Running a Kriegsspiel. Pt 2 – On the day

The second part of David Comerfords thoughts on the practicalities of organising and running a game.  Part 1 here..

Do not be tempted to skimp on the number of umpires

Without plenty of umpires the game moves slowly and the players feel short-changed. Aim for something close to 1 to 1.  For example with 7 attendees, 1 ‘game controller’, 3 liaison umpires and 3 players.  Always err on the side of having too many umpires than too few.

Organise your umpires effectively & delegate to them

Having staffed up your umpiring team, make sure you use them.

How you do this, will depend on the scenario, but with a team of say 3 , you could have one in overall charge of the game, the ‘game controller’ handling combat, and moving on the clock, while the other 2 acting as ‘liaison’ umpires who brief the players.

It is normally more efficient to allocate an umpire to a sector of the battlefield/player, rather than have one for each team.  This is because, these ‘liaison umpires’ then only need to be on top of what is happening for their sector/player, rather than keeping tabs on the entire battle. This does risk umpires giving clues to players however so some may prefer to having a Liaison umpires divided by teams or individual players.

Do not forget messages too.  Liaison umpires can deliver and receive messages to and from players at the appropriate time, but the main umpire or one that has been appointed needs to keep a track on when that is.

Order & message forms

Try and use standard forms for messages and orders.  These can make things easier for players, by including prompts for them on the sort of information they need to include – such as where they are or where they think the recipient is and the game date and time the message was sent.

Players should be encouraged to make sure that they include who they are supposed to be in the game and who the message is intended for.

Use a message box

This is just a card index box, with the separators marked with time increments.  When a message is received by the umpires, decide when it is due for delivery and place it in the box in the appropriate place for the time of delivery

Keep track of time

Make sure that the players know what the game time is.  Announce this every time the clock moves forward.  Little is more unsettling for a player than to discover that time has apparently moved on much faster than he/she was aware of.

It doesn’t matter if time is moved forward at a faster or slower rate than originally designed for the game as long as this is thought through and players kept informed, preferably in advance of the turn it is altered.

Umpires and players must be careful to adjust map positions and turn numbers accordingly to keep things synchronised. It’s the umpire’s responsibility to ensure this happens as only they control the game clock.

Provide the materials that will be needed

Not only maps and troops blocks, but also plenty of pens and paper.  If you are providing laminated maps for players make sure they have washable pens and mark on their maps which force/commander the map belongs too.

This is particularly important if you intend to pass maps back and forth between players and umpires instead of written movement orders. See Below:

Consider providing player displays

One of the things which really slows games down is the need to occasionally bring players to the umpire map to be shown what the troop dispositions are in their immediate vicinity.

This is because the map has to be prepared (ie most of it needs to be covered), and also because much other game activity tends to stop while all this is going on. We find that players tend to linger over such ‘visuals’, and try an maximise information which slows the game.

As an alternative, we have recently experimented with providing the players with their own display.

This consists of that portion of the full map where they are operating, possibly with some spare troop blocks or counters to show them more accurately what they can see at any time.  The displays can then be updated as necessary by the liaison umpires when they come to brief the players.  Of course it is a cardinal principle that any discrepancy between a player’s display and the umpire map is resolved in favour of the latter! Laminated maps are a good alternative to supplying additional markers which can get knocked out of position.

Be flexible

Always try to react to circumstances.  For example if you can advance time more quickly without detriment to the game, do that.  The danger is that you deprive players of the chance to make a decision.  You may think that there is no decision to be made, but then you don’t know what’s in their head so check in advance.

On the other hand, you need not delay advancing the clock simply because the players are taking a while to make a decision, or to write orders.  Occasional time pressure adds to the fun – and the historicity.

It’s more easy to jump ahead if you are playing with 2 minute increments than if you are playing with 30 minute ones of course.  Skipping a whole hour is more likely to be a problem for players than skipping 4 minutes or 8 minutes.    

In games with multiple players, be very cautious about advancing the clock in one part of the battlefield, and not in another.  This might seem like a good idea at the time, as activity levels in different sectors may be quite different.  But it can cause trouble if forces from one part of the battlefield intervene in another area which is an hour behind!

Do not get drawn into explaining or justifying umpiring decisions during the game

It’s quite natural for players to try and understand why their plans and manoeuvres were not as successful as they expected.  This is only a problem if they begin questioning decisions and results during the game.  As well as slowing things down for all players, such questioning can lead to lobbying and, if seen to be successful, other players may be encouraged to exert pressure on the umpires as well.

If it does arise during a game, be polite but firm and pick these matters up after the game.

Resolve combat quickly

This is really a must if you want to keep the game moving.

Die-roll modifiers for terrain or whatever may be highly accurate but an involved combat routine will take time. If the game has potential for a lot of items to be considered prepare charts in advance that will allow as little calculation on the day as possible.

Tailor combat to the scale of the game.  Resolving skirmish fire may well be appropriate for a game with a few battalions a side, but is definitely not for an army-sized game where the basic manoeuvre element is a brigade. Also try and give a level of feedback to players that quantifies the result and make the explanation fitting to the game. Just telling players a whole Division has been “destroyed” is not really helpful. Some form of gradual reduction in combat effectiveness is a better alternative.

Also try and make the potential results believable when planning the game. Nothing destroys player confidence in the game play faster than to have their Guards flattened by the umpires call, when they have already been made aware they are fighting three men and a goat!

Ensure appropriate ground and time scale

This applies at the game planning stage as well as on the day but try and tie you troop movement, unit sizes both on the march and in battle to the map scales you will use on the day.

Kreigsspiel was created to give players a feel for command. Part of which involves how long it takes any force to get from A to B and how much space it takes up on a road or requires in the line of battle.

Players should be given a rough indication how long a distance the basic element(s) takes on a road so they can assess, for example, that the head of a day’s march will reach point X at 16:00 hours, just as the tail of the last unit leaves the days starting point.

Similarly an infantry Division will take one or two hours to deploy for battle but with its artillery etc it won’t fit in between the village and the wood as the player indicated.

These things need to be worked out in advance and applied on the day. The absence of them from a game greatly reduces the experience for players and gives a feel the umpires are making it up as they go along.



 ð        Do not be tempted to skimp on the number of umpires

ð        Organise your umpires effectively & delegate to them

ð        Get the admin right – order & message forms (see attached sheet)

ð        Get the admin right – use a message box

ð        Get the admin right – keep track of time

ð        Get the admin right – provide the materials that will be needed

ð        Get the admin right – consider providing player displays

ð        Be flexible

ð        Do not get drawn into explaining or justifying umpiring decisions during the game

ð        Resolve combat quickly

ð        Maintain the fog of war






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