The cutting edge of military gaming

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Chad Kotce
  • 921st Contingency Response Squadron

Military leaders, deep thinkers, and gaming enthusiasts alike can look forward to a new invention that may be coming to tabletop exercises in the near future.


Lt. Col. Troy Pierce, a C-130 Hercules navigator and student at the Marine Corps War College, introduced a game of his own invention, called “Kingfish ACE” to members from the 821st Contingency Response Group at Travis Air Force Base, California, March 25-26.


The 821st CRG Airmen were the first to test out the innovative strategy game designed to help military leaders understand the complexities of planning and mobilizing multi-capable Airmen and contingency response forces in support of Agile Combat Employment operations . 


The game focuses on a hypothetical situation in the Western Pacific and contains elements of popular role-playing games like “Risk” and “Dungeons & Dragons.” Depending on the time available and desired learning objectives, “Kingfish ACE” can be played in casual social settings or delve into day-long campaigns.


Pierce thought of the concept for his final project at the college. 

“The Marine Corps War College emphasizes the educational value of gaming,” he said. “We play a lot of war games, and I noticed that this would be a great tool to help Airmen understand ACE concepts.”


While the primary target audience is mid-level decision-makers, Pierce hopes all Air Force personnel will benefit from playing.


"I would love for our young Airmen to play the game, be excited about it, and learn more about how they contribute to the overall mission," Pierce said. "Hopefully, they create solutions and new ways of doing business that may inform higher headquarters through the policy decision process."     


To help bring the game to life, Pierce teamed with Master Sgt. Brad Johannes, 921st Contingency Response Squadron flight chief. Johannes was selected to work on this due to his extensive contingency response background, familiarity with ACE, and experience creating challenging tabletop exercises with his flight. He and his team brainstormed to provide input on making the game more realistic.


"When my leadership reached out to see if I could help support this endeavor, I was definitely excited," Johannes said"I viewed the project as a creative way to grow future leaders of the Air Force by exposing them to real-world concerns and training in an enjoyable way."


Since Pierce began working on “Kingfish ACE” in December of 2020, he has been able to play with other classmates, former colleagues and family members, making improvements to the game along the way. Now he wants to get feedback from Airmen at the unit level.


"I have learned the key to game design is to get an early prototype out there and then continually test it, so each time I see the game played, I can make it better,” Pierce said.


Like most games, hearing the rules left the new players a little skeptical at first, but as soon as they started playing, the appeal of “Kingfish ACE” was seen immediately. 


"It gives a ginormous overview of the planning that goes into CRW operations,” said Senior Airman John Paul Salazar, 921st CRS security forces specialist. “It’s awesome to get to see the big picture and how much effort goes into allocating resources for our missions.”


Although reviews from the 821st CRG were positive, Pierce says he still faces a few challenges ahead.


"I am not a game or graphic designer, so those are skills I have had to learn along the way," he said. "Also, I'm developing a game that deals with the ACE concept that is not completely codified, so it's difficult to make a relevant game when potential variables are shifting as we speak."


During the next couple of weeks, Pierce will test Kingfish ACE at the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center, 621st Contingency Response Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and Headquarters Air Force. He hopes to have a finalized product by mid-May.