Connections Next Generation: Is Kriegsspiel relevant for modern wargaming?

Recently, Jan, one of our staff members, talked to Betsy Joslyn of Connections Next Generation and gave a short interview about his journey into wargaming and Kriegsspiel. We are happy to republish the interview, which was focus of the CNG newsletter No. 16 on August 02, 2023.

Connections Next Generation is a network of young wargaming practitioners in the wide field of professional wargaming. They have a monthly newsletter, gaming events and another conference coming up in October 2023.

This month we interviewed Jan Heinmann, a 32 year old historian and political scientist, editor, game studies aficionado, playtester and hobby wargame designer from Hannover, Germany. He ventured into wargaming during university with recreational historical boardgaming – via networks like the Armchair Dragoons, No Enemies Here, PAXsims and Georgetown University Wargaming Society. Jan got more involved in the hobby side, as well as the practitioners side of wargaming over the years.

What are the kinds of wargames you are drawn to play or learn more about?

I am interested in how games represent reality, be it past or present, and the (political) implications specific stagings create.

The games I prefer to play and enjoy, but also get the most out of, are conflict simulations which emphasize friction, contingency and tense decision spaces without being unplayable monster-games with unbearable admin-load.

What is the International Kriegsspiel Society, and what is your affiliation?

I joined the International Kriegsspiel Society in June 2021, right after it had emerged from the Southern California Kriegsspiel Society, exploiting Discord and Tabletop Simulator to allow online play during the pandemic. Shortly after, I was invited to join the staff, became an admin, representative for Europe and eventually certified Master Umpire.

By now, the IKS has 1,500 members from all around the globe, providing a community to exchange resources, research, discuss system design and frequently play live and text-based Kriegsspiel games and campaigns. We strive to create a welcoming and inclusive community, bringing together history and wargaming enthusiasts and practitioners alike to preserve Kriegsspiel.

How is Kriegsspiel relevant to modern wargaming and the next generation of wargamers?

Kriegsspiel as a methodological approach is timeless regarding the lessons and competences it conveys and the insights it provides, as such it can be applied to any period’s warfare and any type of warfare or complex conflict.
From that point of view, its lessons do not solely apply to strictly military contexts, even though most games still are tactical simulations.

Kriegsspiel prompts players to develop awareness, think out of their own ingrained thought patterns, and focus on the human factor. I often think it is a form of Red-Teaming against oneself.

What does playing Kriegsspiel teach players? Both in a historical sense (what it is meant to teach) and today (is it the same?)

The first proper Kriegsspiel, was published in 1824 by the Prussian officer Reisswitz Jr.. It was quickly implemented as a staff officer training tool to replace field rides and maneuvers, and has been used ever since in various iterations to either train officers or put tactical doctrine or operational and strategic hypotheses to the test (and from the very beginning also for enjoyment in the recreational context).

In this sense it has always remained the same, teaching players to make grave decisions in a limited amount of time, based on incomplete and potentially false information, to overcome contingency, to delegate tasks to achieve the best outcome, to develop an understanding of what to communicate when and how to do it efficiently, to assess situations, plan with the unforeseen and to develop and adapt plans within a sometimes not well-known team.

The same is true for umpires, thus, constant re-evaluation of player behavior, systems and umpire adjudication occurs within and beyond the mandatory after-action-debriefing.

If you were designing a more modern view of Kriegsspiel, what non-kinetic elements do you think would be important to represent?

Many of the systems developed by members of the IKS include morale (something Reisswitz Jr. ironically didn’t take into account in his rigid system – this fact might hint to the importance of a well versed and diverse team of umpires) and logistics, especially those for larger campaign games.

Umpires might also simulate the behavior of civilians in the area of operations, we even have run crisis simulations focusing on natural disasters as Kriegsspiele.

For an appropriate modern simulation, aspects such as cultural, religious, socio-economic and political differences, civil disobedience, nonstate actors and climate aspects should be taken into account, that way Kriegsspiel could be an important tool to increase (civil) resilience and prepare personnel for future conflicts.

Connections Next Generation Updates:

  • 5-7 September 2023: Connections UK
  • 13 September 2023: Game Night! Registration will open soon on our website.
  • 21-22 October 2023: Connections Next Gen! The schedule will be posted by September 1! Registration will open soon on our website.

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