Nineteenth Century Military War Games: Lieutenant von Reisswitz’s Kriegsspiel
A look at the history of wargaming. From the beginning. Yes, Kriegspiel.
Research article by Robert Mosher, 9 February 2014
as always, click images to enlarge
The First War Game
Mock battles and games reflecting a contemporary understanding of warfare have been a part of human culture throughout history. Chess is of course the most famous survivor of these games, though not the oldest. The game’s simplified depiction of warfare lacked realism, but did promote military virtues like foresight and calm consideration when confronting an opponent.
The first modern wargame is generally considered to be Kriegsspiel, published in Prussia in 1824 by First Lieutenant Georg Heinrich Leopold Freiherrn von Reisswitz. His game was based upon his father’s (Baron Georg Heinrich Rudolf Johann von Reisswitz) work, which itself had reportedly attracted the attention of the Prussian royal family.
The younger Reisswitz introduced a number of innovations that resulted in a newer game, resulting in a more militarily realistic and useful experience. He discussed some of these innovations in the foreword to his published rules. Reisswitz credited his father with the move away from the “most unnatural geometric shapes and straight lines” imposed on terrain and movement in earlier wargames that reflected their roots in chess.
Much of what we know today about Kriegsspiel is the result of the efforts of Bill Leeson who translated the original 1824 rules from German into English and published them in 1983, along with a lot of supporting material and some ideas from later versions of Kriegsspiel to ease its use by modern players. Subsequent works on wargames including those by Peter Perla, Thomas Allen, and most recently C. G. Lewin have also done much to spread the story and the details of the rules and their history.
The new Kriegsspiel differed from what had appeared before by using actual maps as the playing surface, instead of the plaster terrain of the elder Reisswitz’s game or the more traditional grid-ironed boards. The game’s design offered players a new objective and experience each time it was played. It also introduced what have become war-gaming mainstays like results and reference tables, and the introduction of chance through the use of special dice to determine the results of fire combat, supply rules, the use of a time-distance scale to measure out the passing play of the game, and a neutral umpire.
Furthermore, unlike chess and most previous games, the playing pieces in Kriegsspiel represented actual units of infantry, artillery, cavalry, and other elements of an army and its capabilities. The use of maps led to the decision to set the game at the scale of 1:8000 (rather than his father’s 1:2373). Bill Leeson’s translation of the rules for modern play adjusted them to a scale of 1:7500 which he argued was more convenient since the modern 1mm=10 paces or 7.5 meters, simplifying the mathematical basis of play.
The apparatus for play as prepared for the Prussian Army included the following:
- Troops for each side, colored red and blue to distinguish the two sides.
- Rulers and dividers to be used in measuring marches and firing distances.
- Dice for resolving the effects of fire and the outcome of any hand-to-hand fighting.
- Rules and instructions for using the equipment to play the game.
- A map in 1:8000 scale, preferably covering about 4 square miles [the Rheinlandish miles reportedly used are 32,461 feet]. It has also been recorded that purchased sets of apparatus would include a set of maps approved by the Prussian General Staff! These new maps showed gradients of terrain as well as the relevant features of roads and pathways, buildings, towns, streams and rivers, bridges, etc.
The playing pieces provided for each player were identified by the same symbols used by the Prussian Army to indicate their location on a military map. A complete set included:
- Fifty two half-battalion pieces each representing two companies, 450 men in three ranks, for a total of 26 battalions,
- Forty single squadron pieces each representing 150 horsemen in three ranks, 10 each of cuirassiers, hussars, dragoons, and uhlans. (Four squadron pieces constituted a regiment, 600 riders, and the blocks were marked to indicate the type of cavalry and the number of each one’s regiment.)
- Twenty four pieces, each representing a four gun half-battery; the heavy artillery having 12 pounders and 10 pound howitzers; the light artillery having six pounders and seven pound howitzers; and howitzer batteries, having seven pound howitzers.
- Two pieces, representing respectively one battalion of pioneers and one pontoon or bridging train. (Reisswitz also included rules for bridging trains and the construction of pontoon bridges and related engineering activities.)
- Additional playing pieces represented 75-man platoons to depict skirmish lines and smaller pieces to represent smaller patrols, pickets, and even munitions wagons (attached to a battery in play).
