Map Kriegsspiel

by Paddy Griffith

The following piece that illustrates a straight forward approach to umpiring a free kriegsspiel is from Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun by Paddy Griffith (Published Ward Lock 1980 ISBN 0-7063-5813-9, 0-7063-6042-7 Paperback), my thanks to Paddy for his permission to include it and save me a lot of work. Copyright © 2006 Paddy Griffith.

The generalship game is almost a board game, and relies upon a lengthy set of formal rules. It undoubtedly forces the player to concentrate very hard upon what a Napoleonic general would have been doing with his time; but due to its complexity it may not be to everyone’s taste. As a counter-balance, therefore, we now turn to a game which has almost no rules at all. This is the free kriegsspiel, played on maps.

Origins and advantages of kriegspiel

Early recreational wargames were rather abstract and unrealistic affairs, usually based upon some variant of chess. During the nineteenth century, however, wargames tended to develop a more realistic format, largely as a result of the renewed military interest caused by the Napoleonic Wars themselves. Thinking officers were then starting to experiment with various ways of representing battles in miniature; and in Prussia this developed to a very advanced stage indeed. The military kriegspiel gradually became a recognized means of officer training, and later even evolved into an aid for strategic planning.

The nineteenth-century Prussian game started life with a rigid structure and copious formal rules. The two sides were each placed in a separate room with a model of the terrain or a map. The umpires moved from one room to another collecting orders from the players, and then retired to a third room to consult the rules and find the results of combat. A great deal of their time was consumed in leafing through voluminous sets of rules, consulting tables and giving rulings on fine legal points. By about 1870, however, this rigid system was starting to be thought rather clumsy and time-consuming. Quite apart from the many defects and loopholes in the rules themselves, it reduced the umpires, who were often very senior officers, to the role of mere clerks and office boys. clearly, such a state of affairs was intolerable.

It was General von verdy du Vernois who finally broke with this system, and abolished the rule book altogether. His approach to the wargame was the free kriegspiel, in which the umpire had a totally free hand to decide the result of moves and combats. He did not do this according to any set of written rules, but just on his own military knowledge and experience. He would collect the players’ moves in exactly the same way as before; but he would then simply give a considered professional opinion on the outcome. This speeded up the game a very great deal, and ensured that there was always a well thought-out reason for everything that happened. This was a great help in the debrief after the game, and it allowed players to learn by their mistakes very quickly.

The free kriegspiel using maps can offer many advantages for modern wargamers provided that the umpire has a reasonable background in wargaming, and a bit of common sense. If this condition is met, the game immediately becomes faster and less pedantic than if it had been tied down to a set of rules. The umpire can always think of more factors to incorporate in his decisions than could ever be true in a formal or rigid game. He can therefore spread a greater atmosphere of realism about the game.

What you will need for a Map Kriegspiel

The umpire must be someone who knows as much about the Napoleonic Wars as the other players, so that he will be able to keep a little ahead of their criticisms. In fact this superior knowledge need not amount to a very great deal, and even relative beginners will be surprised at how easy it is to umpire a game of this sort. They should not be put off by the fear that umpiring needs some formidably experienced military brain, like that of General von Verdy du Vernois himself: it doesn’t. Almost anyone can do it, with a little practice. Apart from anything else, the umpire always has the advantage that he is the only one who can see the complete picture of what is going on.

It is best to have three rooms, one for each team, and one for the umpire; but at a pinch the umpire can do without his, and simply keep moving from one side to the other, making notes behind the backs of the players. This also economizes on maps, as the umpire will not need one. For very elaborate games, on the other hand, any number of rooms may be used, and the author has participated in some games using six different playing teams, as well as a sizeable team of umpires.

The maps themselves may pose a problem, since they can become rather expensive if bought in bulk. You should therefore choose the particular game you are going to play rather carefully, with this in mind. Clearly it depends a great deal on your financial circumstances; but it is perhaps worth reflecting that a set of three Ordnance Survey maps will cost rather less than the average boxed boardgame. At any event, if all else fails you can always make your own sketch maps of the area to be fought over, with traced copies for all the players. For sieges and some tactical actions, indeed, this method will be the only one possible.

