Friday, October 12, 2012

Tacspiel – Gaming the Vietnam Conflict with official US Army wargame rules

About two or three years ago, I was discovered that in 1966, the US Army issued a set of rules and procedures for a “Kriegsspiel” map based training designed to train officers on how to fight a counter-insurgent war in Vietnam.   This document was called “Tacspiel – War-Game Procedures and Rules of Play for Guerrilla / Counter-Guerrilla Operations”. 
What is better is that I found out that this document was declassified and available to the general public.  With some Google searching, you can find a free copy on line.  However this copy is of a poor quality and is hard to read in places, plus it is missing some charts.  There is a nice bound reprint of this document available at a cost at, entitled, “Tacspiel – The American Army’s Wargaming Rules for the Vietnam War, 1966”.  It is edited by John Curry and it is worth to look at the website as he also reprinted several other official military wargame systems, like the British Army’s tactical game of 1956, and Dunn-Kempf, the US Army’s tactical game system from 1977-97.  Another advantage of buying the reprint book, besides a clean copy to read, is that the editor adds the missing charts and adds some comments to procedures that were not complete.  I went ahead and purchased a reprint from the website.  I finally got around to reading it and I am going to provide a simple review of it, as well as a little history about it.

First, I want to cover why and how Tacspiel came about and how it was used by the Army.  According to the forward in the reprint, the document was created for the developing new tactics for the use of air mobile units, and then it expanded into how to fight a low-intensity war.  The designers used the then current rules that were designed in 1963, for gaming out a conventional war with the Warsaw Pact, called Tacspiel – War Game Procedures and Rules of Play.  (To avoid confusion between the same name systems, I will only refer to the Vietnam game from this point when using the name, Tacspiel.)  The game is needless to say not meant to be play for leisure, but to study tactics and operations, so the basic system is designed heavily around documentation of orders, codes for those orders and their results so that after a game session, the analysts could take the copies of the game turns to be studied over for many hours.  But, it is also a game system designed for use by people who never played wargames or had time for tons of detailed rules.  So in other worlds, the game mechanics are actually fairly simple, based on a percentage base system.

A typical gaming session went something like the following.  The two opposing sides were made up of various officers and NCOs to command the various main unit and sub-units.  One group would be whatever US Army’s command that the officers and NCOs were from and the other would take the role of the Communists forces.  While there was no statement to what level these games were run at, I would suspect that the lowest level would have been a battalion level game and the upper level would have had been a division.  The various sub-units would have been preferred to have kept separate so that no “table talk” would caused them to react differently than they would have had they not been given that information.  A third group of monitors / judges would monitor the activity of the two opposing forces and compare it to a master map that would track all orders and events.  It appears that this monitoring group would also do all of the results of searches, combat, etc. (not sure if they used dice or not – they probably used a random numbers table) and then fed back the results to the proper units.  This would have been in line for the table top exercises that I had been in during my time in the service. 

The various commands would be given several topographical maps of designated area of the game.   To keep things simple for the “players”, each “turn” segment is a 30 minute period of time for issuing orders and conducting movement, searches, combat, etc.  Also, to keep things simple, the map was broken into 1/2km square area or ¼ of a square grid on an issued 1:50000 topo map (see below of the square grid system, each outlined box is a 1km x 1km area).  So in away, the units moved on sort of a chess board grid.  The smallest unit that was normal was a platoon, but there is a section on how to use squads, but this was not encourage as it added more information to keep track of for analysts.  Each deployed platoon occupied a 1/4km sq. area, while a deployed company occupied a 1km sq. area.  This was also designed to keep things simple for the analysts to replay the game later.  

After a 6-hour cycle of 30-minute turns, the monitors would gather up all of the command order records to taken off and be transferred over to IBM punch cards, while the monitors wrote up a detail report of all activities that occurred.  Then, depending on the amount of information that the analysts wanted, another 6-hour cycle would be gamed out as many times as needed.  According to the introduction in the reprint book, for about every 24-hours of game play, the analysts would spend about three days reviewing and replaying out the game to review the results and the tactics.  Wow, that would have been an interesting jig.

So, if you are still with me, what is covered in the rules?  A lot is the answer!  Below is the list of the different rules sections and what they cover:

·        Basic Rules:  How orders are coded (each section below also has directions on coding methods for that section), methods of resolution, ground / unit scale, and general information
·        Ground Movement: Rates of movement, barriers & terrain effects, bypassing obstacles, and fatigue rules
·        Deployment Rules:  Red base camp requirements, and rules for detection of well-known routes and hasty ambushes
·        Ground Unit Detection Capabilities:  Aural (noise) & visual detection, civilian intelligence, contact options, contact interactions, and assessing patrol operations
·        Battle: Types of engagements, assessing the results of a battle, and the maximum time limit for Red engagements depending on the type of battle
·        Fire Support:  Types of fire support and assessing the results of a fire mission
·        Air Defense:  Same as for Fire Support
·        Tactical Air Support Operations:  Same as for Fire Support
·        Army Air Operation (Helicopters):  General rules, type of operations, Air Cavalry Troops, Air Cavalry to Ground Unit Liaison, cycle of Air Cavalry operations, and assessing the results of Air Cavalry operations
·        Engineer Operations:  Minefields, route clearance & denial, military bridge construction, Red bridge demolition, and Red terrorist activities
·        Ground Reconnaissance & Surveillance: Patrols, checkpoints, and Prisoners of War
·        Air Reconnaissance & Surveillance: Quality of information and Air-photo detection
·        Air Transport: Helicopter lifting and landing of ground units
·        US Army Security Agency: Interception of Red communications
·        Logistics
·        Vehicle Maintenance
·        Appendices in the reprint also include the following:  US Army TO/E charts, Vietcong ORBATs, VC/NVA units in the US 25th Infantry Division’s area on Oct 31, 1970, and a sample Operations Order Format.

All of this is covered in 88 pages, of which 14 pages are front pages, table of content, and introductions. 

Is this set of rules playable for leisure wargamers?  Very much so!  It is very simple system, the biggest thing that would be an issue would be the coding, which could be made a lot more user friendly without too much work.  But the real problem is having three separate maps (or two if the game master is running the VC with a pre-programmed mission and responses.)  I think the biggest turn off to the common wargamer is that this is not a game about combat with lots of dice being thrown and figures being taken off the board.  This is about controlling your area of responsibilities through patrolling, making contact, engage in battle, and then repeating it all over again.  It can make for a great campaign system to any Vietnam miniature rules system.  The players run a sweep and search operation until they make contact and can either resolve in Tacspiel battle system or put out the terrain and toys and play the game using their gaming rules of choice.   Or one can enlarge the topo maps and either make terrain or not and place miniature on it to represent platoons.  With some minor modifications, these rules could also work for any low-level conflict between 1960 and 1980, to include the Falklands conflict in my opinion. 

I probably will never use, but it was worth the cost to pick up for a read and keep in my collection.  But if anyone would be interesting using it for your own groups, you can find a wealth of Vietnam era topo maps available on-line from the University of Texas – Austin at this address:

Happy hunting


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