In Kriegsspiel (referencing the Prussian army of the era) an infantry regiment consisted of three battalions. Three such regiments (two tirailleur and one jäger) made up an infantry brigade. A cavalry regiment consisted of four squadrons (600 men total), usually all of the same type, such as cuirassiers or hussars.
Manufacturing the Kriegsspiel playing pieces in the same scale as the maps made possible the introduction of another aspect of period battlefield reality – unit formation. During play, a half-battalion could deploy one third of its strength, two platoons, as skirmishers. These would be represented by the addition of skirmish line pieces while retaining the original half battalion playing piece. However, if a half-battalion sent out more than two platoons, this would shorten its frontage and the normal half-battalion piece would be replaced by a smaller ‘exchange’ piece to represent the main body. As skirmishers or other detachments returned to the formation, the original half-battalion piece would be returned to reflect the unit’s reformation. However, the pieces representing patrols and other sub-units were larger than scale in order to be more visible on the map.
Playing pieces could also be positioned to replicate battlefield formations on the map. For example:
- Two half-battalion pieces placed adjacent to each other along the short narrow side represented a battalion of infantry in a three rank battle line with the long sides of the two pieces facing front (900 men in all on a 150-man front, standing three men deep).
- The same arrangement as above, of two half-battalion pieces could be used to represent an open column with its front being along the short narrow-side, the column formation marched in that same direction.
- Placing a second set of half-battalion playing pieces on top of the first two, would represent two battalions in a company column of route. This column would have a six man front, 12 paces in width, and the column would be 250 paces long.
- Two half-battalion pieces placed adjacent to each other along their long sides represented a single battalion drawn up in an open column of double companies, the front of the column being the narrow end. The Umpire would know that there was an interval of 70 paces between the first line of companies and the second line.
- Stacking a second set of half-battalion pieces on top of the first two pieces would represent a closed column in column of route for marching. This could also represent a close column of double companies that had been on the march for some time and thus had the column open or stretch out, which the Umpire would know from previous turns.
- Placing four half-battalion pieces into a single stack represented two battalions in close column of double companies (marching in the direction of the long side).
- Three such stacks placed side by side, along their long side, represented an infantry brigade in a brigade-mass formation.
Similar arrangements of the appropriate playing pieces were also described for the different formations used by cavalry, infantry skirmish lines, artillery gun lines, and battery positions.
As noted above, smaller exchange pieces were also used to reflect casualties suffered by units during play:
- A half-battalion that lost one platoon, one-sixth of its strength, would have had its front reduced to 100 paces. An exchange piece represented this reduced formation.
- Another exchange piece represented a half-battalion that had lost two platoons, one-third of its strength, with a reduced frontage of 75 paces.
- A half-battalion that had lost one-half of its strength would be considered no longer effective and would be removed from the game by the Umpire.
- There were no exchange pieces for cavalry squadrons (150 men). A squadron that lost 90 riders or three-fifths of its strength was considered non-effective and removed from the game.
Before Play Preparation
The original 1824 Kriegsspiel recommended at least two players and one Umpire for a corps on corps engagement (a force of 24 battalions) played out on a single map (each player being brought to the map in turn as needed). When there was more than one player participating on a side, the players were to be guided by army practice – one player serving as Commander-in-Chief or Player-Commander and the others taking subordinate roles in accordance with the structure of the force in the scenario.
The Umpire had broad and general powers for the management and conduct of the game. Only the Umpire was allowed to actually place and move pieces on the map. He was the only one having full knowledge of the game and its progress. The Umpire controlled communication between players on the same side who could only speak to each other when their respective pieces on the map were in close proximity (100 paces). It was the Umpire who determined when a game ended unless it was otherwise specified in the scenario.
Actual play of a game began with the Umpire’s presentation of the scenario or “General Idea” to the two opposing Player-Commanders. This included the approximate positions of each commander’s own forces, and the situation of his main body of troops. The Umpire then separately provided each player with an individual report or “special idea”. This “special idea” gave each player the exact strength and position of his forces, their objective, their lines of retreat, and any additional information the Umpire believed the player would have in reality at this stage of operations, including the source for the information such as whether it came from patrols, outposts, local inhabitants, etc.
