Gettysburg Campaign Kriegsspiel

At the end of August, we began something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time: namely a large-ish Kriegsspiel covering the Gettysburg campaign. I based the map (but not the rules) on the board game Lee’s Invincibles and found six volunteers – some of them veterans of my past experiments with Kriegsspiel. I divded them into two teams, one playing the Confederates and one the Union. Each group had a C-in-C (Lee or Hooker – we started the game before he was replaced historically), one infantry commander and one cavalry commander. I had to take some liberties with the historical command structure, but the order of battle was correct.

I had two main things I wanted to game to reflect: First, the difficulties of communication. After thinking about it, I decided not to implement a game mechanism for restricting communication – the players within one team could communicate in whatever form they liked. However, there was a time limit set for each turn, which I hoped would put enough pressure on the players so as to make things a bit more interesting.

The second aspect I wanted the game to reflect was the difficulty of locating the enemy and the importance of a close collaboration between cavalry and infantry commanders. Each side had three cavalry units, and those were the only units that could “see” beyond the location they were occupying. Infantry had to feel their way forward by moving into another location blindly. They could, however, chose between the standing orders “attack” and “retreat” – if both had “retreat”, no combat would occur. If one had “retreat” and the other “attack”, there was a 50% chance that combat would occur (modified by the commanders’ skills).

I gave both sides victory conditions, but each commander also had personal aims which would give him glory points. Those, of course, were not necessarily in the interest of the greater strategic picture…

I’m not going to write a detailed narrative of the game, which moved along at a brisk pace and took seven weeks to complete. Lee chose a historical strategy by moving his army down the Shenandoah Valley, while the Union split their troops at first and sent a portion after the Confederates. Just like in history, rebels easily took Winchester, but then a snag developed on the country roads and some units became stuck. Meanwhile, the cavalry fought aggressively, with the Union troopers managing to occupy Snicker’s Gap, from where they had a good look at the Confederate army marching. Hooker set his army in motion northward, while two corps under Reynolds stayed on the Confederates’ heels in the valley, leading to a memorable rearguard action dubbed “Pickett’s Last Stand”. The Confederate cavaly managed to encircle Gregg at Snicker’s Gap and completely destroy his division. As the Confederate army cleared the valley, they split up to plunder Pennsylvania. However, the Union army had also arrived north of the Potomac and elements from both armies stumbled into each other at Frederick City. The Union won this engagement (I had a tactical mini-game for battles) and the Confederates concentrated their army in the area of Gettysburg. Some units advanced to Westminster, where they stumbled yet again into Union infantry. What started out as an encounter battle became the deciding fight as both sides hurried troops to the town. Two days of combat ended with a decisive Union victory. The Confederates had to retreat – the invasion of Pennsylvania had failed.

This narrative, however, does not convey the drama and excitment of the game. The players perfectly fell into their roles, communicating by addressing themselves as “Major Generals”, discussing strategy and sometimes even quarreling a bit. What I found very interesting is that sometimes, the subordinate commanders became quite focused on their area of operations, while the C-in-Cs tried to keep the larger strategic picture in mind. However, the teams worked together very well. Fortunately for Lee, Jeb Stuart didn’t take my bait, which would have sent him far away from the infantry to get some individual glory points.

The battle and campaign of Gettysburg has long been a major area of interest for me and playing a Kriegsspiel covering it was something of a wargaming dream. I’m extremely grateful to the players for making this dream come true in the best way possible! Honestly, this was one of my favorite gaming experiences ever.

The Battle for Ringsend

For the last two months, I have been running a play-by-email game for four friends. It was a kind of Kriegsspiel insofar as the players had limited information, but the map and the rules were more akin to board games. After my last experiences with Kriegsspiel, I wanted to have better structured rules – I thought it would make it easier and quicker to write orders and to process those orders. This worked out only partially: As the rules were written a bit hastily, there were many loopholes and inconsistencies and I had to modify them along the way. I’m very grateful for the player’s patience!

My set-up.

The game was set in a fantasy world I called “Ringsend”, with four kingdoms vying for control: The Wood Elves, the Dwarves, the Orcs and the Humans. However, the humans really were undead – the human leader was a necromancer and I gave him some special abilities to integrate his enemy’s losses into his army. Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, I really didn’t think it through properly and it caused some frustration with the players (after one turn, another player took over). I also changed the special abilitiy several times to find a balanced mechanic.

The other special abilities were rather predictable: the Elves were quick, the Dwarves had advanced siege equipment and the Orcs couldn’t be too sure how many of their troops would turn up at a battle.

