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Progress and Perils: Educational Wargaming in the US Marine Corps By Damien O’Connell

Updated: Apr 19


Marines of Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, duke it out in Take That Hill! while deployed to Australia in 2022.

(Credit: Zachary Schwartz)


Introduction: A Golden Age of Wargaming?


In recent years, the Marine Corps has devoted significant energy, resources, and funding to wargaming. The future Robert B. Neller Center for Wargaming and Analysis (the Neller Center) in Quantico, Virginia, offers the most visible example of these efforts. This $100 million, 100,446-square-foot center looks to “dramatically enhance wargaming” to support force design, force development, and force employment.[1] It also aims to help senior leaders examine complex problems, support decision-making, and validate operational and campaign plans.[2]


In education, Marine Corps University (MCU) uses wargames at Expeditionary Warfare School (EWS), Command and Staff College (CSC), the School of Advanced Warfighting (SAW), Marine Corps War College, and the College of Enlisted Military Education (CEME). It also boasts a digital Wargaming Cloud where students and faculty can fight online, an extracurricular wargaming Fight Club, a companion tabletop wargame Breakfast Club, and a just-launched wargaming podcast.[3]


MCU's wargaming team has done exceptional work since its inception.

(Credit: The Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Future Warfare, https://www.usmcu.edu/Portals/218/Krulak%20Newsletter%20-%20Issue%2014.pdf)


In Training Command, the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group (MCTOG) uses wargames extensively in its Advanced Maneuver Warfare Course (AMWC).[4] Other schools and courses, like the Infantry Small Unit Leaders Course at the Schools of Infantry, run wargames to greater and lesser degrees, with more looking to integrate them.[5]


Supporting wargaming efforts from outside the Corps, the Marine Corps Gazette runs a monthly wargame feature by Joseph Miranda, the prolific game designer and Strategy and Tactics magazine editor.[6] It also offers free wargames to commands on request, having already supplied hundreds of copies of titles like Memoir ‘44 and The Shores of Tripoli.[7] Last but not least, its publisher, the Marine Corps Association (MCA), co-hosted and co-sponsored OBJ 1, a wargaming convention at the Modern Day Marine trade show, the first in its 41-year history.[8]


It appears we live in a Golden Age of Wargaming in the Marine Corps.


However, educational wargaming has yet to “take off” the way one would expect with strong institutional backing, financial investment, and outside support.[9] In Quantico, the hub of the Marine Corps' wargaming efforts, relatively few active-duty Marines participate in MCU’s Fight Club tournaments or Breakfast Club meetings. Most who do appear to be veteran gamers and proponents, with recent converts and curious souls making up the minority.


For example, in Fight Club’s January 2023 wargame tournament, 32 students and faculty across MCU took part. While this number is encouraging, it amounts to just 5.5% of MCU’s roughly 600 resident students and faculty.[10]


Earlier this month, Fight Club hosted NAPCON, a Napoleon table-top-themed event with spots for one hundred players. Only five people signed up according to the player registration website.[11] Of course, more people may have attended than signed up. Still, pictures of the event on social media show just a handful of players, mostly longtime proponents of educational wargaming like Colonel Eric Walters and Dr. Jim Lacey. Few active-duty Marines, the primary target of these events, appear in attendance.[12]


On average, Fight Club tournaments see participation from 40-50 players, with the highest recorded number reaching 110. Notably, Fight Club extends invitations to a few non-MCU organizations, including sister services, the Department of Defense (DOD), Central Command, and NATO. Roughly 80% of players come from MCU and the remaining 20% from elsewhere. Of the MCU players, about 60% are active-duty Marines, with the remainder consisting of sister service and allied service members and DOD civilians.[13] These figures reinforce the observation that few active-duty Marines engage in extracurricular wargaming opportunities at Quantico.


Finally, the MCU Fight Club Discord channel includes only 186 members, with many of these non-Marines or non-active-duty Marines. While the channel has been live only since October 2022, a count of 200 people seems small, given the thousands of Marines who have fought wargames at MCU and elsewhere.[14]


To be clear, none of these observations mean to disparage or diminish the stellar work of MCU’s Wargaming Directorate. I sincerely salute, support, and endorse their efforts.


Turning to the fleet, few units, particularly combat arms units, appear to use educational wargames routinely. This lack of activity seems odd because, again, thousands of combat arms officers and SNCOs have been exposed to wargames at Quantico since 2020, when schools like CSC began running them in earnest.[15]


Based on these observations of what is happening in the fleet and Quantico, we should be concerned with the direction and future viability of educational wargaming. In the following sections, I detail five concerns and pose recommendations where I have them. But I certainly do not have all the answers. The wargaming community must collectively grapple with the challenges described here to help wargaming spread and, more importantly, “stick” throughout the Marine Corps.


Concern 1: Few combat arms units wargame routinely.


Some units, such as First Battalion, Second Marines, and Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, have recently used educational wargames in their PME programs or Warfighting Society chapters.[16] In 2019, Matthew Tweedy and Taylor McKechnie, then company commanders in Second Battalion, Second Marines, ran a tournament and experiment using Memoir ‘44, the results of which The Manevuerist published.[17] However, most combat arms units have not followed suit. They may dabble in wargames, running a few occasionally, but not more.


What is happening here? We can blame at least six factors for this state of affairs: (1) confusion about what educational wargaming is and is not, (2) skepticism of its value, (3) ignorance of its successful use, (4) limited time, (5) aversion to nerd culture, and (6) ignorance of how to integrate wargames into training and education plans.


First, many Marines confuse educational wargaming with the wargaming step (step 3) in the Marine Corps Planning Process (MCPP). In general, educational wargames focus on learning and developing the players’ knowledge or skills.[18] By contrast, MCPP wargaming evaluates a staff’s proposed courses of action. It stress tests plans, finds shortfalls, and highlights strengths and weaknesses. This process is useful, but it is not educational wargaming.[19] 


Analytical wargames offer another source of confusion. According to two wargaming experts at the Naval Postgraduate School, “Analytic wargames are designed to collect and analyze information from wargame play, and these results either feed directly into a decision, or are used to develop other analytic products.”[20]Analytic wargames typically focus on concept development, force design, testing concepts of operations and operational plans, and modeling and simulating weapons and equipment. They involve player decision-making but do not focus on education.[21]


Second, Marines may be skeptical of the value of wargaming. They may, for instance, share the views of a senior Ukrainian military official who, in a 4 December New York Times article, stated that wargaming “doesn’t work.”[22] He cited its failure to accurately depict the challenges of the modern battlefield in preparation for the now-stillborn Ukrainian summer offensive. This view is debatable, but it exists. Others, such as the defense critic Wilf Owen, argue that, among other things, "good" wargames require players to write actual orders, execute real staff processes and procedures, and consult real maps of real terrain.[23] While I am largely sympathetic to this view, it, too, is debatable. 


Third, combat arms Marines lack modern-day success stories of wargaming. They remain unconvinced of its utility, failing to see a direct link between wargaming and its effects on their performance in combat and training. Many do not know of Lieutenant Steve Dethlefsen, a scout sniper platoon commander and intelligence officer who used Advanced Squad Leader to teach Marines how to breach Iraqi fortifications in Operation Desert Storm; or Lieutenant Colonel Brendan McBreen, an internationally recognized expert in tactical decision-making, who ran countless matches in digital wargames like Operation Crusader and Close Combat: Marine to help achieve decision-making excellence; or Colonel Matthew Tracy who credited the latter game with helping him prepare to fight and win in brutal combat as a company commander in Haditha, Iraq, in 2006-2007.[24] Marines need more stories like this to understand how wargaming can enhance their training, education, and combat readiness.


