Equipment for Kriegsspiel

by Bill Leeson

The Equipment

The traditional Kriegsspiel equipment was devised by von Reisswitz for distribution in the Prussian Army in 1824. The map consisted of 36 sheets which were probably three sets of 12 sheets – one set being needed by the umpire and the other two used by the playing teams in separate rooms or areas. The scale of the maps was 1:8000, which is roughly 8 inches to a mile. This scale suited the games it was designed for very well. It could be detailed enough for a player to make tactical decisions at battalion level or below, and it allowed for small units to be comfortably represented by metal blocks that could be to scale with the map without being too tiny to be picked up.

The question of scale is very important to the map game, and it is one of the things which usually marks it out from model soldier games. It was a major breakthrough in war-game design.

The blocks representing the troops would take up the same space on the map that they would take up in actual terrain. They could not take up the same area, but they could have the same frontage – a point we shall return to later. By having a scale map, and having troop symbols to scale with the map, Reisswitz was able to tie together movement, space and time consistently. If I seem to labour this point it is because it is not always evident in some games using models, where instead of a common scale we get march rates, frontages, ranges quoted in individual scales which are not necessarily consistent with each other.

Reisswitz and his friends felt that they had found a way of examining a complex action frame by frame as it were, so that at any given moment they could see which units were marching, which were coming under fire, which had received new orders, and which were retreating in disarray.

Scale

For modern use the scale of 1:7500 is more convenient. It does not make a lot of difference to how much detail a map will hold – 1mm will equal 7.5 metres instead of 8 metres, but it does mean that you can do all your measuring using an ordinary centimetre ruler:

  • 1 mm = 10 paces
  • 1 cm = 100 paces
  • 10 cm = 1000 paces (roughly half a mile)

The reason it is simpler and easier to think in terms of paces rather than metres or yards is because paces were used as a military measurement for quite a long time, well into the nineteenth century, and march rates, ranges, and everything else were given in paces in nice round numbers which do not translate into nice round metres or yards. For comparison:

  • 1 mm = 10 paces = 7.5m = 8.8 yds (approx.)
  • 1 cm = 100 paces =75m = 88 yds (approx.)
  • 10 cm = 1000 paces = 750m = 880 yds (approx.)

Troop Symbols

To be practical and convenient the troop symbols have to meet three main requirements:

  • They have to be to scale with the map.
  • They must be large enough to be handled and moved about easily.
  • They must be easily distinguishable both as regards which side they are on and what troop type they represent.

At first sight the first and second requirements are irreconcilable in the scale used. A battalion in line has a frontage of 250 paces, but only a depth of four or five paces at the most, so we would be thinking of something about the size of a fine pencil lead. Reisswitz resolved this problem by giving the symbols the correct frontage for troops in line. In the case of infantry blocks the depth of the block represents the frontage for Prussian infantry in attack column (75 paces). For cavalry the depth of the block represents the length of a squadron in column of troops with intervals. It is a compromise, but as long as you realise there is a compromise involved it does not present any special difficulty.

Kriegsspiel Blocks

Black and White pictures of blocks

  1. 1 squadron Hussars
  2. 1 squadron Uhlans
  3. 1 squadron Dragoons
  4. 1 squadron Cuirassiers
  5. An Infantry half-battalion (450 men)
  6. A half battery (foot artillery)
  7. Wagons for an artillery battery
  8. A half-battery (horse artillery)
  9. A cavalry troop, small post or patrol etc.
  10. A skirmish platoon
  11. 8 pontoon wagons
  12. A battalion of Pioneers
  13. Small Exchange Piece
  14. Larger Exchange piece
  15. An NCO and 10 riders
  16. 1 officer and 21 riders
  17. An NCO and 10 men
  18. 1 officer and 25 men
  19. 1 or 2-man cavalry post
  20. 1 or 2-man infantry post
  21. Supply column

Notes to Diagram

Nos. 1 –20 are all copied from Reisswitz original manuscript. No. 21 is a very useful piece found in some later manuscripts. It can also be used for a battalion in line, as at 2.5cm it is the right length.

Irregular Miniatures do metal blocks suitable for nos. 1- 11, and in fact they are all you really need. You can use no. 9 for all the small posts, and you can paint symbols on them, but then you have to fiddle about , looking for the right one. I have always used the plain cubes for all small posts, and if you need to you can make a note on the map next to it as to what it represents.

