FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- If you've seen groups of military officers at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College circled around a map using pointers and pushing around tiny plastic pieces lately, don't be alarmed that they are playing Risk or reenacting scenes from Patton. Students ditched the computer screens and PowerPoint slides to gather around tables and evaluate their tactical planning by test-piloting a new board game March 9-15.
The hex-style, map-based simulation, titled "Landpower: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey (GAAT)" was developed last year by Lt. Col. Patrick Schoof, an Army Simulations officer, and Shane Perkins, team leader of four classes, both instructing at the staff college. "Landpower" builds upon a scenario the students have worked through continually during the course, putting their strategies against one another to expose potential gaps and shortfalls they had previously not accounted for.
"We put this through multiple tests, labs, and changes before bringing it to the classroom, as well as spending months collaborating with the Director of Simulation Education to ensure we were bringing a quality product that had the potential to meet our learning objectives," said Perkins.
War-gaming and plans analysis in the classroom examines warfighting concepts that help train and educate the students to explore different scenarios and ideas that they can't on the battlefield. This experimentation helps to develop concepts for future needs of the military and will be relied on heavily in the near future. Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy, Commanding General of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth and Commandant of CGSC, which oversees the staff college, told Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy last month that war-gaming is "way under-sourced" and stressed the importance to learn the requirements needed to prioritize through war-gaming.
"Our synchronization of war-fighting functions has never been better," said Army Maj. Lukas Berg, an aviation officer currently attending the course. "It forced us to interact with one another to achieve gains, something we were lacking when using computer based exercises."
The board game compliments the current war-gaming process, where students simulate aspects of warfare at the tactical, operational, or strategic level. The focus of the lessons taught remains on student development of plans, but the gaming process brings to light the complexity and suitability of the plans right in front of them, forcing them to act accordingly to minimalize effects. This process in the past was done through computer systems requiring hours of instruction to operate in addition to multiple contractors to oversee and assist the exercise. In an effort to reduce the time spent learning the game and increase the time executing their plans, Schoof and Perkins are evaluating the results of concepts learned by implementing test groups that used the board game and comparing to groups that use the computer simulation.
While the results are still being evaluated, early conclusions show that the board game is an acceptable substitute for computer based simulation. The vast majority of the 63 students that partook seemed to agree that they enjoyed "Landpower" more, noting that it required involvement from everyone in the group, versus the computer simulations that can ignore certain players.
"When we did the computer exercise last month I was left out of the game because as a special-staff officer the system didn't generate anything for me. With the board game, we got shoulder to shoulder and I was giving and receiving input and guidance from everyone on our team," said Army Chaplain (Maj.) Kevin Burton.
With a rule book amounting to less than eight pages, Landpower simply needs the map, printable cards, and a few markers to play. If successful, Landpower is easily distributable to any class or unit attempting to further its course of action analysis with the rigor that the computer programs offer but through simpler means. Col. James Dunivan, Director of Army Tactics at CGSC,said this is just one of the additions CGSC is working on to generate an environment that embraces experimentation while tolerating dissent and risk taking. Saving the students and staff time from learning the computer system will in turn maximize their time training, a desirable outcome by all involved.
"Overall we are very pleased with what we saw and initial analysis looks like the learning outcomes are on par or better than what we have seen with our control group using the computer simulation. We look forward to analyzing the data, improving the game and implementing this into next year's curriculum," Perkins said.
[Capt. Charlie Dietz is a student in the Command and General Staff Officers Class of 2018.]