The British Army's 'Game of War' circa 1890 coming up for auction
By Ben Coxworth
August 20, 2010
If you’re a fan of the military strategy game Risk, then you definitely might be interested in this: on October 13th, Bonhams Auction House in London will be selling off an “extremely rare” copy of The Game of War, a complex military board game dating from 1890. Unlike Risk, which is played for amusement and to shed excess friends, The Game of War was designed to be played by real military officers, to train them for the upcoming First World War. It was based on Kriegsspiel, a war game invented by Lieutenant Georg von Reiswitz in the early 19th century for training officers in the Prussian army. If you’re interested, however, be sure to stop by the bank machine on your way there – the game is expected to fetch between UKP1,500 to 2000, or US$2,330 to $3,100.
The Game of War is played on a map drawn on a scale of six inches to a mile, and the troops are depicted by small slate blocks, one army colored blue and the other colored red. At the time, tactics hadn’t changed much since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, as is clear from the inclusion of mounted cavalry and horse artillery units in the game. Machine gun units are also included, although there are only six of them. Presumably, the designers hadn’t anticipated the large part that machine guns would end up playing in World War I.
The description we received from Bonhams describes the package as a “mahogany box (with key) comprising: 600 red and blue slate gaming pieces representing the infantry, cavalry, mounted infantry, horse artillery, sappers and machine gun units, two ivory rulers, two pairs of compasses, two ivory scales, two brass scales, two ivory dice, two pairs of calipers or ‘nippers', a red leather covered shaker, yellow, red and blue pegs, and a wooden ruler.”
The buyer also gets a letter of authenticity from the National Army Museum, and a copy of the instructions. If you’re planning on an intimate one-on-one evening of the The Game of War, though, be aware that a few other people will be required. According to the instructions, you will need two officers to represent the commanders of the opposing forces, subordinate officers to command any detachments of importance from the main body, an umpire, two assistant umpires, and an officer to keep a journal recording the progress of the operations, time of the dispatch and receipt of messages and losses.