Freies Kriegsspiel

Freies Kriegsspiel

Swiss Halberd, 15th century

The two words "Free Kriegsspiel" seems to come up more and more in my blog feed. I can't help telling myself "Freies Kriegsspiel". There is a nice article and thread about it at BoardGameGeek:

To take it a step further, in 1876, General Julius von Verdy du Vernois proposed dispensing with all the rules and tools completely and allowing the umpire to arbitrate the game entirely as he saw fit. This form of kriegsspiel came to be known as free kriegsspiel and was well-received by the officer corps because it was easier to learn and allowed umpires to apply their own expertise, making the game/simulation far more flexible and realistic.

These umpires translated hard rules into "free" rulings, hence "free kriegsspiel."

(When I read Julius von Verdy du Vernois I thought, he sure is a Huguenot emigrated to Prussia, but I was wrong, his grandfather, the Chevalier de Verdy du Vernois, simply emigrated to work for the Landgrave of Hesse)

On Mastodon, someone explained to me that they were, as a game master, required to keep opposition hit points accounting in front of the players. I was a surprised, I thought it a defeat for trust and a victory for optimizers.

Kriegsspiel, rulings, rules, transparency echoed in my head and I remembered of an episode around 20 years ago.

I participated in a Kriegsspiel when I was still expected to give my time to my country, as a militia officer. It was a three days course for all the officers of our infantry regiment, from company commanders to the regiment commander. Since I was the heavy-mortar company commander, the three platoons in my company were attributed to battalions and I was in charge of artillery coordination at the regiment level.

The referee in our case was not a general staff officer, it was an Israeli simulation system that we had acquired and customized. If I remember correctly it pushed the simulation to the platoon level and tracked fuel and ammunition.

My fellow company commanders were directed to their battle stations, while I was joining the regiment staff. Their stations were Sun Microsystems workstations with privates who had followed a course on the handling of the company commander UI. Soon the company commanders were swapping tips on how to deal with the UI and and their respective console jockeys.

The building was a nineteenth century horse stable that had seen many repurposing over the eras. Somewhere, a bit aside, a small team of officers was playing the opposition. They were professional officers from our parent unit, a fortification brigade.

All this setup was mounted to exercise the battalion and regiment staffs. The regiment staff was sitting in a room, while the three battalion staffs were placed in parked in APCs to make it cramped as it should be.

The company commanders, shoulder to shoulder with their console jockeys were suddenly seeing red rectangles closing in their blue rectangles. The red assault had begun.

The Colonel (a professional officer) was getting acquainted with the defensive setting we had inherited with the scenario, we were defending the southern tip of the country, the hills above Como, the road leading to the Saint-Gotthard. There wasn't much time for a custom set up, it was only a three day course, militia people have jobs and families to get back to.

The company commanders took their phones and reported to their battalion what they were seeing and how their units were coping. The phones in our regiment command post started ringing, the battalions were reporting.

A fine game of Chinese Whispers. The aides were plotting what was reported and the colonel was trying to figure out what what the enemy was doing.

We played this scenario two times. The first session was considered a warm up. It was great fun and a we learnt so much. I had never held a role at the regiment level, I was only shouted at once by the commander, that was brief and it helped me adjust to the new position and be part of the machine.

The actual players, the regiment and battalion staffs, were not seeing any counters, any red hit points. We had to figure out our own hit points (hits takens, remaining ammo, etc), and the hit points remaining to the adversary. It didn't matter if outcomes were the result of rules or rulings, we only saw the outcomes.

We were trying to infer the rules of the game, carefully measuring the shadows on the walls of our cave.