You may wish to mark movements on the map with a set of pins, but it is usually easier, and better for the map, to use a talc overlay and a set of chinagraph pencils. In this way movements can be shown graphically, explanations pencilled in, and the whole thing will be easier to understand.

Players and umpires will require rulers, plus carbons and spare paper for writing reports and notes. The umpire will also require one nugget (a 10 sided dice).

Playing the game

The umpire will select a scenario which fits onto the available maps. One hardy perennial (which uses the British 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey series) is a hypothetical landing by a French corps in some part of the British Isles. The French are allowed to land en masse’, whereas the British troops start the game widely scattered. Political aspects may also be incorporated into this game, with Jacobite sympathizers and other adventurers fighting their own guerrilla wars in the back hills.

If you use continental road maps it is perfectly possible to re-fight all the classic operations of Napoleon. Admittedly the maps will be quite small scale (1:500,000 or thereabouts); but then so were the maps Napoleon himself had to use. If one is operating with a number of army corps the large scale details of the terrain will not be important, in any case.

Another alternative is to fight a siege. For this you can either photocopy the plan of a real fortress, and use that for your map; or you can draw your own fortress plan from scratch. One player is the defender, and must move his batteries about inside the fortress, perhaps digging mines under the attackers’ trenches, and occasionally making brief sallies. The other player will have to dig trenches up to the fortress, so he can establish breaching batteries and eventually storm the breach. A free kriegspiel is particularly suitable for playing siege operations, since the tedious repetition of many siege operations can be rushed through by the umpire to fit the available time. They do not have to be played through in minute and boring detail, as they would in a game with rigid formal rules.

Order of battle

When the umpire has selected his map and set a problem for both sides, he must give all players a full list of their forces, and keep a carbon copy for his own reference. Note that the umpire will give information to players only about their own forces, with very few clues about the enemy 5. Players will then be fed snippets of intelligence about the enemy according to the types of reconnaissance they ask for. They will have to build up a picture of what the enemy is doing for themselves from this information.

The umpire finally states the date, time and weather at the start of the game.

Sequence of turns

The game progresses in a series of turns, in each of which the following sequence is observed:

  1. Players write orders and pass them to the umpire.
  2. The umpire compares the orders from each side and decides what sightings and contacts have been made, and at what times.
  3. The umpire may then wish to ask players for supplementary information; e.g., if there has been a contact between two opposing formations, the umpire may need to know whether players want to withdraw, or to stand and fight.
  4. The umpire then decides the result of combats, and the reports to be given to players from combats and other sightings.
  5. The umpire reports all this information to players, who start writing orders for their next turn.

Each turn will usually represent twenty-four hours of the campaign, as in the generalship game. This allows a convenient cycle of actions to be completed, and is realistic in the sense that Napoleonic commanders did tend to write their orders at the same time each night. If a particularly large order of battle is being used, however, such as a large number of army corps, then a two- or three-day cycle may be preferred. If only small units are being used, on the other hand, it may be better to use a three hour or a six hour cycle.

With a little bit of experience umpires may be able to break away from a regular cycle of turns altogether, and start to tailor each turn to the tactical needs of the moment. Thus if not much is happening in the game, for example, during the lengthy digging phases of a siege, several days may be covered in a single turn; whereas if the action is fast and furious, say, at the moment when a breach is stormed, only an hour or two will be covered. The umpire must decide roughly how much time would have elapsed in real life before the players would have had to make each important decision. The turn will then be extended or contracted so that it represents that amount of time. Each turn, in other words, should include one moment of decision for each of the players.


