Kriegsspiel at King’s College, London

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take part in a kriegsspiel session run by Professor Philip Sabin in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London.

The session lasted from 1.00pm until 5.00pm and was split into three parts.

  • Part 1: A briefing that explained how the game worked (e.g. the placing of the opposing player teams in separate rooms, the sequence of play, and the role of the umpires).
  • Part 2: The wargames were fought. (There were sufficient players and umpires for two games to be fought simultaneously.)
  • Part 3: A debriefing where the umpires described the course of each wargame. This was followed by feedback from the players and a general discussion about the game’s design.

The wargames dealt with the situation in North Western Europe from 20th August to 18th September 1914, and were a re-run of the game Professor Sabin designed and ran at a conference that was held in Windsor Castle earlier this year.

The wargame had six turns, each turn representing five days. The map was made up of a number of large hexes, each hex containing a large town or city … or a forest. Each of the playing pieces/units represented three corps, and they could move one hex each turn. These units could be either ‘fresh’ (i.e. able to attack) or ‘spent’ (i.e. in need of reinforcement before they could attack again).

The letters shown on the map indicate the starting positions of each of the three-corps blocks at the start of the battle. Uppercase letters indicate fresh units and lowercase letter indicate spent units (i.e. units that need to be reinforced before that can attack again).

I was a member of one of the two Allied teams, and we managed to win our wargame. (We were either lucky or out-generalled our opponents, depending upon your point of view. My personal opinion was that we chose the right basic strategy … and had a few lucky breaks.)

The mapboard at one point during the game. The dark blue units are the French, the red unit is the British BEF, and the green unit is the Belgian Army. The yellow blocks indicate where we thought the fresh German units were, and the slips of paper are the assumed locations of German ‘spent’ units. Our positioning of the German units turned out to be less accurate than we had hoped … but not drastically so.

At the end of the session Professor Sabin gave each of us a copy of the rules, a copy of a simplified version of the game that came be played by two people (entitled SCHLIEFFEN), and a copy of his very short and simple solo wargame, TAKE THAT HILL!

All-in-all it was a great way to spend a Thursday afternoon … and I hope that the opportunity to do something similar will occur again very soon.

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10 Comments on “Kriegsspiel at King’s College, London”

  1. It sounds like one of those rare occasions in which learning, education and fun converged into a well-spent afternoon. I think I might have seen the TAKE THAT HILL game – if it's the one I'm thinking of, it has just 4 playing pieces.

  2. Archduke Piccolo,

    You are absolutely right about the afternoon; it combined all those elements in one experience, and put me very much in mind of the sort of sessions that we run at COW each year. In fact I am seriously considering running Phil's game at COW2015 as I suspect that it would appeal to a lot of the attendees.

    TAKE THAT HILL! does use four playing pieces, and is a very simple but elegant game.

    All the best,

    Bob

  3. Sounds like a very good day out. Its been several decades since I last took part in this sort of game.

    On a smaller scale in every sense. Steve Newberg of Simulations Canada ran one based on a contemporary (1981ish) invasion of Canada by the US with a dozen gamers squirreled away in different rooms of my flat while the umpires adjucated the results on the table in my gaming/living room. Utter confusion and good, memorable fun.

  4. Conrad Kinch says:

    That looks excellent. Is the game generally available?

  5. Ross Mac,

    Games where the players do not have a complete view of everything that is happening are always enjoyable, although I would not want to play krieggspiel-style games to the exclusion of all else.

    The game you decribe sounds very interesting, and quite similar to yesterday's setup.

    All the best,

    Bob

  6. Conrad Kinch,

    It is available here. I would strongly recommend that you also have a look at the King's College Dpeartment of War Studies webpage about simulations (there are lots of FREE downloadable wargames produced by the students) and the Connections UK website.

    Read and enjoy!

    All the best,

    Bob

  7. Pete. says:

    Sounds like a great day Bob, rather envious of you as I'm a big fan of Prof. Sabin's work.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

  8. Pete.,

    I happen to be very lucky in that I live only an hour's journey from King's College, London … and about five miles from Phil Sabin's house. I have known him for quite a few years, and although we come to wargaming from quite different perspectives, I have found that his wargames are always well-designed and very interesting to take part in.

    All the best,

    Bob

  9. arthur1815 says:

    Bob,
    Thanks for making the kriegsspiel available. It occurs to me that one could produce an attractive
    3D version for a participation game by using some Kallistra Hexon tiles. I've been thinking of buying some for tactical games, and your report suugests they could also be used for a simple campaign game before setting up a battle.
    Just a thought…
    Best wishes,
    Arthur

  10. Arthur1815,

    I must admit to thinking along similar lines regarding turning this kriegsspiel into a participation game at COW2015.

    It would not be very difficult to turn it into a very attractive-looking game, especially if I used figures rather than wooden blocks for the units, small building to represent the towns and cities, and model trees for the Ardennes. In fact I might see what it would look like … if the opportunity arises.

    You are right about it being a very useful tool for running a small campaign game that will generate tabletop battles, as are quite a lot of the other games produced by the KCL students and staff.

    All the best,

    Bob


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