It is better to have a few extra all-purpose blocks to represent pontoons, HQs, field hospitals, etc. rather than have too many special pieces ready.

The exchange pieces were used to show significant losses. No. 14 was used to show a loss of 1/6th,

No. 13 showed a loss of 1/3rd.

The sizes shown here will not be exact, as it is very difficult to get the pixels to match centimetres exactly, but they are close. Cavalry blocks are 1cm square. Half battalion blocks are 1.25 x .75 cm. Half batteries, wagons etc. are 1 x .75 cm.

Maps

The diagram below shows the area covered by the Metz map sheets. Each of the squares shown is A3 size and the scale is 1:7500, or roughly 8 inches to the mile. An index map of the whole area is often useful both for umpires and players. At 8 inches to a mile the map gives very good detail – individual buildings, footpaths, escarpments etc. are shown, and it is fully contoured.

Index map for Metz

The umpire needs to have the sheets for the area likely to be covered in the game so that he can set out the troops for both sides. Nowadays it is possible to get hold of A3 clear plastic folders to slip the map sections into. These can then be fixed together with sellotape. I have usually found that about 9 – 12 sheets will cover the area needed, so you do not need 100 A3 folders unless you are into something really big. Using the clear folders is a lot less bother than covering the maps with something like Clearasil, and you can still make notes on them with washable marker pens.

Why mark up the maps?

It is often useful to indicate on the map the proposed route of a marching column, with estimated time of arrival. Other notes may also be useful, such as when a battery opened fire, or when a unit was repulsed or shaken. In Reisswitz’ day all these things had to be recorded separately in a notepad. Being able to make notes directly on the map is a great help to umpiring.

How many maps do you need?

Basically you need at least three sets of maps because you need one for the umpire and one each for the two players. Strictly speaking you might need more than this if you have more than one player on each side and they are at a distance from each other, but the easy access to photo-copiers today means that this is not much of a problem. What may be a problem, however, is the amount of space needed to lay out three sets of maps in such a way that players do not see each other’s map or the umpire’s. A smaller scale version of the map is useful here. The Metz maps come with a smaller version, which can be copied and issued to each player. Since you are not likely to have enough troop blocks to supply a set for every player it is usually necessary, and in any case sufficient, for the players to mark their positions with washable marker pens. I have recently finished working on a smaller version of the Metz map in which each sheet is A5 size (1: 15,000 – 4 inches to a mile). This is a good scale for larger actions, and it could also be useful for players as it contains the same amount of detail as the 1:7500 sheets. (See Kriegsspiel Maps and Manuals)

Scale

The scale for the 1:7500 maps is 10mm = 100 paces, and for the 1:15,000 version 10mm = 50 paces, which is nice and convenient as all the measurements for marches, frontages and gunnery are given in paces in the earlier manuals.

Dice and Tables of Results

Whether you use dice and tables or not is up to you. They were used quite a lot in the early days and were included in most Kriegsspiel manuals until around the 1880’s. After that they were used less frequently. The person who was most responsible for their abandonment was Verdy du Vernois (Chief of Intelligence on von Moltke’s staff in 1870-71). He believed that the umpire should weigh up the situation and give the verdict to the side with the tactical advantage. Reisswitz, on the other hand, believed that a basic rule of the game was that what you could do in reality should be allowed in the game, and whatever contained an element of uncertainty in reality should have a similar uncertain outcome in the game. In the games I have played we have mostly used the dice to get a result, unless it was thought that the outcome was not in doubt, but have then been content to give actual losses in very broad terms like “heavy losses”, “slight losses” etc.

Charles Totten’s Tables

In his book “Strategoes”, An American game of war based upon military principles, 1880, Charles Totten gives a very interesting dice table in which instead of a bare result you are given a description such as, “Skirmishers are driven in. Defence suffers Light Casualties. Morale wavering: while front ranks stand fast and exchange fire, there is a trickle of stragglers from the rear”.

Given a result like that in the middle of a game certainly presents a vivid picture.

Rulers

Since the scale is a convenient 10mm=100 paces, there is no need for special rulers. Any ruler marked off in centimetres will do. What you do need are details of march-rates and ranges for guns, but these are included in any manual.

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