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Kriegsspiel[a] is a genre of wargaming developed by the Prussian army in the 19th century to teach tactics to officers. The word kriegsspiel literally means "wargame" in German, but in the context of the English language it refers specifically to any wargame that follows the style developed by the Prussian army in the 19th century.



By definition, a "wargame" is a strategy game that attempts to realistically represent warfare. The first such game was invented in Prussia by Johann Christian Ludwig Hellwig in 1780. It was an evolution of chess, but one in which the pieces represented real military units (infantry, cavalry, artillery, etc.), and the squares were color-coded to represent different types of terrain, which could impede the movement of the pieces. In 1796, another Prussian named Johann Georg Julius Venturini invented his own wargame, inspired by Hellwig's game. Venturini's game was played on an even larger grid.[1] Venturini's game added rules governing logistics, such as supply convoys and mobile bakeries, and the effects of weather and seasons.[2][3] In 1806, an Austrian named Johann Ferdinand Opiz developed a wargame that used dice to simulate the unpredictability of warfare.[4]

The prototype of Reiswitz Sr. (1812)[edit]

Reiswitz Sr.'s 1812 wargaming apparatus, a gift for the Prussian royal family.

A criticism of the so-called wargames of Hellwig, Venturini, and Opiz was that the pieces were consigned to move across a grid in chess-like fashion: only a single piece could occupy a square, and the pieces had to move square by square. This, of course, did not reflect how real troops in the field actually moved. In response to this criticism, a Prussian nobleman and wargaming enthusiast named George Leopold von Reiswitz began developing a more realistic wargame wherein the units could move about the battlefield in a free-form manner.

Reiswitz first experimented with a table covered in a layer of damp sand. He sculpted the sand into a three-dimensional model battlefield, with hills and valleys. He used little wooden blocks to represent troop formations. The Prussian princes heard about Reiswitz's project and asked for a demonstration. He showed it to them in 1811, and they enthusiastically recommended the game to their father, King Wilhelm III.

In 1812, Reiswitz presented to the king an elaborate wargaming apparatus that came in the form of a wooden table-cabinet. The cabinet's drawers stored all the materials to play the game. The battlefield was made out of painted porcelain tiles, where were modular arranged on the table surface. Troop formations were represented by little porcelain blocks. The blocks could be moved across the battlefield in free-form manner, using dividers to regulate movement. The royal family was delighted by Reiswitz's game, and frequently played it. Shortly after this presentation, he published a book describing his game.[5]

Reiswitz's game was not adopted by army instructors nor sold commercially. The apparatus he developed for the king was too expensive for mass-production.[6] Additionally, his system was not complete: the rules for resolving the effects of attacks were not fully worked out and required some improvisation on the part of the players.[7] Reiswitz may have been too distracted by the upheavals of the Napoleonic Wars to perfect his game. By 1816, Reiswitz seemed to have lost interest in wargaming altogether. The development of the wargame was continued by his son, Georg Heinrich Rudolf Johann von Reiswitz.[8]

The Prussian army adopts wargaming (Reiswitz Jr., 1824)[edit]

A reconstruction of the wargame developed in 1824 by Reiswitz Jr.

Reiswitz Jr. was a junior officer in the Prussian army. He took over the development of his father's wargame after his father lost interest in it. He developed the game with the help of a circle of junior officers. The prince eventually heard of Reiswitz's project and, having fond memories of playing Reiswitz Sr's wargame, joined the son's gaming circle.

Whereas Reiswitz Sr. used porcelain tiles to model the battlefield, Reiswitz Jr.'s game was designed to be played on paper maps at a scale of 1:8000. Another modification was the use of dice, so as to simulate the unpredictability of warfare. The dice were of unique design, not conventional gaming dice. The greatest innovation, however, was the introduction of an umpire. The players were made to sit in adjacent rooms where they could not see the pieces on the game map in the umpire's room.[4][9][10] The umpire would send the players written reports on the state of the battlefield, similar to what an actual field commander would receive. The umpire withheld information that the players could not realistically know—for instance, he would not tell a player the position of the enemy's units on the game map if they were not in visual range of the player's own units. The player then issued orders to his units by passing written instructions to the umpire. The umpire would then move the player's units across the game map per these instructions, compute the outcomes of attacks, and report them back to the player.[11] This is how the game simulated the fog of war, and how commanders in the field commanded their troops.

