Central War Gaming Blog

Central War Gaming Blog


Monday, August 14, 2017

Backup Compasses

The more fully-featured your compass is, the more ungainly and heavy it tends to be. You may then leave it on your pack, in your in web gear, or at home.

When you really need a compass on your body is any time you are more than a few feet from the car, camp, or the rest of your team. So, there's some value in not just having a backup compass, but in having one you trust.

All Compasses Must be Good Compasses

First, everything I said in the article about buying compasses still applies. A small, inexpensive, or low-featured compass cannot also be a cheap or bad compass.

I didn't outline it before, but let's be clear what a bad compass can do:
  • Not be calibrated – The needle is magnetized, but has to be done so properly or it won't point precisely north
  • Dampen poorly – It can be too dampened and then doesn't allow the needle to settle right so it doesn't point north, or it can be not dampened enough and the needle wanders back and forth so long you can't tell where it points
  • Drag – If the geographic calibration is off, or it has bad bearings or any number of other things go wrong, it won't spin well enough so it won't point north accurately, and it won't fail the same way repeatedly so you can't even walk a straight line

So, ignore all those who say you can get one Just As Good for whatever fraction of the price of a good one. Bad compasses will get you killed when you really need them.

If anything, quality of small compasses must be better, due to the size. They are harder to use precisely because of the small distance to sight, and other issues related to the size such as a smaller number of graduations.

Fewer features doesn't mean it's bad, but do get name brand compasses that everyone says work well. Compasses that come free on the butt of a knife, carabiner, zipper pull, or stock of your official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, are not to be trusted.

Suggested Backup Compasses

So what to get? Well, it's hard to say now. The gold standard used to be the Silva model 9. This is the compass shown at the top of the article. Usually sold as the  Carabiner 9, Companion 9 and so on (there's also one with marks to find Mecca), I've had one for about 35 years and it works great. Small circle with a keyring hole on one side, 5° graduations, sometimes sold with a carabiner, etc.

But naturally, the old ones work, the new ones have quality issues. So, get one and try it but do make sure it works before trusting.

Other options:

  • Silva Model 10 - Similar to the 9 but smaller and with a thermometer. Feels a bit gimmicky but doesn't seem ruined with the thermometer which can be useful as well.  
  • Silva Model 40 - A watch compass, but often sold by them as another carabiner compass, with no watch band. Seems fine. Quite small.
  • Silva Metro - Now we're getting too small. Forget the quality, it only has cardinal directions so is not very useful for emergency uses.
  • Suunto has a couple sizes of watchband compass which also can be used alone or strapped to a clip
  • Brunton ZIP - Similar to the Model 9, a smallish, round 5° graduation compass with no features but a lash point to hang it from things. 
  • K&R Orion – Reputed to be a good German brand, they make a small one that folds up (no mirror though) which looks to be a good idea as a backup. Around $20 so not bad but not the under $10 most other backups are. 
  • County Comm Navigator – Watch band compass made by who knows. County Comm is a purported manufacturer, but mostly dealer in products that maybe are government issue but regardless are mostly pretty good and generally for very good prices.
No, we have no special arrangement with any manufacturer or dealer, so no links are provided above for where to buy them that get CWG a kickback. If you find a great deal, share the link in the comments or on the Facebook group. 

Test Them

Really, no compass should be trusted until tested. Now, you have to have a good compass first and assume it works, but as you wouldn't buy a backup compass without a primary, we'll assume you have one.

How to test? Well first, don't put them next to each other. You can try it and see. They interfere with each other. But you can easily sight on something, then see if your two measurements agree.

And, you must check for functional interference aside from other compasses. A compass on a key ring cannot be factory calibrated for all the keys and rings and doodads on your keychain, so will certainly be off.

Full Featured, or Extra-featured Backups

The other thing you can sometimes get out of a backup compass is having a second compass. For example, I also own a Cammenga wrist compass, because it has good tritium at the cardinal directions and on the north needle.

It's not very good to navigate in any other way, but at night I can glance at it to tell approximate direction without tediously using any other night compass. And even the best night compass is pretty slow to use at night. This is easy.

I do also carry a real backup compass. It's in a bag of other little supplies like tapes, wire ties, batteries and goes with me on airplanes and other trips. A true backup. And it's a Silva Model 27.

Yes, it's a tiny mirror compass. It is my backup now because it's so tiny, but also because I know how to use it, and it is pretty full featured. In fact, I used this when I did my outdoorsy times, and I climbed mountains while wearing it.

This one has another feature rarely found, in that it has a safety pin on it. You clip it open to your pack strap and can look down to see your heading. It works.

I also carry this because I had a DEET explosion and sorta ruined my old mountaineering version of the same one. I cleaned it enough it works and is in my other backup bag. The one I actually carry is a Brunton sort of knockoff of it and not as good as the old one. It's called the 27 LU Compact Pin-On Mirrored Compass or the Trooper and when you can find it isn't too expensive ($25), but in addition to being not perfectly awesome, can be hard to find.

There are other small, ruggedized compasses like the matchbox style that may also make you happy. Skulk around and see what is out there.

Now, Learn How To Use It

A tool like a compass is no good without training, and practical experience using it. CWG can get you that. Start planning for CWG's day/night land nav training course in October.

