The Basic Kriegsspiel Idea

by Bill Leeson



Kriegsspiel, of course, simply means Wargame. But wargames take so many different forms today from computer games to paint ball shooting that I think it is useful to retain the Kriegsspiel description for games which fall into a certain type so that we may know what we are talking about.

Mostly it comes down to the quality of the information which the player receives during the game – both what he is allowed to know, and what he is not allowed to know. This in turn comes down to who is in control of the flow of information and how is it passed on, and this implies the presence of an umpire, or an umpire team. So much that is difficult when trying to devise a satisfactory wargame becomes easy, or at least possible, when there is an umpire directing it.

The Scenario

The umpire works out a scenario. This is in two parts. The first part is information that both sides have at the beginning of the game. In the old Prussian game this was known as the General Idea. The second part is information which confidential to each side. It includes the situation – the strength and position of his forces- any special orders or instructions he may have received – and any knowledge that the umpire judges he may have of the enemy situation.

The Plan

When the player has assimilated all this he comes up with a plan of action, which he passes on to the umpire, who works out the situation as it develops for both sides, and passes information back to the players accordingly. These reports will usually be something like; “Your troops by the river crossing report that they are coming under heavy artillery fire from the woods opposite”, or ” The patrol north of the village report an enemy column of all arms moving towards you”, or “At 10.32 you hear the sound of gunfire from the Northwest”.


In order to make these reports at the appropriate time the umpire has to keep the situation up to date on his map. If he can see that one player should receive a report at a certain time, for instance, he may move everything up to that point, make the report to the player, then see where the next report will be needed, and move everything up to that point. It is an event-driven program, to use a computer term.

Kriegsspiel variants

Having said all that it is worth noting that there have been many games which are not map games, or even army games, which could come in the Kriegsspiel category because of the way they handle the flow of information to the player. Some examples are the German artillery game, the WWII anti-submarine game of Western Approaches, and some civilian exercises, which have been run by police, fire and hospital services and businesses.

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