The Game of War by Guy Debord, translated by Len Bracken

Reprinted from"Guy Debord: Revolutionary", Len Bracken, Feral Press, CA, 1997, pp240-251


This Kriegspiel puts into play the operations of two armies of equal strength. Each one seeksm by maneuver and battle, the destruction of the adversary's army while being oligated to cover the resources on its territory (indispensable for waging a campaign) and to protect the freedom of its communications.

The whole of strategic and tactical relations is contained in this 'Game of War' according to the laws established by the theory of Clausewitz on the basis of classical XVIIIth Century warfare, which were prolonged by thge Revolutionary wars and those of the Empire. Thus the nature of tactical units - on foot or mounted - (their conventionally fixed offensive and defensive strength, the proportion of diverse types of units in an army and the support that they can have), also proceeds from this historic model.

I. The Terrain and Goal of War

The Game of War is played on a terrain of 500 squares (25 x 20), divided by a parallel frontier running along the longest side. Each territory this has a depth of ten squares. The asymmetrical terrotories of the armies have two arsenaal squares each, three fort squares, a montain pass square and nine montain squares. Mountains are untraversable and block fire; they block lines of communication between the armies and their arsenals or transmission units.

Each side can freely position all its units in the interior of its territory. One unit occupies one square. The initial deployment of each army is chosen not knowing the disposition of the adversary; at least one of the two side must write down the placement of all its units on a map, which is places on the terrain after the other side has positioned its units.

The first turn is chosen by a roll of the dice. Each turn is constituted by the movement of five freely chosen units (combatants or non-combatants) and by the attack, resulting from this movement, of an enemy unit that finds itself about to be enagegd.

One is always permitted to abstain from announcing an attack. Likewise, an army can move less than five units, or even none.

The goal of each army is the complete destruction of the military potential of the other. This result can be obtained by destroying all combat units, or by taking both enemy arsenals (an arsenal being placed outside use as soon as it is occupied by an adversary's combat unit).

II. Combat Units

Each army, at the opening of hostilities, has 15 combat units - the breakdown is as follows:
9 infantry regiments
4 cavalry regiments
1 foot artillery regiment
1 mounted artillery regiment

The marching speed of each unit is 1 square per turn for infantry and foot artillery, and 2 squares for cavalry and mounted artillery. Each unit can move in any direction. The units that can move two squares per turn, can move in a straight line or in a diagonal, or even by one square in a straight line, then another in diagonal, or vice versa, But the only restriction is that they can only move through empty sqaures. One is allowed to move these rapid units only one square per turn, according to available opportunities.

Each units tactical strength is defined according to each type of arm, which is different depending on whthere they are attacking or being attacked. This tactical force is expressed, in diverse situations, by numerical coefficients.

Infantry regiments have an offensive coefficient of 4 and a defensive coefficient of 6. The defensive coefficient reaches 8 when it occupies a mountain pass, 10 when garrisoned in a fort.

The cavalry regiment has an offensive coefficient of 7 when it charges, which is to say when it is in immediate contact with the square occupied by the enemy that it attacks. Its defensive coefficient is 5; it is not raised if the cavalry unit occupies a mountain pass or a fort. Beyond the charge, cavalry can be employed as infantry in attack, and its offensive coefficient is thus 4.

A cavalry charge is the addition of the offensive weight of all cavalry units aligned horizontally, vertically or diagonally in a series of squares (not necessarily with continuity) behind a unit placed in immediate contact with enemy units. Cavalry can't attack, by a charge, a unit of any king that is entrenched in a mountain pass or a fort.

Artillery regiments (mounted on foot) have an offensive coefficient of 5. Its defensive coefficient is 8. This defensive coefficient rise to 10 when the artillery is placed in a mountain pass and to 12 when it is a fort.

