Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Wargames on film and TV: Game of War

This was Channel 4’s attempt to make Kriegsspiel into a spectator sport. Unfortunately it did not work very well and only lasted for a single, short series of three programmes.

Details from the programme's opening credits.
The programme was hosted by Angela Rippon, assisted by Iain Dickie (who gave general advice about tactics), Arthur Harman (who acted as combat umpire), and Paddy Griffith (who acted as the player liaison umpire).

From left to right: Arthur Harman, Iain Dickie, Angela Rippon, and Dr Paddy Griffith.
Three battles were re-fought by eminent modern-day British generals (both active and retired) who were in turn assisted by professional military historians.

The umpires' map was a three dimensional representation of the battlefield, and the position of forces deployed by both sides were indicated by differently coloured and shaped plastic playing pieces.
A close-up of the plastic playing pieces.
The two opposing commanders and their staffs had a two dimensional representation of the battlefield to work with. Differently shaped and coloured plastic plaques indicated the positions of their own troops and those of the enemy that they could see.
The battles were:
  • Naseby
  • Balaklava
  • Waterloo
It was a valiant effort to make wargaming interesting to the general public, and the interaction between the commanders and their ‘staffs’ was very interesting – for example towards the end of the Battle of Naseby both sides thought that they were about to lose – but there was insufficient spectacle for the average viewer. It was also unhelpful that the programmes were transmitted quite late at night.


  1. Figures and bases painted up and nice terrain on the boards ... this was a dressed up board game and not miniatures ... which always catch the eye!

  2. Frankfurter,

    I suspect that the reason that they did not use painted figures and proper terrain (as was used in CALLAN: THE MOVIE) was due to small budget the programme makers had to play with.

    Had they used something with more visual appeal it might have attracted a few more viewers.

    All the best,


  3. I can remember being quite disapointed by these programmes (although I watched them all!). I can't believe they couldn't have rustled up some decent figures and terrain on loan if they had tried, perhaps they thought toy soldiers would not make the thing serious enough.

    That other programme that used computer graphics for the battles was a better attempt, what was that one called?

  4. Stryker,

    As I said in reply to Frankfurter, the use of proper terrain and painted figures would have made it look so much better ... and the cost would not have been much greater.

    The other programme you mention was called TIME COMMANDERS. This used ROME: TOTAL WAR as its game engine. It was a bit better because it had 'live action' (well, computer animation) as well as talking heads.

    What is interesting is that the teams were drawn from people who worked together or who shared a common hobby. I know of at least two teams of wargamers who were turned down ... because they were wargamers and might have some skill.

    What the producers wanted was people who would make a mess of things, not people who could show how they could win a battle by being good generals and commanders. I suppose that would not have made for 'good' TV.

    All the best,


  5. I have these 3 shows on video somewhere. I quite enjoyed them at the time but I remember there was quite a lot of criticism in the wargames magazines. I agree it could have been so much better with the use of figures and I agree that the programme makers could have v easily contacted a number of gamers who could have supplied the necessary terrain, figures etc. I suspect however that a decision was taken early on to use blocks etc and this was influenced by the umpires etc. Still a worthy effort.


  6. Guy,

    I also have videos of the three programmes, and have watched them again quite recently. My feeling is that they were a good idea that could have been done better.

    All the best,


  7. Ah yes Bob,

    "Game of War" - or "Men in Cardigans" as we called it. Arthur told me that they didn't even get to keep the cardigans.

    Enjoy the Le Strange break - by all accounts you both need it.

    Merry Christmas


  8. Tone,

    I remember Arthur making that comment! I think that blazers were considered as an option for the umpires, but were rejected on teh grounds of cost!

    The break will be very welcome by both of us as things have been very trying over the past few weeks. A bit of R & R is a definite 'must' at the moment.

    All the best,


  9. I too remember those programmes Bob. I actually recall feeling rather cheated that they hadn't used figures for the games.
    By the way, perhaps my only claim to fame is when Paddy Griffiths' troops gave my armies a sound thrashing in a postal campaign way back. I think I lasted about 3 weeks in the game that's all.
    Oh, the shame!


    PS. Have a very Merry Christmas!

  10. Steve,

    As I have written before, these programmes could have been so much better for only a little more time, effort, and money.

    Paddy is an interesting character. I have known him (on and of) since 1980, and I have been Treasurer/Membership Secretary of Wargame Developments since he founded it. Although Paddy and WD parted company, he has kept in touch and will be coming to COW2010 in July. It will be nice to see what sort of wargames he has been designing recently.

    All the best (and a Merry Christmas as well),


  11. Is there any way to see this series now? I can't find any way to watch this series. Sorry for commenting in an old blog but I've been wondering about this for quite a while.

  12. Draykoh,

    There have been several attempts to get these re-released, but to no avail.

    I understand that copies do exist in private hands, but getting hold of a copy is problematic.

    Sorry that I cannot be of more assistance.

    All the best,


  13. Hi Bob.

    Fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing the info on 'Game of War'.

    Like Draykoh, I'd love to see these programmes. I come to this from having gotten similarly intrigued with 'Battleground', an earlier and - from the perspective of most figure-based wargamers I thinks it's safe to say - more successful attempt to bring 'little wars' to the small screen.

    I was, in the end, successful in attempting to view 'Battleground', and have now started to post a short series of blog articles on it, episode by episode (excluding those that have been lost), which I hope might be of interest, and can be found here:

    It's a shame 'Game of War' sank without trace. Personally I quite like the idea of a more Kriegspiel type approach. To my mind there's a kind of dual-layer irony at work, however: the command and play structure in a Kriegspiel game seems, to me, more realistic, and yet, both as figure-based gamers and just for general viewing purposes, a game with 'proper' figures and terrain is both more visually satisfying, and, even when the game is played 'Battleground' style (with near omniscient eye-in-the-sky generals) - here's the irony - looks more realistic.

    I think I share the view that, when presenting something like this for TV, the visual side needs to have more appeal; but the Kriegspiel style game mechanics - I would love to have seen how these played out, and how they were managed (physically) - remain, to my mind, a fascinating subject.

    I can see, from having looked at the late Dr. Paddy Griffiths' homepages, that he was quite focussed on this more realistic Kriegspiel style approach, through his work with real military personnel: was he to this series what Gilder had been (Gilder's credited as 'technical consultant'!) to 'Battleground,' i.e. chief 'fixer'?



  14. Seb Palmer,

    I am very pleased to read that my GAME OF WAR blog entry was of interest to you. As I knew both Paddy Griffith and Arthur Harman, this series was a 'must see' for me. I have rather poor-quality copies of the three programmes on DVD, and watch them from time to time.

    I never saw any of the BATTLEGROUND series, and I am looking forward to reading your blog entries about the programmes.

    I doubt that wargaming will ever feature again as a subject for a TV series unless it can be made more viewer friendly. Perhaps a combination of Kriegssiel and figures - and some well-know and knowledgable 'talking heads' - might work.

    I don't know what role Paddy played in the making of GAME OF WAR, but I suspect that it was not as central as Peter Gilder's was to BATTLEGROUND.

    All the best,


  15. This post is as pertinent today as then, certainly given WD's re-interest in Paddy recently ;)


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