Next, each Player-Commander (and player as appropriate) prepared a brief written plan stating his intended maneuvers, his orders for individual units and for any players in subordinate roles, the intended position of all of his troops (and himself), and the designation of all units that would furnish patrols or advance posts. Once completed, the Player-Commanders/players presented their respective plans to the Umpire.
The preparation of these memoranda allowed each commander to fully assess his military situation while his description of that understanding and his plans would guide the Umpire in conducting the game. If either in the memoranda or the orders, or in any subsequent orders, the Umpire noted a contravention of the general or special ideas, the Umpire would return it to the player for correction. However, the Umpire was not to intervene in the event of an error or an oversight by either player, such as failing to issue orders to a unit or command.
The rules centralized decision making in the one player acting as each side’s commander-in-chief, whether his total force was a division, corps, or army. The other players, within their respective roles as subordinate or independent commanders, were free to make decisions consistent with the orders they have received from that side’s Player-Commander.
All communication between players was conducted through written messages passed via the Umpire, unless the pieces representing the two players on the map were located within 100 paces of each other. The players’ orders were written out and given to the Umpire who then placed or moved each unit in accordance with the orders, consistent with the situation and the rules. The Umpire (or possibly an assistant working as recorder) kept track of the movement of couriers, orderlies, or others carrying messages for each player’s forces so that they moved across the field at a realistic speed.
The Umpire was also free to decide when circumstances would allow units of either force to act under existing orders, without orders, or in accordance with previous experience and/or training. In some situations, the Umpire might decide that subordinate officers or leaders of units represented by the playing pieces would act immediately upon their own initiative, consistent with the original orders received from their Player-Commander, and without seeking further orders.
As the Umpire placed or moved units in accordance with the written orders and consistent with the rules and the situation, he also noted the relative positions of the two forces and identified any units that would be able to see or could be seen by opposing units. If the Umpire found that the two forces were sufficiently distant from each other so as not to see or be seen, he could execute several turns’ worth of moves at once. Once one or more of the units come into combat with units of the opposing force, the Umpire was required to return to playing a single turn at a time. The Umpire (or an assistant) tracked changes to the terrain, such as the destruction or construction of bridges or fortifications, the occupation of villages, etc., and gave such information to each commander, when appropriate, based upon the movements of messengers, distances, the sight lines across the terrain, etc.
Lieutenant von Reisswitz offered additional advice to both the Umpires and the players, emphasizing that “the Umpire is in complete control during the course of the game, and his decisions are final in every case….It is essential that there should be complete confidence in his impartiality and knowledge of the rules.” Reisswitz further set out the following principles that would ensure the position and influence of the Umpire and a successful game:
- The decisions of the Umpire are final.
- A player may not communicate directly with a colleague except through the Umpire when he is at a greater distance than 100 paces from him on the map.
- All troop movements, both visible and invisible, are carried out by the Umpire or his assistant.
- At the conclusion of the game both sides will probably wish to discuss the maneuvers and offer criticism, but in the course of the game itself, all such discussion is forbidden.
One Good Game Turn
A Kriegsspiel game turn represented the passage of two minutes time on the game map. The complete sequence of events within a single turn was as follows:
- Both sides determine their moves and then prepare and issue orders;
- The orders and related information are given to the Umpire who implements the resulting movement of units and identifies any consequences of that movement.
- Instances of collisions or combat involving weapons’ fire are noted and the Umpire determines the effects of fire which is then recorded.
- The complete results from any non-fire attacks (e.g., hand-to-hand or melee) are determined by the Umpire and recorded.
- Any losses incurred are reviewed and if necessary units are removed from the map.