The shots of all units -as well as those of cavalry - operate in a single line (vertical, horizontal, diagonal) with the square occupied by the target unit. The offensive or defenisve reach of the artillert is 3 squares in all the colums around it. The firing range of the infantry is 2 squares. The reach of a cavalry unit deployed defensively (or employed as infantry in attack, which is to say when it doesn't make contact with the square under attack, be it immediate contact or be it by the intermediary of another friendly cavalry unit) is also 2 squares. The offensive reach of the cavalryt when it charges ina single column can attain 4 squares for the last of its four regiments, thus the offensive coefficientr is felt up to the square arrived at by the first. But if the first regiment is counter-attacked on the next turn, it will not be upheld other than by its own defensive coefficient, except bty those of the wto units that follow - the fourth finds itself out of reach.

III. Shock Tactics

To attack an eenemy is to concentrate fire on the square that it occupies, or in the case of cavalry, it''s the charge of a terrain number of units witrh reach of that square.

Add up the offensive coefficients of all units in a sutuation to attack a square. The add up the defensive coefficients of all adversary units in position and within reach of fireof the same square under attack (including the unit occupying the square under attack). If the total figure of offensive force is less than or equal to that of defense, the unitr resists. If the offense is two or more points greater, the target is destroyed, and the destroyer must occupy the empty square. If the offense is only one point greater, the target must abandon the square it occupies and this alkwats the first move of the five moves of units of that side's next turn. The unit fired upon, can't be in an attack for the next move.; its offensive coefficient can't counted that time with the other units of its side and thus is so even if if finds itself within reach of the adversary iunit that will be attacked. Finally, if a unit is dominated by one unbit in aan attack and is incapable of leaving its square becuase the neighbouring squares are occupied by the other units, the unit is destroyed.

The obligation to provide for the best defense of each unit is imposed by the fact that a prolonged inferiority in a tactical shock leads to a unilateral material weakening. This quantitative weakening, in every case strategically disasterous, can sometimes be quickly transferred on the tactical scheme, in irreversible qualitative inferiority on the front of engagement, as soon as the number of the total offensive force of the army has undergone its losses and fallen too low to permit any effective counter-attack.

IV. Communications

All offensive and defensive value and the entire mobility of a combat unit is absolutely subordinated to the necessity for it to stay in communication with one of the arsenals of its side. This communication represents the transmission of orders and information and arrival of supplies and munitions and accounts for the internal coherence of the army. An arsenal can only be used by the original side- it can't be conquered to be used, only destroyed to depriove the adversary of it.

A unit doesn't march or fight if it doesn't remnain on squares in direct or indirect liasion wityh one of iuts arsenals.

Direct liaison with is when each arsenal can communicate with its army by alignment of squares (vertical, horizontal, diagonal) than fans out from it (no limit on reach) except when blocked by mountains.. For example, all forts are aligned oin squares that relay to one of its side's arenals. One whatever square on its line, this line of communication can be relayed by a transmission unit of the advanced mobile echelon of tyhe arsenal, which is itself sent in liaison (with unlimited rangfe) in all the alignments of squares fanning out from the square it occupies temporarily. A second transmission unit, if plaxced on a square relayed to the first unit of transmissions of its side, re-sends, in turn, the liaison in the same way from its square.

Each side has a foot transmission unit that moves 1 square, and one mounted that moves 2 squares. These non-combat units have no offensive coefficient and their defensive coefficient is 1 (with a range of two squares). They constitute a good target objective for the adversary so it is good to keep them out of range, if isolated, or protect themm with sufficient force from the combat units. The transmissions units theonly ones capable of moving without liaison with an arsenal, but all moves made this way are done so without relay power.

Indirect liaison is when each combat unit is in liaison with all other combat units in contact with itl that is placed one of the eight squares that touch it. This communication is understood by all units of the same side in contact with one of the other units. Thus, for an army of detached corps where all units touch square-to-square, it must be and it suffices that one of the units is in direct liaison with an arsenal or a transmissions unit.

A combatant unit can move up to a square where it won't be in liaison. But there (if this liaison isn't reestablished by contact with another unit that is in indirect or direct liaison with the arsenal, or by movement of a transmission unit that reopens the line of communication) the isolated unit is immobile and deprived of all offensive and defensive force - it can be destroyed without resistance by all enemy units within or who move into range. Meanwhileevery unit that stays in liaison and finds itself in range to cover an immobile unit with its shots, lends the immobile unit its defensive coefficient.

