A genre of board games centering around the simulation of warfare, either based on real conflicts or fantasy scenarios. Some games include highly detailed miniatures and maps; however, most games of this genre consist of one or more maps of the theatre of conflict, a variable number of unit counters (small square pieces of heavy cardstock with printed numbers and symbols representing military units, as well as markers of various sorts), and rules with accompanying tables and charts. The most important such table is a "Combat Results Table", giving a set of battle results calculated according to the numerical odds of attacker versus defender; the players roll dice and compare the resulting numbers to the table to see how the battle came out. Table wargames can focus on any level of battle from literally man-to-man combat (e.g., the Squad Leader series) to whole army groups or fleets. Expansion Packs
with different scenarios are also common.
The Ur Example
is probably Kriegsspiel, literally, "War Game," which was created by two Prussian officers, Lieutenant Georg Leopold von Reiswitz and his son Georg Heinrich Rudolf von Reiswitz. The game was widely played by the Prussian officers of the 19th Century, and after some stunning Prussian victories, military officers around Europe. It was Serious Business
; kriegsspiel was endorsed by the General Staff of Prussia as an invaluable teaching aid. Kriegsspiel was the Trope Codifier
for a lot of conventions used by current military thinkers, military historians, war gamers, and table top role players. It codified the use of the colors red and blue
for enemy and friendly forces, respectively, the use of maps and miniaturised scale terrain, detailed movement rules and turns
, referees and game masters, specialized dice, the block symbols for units, table quarters, Loads and Loads of Rules
, the Random Number God
, the core rulebook, Rule Zero
, and so on. It was so influential that it is still available today
. A great many of the concepts used to create training simulations for modern officers and table top wargames today would seem completely familiar to the Reiswitzes, even despite technology they could never have imagined. The eminent author H. G. Wells
was also responsible for a more light-hearted and simplified set of rule conventions for wargame simulations - Little Wars
- which were popular in Great Britain before WW1
, and which had a strong influence on the later development of the wargaming hobby in the UK.
, the game evolved again. The original kriegsspiel
used only symbolic blocks to represent units. Little Wars
advocated use of what were then standard 54mm or 3.5" toy soldiers. in the 1950s, with the rise of firms such as Hinchcliffe or Spencer-Smith who sold 25mm or 1:72 scale metal figures, new thinkers such as the hugely influential Donald Featherstone (who had commanded tanks in North Africa and Italy) advocated far larger battles over the same size table using figures 3/4 of the size. Featherstone's new rule-sets and advocacy of using smaller scales also coincided with the rise in cheap, small, plastic figures, and construction kits of tanks and artillery, from such as Airfix
During the 1970s and early 1980s, several companies (chief among them Avalon Hill, Simulations Publications Inc., and Game Designers' Workshop) produced literally hundreds of games covering every era of warfare from the ancient period to science fiction and Alternate History
. In many ways a return to classical Kreigsspiel
format, these games ranged in size from tiny "folio" games with perhaps 100 counters and maps no larger than a standard sheet of paper, to gigantic "monster" games with 9 or more 22" x 34" maps and thousands of counters. By the end of the 1970s, the biggest "monster" wargames (for instance, SPI's "Campaign for North Africa") were so complex and unwieldy that they were pretty much unplayable as actual games in the traditional table format. (Of note: Role-Playing Games
, in their pencil-and-paper-and-rulebook format, first became popular in the late 1970s. There used to be some amount of tension between devotees of board wargaming and RPG players.)
From the early 1980s on, the advent of PC's resulted in wargames mostly transitioning to the realm of electronics, since it was much easier to program the often-complex math required to accurately simulate many military events than to try to create tables and charts for table wargames. These games evolved into the genres we now call Turn-Based Strategy
and, later still, Real-Time Strategy
. Even so, there is still a hard core of dedicated map-and-counter-and-dice wargamers and companies to serve them.
Proving that older ideas recycle, the Nottingham-based company Games Workshop
began operations in the early 1980s selling fantasy and sci-fi wargaming from its dedicated shop outlets around the country. Despite computer games and map-and-counter-based games still having a foothold, and despite the dominant trend in the tabletop wargaming-with-figures hobby being historical gaming (Napoleonics and WW2
still dominate), GW carved out its own little empire, securing the alliegience and pocket-money of adolescent boys, who are the next generation of the hobby. In a time where traditional model and figure makers such as Airfix repeatedly went bust, GW have gone from strength to strength. And GW's other innovation stuck. "Traditional" wargaming with figures revolves around two scales: 20-25mm (1:76 to 1:72) or the older 1:35 (54mm), GW chose the intermediate 28mm (1:57 scale). This has proven very popular and has been taken up by many other figure manufacturers. The figures do not take up anything like as much table space as the comparatively huge 54mm's. They are also large enough to carry a lot of fine detail which a skilled artist can bring out. While 20 and 15 mm figures can provide an impressive spectacle en masse
, the observer has often got to squint to make out individual detail. This is not an issue in 28mm.