Since only the Umpire/Referee was allowed to move the playing pieces, movement rates based upon actual army performance were presented as a reference guide for the players as they planned their maneuvers based upon the two minutes of game time. Kriegsspiel provided for executing actions other than movement within the two minutes of each turn, for example infantry changing formation. The rules make the point that all proposed movements ordered by the players are to be reviewed by the Umpire to determine whether they are actually possible, with reference to the rules and related tables that govern movement. The movements ordered are also reviewed for consistency with new or still applicable previously issued orders given to the relevant units.
|200 paces||Normal infantry march rate (in ranks)||Walking pace for cavalry and all mounted individuals||Walking pace for all artillery
foot artillery in columnWalking pace for wagons and trains
|250 paces||Infantry movement rate in action,
on patrol, reforming or regrouping
|Cavalry moving in action||Foot artillery in action||—|
|300 paces||—||Cavalry moving alternately at trot and walk||Foot artillery reforming or regrouping
horse artillery alternately at trot and walk
|400 paces||Infantry in skirmish order in movement (for 1 turn in 3)infantry at the charge, taking a position, retiring||—||Foot artillery, limbered, may advance or
retire at this rate in action (1 turn in 3)
|600 paces||—||Cavalry at the trot
also all mounted individuals
heavy cavalry reforming or regrouping
|Horse artillery at the trot
reforming or regrouping
|800 paces||—||Heavy cavalry at the gallop or full charge
(for 2 turns out of 6)
|Horse artillery at the gallop||—|
|900 paces||—||Light cavalry at the gallop or full charge
(also full gallop for individual mounted officers,
orderlies, and messengers)
(for 2 turns out of 6)
(created by author)
Movement rates across the map were further governed by terrain features that could alter a unit’s movement rates. Kriegsspiel reduced the movement of units passing through light woods or going up a five or 10 degree slope or down a five degree slope.
- Dense woods were open only to movement by individual officers, messengers, small patrols, and skirmishers.
- Swamp, bog, or marshland would in general be impassable.
- The Umpire must determine whether farmyards, gardens or enclosures in general, would be passable and under what circumstances.
The Umpire was authorized to modify any given march rate if he deemed it necessary under specific circumstances. Another factor affecting march rates was the width of roads, bridges, and archways which might create a bottleneck that would require a unit to change formation in order to pass through at a walk pace.
The rules recommended that several of the dividers provided with the game apparatus be set for specific movement distances in order to facilitate quick and accurate measurement and speed play, as well as avoiding disputes about distances over the map. The rules also noted that when moving a large number of units deployed together in the same line, movement need be measured only for the two units at each end of the line. Once these had been placed in their new positions on the map, the other units making up the line could be quickly moved into the appropriate positions. The Umpire was also reminded that marching columns tend to spread out especially as such movements continued through several turns.
Kriegsspiel was designed to provide the information appropriate to the command level represented within a given scenario. Information presented by the Umpire was generally intended to accurately reflect the information that would be available to a senior commander, based upon his own eyes and ears, and upon the reporting via courier that could be expected to come from subordinate commanders and units. Players were dependent upon the Umpire for information of almost every kind. However, the rules could not prevent a Player-commander from becoming too enmeshed at an inappropriate command level, nor did they require the Umpire to address such issues during the play of a game.
The Player-Commander would be allowed to see friendly and enemy units on the game map that the Umpire concluded could be seen by his units or about which he had received information from subordinate commanders either via couriers (whose movement was controlled by the Umpire) or in face-to-face conversation. He might also roughly calculate the current strength of his own visible units. Kriegsspiel called for the Umpire or an assistant to record unit losses as they occurred. While such a record was apparently not available to the players, the playing pieces themselves reflected varying unit strengths. Time on the map (versus the real world time) was displayed by means of a simple chalkboard easily visible to all.
The only reconnaissance/intelligence assets controlled by the players were the infantry and cavalry units that could mount patrols across the game map. The information given to players from these means would generally be limited to what could be actually “seen” on the battlefield map or game table as determined by the Umpire. However, this did not appear to prevent an Umpire from concluding that the introduction of inaccurate information would reflect confusion or error on the part of a subordinate commander or unit, nor was the Umpire required to correct information exchanged between players. [The author in playing the role of assistant umpire or referee in games Umpired by Mike Dunn has drawn upon his own reconnaissance training and personal experience to augment the information given to players to include what they might have heard or smelled as well.]
Players were tasked with deciding where their forces would go on the map and what they would do while en route or when they get to the designated point on the map. They decided when to order combat to begin, against which enemy units, how to respond to an attack, when to resist, when to flee, and when to attempt to disengage.
