Saturday, May 25, 2013

War games: never just child's play

A new exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood explores the history of playing at war.

The exhibition's earliest exhibit is a simple German board game, based on fox and geese, called the Art of Beseiging, from the start of the 19th century. Children played at war before then, but this period marked a dramatic change. Games have always mirrored technology, and real war was changing fast. Gunpowder weapons had become too powerful for armies to practise on manoeuvres as they once had. Leaders came up with solutions. In 1780, an adjutant to the Duke of Brunswick wanted to create a new version of chess that reflected contemporary battle conditions. His board had 1,617 squares, rather than 64, with varying terrains and many new pieces. This kriegsspiel (literally "war game") was very popular, and over the next decades the Prussian general staff developed their own variants. Superior generalship is widely agreed to have been one of the main reasons for Prussia's defeat of France in 1870-71, and gaming was, by then, a big part of Prussian leadership training.

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