Sign up now

We will also bring a selection of compasses to the the training weekend, so you can try out some of the others and see if anything else thrills you.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Buying a Compass

The first thing you need to land nav in any useful way is a magnetic compass. Simply being able to orient yourself to where north is, or keep yourself on track no matter the terrain and lighting gets you way ahead of the game.

Squad leaders are briefed, with a map and protractor out during the brief. Consistent, well-communicated position information is critical to operational planning and actions.


The first thing to consider is that you likely work with others. You all want to be speaking the same language, and to be able to brief in things like declination changes to everyone at the same time.

Speaking the same language is basically one of mils vs degrees. A circle can be broken up any number of ways, and a number of them are not useful for our purposes so we shall not speak of them. Degrees are very common, well-understood, but not used by most military forces.

Instead, they use mils, which is just short for milliradian. That's an SI-derived unit of angular measure which is a thousandth of a radian. A radian is the angle subtended at the center of a circle by an arc that is equal in length to the radius of the circle. Yeah, don't worry about that, as you don't need to know. There are about 6283 milliradians in a circle, but again, you don't need to know that, exactly.

Because it's an inconvenient number. Instead, armies have standardized on various other rounded off versions. The WARPAC generally agreed to call it 6000, the Swedish Army (they make the best compasses, so we care) had 6300, someone had 6280, and many others. This does matter because NATO settled on a nice easily-divisible 6400 a while back, so many good military surplus "mil" compasses are surplus because they are some other weird, antiquated number.

That matters for compatibility. If you are in a team and they say to march at a certain heading until you reach a road, your 6000 mil compass is pointing a different direction than their 6400 mil one.

Ask Someone

If you work with a team of people who probably carry compasses, start with asking them what they suggest. Then, read carefully, and check my last section. Because if they say "you can get it at WalMart" then be really, really careful.

Types of Compasses

There are lots and lots and lots of types of compasses. But there are really only about 2-1/2 kinds that are in common use these days for land navigation in the west. 


Clearly, most compasses can be considered a capsule attached to a baseplate but here we mean a particular style of compass which is:
  • A base with marks for alignment and plotting. You want a clear base with scales included for typical maps
  • A rotating, liquid-dampened capsule
This is a very general category. There are many, many sub-variants with additional features. The basic baseplate we're talking about has no additional sighting features, so practically is only capable of moderate precision, or takes additional skill by the user.


  • Huge selection of styles, sizes and features
  • Light weight, compact
  • Extremely simple to use. Almost anyone can figure out the basic operation with little or no instruction
  • Low cost; even expensive models are only relatively expensive
  • All in one. The baseplate includes the features of a roamer or "protractor" with scales and plotting aids


  • There are almost no good night capable baseplate compasses. There are a number with tritium, but not very robustly employed so they are hard to fully use. Most do have plenty of phosphorescent bits, so you can use a tiny UV light to make them glow enough to navigate at night. 
  • They are plastic so can be broken under extreme conditions; I've seen them break
  • Not all features are implemented the same way, so it can be hard to train a group who all have different baseplate compass models
  • Most have only degrees or mils, not both; the few with both usually have one prioritized; in the photo above, it is hard to get accurate readings off the degree scale, for example
  • Many surplus compasses with mils are not 6400 so are hard to use properly in a team environment or with conventional training materials

Notes about Fluid Damped Compasses

Dampening is critical. Without it, the needle would wobble back and forth around the direction it wants to point and you would have to set the compass down and come back a few minutes later. 
  • Most are regional compasses. The shallow capsule requires the needle to be balanced for certain parts of the world, and going somewhere else can make it drag and read wrong
  • Some may get bubbles from large elevation changes. Bubbles can interfere with accurate readings, but generally go away if it is left alone at the use altitude for a few days or weeks


The mirror or Ranger compass is basically a Baseplate compass with a mirror. The mirror generally acts as a cover for the compass, but when erected is used to give a sighting line and reflect the capsule position for use in sighting and measuring angles with much more precision.
Yeah, most people think the mirror is for putting on your makeup or signaling airplanes but that's not what it is for. The mirror is a key part of making the compass work better. The top is brought up so you can use the mirror to see the capsule.
You then use the sight notch and the line on the mirror (not all have the line) to sight precisely to the target, while you keep the capsule in view to make sure it is level and so on. When reading a locked in bearing, to find a point to walk to or so on, you can turn your body slowly to move the compass until the needle lines up with the capsule marks, then see what is over the sight notch. So, helpful both ways.


  • Same as baseplate and can be used like a baseplate, but also... 
  • Higher precision
  • Protected capsule, so overall stronger and less prone to damage when stowed


  • Same as baseplate but generally not as fragile
  • No better on night use that I've seen
  • No freebies for precision; it takes time to take those better sightings


By this we only mean the post-war USGI issue compass and commercial versions of it. It is a folding, metal bodied compass with an induction-dampened, globally-capable capsule.

There is a simple scale along one side, the lid can fold up halfway as a sighting system not unlike the mirror compass, and there's a lens (lensatic!) that allows you to place the compass close to your eye, and both sight into the distance, and glance down to read the numbers on the capsule.


