Wargames with No Victory Conditions

As a game designer, I often loathe victory conditions.  It is fun to research the battle and OB.  Set the map scale and scope to fit the battle.  Develop a system that models and explains the flow and events that took place.  Most of the time, this all comes together easily.  The trouble starts when you have to define who wins.

Kriegsspiel is like a breath of fresh air.  There usually aren’t any Victory Conditions at all.  Who won?  I don’t know.  Discuss it.  If there are any Victory Conditions, they are usually informal guidelines.  This is a sample from our Brandy Station Scenario:


Though Stuart was able to hold the field at Brandy Station, the Federals inflicted double the losses on the unprepared Confederates. The raid was a Federal success!

On the other hand, part of the Federal goal was to break through and locate Lee’s Army. Longstreet’s Corps was in Culpeper, only 3 miles to the west. On this account, Pleasonton failed but was much closer than he realized.

Consider the historical result to be a moderate Federal victory. Inflicting heavier losses on the Confederates and forcing them to withdrawal would be a Major Federal victory.

Can the Confederates keep the Federal forces contained to the eastern half of the map? Can they fight the Federal cavalry to a stand still without the aid of Rhode’s infantry Division? Can they preserve their force and suffer fewer casualties? These achievements should earn a Confederate victory.

What about a 2nd day? It may be tempting to see how this plays out but this is highly unlikely. Neither side was looking for a big battle. Pleasonton had planned for a 1 day raid and certainly wasn’t looking to take on a whole infantry Division.



To me, this makes much more sense.  I also find it more ‘realistic’ to true life.  Who won in a real battle?  They don’t earn VPs for hills or cities.  Do I just want to be lazy as a designer?  Probably.  If we made Victory Conditions like this for all of our games, my life would certainly be much easier.  

Would wargamers accept Victory Conditions like this?  What about no Victory Conditions at all?  Just play and then discuss it afterwards.  Imagine playing Germany in the last 6 months of WWII.  You lasted 1 month longer than Hitler did.  Great.  Does that mean you won?  You got conquered 2 months early.  Does that mean you lost?  Comparing your self to the historical benchmark is a guide but what does it really mean?  

I notice that in most of our non Kriegsspiel games we often debate and discuss who won at the end, regardless of what the official Victory Conditions are in the rules.  Many times, we don’t even look them up.  We ‘know’ who won.  In fact, often times we don’t finish wargames.  We play until we ‘know’ it is won.  Then we stop, discuss and move on to the next game.  

Many times we find ourselves at odds with the rules.  “Well, according to the rules, this side won but I really think the other side won because of….”  How many times have you heard that debated after a game?  Analyzing, discussing and debating victory after the game is one of the most enjoyable parts of wargaming to me.  

A question this leads to is:  Why do you play wargames?  Do you play to learn about history?  To learn about a specific battle or campaign?  To learn the tactics and strategies of the times?  To have fun spending time with a friend?  To role play and imagine yourself commanding a force in those times?  To compare and test your self against the historical leaders we read about?  To compete in a challenging game and beat someone?  To prove your superior knowledge and skill in the arts of war?

I guess I play for all these reasons to varying degrees.  Some gaming circles maybe more competitive than others.  Some more interested in the role playing aspects.  Some players find the idea of playing a game with no Victory Conditions absurd.  What is the point of playing?  Why even have a game then?

Good Victory Conditions do serve an important function.  Why do anything in a game?  Why attack that stronghold?  You are going to take massive casualties.  Well, you must.  That is the objective.  Good Victory Conditions give the player motivation.  What are you trying to do?  What are you trying to avoid?  Why should you do it?  Ideally, these should be in line with history.  If written correctly, victory conditions should encourage a player think and behave like their historical counterparts.

A noble pursuit.  It is extremely difficult to pull off.  I find Victory Conditions in almost all games to miss this mark.  They often seem empty, hollow and meaningless.  I guess that is why we still debate who ‘really’ won after the game, regardless of what the rules say.  

How do you feel about Victory Conditions?  Are they relevant and helpful?  What are bad conditions?  What are examples of games with really good Victory Conditions?  Would you play a game with no Victory Conditions at all?  What about Victory Guidelines like the ones above on Brandy Station?  Is this approach better than the traditional approach to wargaming?  

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One thought on “Wargames with No Victory Conditions”

  1. Winning is always a matter of perspective. Tactical victories could be operational or strategic defeats. The beauty of Kreigspeil was in its use of orders provided to the commander by the umpire. No commander fights without an objective in mind, either ordered or developed by their staff. That’s the victory achieved, meeting the end state of the commander for that engagement. Victory guidelines as you put it are by far desirable for Kreigspeil and pub battles. Broad end states allow for games that can be played differently yet frame the commander in a way to make them center their goals on something other than the trite, “kill them all” scenario.

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