There were few limits within the rules on how detailed a player could make his orders with regard to the employment of the forces under his command. Since players usually represented army, corps, and division commanders, and possibly the occasional brigade commander, they had only indirect control over combat situations via the written messages dispatched to the subordinate on the scene (unless the Player-Commander was actually considered to be present at the point of combat).
Primarily a battle game, Kriegsspiel could replicate what today would be called the operational level of war. The only events envisioned by the game designers, and probably by most of their players, were those expected to take place in the vicinity of or on a battlefield, or otherwise in association with the activity of armed troops. There were no provisions for the inclusion of socio-political or economic events of any kind nor for interaction between military units and civilian populations.
Combat and Casualties
Reisswitz described his firing tables in Kriegsspiel as based upon personal observation of the practice firing of all forms of weapons over many years and upon the 1813 Uber die Wirkung des Feuergewehrs (translated by Bill Leeson as “The Effect of Firepower”). This work was by Prussian military reformer General Gerhard J D von Scharnhorst and colleagues drew upon the results of weapons firing trials conducted over the period of 1800 to 1812.
The trials considered such questions as the effective range of cannons and howitzers, the penetration of wooden targets by shot and shrapnel, the range and effect of various small arms, and the probability of hits against various targets. Included were comparison tests conducted at Potsdam in 1800 of several different infantry muskets used by the Prussians. A single rank of 10 men, standing shoulder to shoulder in close formation, fired twenty rounds at an average rate of fire of two to two and one-half rounds per minute against a one-inch thick piece of spruce-wood, six foot high, and 100 feet long.
The infantry fire system was based upon the half battalion, 450 men in three ranks, which had a value of 90 hit points ( by way of contrast a platoon of tirailleurs, 75 men, was worth 15 points if in line but 50 points in skirmish order which made them a much more difficult target). Reisswitz noted in his introduction to Kriegsspiel how widely results on the drill or practice field could vary from those on the battlefield. He therefore determined that the best possible results on the firing tables in Kriegsspiel would be one half of the average result as reported by Scharnhorst. He created five special dice marked I, II, III, IV, V. Dice I and II were for use in resolving infantry fire while III and V were used in resolving artillery fire, and all five together to resolve hand to hand combat. The die faces were based upon a set of possible outcomes, evenly divided between good and bad though variable results.
The single six sided die marked “I” was to be used when infantry fire was judged by the Umpire to be to Good Effect:
- One face offered the best score (1 chance in 6);
- Two faces offered a result 2/3 of the best score (1 chance in 3);
- One face offered a result ½ of the best score (1 chance in 6); and
- Two faces offered the worst score, 1/3 of the best score (1 chance in 3).
And a second die marked “II” was to be used when infantry fire was judged to be to Bad Effect:
- One face offered a result that is ½ of the best result (1 chance in 6);
- Two faces offered a result 5/12 (about 42%) of the best result (1 chance in 3);
- One face offered a result 1/3 that of the best result (1 chance in 3); and
- Two faces offered a result 1/5 of the best result (worst possible outcome between two six-sided dice)(1 chance in 3).
The face of each die featured three columns of numbers:
the left hand column represented points lost to fire at different ranges over two minutes:
- The top number was the number of points lost to fire at 100 to 200 paces;
- The second number for fire at 100-200 paces;
- The third number for 200-300 paces; and
- The fourth, bottom number was for fire at 300-400 paces (the latter number represented maximum effective range for infantry).
The right hand column on the face of die I for infantry fire gave the losses caused by two platoons of skirmishers firing without cover, either tirailleurs or jäger, in open country at the same range intervals as previously noted. Die II’s left hand column gave losses caused by two platoons of jägers in skirmish order firing with cover. The right hand column on Die II was for two platoons of line infantry firing as skirmishers under good cover.
The table below (Table III LOSSES FROM INFANTRY FIRE) shows the faces of these five dice in table form. The left-hand column is the UNIT FIRING, the center Column is the DISTANCE or range to the target, and the right hand column shows the ‘points’ or NUMBER OF POINTS or hits scored during two minutes of firing based upon the number rolled on a single die (vertical column). The notes below Table III give the adjustment to be applied to the results given in the table when the firing unit fired only a single volley instead of repeating its fire for the entire two minutes of the turn.