  • Standard. Everyone who' been in the military should know how to use one, though practically it's not taught a lot anymore
  • Very sturdy
  • Fits into compass pouches
  • Tritium models are by far the best night-usable compasses


  • Heavy, bulky, pokey. Needs to be in a compass pouch as it's not going in a top pocket or anything else
  • Requires additional materials (a roamer or "protractor") for plotting on maps; the way the compass operates simply does not account for this without orienting the map, and there are no scales on the base
  • Issued for a long time so many are very old; be careful buying used
  • Lowest bidder, so quality is hit and miss. Some broken, flawed in various ways which is bad for a precision instrument
  • Scale on the side of the compass is very coarse so hard to use
  • Features are complex so requires training to understand and use properly

Knockoffs, Mergers, and Lies

We nailed the technology of compasses long ago, so there is infinite selection of them. First, avoid anything with no name, or a name you haven't heard of.

Funny Foreign Military Issue Compasses

Many of you may have a funny foreign compass, or run across one at a surplus store. They may be nice, but often these are like the USGI compass in that they have neat features which... we won't know about. Collect them, but I'd avoid using one.

Big Names and Mergers

Then there's the big names, and even there things are a bit troubled. The big names (at least in baseplates and mirror compasses) have been Silva, Brunton and, Suunto. Now I've lost track of all the intrigue, but various weird corporate mergers and stuff means that there are no Silvas imported into the US.

Oh, you say you can find some? They are Brunton-made (east-Asia low cost imported, mostly) compasses, with the Silva name.

Often, they are Brunton-designed and purchased, sold in the US market, but only have the Silva name and model number. They are often made in cheap overseas factories, or modified from the original design. Sometimes horribly so. Some of my favorite Ranger compasses are no longer available officially as the Brunton-ized version has a plastic hinge.

I don't mean plastic cased with a pin like a hinge is on a door. I mean the top and bottom cases are one piece, then they just fold it. Fold too many times, it breaks into two pieces.

Brunton even sells compasses they do not build and maybe didn't design. There's one branded by them that appears to be a nice version of the USGI lensatic. It indeed only appears that way. Cheap, liquid dampened, and so poorly made it is often several degrees off. Be careful what you buy.

So, while those three brand names are still about the only good ones, be careful what you buy from them. In general, I wouldn't buy from WalMart or Target, but go to a serious camping store. Even then, I'd keep in mind all the risks and bad stories shared here, and look closely at it. If you buy online, make sure you can return for free if its not what was advertised. Yes, Amazon was selling photos of real-hinged Silva Rangers and the reviews warned they were actually plastic hinged US made knockoffs with many other issues.

There are a few other brands which are either old so you are buying used, or are not much or officially imported to the US. K&R seems to be a very good maker, but has few mil compasses and I've never seen one. Recta made Swiss and French military issue compasses, but got bought by someone so doesn't really exist anymore. And so on. Ask if you have a known brand and want to find out our thoughts. 

Tritium vs Phosphorescent

Lastly, let's talk about night use, and tritium in the USGI compasses. At night, your compass must glow. It can do that one of two ways:

  1. Phosphorescent – Or "glow in the dark" paints, inks and dyes are applied to the numbers, needles or backing of them. They absorb UV radiation and covert it to visible light, but transition between these states very slowly. 
    • Note they use UV light, not white light. LEDs are very narrowly focused so have no spare frequencies they emit, so you will need a UV keychain light to "charge" your phosphorescent compass, cateyes, etc.
    • Someone at Cammenga, the maker of the USGI compass for some years is a bit stupid, and no one else cares so they have for decades clearly labeled their phosphorescent compasses "Phosphorus." 
    • Radioluminescent – A radioactive source emits radiation during decay which is converted by materials much like those in phosophorescent systems to emit visible light.
      • Radium clock dials did this in a very convenient way, painted on only, but long before anyone cared about not killing their workers in truly horrible ways, so those are long banned. 
      • Today we use tritium, which is a radioactive gas, in tiny tubes. The inside walls are coated in powders that emit visible light. 
      • Tritium has a half life of (about) 10 years. Not a life, a half life. Half the tritium decays every ten years. So the tritium vial is half as bright after 10 years, half again as bright after another 10, etc. It never dies, just gets very dim. 
      • Tritium sources are VERY BRIGHT for a compass when new. 10-15 year old ones are a nice brightness, and will last you about 10 years before they get anything like too dim. 
      • Date codes for Cammenga compasses (most other USGI makers are probably too old now) are stamped on the inside of the lid of the compass. It's three numbers, but un-obviously: Year, Month, Lot. So "09 04 71" is made April 2009 and you ignore the last two digits. They are a bit unclear, but we tend to assume they use fresh tritium vials. 
      • Tritium is not at all dangerous. It is a tiny, tiny, tiny amount of a not particularly poisonous or radioactive material. Someone I know who works with this stuff had the math done: you would have to break 10,000 of them, at once, in a sealed phone booth and breath deeply to maybe, possibly become sick from it. 
      • Many, many, many seller of USGI compasses claim they are all Tritium. They are not. Be sure it is before you pay Tritium prices. 
      • It is hard to get the very good tritium illuminated European compasses as importation of even minorly radioactive stuff is full of paperwork. Most don't bother, so official, new models of these simply do not exist for us. Some pop up on eBay, or you can fly to Europe. 

    So where Do I Buy From? 

    Just knowing what to watch out for makes you a smart shopper and you can probably safely buy from anywhere, or walk away when you see nothing good. But good stores are nice because they rarely have garbage and you can trust anything.

    There aren't a lot of these. REI, EMS, MEC, CampMor and the like are not bad, but are mass market enough (selling workout clothes and so on) they sometimes have crappy compasses alongside the good ones.

