Kriegspiel, also known as “sandbox” or “sand table” wargames, are military simulations that usually involve three teams. Two teams represent the combatants, fighting a battle; the other team consists of the umpires who determine what happens, based on the players’ moves. In the original version, the action took place on a large table, with wooden pieces representing military units. The two teams were often separated, to keep their knowledge of enemy positions and actions secret. The umpires shuttled back and forth between the two teams to provide them with information, record their moves, and indicate the results.
Although the game has evolved from its original form, this type of exercise is now a common tool in military organizations around the world. The inventor was a 19th century Prussian officer, Georg Leopold von Reiswitz, who developed the game to help the Prussian high command train a new generation of officers, and to hone the skills within the General Staff in particular. Prussia’s poor performance in the Napoleonic Wars inspired many innovations, including the embrace of the Kriegspiel as a teaching tool. Reiswitz’s son later refined the game, which Helmut Moltke the Elder, chief of the Prussian General Staff, eagerly championed. Eventually, proponents in Western military organizations also discovered the game’s usefulness as a simulated environment in which to test new strategies.
[Note: You’ll find the German name for this game spelled both Kriegspiel and Kriegsspiel.]
For more information…
A web site that provides an overview of the Kriegspiel, including extensive pictures.
A detailed article describing the Kriegspiel rules.
An interview with Peter Perla of CNS, including a lengthy discussion of the history and importance of the Kriegspiel.