Fourth, it is hard to integrate and harder to sustain wargaming in combat arms units. They are notoriously “task-saturated” organizations, and most wargames take significant time to learn, set up, play, and debrief.[25] Units often avoid wargaming because of opportunity costs. These costs run higher in units where wargaming is not already established as a legitimate educational tool.[26] 


As Major Zachary Schwartz noted in MCTOG’s Tactics and Operations podcast,


If someone has to read a rulebook that looks like the King James Bible, they’re probably not gonna be having a blast…when they show up [to a wargame], or when they’ve got a million other things going on, as we do. We can’t ignore the fact [that] the battalion continues to move, that there are still things that need to happen while we’re trying to play wargames.[27]


Retired Marine Colonel Tim Barrick, the Director of Wargaming at MCU, echoed the major’s comments in another podcast. 


…the challenge with wargames is a lot of them take time to really allow the game to play back and forth…you can have fast games….that’s absolutely true that you can make it in a couple hours. But then there’s value in the games that go over time and may take several days to play out.[28]


Commanders, moreover, generally do not prioritize decision-making excellence in their units. They focus on metrics and things that get accolades or reprimands: readiness and maintenance levels, PME and annual training completion rates, retention numbers, and disciplinary issues.[29] These are all easily and objectively measurable. Decision-making abilities are not.   


Fifth, bias against nerd culture and wargaming is real. To counter it, the wargaming community must carefully select the games it advocates to combat arms units, especially those unfamiliar with wargaming. Combat arms units have already shown they can tolerate titles like Memoir ‘44.[30] I would also encourage them to use quick-play games like Kriegspiel 2030, UK Fight Club’s Take That Hill!, its upcoming Take That Street!, and the Pocket Battle Games of Against the Odds Magazine. If Marines respond positively to these, commanders can include One-Hour Wargames and Osprey Publishing’s Undaunted Series.[31]


With caution and, ideally, by request from the Marines, commanders can use fantasy and sci-fi-themed games. These do hold value and should not be dismissed out of hand.[32] Col Barrick asserts that


[in these games,]...you’re creating…hypothetical situations with…often fictional capabilities, and then you’re wrestling with…how would you employ that, right? And that’s stimulating the imagination to think of…here’s what’s in the…art of the possible and gets back to basic strategy, tactics, etc.[33]


Major Schwartz agrees, suggesting, 


Don’t limit yourself to…just a…[Littoral Commander] or a Memoir ‘44. If you’re waiting for that stuff to arrive, I guarantee you’ve got some Marines in your formations right now who have Starcraft on their computers. Guess what? You hook two…computers together, and you’ve got people making decisions, in real-time, against each other. That’s a wargame…You can play that, and you can learn from that. So, I would encourage you to use resources that your Marines probably already have and are probably already into.[34]


Sixth, wargame options can be overwhelming, and commanders often need help knowing where to start. Few guides exist that describe or assess wargames' purpose or training value. Those that do can overwhelm non-wargamers and veterans alike.[35] It is also unclear how and when to address player “burn-out” with a game and introduce a replacement.


Major McKechnie proposes the wargaming community devise a six-month “off-the-shelf” PME plan that integrates wargaming.[36] This plan would give units a map and guide. A good starting point is The Infantry Working Groups’ company PME plan, which includes sessions of Close Combat: Modern Tactics.[37]


Once commanders settle on a game or games, they should set the example and openly wargame with their subordinate leaders, aiming to make them “true believers.”[38] These interactions can serve as “conversion experiences,” demonstrating wargaming's martial benefits and relevancy. Commanders can then invite junior Marines to play and encourage wargaming throughout their units. 


Finally, wargame advocates should avoid pejoratively describing games like Memoir ‘44 as “simple” or “menial.” Comments like this come off as snobbish and turn people off. The wargaming community must gain a foothold in combat arms units. Games like Memoir ‘44, with their relatively low complexity and time requirements, offer the educational equivalent of a breaching shotgun and are ideally suited for this task.[39]


In closing, I echo Sebastian Bae’s argument that we must push wargaming down to tactical units.[40] However, I would focus first on institutionalizing it in infantry battalions, then other combat arms units, and, finally, combat service support units. If the grunts do it consistently, I wager everyone else will follow.


Concern 2: Wargaming has an image problem.


The key skills required of Marine leaders are deciding, communicating, and acting in combat and other high-stakes situations.[41] Therefore, the primary goal of educational wargames should be to help Marines develop these skills. We can and should use wargames for other things - to teach logistics and military history, for example - but, arguably, they hold the most value as tools to develop decision-making excellence.[42]


With this value proposition, wargames should be an easy sell. However, wargames suffer from an image problem that stifles many Marines from adopting them. Here are four examples.


A field-grade infantry officer and fellow wargamer told me, “I hate how wargaming became cool, man. Because it isn’t the cool kids who ramble about it. It’s nerds, people who used to get shoved in lockers, and POGs [persons other than grunts].”[43]


Major McKechnie stated that the officers he knows in a Camp Lejeune-based infantry battalion think wargaming is “fucking lame.”[44]


A retired sergeant major, career infantryman, and recent wargaming convert made similar remarks, observing that the professional wargamers he met in Quantico seemed socially awkward and geekish. “Stuffy suits,” he called them.[45]


Finally, in MCTOG’s Tactics and Operations podcast, Staff Sergeant David Wood, another SNCO-turned-wargamer, offered, “I think one of the things…that…turned me off [to wargaming] for the longest time…[was the thought], ‘I’m not a nerd.’ There’s…a perception of people who play board games, people who play tabletop games, ‘Oh, they’re nerds.’...There are some people…who are maybe a little obsessed with the hobby.”[46]


A bias exists against wargames and the wargaming community. Readers might conclude that only infantrymen (as seen in the backgrounds of those quoted above) hold this view. However, the stigma against wargamers extends beyond any one field.[47] Wargamers cannot wish away the stigma or expect it to recede on its own. We must address it directly. 


Many Marines, particularly in the combat arms, dislike anything associated with “nerd” culture. This includes intellectualism and fantasy. Leaders in intelligence, logistics, or aviation units may find fertile ground for wargaming among their Marines, but that is not what I have observed in most combat arms units. For better or worse, these Marines are not intellectuals or do not want others to see them as such. Therefore, they may reject wargames outright.[48] 


Exceptions do exist, of course. I have met a well-respected scout sniper who ran Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) sessions in his unit while on deployment. Some infantry SNCOs and officers have used Battletech, Warhammer, Starcraft, and other Sci-Fi games to hone decision-making skills and teach warfighting concepts.[49]


Moreover, a growing body of evidence suggests that mainstream American culture has embraced aspects of nerd culture, including D&D.[50] This increased acceptance extends to wargaming, where, on LinkedIn and Twitter, some active-duty Marines proudly share pictures of themselves playing wargames and attending wargame events. For now, however, they remain the minority.


To return to MCU’s Fight Club, why have relatively few active-duty Marines attended its events or tournaments? Time, of course, poses a major challenge. Enthusiasm for wargames likely peaks early in the academic year, only to fade in the face of looming writing assignments, exams, and other graded events. 


In addition, some MCU students and observers have commented that Fight Club's events mandate participation and turn wargaming into homework. This approach works fine for true believers, they say, but will bring few converts.[51] Indeed, critics could argue that the events seem to cater to current wargamers, which amounts to pastors preaching to their choirs.


