The first sophisticated wargames (military board games) were developed between 1770 and 1830 and are models of military conflict. Designers of these early games experimented fruitfully with different concepts that were formulated in interaction with the external dynamics of the military systems that they tried to represent and the internal dynamics of the design process itself. The designers of early wargames were confronted with a problem that affects all models: the trade-off between realism and simplicity, which in the case of wargames amounts to the trade-off between realism and playability. I try to show how different game concepts were developed as an answer to this problem, and how these seemingly arcane concepts form a relevant topic of investigation in the history of ideas. Moreover, a direct offshoot of this conceptual experimentation between 1770 and 1830 was the ‘free’ German wargame (Kriegsspiel), which became an integral part of German operational planning in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, thus adding another chapter to the story of the influence of ideas on human history.

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Keywords History of ideas 1770–1830, models and simulations, Napoleonic wars, philosophy of war, wargames
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Journal History of European Ideas
Schuurman, P. (2017). Models of war 1770–1830: the birth of wargames and the trade-off between realism and simplicity. History of European Ideas, 1–14. doi:10.1080/01916599.2017.1366928