Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Beitrag zum Kriegsspiel (1876)

While serving as a lecturer at the Prussian military academy, then Colonel Julius von Verdy du Vernois proposed a revision of the earlier Kriegsspiel developed by the von Reiswitzs a half century earlier. In particular, he called for doing away with the increasing cumbersome system of charts and tables used in the adjudication of wargames, and adopting in their place a more fluid and flexible system whereby umpires would make determinations of outcome based on their experience. These ideas were published in a small book in 1876 entitled Beitrag  zum Kriegsspiel [Contribution to the Wargame]. As the author notes in the Preface:

The utility of the War Game is universally acknowledged at the present day. Nevertheless, cases are often met with in which attempts to practise it have been very speedily abandoned. As excellent books which contain instructions for carrying out the Game, and by means of which it has been practised for many years with great advantage, are easily accessible, this state of things is remarkable, and calls for closer investigation. Now, when I have inquired into the reason, I have, in most cases, received the answer, “We have no one here who knows how to conduct the Game properly.”

So far as relates to the solution of the military problems which occur in the course of the Game, this answer cannot be always considered satisfactory. For what the Game especially requires is a knowledge of the capabilities and fighting power of all arms, as well as of their principal accepted formations. Now, the elementary training of an officer ought to have laid the foundations of these acquirements; and even when it has not sufficed to do so, the very playing of the Game would develop more fully such knowledge as might be already possessed. Again, as every officer, as soon as he attains field rank, is liable to be called upon to command bodies composed of all three arms, he ought, of course, to prepare himself beforehand for such duties; and in the War Game he will find an opportunity for solving the questions which arise in connection with them.

But even if the previous knowledge of the young officer should prove insufficient; even if the decisions of the Umpire should be questionable—such a state of things arises in very many military exercitations, even when carried out with troops on actual ground.

To these causes the neglect of the War Game cannot be to any great extent referred; the source of that neglect must be sought for elsewhere, and, so far as my experience goes, I have found it to lie chiefly in the purely technical part of the conduct of the Game, the novice failing to understand the Rules, or the use of the Dice and the Tables of Losses.

It is, indeed, only by severe toil and a great expenditure of time that any one who has not learned the Game by actual practice can, through unassisted study of the books of instruction, so thoroughly master the subject as to be competent to undertake the conduct of an exercise of this kind. So it comes about that there are assuredly in the smaller garrisons many officers who should be especially fitted, from their position, to take the matter in hand who utterly shrink from doing so.

I in no way underrate the service which the received books of Instruction, with their Rules, Dice, and Tables of Losses have rendered, and will

render in the future. It consists chiefly in this, that the Umpire finds in the Rules, fixed principles by which the limits of the capacity and fighting power of the troops are defined, that the effective use of weapons gains full credit by means of the Tables of Losses, and that the dice, which give to chance its due influence, provide an apparent security against partiality in the decisions.

The question, however, arises, whether the Game might not be made even more useful than it is if the difficulties of execution and the expenditure of time, which the above-mentioned devices involve, could be avoided. Experience shows that this question must be answered in the affirmative.  (Translation by J.R. MacDonnell)

Verdy du Vernois’s call for a more easily-playable “free” kriegsspiel was taken up by others, and his work was soon translated into other languages. In London, an English translation by J.R. MacDonnell was published under the title The Tactical Wargame in 1884. In the US, another translation by Captain Eben Swift was published as A Simplified Wargame in 1897. The trend towards simplified rules was also partly reflected in the UK War Office’s Rules for the Conduct of the War-Game (1884).

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All three of these books are freely available online, via Google eBooks (here and here) or the US Combined Arms Research Library Digital Library.

One response to “Beitrag zum Kriegsspiel (1876)

  1. Pascal Martinolli 22/03/2019 at 9:36 am

    The first game master… One century before Arneson’s basement !

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