In 1824, the prince invited Reiswitz Jr. to present his wargame to the king and his General Staff. They were impressed and officially endorsed his game as a tool for the Prussian army. Reiswitz established a workshop by which he could mass-produce and distribute it.[12] It was widely played by the officer corps, and a number of wargaming clubs formed, the first being the Berlin Wargame Association.[b] This was thus the first wargame to be widely adopted by a military as a serious tool for training and research.

Reiswitz Jr. committed suicide in 1827, but the Prussian officer corps continued to play and develop his wargaming system. Wilhelm von Tschischwitz published a kriegsspiel manual in 1862[c] that incorporated new technological advances such as railroads, telegraph, and breech-loading cannons; and which used conventional gaming dice.[13] In 1875, Klemens Wilhelm Jacob Meckel developed the first wargaming system that could be played at the operation and strategic levels: a "detachment" game played on 1:6,250 maps, a "grand war game" played on 1:12,500 maps, and a "strategic" game played on 1:100,000 maps.[13]

A criticism of Reiswitzian kriegsspiel was that it had very complicated rules, which were difficult to memorize, and the complex computations greatly slowed down the gameplay. This put off many officers from adopting kriegsspiel. A senior Prussian officer named Julius von Verdy du Vernois proposed dispensing with the rules and instead allowing the umpire to arbitrate events as he saw fit.[d] The umpire, of course, had to be very knowledgeable and impartial so that his rulings would be realistic and fair. This innovation was well-received by army instructors, who could now apply their own expertise to their wargaming sessions. This style of wargaming came to be known as free kriegsspiel (counterpart to Reiswitz's rigid kriegsspiel).[14][15]

The spread of wargaming beyond Germany[edit]

A French translation of Reiswitz Jr.'s manual was presented to the French military in 1829, and a Dutch translation appeared in 1836. But overall, kriegsspiel attracted little attention outside Prussia until 1870, when Prussia defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War. Many credited Prussia's victory to its wargaming tradition, and this led to great worldwide interest in kriegsspiel. The first kriegsspiel manual in English, based on the system of Wilhelm von Tschischwitz, was published in 1872 for the British army and received a royal endorsement.[13] In the United States, Charles Adiel Lewis Totten published Strategos, the American War Game in 1880, and William R. Livermore published The American Kriegsspiel in 1882.

Rules of the 1812 game by Reiswitz Sr.[edit]

The overview presented here is based on the book Tactical Wargame, or Instructions for a Mechanical Device to Show Realistic Tactical Maneuvers,[e] written by George Leopold von Reiswitz and published in 1812.

The materials[edit]

In 1812, Reiswitz presented to the king of Prussia a wargaming apparatus that came in the form of a wooden cabinet. The top of the cabinet unfolded to provide a game table that was roughly six by six feet in size. The game pieces and tools were stored in the cabinet's drawers. The game came with porcelain tiles upon which images of various terrain types (forest, marsh, river, etc.) were depicted in painted bas-relief. The tiles could be laid out on the game table in any arrangement to create a custom battlefield. The scale of the battlefield was about 1:2373.[16][17]

Combat units were represented on the battlefield by little porcelain blocks. The blocks were marked to represent different kinds of units, which included heavy infantry, light infantry, rangers, heavy cavalry, light cavalry, sappers, and pontoon units.[18] The proportions of the blocks were sized to match the that of the troop formation it represented.

The battlefield had no grid; to regulate the movement of the units, players used wooden dividers, which were built to measure distances in increments of 50 paces[f] (at the scale of the game).[19] 50 paces is the basic unit of distance in this game; movement and weapon ranges are measured in increments of 50 paces.


The game is played by two teams of 1-5 players each. If a team has three players, they must chose a leader. If a team has four or five players, they must choose a leader and divided control of the units among them.[20] Teammates communicated with each other silently by exchanging handwritten notes.[21]

The game was turn-based. Each turn represented one minute of time.