Each hit point varied in worth according to the formation the target unit was in when fired upon:
- For infantry standing in two ranks, three points are worth 10 men,
- For infantry standing in three ranks while under fire, one point is worth five men.
- For tirailleurs in skirmish order, two points are worth three men.
- For cavalry in ranks, two points are worth three riders.
- For artillery, 12 ½ points are worth one gun.
Artillery fire in the game was based upon the fire of full batteries:
- (light artillery) six -pound (plus two seven-pound howitzers), or
- (heavy artillery) six-pound cannon (joined by two ten-pound howitzers) in eight gun batteries, or
- (howitzers) eight seven-pound howitzers.
The basic artillery piece in Kriegsspiel represented a half-battery of four guns with a maximum range of 1,800 to 2,000 paces.
The game apparatus included a rule for measuring artillery ranges on the game map. One edge was marked for heavy artillery and the other side for light artillery (including the 7 lb howitzer battery). It also indicated the nature of the artillery fire, i.e., as reflected at different ranges, canister, low elevation shot, high elevation shot, orbouncing shot. The set rate of fire for close range and low elevation firing was three rounds per minute, two rounds per minute for high elevation firing, and three rounds per minute for bouncing shot.
The Umpire would make a single die roll for each battery firing upon the target. As previously noted, two dice were for resolving artillery fire attacks. Die III was for artillery or howitzer fire judged to have good effect and Die V was for artillery or howitzers judged to have fired to bad effect. The following guidelines were offered to distinguish “good effect” versus “bad effect”;
- CANISTER AND LOW ELEVATION RANGE. When the ground between the battery and the target was flat, with no slope up or down of more than 10°.
- HIGH ELEVATION RANGE. Where there was a clear view for 200 paces before or behind the target.
- BOUNCING SHOT RANGE. When solid shot had been used and the ground was firm.
- CANISTER AND LOW ELEVATION RANGE. When the ground between the battery and the target was swampy or marshy, full of hedges, very undulating, or the ground rose or fell by more than 10°.
- HIGH ELEVATION RANGE. When the country in front of the target was swampy or marshy, etc. When the ground rose or fell by more than 20°, or when there was not a clear view of the target.
- BOUNCING SHOT RANGE. When the ground was firm but uneven. When the ground was soft or swampy there would be no effect at all.
Any other conditions or situations that might have affected the result of artillery fire were handled as modifiers to the table’s result. For example,
- Cannon or howitzer fire against columns (two or more companies in column) or into skirmishers within 100 paces of a line of friendly troops, or into the flank of any target unit would have ¼ greater effect than the given result.
- A hit by bursting shell would have 1/3 greater effect than the given result.
- Troops taking advantage of the cover of woods, villages, towns, embankments, ditches, etc., would suffer only ½ of the given result from artillery fire and only 1/3 of the result from howitzer fire.
- ‘Flames’ rising from the circle at the center of face of the die indicated that artillery fire on a fortified position had created a breach wide enough (35 paces) to be used by attacking infantry.
Reisswitz expressed the view in Kriegsspiel that “fights with bayonet or sword, in fact, rarely take place” but that when such fights do occur, “the outcome…will depend on the concentration of the mental, moral, and physical strength of the combatants.” However, he also stated that a commander could never be completely certain of the performance of his units or of the enemies. Therefore, players were placed in doubt as to the outcome of any close combat as Kriegsspiel again turned to the dice to determine the outcomes of close combat (which Leeson reproduced as shown below).
When a player intended to attack in close combat, he informed the Umpire. The Umpire moved the unit up to or as near to striking distance as possible at its current march rate. The Umpire asked the defending commander whether the target unit would stand, withdraw, or counter attack. If the decision was to stand or to counter attack, the Umpire assessed the possibilities for the attacker and the defender to actually execute their orders and their overall chances for success.
