Gaming by e-mail

(Or at least how I do it.)

The basics

My idea is to give players a sense of the problems facing a general commanding a regiment to division level force in the early 20th Century. Not all the problems, naturally, since you do not have to be tired, hungry, shot at or stressed by superiors in order to play – though it might help add to the realism. No, just the issues of trying to achieve a mission when faced with incomplete or inaccurate information, recalcitrant subordinates and realistic time delays.

The basic idea is that of Kriegsspiel, except that the players will be much lower level commanders than historically associated with those games. Partly this is because few actions in the Pygmy Wars pitted more than a division a side, but mainly because it allows the players much more direct contact with the troops – they can see them much of the time, even if it takes some minutes (or hours) for messages to be relayed. The games have more of a table-top wargames feel, and less of a board-game one. It also allows us to ignore anything other than the most elementary issues of book-keeping, supply, engineering or reporting through command structures – the games are not "campaigns" but battles.

Most games are based on historical actions. That means few encounter battles and that not all games will be even. Therefore while a side will have more or less clear objectives, and obviously some chance of achieving them, there will be no victory points calculated and no winner or loser – just a result. I keep scenario surprises to a minimum: what might add interest to a table-top encounter – third parties, unexpected reinforcements etc – are likely to be as annoying as they are unreal. Of course there will be lots of surprises, it is just that they will arise from the players actions and the troops reactions, not from nasty tricks embedded in the scenario. Examples will be posted to my scenario section of this site, after I have used them.

No prior wargaming experience is required, although an understanding of how the military worked in 1919 and the capabilities of troops and weapons is an obvious bonus.

Game mechanics

My intention is that a player should be able to do anything his real life counterpart might do and nothing he could not, except when I bend this rule a bit in order to increase the players enjoyment. The mechanics of the game take third place behind these requirements for fun and historical accuracy.

There will be only one player per side (although people are welcome to play as a team, the scenarios do not suit command structures of real people).

Game turns, once the fighting starts, generally represent about 20 minutes of elapsed time and a game will likely take 12 to 20 turns. Players can send their orders in whatever format they like, including sketch maps. I prefer to have a move every day (except at the weekends) or every other day. A quick-moving game is much more immediate, and also makes it much easier for participants to fit a game into whatever real life "windows" are available.

A commitment to sending orders in on time is the only thing I ask, because delays are annoying. Since a move will normally only take the players a few minutes, it is more a matter of committing to doing it rather than taking hours of the day. The book-keeping element is basically zero at the players' end.

Fog of war

I provide to the player information he might reasonably have – written, visual and oral – and at the same time as he would actually get it. The situation reports that a commander gets will reflect what the officers below him know and if he needs other information then he will have to act in order to obtain it. If the commander can see a battle in front of him, then I will supply a photo which represents that (within the limits of how much toy soldiers can represent reality, of course).

Since a general's staff is, in essence, an extension of his will, players will have a larger radius of action than a single person could manage. This includes the ability to receive and issue more orders in a move than one person could manage. But if a general ventures away from his HQ support – to scout personally, inspire the troops or lead a charge – then his ability to issue written orders will be correspondingly reduced (not to mention the difficulty of messengers finding him). Still, a player can charge at the head of his cavalry without losing all control, because he can choose to leave his staff behind to run the battle.

Part of doing everything a commander has to do is all the small things omitted from normal table-top encounters: setting scout-lines, communicating with HQ, determining sleeping quarters and such. Your subordinates can be expected to organise themselves sensibly within the limits of their knowledge so long as you provide basic guidelines – you do not need to micro-manage every decision – but if you do not issue orders then you will have to live with the choices your subordinates make.

External links

There is quite an active little kriegsspielling community in England. Elsewhere players are more scattered. Lots of information about this and other Kriegsspiel related items is at:

External link: Kriegsspielorg.