    The only one I really know to be good now is Ben Meadows. They are a supplier of products for forestry and professional outdoorsy types, and have a wide range of prices, though most or all are in degrees if that matters to you.

    While I have never bought from them, Forestry Tools has some of the rare, cool and very expensive Silva Expedition compasses. Note the "6400" in the name should make you excited if you actually read this whole article.

    I buy a lot from the usual places I buy everything, Amazon and eBay. Surplus stores can also be good, but are the same for compasses as everything: un-knowledgable, often sell knockoffs, and sometimes overpriced. But sometimes you can find a deal because they don't, for example, get the difference between tritium and not or because they think a Rothco knockoff the USGI is worth more than any plastic frenchy compass so you can get something odd but awesome for a steal.

    Now, Learn How To Use It

    A tool like a compass is no good without training, and practical experience using it. CWG can get you that. Start planning for CWG's day/night land nav training course in October.

    Sign up now

    Friday, July 21, 2017

    Fall Land Nav Training Dates Announced

    We've finally gotten our stuff all lined up and have a training date. All day October 14 and the morning of October 15 we'll be doing a day/night land nav course.

    This is what you might call tactically oriented. It is for teams, and aside from navigating involves communications and planning, and some degree of stealth like use of light discipline.

    This is an open enrollment course. Spread the word far and wide. Anyone you work or play with who gets lost a lot or doesn't want to go into the woods should come so they learn new skills and are comfortable there.

    If you haven't trained on these skills for a few years, you can probably use a refresher.

    Near town so you can stay civilized, and KC area people can probably even sleep in their own beds.

    And we're keeping it as cheap as we can, only $25, with a map and take-home course printouts.

    Learn more, and sign up here:

    Assuming this all goes well and you all come and bring some friends, we'll have more of these. We'll have training in other regions, we'll do more advanced courses, and more topics.

    Monday, April 24, 2017

    Pick Your Date

    We're getting things lined up for a good land nav training course, but want to make sure as many of you can attend as possible.

    This first training course will be:

    • in the KC area
    • from mid-morning Saturday to lunchtime on Sunday
    • will end by midnight Saturday (unless you get really lost in the woods) so you will have a chance to sleep
    • will have on-site (tent) camping, but will also be close enough to town for you to get a hotel room
    • no food will be provided, but meal breaks are baked in so you can run to town for those if you wish also

    Once we get the location locked in, we'll be sure of fees but expect $25 for the weekend.

    Now, you tell us which dates you can attend.

    Tuesday, March 21, 2017

    Okay, Let's Try Something Else

    Much to our disappointment, we haven't gotten the turnout we require to put on a good event. So, we're cancelling operation King Rail 17, not because we won't make enough money, but because we refuse to put on bad events.

    For paying players, with the activities and immersion promised, we aren't going to run overly-small events that disappoint you. All those who signed up will be getting refunds in the next few hours.

    We're not quitting entirely so don't give up and/or be sad. But after two cancelled games in just a few months, let us talk a bit more about what this means.

    We still believe that the world needs more serious war gaming, or serious MilSim. Whether to fill an unmet need between re-enactors and the more woodsball paintball and airsoft gamer, or to provide useful training value, we think it's a good thing, and won't be going away soon. We have enough of a community expressing interest that if we could get you all to the same place, at the same time, we'd have an awesome event.

    But, we're not sure that ever happens, so do think we're going to have to shift gears instead of proposing and cancelling events over and over, taking money and refunding it to you.

    Our general plan is:
    • One "core" game a year, in April
    • Start putting on mass-market games
    • Collaboration and consulting
    • Begin offering training events
    • Continue with the community 

    Core War Gaming Events

    We call the Ardean/Kitoy set of events the "core" events. Yup, that's our jargon but we're being open so have to explain that to you.

    We're going to cut back to only trying to make one a year. It'll be the event just cancelled, or the same as Swift Fox 16, in April and probably always at D-Day Adventure Park in Oklahoma.

    Later, we'd love to expand this, by having events in other locations, at other times of year. If you know that you have a good group up in some other part of the country, but need us to run or help run an event, contact us and we'll discuss how we can make it work.

    This is also likely to stay airsoft for a while.

    We are unlikely to run another MILES event any  time soon, but if you think that's a great idea, we're a community! Rope your friends and comrades together and if you get enough we can put one of those on still, sure!

    Mass-Market Gaming Events

    We're never going to do weekend pickup games, if only because we don't have a place to put them on or a heavily local group to turn out every weekend, but we are going to attempt to make a more accessible event to bring in those not sure they can handle a core CWG event.

    This will (probably) be along these lines:
    • One night, not two. Saturday mid-morning to Sunday mid-day
    • Offer camping off the field for those who do not feel comfortable playing full time; go back to the camp to reconsolidate, reload, and rest.
    • Have more than two sides; think guerillas, government, peacekeepers
    • Have relaxed uniform requirements for some sides, and essentially no field equipment requirements (sleeping bags, food) for most players; bring food to the campsite, and a place to sleep but it can be a bright colored tent or your car
    • Allow more guns, and more or less require Kalashnikovs for at least one side 
    • And maybe even have scored objectives, so we can declare winners and losers 
    Expect to see this announced in the next month or so. If you have other specific features you want, or you can promise us enough players so want to bring it to your local area, or anything else about it, contact us or add comments here.

