Leiden Safety and Security Blog

The Brunswick Wargame

Gaming and simulation have long been used to teach and train military officers to operate strategically in uncertain situations. Games like Chaturanga, Shogi, Xiangqi and Chess, although played and enjoyed by the masses, model and simulate military strategy battles.

Conflict, strategy and war games can be found in many forms today. The origins of the table-top war game in particular, however, can be traced back to the Brunswick Wargame (Braunschweiger Kriegsspiel) developed by German polymath, Johann Christian Ludwig Hellwig in 1780. The game was titled 'Versuch eines aufs Schachspiel gebaueten taktischen Spiels von zwey und mehreren Personen zu spielen' ('An Attempt at a chess-based tactical game to be played by two or more persons').

Hellwig’s war game incorporates game elements from Christoph Weickmann’s Chess Game of 1644, and various popular strategy card games of the time. The original game rules are codified in a game handbook, which players can use to guide game set-up and play. In the introduction Hellwig writes, 'The final purpose of a tactical game is to sensualize the substance of the most important appearances of war. The more precisely the nature of this item is imitated, the closer the game comes to its perfection' (Hellwig 1780, p.xi, own translation). Accordingly, there are approximately 250 rules in the original game manual, providing for extremely time consuming, complex game-play.

Hellwig spent the following 20 years modifying and adapting the game. In the 19th century, war games became important military training and strategy development tools for the Prussian army, before being adopted by militaries around the world. The war game was reconstructed according to the original writings of Hellwig by Rolf Nohr und Stefan Böhme from Braunschweig University of Arts, Institute of Media Studies. The game was showcased and played by participants of the 45th International Simulation and Gaming Association Conference in Dornbirn, Austria

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