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Wargaming (conflict simulation, consim gaming) is a hobby in which one or more players simulate battles or entire wars.

Wargaming is also used to mean the model or computer simulation of possible scenarios in military planning[?].

Wargaming can also refer to the full-scale rehearsal of military maneuvers[?] as practice for warfare. In this case, the two sides in the simulated battle are typically called "blue" and "orange", to avoid naming a particular adversary.

Table of contents

History of wargaming

Modern wargaming grew out of the military need to study warfare and to 'reenact' old battles for learning purposes. The stunning Prussian victory over the French in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) is sometimes partly credited to the training of Prussian officers with the Kriegspiel.

H.G. Wells' book Little Wars was an attempt to codify rules for fighting battles with toy soldiers (miniatures), and make them available to the general public.

Wargames have existed for centuries—chess is an ancient example. In fact, one could make a case that all competitive games which have a winner and loser may be considered wargames.

Wargames, like all games, exist in a range of complexities: some are fundamentally simple (so-called "beer-and-pretzel" games), while others (generally in an attempt to increase the 'realism' of the situation) produce rule sets that may encompass a large variety of actions (so-called "monster" games).

One of the main difficulties with wargaming is the level of complexity of rules and record keeping. Extremely detailed wargame rule sets (some of which require hundreds of pages of small print and intensive recordkeeping) generally result in a slow (and for many, less enjoyable) game. Simple rule sets, on the other hand, may not cover events that historically took place in a conflict, forcing the players to invent "house rules" to resolve disputes.

Board wargaming A typical non-computerized wargame (Kriegspiel) consists of the following components:

  • Map: The map shows the terrain[?] over which the battle/war is fought, usually overlaid by hexagons to regulate movement. Other variations include the "point to point" map where areas are connected by lines to show possible movements, and the area map (similar to Risk).
  • Counters: These are usually cardboard squares that represent armies, military units or individual military personnel, as well as markers to show various states that these units might be in.
  • Dice: These are generally used to add the element of chance. Given that many military actions have been influenced or even decided by odd events, straight-forward strategy games such as chess and go may be considered too abstract to represent real war.

Board wargames typically use cardboard counters to represent the units, and a printed mapboard as the playing surface. Miniatures games typically use miniature plastic or metal models for the units and model scenery placed on a tabletop or floor as a playing surface. Games with miniatures are often called Table-top games. Computer wargames may take either approach and display the units and scenery on the monitor screen.

Computerized wargaming Computerized wargames have several distinct advantages over paper and pencil wargames:

  • no need to roll dice over and over again
  • no recordkeeping (the computer handles all the 'paperwork')
  • ability to start, stop and save the game at any time (if there is no need to coordinate with a human opponent; note that this is also possible with board games, as long as no children or animals have access to the game area)
  • easy to find opponents on the Internet

Disadvantages of computerized wargames:

  • computer may not be as competent as a human opponent
  • lack of human interaction (of course the computer won't tip over the board if it is losing)
  • computer arbitration allows more complex rules, which can be more difficult to understand and analyze; especially since these rules may be "hidden" from the player(s) in the software code
  • ability to view only a part of the battlefield in detail at a time
  • player(s) can't easily modify the rules or adapt them to similar situations

Traditional wargaming differs from so-called real-time strategy computer games in that traditional wargames are generally turn-based[?] (an obvious exception being 'in-the-field' wargaming by military organizations). Traditional wargames focus on the ability to analyze in-depth, plan to achieve a goal, and adjust plans to changing circumstances. Real-time strategy games (which might better be called vastly-speeded-up-time strategy games) focus more on reflexes, coordination, and the ability to make snap decisions with limited information. Also, real-time strategy games require less sophisticated artificial intelligence on the part of computer players.

Computer wargames are often played against human opponents via e-mail (by exchanging save-game files) to provide the human interaction and a more interesting opponent than that of the program. This has the disadvantage of taking much longer to finish the game, depending upon how often the players check their e-mail. It is still much quicker (and easier) than the older method of playing board wargames by postal mail. A faster alternative (not available with all games) is playing over a direct connection, either LAN, modem or Internet.

Types of military wargaming

  • land battles
  • sea battles
  • air battles
  • combinations of land, sea, and/or air battles

Usually, military wargaming can be broken down based on what technology is available to the 'armies' involved, what military era or war the 'army' is from, and the scale of the conflict.

All periods of history have their wargaming enthusiasts. Games are generally by these periods:


  • Strategic – units are typically division, corps, or army size; they are rated based upon raw strength; economic production and diplomacy are significant; typically involves all branches, and often the entire forces of the nations involved; cover entire wars or long campaigns
  • Operational – units are typically battalion to divisional size, and are rated based on their average overall strengths and weaknesses, weather and logistics are significant; typically focuses on one branch, with others somewhat abstracted; usually covers a single campaign
  • Tactical – units range from individual vehicles and squads to platoons or companies, and are rated based on types and ranges of individual weaponry; almost always focuses on a single branch, occasionally with others abstracted; usually covers a single battle or part of a large battle
  • Skirmish – units represent individual soldiers; may keep track of wounds and ammunition; usually covers a small firefight

