Thursday, 31 March 2011

Polemos: The search produces results!

The search for more details about POLEMOS has seemingly developed a life of its own, with numerous emails flying about between interested parties, including some of the staff of RUSI (the Royal United Services Institute).

John Bassett – another stalwart member of Wargame Developments and an Associate Fellow of RUSI – has been doing some research, and found an abstract from the eighth international colloquium of the International Society for Board Game Studies, which was held at Oxford in 2005. The abstract is from a paper about JAQUES BOARD GAMES, 1850-1900 by Richard Ballam. It states that:
In 1885 Polemos (second edition) was played at the Royal United Service Institution and awarded a prize medal at the International Inventions Exhibition.
He has also found some excellent photographs of what appears to be a complete POLEMOS game on THE GAMES BOARD website.

Nick Huband has also been pursuing his researches into POLEMOS and found an article from THE TIMES that was seemingly reprinted in a New Zealand newspaper, dated 1885. The article states that:
Under the name of Polemos, a new war game has been invented, and was exhibited at the offices of the United Services Gazette, the other day. It may be described as a kind of military chess, and can be played on a dining table on which is spread a cloth which is marked off in two-inch squares and representing a battlefield ten miles by five. The "pieces" are made of lead, and represent each arm of the service. The players have each an equal number of pieces, and reserves in boxes, and a very instructive game may be played by two or more players. In the game just played no obstructions like rivers, bridges, hills or forests were used, but the inventor explained that these can be added when desired, so as to represent with tolerable accuracy a real battlefield. The moves are sufficiently simple to enable young officers to play the game with very little practice, and the combinations often become sufficiently intricate to interest even field officers. The Mechanics Institute should at once send home an order for a complete outfit for the game of Polemos.
It appears that a Lt.-Col. G.J.R. Glünicke – the author of THE CAMPAIGN IN BOHEMIA 1866 and THE NEW GERMAN FIELD EXERCISE – was also the author of the wargame.

I have also not been idle, and found the following article in a copy of the OTAGO DAILY TIMES of 1899. It states that:
A new wargame called “Polemos” has been invented by Dr Griffith, of Brighton. A sheet, divided into inch squares by red lines, is spread on a table, each inch square representing 440 yards. Under this are built up hills or downs; roads, rivers, woods, enclosed grounds, bridges, but not ravines or valleys, are laid out from a map or from fancy, so that the nature of the terrain can be varied illimitably. Towns or villages are represented, and all arms of the service are shown by little coloured leaden blocks. A curtain hides one side of the sheet from the officer commanding the other. He makes his dispositions in secrecy, but is allowed to see a mile and a-half into his enemy’s lines, unless he gains the top of a hill, when he may see three miles. When the troops come into contact gains or losses are claimed by this side or that, and the umpire awards them, although an umpire is not necessary as at the ordinary war game. In fact, the game decides itself. There is no element of chance in it. A move has its consequences, as at chess and in actual warfare. There would seem to be, in a word, as endless an opportunity of combination as in a real campaign. But the objection made to the war game has been applied to Polemos. It is more apt to teach strategy than tactics, and minor tactics scarcely enter into it. At the same time it lends itself to dash, decision, “nerve”, as well as caution, foresight, and the calculation of consequences. The maps in a war game have to be in triplicate, or, at the lowest, in duplicate. A model necessarily occupies a great deal of space. Polemos can be played on an ordinary dining table. The whole apparatus is packed in a box 18in by 12, by about 10in, and it costs only £4 15s. It has, it is stated, been adopted at the Cadet College of Prussia. The game seems to be best played by two persons, but it would be more useful if played by three a side – one to plan, one to execute the movements, and one to learn the moves and the rules, so as to be able without further instruction to take his side in playing the game on some other occasion. Since the game was shown at the Royal Military Exhibition at Chelsea the rules have been much improved.
This article seems to be describing a war game with the same name as that produce by Jaques of London, but it may be a later derivation or possibly even a competitor.

All-in-all, the more I find out about POLEMOS the more my interest grows, especially as my own original portable wargame bears a passing resemblance to that featured in the photographs John Bassett has unearthed.

16 comments:

  1. Interesting info; reminds me of a game I have called Field Command. Grid, with a plastic relief of hills on the board. Plastic guns,infantry and cavalry, general. Bases are of differing geometric shapes and pieces are placed with a dividing screen. Moves for each turn prewritten. Object to remove enemy general.
    Evidently, " grids are good ! "

    Don

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  2. Brigadier Dundas,

    I have never heard of Field Command, but it does sound similar in concept to 'Polemos'.

    As to grids being good or not ... well my opinion is more than a little biased!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  3. I'm really intrigued with this thread. It seems that it was a game on 'modern warfare' for the original audience.

