Battle: A wargame played on a chessboard: Part 1: The rules

I am always on the look out for bits of what I refer to as ‘wargaming archaeology’ … and recently I came across a set of rules that were designed to be used with a chessboard. The rules were entitled BATTLE, and they came with a box of special playing pieces from a company called ‘BROOKS & CO., SPICEAL STREET, BIRMINGHAM’.

I have yet to try out the rules, but they are sufficiently unlike chess to make them different from that game. In fact, in some ways it is much more like the original POLEMOS in that units or pieces are taken or destroyed by tactical movement and/or placement on the ‘battlefield’.

1. BOARD: The Chessboard represents the Battlefield of eight miles long by eight miles wide, each square being spoken of as one mile.

2. ARMY: Each Army of 2 Gun-batteries, 2 Shell-batteries, 2 bodies of Cavalry, 8 of Infantry, together with the General’s Staff and Ammunition, faces each other from the extreme far sides of the field, as shown, and with the General to the left of his Ammunition, thus:

3. PIECES: All except the General and the Ammunition are Fighting Pieces, each representing, not an individual, but a body of men and material; and each having its top surface marked, the lines thereon indicate the direction in which pieces march, the numbers how many squares may be marched at a time, for example, thus:

meaning that it is a Gun-battery capable of marching one mile in any one of four directions, N.E., S.E., .W., N.W., as marked thereon; or else of attacking, as explained in Rule 10.

4. OBJECT: To win is to capture the General. To capture the Ammunition is half the battle, since without it the enemy’s Batteries and Infantries are paralysed, and can neither fight nor march, even when in danger of being taken. To lose both the Cavalries besides the Ammunition means defeat for want of real Fighting Pieces. But when the Ammunition and one piece only of Cavalry are captured, it may yet be possible to effect a drawn battle, provided that the surviving Cavalry can make ten moves in all, thereby covering a General’s retreat. Moreover, there is just the possibility of such Cavalry winning the day.

5. DISTANCE: Whether a distance be a march or a range of attack, it counts as from (but not including) the position occupied previous to moving.


7. MOVING: In moving, and where possible so to choose, it is optional whether to march or to attack, but one cannot do both in the same move.

8. MARCHING: Any piece can march, but only over unoccupied ground, and in the direction as indicated by the lines on each piece, and to or within a distance marked thereon; and only in one of its four directions if it be a fighting piece, or of its eight directions in case of the General and Ammunition. (See Rule 6.)

9. RANGE: The range of attack, whether it be a Cavalry charge or a Firing-range, is the fighting value less its marching value; for example, for a Shell-battery 5, less marching power 2 leaving a fighting range of 3.

10. ATTACKING: Attacking, capturing or taking is the same thing; it is to capture one or more pieces as the case may be. But only fighting pieces can attack, and only when such attack can be delivered without hurt to one’s own side; otherwise guns so directed are said to be masked and cannot fire, likewise only when the enemy is within range and line of fire, which line is in a diagonal direction to that of a march, or in other words, in the opposite direction to which it marches. Such attack consists of a one mile forward movement into action, along that line of fire, and on to unoccupied ground; except that the very Cavalry-charge itself sweeps the enemy out of the way as it takes up its new position. But the Infantry and Battery-fires reach beyond the attacking move of one mile, so that all pieces lying within range (See Rules 5, 6 & 9) and line of fire are lost, except that the Shell-battery may attack at, or within, its full range; and is of especial value in attacking under cover, for being of the Mortar or Howitzer type, it may fire over a piece of either side if desired, or right into one or other or both of its enemy’s pieces lying within range, taking care when possible, and when in danger of drawing the enemy’s fire in return, to leave one such opponent piece standing between them in order to mask such guns with.

11. PASSIVES: Neither the General nor the Ammunition can approach either one of its rivals without leaving a clear mile space between. And. Moreover, these are the only pieces, though only capable of marching one mile, which have the choice of any one of eight directions, as shown.

12. STARTING, &c.: The rivals draw for colour, which colour is exchanged after each battle. Whites always moving first followed by Blacks each round in succession. Moreover, should a piece be moved and released, such move being possible, it cannot be withdrawn; but if challenged there and then as impossible, it must be corrected, either by moving that or some other piece.