    Collaboration and Consulting

    We don't have any of these lined up quite yet, but have been talking lightly to a few folks about having collaborative events, in order to explore different regions, different scenarios, and different audiences. It's not totally different from the above section on being more mass market.

    And we're happy to discuss this with anyone. If you have a field, a good regular group, and think a deeply immersive 2-3 day day/night event would be a good next step, contact us about creating a joint game.

    And at the lowest level, we can help you make better milsim events yourself. Even to logistical support, making maps and so forth. If interested, contact us and we can talk about it.

    Fieldcraft Training

    As discussed recently on Facebook, we want to start offering training on topics others do not offer easily. General fieldcraft, land navigation, communications, tactical vehicle driving, and anything else you come up with. If the first of these go well, expect a regular series, maybe 3-4 a year.

    We'll also consider adding some more conventional tactical training such as night vision familiarization, shooting (airsoft and live weapons) and so on.

    These won't be free, but we'll try to keep them cheap. $20 is the sort of fee we're talking about but will vary based on our costs. Expect us to offer basic support like water, as well as maps, handouts, etc. But you will probably have to handle food and housing.

    These will be based in locations near civilization, and will have breaks planned so you can run off to get food at a restaurant, and sleep in a hotel room. No camping required, though we'll try to also have sites that allow it when we can to save you money.

    If you have input on this, of course you can comment, but also please take our survey on fieldcraft and training events. And yes, we're willing to travel to your part of the country, if you can actually promise a certain turnout, enough to make it worth our time and gas money.

    Blogging, Facebook

    We are also very interested in keeping the community up and running. Expect more nerdy blog posts on the vagaries of war gaming, on modern tactics and more.

    And if you like what we've been trying to do and are sad, don't be. Again let us reassure you we're still around.

    And you can help. Just keep subscribed to this blog, or to CWG on Facebook (or both). Add your own interesting posts on tactics, and share equipment that seems relevant. Tell your friends and consider better ways, places, fields and rules to make events work well.

    And tell us what you think. We won't necessarily DO everything you say, but we're accepting of every idea you might have, and enjoy talking to you all.

    Saturday, March 4, 2017

    Simulating Ambushes, Near and Far

    I have previously written about the principles of scale in war gaming and simulation systems. I made some references to the effect specific terrain features have on the scenario, and implied tactical considerations of that without getting into too many details. Today, let me explain one of them to you. Not just for the theory, but as understanding the concept will make you more effective in war gaming, and better able to apply the lessons to real world warfighting. 

    Ambushes are considered to be one of two types: near and far. Near ambushes you react to by running over them, far ones you react to with range weapons or support, and withdrawing. But the definitions of which is which are where things break down in my opinion. 

    I've seen specific distances used, or "grenade throwing range" as a definition. And I've specifically seen good, smart instructors say you simply cannot have a far ambush simulated in exercises (some admit it maybe works with MILES). 

    FM 7-92 even says that a near ambush is one in grenade range, and includes in the react-to-ambush drill that you throw grenades and smoke. But it leaves this out for far ambushes. 

    But those are incorrect definitions, and lead to worse training and no one getting proper experience. Instead, the definitions I think are right are: 
    • Near ambush – Ambushers can be easily assaulted as they are nearby, without excessive distance, difficult terrain, or obvious obstacles in the way. React by:
      1. Returning fire 
      2. Using smoke to obscure your position and actions, and hand grenades to distract and kill the enemy
      3. Troops in the kill zone turn and assault through the enemy position as soon as grenades fire
      4.  Troops outside the kill zone continue firing upon the enemy position until friendly forces over-run the enemy position, then lift or shift fires
    • Far ambush – Ambushers cannot be easily reached due to distance, or obstacles. React by:
      1. Returning fire
      2. Using cover, concealment and smoke to reduce the effectiveness of the ambush fires
      3. If available quickly enough, using elements not in the kill zone to direct fires and destroy or displace the ambushers
      4. Withdrawing from the kill zone 

    This definition allows us to accurately simulate both types of ambushes just fine with short range systems, such as paintball, UTM or Simunitions, blanks-and-yelling, or airsoft. This is important not just for the exercise or game administrator, but for tactical commanders as both options are available to you still. 

    I have seen this happen on several occasions in fact, to great effect and to great training value. Near ambushes are largely unchanged, but far ambushes are different. The ambushing unit: 

    1. Sets at nearly the maximum effective range of their weapons
    2. On the other side of an obstacle such as a creek, embankment, marshy area, etc. 
    Distance is actually irrelevant. Your "far" ambush may have troops set up 20 yards from the crossroads you are ambushing, because that is as far away as they can be to bring fire to bear effectively, and the steep-sided creek between the two is effectively impassable.

    When the ambush occurs, the troops in the kill zone may be able to clearly see the enemy forces just a few dozen yards away, but will also be able to tell they cannot be reached and over-run. 

    As an aside, simulation grenades are often very lightweight so have a reduced range, thereby adding to the scale effect. 

    Complex terrain occurs in reality just like this. If I was setting up an ambush I would certainly want to make sure you could not assault my position, regardless of how far away I was. This has happened many times in our most recent wars, with walled garden plots, and frequent irrigation ditches providing obstacles to reach enemy forces who are quite nearby, per conventional definitions of ambushes. 

    Do not hew too hard to doctrine and rote memorization of facts and drills. Think about why things are the way they are, how environment and circumstances get their vote in the battle, how you can exploit the situation, and how the enemy can use this all this against you. 

