offer the observation that the majority of MCG readers are probably better served by more fundamental TDGs that tackle plausible scenarios involving elements no larger than the battalion/MEU. Nevertheless, as there still exists a need to study the far more complicated nature of wargaming at higher echelons, perhaps it could prove worthwhile to occasionally print a “strategic decision game” or even a “staff decision game.” Such games would intentionally afford those interested the additional planning time needed to wrangle with any number of collateral considerations which are more meaningfully and appropriately addressed somewhere other than the commander’s 10-minute frag order.

by Capt Eric M. Walters

Being a fan of your tactical decision game (TDG) series, I thoroughly enjoyed Maj Maretto’s entertaining yet thoughtprovoking article (MCG. an93). He brought up a point that both fledgling tacticians and TDG designers would do well to remember-you can’t expect to win by “winging it.” Good concepts need time to be put into practice.

This would seem to mean that the time limit so prevalent in the Gazette TDGs is unrealistic and should be discontinued. Not so. Time limits are essential to the value of the TDG experience, as it orces the participants to make sound military judgments conidently and quickly. What needs to be done is that TDGs hat are written dealing with iigher level decisions, such as hose at battalion level or above, have suspenses that accurately reflect the pressures to ie found at that level. Instead of posing a situation where a regimental commander must formulate a plan that is to be implemented by his unit in less than an hour, wouldn’t it be more realistic to cast the TDG player in the role of an overworked S-3 faced with a concept brief to the boss on the next morning’s operation, and only can afford to spend 10-15 minutes to sketch out his courses of action? Such a scenario sidesteps the problem Maj Marietta raises.

Terrence C. Walker’s article “Ask ‘How,’ ” (MCG. Jan93) reminds us that, despite the focus on the more cerebral aspects of doing maneuver warfare, there is no substitute for technical expertise in doing routine tasks. I hope that TDG designers also begin to experiment with posing problems that give the player an imperfectly trained or equipped force-too often TDGs assume that the troops can do anything asked of them, and they possess their full authorized table of equipment. Sometimes the unit you want to do that fancy maneuver just may not be up to snuff-do you try to swap it out for a unit that can? Or do you find another way? How about the impact of subordinate leader personalities/ skills on these kinds of decisions? Battles are clashes of men, not just abstract collections of weapons. Let’s start seeing situations that look less like they come from a text book and more like what we find in a history book.

by Capt Michael L. Ettore

I read the various solutions to the TDGs in each issue, and I am impressed with the obvious skill utilized by those Marines offering their solutions.

One point continues to disturb me, however. More often than not the fragmentary orders do not adhere to some basic tenets of maneuver warfare. I am referring to the frequent absence of a designated main effort or focus of effortwhatever one chooses to call it-the commander’s decisive alow. Next comes the general lack of a specified commander’s intent statement illustrating the desired final result in relation to enemy forces, friendly forces, and terrain. Finally, many mission statements are incomplete, failing to fulfill the still valid five Ws.

I am offering these comments not to snipe at those who at least take the time to participate, but rather to reinforce current instruction given at our various schools. Specifically, all orders at a minimum must contain a clearly defined mission statement, the commander’s intent, and an assignment of main effort status to one of the subordinate units.

None of these three items can be left to implied understanding or partial understanding from senior to subordinate. In reality, maneuver success absolutely depends on total and uniform understanding by all elements of the units participating in the upcoming action.