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Wargaming (often called conflict simulation or consim gaming - see ConSims) is simulating battles or entire wars

A typical uncomputerized wargame consists of

  • map - showing the terrain over which the battle/war was fought
  • units - representing armies, military units or individual military personnel
  • dice - generally used to add the element of chance. Given that many military actions have been influenced or even decided by odd events, straight-forward strategy games such as chess and go may be considered too abstract to represent real war.

Board wargames typically use cardboard counters to represent the units, and a printed mapboard as the playing surface. Miniatures games typically use miniature plastic or metal models for the units and model scenery placed on a tabletop or floor as a playing surface. Computer wargames may take either approach and display the units and scenery on the monitor screen.

Wargaming should not be confused with so-called real time strategy computer games because wargaming is generally turn based (an obvious exception being 'in-the-field' wargaming by military organizations). Wargames focus on the ability to analyze in-depth, plan to achieve a goal, and adjust plans to changing circumstances. Real-time-strategy games (which might better be called vastly-speeded-up-time-strategy games) focus more on reflexes, coordination, and the ability to make snap decisions with limited information.

Modern wargaming grew out of the military need to study warfare and to 'reenact' old battles for learning purposes.

H.G. Wells' book Little Wars was an attempt to codify rules for fighting battles with toy soldiers (miniatures), and make them available to the general public.

Wargames have existed for centuries, with chess as an ancient example. In fact, one could make the case that all competitive games which have a winner and loser may be considered wargames.

Wargames, like all games, exist in a range of complexities: some are fundamentally simple (so-called "beer-and-pretzel" games), while others (generally in an attempt to increase the 'realism' of the situation) produce rule sets that may encompass a large variety of actions (so-called "monster" games).

One of the main difficulties with wargaming is the level of complexity of rules and record keeping. Extremely detailed wargame rule sets (some of which require hundreds of pages of small print and intensive recordkeeping) generally result in a slow (and for many, less enjoyable) game. Simple rule sets, on the other hand, may not cover events that historically took place in a conflict, forcing the players to invent "house rules" to resolve disputes.

Computerized wargames have several distinct advantages over paper and pencil wargames:

  • no need to roll dice over and over again
  • no recordkeeping (the computer handles all the 'paperwork')
  • ability to start, stop and save the game at any time (if you have no need to coordinate with a human opponent). Note that this is also possible with board games, as long as no children or animals have access to the game area...
  • easy to find opponents on the internet

Disadvantages of computerized wargames:

  • computer may not be as competent as a human opponent
  • lack of human interaction (of course the computer won't tip over the board if it is losing..)
  • computer arbitration allows more complex rules, which can be more difficult to understand and analyze; especially since these rules may be "hidden" from the player(s)in the software code.
  • ability to view only a part of the battlefield in detail at a time
  • player(s) can't easily modify the rules or adapt them to similar situations

Computer wargames are often played against human opponents via e-mail (by exchanging save-game files) to provide the human interaction and a more interesting opponent than that of the program. This has the disadvantage of taking much longer to finish the game, depending upon how often the players check their e-mail. It is still much quicker (and easier) than the previous method of playing board wargames by postal mail. A faster alternative (not available with all games) is playing over a direct connection, either LAN, modem or Internet.

Types of military wargaming:

  • land battles
  • sea battles
  • air battles
  • combinations of land, sea, and/or air battles

Usually, military wargaming can be broken down based on what technology is available to the 'armies' involved, what military era or war the 'army' is from, and the scale of the conflict.

Popular military wargame timeframes:


  • Strategic - units are typically division, corps, or army size; they are rated based upon raw strength; economic production and diplomacy are significant; typically involves all branches, and often the entire forces of the nations involved; cover entire wars or long campaigns
  • Operational - units are typically battalion to divisional size, and are rated based on their average overall strengths and weaknesses, weather and logistics are significant; typically focuses on one branch, with others somewhat abstracted; usually covers a single campaign
  • Tactical - units range from individual vehicles and squads to platoons or companies, and are rated based on types and ranges of individual weaponry; almost always focuses on a single branch, occasionally with others abstracted; usually covers a single battle or part of a large battle
  • Skirmish - units represent individual soldiers; may keep track of wounds and ammunition; usually covers a small firefight

External Link:
James F. Dunnigan, one of the leading commercial wargame designers, has placed the 2nd edition of his book The Complete Wargames Handbook on-line. It presents a broad view of wargames including professional military simulators, commercial simulations, and real-time-strategy games, as well as the turn-based wargames more commonly referred to as wargames.