Infantry units have three movement rates: march, run, and charge. Over open terrain, they can march 100 paces, run 150 paces, or charge 200 paces in a turn. Over difficult terrain, these rates are each reduced by 50 paces.[22] If an infantry unit charges, it cannot charge again for the next two turns due to fatigue.[23] An infantry unit cannot move and fire in the same turn.[24]

Calvary units have two movement rates: trot and gallop. Heavy cavalry can trot 300 paces or gallop 400 paces. Light cavalry can trot 400 paces or gallop 500 paces. If a cavalry unit galloped for two turns in succession, then it had to trot in the third turn due to fatigue. Over difficult terrain, heavy cavalry can only move 200 paces, and light cavalry can only move 300 paces; they cannot gallop.[25]


Regular infantry can fire up to 250 paces, tirailleurs can fire up to 300 paces, and Jagers can fire up to 400 paces. Gunfire is more effective the closer the target is, and cavalry targets will suffer more damage than infantry targets. Regular infantry deal more damage at close range than skirmishers or rangers—this is because muskets can be reloaded faster than rifles.[26]

Alternatively, an infantry unit can attack the enemy with bayonets. For this, it must move into contact range with the enemy unit such that the blocks practically touch each other. Both units will suffer casualties, but the attacker will suffer fewer. Additionally, if the target cannot fall back 100 paces, it will be annihilated altogether.[27] Cavalry make melee attacks in similar fashion.

Overview of the 1824 game by Reiswitz Jr.[edit]

This summary is based on the book Instructions for the Representation of Military Maneuvers with the Kriegsspiel Apparatus (1824) by Georg Heinrich Rudolf Johann von Reiswitz.


After Reiswitz Jr. received an official endorsement from the royal family and the General Staff of Prussia, he began mass-producing and distributing his wargame to the officer corps. The game was sold in a box-set that cost 30 Thalers,[28] and which contained all the materials necessary to play the game:

  • Lead blocks that represented various kinds of troop formations
  • Rulers and dividers
  • Dice of unconventional design
  • A topographical map, scaled to 1:8000
  • A rulebook

Reiswitz Jr. used the Prussian imperial system of measurement, wherein 1 pace = 2 feet = 20 decimal inches ≈ 62.8cm.[g] The scale of the game was 1:8000. This applied to both the troop blocks and the game map, such that a block would occupy an area on the map proportional to the area that the real formation would occupy in the field.[29]

The game represented troops on the battlefield using little lead blocks placed on the amp. The troop blocks were blocks were color-coded either red or blue to denote the team that owned it. The dimensions of the block reflected the actual dimensions of the troop formation it represented. For instance, a formation of 450 infantrymen in three ranks is (according to Reiswitz Jr.) 125 paces long and 75 paces deep—accordingly, the lead block that represented such a formation would be about 1 cm x 0.6 cm in size.[h]

The game used unique dice. The face of each die contained not one but a multitude of numbers. Each number represented a damage value that could be inflicted by a particular type of unit in a particular circumstance. For instance, on Die I, the left column of numbers denoted damage scores when an infantry unit fired upon the enemy at 400 paces, 300 paces, 200 paces, or 100 paces.

Tracking casualties[edit]

Each troop formation has a number of hitpoints determined by the type of unit, the number of men in it, and their formation. For instance, a half-battalion of 450 men in three ranks has 90 hitpoints.

The umpire decides, at his discretion, how the damage points are distributed among the pieces.

The first method is to replace infantry pieces that have suffered losses with "exchange pieces" that are commensurately smaller. For instance, if a 90-hitpoint infantry piece suffers 15 points of damage—i.e. 16 of its initial strength—it is then exchanged for a 56 infantry piece. The 56 piece is slightly smaller than the full-size piece, representing the soldiers that have been lost.

Any surplus damage points that cannot be allocated via exchange pieces are recorded on a sheet of paper called the "losses table". The losses table has columns for regular infantry, tirailleurs, jagers, cavalry, and artillery. Each column tracks the amount of surplus damage each category of troop has suffered. If the amount of accumulated surplus damage crosses a certain threshold, then the umpire will exchange a piece on the map with an exchange piece.