13. TWO A SIDE: One player as Officer takes command of Infantries in front; the other, of all the rest in the rear; White’s Infantry leading off first, and so opening out a way for the Rear Officer to immediately follow. In like manner Black’s follow in turn, thus completing a White and White, then Black and Black clockwise order of play, which must never vary round after round in succession.

Moreover, should the Infantry Officer lose all his pieces, he retires absolutely from the battle. So also he retires should the Ammunition be lost; in which case he leaves his pieces standing where they are, and at the mercy of the enemy (see Rule 4), But should he only be hemmed in, unable to move any piece, he may, if possible, either move the General or Ammunition in lieu thereof; failing which he, in like manner, retires. Such a movement of General or Ammunition will in noways prevent the Rear Line Officer moving same pieces in turn, if he so desires.

14. ONE AGAINST TWO A SIDE: By falling back on Rule 13 an equally fair and interesting game is possible for three players only, where the single player plays his two moves in succession, always starting with Infantry, thus satisfying the White and White, to be followed by Black and Black method.

Finally, the White and White, then Black and Black method makes for the best and most skilful play, even between single players; although White and Black is, perhaps, quicker to learn.

Polemos and the One Hour Wargame combat system

Whilst sitting at my computer today, I happened to come across a file that contained the text of the rules of POLEMOS … so I re-read them.

These rules had no chance element in their combat resolution mechanism; casualties were inflicted automatically depending upon the type of units involved and the range at which the combat was taking place. I always thought that this must have made the resulting wargame rather sterile, and in the past I had given some thought to devising a replacement combat resolution mechanism.

Next to my computer was my copy of Neil Thomas’s ONE-HOUR WARGAMES rules book … and I was suddenly struck by the thought that the simple D6-based combat resolution mechanism in his rules could easily be be used with the POLEMOS rules.

This is not as daft as it sounds. In the POLEMOS rules the twelve units start with a strength of 10 figures … which is not that different from the basic 15 points allotted to six units in the OHW rules.

It is certainly something for me to think about over the next few weeks and months.

New books from the History of Wargaming Project

Today’s post included a thick-ish padded envelope containing two books from John Curry of the ‘History of Wargaming’ Project. Both were eagerly awaited by me … and a quick glance through them indicates that I will not be disappointed when I get around to reading them.

The first book is THE BRITISH KRIEGSSPIEL (1872): INCLUDING RUSI’S POLEMOS (1888) EARLY WARGAMES VOLUME 2 (ISBN 978 1 291 53126 8) and it was edited by John Curry.

This book is 170 pages long and is split into the following chapters:

  • Foreword by Doctor Peter Perla
  • Introduction by John Curry
  • Map Manoeuvres: An Introduction to Kriegsspiel (1839)
  • The Rules for Kriegsspiel by Captain Baring (1872)
  • The German Game of War (1878)
  • Aids to Kriegsspiel (1897)
  • The Dangers of Kriegsspiel and Political Officers (1899)
  • War-Game Maps (1888)
  • Bellum, an English Kriegsspiel Variant (1909)
  • Kriegsspiel and the Teaching of Military History (1890)
  • The Game of Polemos (1888)
  • Lieutenant Henry Chamberlain’s RN New Game of Invasion (1888)
  • Appendix 1: The Kriegsspiel Charts for Captain Baring’s 1872 Game
  • Appendix 2: The New Game of Aldershot, a War Game Mystery
  • Appendix 3: The Game of War (1858)
  • Kriegsspiel Bibliography

I had a role in producing this book as I contributed much of the material for the chapter about POLEMOS, including word-processing and checking the text for the rules.


