Napoleon’s Kriegsspiel

What did Napoleon use?  Did he play Kriegsspiel?  What did he use in the field? 

Kreigsspiel wasn’t created until after Napoleon.  Like all games, it didn’t just materialize out of thin air.  It was an adaptation of things that came before.  Games are constantly evolving. 

Lots of people comment on how authentic our games look and feel.  It is very easy to imagine yourself a general on the field planning your strategy for battle while playing.  I love that effect but how true is it?  What did they actually use?

Kevin Zucker was commenting about the impact of Berthier being absent for Waterloo:

“Gone with Berthier was the wooden cabinet with many drawers full of wooden blocks representing all the regiments of both sides.”


I was instantly struck by this.  Sounds like my house now!  I’ve got bags of Kriegsspiel blocks all over the place.  I’ve been planning on getting a wooden storage box to organize them in.  Something along the lines of this:

 Looking ahead, I can quickly see the blocks over loading that.  I really love that cabinet above with all the pull out drawers.  That would be perfect for organizing all the different nations and periods of blocks.  I might have to build myself one some day….  

Look at how the top makes for a perfect gaming table to place maps!  It almost looks like it is hinged and folds open for double the size if needed.  Amazing!

Here are some details of what the drawers and blocks from the period would have looked like:


So, to answer the question, yes, it is authentic.  This is exactly the type of thing real generals would have used to plan campaigns and would even take them into the field to use during the battles.  

Kriegsspiel wasn’t created yet during Napoleon’s time but he did use blocks on maps for planning.  They measured rates of march with a compass or measuring stick.  You can see how this would soon develop into official rules for movement and combat resolution.  

Napoleon didn’t play Kriegsspiel.  He did use wooden blocks on real maps to plan and strategize.  The tools of the trade.  He played with the precursor of what was to soon become codified into Kriegssipiel.

What about the maps?  Why do we print our maps on canvas?

This may seem kind of strange to us today.  We use canvas for art.  Maps are printed on paper.  Back then, the good maps were printed on canvas.  It is much more durable and longer lasting.  Without modern rain gear, plastic and rubber seals, I suspect it was much more common for gear to get wet.  Paper maps could quickly get ruined in the field.  

You can actually see the canvas threads on the maps from the period.  They were often folded up.  Over time, the folds would wear through the map.  This is a historical map we researched for our new Monmouth battle:

Yep, definitely canvas.  So why use canvas maps?  Because it doesn’t get anymore realistic than that.  They are more durable.  I haven’t played a Pub Battle outside in the rain yet but I’ll have to do it just to get pictures and show it can be done.  -You might want to clear coat the stickers first to seal them onto the blocks!  

The canvas really looks beautiful too.  It makes the map look like a work of art.  It’s hard to describe until you hold one in your hands and see it on the table.   It is hard to imagine playing without it now.    








One thought on “Napoleon’s Kriegsspiel”

  1. Yes, you sare absolutelly right. As a proof, I can add, that first version of Kriegs-spiel wasn’t printed in 1824 (by the Reisswitz) – first “mass” published copy was printed in Berlin in the 1812. And We can assume that this game was also based on earlier versions. Regarding Napoleon, I can tell that I found dozens of stories when adjutants or guest were finding Empereur; “lying on the floor with dividers in hand, on giant map full of pins of different colors”, in othem memoir you can read; “I have found Napoleon many times lying on the big table, covered with maps, with his adjutant or Berthier, loudly disputing and measuring maps, moving pins. They were so busy, so they saw nobody”. I do not remember exact memoires, because I’ve read many of these and I should look for these. All The Best,

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