Kriegsspiel (wargame)

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Kriegsspiel (German: [ˈkʁiːksˌʃpiːl]) is a genre of wargaming developed in Prussia to teach military strategy to military officers. The word kriegsspiel literally means "war game" in German, and this is where the term comes from.

The first kriegsspiel was developed in 1780 by Hellwig — it was he who coined the term "war-game". Another famous kriegsspiel was developed in 1812 by Georg Leopold von Reiswitz and his son Georg Heinrich Rudolf von Reiswitz, which the Prussian army adopted as a training tool.

Hellwig's design[edit]

The playing field and pieces from Hellwig's wargame, kriegsspiel.

The first wargame was invented in Prussia by Johann Christian Ludwig Hellwig in 1780, who sought to develop a chess-like game that more accurately reflected real warfare. Hellwig called his game kriegsspiel, which from German translates to "war-game" — this is where the term comes from.[1] Hellwig's kriegsspiel was meant both to teach strategic thinking as well as entertain. Hellwig published his first rulebook in 1780, and a second edition in 1803.

In the 1780 version of Hellwig's game, the playing field was grid, and each square was color-coded to represent different types of terrain, such as mountains, water, swamp, breastworks, and trenches. Terrain affected movement — for instance, rivers could only be crossed with the aid of a special pontoon unit, and mountains were impassable. The layout of the terrain was not fixed; players could create their own customized battlefield. Infantry and cavalry pieces could move in any direction like a chess queen, and artillery pieces could move like a rook. But unlike those chess pieces, their movement ranges were limited: infantry could move a maximum distance of eight squares, dragoons could move twelve squares, light cavalry could move sixteen squares, etc. A player could move only one piece per turn, or one group of pieces if they were arranged in a rectangle. The pieces could capture enemy pieces like in chess (by moving into their square) but infantry and artillery could also shoot, at maximum ranges of two to three squares. Unlike chess, the pieces had an orientation: for instance, infantry could only shoot an enemy piece if they were facing it and flanking it.[2][3]

von Reiswitz's design[edit]

A Prussian military wargame, developed in 1824 by Reiswitz Jr.

von Reiswitz's system for simulating war was initially based around a specially designed table which he created for King Friedrich Wilhelm III.[4] 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.[4][5] 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.[4]

The rules set, which was modified several times[5] 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.[6] The accepted map scale was 1:8000[7] (though Georg Leopold von Reisswitz' initial design used a 1:2373 scale),[4] and the time scale was 2 minutes per one turn. Blocks were used to represent units,[7] which had different movement speeds, measured with the use of special compass, and which could even engage in short sprints.[4] 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.[4]

"Free" Kriegsspiel[edit]

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.[8] It was not until 1876[8] 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” Kriegsspiel 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.[9] The new “Free” Kriegsspiel 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.[10]

Later history[edit]

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.[citation needed]

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.[11]

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[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.[12] 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.[13] 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. ^ Jon Peterson, in Harrigan & Kirschenbaum (2016), p. 5
  2. ^ Peterson (2012):
    "Infantry and artillery units may discharge their firearms instead of advancing on an enemy; if an infantry unit destroys an enemy with gunfire, that enemy is removed from the board but the infantry unit does not advance to occupy the vacated position. The efficacy of rifles rests largely on the orientation of the opposing unit: infantry units facing one another enjoy effectively immunity to one another’s gunfire, so only flanking fire had an effect."
  3. ^ Nohr & Böhme (2009), p. 50-58
  4. ^ a b c d e f Lischka, Konrad (22 June 2009). "Wie preußische Militärs den Rollenspiel-Ahnen erfanden". Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 15 February 2010.
  5. ^ a b Pias, Claus (19 February 2004). Vogel, Josef, ed. Computer Spiel Welten (PhD Thesis) (PDF) (in German). Weimar: Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. pp. 173–174.
  6. ^ Schramm, Helmar; Schwarte, Ludger; and Lazardzig, Jan. Collection, Laboratory, Theater: Scenes of Knowledge in the 17th Century. Walter de Gruyter, 2005.
  7. ^ a b v. Reisswitz Kriegsspiel 1824 pg 13
  8. ^ a b Vego, Milan. “German Wargaming.” Naval War College Review 65:4 (Autumn 2012)
  9. ^ MacNab, Ian, "Kriegsspiel And The Sandtable: Using Tabletop Wargames To Teach Tactics And Exercise Decision Making In The Classroom"
  10. ^ Foley, Robert T. “Preparing the German Army for the First World War: The Operational Ideas of Alfred von Schlieffen and Helmuth von Moltke the Younger.” War and Society 22:2 (October 2004)
  11. ^ Kaplan, Michael; Ellen Kaplan (2006). "10". Chances Are... (first ed.). London: Penguin. pp. 245–6. ISBN 978-0-14-303834-4.
  12. ^ "Le Jeu de la Guerre - Board Game - BoardGameGeek".
  13. ^ "Kriegspiel - Board Game - BoardGameGeek".

External links[edit]