The United States military has multiple “eSports” teams that regularly compete in video game competitions, which serve as a form of recruitment for the services. As previously reported the U.S. Army created the first military-branded eSports team to enter into video game competitions in late 2018. It was populated with a mix of active personnel, reservists, and even veterans.

All that was required to apply was some skill in FPS video games such as Call of Duty, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and notably the breakout hit, Fortnite. The Army’s eSports league is part of the broader Marketing and Engagement Brigade based at Fort Knox, KY where other military marketing teams are also stationed – including such units as the Golden Knights parachuting team.

According to the Army, its eSports team is ranked 34th in the world out of 5,000 teams.

Dice Instead of Controllers

Last month, the U.S. Army’s eSport team showed off its gaming skills in Las Vegas. But the team members put down the video game controllers and instead picked up some dice and miniature figures – as it took part in the Las Vegas Open Tabletop Gaming Convention, one of the largest such events for competitive board games.

Over the course of three days, 13 soldiers took part in a multi-team Warhammer 40,000 competition. The game, which uses miniatures of warriors and fighting vehicles, was first introduced in 1987 and is thus older than many of its players today. The science-fiction-themed game is set in the distant future but involves squad-level tactics that aren’t that different from what is employed on the battlefield today.

It is known for combining strategic thinking, arithmetic, and management skills.

Individual game matches for Warhammer 40,000 typically last 30 minutes to three hours, depending on objectives and victory conditions. It can include exterminating the enemy, holding a location on the field for a certain length of time, or retaining possession of a key item.

The U.S. Army’s eSports team first took part in the Warhammer 40,000 competition at Las Vegas Open in January 2020. At the time, the team consisted of six active members but has since doubled in size.

Board Appeal

Military-themed board games grew out of tactical simulations that have been employed for eons. Roman commanders in antiquity were among the first to use sand tablets and abstract icons to represent soldiers and units in battle. Over the centuries that followed, military planners also honed their skills with such games as “Chess” and “Go,” while in the 19th century, the United States Naval War College employed specially-designed wargames to prepare U.S. defenses for a theorized British invasion of New York harbor.

At the same time, soldiers began to play simple games like “Checkers” to kill time. In fact, the first “travel-sized” games were marketed to Union soldiers during the American Civil War. These were far from the more complex military simulations that are today.

The two trends merged after World War II, when Charles Roberts – who was awaiting his commission into the U.S. Army – developed a game that was designed to sharpen tactical skills. Released in 1952 and titled simply Tactics, it initially sold via mail order and became the first commercially successful modern wargame. Two years later he founded The Avalon Hill Company, and in 1958 released Tactics II, which vastly improved the design while also forming the genesis for many military board games to come. That same year he published Gettysburg, the first wargame based on a historic battle.

While Roberts was forced to turn over the company to one of his creditors in the 1960s, the “father of wargames” is remembered today for the Charles S. Roberts Award, which is given for excellence in historical wargaming.

Today, military-themed games have developed considerably, and the titles now often include visually rich maps, plastic or wooden pieces that represent units, and decks of cars with robust artwork. Such games still help teach strategy and tactics, which is why the military continues to explore ways to employ these as training aids.

In September 2020, the United States Marine Corps even sought to take wargaming to a whole new level as the service announced plans to build a new facility in Quantico, VA. The 100,000-square-foot Wargaming and Analysis Center will reportedly house an auditorium, gaming classrooms, a conference room, and other spaces to support wargaming.

The facility will be used to host more than a dozen wargames each year including a pair of large-scale 250-person exercises to boost decision-making on the battlefield.

While video games are still often considered kid stuff – a point that remains debatable to the millions of adults that play them – military board games have long involved complex rules, and numerous charts while these often require precise attention to detail. It is easy to see why it appeals to military thinkers.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.