2.2 War Games

Note: This is an excerpt from a draft of my thesis, A Computer Model of National Behavior. The introduction and table of contents are also available

2.2 War Games

The simulation of opposing forces representing different groups of people is as old as humanity. War games are a good example of this activity. James F. Dunnigan notes that “Given the lethal nature of actual warfare and man’s penchant for self-preservation, it is quite possible that some form of war game occurred before the first organized war.” Greg Lastowka elaborates that “The very first time a ‘battle plan’ was discussed, debated, and refined, a crude form of war game took place.”

The oldest existing simulations involving popular conflict are only a few thousand years old, but they may be much older. Chess, through its ancestor Chaturanga, is often considered the first example, but there were older similar board games in both Asia (in China and India) and the Mediterranean Littoral (Greece, Rome, and Egypt). In particular, Kowlawski reports Latrunculi was probably played during the Trojan War and had a striking resemblance to Go, which is a now a popular game in east Asia.

It was not until the 17th century, however, that more detailed simulations developed. According to Lastowa, Koenigspiel was developed in 1664 by Christopher Weikhmann. Weikhmann defended this “king’s game” as “a compendium of the most useful military and political principles.” Later variations of Koenigspiel would expand to 1,666 distinct land areas, each with its own terrain and other attributes.

There would be further developments in this field, including Kriegspiel and Tactics. “Kriegspiel” means “war game,” and it was devised by Prussia and played widely during the Wars of German Unification. Tactics was developed by Charles S. Roberts and simulates a conflict between Post World War II superpowers. As modern militaries grew in complexity most simulations shifted focus to supply and distribution of armies in the field. In the words of Dunnigan:

“Much of the “gaming” that took place at the behest of the military after World War II was more operations research (OR) and systems analysis than the study of history. The study of past military operations, and history in general, which had formed the basis of the earlier wargames [sic], was very much neglected.”

Slowly the board game simulation of history fossilized. However, as this research began to peter out, computer scientists and psychologists working on artificial intelligent systems were approaching the model from a different direction.

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