This book is 107 pages long and is split into the following chapters:

  • Foreword by John Curry
  • Wargaming Memories
  • Phil Dunn’s World War Game
  • Over Open Sights
  • The Battle of Yellow Sea Scenario
  • Tabletop Jutland 1915
  • An American ‘Jutland’
  • The Battles of Leyte Gulf
  • Sandhurst’s One-Eyed Napoleonic Naval Rules
  • Conclusion: Dodgy Dice and Shooting
  • Appendix Review of Phil Dunn’s Sea Battle Games: Naval Wargaming 1650 – 1945 Revised Edition
  • Bibliography of Naval Wargaming Books

I am looking forward to reading both these books over the next few weeks … and I am sure that they will prove to be popular with all those wargamers who have an interest in either or both the history of wargaming and naval wargaming.

War Games And Their History

Despite my recent conversion to the Kindle, I still like to buy proper printed books, and this one was recommended to me by two of my friends … so I bought a copy … and I am so glad that I did!

Before I even opened the book I was knocked out by the cover illustration! It was a section from the famous image from the ‘Illustrated London News’ that showed POLEMOS being played at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in 1888, and as regular blog readers will know, I have been trying to gather sufficient information about POLEMOS to recreate it. I was very interested to note that the author has a copy of the ‘boys’ edition’ of POLEMOS (an edition that I was previously unaware of!), and it is featured in several illustrations in the book, one of which is reproduced below.

This serves to indicate the nature of the numerous illustrations in this book, which could easily have been described as being an ‘illustrated history’.

In fairness to anyone who expects this book to contain a detailed history of figure or miniature wargames, I should point out that Mr Lewin concentrates almost exclusively on the history of published map and board wargames from the early nineteenth century onwards.

The book contains the following sections:

  • Foreword (by Major General Patrick Cordingley DSO, DSc, FRGS
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Ancient and Medieval Games
  • Chapter 2: Games Played between 1600 and 1800
  • Chapter 3: Games for Military Training
  • Chapter 4: Games for Naval Training
  • Chapter 5: Games for the Public: 1800 – 1900
  • Chapter 6: Games for the Public: 1900 – 25
  • Chapter 7: Games for the Public: 1925 – 50
  • Chapter 8: Modern Games for the Public
  • Chapter 9: Official War Games in the Nuclear Age
  • Appendix 1: List of War Games
  • Appendix 2: Bibliography
  • Endnotes
  • Index

I have only managed to have a quick skim through this book, but I can see that reading it is going to be a very informative, very enjoyable, and very thought-provoking experience. I think that anyone with an interest in the history of wargaming in all its forms will find this book well worth buying, and I suspect that over time it will find a place on the bookshelves of most wargamers.

WAR GAMES AND THEIR HISTORY was written by C G Lewin and published by Fonthill Media (ISBN 978 1 78155 042 7). It is priced at £25.00 but may be available online for less.

Polemos: The latest news

John Curry sent me a copy of the 2nd Edition of the POLEMOS rules some time ago, and I have had the privilege of reading and transcribing them into an electronic format in preparation for their eventual publication. In addition I have created a summary of the main rules to accompany them, and with the help of my wife I have also done some research about the two men who created and marketed POLEMOS – Dr David Charles Ballinger Griffith and Lt.Col George John Robert Glünicke – and this information has also been added to the rules.

This work will form the basis of a chapter in a forthcoming book that will be published by John Curry as part of his History of Wargaming Project. This means that for the time being the rules are embargoed, but having spent so much time working with this edition of the POLEMOS rules, I don’t think that I am breaking that embargo when I make the comment that one of the most striking things about the rules is that they use a deterministic means to calculate casualties (e.g. Infantry firing at an opposing unit will always cause X casualties at Y range).

With luck John Curry will be able to publish the book that will include the POLEMOS rules later this year, and if you are at all interested in gridded wargames or early wargame design, I would strongly recommend that you buy a copy.

Polemos: Some thoughts

Recently John Curry sent me a scan of a copy of the second edition of the POLEMOS rules. Although the quality of the scan was not particularly good in places, it was good enough for me to form some ideas about how the rules work and the equipment needed to use them.

The game was played on a cloth that was marked with a 44 square x 22 square grid, with each square representing an area of 400 yards x 400 yards (i.e. the cloth represented an area of countryside that was 10 miles x 5 miles). As the cloth was designed to be used on a dining table, it must be assumed that each square must have been approximately 2″ x 2″, thus giving a table-scale of 1:7200-scale.