    Monday, February 27, 2017

    Scale in War Gaming

    War gaming has a long and storied history, and one that you may have bumped into without realizing it. If you played Dungeons & Dragons, with figures or especially games like Warhammer of any era, you are just participating in the modern version of an 18th century aristocratic past-time.

    Enlightenment-era gentlemen used their spare time, and the principle of acquiring knowledge as being a good thing, to study all sorts of things. One of them was understanding of military tactics. They did this by building (or having built, I assume) tabletop terrain and staging battles with figures.

    In the book-heavy era, many of them—despite being senior officers when wars would come—rarely drilled and never visited the actual battlefields. And they never made up new battles, or tried new tactics, but entirely and studiously re-enacted the actual events as best they could, taking months or years to position the figures carefully based on a reading of all the available literature.

    This was not a secret nerd hobby, but something to be proud of and worthy of discussion. After dinner parties you'd show it off to visitors, and have discussions — even arguments — with them, as you may decide from one account the artillery observer was on the front face of the hill, whereas the conventional wisdom is that he was co-located with the command staff on the crest.

    Upon such details, was the stage set for disasters when modern weapons and tactics emerged.

    War Gaming Units

    From this came a few basic principles everyone followed in their war game modeling. First and most obvious is that the model is at scale. There are unverified reports of a few insanely wealthy individuals grading land to resemble foreign battlefields and staging a version of re-enactments, but really all we're talking about are tabletops, so the battlefield is obviously much smaller.

    They also do not have a toy soldier for each individual on the battlefield. At the scales involved, the soldiers would be a millimeter or two tall, would be a vast ocean of figures to handle, and most of all, who cares about individuals?

    This is critical to understand. At a battle-tactics level, as the general running, simulating, or re-enacting a battle, no individual man is directed to do anything. Units move about the battlefield. So the fusilier figure above is not what he seems to be, but a Company of men—the smallest maneuver unit at the time—equipped as such.

    This is reflected in today's war gaming as well. Warhammer, for one, still calls figures "units" and while they do not quite explicitly say so, a close reading of the rules and understanding of the mechanics indicates this is what it is all based on. This is why a wounded individual becomes less effective, slower, etc. instead of simply dropping out of the fight.

    Field Exercises at Scale

    Of course the same thing applies to tabletop exercises and wargames today. But while it is rarely discussed openly, the same application of scale is basically true for real-world war gaming, from military FTXs all the way down to airsoft games. 

    By "scale" I mean it in three ways:
    • Distance — Ranges are expensive to operate, and complex to monitor so smaller spaces are easier to handle. Many simulation systems have reduced range so must necessarily be used in reduced scale environments. 
    • Units — Smaller than realistic units are often employed, with Platoons taking on Company objectives, for example. At the least, they are slices of a war, with that Platoon pretending they are part of a larger effort, which exists only on paper or the radios of the exercise administrators. 
    • Time — There is limited time to get away from the office or use the range resources, so most exercises and games take place over an un-realistically short timeframe to assure it works for cost and schedule of everyone. 

    While there are events which are broadly full-size actions, they are special events run relatively rarely at places like Ft. Irwin, because of the difficulty and expensive of moving large scale units. I still claim they are run at a reduced time scale, at the least, and often have reduced distance (with off-board fires and aircraft), or units with the action being a significant but smaller part of a larger battle. 

    Reduced Scale Ranges 

    Even with the "near miss" beep from MILES, the most accurate simulation systems (on the receiving end at least) throw actual projectiles. These actually keep people's heads down, cut branches and ricochet, so are better at simulating the effects of incoming fire, but of course for safety cannot have the range or penetration of real bullets.

    That means Simunitions, UTM, or airsoft must have reduced range. I round this is about 10:1 scale—the guns are effective to no more than 30 yards, and typical battlefields today rarely find actions past 300 yards, so it very roughly works.

    Building effective war games requires understanding this scale factor. A lot of people who do admit that Simunition and airsoft are effective training systems will append it with "especially indoors." While true (systems like MILES are frustratingly ineffective, and potentially dangerous at indoor ranges) this misses out on a lot of opportunity.

    At CWG, we always set up events with projectile systems like airsoft in close country. Whenever possible, we use terrain with small, close hills and steep valleys. Flat ground is wooded, and we avoid stretches of open ground more than about 50 m across.

    Clearly, sometimes we have longer ranges where you can see each other. We try to keep them to looking hilltop to hilltop, or across terrain features such as a difficult to cross creek. You cannot shoot at each other due to range, but that's okay because you cannot maneuver on each other easily (or at least cannot do so while staying in sight the whole time), so the oddity of the range limits of your weapons doesn't become obvious.

    This also pans out well if other weapon systems are employed. Grenade launchers, rockets and mortars can have ranges 2-3 times larger than rifles, as they do on the real battlefield. Everyone knows this—and we keep enemy capabilities secret, so you never know what the enemy may have. In practice, we see that units sighting each other at longer ranges will generally run off and hide to avoid being counted, or in case there is a long-range system available which will soon come down on them, or other enemies to maneuver on them.

    We even imply this 10:1 scale with the maps we issue for our events. We have grid lines and grid reference values along the sides at 100 m, instead of 1 km.

    Time and Units

    I also think the 10:1 ratio is a good rule of thumb for time and unit sizes as well. A very good event can be held in a weekend, with 20 people on a side. But no real world action would involve patrolling an area (notionally, with scale) 20 km wide with a light Platoon for a weekend. Even in a third world it would take a Battalion more like a month.

