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War Game

WAR GAME, or (in its German form) KRIEGSPIEL, a scientific game, played by representing the positions and movements of troops on a map. Kriegspiel is, as the name indicates, of German origin. A form of it, invented by Marshal Keith, and called Kriegs-schachsspiel (War Chess), was in vogue in the 18th century. In its present form it was invented by von Reisswitz (1794-1827), a Prussian officer, in 1824. As a game it quickly became fashionable at the German courts, and as a means of instruction it was promptly introduced into the Prussian army, whence it has spread to all the armies of the world. The idea of it has been applied also to naval warfare in recent times, the most usual form of naval war game being that designed by F. T. Jane about 1898.

In the military game the positions of troops are marked on maps, movements are made under regulations and the whole or portions of past campaigns can be reproduced in outline of fair accuracy, or more usually hypothetical manoeuvres may be formulated for study and instruction. The materials required are at least three copies of the same map, drawn to such scale as may be suitable to the magnitude of the operations to be represented. If the scheme is one for small numbers of troops, maps of large scale are essential, as small features of the ground largely influence the action of small bodies, and it is only on large-scale maps that the real influence of small features can readily be appreciated. Conversely, with large bodies, maps on a diminished scale are convenient. A great amount of detail is necessary in all maps drawn for military purposes; heights, roads, buildings, water-courses, fences and the nature of the ground, all enter into the question of the feasibility or the reverse of military operations; and where the map is the actual field of manoeuvre, the features of the natural field must be adequately supplied. Blocks, cut or moulded to scale, represent the different units of the combatants; and are coloured (generally red and blue) to distinguish the opposing forces. Some pairs of dividers and a few measures of the same scale as the maps employed complete the material outfit. Printed regulations for the conduct of kriegspiel are of small value; and although rules have been drafted at various times and in many languages, they have generally been allowed to lapSe, practice having proved that the decision of a competent umpire is of more value, as to the soundness or unsoundness of a military manoeuvre, than a code of regulations which inevitably lack elasticity.

The usual course of procedure varies but little in the different countries in which the system has been employed. The central map screened from the view of the combatants is used by the umpire, who places on it the forces of both sides; copies are on eirher hand behind screens or in adjoining rooms, and on them representative blocks are placed in positions which agree with the information possessed by each respective commander. A scheme is formulated such as may occur in war, and a " General Idea " or "Narrative" is the common property of both sides. This contains those items of common knowledge which would be in the possession of either commander in the field. The General Idea is supplemented by " special ideas," issued one to each of the combatants, supplying the information which a commander might reasonably be expected to have of the details of his own force. A third series of instructions is issued, entitled " Orders," which define to each commander the object to be attained ; and on receipt of these he is required to draft specific orders, such as, in manoeuvre or in war, would be considered necessary for issue to field units in the assumed circumstances. Then the game begins. The units of artillery, cavalry, infantry or train-wagons advance or retreat at a rate approximately regulated to their normal pace. Information gained by advancing patrols is brought at realistic speed to its destination ; and no alteration in the ordered movements of a unit is allowed, till expiration of the calculated time for the transmission of the intelligence and for the issue of fresh orders. So the exercise progresses, each movement is marked, and periodically the blocks on the three maps are placed as they would be at a simultaneous moment. Smaller units yield to larger ones of the enemy; equal forces, if unassisted by superiority of position," contain "one another, and are practically neutralized till reinforcements arrive and equilibrium is overthrown.

The decisions of the umpire are all-important, and it is he who makes or mars the value of the instruction. Some axioms must be universally accepted for the guidance both of himself and of the players. A force arrayed within effective range on the flank of an equal and hostile force has the better position of the two. Artillery in position with an unimpeded glacis is a terrible task for a frontal attack. Cavalry, as such, is ineffective in woodlands, marshes or a country broken up by cross hedges or wire fencing. Infantry in masses is an ideal target for efficient artillery, and in scattered bodies affords opportunities for attack by well-handled cavalry. The just application of the ideas contained in these few sentences to the varying stages of a combat is no mean task for a cultured soldier.

One of many difficulties encountered in war is the lack of accurate information. Any one man's view of details spread over large areas of country is extremely limited; and even with the greatest precautions against unreality, a commander's information is vastly more accurate over the extended units of his mimic force at kriegspiel than when the forces so represented are men, horses and machines, wrapped in dust or in smoke, and partially obscured by accidents of the ground too insignificant for reproduction on the map. Yet whilst accepting a certain unreality in kriegspiel, and to a less_ degree in field manoeuvres, both by one and the other military training and education are furthered. The framing of orders follows identical lines at kriegspiel, at manoeuvres or in war. The movement of troops in mimic warfare should be brought to harmonize as far as possible with reality. Up to a point this is relatively easy, and depends chiefly on the quality of the umpiring. But directly the close contact of important bodies of troops is represented on paper, imagination, not realism, governs the results. Even this, however, can be tempered, as regards the larger problems of the tactical grouping of forces, by the wisdom and experience of the umpire. It is true that military history teems with tactical events that no map can reproduce and no seer could have prophesied. But the greater an officer's familiarity with military history, the more likely he is to provide the margin of safety against such incidents in his dispositions, and thus kriegspiel, even in the domain of general tactics, is of invaluable assistance as a means of applying sound principles, learned in other ways, to concrete cases.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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