Running a Kriegsspiel. Pt 1 – before the game

A two part article by David Comerford with some thoughts on the practicalities of Kriegsspiel.  See part 2 – On the day here..

Before the game

Find out how many are coming to the game 

There is little point in designing a scenario for 8 players, if only 6 turn up on the day. Advertise games in advance, and ask for responses from those who intend to come.  This is only sensible.  You will also find out who is coming, and that is equally important (see below).

Have a fall-back plan in case someone cannot make it on the day

The more people involved the greater risk that one of them will fail to make it, just on the law of averages.

Is there a role, which could be dropped without fatally damaging the game?  If not, why not amend the scenario slightly to give you that little bit of insurance.  Or perhaps one side could be umpire-driven if necessary (see more on this below).

Have a good ratio of umpires to players  

To follow the mantra of keeping the game moving, it is advisable to keep the ratio reasonably near to one to one.  If you have 7 participants don’t be tempted to try to run 5 players with only 2 umpires, the game falls down if the umpires do not have time to deal with all the players’ questions, and move the game at a reasonable pace.

With 7 attendees, go for 3 umpires and 4 players – you’d be surprised what a difference it makes.

Keep the scenario within bounds

Do not fall into the trap of over-ambition by constantly striving to make larger and more involved scenarios, without giving sufficient thought to umpiring the end result.

You will find that even relatively simple situations quickly become complex, once players are let loose on them!  They do not have full knowledge of the situation, and can in the heat of battle issue a flurry of orders.  Messengers, patrols and detachments will be ordered hither and yon, and the umpires will have plenty to do.

Beware of elaboration unless you have a numerous and experienced umpire team.

Play through the scenario yourself

Once you’ve got the thing down on paper, briefly play through the first 2 or 3 hours of game time, just shifting the troops around on the map.  Of course there are many different scripts, and you don’t know what the players will do, but you’ll be surprised how often you pick up on things that clearly won’t work, such a force that is too far out on a flank to ever be engaged.

Use an appropriate timescale 

Work through the likely moves to ensure that what you want to achieve can be, in the real time available.

We tend to find that (with enough umpires!) we can move game forward at around 50% faster than actual time – ie if we have 4 hours for the game, we can get through say 6 hours of battle, and sometimes more.

Nothing wrong with timing the arrival of a unit for 9 hours/turns into the game – the situation may

warrant it, but  be aware that not enough turns may happen on the day for it to actually turn up! Be sure this will not undermine the overall game.

You can speed things up noticeably by using the 30-minute turns.  This is too course a grain for a small tactical Kriegsspiel, because the players are deprived of the chance to react to circumstances, but if they are corps commanders in a large battle, this is not such a concern, and works very well.  You could certainly expect to get through at least 2 game hours in 1 of actual time, and maybe more.

Give some thought to who the players will represent

Note that this does not have to be the most senior commanders.  In an army with 2 corps, one of which will not reach the battle for 4 hours, there is little point in giving the rearward one to a player.  They will just end up twiddling his (or her) thumbs for several hours.

We are all different, and while part of the fun of Kriegsspiel is to put our friends into difficult situations and watch them wriggle, we still need to give a thought to the impact on the game.

There is precious little point in putting a buccaneering kind of a player in a defensive role.  Most likely he will ignore the briefing, and the scenario will not develop in the way you intend.  It may still be an entertaining game of course, but you will have lost any control of events.

More usual is to find more cautious players (the bulk of Kriegsspielers tend that way) not taking the offensive moves which the scenario requires.  The big danger here is that little happens, as the weaker army quite correctly stands on the defensive – but so does the stronger!  So think about the people who will be coming, and allocate roles accordingly.

Also make sure the briefings are crystal clear in the event that offensive action is required, or whatever. Instructions such as  “His Majesty commands that the army decisively defeats the enemy force around Metz today” leave little room for doubt.

Consider having the umpires control one of the sides

If numbers are short, it can work well to have the umpires playing one side.  The experience, from the players’ standpoint, is often surprisingly like pitting yourself against a real team.

With just 2 or 3 players (plus umpires), this is often the best solution.  It also allows them to experience the additional dimension of communicating with one-another (or not!) by messenger, which of course you don’t get with only one player on a team.  How well this works will depend on the scenario, and the nature and intentions of the army to be umpired.