Beyond the students at MCU, a much larger group of Marines serve aboard Quantico. At The Basic School (TBS), hundreds of lieutenants await training in a holding unit known as Mike Company. Many crave opportunities for professional military education (PME) and decision-making practice. Many would jump at the chance to take charge, think on their feet, and be leaders. If encouraged and permitted by their leadership, I imagine dozens would flock to MCU’s wargaming events. 


So, too, might the Marines at other local commands, such as Officer Candidates School, Training and Education Command, Recruiting Command, Combat Development Command, Security Battalion, Weapons Training Battalion, and Marine Corps Embassy Security Group. The question is, why have they not?


First, MCU’s Fight Club and Breakfast Club understandably focus on MCU students and staff and do not advertise to Marines beyond campus. Second, Fight Club typically allows only MCU personnel and members of a few non-Marine Corps organizations to play in its online tournaments.[52] The tournaments use MCU’s wargaming cloud, and each player account costs money.[53] With a limited number of accounts, it makes sense the MCU wargaming team would shy away from adding non-MCU Marine players.


However, the Fight Club might need to “spend money to make money.” If its goal is to create a community of practice of wargamers (made up primarily of active-duty Marines, one would think), the Fight Club ought to look beyond the walls of MCU and advertise to all local commands.[54] The club already allows non-Marines to participate in its events, so why not extend the invitation to interested non-MCU Marines abroad in Quantico?


For instance, the Fight Club could grant a limited number of provisional accounts to non-MCU Marines. If MCU later needed those accounts, the Fight Club would simply inform the non-MCU Marines and reassign the accounts. These steps could boost participation in and awareness of MCU’s extracurricular wargaming efforts.



MCU's Wargaming Cloud

Credit: Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Future Warfare


Even if implemented, however, they still do not fully account for the apparent lack of interest in wargaming among Marines stationed at Quantico. The critics quoted at the beginning of this section may have a point. The problem may be us, the proponents of wargaming. Are we – me included – the best people to spread wargaming, especially to combat arms Marines? I am starting to think not. Perhaps we turn people off without even realizing it.


I am unsure who better spokespeople would be. Jim Mattis? Dale Alford? The commandant? Active-duty infantry officers and squad leaders? Notice all my answers are grunts. This view reflects my bias toward the infantry. 


Whom would you offer? Whatever your answer, I urge my fellow wargamers to look in the mirror and reflect on our backgrounds, presentation, and how others perceive us. Simply saying, “Well, that’s their problem,” absolves oneself of any role in finding a solution. As wargamers, how do we “come off” to non-wargamers? How might this affect our efforts and potentially harm the cause we care for so deeply? How do we light a fire for wargaming at MCU, across the rest of Quantico, and in the fleet? How do we create irresistible offers for Marines, especially combat arms Marines, to wargame?


Concern 3: Wargames focus disproportionately on field-grade officers.


In Quantico, majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels play the bulk of educational wargames. EWS is the exception, and several of CEME’s schools feature wargames to greater and lesser degrees. Beyond the occasional force-on-force sandtable exercise, no formal wargaming exists at TBS. Many entry-level enlisted and officer MOS schools lack wargaming, though some want to implement it.[55]


These gaps pose major missed opportunities to develop decision-making excellence. The Marine Corps should include educational wargames at TBS and in all MOS schools where appropriate. Today's lieutenants are tomorrow's company and battalion commanders, and today’s lance corporals are tomorrow’s fire team, squad, and (potentially) platoon commanders. Indeed, if we fight a protracted war like the one in Ukraine, junior Marines will lead platoons soon enough.


Critics may contend that wargaming is best suited for officers and SNCOs. Junior Marines and NCOs, they say, should focus on the science of warfighting, not the art. This view contradicts the Marine Corps’ warfighting philosophy, rejects the mandates from both the previous and current commandants to increase decision-making opportunities at all levels, and dismisses the demands of modern war.[56] On the latter point, Ukrainian soldiers and NCOs have stepped up to make tough decisions well “above their pay grade.”[57] Young Marines will doubtlessly have to do the same in the future. Wargames can help prepare them for these situations.


Concern 4: Wargames have eclipsed all other decision games.


Few wargame proponents strongly advocate for the use of other decision games - tactical decision games (TDGs), decision-forcing cases (DFCs), decision-forcing staff rides, ethical decision games (EDGs), occupational decision games (ODGs), sandtable exercises, or decision-forcing tactical exercises without troops (TEWTs). These individuals would undoubtedly agree that wargaming is one “tool in the toolbox.” However, their social media posts, articles, and public engagements give the impression that wargames are the tool, the educational equivalent of a Swiss army knife. 


In most ways, wargames are, in fact, superior to other decision games. However, they are often inferior in three key areas: required time, required equipment, and opportunities for reflection.


Required Time

We have already addressed the challenge of time above. Still, it looms so large as an impediment - perhaps the main impediment - to getting Marines to wargame that it bears further exploration. It is worth noting that MCDP-1 Warfighting author John Schmitt, who played wargames growing up, turned to TDGs as a company-grade officer partly because of the intellectual "overhead" wargame rules, mechanics, and calculations posed.[58]


Games like Littoral Commander, used at MCU and in the fleet, typically take one to four hours to play – and that is with experienced players and facilitators.[59] One turn in the Operational Wargame System, also used at MCU, takes 3-4 hours on average.[60] These time commitments do not include familiarization sessions, tutorials, and reading rulebooks, which can take several more hours. Games like MCU’s EXPO OPS, Memoir ‘44, and The Shores of Tripoli take much less time but still require significant commitments to learn, set up, play, debrief, and clean up. 


In response, wargamers may contend that experienced facilitators speed up games greatly. This is true, but most Marines are not expert game facilitators and do not have the time or interest to become ones. As a result, many educational wargames rely on civilian facilitators. Major General Bill Mullen has observed that the Global War on Terror’s pre-deployment training program has created a “train me mentality” among many units, where Marines lack the initiative to train themselves and become dependent on others doing it for them.[61] Wargaming similarly risks creating a “facilitate for me” mindset. We must find creative ways to empower Marines to run their own wargames or encourage them to use different decision-making tools.


Required Equipment

Most wargames impose space and equipment requirements. For tabletop games, this means pieces, boards, maps, and tables. For digital games, it includes computers or other devices, power supplies, software, mice, keyboards, and, often, a reliable Internet connection. Many tabletop games require “counter management,” sorting and organizing pieces, which can eat up time.[62] Digital wargames present unique challenges, including glitches, bugs, crashes, updates, minimum system requirements, performance problems, bandwidth limits, and licensing frameworks. It took two years for MCU to stand up its Wargame Cloud due to IT security requirements, roadblocks, and other obstacles.[63] Col Barrick shared that the process '...has been…a challenge…in getting people to see what we’re doing, to understand the value of it, and, in the end, get them to “yes,” because, initially, it was always “no,” and they would lay out reasons why not and then put requirements down…Folks were looking for ways to say, “no”…' summarizing the experience as a “bureaucratic nightmare.”[64] Such challenges are not trivial considerations, especially for units. TDGs, EDGs, ODGs, DFCs, and TEWTs typically require much less equipment (or heartache) to set up, run, and clean up.