The umpire, as in all aspects of this game, has the last word on how far or fast units have moved. For the guidance of players, however, a rough sheet of planning figures ought to be provided, something like this:

Kilometres moved during the average day

Type of Troops Km moved Comments
Infantry 21  
Artillery 21 Must stick to roads, delayed by bad weather
Heavy Cavalry 25  
Light Cavalry 28  
HQ Group 31 Move any time of day or night
Couriers 6.5 Km per hour
for first 4 hours = 26 Km
4 Km per hour
after that, indefinitely


The umpire should also keep certain brief notes for his own guidance, e.g., the couriers may fail to arrive if a nugget comes up 0; or the ratings of rivers and bridges may be decided in advance, so that players who send out scouts to look at such matters may be given a clear answer, and so on. The degree to which notes of this sort are made will depend a great deal upon the individual umpire. In many cases rulings can be made ad hoc, as and when they are required.

If the game is to be a siege, a similar table of moves and timings may be kept for the actions appropriate to siege warfare:

Digging possible during an average 
day by each working party
Dig about 70m of sap
Build one third of a battery
Build half an infantry redoubt
Dig 5m of mine gallery
Arm a battery, i.e. put cannons in it
Arm a mine, i.e. put in a charge of powder


Once again, the umpire will use these figures as a rough guide, and alter them according to the various changing circumstances; in bad weather or under heavy enemy counter-fire, digging would be slowed down.


The system for finding the results of combat in a free kriegsspiel is classically simple. First of all the umpire looks at the position of each side: how many and what type of troops are involved; how their morale is bearing up; and what orders they have been given. He next considers the ground on which the action will be fought, and any special tactical problems which either side might encounter; whether there are any obstacles in the way of an attacker; whether a flank attack might be possible, and so on.

When the umpire has all relevant information at his disposal, he ought to be able to give an informed opinion on the probabilities of the result. He will not simply say something like ‘The French infantry hassuccessfully stormed the hill’, but will quote possibilities, such as: ‘The French have a 50% chance of storming the hill successfully; a 30% chance of capturing half of it, while disputing the rest; and a 20% chance of being totally repulsed. High scores favour the French’. It is important that the umpire is as specific as possible with these figures, as this forces him to consider all the factors involved in the combat and to think through the full implications of his decision. He must also be clear whether a high dice roll will be good or bad for the attacker, i.e., whether the top 50% (a die roll of 5-9) or the bottom 50% (a roll of 0-4) will mean the hill has been carried. In this case he has stated that the high score will be good for the attacker.

Outline of a possible kriegspiel siege

Finally, after odds have been quoted the umpire rolls a nugget, to represent chance. This will give a percentage, from which the final result of the combat may be read off. Thus in our example a nugget score of 1 would be under 20%, so the attack would be repulsed. A score of 8 would be within the top 50%, so the attack would succeed, and so on. The system works by the umpire giving his opinion on the probabilities, and then rolling a nugget to find which of the possible results actually came up.

Let’s take another example, from siege warfare. The fortress may be firing at a particular trench with four cannons for twenty-four hours. The umpire will see what size of guns are firing, and what the diggers are up to. He will then assess the terrain, and find whether enfilade fire is possible. He may then give his opinion that there is a 10% chance of digging being halted by the fire with 100 casualties; a 40% chance of digging being slowed down to half-rate with 60 casualties; and a 50% chance of it going at three-quarter rate with 40 casualties. He announces that high scores will favour the fortress, and rolls a nugget. If it comes up 3 he knows that it falls within the bottom 50%, so digging goes at three quarter rate, with 40 casualties. Had the score been 9 it would have been in the top 10%, so digging would have been halted for that day. Remember that in all this the umpire has to be certain of what each nugget score will mean, before it is thrown.

These are all the rules required for free kriegsspiel. It is a remarkably straightforward game; but it can produce some of the best results of all. It allows speedy resolution of combat; yet at the same time screens the players from any unrealistically panoramic views of the battlefield. All it needs is someone who will not be overawed by the responsibilities of umpiring.

What is a nugget? It is simply another name for a ten sided dice.

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