Paddy Griffith's Sprawling Wargames
extract from Chapter 1 Principles of Game Design
In 1980 my book 'Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun' was published. It explained a number of ways to play wargames with toy soldiers - but it also showed some ways to open them out to other formats (1). Very soon afterwards I set up the 'Wargame Developments' (WD) organisation, which was supposed to explore innovative ways to play all types of wargame. (2) This led me on to the most intensive period of wargaming in my life - and especially my most intensive period of thinking, theorising and pontificating about the activity. This experience quite soon showed me that "You don't know what you don't know", and that there were huge unexplored areas all around the wargaming hobby. Eventually I reached the conclusion that the use of toy soldiers was a very inefficient and limiting way to play wargames. Therefore I unashamedly denounced the little fellows (3) - losing a number of my friends in the process. However, this Damascene conversion at least left me free to concentrate on more 'sprawling' types of game, in many different formats. The present book is about some of them.
This book is about wargames without rules (hence 'sprawling' rather than 'tightly regulated') that are designed to be played by more than two people. Let us analyse each of these elements in turn.
Sprawling Wargames for Multiple Players
In the first place I am talking about games about warfare, in one form or another. I am a military historian by trade and training, and so this is the subject to which I tend to return. However it is entirely possible to transfer the same method of gaming to more or less any other subject area, from High Finance to Yoghurt-making. I have myself run some diplomatic crisis games using a generally similar technique,(4) not to mention one memorable 'murder mystery' game with about 20 participants (including three 'detectives' who totally failed to gather any actual evidence, but nevertheless accurately identified the murderer).(5) It seems to be entirely open to the game designer to mould his game to his own interests and his own particular audience. (But if you want to know why anyone should want to play around with 'alternate history' at all, please go at once to Appendix III, below: "Alternate History - a few thoughts").
Secondly, the absence of rules implies the presence of active umpires, rather than the use a 'code of laws', or book of hard and fast regulations. This style of game is sometimes called 'Freeform' (6) or 'Free Kriegsspiel'. (7) The umpire(s) will have maximum freedom to interpret each situation as it arises, and then decide the outcomes - with or without the rolling of dice. In other words he or they will be 'inventing the game as it goes along', and will be encouraged to use as much creativity and inventiveness as possible. In this respect the umpire(s) will have a function similar to the 'Games Master' (GM) in roleplay games such as Dungeons and Dragons. (8) Clearly it is better to have well informed and competent umpires rather than any other sort, since they have to be the central 'animators' of each game. This, incidentally, includes a duty to ensure that the game amounts to a satisfying social event for most of the players, most of the time. (9)
Thirdly, the use of an active umpire means that the games can - and preferably should - have a 'closed' rather than 'open' structure. In other words the players will not be able to know everything that's happening 'on the other side of the hill', but will be fed only limited information upon which to make their decisions. They will not enjoy a complete overview of the battlefield 'as if from a helicopter', as they do in Chess or in tabletop games with model soldiers. (10) Instead, the players are divided into separate rooms in which they can take