Opportunities for Reflection

Wargaming proponents often cite the large number of decisions players make during matches as one of the method's virtues, claiming this quality makes wargames superior to other kinds of decision games.[65] However, many players often do not reflect on their decisions thoroughly enough, thinking critically about their experiences, connecting new knowledge to old, or considering the implications of what the matches revealed.[66] This failure to properly reflect can happen due to time constraints, mental fatigue, and a lack of facilitators trained in leading effective reflections. As a result, players will often examine what they consider to be the key decisions or on the experience overall. The bulk of decisions get little to no attention. This failure to adequately reflect marks a major missed learning opportunity.


Similarly, the oft-repeated phrase of “getting reps and sets” with wargaming is well-intended but misleading when building decision-making skills. Marines need both quantity and quality in their practice. Pro golfers do not reach the PGA by getting in as many drives as possible. They get there by putting in many hours of deliberate practice. This does not mean deliberately practicing. It means practicing what you do not already do well, constantly recording your performance, and thinking about improving.[67] Pros self-critique, get expert feedback, and strive for quality. Compared to wargames, TDGs and DFCs offer fewer decisions to make. But one could argue they also offer more chances for in-depth reflection, feedback, and coaching, and, therefore, deeper learning.


If you are a platoon commander with thirty minutes of white space in your training schedule, a wargame likely will not do. A TDG or short DFC will. Of course, developing and preparing to run DFCs and TDGs takes time, too. In a recent article in The Maneuverist, Captain Maddie Hoffman, a staff member at Officer Candidates School, described her approach to researching, designing, and preparing to deliver an original case. The process took about 30 hours, no small investment of time.[68] The hours required for other people will vary, and cases typically become easier to develop the more practice you get with them. The same goes for creating TDGs. Skilled facilitators can draw compelling ones up on the fly, but getting to this point requires extensive practice and study.[69]


Finally, variety in decision games can break up routines, keep Marines on their feet intellectually, and counter burnout from wargames. Variety is both the spice of life and PME and training programs. Wargames are excellent educational tools, but Marines should not neglect other options. Commanders and school directors should evaluate their training programs and curricula to consider where different decision games might be more effective than wargames. 


For example, consider First Battalion, Eighth Marines’s (1/8) summer 2023 TDG tournament. Over three days, thirty-two teams across the command fought squad and platoon-reinforced scenarios. Each fight lasted one hour. The required equipment for each round included a whiteboard, markers, paper, and a pen or pencil. A platoon commander or platoon sergeant evaluated each fight in the first three rounds. For each of the “Final Four” fights, two company commanders provided evaluations. According to Lieutenant Colonel Will Kerrigan, 1/8‘s commander, the Marines “loved it,” and “we’ll do it more often on…[our upcoming deployment.]"[70]


1/8 Marines participate in a battalion-wide TDG tournament

28 August - 1 September 2023

(Credit: Capt John Robinson)


Concern 5: Marines and the Marine Corps do not prioritize decision-making excellence. 


In April 1997, General Charles Krulak, 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps, issued Marine Corps Order 1500.55, “MILITARY THINKING AND DECISION MAKING.” In it, he laid out new policy, stating that “Regardless of MOS, duty assignment or location, Marines will participate in daily Military Thinking and Decision Making Exercises.”[71] It also declared


All commanders and staff supervisors have a fundamental responsibility to implement this policy and allocate resources for implementation. Accordingly, commanders and supervisors will develop and institute programs that will institutionalize daily warfighting discussions within their respective organizations.[72]


This order remains active, yet few Marines know it exists.


A year later, in the Marine Corps Gazette article, “I Want to Be Ender,” then-Captain Brendan McBreen criticized the Marine Corps for its lack of focus on producing master decision-makers. “Decision-making, not planning,” he wrote, “is the essential skill of the commander...Some decision-making proficiency is not enough. Mastery…is needed. The mark of a master is intuition…Intuition is a result of wide experience being internalized.”[73] He also remarked that there is “no school, no course, no seminar…[for decision-making].”[74] 


Twenty-five years later, little has changed. Marine officers fight a handful of TDGs, DFCs, games, and wargames at their schools, enlisted leaders much less. A lucky few get more “reps” at MCTOG’s AMWC. Few units conduct robust PME programs focused on decision-making. Marines do make decisions in training and on deployment, but these experiences still do not approach the number required for mastery. There are simply not enough opportunities.


Students in MCTOG's Advanced Maneuver Warfare Course fight a DFC.

(Credit: Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group, https://shorturl.at/aeVW8)


We should acknowledge the Marine Corps’ embrace of educational wargames, but we should not congratulate it too much, either. Wargaming as an educational tool is nearly 250 hundred years old.[75] As Sebastian Bae and Ian Brown have written, the Marine Corps has used educational wargames extensively before.[76] More fully adopting them now is not praiseworthy – it is painfully overdue.


Of course, the individual Marine bears responsibility, too. According to Kevin Williamson, a wargaming expert at Marine Corps University, “What I see a lot of at MCU…is...[many] officers…don’t like to make decisions without all the information.”[77] Eric Walters similarly noted that 'When it comes time for that “moment of decision” executing in an uncertain and volatile situation, Marines often observe a great deal of hesitation, miscommunication, and confusion.'[78]


These observations suggest many leaders do not practice decision-making enough (or at all) on their own to effectively navigate and thrive in chaotic, ambiguous situations with limited information. Brendan McBreen reminds Marines, however, that “The Marine Corps cannot provide you with enough opportunities to make decisions and issue orders. You have to drive your own PME efforts and develop your own scenario training.”[79] If Marine leaders are not taking such steps, as Mr. Williamson and Colonel Walters suggest, the Marine Corps must move swiftly to address this problem.


It is also worth reminding readers that the forthcoming wargaming center is called the Neller Center for Wargaming and Analysis, not the Neller Center for Wargaming and Education. The center will focus on future-based wargames and campaign analysis tied to the Program Objective Memorandum (POM) and cycle development.[80] MCU may leverage the center to educate some of its students, particularly those in advanced studies programs like the Gray Scholars.[81] It may also provide some of its students as players for service wargames on a limited basis.[82] However, education will not be the center's focus. 


Part of this is because the center will be a secure space for classified wargames. MCU’s resident students include many international students who will not have the necessary clearance.[83] 


Another reason is that educational wargames are not the Corps’ priority. Analytical wargames are. 


In 2016, the Marine Corps briefed the results of its POM-19 capabilities-based assessment on the service's wargaming efforts. It found eight gaps. These included: 


  • defining future force capabilities

  • testing existing operational plans and concepts of operations

  • modeling and simulating friendly and threat capabilities

  • deriving objective data for analysis

  • wargaming frequency for full development of concepts

  • distributed wargaming for broader participation

  • educating and developing leaders

  • informing resource priorities[84]


Based on how the last seven years have played out, it is safe to say these were listed in relative order of priority. Wargaming for education falls second to last on the list. It is a striking example of how little the Marine Corps prioritizes decision-making training.


A slide from a briefing on the Marine Corps' wargaming capability and forthcoming wargaming center

(Credit: Marine Corps Systems Command)


The Marine Corps allocates relatively little money and resources to educational wargames but much to analytical ones. Analytical wargames produce data, which feeds into equipment purchases, new weapons, future capabilities requests, budgets, the POM, and programs of record. MCU's wargaming team currently includes one Marine captain, one government employee, and two contractors, with potentially more personnel coming aboard in the next five years.[85] Suppose in that time this team will grow to several more people. Add to this the annual cost of running the Wargaming Cloud. If we assumed total annual costs of $7 million (this is a very generous estimate), the Marine Corps will have spent $35-40 million on educational wargaming by 2028. While this is a significant number and would show a serious shift in the Marine Corps' attitude toward educational wargaming, that figure would still pale in comparison to the Marine Corps' $100+ million investment in the Neller Center with its 180+ employees. For comparison, a single F-35 costs about $100 million.[86] Follow the money to see where the Marine Corps is serious about wargaming.