    All that means is that we can simulate real world actions with smaller units, in smaller timeframes and they do not seem silly or ineffective. Imagine if one part of the scale was off. Say we had a huge piece of land, and could shoot accurately 800 m away so it worked. It would be boring to have 20 soldiers per side fighting over an area 20 km wide for just a weekend; you'd never see each other, and would end the event bored and tired.

    Most war gaming uses these principles, but often without understanding what and why they are doing it. Explicitly understanding the issues and limits of your systems, terrain, range and individuals can help you generate a more effective, focused and enjoyable training exercise or game for everyone.

    Monday, February 20, 2017

    War Gaming for Education, Training, and Fun

    Ardean attendees participate in an After Action Review, just after ENDEX (End of Exercise) discussing events of the weekend, what went well and what could be improved in the future. 

    Many of you coming to CWG events are doing it for fun. And we're all good with that. Once the boring and frantic administrative tasks are done, we enjoy coming out into the field with you also.

    But I also come out to train, to confirm my training or equipment works, or to prove I have training biases or bad habits. Much of how we've set up the events is designed to make them better simulations of combat—so much that we also call them Field Training Exercises (FTXs) just like the Army does. Because if you come to the event with the right mindset, you can getting training value out of them as well.

    While we use several simulation systems, the fact that we use airsoft makes a lot of people giggle about the paragraphs above, and dismiss the events entirely. I mean airsoft? That's for fat kids on the one day a year they aren't playing video games in the basement while covered in Cheeto dust, amirite?

    Well, no. Airsoft is a tremendous simulation system with otherwise unachievable cost, flexibility, and safety. Range is the biggest issue but can be worked around by selecting good environments, and understanding the value of scale in design of the scenario, and events. I'll discuss scale in detail in a separate post later on.

    Getting Off the Range

    Think of the other thing that is often looked upon with disdain by the shooting community. Taking too much of a lesson, or having training handicaps from time on "the square range." We all know you can only learn so much about how to fight, work together, communicate and explore the use of your gear while pointing one way only, and staying in your lane.

    This is important for safety when there are real bullets, but in the real word there's no real downrange, but the enemy can be anywhere. You do try to not shoot your team mates, but sometimes you do have to shoot over or around them.

    At CWG, all of our war gaming events are in the field, creating this complete environment. The enemy isn't standing still across a flat gravel lot, but is moving, and hiding behind trees, and hills. You have to use microterrain to maneuver yourself into position.

    Airsoft is not just some toy but is part of the range of systems that provide what is called a force-on-force simulation. That is the term used for the ability to shoot at other actual people without killing them in training environments.

    All FoF systems have their upsides and downsides. Often a key downside is safety, with many of them requiring hearing protection, and firing much more dangerous projectiles, which require lots more protective equipment. Some use real guns as the host, which requires a lot of safety checks and can encounter legal and regulatory issues. Many systems are restricted to certified end users, so are not easy to use.

    Anything that fires projectiles has to consider where they go, so has to be done on a range of some sort, with restricted access and a backstop or enough room for the projectile to run out so it doesn't hit anyone or anything outside the range.

    Some systems are insanely expensive to acquire or the consumables are too expensive, so are clearly out. Many organizations, even military forces, still train at least in part with blanks. Just blanks. Or even empty guns and saying "bang," both for cost, and safety reasons.

    Airsoft is cheap, quiet, and safe. The short range means you need few range safety precautions to protect bystanders. At very close ranges, airsoft can hurt a lot, but rarely injures anyone as long as minimal precautions about power (speed) of the guns are enforced. Eye protection has to be worn all the time, but for me, it's the same eyepro I wear when shooting for real, so isn't really a burden.

    A Full Engagement Suite

    The other thing I really like about airsoft is how broad the weapons selection is. No, not that you can get all sorts of guns, but that you can get hand grenades, and grenade launchers, land mines, and rocket launchers, even mortars.

    Many simulation systems simply do not offer these, and for the rest they are again wildly dangerous or expensive, so even military units rarely encounter anything but rifles and machine guns.

    As a civilian enterprise, open to the public, we also cannot easily give you even machine guns in MILES; blank firing guns are guns to the regulatory agencies, so that's out.

    Airsoft lets you work with a team for real. Not a bunch of guys running around with rifles, but coordinating the different resources; setting the base of fire with a machine gun, using grenades to try to distract and drive the enemy, and maneuvering on the enemy with your riflemen.

    Living in the Woods

    Most other events, and the use of practically all FoF systems, are run as brief exercises. A few minutes or a few hours of shooting and running around, then the exercise is suspended and everyone leaves the field, removes safety equipment and takes a rest. 

    The lower safety requirements for airsoft also mean we can safely and effectively make you all live in the woods for days at a time. 

    In my time at many FoF events and on the range, I've seen far more injuries arising from the protective equipment than I have from the simulation systems. Armor, helmets, gloves and groin protectors make you hot, so we get heat casualties. Full-face (paintball-style) protective masks reduce visibility so people run into branches, fall into holes and trip on things. 

    Airsoft just requires the eye protection. And if you cannot handle that full time, then the pellets are so light they are stopped by even the thinnest layer of nylon, so simply set up a tent, go inside and zip it up. Even if the enemy assaults your camp, we don't allow them to destroy equipment for real, burst into tents, or even shoot at them directly. You may be in-game killed but not actually injured. 