Players could also assemble heroes and give them tasks, such a retrieving an artefact or trying to assassinate an enemy leader.

The Battle of Ilsig

At the start of the game, the Elves and Dwarves quickly expanded while the Orcs and Humans took some time to get off their feet. Virago, the Elf player, was very methodical in his approach and managed to occupy the most locations. He also forged alliances with the Orcs and the Dwarves. Dwarves and Elves soon began a campaign against the Humans, while there was some skirmishing between Orcs and Humans. The campaign culminated in a big and chaotic battle at the town of Ilsig, which covered the entrance to the Necromancer’s fortress. The battle was a lot of fun for me as a game master, as the Orcs unexpecetly pitched in, but as they were not allied with the Dwarves, those suddenly began to fight against each other.

The Necromancer managed to get the help of a dragon, but had little chance against the combined might of Elves and Dwarves. He sent two assassination parties to the Elvish court, but neither of them succeeded. In the end, his fortress was overrun. His realm was destroyed, but, like any good villian, he himself escaped on the back of the dragon…

As the Elves and Dwarves quite liked their alliance and did not want to break the peace, we decided to end the game here.

This is the end score (numbers indicating locations occupied):

Elves: 12

Dwarves: 10

Orcs: 4

Humans/Necromancer: 0

The final positions.

The Dwarves had a number of well placed armies and a surprise strike against the Elves would have been interesing. But alas, the players prefer peace!

It was great fun running the game and I hope the players also enjoyed it, even if the rules were shaky and rather fluid sometimes. But the narrative turned out great, and at least for me, that’s the main thing.

I’m already planning another such game – this time in a sci-fi setting. Let’s see how it works!

Experimenting with Kriegsspiel

A year ago, I ran a freeform map Kriegsspiel (inspired by Paddy Griffith and Verdy Du Vernois) for my mates Sigur and Virago. The game went on for several months and was fun, although it had some problems – one of them being that it petered out without a real conclusion.

Now the fascinating and for me central thing about Kriegsspiel is that it is double blind, the umpire being the only person who has complete knowledge of the positions and actions of both sides. It’s fascinating as well as entertaining to see players act with a limited knowledge of what is actually happening, something that is hard to model in conventional in tabletop wargames.

The umpire’s set-up.

So I wanted to try Kriegsspiel again, but in a more streamlined form. Mark Backhouse did some very interesting Twitter Kriegsspiels, so I decided to try this route – a game that would only take an evening, with orders being received and transmitted via Facebook Messenger. I wanted to have structured rules for a change, so I wrote a quick and simple game that fits on two pages.

The setting was a fictitious American Civil War battle, set during the Shenandoah Valley campaign in 1862. Sigur played Stonewall Jackson and had to drive the Union troops, commanded by Virago, out of the town of Turvington. I drew a map on an A3-sized sheet of paper and used the Kriegsspiel blocks I got from Command Post Games. The map as well as the rules and the mission briefings were sent to the players. Both printed the map and made their own counters to help them visualize what was happening.

This is what it looked for Virago and Sigur:

And this is what it looked for me:


The game was great fun, at least for me. Here is a short video documenting the movements of the units on the map:

We had some really great moments: Right at the beginning, Virago redirected a couple of his units to the east, but seems to have lost orientation, as he was pretty surprised when he got the reports of where he and his units where. Well, a little friction while maneuvering several brigades along country roads is actually pretty realistic! Later, one of his brigades, while still in column, stumbled into the flank of a Confederate brigade. While the Union troops formed line of battle, Sigur swiftly pulled his men back and saved himself from what could have been a very bad situation.

In the end, Sigur managed to achieve a substantial local superiority and hammered the Union troops into submission.


I’ve already asked two other friends if the want to try out this game, as I’d be interested in how different players approach it. I’m also motivated to make more experiments along that line. I’ve also learned a couple of things: First, it took longer than I thought it would. Perhaps I will make the combat mechanics a bit more decisive. Also, despite having structured rules, there were more situations than I thought in which I had to make a quick decision as an umpire. I don’t want to make the rules more water-tight, as I think that it is paramount that the game moves along at a brisk pace, so I will got with it and embrace this (without being arbitrary). And the last thing I noticed is that, in the heat of battle, it is easy to lose track of things, such as the turn sequence, all the players’ orders etc. And this is only with two players! As much as I’d love to try a game with more players, I’m not sure how I would manage it.