Kriegsspiel discouraged hand-to-hand combat at odds greater than 3:1 by compelling the weaker side to withdraw. If the attack proceeded, the Umpire rolled the die to determine the result. The following table prepared by Bill Leeson shows how the Umpire decided which die to use:
|Ratio of forces||Die to Be Used||Odds Ratio to Be Used|
|Less than 1/6 difference||Die I||1:1|
|1/6 to 1/4 difference||Die II||3:2|
|1/4 to 1/2 difference||Die III||2:1|
|1/2 to 1 difference||Die IV||3:1|
|1 to 1-2/3 difference||Die V||4:1|
|More than 1-2/3 difference||Weaker side must retire|
The next table reproduces the game’s five special die with an emphasis upon the features relevant to resolving close combat. The Umpire decided which player’s forces were “Red” and which were “Blue” as he examined the force ratios of the engaged units and their current strength. The left hand column indicates which Kriegsspiel die is reproduced along that row. The row at the top of the table shows the six possible results as a standard six-sided die roll. The vertical columns below picture the results as shown on each of Reisswitz’s five dice. The number above each circle shows the points lost by each infantry half-battalion or by each of two platoons of skirmishers engaged. The numbers below show the loss per cavalry squadron engaged. (Leeson 110, amended by author)
As reflected in the key below the table, the letters indicate “R-Repulse,” “D-Defeated,” and “T-Totally Defeated” in combination with the numbers given to determine the effects suffered by the defeated unit. If the cast die came up with a White rather than Red or Blue face, it was rolled again (the White faces were included to match the possible results to the calculated odds).
- Repulsed units must retire from the attack but are in good order with slight losses. They are unable to attack for two turns (four minutes total) and reduced in defense, then for three turns (six additional minutes) they can defend without automatic losses but cannot attack without losing 1/6 of their strength to desertion.
- Defeated troops break and run, and if attacked in the next three turns another 1/3 will desert, in the subsequent three turns they will lose a further 1/3 if ordered to attack, and in a final three turns a final 1/6 will desert if ordered to attack.
- Totally defeated troops could not rally for five turns, then on the sixth turn could not attack and would lose strength if attacked, and they would be unable to attack without such desertions for another nine turns.
A winning unit would suffer 1/2 the casualties of losing units that are repulsed or defeated, but only 1/3 the casualties of a unit that was totally defeated.
The Umpire’s examination of a close combat included consideration of a wide range of factors to determine whether or not the intended engagement would occur and at what odds:
- Has either unit been repulsed, defeated, or totally defeated in a previous combat?
- Was the defender firing on the attacker?
- Was the attack the culmination of a pursuit?
- Was this a frontal, a flank, a rear, or a combination attack on the defender?
- Will the combat be between two forces of equal strength or between unequal forces?
- Was the impending combat an all infantry or all cavalry contest, or was it mixed to include artillery and, or, infantry?
- Will attacking cavalry make a single attack, or attack in waves? (Cavalry can attack in waves when the frontal area of the attacked unit is too narrow for all of the attacking squadrons.)
- Are the defenders in the open, a building or other structure, or a fortified position?
Kriegsspiel also provides for the possible pursuit of recently defeated unit and for capturing opposing troops that have been:
- Attacked simultaneously from front and rear,
- Attacked when in column of route in defiles or otherwise unable to deploy, or,
- Prevented from retreating or fleeing by “insurmountable obstacles.”
A friendly force at least 1/10 the strength of the number of prisoners is needed to secure them and the prisoners can be freed by units of their own side if they meet on the map.
Observations and Conclusions
Although I rarely watched the old sitcom “The Jeffersons” I have long been delighted that I caught one specific episode almost by chance. The lead character, George Jefferson, is in one of those parent-teacher conferences many of us with children have experienced. Almost at the beginning of the meeting, George asks the teacher, “How do you know where I’m at if you don’t know where I’ve been? Do you get where I’m coming from?” I sometimes feel like it should be inscribed on the walls of academia everywhere.
Examining 19th Century wargame rules like Reisswitz’s Kriegsspiel, Livermore’s American Kriegsspiel, Totten’s Strategos, and others is entertaining but it also constitutes intellectual archaeology for wargamers – exploring where we’ve been. Looking at these rules we can see that in many ways in our field we are also often standing on the shoulders of giants. Bill Leeson’s contributions to our knowledge of the history of wargaming are invaluable (and without them I’d be desperately trying to add German to my list of languages!) However, Bill’s intention with his publication of the 1824 Kriegsspiel rules was to offer contemporary wargamers the chance to explore their own history on the game table. As a result, his text is full of additions from later rules and the occasional insertion of his own ideas in support of playability.