Notable Wargamers

Publishers of wargames

  • Avalon Hill – the first publisher of board wargames, Avalon Hill (AH) made many classic games, such as Squad Leader[?], Third Reich[?], and Panzerblitz[?]. The first wargame (in its current incarnation) was published by AH and was called Tactics II[?], depicting a war between two hypothetical countries. Unlike most today, the map was overlaid with squares, not hexagons. AH published The General magazine, which provided analysis, designer's notes, replays and more scenarios for their games. The company was bought out by Hasbro in the late 1990s.
  • E-Mail Games – provides free wargaming and computerized referee[?]/AI, via e-mail
  • Simulations Publications, Inc.[?] (SPI) – another early—and very prolific—wargame publisher, SPI published Strategy & Tactics and Moves[?] magazines. Each issue of S&T featured and actually included a new wargame, scrunched into the magazine, while Moves focused on strategy. Founded by James Dunnigan. Changing trends in game play led to its eventual decline in the 1980s. Bought out by TSR.
  • Games Designers Workshop[?] – Published many popular wargames, as well as role-playing games such as Traveller. Founded in 1974, the company disbanded in 1996 after having suffered financial troubles for quite some time. Many of their games are now carried by other publishers.
  • Steve Jackson Games – Early successes were O.G.R.E.[?], Car Wars, and Illuminati. Pioneered the "microgame" format: tiny plastic boxes costing very little money (US$4-6). Founded in 1982, their website is http://www.sjgames.com.
  • GMT – Probably the most prolific of the wargame companies in the 1990s and into 2003, it was founded by Gene Billingsley[?]. They've become well known for graphically attractive games that range from monster games of many maps and counters to quite simple games suitable for introducing new players to wargaming. They also produce card games and family games. Their website is http://www.gmtgames.com.
  • The Gamers[?]/MMP – The Gamers was a company founded and run by Dean Essig[?]. Their distinction was the focus on a few series, with special rules for each individual game. This made it easier to play new games within a series that was well known to the players. This company was bought out by MMP in 2001. MMP (Multi-Man Publishing) is owned by Curt Schilling, a Major League Baseball pitcher, and was originally limited to producing Advanced Squad Leader[?] (ASL) material after the founding company, Avalon Hill, was bought out by Hasbro. Since then, MMP has gained the rights to other Avalon Hill licenses, as well as The Gamers' line of products. Their website is http://www.multimanpublishing.com.
  • Avalanche Press[?] – This company touts itself as the only truly professional wargaming company, in that all designers are on staff and consider that their fulltime job, as opposed to other companies that take designs from people outside the company. Their products are not appreciably better than those of most other companies, however, and in some cases are considered worse graphically, ruleswise and gameplay-wise than other offerings. Nevertheless, they have some widely known and respected series, such as the Great War at Sea[?], PanzerGrenadier[?] and Avalanche series of games. In other words, their products bear a similar level of quality to those of the better wargame companies. Their website is http://www.avalanchepress.com
  • Clash of Arms[?] – This company is best known for a high level of graphics quality and moderately to highly complex games, often focused on the Napoleonic Era, but with offerings in most eras of military history. The website is http://www.clashofarms.com
  • Operational Studies Group[?] – This company is owned by Kevin Zucker[?], and focuses primarily on the Napoleonic Era. The website is http://www.napoleongames.com
  • L2 Design Group[?] – A new company formed by Art Lupinacci[?] and Dana Lombardy[?], originally to create an update of Lombardy's classic game, Streets of Stalingrad[?] which started shipping in December 2002. The focus is on creating products that set a new standard graphically, as well as gameplay-wise. The company is also planning to produce updates of other classic games. Their website is http://www.L2Designgroup.com
  • New England Simulations[?] – A New Hampshire based group that has created three games based on previously designed systems, with an emphasis on both graphics and design. Their web site is http://www.carpatina.com/nes/
  • Decision Games[?] – This company appears to have bought most of the rights to many SPI games, and is reprinting many as well as creating new games. The graphical quality tends to be a bit less than some other companies, but varies drastically. The games themselves run the gamut from easy and small to extremely complex monster games. Their website is http://www.decisiongames.com
  • Columbia Games[?] – This company is the biggest producer of "block games". Instead of using cardboard counters, the military units are depicted using wooden blocks that are set upright to keep the unit type and strength hidden from the enemy. Many of these games are very suitable to introducing new players to the hobby, but there are also some quite detailed games that have been produced. Their website is http://www.columbiagames.com

Wargames and Wargaming as computer terms Another common use of the term "Wargame" is among the Hacker community (specifically White-hats), referring to a server that is set up specifically for the purpose of being hacked into. This allows the hacker to have a server to hack into, without the need to worry about the legal issues, as the owner is knowingly allowing this to happen.

External Links

  • E-Mail Games Website (http://www.islandnet.com/~dgreenin/emg.htm)
  • ConsimWorld.com (http://www.consimworld.com): forum for companies and wargamers both, and a great source
  • Web-Grognards (http://www.grognard.com) has a listing of most every game and publisher, usually with reviews, extra scenarios, after action reports, etc
  • James F. Dunnigan, one of the leading commercial wargame designers, has placed the 2nd edition of his book The Complete Wargames Handbook (http://www.hyw.com/Books/WargamesHandbook/Contents.htm) on-line. It presents a broad view of wargames including professional military simulators, commercial simulations, and real-time strategy games, as well as the turn-based wargames more commonly referred to as wargames.
  • The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design: http://www.aagad.org/
  • The Game Manufacturers' Association: http://www.gama.org
  • Board Game Players Association: http://www.boardgamers.org - Founded by Don Greenwood[?] (formerly of Avalon Hill), this noncommercial group manages the Avaloncon[?] convention and other board wargame events.

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