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I have read that Napoleon actively used to play strategy games with his generals in order to understand how they act in a range of situations. The generals also learned the same thing about each other. This meant that in a battle situation without communication between the generals, they were able to assume the behavior of the others.

I would like to know which games this was. I know that Napoleon played chess, but I do not believe that this gives much such knowledge because the situation is so domain specific.

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Dammit, I've seen discussion of this before and can't remember where. This information is out there. I'd try looking through some of the history of roleplaying and wargames articles that are around. –  Canageek Dec 18 '11 at 19:23
I believe it was Warhammer 40k –  Lohoris Dec 20 '11 at 14:21
The rise of the wargame as training aid was sometime after Napoleon, I believe as a result of the reform of the Prussian Army. –  David Thornley Jan 21 '12 at 4:44
this is a really cool question –  ihtkwot May 8 '12 at 20:01

2 Answers 2

As far as I know, David's correct - the wargame as we know it today was invented shortly after Napoleon's time by a Prussian man named Reiswitz.

Without knowing your source on this, I see three possibilities for Napoleon's wargames:

1) It was something like chess (variations were popular at the time), which could provide the psychological insight you describe even if it wasn't an accurate depiction of battle.

2) He discussed hypothetical military campaigns with his generals as if they were real, ie moving pointers around on a map, but without the elabourate rules that we associate with wargames today. Such meetings could have been described as games because they weren't preparations for an actual battle.

3) He did actually develop something like Reiswitz's game, and his version didn't catch on (either it wasn't as good, or because he lost the war).

(Option number 4 would be that I'm wrong, but that theory is always a last resort ;)).

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According to Napoleon: His Army and His Generals: Their Unexamples Military Career (Jean Charles Dominique de Lacretelle, Page 382), Napoleon played vingtun "21" (aka Blackjack) and chess when he was being taken into exhile. As a somewhat complex strategy game, it would be a telling example of a general's behavior, though I don't have proof that he played it with his generals.


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