If a piece loses half of its hitpoints, it is removed from the map; it's surviving soldiers are assumed to have fled the battle.

Worked example

For instance, suppose three pieces of regular infantry (90 hitpoints each) suffer 50 points of damage from enemy fire. The umpire decides the distribute the damage evenly across all three pieces. Each piece suffers 15 points of damage, and the umpire replaces each of them with a 56 exchange piece. That leaves 5 points of unallocated damage. These 5 points are recorded on the losses table in the column for regular infantry. During the next round, the infantry suffer an additional 12 points of damage, which is registered on the losses table because 12 points is less than 16 of 90. The losses table now records 17 points of unallocated damage. The umpire allocates 15 of these points to one of the infantry blocks; he replaces one block with a 46 exchange piece. There are now just 2 points of unallocated damage left on the losses table. The next time the unallocated damage crosses the threshold of 15 points, the umpire will replace a piece on the map with an exchange piece.

Similarly named games[edit]

The French filmmaker Guy Debord designed his own game called "Kriegspiel" (one s has been dropped) in 1977 that was later adapted to an online game.[30] Despite Debord's use of the title, however, his game bears no real resemblance to the Prussian military tradition of Kriegsspiel. It has more in common with early Avalon Hill and SPI wargames, such as a separate game by the same name, as well as military-themed chess variants.

Avalon Hill, in 1970, designed a game also called Kriegspiel.[31] In both this version and the game by Debord, two sides place their pieces on a map, secret from the other player. Each side of the map has mountains and other terrain, in addition to strategic point that are needed to defend such as cities.