One risk of this is that the players will assume that the non-played side will lack initiative.  This will reduce their enjoyment, and also encourage unrealistic tactics.  One way around this is not telling them

Alternatively the players may feel that the umpires are playing the other side too effectively, given their full knowledge of the situation. This should be guarded against and one way of doing it is for Umpires to have pre-programmed actions and responses available for the side they control.

Provide the non-played team with a script, which perhaps includes timings for offensive action.  This should obviously be written before the initial orders from the played team are received.  One of the umpires can produce them, before he sees the other scenario briefings, or perhaps a gamer who is unable to make it on the day can provide a list of actions in advance.

Not too many tricks & surprises

Many of us are attracted to Kriegsspiel precisely because the unexpected happens.  It is a world away from a pure analysis game, such as chess.

But it can be taken to excess……………

The temptation is to design scenarios stuffed full of pranks and misleading information.  Far from adding to the realism as intended, this often merely succeeds in inducing a state of nervous hysteria in the players.  As a consequence they behave ahistorically, and much of the design work is wasted.

Make sure that all key information is in the brief 

This should include the political & military background, comments on the weather and major terrain features (if player’s characters would know this).

They should know what strength their own forces are, and (normally) where they are.  They may, or may not have good information on the enemy, but the briefing should make the state of their knowledge clear in any event, otherwise they will simply ask the umpires anyway.

The overall commanders should know where they are.  It may be that the position of subordinates is left to their discretion but if not, their location should also be specified.

The players should have some idea of what is expected of them, by higher authorities – eg is their mission primarily offensive or defensive?

Finally, they should know what is expected of them in terms of initial orders.  This may be a plan of attack or defence, or march routes to be taken by the constituent parts of their army (together with an order of march for the units in each column).

Get the briefing the right length 

Tricky one this, as some players complain if they lack information on the wider background, while others are appalled by lengthy briefings.  As a rule of thumb try and aim to keep the briefing to one side of A4.

If you are trying something a bit different – which tends to be with more experienced players – then you might allow myself a couple sides of A4 but consideration should be given to the fact the longer it is the less likely it is to be read completely.

Design the scenario so as to make admin as easy as possible on the day

Avoid giving units on different sides similar designations.  This is a recipe for confusion.

If as an umpire you receive an order for the 6th Brigade later in the turn how are you to know whether it is the Red Team 6th Brigade or the Blue Team 6th Brigade?  Maybe you can work it out, or maybe you can’t – but it all takes time.

To take this further, it is often a good idea to use a completely different naming or numbering convention for the units of each side.  Why not use Roman numerals for Blue and Arabic for Red?  Or one side’s units could be named and the other’s numbered etc.

Maintain the fog of war

In general, why tell players before the game which of them are on which side?

On a few occasions, of course, this could perhaps be relevant, if in reality they knew each other well (eg ex West Point classmates in an ACW game).

But in general, why even tell them how many players there are?  Yes they can sometimes gradually work this out during the game, but not when you send out the briefings, and not even when they arrive for the game – some of the attendees will be umpires.

Use your fellow umpires

Bounce your scenario ideas off one of them.  Having someone else look at your idea can flush out all sorts of practical problems.  Fully brief them all a few days before the game.  Attempting to do it on the day just slows things down for everyone. Duel construction of a game can be very advantageous and can easily be done via email.

Get the scenario briefings out to players (and your fellow umpires) well before the game

This is normally a good idea, unless the scenario calls for quick decisions and an unexpected change of plan, following say the appearance of an unexpected enemy force.

If at least the opposing C in Cs have the scenario say a week before, they have time to give you their initial intentions and initial orders, and the umpires can set up the map before the players arrive on the day, decide whether they can advance the clock (often by quite a bit), and decide on what sightings and reports may result.

Checklist

 ð        Find out how many are coming to the game

ð        Have a fall-back plan in case someone cannot make it on the day

ð        Have a good ratio of umpires to players

ð      Keep the scenario within bounds

ð        Play through the scenario yourself

ð        Use an appropriate timescale

ð        Give some thought to who the players will represent

ð        Consider having the umpires control one of the sides

ð        Not too many tricks & surprises

ð        Make sure that all key information is in the brief

ð        Get the briefing the right length

ð        Design the scenario so as to make admin as easy as possible on the day

ð        Maintain the fog of war

ð        Use your fellow umpires

ð        Get the scenario briefings out to players (and your fellow umpires) before the game

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