    This game was around about the time Gordon's last adventure in the Sudan took place. Surely some gentlemen attempted to refight the failed rescue on the tabletop.

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  4. Good work! I've seen the picture of the game being played before and the components but it had slipped my mine, especially the grid aspect.

    Very interesting!

    a game in a box indeed!

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  5. Paul Leach,

    You are absolutely right about the significance of the date; I had not realised that in all the excitement of the hunt!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  6. Ross Mac,

    At times over the last few days, I have wondered if Joseph Morschauser may have trod this path ahead of me. The similarities with his gridded game are not lost on me, and I suppose that he may well have seen an edition of 'Polemos' (or one of its copies/competitors) at some time in his youth.

    Or was he like us? He had seen the picture, 'stored' it in his memory, and then 'forgotten' it ... only for it to come back to him at a later date as a 'thought'.

    We will never know.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  7. This is coming along very nicely - great work. The photos on the Game Board website look tantalisingly close to being readable. I don't know if all the pages of the rules are shown, and there is some cropping at top and bottom, but it might be possible to enhance it.

    I'll have a look at this later today.

    The photo of the box cover is familiar - somewhere I've seen either the game or a picture of it. I think it must have been a picture - if I'd seen the actual game, even as a kid, I certainly would not have forgotten it!

    Tony

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  8. Well, that certainly didn't work. Tried various colour replacement and sharpening filters on the pictures, but basically the resolution just isn't high enough. I can sort of guess what some bits say, but can't actually read it.

    Sorry about that - not to worry, at present rate of progress, someone will come up with an original set of rules sometime tomorrow!

    Tony

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  9. MSFoy,

    Doing the research and pulling together what other have found out has been a very interesting exercise, and has sparked off a lot more interest than I thought that it might. Looking for old wargames is a bit esoteric, even for old wargamers like me!

    I have tried enhancing the photos of the rules, but I cannot get them clear enough to read. I must admit that the box art is new to me, but the style looks very familiar.

    Nick Huband has tracked down the name of the owner, and is trying to contact them in order to get a photocopy or scan of the rules so that they can be reproduced.

    If we can do that, it would only be a short step to reproducing the whole game so that it can be shown at the 180th anniversary of the foundation of RUSI. The figures are very like those manufactured in 40mm-scale by Irregular Miniatures, and the cloth and terrain should not be too difficult to copy.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  10. @MSFoy I have just tried a bit of trickery with the images but can't get anything close to readable (except for section headers). I hope you have more luck.

    It is interesting that the descriptions mention "lead blocks" but the pictures show miniatures. Do we think this is a jazzed up (pre-order?) edition or that the description just referred to them as blocks anyway?

    Or have I missed something?

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  11. MSFoy,

    I think that my response to your first comment about trying to enhance the images of the rules on the Game Board website 'passed' your second one somewhere in the ether.

    If we can get hold of a scan or photocopy of the rules, they will be worth recording or putting somewhere on the internet for future generations of wargamers.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  12. Il Cattivo,

    I think that this game underwent considerable development and/or change over the several editions that were published, and that this might be one reason for the confusion between the use of lead blocks in the descriptions and miniatures in the photographs of the game equipment. I am also of the belief that there might have been two similar games with the same name in circulation at about the same time, and that this might also be a reason for the confusion.

    The ‘Polemos’ game illustrated on the Game Board website – and the rules that were used with it – seems to be the same as the ones featured in the old ‘Illustrated London News’ picture, and this is the game I am trying to find out more about. From information I have received today, it would appear to be the wargame designed by Dr Griffith of Brighton, and not that attributed to Lt.-Col. G.J.R. Glünicke … but until I have some firm evidence I cannot be 100% sure.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  13. Bob.
    I saw this picture some years ago, and sent for a photocopy of the ILN article from the British Library. That article attributes the game to Dr Griffith.
    If I can locate the photocopy, I will transcribe the descrition of a game in progress, which is shown in the small inset map, and email it to you.
    I, too, would dearly like to see the original rules!
    Arthur

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  14. Arthur1815,

    If you find the article and can make a transcript of it for me, I would be very grateful.

    I don't know what the rules will be like - if we are ever able to get a copy - but even if they are over-complicated and unplayable, having a sight of them will be worth all the effort.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  15. Bob
    This is indeed fasciating stufff- it would indeed be great to see a scan of the rules and have a go...
    best wishes
    Alan

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  16. Tradgardmastare,

    The ultimate goal for me is to get a copy of the rules and to try them out ... even if they are unwieldy or over-complicated. They are a link with the origins of modern wargaming, and as such they need to be recognised and preserved.

    All the best,

    Bob

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