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John Schmitt is the “OG” of the tactical decision game. To be more precise (and a little less informal), he led the revival of such exercises that took place during the Quantico Renaissance of the years between 1989 and 1992. (To get a sense of the games he developed, promoted, and facilitated in those years, get yourself a free copy of his Mastering Tactics.)
Recently, Mr. Schmitt posted an important article. Called Thoughts on Training Fidelity, it makes the case that, when it comes to learning tactics (as opposed to practicing techniques), the “ideal combination is relatively high cognitive fidelity and the lowest necessary (rather than the highest possible) physical fidelity.” In other words, simulating the mental aspects of an open-ended problem is much more important than replicating the “look and feel.”
Reading this essay made me think of the role that decision games might play in attempts by military men to make sense, and help others make sense, of unfamiliar things that they encounter on the battlefield. (In keeping with the “everything old is new again” theme of the Tactical Notebook, I will emphasize that the essential feature of such novelty is its newness to the people encountering it.)
Attempts to achieve physical fidelity consume a great deal of time. Indeed, by the time that someone has created a faithful model of the new thing, it is no longer old. Imagine, for example, if Armenian soldiers fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 had reacted to drone swarms by submitting a request up the chain of command for a hi-fi holodeck that featured fully-functioning models of Bayraktar drones and Harop loitering munitions. Instead, they realized that there was no sense in trying to fight such systems in open ground, withdrew into the woods, and, if I am not too badly mistaken, started to play “what if” on maps drawn in the dirt. Thus, rather than placing an order to a simulation with high physical fidelity that would arrive at some point in the distant future, they started to work right away on games that replicated the cognitive challenge that they faced.
To put things simply, decision games are not just a means of learning about tactics before the proverbial balloon goes up, they are a tool for learning from the battlefield itself.
You can find completed decision games, whether decision-forcing cases (historical map problems) or tactical decision games, on the page of this blog marked Games. You can find decision games in progress on the home page of the Tactical Notebook.