Consider this as well. In June 2021, General David Berger said in a speech to Marines, “We need you to challenge the people in your units in decision-making, in critical thinking. Help them understand the value of critical thinking. And I don't think wargaming has to be a $100-million building. You can do it low-tech. You can do it in any unit that you're in. It's what's up here [pointing to his head].”[87] 


Since then, the Marine Corps has done little to support wargaming at units. It largely relies on the Marine Corps Association (MCA), an outside entity, to provide the fleet with wargames. As of December 2023, MCA has supplied the fleet and some educational commands with over three hundred commercial games. These include 108 digital licenses of Close Combat: Modern Warfare, 144 copies of Memoir ’44, 60 copies of The Shores of Tripoli, 16 copies of D-Day to the Rhine, and 16 copies of Battle of the Bulge.[88] What message does this send? While we should praise MCA for its stellar support in promoting educational wargaming in units and elsewhere, the Marine Corps’ own commitment to the cause leaves much to be desired.


So, what is to be done? I am not so sure. The commandant could revise and enforce MCO 1500.55, but that risks making decision-making training another “rock in the pack” of already overburdened Marines. The Marine Corps must find a way for Marines to want - or better yet, crave - daily decision-making practice.


Other solutions include building the educational equivalent of the Neller Center. In a 2020 Marine Corps Gazette article, Dr. Bruce Gudmundsson proposed the creation of a decision game center, with most of its efforts taking place online.[89] The center would promote the use of DFCs, TDGs, and educational wargames. While sympathetic to the idea, I vividly recall the lackluster support of senior Marine leaders for the efforts of Marine Corps University’s Case Method Project (2007-2017), in which I participated from 2009-2016. Despite the widespread success and high demand for DFCs at TBS, EWS, the Schools of Infantry, MCTOG, and across the fleet, the Marine Corps devoted very few resources and almost no money toward the project. Indeed, it got all its funding from two to three private donors. These benefactors pulled their support when the Corps showed it had no “skin in the game.” A decision game center, I fear, would likely suffer similar neglect and limited resources. 


In addition, I would advise against buying wargames for every unit and requiring them to play them. If Headquarters Marine Corps equipped every command with a set of Memoir ’44 and said, “wargame,” we would likely see a variety of responses. Some units would embrace the task with fervor. Others would do just enough to avoid skylining themselves. And others still would find ways to skirt it entirely. Those committed to wargaming would eventually move on to other assignments, and the fire would die out. Things might be no better than when they started - or perhaps worse. Commanders and Marines alike might meet future attempts to reintroduce wargaming with a frustrated “Oh, not this again.”


For cautionary tales, we look no further than the Marine Corps’ adoption of Tactical Decision Kits (TDKs) in 2017-2018. This hardware and software suite, created by Second Battalion, Sixth Marines, under Lieutenant Colonel Marcus Mainz, was designed to increase decision-making opportunities and improve small unit-level training greatly. Headquarters Marine Corps moved quickly to back it and outfitted every infantry battalion – 24 in all – with one. The price tag came to spend $6.4 million.[90] For a time, some units used TDKs to greater and lesser degrees. Most did not. Now, unfortunately, most TDKs sit unused in Conex boxes. 


Going back further still to the 1990s, the Marine Corps experienced something similar with the TACWAR family of wargames. Significant resources went into producing and sending them to commands. They saw a short boom but ultimately got swept into the dustbin of history.[91] Few active-duty Marines know they ever existed.


What if the fleet did show a demand signal for educational wargames? How much money would it cost to meet it? Relatively little. For instance, the cost of giving every infantry battalion six copies of Memoir ‘44 amounts to $8,640. Alternatively, the Marine Corps could provide every infantry battalion six copies of games at $100 each (about $40 more than a copy of Memoir ‘44), and it would still not break $100K. As one infantry major remarked, “I know supply officers who have intentionally ‘burned’ that amount of money at ServMart in a day.”[92]


Marines and the Marine Corps can and should do better when it comes to decision-making training.


Conclusion: Time for Tough Love, Tough Conversations, and Action


To return to one of the infantry officers quoted in the first concern.


Maybe wargaming never had a chance. Maybe it is a fad. Swing music was “in” for about six months in the late 1990s. Ska in the early 1990s. There are always dedicated fans, but wargames will never be pop music. Just some fringe genre that gets cool for a minute and recedes into the shadows.[93]


I hope he is wrong. But hope is no strategy. The situation requires action. The wargaming community must examine ourselves, our approaches, and practices. We must temper our zeal for wargaming with tough love and critical self-reflection. How tragic it would be if, despite our best intentions, we contributed to educational wargaming receding once more “into the shadows.” 


At the same time, individual Marines and the larger Marine Corps must take decision-making training more seriously. Marines must practice decision-making independently, and the Marine Corps must find ways to facilitate that effort, increase opportunities for decision-making in its schools, courses, and units, and reward decision-making excellence.


While we cannot say with certainty that educational wargaming "works," the available evidence, arguments, and anecdotes point in that direction.[94] We do know wargaming is important and worthwhile.[95] It offers a cost-effective way to develop the decision-making, critical thinking, and other cognitive skills needed to thrive in modern combat.[96] 


I call on fellow wargamers and non-wargamers, Marines and other service members, and those in PME and civilian academia to join the conversation. How do we imbue and sustain wargaming in communities like the combat arms? How do we overcome bias against wargaming? Most importantly, how do we make wargaming an indispensable part of Marine Corps culture, as accepted, expected, and practiced as physical training, going to the rifle range, and celebrating the Marine Corps Birthday? 


Note: I would like to thank Matt Tweedy, Taylor McKechnie, Dilan Swift, Zachary Schwartz, Nick Galvan, Eric Walters, and Lauren Staehle for reviewing drafts of this essay. Their suggestions, edits, and comments greatly improved it.


Author Bio: Damien O’Connell is the founder and director of the Warfighting Society and host of the Controversy and Clarity podcast.


He is also the CEO and Senior Learning and Development Consultant of DAO Consulting, which provides educational services to the Navy, Marine Corps, and private clients. 


He discovered wargames in the mid-1990s and never looked back.


To contact him, please send an email to daoconsulting21@gmail.com.


Endnotes


Introduction: A Golden Age of Wargaming?


[1] The figure of $100 comes from adding the cost of the building construction to the cost of the technology and equipment it will house. It does not factor in the 180 or more people who will work there. While a few dozen of the staff will include the current personnel of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s Wargaming Division, I hypothesize the rest will be new government civilians and contractors. Collectively, they will cost tens of millions of dollars more. "Marine Corps updates wargaming progress at I/ITSEC." Team Orlando News, no date, https://teamorlando.org/marine-corps-updates-wargaming-progress-at-i-itsec/; "Contracts For March 22, 2021, Department of Defense, 21 March 2021, https://www.defense.gov/News/Contracts/Contract/Article/2546009/#:~:text=Clark%20Construction%20Group%20LLC%2C%20Bethesda,at%20the%20time%20of%20award; Molly Rhine, "BAE Systems wins $19 million contract to build prototype for new, innovative Wargaming Center for the U.S. Marine Corp," BAE Systems, 13 August 2020, https://www.baesystems.com/en-us/article/bae-systems-wins-contract-to-build-wargaming-center-prototype-for-the-us-marine-corps; Hope Hodge Seck, "Marines Take Center Stage in Wargaming Boom," National Defense, 3 November 2023,

[2] Charles Daniels, "Wargame Capability, MORS, Program Overview, Version 1.0," Military Operations Research Group, 15 July 2020, https://shorturl.at/rBJ15 (hereafter Daniels, "Wargame Capability”).

