(miniature) wargaming COIN in the classroom

I'm playing around with the idea using a wargame to illustrate the basics of small unit warfare as an ancillary element of a course next year. (This probably falls into the category of "ideas I'll be too busy to follow up on," but there it is.) I could go with a computer simulation... but there are certain challenges in teaching from that in a group. I could go with a boardgame, but they're rather dry, abstract, complicated, and non-visual for non-gamers. The third option (assuming it doesn't fall into the trap of "my prof plays with toy soldiers") is to use a miniatures-based wargame, which allows you to lecture as the game progresses (to a small group at least).

The question is, however, what scale?

Hobby wargamers largely game COIN/IW operations in 15mm, 20mm, or 25/28mm scales. Even though the ground scale of the rules need not equal the visual scale of the figures, for aesthetic reasons you are confined to 3-4 city blocks (or equivalent) at most, meaning that the tactical decisions involved are not much more than "do I go left through those building, or right around those?"

You can also wargame this is 1/285 or 1/300 microarmour scale. With the ground scales used in most rulesets, a 4x8" table will give you something like 2.5 x 5 km of simulated battlefield, which allows you to get much more in to approach routes, overwatch positions, ambushes, blocking forces, IED placement, etc. On the down side, infantry are so small as to almost be invisible (although depicted as fire teams with several figures to a "base", they're still very useable).

Of course, the fourth option is to do what I do now, and just lecture from powerpoint. That might actually be the most effective of all (although arguably considerably less fun for me or the students).

Thoughts, anyone?

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Comment by Smitty on August 20, 2010 at 5:43am
I tend to agree with Jon - 20mm seems about right and of course there is that once you open this box...but it will make thenm think in different ways with the visual of the time-space continiutm. Always did for me when we did tactical excercises on a board.
Comment by Mike O'Brien on August 20, 2010 at 12:45am
I would suggest Ambush Alley as a simple, fast, easy to understand system that covers Insurgents vs Regulars in a BUA. The Portuguese Military Academy uses these, according to one of the members of the yahoogroup. Depending upon figure scale you need no more than a 4'x4' table up to a 6'x4' table. The Force on Force rules cover Regulars vs Regulars. I think the rules allow you to cover the basics including covering fire, building clearance and preparation, concentration of force and various insurgent tactics. They are flexible enough to include IED's, vehicles, aircraft, mobs, casualties and more. I play them but am not associated with the company. I would suggest up to 10 dice of each type, enough cheap tape measures and using either 15mm or 20 mm figs. In 20mm The Forces of Valor range are cheap for vehicles and you can find plenty of cheap 1/72 scale or Hotwheels vehicles. Liberation Miniatures carries a great range of 20mm Moderns. In 15mm Rebel Miniatures has a good line and Old Glory, QRF and a few others have vehicles and infantry.
Comment by Jon Compton on August 16, 2010 at 5:45pm
Well, good luck with that, then. I'm sure the industrious ones could probably find that out on their own though.
Comment by Rex Brynen on August 16, 2010 at 12:53pm
Of course, if I get too detailed I'll have the authorities knocking on my office door. "Now pay attention, class... today we'll discuss the various ways to construct a RF-detonated IED, using parts from the local hardware store..."
Comment by Jon Compton on August 16, 2010 at 12:35pm
The problem you have, of course, and you probably already know this, is the trade-off of having something detailed enough to have efficacy in the classroom environment, yet simple enough to teach and play in a limited time frame. I think given that I'd stay with 20mm if for no other reason that it is probably more manageable in the classroom environment. That said, I'm not sure what rules you could use that would give you enough meat, while remaining accessible.
Comment by Rex Brynen on August 16, 2010 at 6:17am
Small unit stuff, as an ancillary add-on. They've got 13 weeks of everything else (negotiations and mediation, PKOs, COIN, refugees, DDR, humanitarian assistance, CIMIC, coordination, mines and UXO, transitional elections, local capacity-building, rule of law, human rights and transitional justice, gender, etc, etc.)
Comment by Jon Compton on August 16, 2010 at 3:23am
It seems like something that tactical would provide a fairly incomplete view of COIN. Is there some particular aspect of it that you're trying to get across? Just the small unit tactics portion?

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