    It's fun and educational to go through a shoot house, get charged by a robot to demonstrate the 21 foot rule, or have a shootoff (both facing downrange, racing to hit targests) with other students. But being immersed in the environment changes entirely how you act, and what options become available to you. 

    Getting The Most Training for Your Time

    Our rules and equipment requirements are partly to promote a safe environment, but partly to encourage you to get the best experience and the most training value out of is.

    For one example, we don't use white BBs. Why? Because you can see them. I rarely can see bullets in flight, so we issue you dark BBs. You have to use your sights, just like on a real gun. Better zero that gun to make sure the pellets hit the target if you do your part. 

    Oh, you can see tracers? Good point. Our machine gun ammo is white, with glow in the dark at about 1 in 5 so you can see them, day or night.

    Doing Your Part

    How can you get the best training bang for your time with CWG? Almost any way you want. As long as you stay reasonably within the equipment requirements, you can use the uniform, web gear and equipment that you use for other events, own already for self-preparedness, or use for work in the military or police. You may need to remove insignia and pick a side that allows that gear, but you will fit into one or another most likely. 

    Myself, I bought hardly anything specifically for CWG events except the unit shirts. I make sure that my weapons are as similar as possible to my real guns. For example:
    • I use realcaps when possibl, so I make every shot count. I mostly fire semi-auto, also. 
    • My slings are already modified to be modular so I don't have to buy a dozen $50 slings. I have the attachment hardware on all my airsoft guns as well, so just click one on. 
    • Sights are the same as those on my real guns, and the magnifier is my actual EOTech G.33 as it clips onto any rail and doesn't need to be zeroed. 
    • I use my actual IR laser from my real gun. It's not re-zeroed so I don't mess it up for my real rifle. But it's close enough for typical night fighting ranges.

    Talk to your team about your plans. Use actual hand signals, radio prowords and codebooks, or try out a tactic you never get to try alone, on the rifle range.

    And I think, talk to the community. Plan in advance, talk about what happened afterwards so you can learn from it and get the enemy perspective on things. 

    We will have a brief after action review when the event is done, but keep on thinking about what you learned or what surprised you. Keep discussing, and asking questions about it so you are better prepared for the next event, or the next time you go shooting for real.

    Monday, February 6, 2017

    Announcing our April Event: Operation King Rail 17

    Today we're pleased to announce our annual signature event, the spring airsoft field exercise at D-Day Adventure Park. 

    As usual, this is a 3 day long 24 hour per day immersive milsim event. You will move, sleep, eat and fight in the field, straight through from mid-morning Friday to lunchtime on Sunday. 

    Set in a fictitious environment to avoid the “that’s not how they really did it” comments, CWG creates a military operating environment by modeled itself on snippets of fact drawn from real armies, conflicts, and countries. From the moment you arrive till the moment you leave, you are surrounded by and living the life of a light infantry soldier deployed in the field, fighting in a modern, low-intensity conflict.

    You will choose to take part as a dragoon of the Ardean 23rd Frontier Guards, or an infantryman with the Kitoi 4th Expeditionary Protective Area Brigade. Each side has it's own specific options, requirements, advantages, and disadvantages, but you may find it easier to think that one side is OD green or Multicam and carries M4s, the other side wears Woodland and carries 7.62 battle rifles. 

    Who may participate? 

    Anyone who is 18 years of age or older on the first day of play, pays the fees, shows up on time, and abides by the rules and equipment requirements. All registration is first come, first served so sign up today!

    How much does it cost?

    The total event fee is $125. There are no hidden fees; though we offer certain things for sale they are optional. You will have to provide all your equipment, and even food, but we do supply BBs.

    Where does it happen? 

    We are please to announce that King Rail 17 will again be held at D-Day Adventure Park in Wyandotte, Oklahoma. No doubt, there are a great many of you who have played at D-Day before. It is an amazing facility with a lot of really impressive infrastructure.

    We will be operating on a 1000+ acre playing field with 45 miles of roads and trails. There are towns, an airfield, steep hills, green valleys, streams, ponds, and lots of space. 

    Many of you think you are familiar with D-Day from Swift Fox 16, any of several East Wind events or other airsoft games. But as with last spring's game, we intend to plan for something a bit different, and will use somewhat more challenging and different terrain than you may be used to. 

    Why 24x7?

    CWG wanted to put together an immersive event, without the need to take a whole week off work or school. Many weekend games take a long time to get started, and pause at night, but we'll have it all set up when you arrive, and run the game straight through so we can squeeze the most out of a long weekend and still be practical.

    By actually running for almost 3 days we maximize our field time and get the most value out of our weekend vacation time. By running through the night, we get to use skills that are rarely exercised, and those of us with night vision (or who rent it) get to fully use your equipment for a change. 

    If you cannot attend for the entire time, that's fine. Built into the schedule are two reinforcement times where new squads can enter play later. Let me tell you, the guys in the field will love fresh reinforcements! Its their chance to nap, and your chance to take up the slack on patrol

    Why should I go to Operation King Rail 17?

    You should come to a CWG event because you are looking for a challenge, an experience, a place to actually do all the things you trained so hard to master before this.

    If you are looking for a full war gaming experience that can take your milsim preparations to the next level, sign up for Operation King Rail 17 today.

    To sign up now, or read more about the event, visit: 


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