The playing cloth has two roads marked on it, and it is along these roads that units enter the battlefield. There are rules governing the number and types of units that can enter along each road each turn.

The playing pieces represent regiments of infantry, cavalry, and artillery (although it also states that artillery ‘regiments’ represent batteries of six guns) as well as one that is called ‘The Staff’. Destroying or capturing the latter is one of the objectives of the wargame. With the exception of artillery – which occupy two squares – each regiment is mounted on a movement tray that fills a square. The rules have an interesting mechanism by which the strength of regiments is concealed from one’s opponent. (I do not intend to give any details of this mechanism as I understand that John Curry hopes to include the full text of these rules in a forthcoming book about early wargames.)

Each game turn represents 15 minutes of real time, and it states in the rules that players should have a restricted amount of time – ten minutes – in which to move their regiments. The rules suggest that the time should be measured using a pair of sand-glasses.

Regiments move at pre-set movement rates:

  • Infantry: 3 squares
  • Cavalry: 6 squares
  • Artillery: 6 squares
  • Staff: 5 squares

This represents how far each type of regiment would move in 15 minutes. There are rules that govern movement in different tactical formations.

The basic combat rules – which John Curry’s published version will cover in full – are essentially quite simple, with standard numbers of casualties being caused by each type of regiment at a given range, depending upon the tactical situation. There are specific rules for cavalry, artillery and staff and these are mainly concerned with charging and firing.

My overall impression is that these rules should be easy for most wargamers and non-wargamers to understand and use fairly quickly, and I look forward to trying them out in due course. Of particular interest to me was they way in which the designers of the rules have dealt with some of the problems that arise when devising rules that use a gridded playing surface, and it is interesting to compare their solutions with my own.

Polemos: The saga continues!

John Curry – of the History of Wargaming Project – has managed to get hold of a copy of the original POLEMOS rules … and has kindly sent me a copy of the text.

I have been reading it for a few days, and I hope to give some feedback in due course. It does mean that it might be possible to recreate this ‘missing’ piece of early wargaming history, and if this is possible, I would like to give it a try.

This would be a diversion from my current plans … but I think that it will be worth it.

Polemos: A breakthrough?

I had one bit of good news yesterday; I received a message from Dr David Charles Ballinger Griffith’s great granddaughter about POLEMOS!

It appears that she saw my blog entries about POLEMOS, read about my attempts to find out more information about Dr Griffith, and decided to get in contact with me. Furthermore, she informed me that she has an incomplete copy of the game, including the rules, which she is looking after for her cousin!

She has very kindly agreed to send me scans of the rules at soon as she can, and once she has I hope to be able to transcribe them. I will then see it it will be possible to recreate the game so that it can be demonstrated to a wider public at some time in the future.

The portable wargame: Still under development

Despite all the other things that have been going on over the past two weeks, I have not forgotten about or stopped work on THE PORTABLE WARGAME rules. If anything, the rediscovery of POLEMOS and my purchase of ART OF TACTIC: BARBAROSSA 1941 have been part of the development process.

Now that things are beginning to settle down, I hope to do so detailed work on the 19th century version of the rules, with a possible play-test in the very near future.

Polemos: Is there a link between David Charles Ballinger Griffith and Captain G.J.R. Glünicke?

Whilst I have been unwell, my wife has done some further research into both David Charles Ballinger Griffith and Captain G.J.R. Glünicke.

What she has discovered is that:

  • David Charles Ballinger Griffith married Ellen Amy Smith in 1877 at St George’s, Hanover Square. Ellen Smith’s place of birth is recorded as both Mayfair (London) and the parish of St George’s, Hanover Square (Middlesex)
  • George John Robert Glünicke married Annie W Smith in 1882 in Droitwich (which was also the town of her birth)
  • George John Robert Glünicke became a naturalise Briton on 9th June 1885

The most obvious line of enquiry would be to see if the two Miss Smith were in some way related … but as Smith is the most common surname in England that would involve getting hold of both couple’s marriage records, which is both time-consuming and incurs a cost.

I fear that this is about as far as the research can go at present … but something may turn up that will provide further relevant information in the future.