Umpireless Kriegsspiel

Designer’s Notes -Pub Battles

One of our main design goals, that we haven’t talked about much yet is the Kriegsspiel intent. Yes, the maps and pieces look ‘kriegsspiel’ style but what does this game really have to do with Kriegsspiel?  It is just a quick, easy 2 player game. 

Actually, it has everything to do with Kriegsspiel. Much of this design is aimed at solving key problems in Kriegsspiel.

Kriegsspiel Problems

  1. Slow Game speed and player interaction. 10 players and 1 Umpire, means there can be a lot of time sitting around waiting to hear something new as a player.
  2. Lack of Players. In our hobby, it is often hard just finding 1 player. Now you have to find 4-10. On top of that you need at least 1 Umpire. Preferably more! A friend of mine who runs Kriegsspiel games regularly, likes to see a 1:1 ratio in Umpires to players. Ideal I agree but good luck.
  3. Player detachment. I see this effect a lot in computer games too. It is almost like the computer gets to play the game and I just sit and watch. What is going on? How does the combat work? How could I have lost that engagement? I should have won. Did the Umpire roll a 1 for me? Can I roll my own dice? I think players like to know what is going on. They like to see it. At least if I roll a 1 and I watch my opponent roll a 6, I know why I lost. It happens. A brief whining phase then we move on.
  4. Overly technical rules. The original Kriegsspiel rules for combat are a great piece of history that document real world experience of combat in 1824. For actual game rules they are slow and tedious to execute. This extra drag time on the Umpire makes the game even slower for player interaction. If you are a junior officer ordered to participate in a training Kriegsspiel that is ok. If you are trying to convince friends why they should play this game with you for the afternoon, it is a big problem.

Umpireless Games

So what is an umpireless game? How does it work?  In a big battle, you would have 3-6 player teams running each Command (usually a Corps).  They all sit at the same table with 1 map.  They can all see everything.

Yes, we lose a little of the hidden intell effect but consider this: The players can’t talk to each other.  Also that the Army Commander does not sit at this table.  He cannot see any of this.  The guy in charge sits at a separate table with separate map.  All he knows is what his Corps commanders tell him in written reports that are delayed.  There is your hidden intell with no Umpire. 

Besides from my experience in command, the hidden intell is the least of your trouble. Even if you had perfect intell, the much bigger problem is getting your people to do what you want and getting them to report back and tell you what is going on.

As a Corps commander, if I am ordered to attack Little Round Top, what difference does it make to me what is happening at Culp’s Hill? That doesn’t concern me much.  I’m busy watching and fighting with the enemy in my sector of the line.  I might be aware that there is a lot of fighting going on near Culp’s Hill.  In a real battle I could hear that too.  So what?


Pub Battle Solutions

So how does this format in Pub Battles address the Kriegsspiel problems?

  1. Slow Game speed and player interaction. Pub Battles plays in 1-2 hours. If you add more players in teams it will slow down more but still you can complete an entire big battle in 2-4 hours. Try that with traditional Kriegsspiel.
  2. Player interaction is much better. Note that if my Corps is not currently engaged, this gives me something to do as a player. I can watch what is happening. I can write to other commands and to my commander, to report and urge them to action. The game is still fun and I still have a level of participation and engagement.
  3. Lack of Players. No Umpires needed at all. We’ve also cut the rules down to size. The Quick Start rules fit on 1 page! You are also playing in teams. This makes it very easy for new people to play. They can just jump in and learn by playing. It is much easier to get non-wargamers and even non-board gamers to give it a try. This greatly expands the potential player pool.
  4. Player detachment. The players can actually see and move their own pieces. They can resolve the combat. This increases player engagement but still preserves Fog of War and Hidden Intell, because Army Commander doesn’t know any of this. It has to get reported back and that’s where all the trouble (and fun) starts.
  5. Overly technical rules. When you gather 10 non-wargamers together to play an Umpireless Kriegsspiel with you, SPEED is critical. The game has to be fun and fast moving. We based the Pub Battles rules off the core Kriegsspiel data. The goal was to boil all this down into a quick, simple system that returns the same essential results for movement and combat. Yes, we lose some of the detail and options but the speed gained is worth it!


5 thoughts on “Umpireless Kriegsspiel”

  1. Marshall, can we get pdf files of the gettysburg map for the army commanders?
    I will also try to pull down from the library of congress site.

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