Anabasis – the necessary divide

plural anabases
Pronunciation /aˈnabəsɪs/ /aˈnabəsiːz/
A military advance into the interior of a country (with reference to that of Cyrus the Younger into Asia in 401 BC, as narrated by Xenophon in his work Anabasis).

Oxford English Dictionary

Dear reader,

If you haven’t read the previous entry for this series I strongly recommend it for two reasons. To understand that the commercial side; what you are given to believe that isn’t necessarily true. It is also necessary as to note that I never intend to reach to the “professional wargaming” and that all I write here is ultimately focused for the leisure side of such activity – in common terms, the hobby.

Hobby doesn’t necessarily pretend historical facts nor pertains to provide accurate data, and most definitely is not aimed at analytical exercises such as those conducted by the facilitators in professional environments.

I am here, as you are, for the hobby.

Stay strong ! Keep wargaming.

For this second entry I will lay the tiles of our little big game by looking into the genesis of any wargame.

A map. A physical representation of a geographical location where the combat happens.

Anyone can reach out to the digital collection of documents that is the internet and find all types from games since antiquity. Probably the first claim of a table games to represent an actual conflict as a description of the game is the Chinese Chess and the Roman Ludus Latrunculorum, both referred as “military tactics” with the Chinese game being high level conflict in the Chu – Han border war and the Roman game being an abstraction maybe of a combat between soldiers or gangs/highwaymen.

image via

The European Chess, including the Scandinavians “hnefatafl” family of games can be representative of the four levels, tactical, operations and kingdom politics, and also the religious and spiritual level, with representations of “soul struggles” and “end of times” wars.

The map in all those games is a square grid. It is a most elegant way of representing movement while abstracting the convolutions of realistic representation that would impact on the play time and portability.

It is of note that all these games were often part of soldier’s kits and played in camp, therefore they needed to be compact enough to transport and setup and with rules solid enough that anyone could play them requiring the minimum time of teaching rules, leaving then the newcomer to explore tactics on its own and, in the event of an alarm or orders to pack and march, could be disassembled and packed fast.

Is little wonder these type of games, and we are going to add all the games we all know, Go, Checkers, Chess, have been adopted by the “non military oriented” civilian life as mental exercises and pass time entertainment without having to directly connect them to violence and bloodshed that is war. They are too abstract for that. That’s their popularity strength. That and the infinite replayability due to “easy to learn, hard to master” nature.

That is the necessary divide. The game of war, or rather the game about war, distances itself and becomes only a game due to its abstract nature and mechanisms of resolution of forces encountering other forces; for example the “combat attrition” is the game itself and not resolution in every particular encounter.

Let’s advance a few centuries and bump into what becomes the genesis of the hobby, the game of war, and the use of a map where military forces will manoeuvre against each other.

for the
Representation of Military Manoeuvres
with a
War-Game Apparatus

That image is the cover title for the rules manual to conduct exercises using a map and pieces representing different types of antagonist forces. It was developed throughout the end of the 18th century, manufactured into a complete set offered to the high command officers school, which then, by request of the King and Crown Prince, was adapted to be able to accommodate topographical maps.

It also needs to be said that the original format of portable, fast, abstract, square grid, wasn’t abandoned and it generated also the family of games of war ( not wargames ) we could call “stratego games” but is a misnomer given the original game was called L’Attaque ( I made reference to it in the previous Anabasis post ) – a game very similar to the chinese chess, more than the european chess, that simulates a battle between two armies.

It is also of note that Hellwig’s game of war is an interesting bridge between the ‘stratego’ approach and the ‘kriegsspiel’. The map is expanded and the different pieces acquire capabilities regarding the features in the map and also against different types of pieces. Only a blind person wouldn’t see that Tactics 2 is a Hellwig’s on flaming wheels. ( why reinvent the wheel, just put some better tyres ).

Johann Christian Ludwig Hellwig’s “Attempt to build upon chess a tactical game which two or more persons might play.”

Back to the Manual for the Representation of Military Manoeuvres Using a Map by the Reisswitz dynamic duo.

The fundamental set of rules is the 1824 edition, in both formats of using the Apparatus and using a topographic map, gave way to a plethora of set of rules and games you can think of as being in the origin of the hobby, directly and indirectly.

Hobby representations of war as envisioned by Phil Barker, Tony Bath, Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Don Featherstone, and many many others from those generations, all drink from the 1824 Kriegsspiel pedigree, namely;

von Reisswitz, George Leopold creates the 1812 prototype, that uses an apparatus with tiles to create any maps.

von Reisswitz, Georg Heinrich Rudolf Johann perfects the rules his father created and publishes the 1824 rules which see the usage of topographic maps.

After that we can go to the von Tschischwitz 1862 “update” by including all the novelty technology into the rules – railroads, telegraph, etc.

It is a procession of versions following, British, American, and all the Naval variants, Jane’s War Games and then Stevenson and Wells did eventually create their “home games”.

Their foundational work and all the commercial side during the first half of the 20th century opened way to the post world war 2 commerce boom and we must call focus on the so called “pioneers” of the second half of said century, which originated all the wargames movements – cardboard, miniatures, roleplay. All the pioneers in the hobby did bump into any one of the ‘kriegsspiel’ editions during their pursuit of leisure gaming.

It is the big bang that originates the necessary divide. No longer a professional exercise but a leisure pursuit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s