Book Review: Mastering Tactics, A Tactical Decision Games Workbook


The US Marine Corps takes professional military self-education seriously and even has a manual on the topic: MCRP 6-11A A Book on Books.

John F Schmitt, as a mere captain, assisted then Marine Corps Commandant General AM Gray in writing the Corps’ capstone doctrine manual, FMFM 1 (now MCDP 1) Warfighting, the Marine Corps’ capstone doctrine publication and probably the best synthesis of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz as well as the preeminent 100-page minus plain English explanation of the nature of war yet written.

Schmitt also helped introduce another innovation, tactical decision games (TDGs). These are simple map wargames with a specified scenario the player has to solve with a set of fragmentary orders within a matter of minutes. He must also be able to provide reasons for his decisions. One or more players can play these games on a variety of maps from the fire-team/section level to the divisional and above. The objective is not to win but to develop one’s ability to quickly make sound tactical decisions. In the group context each participant gives his solution and rationale and this is then constructively discussed. There is no ideal solution and no winner in the usual context.

The Marine Corps Gazette took up the idea in April 1990 and ever since they have published a new game in each issue with three possible solutions three months later. The Gazette’s owner, The Marine Corps Association ( in 1994 published selected games in book form as Mastering Tactics. The work contains two introductory articles on common pitfalls and then launches into 15 selected games. Each is separately discussed with Schmitt pointing out the historical background of the game, the lessons that should have been learned by the player and those that were by the combatants. The games are also now posted under the TDG icon on the MCG’s website, accessible from the MCA’s.

TDG’s are easy to stage and imagine. Why not re-fight Rorke’s Drift or Amajuba with modern organisations and arms. As an attacking mechanised infantry brigade commander at Rorke’s Drift, what would you do? As a battalion commander facing insurgents at Amajuba how would you rescue the situation? Ours is a serious profession where we normally learn tactical lessons at the cost of human lives. Here is a smart, simple and co-cost alternative to teach young and old alike how to turn doctrine and textbook content into practice. This book and TDGs are recommended to all soldiers at all levels of decisionmaking. The need is so great one may even want to recommend that this Journal pick up the cudgels and start a TDG programme for its readers.

Mastering Tactics, A Tactical Decision Games Workbook

By Maj John F Schmitt USMCR

Marine Corps Association, Quantico