A line of communication is cut by all enemy combat units placed on whatever square on the line for as loing as it is there.

A liaison broken by the presence of an enemy unit on the line of communication can be reestablished directly if the intercepting unit leaves the square (by itself or if destroyed) or if the transmission units reopen lines oif communication via another alignment of empty squares. The liaison can be reestablished indirectly by friendly units that are free to move and who re-tie the liaison with units with units with whom the communication had been cut by reaching any square immediately next to one its units.

If a maneuver of one side surrounds all or part of an enemy array, this side can, at the beginning of each of its moves, uses its attacks to destroy, without encountering any resistanmce, one of the surrounded units within reach of its shot. Resistance can't respond with its remaining units, except when liaison is reestablished. In the case of a detached corps that is surounded by an enemey who is interposed on all practical lines of communication, the last resort is to try to free it before its complete destruction byt means of an 'army of rescue' composed of friendly troops who could remain or be replaced in liaison - they must try to pierce the enemy front and make a junction with the surviving units.

Given the vital strategic importance of communications, the strategic goal is often a maneuver against the communications of the adversary rather than an offensivve run successive;y against its two arsenals. This situation also influences tactical engagements and the order adopted in the battrle in its diverse moments, to position itself well for defense and ocunter-attacks, but also cover the lines of communication. An army can, even before its numerical equilibrium is broken, find itself in a disequilibrium situation beciase oits lines of communication are menaced. An army whose lines of battle are confused iweth the lines of communication quickly loses its tactical hold in the engagement and soon runs the risk of being partially or totally surrounded. The destruction of only one unit can creat a break in liaison for any part of an army, which will be lost if the contract can't be re-establsihed. This result of the tactical engagement on only one quare is susceptible to bringing about big strategic consequences.

This keeping the placement of one one of the arsenals is the necessary condition for a side to fight and win. It's best to keep both for as long as possible even if than means changing the lines of operation fo the entire army or comhinng the operations of detached corps operation on distinct bases.

V. Particular Conditions

The destruction of an arsenal can be assimilated in an attack. As soon as one side occipies an adversary arsenal by one of the five moves or its units the blow in which this move was made can't bring an attack against another square. Theonly way to destroy an arensal is to occupy it when it is empty of all adversary units. When an adversary arsenal is occupied by an enemy unit, this unit must first be destroyed. On eth following turn, the empty arsenal can be invaded.

A transmission unit, being deprived of offensive value can only destroy an arsenal by occupying it. Likewise, contrary to the combative units, a transmission unit doesn't block the line of communications of the enemy by occupying a square.

A cavalry unit, plaxed in a fortress, can't attack in a charge except by leaving this square. However, a cavalry unit can charge from a mountain pass that it occupies.

An arsenal is like other non-mountainous squares, and imples no adjunction nor limitation to the tactical employment of units.

A fort, regardless of whose it is, can be used by whoever occupies it: from the moment an enemy unit seizes it the tactical defensive addvantage of the fort goes to trhat unit. Contrary to arsenals, forst are never destroyted and can change hands several times during a battle.

The territoiry of the eastern mountain, in its greatest length, oriented perpindicular to the border is called the 'North Side'. The white units are attributed to it.

If the two sides, after a large recipricol weakening, or for other reasons. simultanaeously renounce all offensive maneuvers, they can agree on a non-result without any further delay.

VI. On The Conduct of War

The Game of War, like war itself and all forms of strategic action, tyends to impose at each instant, considerations of contradictory necessities. Each side, to the extent that it knew how to keep its freedon of maneuver finds itself constrained to choose between operations in which it lacks sufficient means in space and time.

Spatially, on one side as on the other, and so long as no break in equilibrium has been attained, there are never enough forces. One can't protect oneself everywhere one should. Nor can one attack and supply one's offensive everywhere it wouyld be desireable, not even where neccesity to do so is imposed by the adversary. Temporally, the movements of an army are never as rapid as one would like (this represents the 'friction' that lessens all movements of war, the transmissions of orders and the inevitable delays ion execution).

