Tactical Game 3

Tactical Game 3 bears the distinction of being the very first commercial board wargame depicting tactical combat. While miniature gaming had been recreating tactical battles for decades, the commercial board wargaming hobby begun in 1958 had not yet ventured from its familiar diet of operational and strategic level games.

The wargame hobby and business ... (had) been formed in 1958 by Charles Roberts...As game players we had cut our teeth on (Avalon Hill's) Tactics II and Gettysburg in the late 1950's and 1960's. We came of age with AH's Afrika Korps, Midway and Guadalcanal in the mid-60's. And we were beginning to broaden our base and mature in the late 60's with new game companies, magazines and game designers, i.e., GameScience's Battle of Britain, Strategy & Tactics magazine and James F. Dunnigan.

In 1969 the latest release from Avalon Hill was Anzio: A Realistic Game of Forces in Italy, 1944...Game reviews on Anzio were mixed, with Paul Serio writing in S&T #18, "...In conclusion, I feel that the amount of time, paperwork and energy expended in playing this game is not worth it..." We didn't know it then, but that 18th issue of S&T also marked a turning point in the history of our hobby. A second generation of board wargaming had begun.

James F. Dunnigan formed a new company in 1969 called Poultron Press and purchased Strategy & Tactics magazine from its founder Chris Wagner. Dunnigan's first issue was #18 and he began the "game-in-the-magazine" format which revolutionized the industry (later to be imitated by Conflict, BattleFlag, JagdPanther, The Wargamer, etc.) Also in that issue, Poultron Press (later known as SPI or Simulation Publications Inc.)  ran a full-page ad announcing ten new games! This was unheard of. We had all become accustomed to one new release per year from AH and an occasional "independent" title...This ad marked the beginning of a flood of wargames which would reach its crest in the lat 1970s....Among the many exciting titles listed (was)...a game entitled simply Tactical Game 3.1

The game was marketed as part of the "Test Series" of games, intended not, the ad claimed, for revenue generation but to sell a few hundred copies to simply get "into the hands of experienced gamers games which embody new ideas, ideas and concepts which regular publishers are reluctant to experiment with." The games were sold with questionnaires and a promise of "free bonuses." 2

This truly was a "new departure" in wargames. It seemed, to many  of us, that for quite a number of years we had been experiencing some kind of self-regulation in the game design business. A if certain topics or subjects were off limits or just plain "undesignable." Tactical level wargames fell into this off limits area, but then Tactical Game 3 opened the door to a new genre of games as well as a new approach to designing and playing wargames. It wasn't that we disliked strategic/operational level games...but some of us found it hard to imagine each cardboard counter representing thousands or tens-of-thousands of men. How about one counter representing a handful of men or a few tanks, like miniatures do - we could relate to that. What about realistic terrain considerations, like line-of-sight and proper tactics like fire-before-movement. Maybe some kind of "plug-in" multiple scenario format.

James F. Dunnigan provided us with the system and tools to simulate these concepts with Tactical Game 3.3

Tactical Game 3 was actually released twice, first as a "Test Series" game in 1969, and then as a magazine game in Strategy & Tactics - and worthy of note is the fact it was not the main featured game of Issue 22, but a secondary title, with the game Renaissance of Infantry (Tac-14) taking top billing for that issue.4

The Game

Tac Game 3 was a hybrid of miniatures and boardgame rules, with counters representing platoons, and each hexagon representing 250 metres of terrain and a turn equaling six minutes. The original game was experimental in nature and very basic, the later magazine version more transitional in nature and "closer to Panzerblitz in its form and set up than it is to the original Tac-3."5

The game mechanics were basic, with consecutive turns rather than the preplotted and simultaneous turns that would characterize later tactical games. Dunnigan struggled with several issues in the design of the original game, noting it was the first to go below battalion level, and dealt with a (then) little understood chapter of history - the mobile warfare of the Eastern Front from 1943-45. He cited a lack of available hard data (in 1969, the height of the cold war no doubt made this somewhat acute). The initial draft was nonetheless one of the most popular and best designed of his so-called "unplayable" games. Called at first State Farm 69, Dunnigan struggled with the best way to depict small unit combat, playing with rules for visibility and communication in an attempt to simulate the confusion of the battlefield. The rules proved too complicated and were reworked. The problem of artillery being too powerful showed up early - a problem still prevalent in tactical game designs - and Dunnigan realized that this was true to life, and that the mobile battles were mobile for a reason. They were fought behind the front, away from the artillery's killing zones. The reworked Tac Game 3 jettisoned the cumbersome visibility rules of State Farm 69.6


Avalon Hill acquired the rights to TacGame 3 and developed it as PanzerBlitz.


Strategy & Tactics

No. 22   ►"Down Highway 61, Through State Farm 69, around Tactical Game 3, and into PanzerBlitz" by Steve List (Analysis)
►"Recon: Tac 3 Again?" (Designer's Notes)

Fire & Movement

No. 62   ►"World War II Anthology: Chapter 3: The Eastern Front" by Rick Swan (Review)

International Wargamer

Vol. 4 No. 4   ►"International Wargamer Review: Tactical Game 3" by Ty Bomba (Review)
Vol. 5 No. 5   ►"Some Thoughts on Tactical Games" by Jay Richardson (Review)


Vol. V No. 4   ►"Tactical Game #3" by Edi Birsan (Review)


  1. MacGowan, Rodger B. "20 Years Later and 10 Years After Squad Leader" (F&M Special Report: History of Tactical Games.) Fire & Movement Magazine Number 53 (May-Jun 1987)

  2. Strategy & Tactics, Issue 18

  3. MacGowan, Ibid

  4. Personal correspondence with Alan R. Arvold, 23 October 2007; the webmaster is deeply indebted to Mr. Arvold for his generousity.

  5. Ibid

  6. Dunnigan, James F. "Designers Notes: The Game is a Game": Tac 3 Into PanzerBlitz

Tactical Game 3

Developer: James F. Dunnigan
Publisher: SPI
Date of Release: 1969
Scale: Platoon level
Players: 2
Campaign Type: None
Components: ► unmounted map
► looseleaf rules and scenario sheets
► unmounted counters
Sequels: none
Add-ons: none






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