Central War Gaming Blog

Central War Gaming Blog


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: 


© 2015-2016 Central War Gaming | Contact Us | Facebook | Twitter