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A genre of board games centering around the simulation of warfare, either based on real conflicts or fantasy scenarios. Some games include highly detailed miniatures and maps; however, most games of this genre consist of one or more maps of the theatre of conflict, a variable number of unit counters (small square pieces of heavy cardstock with printed numbers and symbols representing military units, as well as markers of various sorts), and rules with accompanying tables and charts. The most important such table is a "Combat Results Table", giving a set of battle results calculated according to the numerical odds of attacker versus defender; the players roll dice and compare the resulting numbers to the table to see how the battle came out. Table wargames can focus on any level of battle from literally man-to-man combat (e.g., the Squad Leader series) to whole army groups or fleets. Expansion Packs with different scenarios are also common.
The Ur Example is probably Kriegsspiel, literally, "War Game," which was created by two Prussian officers, Lieutenant Georg Leopold von Reiswitz and his son Georg Heinrich Rudolf von Reiswitz. The game was widely played by the Prussian officers of the 19th Century, and after some stunning Prussian victories, military officers around Europe. It was Serious Business; kriegsspiel was endorsed by the General Staff of Prussia as an invaluable teaching aid. Kriegsspiel was the Trope Codifier for a lot of conventions used by current military thinkers, military historians, war gamers, and table top role players. It codified the colors red and blue for enemy and friendly forces, respectively, the use of maps and minis terrain, detailed movement rules and turns, referees and game masters, specialized dice, the block symbols for units, table quarters, Loads and Loads of Rules, the Random Number God, the core rulebook, Rule Zero, and so on. It was so influential that it is still available today. A great many of the concepts used to create training simulations for modern officers and table top wargames today would seem completely familiar to the Reiswitzes, even despite technology they could never have imagined.
During the 1970's and early 1980's, several companies (chief among them Avalon Hill, Simulations Publications Inc., and Game Designers' Workshop) produced literally hundreds of games covering every era of warfare from the ancient period to science fiction and Alternate History. These games ranged in size from tiny "folio" games with perhaps 100 counters and maps no larger than a standard sheet of paper, to gigantic "monster" games with 9 or more 22" x 34" maps and thousands of counters. By the end of the 1970's, the biggest "monster" wargames (for instance, SPI's "Campaign for North Africa") were so complex and unwieldy that they were pretty much unplayable as actual games in the traditional table format. (Of note: Role Playing Games, in their pencil-and-paper-and-rulebook format, first became popular in the late 1970's. There used to be some amount of tension between devotees of board wargaming and RPG players.)
From the early 1980's on, the advent of PC's resulted in wargames mostly transitioning to the realm of electronics, since it was much easier to program the often-complex math required to accurately simulate many military events than to try to create tables and charts for table wargames. Even so, there is still a hard core of dedicated map-and-counter-and-dice wargamers and companies to serve them.
- Warhammer and Warhammer 40000
- Dragon Dice
- Tactics, and its successor, Tactics II
- Memoir 44
- Axis and Allies
- Advanced Squad Leader (and other games with the same basic system, from Panzerblitz onwards)
- Campaign for North Africa
- War in Europe
- World in Flames