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Digital Subscriptions > Tabletop Gaming > March 2019 (#28) > War & Pieces

War & Pieces

How real-life battles are being won and lost on the tabletop
Photographs by Scott Mansfield

The spray from the winter waters of the North Atlantic over your bow is frost cold. Only moonlight illuminates the Royal Navy destroyer moving to flank your cargo ship. Somewhere beneath the waves an Unterseeboot lies in wait, watching. Then the torpedoes strike.

During the Second World War Allied convoys were harried by Germany’s U-boat fleet. The wolf packs inspired dread among sailors who feared submarines were hiding beneath every wave. The U-boats also inspired one of the most important tabletop games of all.

Not Captain Sonar, They Come Unseen or even Battleship but a wargame run by a little-known branch of the Royal Navy which anticipated Kriegsmarine tactics and how to counter them. Naval command credited the game and the women who ran it with winning the campaign.

Wargames are used not just by hobbyists but military leaders themselves. It began in 1824 when Prussian generals designed Kriegsspiel, the original wargame. Tabletop simulations have guided global conflict ever since – from both World Wars to conflict in the Gulf – and the top brass are now ditching computers to return to the table. Can board games really be used to win wars?

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has published the Wargaming Handbook which reveals details of how the armed forces use games for training and planning.

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