[3] Brian O'Rourke, "Wargaming at MCU: A small step for Marines, a giant leap for the Marine Corps." Proceedings, Vol. 148/11/1,437, November 2022, https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2022/november/wargaming-mcu; William Treuting and Tim Barrick, “Ep 64: Tim Barrick,” Scuttlebutt: An MCA Podcast, Marine Corps Association, 18 January 2023, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/scuttlebutt-ep-64-tim-barrick/id1455648406?i=1000595287723 (hereafter Scuttlebutt Podcast); Capt. Daniel Phillips, the official website of the Marine Corps, 28 September 2022, https://www.marines.mil/News/News-Display/Article/3172626/marine-corps-university-launches-resident-wargaming-cloud/#:~:text=Marine%20Corps%20University%20held%20a,of%20historical%20and%20modern%20scenarios; "Wargaming," Quarterly Newsletter, The Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Future Warfare, Marine Corps University, Issue 14, November 2022, pages 5-6, https://www.usmcu.edu/Portals/218/Krulak%20Newsletter%20-%20Issue%2014.pdf; "Episode 1 - WarPlan: Operation Avalance (Salerno)," Fire and Maneuver, Wargaming Directorate, Marine Corps University, Spotify, 8 December, 2023, https://open.spotify.com/show/1T3T5KkmDbpCNtNFs1ikFQ?si=20ef6ea0c7db4d31.

[4] Major Ian Brown and Colonel Brian Greene, “Col Brian Greene, Commanding Officer of the Marine Corps Tactics & Operations Group,” BruteCast, Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Future Warfare,  Season 5, Episode 1, 6 August 2022,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzPlKWXXXww; see as well the various posts on AMWC on MCOTG's Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/mctog.magtftc/.

[5] Author email exchange with Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Eckert, commanding officer of Advanced Infantry Training Battalion-East, School of Infantry-East; 10 December 2023; author email exchange with Mr. Nick Galvan, deputy officer-in-charge of the Marine Corps Center for Learning and Faculty Development, 11 December 2023; author email exchange with Captain Jon Schumman; executive officer of Infantry Unit Leaders Training Company, Advanced Infantry Training Battalion-West, School of Infantry-West; 13 December 2023.

[6] As an example of Mr. Miranda's column, see Joseph Miranda, "Vikings: Mission accomplishment through optimal path selection," Marine Corps Gazette, May 2021, page 97, https://www.mca-marines.org/wp-content/uploads/ST-Miranda-May21-DRAFT6.pdf. To request tabletop wargames from MCA, visit https://www.mca-marines.org/decision-making-exercises/wargaming-2/.

[7] "Modern Day Marine OBJ 1, WARGAMING CONVENTION 27-29 June 2023 Washington D.C.," informational pamphlet, Marine Military Expos, https://marinemilitaryexpos.com/wp-content/uploads/Objective-1-MDM-Program_FINAL-V2.pdf.

[8] "Modern Day Marine 2023," landing page, Modern Day Marine, https://marinemilitaryexpos.com/modern-day-marine/mdm-2023-tdm/; "Modern Day Marine," GovEvents, https://www.govevents.com/details/1551/modern-day-marine/.

[9] I define educational wargames as analog or digital conflict simulations designed, intended, or used to develop the skills or knowledge of players. In addition, for ease of understanding, I group training and educational wargames together, referring to them as “educational wargaming” or simply “wargaming” unless otherwise stated. Both training and educational wargames involve learning.

[10] Scuttlebutt Podcast.

[11] “Marine Corps University NAPCON 2023 Player Registration,” SignUpGenius,  https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10C0845AFAC2DA2FDC16-45599862-napcon?useFullSite=true#/.

[12] Several Fight Club members posted pictures of NAPCON on LinkedIn.

[13] Author email exchange with Mr. Kevin Williamson, Marine Corps University Wargaming Directorate, 20 December 2023.

[14] Marine Corps University Fight Club Discord channel (requires an invitation to access).

[15] LtCol David C. Emmel, “Who’s Got Game? The use of wargames to enhance the learner-centric experience,” Marine Corps Gazette, web edition, May 2020, pages 59-61,   https://www.mca-marines.org/wp-content/uploads/Who%E2%80%99s-Got-Game.pdf


Concern 1: Few combat arms units wargame routinely.


[16] Major Robert Malcolm, Major Zachary Schwartz, Staff Sergeant David Wood, "Wargaming as Training with Maj Zachary Schwartz and SSgt David Wood," Tactics and Operations podcast, Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group, 28 February 2023, Spotify, https://open.spotify.com/episode/33sihn6a5s5HScUN4yFMZb?si=3d93c3b3921f4fed (herefafter "MCTOG Podcast"); Captain Devon Sanderfield, 'Commanders Own PME: A Follow-up to "Time for Another Standdown,"' The Maneuverist, 21 December 2022, https://www.themaneuverist.org/post/commanders-own-pme-a-follow-up-to-time-for-another-stand-down-by-captain-devon-sanderfield-usmc.

[17] Majors Matthew Tweedy and Taylor McKechnie, "Wargaming at the Company Level: Assessments and Recommendations to Avoid a Wargaming Bust," The Maneuverist, 27 September 2023, https://www.themaneuverist.org/post/wargaming-at-the-company-level-assessments-and-recommendations-to-avoid-a-wargaming-bust (hereafter "Wargaming at the Company Level").

[18] Damien O’Connell and Sebastian Bae, Controversy and Clarity, Episode 8, Season 2, Apple Podcasts, 18 March 2021, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/8-sebastian-bae/id1515572593?i=1000513616234 (hereafter O'Connell and Bae, Controversy and Clarity).

[19] “Overview of MCPP - COA Wargaming, “ 1-24A COA Wargaming, MCPP Introduction, Marine Corps University, no date, https://www.usmcu.edu/Portals/218/MCPP/8908%20IMI%20Module%201/28/index.html#:~:text=OVERVIEW%20OF%20MCPP%20%2D%20COA%20WARGAMING&text=Narrator%3A%20Course%20of%20action%20wargaming,associated%20risks%2C%20and%20asset%20shortfalls;  Gunnery Sergeant Reifke and Staff Sergeant David Wood, "Red Storm Rising," EXCON/EC&I, Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group, talk given to Georgetown University Wargaming Society, 14 November 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TH_yHUccUiI.

[20] Dr. Robert Burks and Dr. Jeff Applegate, “Analytic Wargaming Best and Worst Practices,” Naval Post Graduate School, Connections UK, September 2018,   https://www.professionalwargaming.co.uk/2018-Analytic-Burks.pdf.

[21] Damien O’Connell and Eric Walters, Controversy and Clarity, Apple Podcasts, Episode 5, Season 1, 10 June 2020, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/controversy-clarity/id1515572593?i=1000477406900; O'Connell and Bae, Controversy and Clarity.

[22] Washington Post Staff, “Miscalculations, divisions, marked offensive planning U.S., Ukraine, The Washington Post, 4 December 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/12/04/ukraine-counteroffensive-us-planning-russia-war/.

[23] Wilf Owen, “Concerns about Professional Wargaming,” presentation at Connections UK 2019, Pax Sims, 9 December 2019, https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2019/09/12/connections-uk-2019-report/.

