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Marines Sharpen Decision Making Skills With War Board Game
by U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Timothy Hernandez
September 1, 2020

U.S. Marines with 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, participated in a board game tournament using Memoir 44’, to analyze and train individual Marines’ decision making skills on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan during December 2019.

Memoir 44’ is a war-themed strategy board game based on historical World War II battles. The primary goal of using the board game is to keep Marines engaged in decision making and risk management in a forgiving environment.

U.S. Marines with 3rd Marine Division play a game of Memoir 44’ on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan on December 10, 2019. Memoir 44’ is a war-themed strategy board game based on historical World War II battles. Wargaming is useful in generating, refining, and assessing concepts, plans, decision alternatives, issues and technologies. It also provides an opportunity to take risks, which is difficult to reproduce in experimentation, exercises or operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Timothy Hernandez)
U.S. Marines with 3rd Marine Division play a game of Memoir 44’ on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan on December 10, 2019. Memoir 44’ is a war-themed strategy board game based on historical World War II battles. Wargaming is useful in generating, refining, and assessing concepts, plans, decision alternatives, issues and technologies. It also provides an opportunity to take risks, which is difficult to reproduce in experimentation, exercises or operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Timothy Hernandez)

Memoir ’44 is a turn-based board game published by Days of Wonder, Inc. Players act as either Axis or Allied forces in historical WWII battles. The board is modified to reflect varied terrain – to include amphibious assaults. Like most board games, chance plays a role in the form of dice and unique battle cards. Players are allocated forces such as infantry, tanks, and artillery, and assigned a mission. The first player to accomplish the assigned mission wins.

The tournament involved Marines and Sailors from different military occupational specialties within 4th Marine Regiment, which allowed the unit leadership to assess how an individual’s day-to-day tasks play a part in shaping their decision making capacity. The diversity across the war game participants also helps to identify existing techniques and procedures from one MOS that could be incorporated in to the training for another MOS to develop better decision makers at the lowest levels.

“Memoir 44 is something off the shelf that [Marines] can play in the barracks,” said Capt. Matthew Tweedy, a company commander with 4th Marine Regiment. “It was never designed to replace going to the field or the training we have to do in the infantry, but it’s different than the same Powerpoint that is used so frequently. The primary focus is to cultivate judgment and enhance decision making at every level. There's always a winner and a loser; there are no draws. It gives a sense of accomplishment or defeat to the two players. You’re face to face in this, where you can't have that in the same sense in a digital war game. The human factors are in play with this. “

While field training can’t be replaced by a board game, it still lends itself to have similarities with the understanding of major concepts of tactical advantage over the enemy. Having both advantages and disadvantages with the terrain laid out on the map of the game helps the participating Marines keep the basic infantry fundamentals in mind while playing Memoir 44’.

“It’s similar because you have to think about being several steps ahead of your opponent and having to plan out your main effort for the fight,” said Lance Cpl. Paul Delaney, an infantryman. “If I take a piece of terrain, it affects the future of your game. You could move wherever you want, but you have to keep in mind the options your enemy has while he’s trying to destroy you as well.”

Additionally, its scenarios are based on historical battles, so it offers a chance to have a class to learn what past service members had to go through. Noncommissioned officers have the ability to observe their junior Marines as well to assist in mentorship and improve the Marine’s concept of warfighting in a combat based scenario.

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Eddie Franco rolls dice during a game of Memoir 44’ on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan on December 10, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Timothy Hernandez)
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Eddie Franco rolls dice during a game of Memoir 44’ on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan on December 10, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Timothy Hernandez)

“Playing Memoir 44' essentially captures a point in history where everything you do comes down to your decision making process, ultimately giving you the upper hand when it comes down to you making contact with the enemy on the board,” said Sgt. Eddie Franco, an infantry squad leader. “Initially you are thrown right in a combat based scenario in which you have to start thinking about the enemy’s movement, the terrain, any obstacles, and adjacent units to be able to win the battle. I believe Memoir 44' does a great job initiating one’s decision making process by throwing your opponent right in front of you and giving you a task you are trying to accomplish every turn, which requires you to exploit every opportunity [you’re offered] to defeat your opponent. Having riflemen think critically and make decisions at an individual level to reach mission accomplishment or meet the commander's intent is ultimately what you want as a squad leader.”

The outcome of the game and how the Marines react to their opponent’s moves were observed and recorded by their commanding officers. With that data, they are able to collect a series of characteristics about the individual Marines and provide mentorship.

“The goal of collecting analytics is to objectively assess whether or not you can pick out and train good decision makers with a board game,” said Capt. Ian Mckechnie, a company commander. “War games at the higher levels tend to be much more complicated, but using the board game Memoir 44’ is simple. The rules aren’t overly complicated so it lends itself to be easy to analyze. We can put together a small party of Marines to play the game and from a single 30 minute round, we can collect a lot of decisions, including how many times they attack compared to how many times they move. With that I can figure out if they’re overly aggressive or risk-averse.”

This objective feedback was immediately communicated to the Marines playing the game and implemented in the next round, ultimately enhancing the unit’s decision making training. Marines can make 20-30 testable and trainable decisions in less than one hour while playing the game.

Many Marines see the dice and the cards and think the game is about luck and the cards they were dealt. After playing the game and seeing the warfighting concepts, they quickly learned it’s not really luck, but good decision making. Being a successful decision maker will make you stand out and have more victories, both in the board game and in a real-world scenario.

Implementing war gaming has potential to be a great tool for increasing 3rd Marine Division’s lethality and the ability to fight tonight and win.

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