Kriegsspiel (lit: "war play" or "war game") was a system used for training officers in the Prussian and German armies. The first set of rules was created in 1812 and named Instructions for the Representation of Tactical Maneuvers under the Guise of a Wargame. It was originally produced and developed further by Lieutenant Georg Leopold von Reiswitz and his son Georg Heinrich Rudolf von Reiswitz of the Prussian Army.
von Reiswitz's Design
von Reiswitz's system for simulating war was initially based around a specially designed table which he created for his King Friedrich Wilhelm III. The table (see photos on page 65, 67, 69 and 70) divided the game field into a grid system, a core element of many later wargame and roleplaying systems, and included different pre-cast terrain types used in modular combinations, as well as making use of special gaming pieces and dice. von Reiswitz' system also included the methods to simulate fog of war and communication difficulties, and a position of what he called a 'confidant', an impartial third party calculating and assessing the moves, analogous to the modern gamemaster.
The rules set, which was modified several times established several conventions for wargaming which hold true to the present day, such as the use of maps, color-coding the opposing armies as red and blue, using umpires, and uniform, complex rules for movement and combat. The accepted map scale was 1:8000 (though Georg Leopold von Reisswitz' initial design used a 1:2373 scale), and the time scale was 2 minutes per one turn. Blocks were used to represent units, which had different movement speeds, measured with the use of special compass, and which could even engage in short sprints. In addition to the 'gamemaster', a total of up to 10 players could play as a commander on one of two sides in the conflict. The rules assumed a hierarchy of command between the different players, and even stipulated that if different units were out of sight of each other, players would not be allowed to communicate commands.
Kriegsspiel in its original form was not particularly popular among the Prussian officer corps; The rules were cumbersome and games took much longer than the battles that they were supposed to represent. It was not until 1876 that General Julius von Verdy du Vernois had the idea of placing more power in the hands of the gamemaster in order to speed up the game and reduce the number of rules. von Verdy's “Free” Kriegspiel did away with many of the movement and combat rules in order to save time, giving the duty of deciding the effects of orders and combat to the gamemaster. This allowed players to play a game in real time, giving the players a better feel for the tension of actual combat. To retain military accuracy, von Verdy emphasized the necessity of using military experts as gamemasters. The new “Free” Kriegspiel soon gained more popularity than its predecessor (now known as “Strict” Kriegsspiel”); The Prussian (later German) General Staff used it both for its internal exercises and as a training tool.
Kriegsspiel was first widely disseminated by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, Chief of Prussian General Staff. Moltke made several reforms to the Prussian military with the backing of Otto von Bismarck, one of which made Kriegsspiel a teaching tool for officers. As a result, this allowed Prussian officers to become more independent and responsible.
After its initial development, this particular style of wargaming became very popular among the Prussian Army officer corps. After numerous successful Prussian campaigns in the late 1800s, Kriegsspiel became more widely adopted by many militaries.
Kriegsspiel is still played today in both its original “Strict” format and Julius von Verdy du Vernois' “Free” format. The original 1824 rules by von Reisswitz, the supplementary 1862 rules by von Tschischwitz and several ancillary products such as authentic maps are still published in English by TooFatLardies, a wargames publishing company in England. Much of the renaissance enjoyed by Kriegsspiel is due to Bill Leeson's translation of the original German text in the early 1980s and his promotion of the system in the wargames hobby press.
Similarly named games
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. 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. 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.
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