Dunn Kempf
The Tactical Wargame of the American Army (1977-1997)


The Dunn-Kempf war game was used to teach a generation of small unit leaders war fighting techniques. Developed in the mid 1970's, the game became one of the American army's key indoor training tools to help prepare young commanders to make decisions when faced by an aggressive opponent. The Dunn- Kempf model, or rather variants of it, were used for approximately 20 years.

The key parts of the game were:

Alternative movement

30 second turns.

1/285th scale vehicles were represented on a 1 model to 1 vehicle basis

Infantry stands were fire teams.

Ground scale was 1 inch representing 50 metres.

Playing area was a vacuformed terrain model covering 8 by 10 feet (supplied in 2 * 4 foot sections) and was based on the actual topography of the operational area that the unit using the model could expect to fight.

Introduced time pressure, by allowing only 1 minute for a player to move all their troops.


If one was to write a history of wargaming, there would be a number of landmark sets of rules that were the inspiration for wargamers to copy and change them to create whole series of new games. One of such rules was the original Kriegsspiel rules of Baron von Reisswitz. Created in the early 19th century, they were endless modified into military and civilian wargames . Another such set were the Peter Pig's toy soldier game 'AK47', simulating the wars in Africa in the middle of the 20th century, the rules have been adapted (with and without acknowledgement) for space games, ancients, medieval, Vietnam, the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Another such set was the Dunn-Kempf, The American Army's Tactical Wargame (1977-1997).

The Dunn-Kempf game intellectually rested on the work of Phil Barker et al and the WRG 1970-75 Modern Warfare rules. However, the combat tables were replaced with classified military data and the WRG rules were modified to reflect the American Army's understanding of warfare. The rules were also substantially rewritten with a view to making them more accessible to the average army officer or senior NCO using them.

The game was developed by Captain Hilton Dunn and Steve Kempf in 1975 while they were students at Fort Leavenworth. They wanted to 'to help generate plausible and complex tactical situations for small unit commanders to have to resolve against aggressive opponents'. The game was such a success that after extensive testing, the Combined Army Centre at Fort Levenworth, packaged the rules into boxed sets with GHQ micro armour tanks, terrain boards, maps and other game accessories. 500 Dunn Kempf games were distributed throughout the army commands around the world.

Wargaming provided the rigor of actually evaluating the plan against a thinking adversary using current (for that time) weapons and tactics set on terrain dictated by the scenario. We used rules developed by the Wargames Research Group for miniatures and terrain boards because they provided more "detail" than abstract symbols on a map.

The one for one representation of weapon systems by miniatures on an appropriately scaled terrain board also reinforced details of unit organization and necessity for combined fires and operations. People could actually "see" how and why the plans worked or not and then how to improve them. Remember this was way before computer "games" or programs were detailed enough to keep people engaged.

A secondary benefit was that because we used very accurately detailed scale miniatures and terrain players were also learning vehicle and system identification and ranges. Stretch and I were asked to do the wargaming for a series of Army "defense conferences" (while we were students) that began to show that the "Active Defense" had some problems. After that the simulation just took off and the rest is history, as they say." Col. Kempf

The boxed sets included a typical US 'Blue' force would contain 17 M60A1 main battle tanks, a M113A1 personnel carrier, a mechanised infantry company with 15 M113A1s, three 81mm tracks, 2 M113A1 TOW carriers, nine rifle squads, six M60 machine gun teams, and 12 Dragon teams. Additional forces were included depending on the units using the model. For example, an armoured unit might have 4 additional TOW APC's, four 4.2 inch mortar carriers, a REDEYE ground-to-air missile team, 10 Sheridan M551 light tanks, a pair of armoured vehicle launched bridge units, an M88 tank recovery vehicle, an M578 light recovery vehicle, two M559 POL tankers, a pair of M561 Gamma Goat cargo vehicles and a pair of AH 1-G TOW equipped attack helicopters.

A typical OPFOR (Opposing Force) would consist of a tank battalion of 31 T-62 medium tanks, three BTR-50 personnel carriers and a pair of BRDM armed with Saggers, a motorized rifle company of 10 BMP personal carriers, nine rifle squads. They might also have three additional BRDMs with Saggers, a pair of ZSU-57-2 anti aircraft vehicles, six light trucks, nine additional T62 tanks, three PT-76 light recce tanks, a pair of Recon BRDM-2 and two HIND - A Helicopters.

Units were encouraged to supplement the kit with commercially bought tanks from GHQ.

One of the secrets to the games success was the level of customisation that took place. The terrain boards were always made to resemble the area the units would deploy to. For example, the game at Fort Irwin in California had a terrain model for the National Training Centre (NTC). I received emails from soldiers who served in Germany who found it very useful to rehearse using the terrain board, then go out and carry out exercises over the real terrain shown on the model.

Another aspect of the rules was the extent to which they inspired different units to modify them to meet their own needs. While keeping the underlying rule sets, they expanded the parts most relevant to them. The US Army Infantry School (USAIS) at Fort Benning changed the scope of the game to focus more on the infantry squad/ tank platoon level to meet their needs. The III Corps Simulation Centre used an 'armour heavy variant' Servicing 1st Cavalry Division and 2nd Armored Division (as well as other II Corps units), that variant had an impact on a significant portion of the US armoured forces. This variant was also used by the 49th Armored Division (Texas National Guard) just down the road in Austin.

In addition to the various units of the American army adaptating the game, the rules had a significant international impact. The Canadian's produced a variant of the game to meet their own needs . The game was also used in Australia for simulation and for training. The British Army experimented with it and interestingly enough the game was even played by the Russians . However, I speculate that the WARSAW Pact played the game to better understand the American view of war rather than as training tool in its own right.

The last mention I have found for the game being used for military training was at an American Armour conference in 1997, but the game has stayed in the archives of many units.

In the 1990's, the rules were superseded by various computer based games, starting with CAABS Computer Assisted Airland Battle. The latter was basically a computer assisted version of the Dunn-Kempf game. Now the American army uses predominantly computer based war games; civilian examples include Tac Ops and Brigade Combat Team Commander .