[24] Eddie Zeman, ‘ASL IN “Desert Storm,”’ Recon…by Fire!, Issue #1, Fall 1999, pages 7-9 and 44; Major Brendan B. McBreen, “Close Combat and Learning Infantry Tactics,” Marine Corps Gazette, September 2004, pages 12-13, https://2ndbn5thmar.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/CloseCombatMcBreen2004.pdf; LtCol Brendan McBreen, “900 Orders,” The Maneuverist, 22 November 2022, https://www.themaneuverist.org/post/900-orders-by-ltcol-brendan-mcbreen-usmc-ret, (hereafter McBreen, "900 Orders”); John Schmitt and Brendan McBreen, “Tactical Decision Games Seminar,” UK Fight Club, 14 May 22, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApucnjPK3I0; author email exchange with Major Dilan Swift, 16 December 2023; LtCol Kurtis P. Wheeler and Captain Matthew W. Tracy, oral history interview, Haditha Dam, Iraq, 7 December 2006, Marine Corps History Division. Captain Tracy states that his company averaged a casualty a day for four weeks and then as many casualties or more during other parts of the deployment. At one point, his company conducted 60 medical evacuations in 75 days; and Sebastian J. Bae and Major Ian T. Brown USMC, “Promise Unfulfilled: A Brief History of Educational Wargaming in the Marine Corps,” Journal of Advanced Military Studies, Volume 12, Number 2, 2021, page 45-80, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/805918/pdf, (hereafter Bae and Brown, "Promise Unfulfilled”).

[25] Dr. Leonard Wong Dr. and Dr. Stephen J. Gerras Dr., Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession, US Army War College Press, 2015, https://press.armywarcollege.edu/monographs/466. Task saturation applies as much to the Marine Corps as to the Army. Shawn Snow, “The Corps wants to cut tedious annual training in order to focus on lethality,” Marine Corps Times, 29 October 2018, https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2018/10/29/the-corps-wants-to-cut-tedious-annual-training-in-order-to-focus-on-lethality/.

[26] Author email exchange with Major Taylor McKechnie, 9 December 2023.

[27] MCTOG Podcast.

[28] Damien O’Connell and Tim Barrick, Controversy and Clarity, Episode 7B, Season 2, 10 March 2021, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/controversy-clarity/id1515572593?i=1000512479380, (hereafter O'Connell and Barrick, Controversy and Clarity).

[29] Author exchange with Major Dilan Swift, 12 December 2023. Fitness reports, which assess a Marine’s performance and leadership potential, contain simple descriptive scales to grade decision-making abilities but no actual means to measure them.

[30] MCTOG Podcast; Tweedy and McKechnie, “Wargaming at the Company Level.”

[31] Capt William Allred, USMC, Kriegspiel 2030: A Free-Play Tactical System for the Infantry, The Maneuverist, 12 September 2023, https://www.themaneuverist.org/post/kriegspiel-2030-a-free-play-tactical-system-for-the-infantry-by-capt-william-allred-usmc; Take That Hill!, UK Fight Club, https://www.fightclubinternational.org/take-that-hill; Take That House!, UK Fight Club, https://www.fightclubinternational.org/copy-of-take-that-hill; Pocket Battle Games (PBGs), Against the Odds Magazine (ATOM), https://www.atomagazine.com/freegame.cfm. The ATOM website states that PBGs are not sold separately, but the author successfully requested free copies for Marine instructors in 2018. Author email exchanges with ATOM, January 2018; Neil Thomas, One-Hour Wargames: Practical Tabletop Battles for those with Limited Time and Space, Kindle Edition, Pen & Sword Military, 3 September 2014, https://a.co/d/1GdETq0; and Undaunted: Normandy, Osprey Publishing, 20 August 2019, https://www.ospreypublishing.com/us/undaunted-normandy-9781472834706/.

[32] MCTOG Podcast.

[33] Scuttlebutt Podcast.

[34] MCTOG Podcast.

[35] See, for instance, the 135 entries of the “Wargame Database” maintained by the Georgetown University Wargaming Society, https://airtable.com/app4OB4RkWVy8Mh9Y/tblf0FTkqDB3vUN9d/viwdisWLrhqhBQOqF?blocks=hide.

[36] Author email exchange with Major Taylor McKechnie, 9 December 2023.

[37] Captain Garrett Boyce, Company PME: Train Your Leadership, The Infantry Working Group, no date,  https://www.infantryworkinggroup.org/_files/ugd/de859a_4e21813bfeae49b2b182177b01ec042c.pdf.

[38] Author email exchange with Major Zachary Schwartz, 14 December 2023.

[39] MCTOG Podcast; author email exchanges with Major Taylor McKechnie, 9 and 18 December 2023. Comments disparaging Memoir '44 can be found in conversations between professional wargamers on Twitter (X).

[40] Sebastian J. Bae, “Put Educational Wargaming in the Hands of the Warfighter,” War on the Rocks, 13 July 2023, https://warontherocks.com/2023/07/put-educational-wargaming-in-the-hands-of-the-warfighter/


Concern 2: Wargaming has an image problem.


[41] Capt Brendan B. McBreen, "I Want To Be Ender," Marine Corps Gazette, April 1998, pages 46-48, https://2ndbn5thmar.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/EnderMcBreen1998.pdf; (hereafter, McBreen, "Ender"); John F. Schmitt. "Are You the Next Napoleon?" Marine Corps Gazette, July 2016 (reprinted), pages 31-35, https://www.mca-marines.org/gazette/are-you-the-next-napoleon/.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Author email exchange with "Major X," 14 April 2022. This officer wished to remain anonymous.

[44] Author email exchange with Major Taylor McKechnie, 9 December 2023.

[45] Author phone call with "Sergeant Major X," 14 November 2023. The SgtMaj wished to remain anonymous.

[46] MCTOG Podcast.

[47] Phil Sabin, "Stigma of Wargames," presentation, Department of War Studies, King's College London, no date, https://www.professionalwargaming.co.uk/StigmaOfWargames-Sabin.pdf.

[48] Author email exchange with Major Taylor McKechnie, 9 December 2023.

[49] MCTOG Podcast; Capt Charles A. Poulton & Cpl Frederick Zuberer, "Starcraft: The TDG of the future," Marine Corps Gazette, June 2017, pages 12-14, https://www.mca-marines.org/gazette/starcraft/.

[50] Amelia Diamond, “Who’s Playing Dungeons & Dragons These Days? The Usual Fans, and Then Some,” The New York Times,  21 May 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/21/style/dungeons-and-dragons.html., Lacoste, Lewis James Dixon, and Ali Mohammed-Ali, "Did 'Stranger Things' Help Nerds Win the Culture War?" Hypebeast, no date, https://hypebeast.com/2023/4/lacoste-netflix-stranger-things-cold-archive-campaign?cjdata=MXxOfDB8WXww&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_source=commissionjunction&cjevent=ef94b4159ffa11ee826f00680a82b82d.

[51] Author email exchange with Major Zachary Schwartz, 14 December 2023. Author email exchange with "Major Y," 23 August 2023. This officer wished to remain anonymous.

[52] Author email exchange with Mr. Kevin Williamson, Marine Corps University Wargaming Directorate, 20 December 2023.

