A Game of War
Le Jeu de la Guerre
Guy Debord and Alice Becker-Ho playing Kriegspiel in 1977. Photo by Jeanne Cornet via Cabinet
After he disbanded the Situationist International in 1972, one of the obsessions that consumed Guy Debord was a board game he invented. Kriegspiel, or Le Jeu de la Guerre—German and French, respectively, for “war game”—was based on Debord’s reading of the military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. The London-based group Class Wargames describes Kriegspiel’s purpose concisely:
For Debord, The Game of War wasn’t just a game - it was a guide to how people should live their lives within Fordist society. By playing, revolutionary activists could learn how to fight and win against the oppressors of spectacular society.
So convinced was Debord of the game’s utility and revolutionary potential that, in 1977, he founded Les Jeux Stratégiques et Historiques (Strategic and Historic Games) to produce a limited run of Kriegspiel sets. Ten years later, Debord and his wife Alice Becker-Ho published a book about Kriegspiel, Le Jeu de la Guerre. Debord opens the sixth chapter of his memoir Panegyric with these reflections on his game:
I have been very interested in war, in the theoreticians of its strategy, but also in reminiscences of battles and in the countless other disruptions history mentions, surface eddies on the river of time. I am not unaware that war is the domain of danger and disappointment, perhaps even more so than the other sides of life. This consideration has not, however, diminished the attraction that I have felt for it.
And so I have studied the logic of war. Moreover, I succeeded, a long time ago, in presenting the basics of its movements on a rather simple board game: the forces in contention and the contradictory necessities imposed on the operations of each of the two parties. I have played this game and, in the often difficult conduct of my life, I have utilized lessons from it – I have also set myself rules of the game for this life, and I have followed them. The surprises of this Kriegspiel seem inexhaustible; and I fear that this may well be the only one of my works that anyone will dare acknowledge as having some value. On the question of whether I have made good use of such lessons, I will leave it to others to decide.
The Atlas Press English-language edition of Becker-Ho and Debord’s book, A Game of War, comes with a board and punch-out pieces, but Board Game Geek warns that this edition “has a faulty translation of the rules, making it more or less unplayable.” The Radical Software Group’s web version of the game has been down for some time. So if, like me, you enjoy using things without paying for them, the best bet seems to be Class Wargames’ printable boards, pieces, and battle maps. Their website also has the free book Class Wargames: Ludic subversion against spectacular capitalism, plus information about such radical board games as Imperialism in Space, which promises to give players “a critical understanding of the political and theoretical arguments of Vladimir Lenin’s famous 1916 pamphlet Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.”
After the jump, an explanation of Kriegspiel’s rules….