One must often choose between opening quickly with few troops, or slowly with more trrops to the point where one will have to fight, Urgent movements are often required - making reinforcements march or moving transmission units - by tactical encounters when engaged in combat. Because in each attack there is the need to send the maximum units while assuming the best support against the subsequent move by the enemy, or in recalling the unit that the result of the preceding effort of the enemy had left open.

VII. Absent or Under-represented Factors

To comprehend all the implied uses of the present Kriegspiel it will be useful to consider the principal limitations.

First of all, the study of the summary application of the general theory of war introduces intended historical limitations: this doesn't represent ancient warfare, feudal warfare, nor modern warfare transformed by technology since the middle of the XIXth Century (railways, machine guns, armor plating, motorization, missile).

Three essential, and more troublesome elements of all wars are absent or under-represented becuase they don't appare to be able to figue in a conflict that is decided on a checkered terrain, and that excludes all exterior intervention of chance. These are firstly, climatic conditions and the alteration of day and night; secondly the moral and strength of troops; thirdly the uncertainity in regard to the positions and movements of the enemy.

In the unfolding of Kriegspiel all time is equal: the solstice of war where the climate never variess and night never falls before the inevitable conclusion of the conflict. This is a serious lack vis-a-vis reality. It couldn't be corrected except at the price of a loss of rigor in the schematic representation of the totality of the conflict processes.

The morale and strength of the troops are only summarily accounted for by the effect of instantaneous paralysis of the combative units of all units whose communications have been cut (including the garrison of a fort; so that the forts don't function as a barrier, but only a point of tactical support). In this sense, it's like the armies of the Seven Years' War which were directly dependent on their warehouses amd convoys, rather than those of the French Revolution. The limitation of the refative effectiveness of troops, and their irreplaceable character that makes them so valuable are linked with the miliatry model of the same epoch. One can also consider the offensive weight identified by the depth of a cavalry charge to have an effect on morale - Ardant du Picq having clearly established that a cavalry's action in real combat isn'y the mechanical result of mass multiplied by speed. The usury of morale, which always had the biggest effect in war (the usury of morale by generals), is suspectible to act jhere on the command of each army in a grand way. One is frequently given to exaggerate the consequences of a maneuver tha one sees sketcjhed by the adversary; although it might only be a fake. One can't effectively have the firm assurance if what to do (and nor even always when one has acquired a crushing numerical superiority) becuase, in certain circumstances, tyhe beaten army can still launch decisive operations on the communications of the victor.

Finally, this game is far from a total representation of war in that it doesn't maintain uncertainity in regard to the position and movements of the enemy, except its initial battle conditions, which one doesn't know; but the enemy can only reasonably choose betrween fairly few zones of concentration and its prudent to do likewise. A soon as the operations begin, one instantaneously knows exactly and confidently all the moves that are made bythe adversary one is facing. "The east knows what the west is doing" that is it has to strike (thus the cavalry doesn't have an exploratpory function here; only shock effect, pursuit, or raid capabilities).

These restrictions being formulated, one can say the Game of War exactly reproduces the totality of the factor that deal with war, and more generally, the dialectic of all conflicts.

Each side must strive to keep the initiative and compensate for insufficiencies in the speed of concentration on a decisive point where one must be strongest because strategic victory doesn't succeed except if it can claim victory on a tactical engagement. Defense is itself the strongest - tactically and strategically - bit only offense or at least a counter-offensive can obtain success.

Defense can't remain static, except temporily on a few highly localised positions, which give it the means tou counter-attack. As the offensive develops, it goes towards its point of culmination, be it when it encounters superior forces that require it to turn into defensel be it when the ocunter maneuver of the enemy begins to make its effect felt on distant lines of communication. This counter-maneuver can be repulsed in turn by the direct defense of friendly troops who block access to that line of commuynication. or by an indirect defense that menaces the flank of the enemy counter-offensive. The limits and combinations are fixed by lack of effective and the lack of time for the execution of this or that movement.

