The Marriage of Art and Sport
The Royal Court– Painter: Sean Weeks – Photography: Sean Weeks
From a Prussian lieutenant dumping sand onto a table,* it’s not hard to see why luscious glens and painted trees entered the modern hobby, Hellwig’s wargame introduced a thirst for realism, but Reisswitz broadened our horizons in terms of what a game could look like. Miniaturized representations of homes, fields, and terrain take that pursuit of realism to its logical conclusion.
(* Please see addendum below.)
The Re-Emergence of Kriegsspiel as Entertainment
The Quest for Realism™ still holds a lot of value for some. Game systems like Flames of War have taken the torch from Reisswitz, modeling their rules after real-world armies and conflicts. Games like the infamous Campaign for North Africa require over 1000 hours, more than a dozen players, and enough bookkeeping to stretch the skills of an actuary.
Gradually, however, the Quest for Realism™ relented (in no small part due to Campaign for North Africa, although I can’t prove it). A kriegspiel was allowed to be pure entertainment. People indulged in re-enactments, not just real-world conflicts. They branched into Napoleonic warfare and other time periods.
Over time, they even swapped out riflemen for orcs, cannons for dragons, and wizards for generals. There’s no firm point at which this happened, and that’s in part due to the niche backwaters to which the hobby was often relegated. Before the Internet, the communities for things like anime and wargaming were cloistered affairs. There was no unified face for wargaming in the same capacity as, say, film. Plenty of prototypes for sci-fi and fantasy wargames probably existed in trade magazines or as prototypes. At best, though, these reached a few dozen players.
But there was definitely a general trend away from “military simulation,” although these entertainment-focused wargames retained the fondness for terrain and representational playing pieces.
The best evidence of this shift is the game Chainmail, which rocked the nascent industry in more ways than one.
Picture of the Cover of Chainmail – Site: Google Culture
Conventions were the earliest vehicles for sharing ideas among wargamers. In 1968, one such event coalesced in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Its name? Gen Con. Yes, that Gen Con.
A convention-goer named Gary Gygax encountered a medieval wargame called Siege of Bodenburg. Bodenburg‘s designer, Henry Bodenstedt, shared the rules with Gygax — something that would never occur in today’s corporate world.
From Bodenburg’s four pages of rules, Gygax engineered his own game, Chainmail. Instead of hewing to the more low-fantasy Bodenburg, however, he borrowed characters and concepts from fantasy authors like Tolkien and Robert E. Howard. Gygax then propagated Chainmail through enthusiast magazines with a small, dedicated audience.
The Birth of Dungeons & Dragons
People tinkered with Chainmail in much the same way that Gygax had done with Bodenburg. Fresh approaches came and went. The best and brightest of these, though, was Dave Arneson and Gygax’s Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, that Dungeons & Dragons.
The wargame became a roleplaying and narrative game, and it brought some props with it. Initially, the earliest rules suggested the use of dice on gridded paper as placeholders for characters, but players drew on the modeling and wargaming hobbies to replace dice with the more lifelike wargaming figures. Miniatures became a staple for the game.