One of the most often repeated stories about Lieutenant von Reisswitz and his invention of Kriegsspiel, is the description of Chief of the Prussian General Staff Karl Freiherr von Müffling observing the game being played. His exclamation of, “This is not a game! It is a war exercise! I must recommend it to the whole army,” was the making of the modern wargame. On February 25, 1824, von Müffling issued his notice that recommended the game to the army and declared that “I will gladly by all means in my power assist in seeing the number of available copies augmented.” This was later published in the Army’s Militair wochenblatt of March 6.
But what was it that he saw as he watched the game? He saw a map like the ones the army used in its operations partially covered in markers that used the same symbols and markings that the army used to identify units on its maps. But most importantly, he saw the players in the role of commanders thinking, deciding, and writing orders, for the Umpire moved the units, marked off ranges, rolled dice to determine the results of combat – all at the instigation and as a result of the decisions made and orders given by the respective players. Reisswitz’s Kriegsspiel taught decision-making, with a sub-course on the clear writing of orders and thinking about military problems.
“In a sense, then, the commander has to leave each unit to fend for itself in the actual conflict most of the decisions having already been made, as far as their employment is concerned. Nevertheless a commander may wish to take immediate and direct control at some crisis point, and he can only do this if he is actually there. This situation is accurately reflected in the game. The placing of the commander in a realistic situation in relation to his troops.”
Reading and studying the Kriegsspiel rules and the related articles and memoirs of the game and its designer and particularly Reisswitz’ advice and admonition to players make it clear that the purpose of the game was to instruct and rehearse the players in the art and mechanics of command – the receiving of information, the making of decisions, and the process of conveying those decisions as orders to subordinate individuals and units.
Kriegsspiel laid down a clear change from what had gone before and a foundation for what came afterwards in the realm of war games. Close examination of the game and a comparison of it with what had gone before makes it easy to understand von Muffling’s excitement. The playing board was replaced by terrain with slopes and contours and all of its messy confusion of woods, water, and signs of human habitation – roads and buildings.
The playing pieces were never again to be King, Queen, Bishop, or Pawn, but became battalions, squadrons, batteries, and even engineers who could reshape the map by adding bridges and fortifications. Combat was no longer a formalized tournament-like contest of Knight and Rook but the calculated application of measured fire and shock using artillery and musket and sword and bayonet. The players were no longer omnipotent or omniscient but were dependent upon aides, couriers, and subordinate commanders for their knowledge of what lay beyond their sight as measured out on the map.
These rules did not succeed in fully modeling war, warfare, or combat as it occurred at the time. Efforts were made to replicate the performance of weaponry, but these reflected the results of firing tests using the very limited technology of the day.
Rules are to be found within Kriegsspiel which address numerous additional situations, both common and unusual, but the above information provides the general basic framework of the game.
The rules also offer some specific advice to officers and players new to the game that shed some light on the philosophy and purpose behind it. The Lieutenant himself wrote that “Kriegsspiel has the aim of representing that moment in warfare when the strategic object can only be realized by an attack.” New players were told that:
“…they should practice with a small army group, and become familiar with rates of marches, positioning of troops, and attacks in fairly open terrain. Then they should try to make some maneuvers at brigade strength, over a variety of terrain. They might next try a conflict between unequal forces and positions (positions which have been decided in writing before the game begins).
Finally, when these smaller conflicts have been tried, and some skill has been acquired the beginner can use larger army groups, and more difficult situations can be gone into……
It has been found that when care is taken to indicate positions clearly, and written messages are made precisely, the maneuvers become a most interesting exercise, and give rise to numerous considerations and discussions.” (Leeson 17)
Kriegsspiel is not about battle and battlefield tactics , it is about the decisions you make as a commander to place you forces in a position of decisive advantage over your opponent’s forces. It is about moving your forces in a coordinated manner towards that singular goal and the decisive advantage over your opponent’s forces – and THAT was usually where a Prussian Army Umpire would end the game.