It is favourable to extend one's front to meance the flanks or rear of the enemy, but the concentration of battle forces is the most imperios necessity. The defeat of the enemy is a major battle is the most direct path for triumoth in the ensemble of a camoaugn, becuase this defeat can lead to the defeat of an entire defeated army, or at least to an irreversible numerical weakening. If a concentrated army interposes itself betrween corps of enemy troops that are seperated, one of them risks being completely destroyed without the other being able to help: and an army spread out on a thin linecan be pierced, which can bring anbout the preceding situation.

It is advantageous to attack the adversary's communications, protecting one's own, which may be extended. If undertaking a maneuver with a detached sorps of troops, this corps mus t have offensive and defensive strength to oblige the enemy to oppose it with a sizable faction of its forces, But if the detached corps is too well reinforced, it dangeously diminishes the tactical resistance of the main body, which is the point of maneuver. A detached corps should remain so far the shortest possible time, and it constitutes a stronger strategic menance if it marches quickly, and will normally be composed of mounted units. But these mounted units are also the shock units, thus the main body of the army can't go completely into battle if the enemy captures them, Plus, these strong offensive units are defensively weak if caught by the enemy and without the infantry for support (the infantry support, which could be adjacent to them, would slow their march). This difficulty is undelined by the fact that the two sides have few arms. The combative forces are limited to the smallest army possible for maneuver and battle. Such an army tied up in a vast territory, authorizes the use of detached bodies that can obtain decisive victories, but at big risks, because the army wouldn't be able to wage war in good conditions without the recipricol support brought by those units.

Parallel to trhis is the tactical engagements of two armies that are completely reunited. It is best to maneuver to the enemy's flank to close in one his lines communication or to obtain a concentration of fire surrounding a wing. But the eneru can use the occassion to do the same on the opposing wing: 'What turns is turned'

The faction of an army which, having been locally dominated in an engagement, will find istelf too weak to continue to mount counter-attacks, will go into retreat to obtain higher concentration, or will try to retire to its reinforcements, or towards a stronger position. For example, a mountain pass or a fort. The victorious army should pursue the loser if an engagement to augment the total number of losses until the loser is reestablished. But this victorious army can only march in echelons of five units in each move so that theu mainatin contact with the retreating army; they risk being counter-attacked by the army that regains its superiority in the concentration of its forces and wants to regain the initiative as soon as it can. As the right momesnt when the tactical exploitation of engagement stops, one must launch the exploitation of victory, for example, by operating against arsenals and lines of communication of the enemy, as a function of the new situation created bythe retreat his army , and by the enemy's numerical inferiority, because the enemy's losses had been heaviest after the miment when the balance of power turned against the enemy.

In the Game of War, there are numerous bad dispositions and maneuvers, but none of the best maneuvers on which one can decide, at least as long as there remains a certain equilibrium of forces and positions, is assured of being good. It will become so or not according to what is done or not by the adversary. A degree of inattention is present in both sides, and the best calculations, depend largely on the modifications introduced by the unforseen succession of replies by the adversary, and the responses they they in turn create, all more or less correctly understood, and above all more or less well executed. The permanent interaction of tactics and strategy can bring about surprises and reversals- sometimes at the last instant. The principles are steadfast, their application is always uncertain.

This is a war of movement - sometimes momentarily frozen on a static front, in the defense of a pass or fort - where the territory has no interest in itself, but only by tactical or strategic positions that are necessary to an army or harmful to its enemy. One can occasionally with without battle, and even win with only very few partial combat situations. One can also win by frontal attack without maneuvers. But oustdie these two extreme cases, one normally employs a series of maneuvers, combats, and a principle battle, followed by new maneuvers. In the principle battle, maneuver is usually in the form of envelopment, retreat and moves against communications.. One must not spare troops or maneuvers, nor dispense of them vainly. He who wnats to keep all, loses all. However, he who lets himself lose more than his adversary can no longer contest the adversary.

Principle Map Board

A twenty five (1-25) by twenty (A-T) grid. Mountain chains exist from 10-C to 10-I with a pass at 10-F. The range also traverses from 10-C to 13-C. A second range runs from 11-N to 16-N and from 16-N to 16-R. There is a pass at 16-O