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I've seen many TV documentaries on historical conflicts where actors representing the leaders would gravely look at a map with tokens for military units, reminiscent of WWII air defense situation rooms, while there was a voiceover from the narrator. The same visual trope is used in fiction, as in these two examples from Game of Thrones, but my question is about the use in documentaries.

  • It seems that by the 17th century, tactical plans with unit symbols were written like this one on Marston Moor, 1644, but those were plans before battle and not situation maps.
  • Likewise, maps were created after the fact like this one for Nieupoort, 1600.
  • To me, maps from the late middle ages would appear unsuitable for tactical visualizations, but that could be a gap in my knowledge. Renaissance maps were probably good enough, at least for the defender, but not everything that could have been done was done.

So the question is, when did military leaders in the field start to put units or ships as tokens onto a map and to move them around?

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    Your Marston Moor map was clearly drawn up after the battle. The article "Marston Moor" by C.H. Firth in the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society Vol. 12, 1898. pp. 17-79, says "Its elaboration and its finish seem to show that it was completed some time after the event; but it was probably based on some sketch made at the either by De Gomme himself or by the Prince." – kimchi lover May 2 at 20:19
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The Prussian army first developed the concept of kriegsspiel - German for war game - early in the 19th century. In 1812, Prussian nobleman George Leopold von Reisswitz improved the earlier wargame using coloured blocks. The prototype used a sand table of damp sand molded for terrain; but the official version presented to the king used porcelain tiles stored in a wooden cabinet.

Prior versions were much more abstract, using chess-like pieces and board though representing actual military units and terrain.

More links for Kriegsspiel:

  1. How Kriegsspiel changed the history

  2. The history of Kriegsspiel and its successors

  3. The origins of kriegsspiel

  4. The origins of wargaming

  5. Nineteenth Century wargaming

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  • A good data point, but were they the first? And did they use it for training or in command posts? – o.m. May 2 at 16:00
  • Yes they were first. What part of "The Prussian army developed the concept" was unclear. Okay - I've added "first" to remove all ambiguity. – Pieter Geerkens May 2 at 16:01
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    Wikipedia is useful but not the end of all knowledge. Concepts can be developed independently several times. – o.m. May 2 at 16:03
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    @o.m.: I'm well aware. I only use Wikipedia as a convenient summary source when I know the general facts to be true. Every old-time wargamer since the 1970's that I've ever met knows the history of kriegsspiel. – Pieter Geerkens May 2 at 16:04

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