What is Kriegsspiel?

Kriegsspiel is a wargame created by von Reisswitz to train military officers in 1812.  It was used by the Prussian military to great success in the Franco Prussian War.  It is considered the first modern wargame.  Kriegsspiel is German for:  wargame.

How do you make decisions with incomplete information?

Critical decisions with high risk and under ignorance?

It is similar to Chess, in that two forces battle against each other strategically to achieve victory.  The pieces are blocks of wood that represent real types of military units:  infantry, cavalry, artillery, etc.  Instead of a playing board with squares, the pieces move across real terrain on real maps. 

The key, unique feature of Kriegsspiel, is that the opponents are not allowed to see the board!  The board is kept in a separate room controlled by umpires.  The players cannot see or move their pieces directly.  To move their pieces, they must write instructions (orders), for the umpire.  The umpire then moves their pieces. If those pieces made contact with opposing pieces. If opposing forces contact, the umpires resolve combat using dice, with tables to account for terrain and other tactical conditions. The umpire then writes reports back to the players on anything their pieces can see and the results of combat.

All of these orders and reports suffer from a time delay.  The umpire calculates how long it would take for these messages to travel back and forth along roads by couriers on horseback. All of these communications are subject to interception.       

Kriegsspiel teaches officers to make critical command / management decisions in an environment full of unknowns.  The strength and location of the enemy forces are mostly unknown.  Often players aren’t even sure where their own forces are!  Players must learn to operate in these unknown conditions, just as they will have to in the real world:  With incomplete information and often in total ignorance. 

Kriegsspiel is like Chess mixed with Poker.  Players learn to develop several contingency plans to deal with the most likely, possible future events.  They most also remain flexible and adaptable to always changing conditions. 

One of the lessons learned from Kriegsspiel is the power of decentralized authority in decision making.  Rather than reports slowly moving up the chain of command to a high ranking General at the top to review and decide;  it is much faster to let lower level officers make decisions based on what they know and see in the field.  This results in a much faster execution of maneuvers in the field, which can exploit enemy weakness, while it still exists.

Kriegsspiel style planning can accelerate the tempo of conflict, often beyond the pace of what the enemy can respond to.  This was used to great effect in the Franco Prussian War and later culminated in the theory of Blitzkrieg or Lightening War; used by the Germans in WW2, General Patton and later General Schwarzkopf for the invasion of Iraq.


2 thoughts on “What is Kriegsspiel?”

  1. I believe that there are at least three maps: Umpire, that has all the information; Players, that have incomplete information.

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