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Richard G. Trefry Archives Exhibits

American Public University System’s Richard G. Trefry Archives contain documents and items that represent the history, development, and progress of the institution as its recorded memory.

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This collection showcases the history of wargaming by bringing together rule books and maps from various different war games from all over the world to demonstrate the evolution of wargaming during the 19th century.  

Classic examples of war games have existed for centuries, taking the form of head-to-head strategy games such as Go or Chess. In the 17th Century, Christopher Weikhmann made modifications to the game of chess, mostly expanding the size of the board and the amount of pieces being played. He called it the "King's Game." Further modifications were made to this example but they all revolved around a chess-like board. 

It was not until 1811 when a Prussian Baron, Leopold Georg von Reisswitz, developed the prototype for what would become the first modern wargame, Taktisches Kriegs-Spiel (Tactical War Game), or what will just come to be known as Kriegsspiel (War Game). His son will come along in 1824 and refine the rules and revolutionize the way militaries go about understanding, teaching, and making preparations for war. The Reisswitzes moved the earlier games from modified chess boards and into a sand box initially, where life like terrain could be used and blocks stood in for regiments. The sandbox would be replaced by the more practical topographical map. This way a war game could simulate conflict near anywhere as long as you had a map. Kriegsspiel also featured the use of an impartial umpire who would make rulings during game play. 

The Prussians (and later the German Empire) maintained a near monopoly on wargaming throughout the rest of 19th Century. Utilizing Kriegsspiel in their military academies and clubs would spring up around Germany, where military men would get together to play the game and hash out tactics. One instructor, General Verdy du Vernois, would call for an abandonment of the rules of the game and allow players to play free of rules and calculations. This came to be known as Free Kriegsspiel, while the classic game was referred to as Rigid Kriegsspiel. 

During the 19th Century, other nations would translate and adopt the Kriegsspiel Rules. Not really until the second half of the century would you have countries offering their own variants to the Kriegsspiel model, but still holding close to the general concept. The American Kriegsspiel (1882) and Strategos (1880) are two such American examples.   The 20th century would bring an explosion in popularity to wargaming, both inside and outside of the military, but these 19th century antecedents set the precedent and structure for the games that came after them. By understanding how these nations used wargames in their military preparations and planning, we gain a deeper knowledge of the wars and military conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries. 

The collection boasts access to digital copies of the original Taktisches Kriegs-Spiel, the younger Reisswitz's rules, Anleitung zur Darstellung Militarishcer Monover, as well as Verdy du Vernois's Beitrag zum Kriegsspiel and an English translation by the American Capt. Eben Swift entitled A Simplified War Game. Examples of British and American war games from the century are also available. This is an ongoing collection and the hope is to keep pulling together as many examples of 19th century war games as available online. Next year, we will be bringing you additional war games from the 20th century.

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