A chess variant called Kriegspiel was developed, which applied Kriegsspiel's fog of war concept to chess.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ German: [ˈkʁiːksˌʃpiːl]
  2. ^ Berliner Kriegsspiel-Verein
  3. ^ Wilhelm von Tschischwitz (1862). Anleitung zum Kriegsspiel [Instructions for Wargaming].
  4. ^ Julius von Verdy du Vernois (1876). Beitrag zum Kriegsspiel [Contribution to Wargaming].
  5. ^ George Leopold von Reiswitz (1812). Taktisches Kriegs-Spiel oder Anleitung zu einer mechanischen Vorrichtung um taktische Manoeuvres sinnlich darzustellen [Tactical Wargame, or Instructions for a Mechanical Device to Show Realistic Tactical Maneuvers].
  6. ^ Reiswitz Sr. (1812) defines 1 pace as equal to 2 feet. In the Prussian imperial system of measurement, 1 foot approximated to 313.8536mm
  7. ^ A Prussian foot equates to 313.8536mm.
  8. ^ Assuming 1 pace equates to 62.8cm.
  1. ^ Peterson (2012):
    "Although Venturini replaced the wargame board with a map, he still imposed a one-inch square grid over that map, and he imagined each square of the grid to be two thousand paces (Schritte) across, which if we assume a German military pace of rough thirty inches, means his game employs a scale around 1:60,000, or a bit shy of one mile per square."
  2. ^ Peterson (2012): "Venturini increases the variety of terrain, takes into account seasons and weather, vastly increases the sorts of entrenchments and fortifications that combatants might construct, and adds significant, but not necessarily exciting, detail to the feeding, equipping and support of forces in the field."
  3. ^ Creveld (2013), p. 146
  4. ^ a b Schuurman (2017)
  5. ^ Peterson (2012):
    "Reiswitz subsequently published two hundred copies of a formal account of his wargame in Berlin under the title Taktisches Kriegs-Spiel oder Anleitung zu einer mechanischen Vorrichtung um taktische Manoeuvres sinnlich darzustellen (1812, “Tactical Wargame, or instructions for a mechanical device to show realistic tactical maneuvers”)."
  6. ^ Peterson (2012):
    "...Reiswitz’s wargame was not intended as a commercial offering, like that of Hellwig or Venturini—it was a lavish, custom-built gift for a monarch, with an apparatus fit for a museum; cost-effective manufacturing of the Taktisches Kriegs-Spiel cabinet was simply out of the question."
  7. ^ Reiswitz Jr. (1824), p. ix:
    trans.:"The rules for deciding hand-to-hand attacks, and the method for determining terrain advantage had not been fully worked out, and there were still difficulties with deciding effects from gunfire."
  8. ^ Peterson (2012):
    "The elder Reiswitz’s interests seem to have drifted away from kriegsspiel after the standalone publication of his history of wargaming (Literärisch-kritische Nachrichten über die Kriegsspiele der Alten und Neuern, 1816), so his son assumed charge over the ongoing development of the game."
  9. ^ Jon Peterson, in Harrigan & Kirschenbaum (2016), p. 8
  10. ^ Peterson (2012):
    "Unlike the games of Hellwig or the elder Reiswitz, in the younger Reiswitz game pieces are not set on the board for all parties to see: instead, the umpire places on the public map only those units of which both sides are aware."
  11. ^ Peterson (2012):
    "In addition to establishing the general idea and the composition of the opposing forces, the umpire serves as an intermediary for virtually all actions in the game: all movements, all communications and all attacks channel through the umpire, in writing. The players transmit written orders, authored to their units in the persona of a commander, and for the most part the umpire enjoys significant leeway in deciding how these orders will be interpreted."
  12. ^ Peterson (2012):
    "To convert this to a mass-market venture, the younger Reiswitz organized a workshop to manufacture the game, which included a tin foundry, painters and carpenters, as well as the support of the Royal Lithographic Institute to manufacture maps of the appropriate scale."
  13. ^ a b c Peterson (2012)
  14. ^ Perla (1990):
    "For von Verdy the reason for wargaming's lack of popularity lay "in the numerous difficulties that beginners run against in handling tables, calculating losses, and the like." He argued strongly that "it would add to the usefulness of the game to be rid of these numerous rules and tables." [...] The essence of von Verdy's approach can be described as the transformation of the umpire from computer to "God." But he was not to be a capricious god, but a conscientious one who would explain his actions and assessments after the game."
  15. ^ Peterson (2012):
    "Verdy du Vernois in his Beitrag zum Kriegsspiel (“Contribution to Wargaming,” 1876) expresses many sentiments similar to the criticisms levied by Meckel: that when a student of military sciences suggests playing a wargame, an all-too-common response is, “We have no one here who knows how to conduct the game properly.” Probing more deeply into the root causes of this, he found the defect to “lie chiefly in the purely technical part of the conduct of the game, the novice failing to understand the rules, or the use of the dice and the table of losses”—this last table referring to the computation of points of damage against units. Verdy du Vernois therefore proposes the obvious: to simply remove those entirely from the game, and to allow the umpire’s assessment of the tactical situation to determine the outcome of any encounter."
  16. ^ Dannhauer (1874), p. 528
  17. ^ Reiswitz Jr. (1824), p. ix
  18. ^ Reiswitz Sr. (1812), p. 18-21
  19. ^ Reiswitz Sr. (1812), p. 27, §3
  20. ^ Reiswitz Sr. (1812), p. 3
  21. ^ Reiswitz Sr. (1812), p. 7
  22. ^ Reiswitz Sr. (1812), p. 56, IX§3
  23. ^ Reiswitz Sr. (1812), p. 56, IX§4
  24. ^ Reiswitz Sr. (1812), p. 59, IX§10
  25. ^ Reiswitz Sr. (1812), p. 69-70
  26. ^ Reiswitz Sr. (1812), p. 56, 65, 66
  27. ^ Reiswitz Sr. (1812), p. 61
  28. ^ Peterson (2012)
  29. ^ Reiswitz Jr. (1824):
    "These troop symbols and the map must be to the same scale, and the scale must be large enough for the smallest tactical units to be instantly recognizable. Troops and maps have been prepared to the scale 1:8000 so that 1 Decimal Zoll = 400 paces. [...] Let me stress again that the troop symbols and map must be to the same scale, so that troops only occupy the distance on the map that they would occupy in reality, and so that one move only produces the same results for marches, battles, etc., as two minutes of real time would produce."
  30. ^ "Le Jeu de la Guerre - Board Game - BoardGameGeek".
  31. ^ "Kriegspiel - Board Game - BoardGameGeek".


External links[edit]