[53] Peter Robbins and Kevin Williamson, “USMC MCU - COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) Wargaming At The MCU And Beyond,” YouTube, 8 July 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIXX8xRWfdY

[54] Tim Barrick, "MCU's Wargaming Cloud," presentation for Military Operations Research Society, 9 November 2022, https://shorturl.at/evwzR; Tim Barrick, "MCU Fight Club and Wargaming Cloud Version 21 August 2022," Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Future Warfare, Marine Corps University, slide three, https://shorturl.at/dGPRV.


Concern 3: Wargames focus disproportionately on field-grade officers.


[55] Author email exchange with Mr. Nick Galvan, deputy officer-in-charge, Marine Corps Center for Learning and Faculty Development, 11 December 2023.

[56] United States Marine Corps, Marine Corps Warfighting Doctrinal Publication 1 Warfighting, 20 June 1997, https://www.marines.mil/Portals/1/Publications/MCDP%201%20Warfighting.pdf; United States Marine Corps, Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1-3 Tactics, 30 July 1997, https://www.marines.mil/Portals/1/Publications/MCDP%201-3%20Tactics.pdf; General David H. Berger, 38th Commandant’s Planning Guidance, Commandant of the Marine Corps, United States Marine Corps, 15 July 2019, page 19, https://www.hqmc.marines.mil/Portals/142/Docs/%2038th%20Commandant%27s%20Planning%20Guidance_2019.pdf?ver=2019-07-16-200152-700 (hereafter Commandant's Planning Guidance 2019) Caitlin M. Kenney, “NCOs: America Has Them, China Wants Them, Russia is Struggling Without Them," Defense One, 5 May 2022,

[57]  Jim Garamone, “NCOs Key to Ukrainian Military Successes Against Russia,” DOD News, Department of Defense, 28 February 2023,  https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Stories/Article/Article/3313982/ncos-key-to-ukrainian-military-successes-against-russia/; Abraham Mahshie, “Russians ‘Running Away’ From Ukraine NCO Corps Is an Example to Partners, Air Force Leaders Say,” Air & Space Forces Magazine, Air and Space Forces Association, 1 August 2022, https://www.airandspaceforces.com/russia-running-away-from-ukraine-nco-corps-is-an-example-to-partners-air-force-leaders-say/


Concern 4: Wargaming has eclipsed all other decision games.


[58] Damien O’Connell and John Schmitt, Controversy and Clarity, Season 2, Episode 10, Apple Podcasts, 15 April 2021, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/controversy-clarity/id1515572593?i=1000517234476.

[59] Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific, The Dietz Foundation,   https://dietzfoundation.org/product/littoral-commander-indo-pacific-2nd-printing/.

[60] Tim Barrick, “Operational Wargame System (OWS) & Professional Military Education, Presented at: Peruvian Naval War College Wargame Symposium,” Version: 18 Oct 2023, International Wargaming Symposium 2023, 18 October 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TyKi0gdvn0&t=3441s (hereafter, Tim Barrick, "OWS”).

[61] MajGen William F. Mullen III, 'The "Train Me" Mentality: It’s time to get serious about our profession as warfighters,' Marine Corps Gazette, June 2019, pages 36-38,

[62] Tim Barrick, "OWS." 

[63] Tim Barrick, "Wargaming Cloud."

[64] Ibid.

[65] Colonel Eric M. Walters, USMC (Ret), "Developing Self-Confidence in Military Decision Making: An Imperative for Wargaming," Journal of Advanced Military Studies, Volume 12, Number 2, 2021, pages 167-168, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/805923/pdf (hereafter, Walters, "Developing Self-Confidence").

[66] Author email exchange with Dr. Shawn McCann, 21 December 2023.

[67] Author email exchange with Eric Walters, 17 December 2023; Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, HarperOne, 5 April 2016, https://a.co/d/0pit9To

[68] Madeline Hoffman, “Developing a Decision-Forcing Case,” The Maneuverist, 14 December 2023, https://www.themaneuverist.org/post/developing-a-decision-forcing-case-by-captain-madeline-hoffman-usmc.

[69] Marine Corps University, Designing TDGs: A Tactical Decision Games Workbook, April 1996.

[70] Author emails with Captain John Robinson, First Battalion, Eighth Marines, 20 and 21 December 2023; author email with Lieutenant Colonel Will Kerrigan, First Battalion, Eighth Marines, 21 December 2023. For units wishing to run their own TDG tournament, 1/8 was kind enough to share the materials from theirs. These can be accessed at: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1RUGIw5dPt2oKIIzsdfo3LBDdbrmDjzgx?usp=share_link.


Concern 5: The Marine Corps does not prioritize decision-making excellence. 


[71] General Charles C. Krulak, "MARINE CORPS ORDER1500.55: MILITARY THINKING AND DECISION MAKING EXERCISES," United States Marines Corps, page 2. https://www.marines.mil/Portals/1/Publications/MCO%201500.55.pdf (hereafter MCO 1500.55).

[72] MCO 1500.55, page 3.

[73] McBreen, "Ender."

[74] Ibid.

[75] Milan Vigo, "German War Gaming," Naval War College Review, Autumn 2012, Vol. 65, No. 4, pages 106-147, https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1494&context=nwc-review; Roger C. Mason, "Wargaming: its history and future," The

International Journal of Intelligence, Security, and Public Affairs, 20:2, 77-10, https://doi.org/10.1080/23800992.2018.1484238.

[76] Bae and Brown, "Promise Unfulfilled," pages 56-64.

[77] Robbins and Williamson, "USMC MCU - COTS."

[78] Walters, “Developing Self-Confidence,” page 169.

[79] McBreen, "900 Orders."

[80] O'Connell and Barrick, Controversy and Clarity.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Daniels, "Wargame Capability."

[85] Barrick, "Wargaming Cloud."

[87] General David H. Berger, speech, Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Future Warfare, 16 June 2021, https://fb.watch/p4eL2ZVVID/.

[88] Author email exchange with Colonel Tim Mundy, Marine Corps Association, 14 December 2023.

[89] Bruce Gudmundsson, "A Decision Game Center: Making a case," Marine Corps Gazette, June 2020, pages 42-43, https://www.mca-marines.org/wp-content/uploads/A-Decision-Game-Center.pdf.

[90] Military.com, "The Marine Corps Just Spent $6 Million on a War Tool Invented in the Barracks," 6 April 2017, https://www.military.com/kitup/2017/04/marine-corps-spends-6-million-war-tool-invented-barracks.html.

[91] Bae and Brown, "Promise Unfulfilled," pages 56-64; author email exchange with Major Dilan Swift, 15 December 2023.

[92] Author email exchange with "Maj Z," 11 Dec 2023. This officer asked to remain anonymous.


Conclusion: Time for Tough Love, Tough Conversations, and Action


[93] Email exchange with Major X, 8 December 2023.

[94] See note 24; Peter Perla and Ed McGrady, "Why Wargaming Works," Naval War College Review, Volume 64, Volume 3, Summer Article 8, pages 1-20, https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1578&context=nwc-review; Walters, "Developing Self-Confidence."

[95] MCO 1500.15; Commandant's Planning Guidance 2019; and Joint Chiefs of Staff, "Developing Today's Joint Officers for Tomorrow's Ways of War, The Joint Chiefs of Staff Vision and Guidance for Professional Military Education & Talent Management," Department of Defense, May 1, 2010, page 6, https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/education/jcs_pme_tm_vision.pdf.

[96] Email exchange with Major Dilan Swift, 15 December 2023.


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Eric Walters
Eric Walters
22. Dez. 2023

A clarion call to action--and a thoughtful inquiry into the future of self-education as well as unit tactical decisionmaking development. What are your ideas?

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