These days it's easy to look at tabletop wargaming and think of it as nothing more than a geeky hobby, but if you look back far enough you'll see that its origins are a bit graver. In the 1800's, Prussia was renowned for fielding one of the most effective fighting forces ever seen on the European battlefield. Superior officer training contributed a great deal to their fighting prowess, and part of that training was playing a game called Kriegsspiel.
Kriegsspiel simply means wargame in German and there were many versions being played in the 19th century. Inspired by chess, dice rolls and variable terrain were introduced to create realistic scenarios where conditions weren't always optimal and officers had to consider different variables. The Prussian army specifically used a version of Kriegsspiel created in 1824 by Lieutenant Georg Leopold von Reisswitz to train their officers. The game has been expanded upon, reworked, and re-imagined many times since then, but for now we'll focus on the 1824 version.
There are a few elements of Kriegsspiel that any tabletop gamer will recognize. The game is played on a grid and terrain is modular. Similar to a game master in role playing games, Kriegsspiel was meant to be played with a confidant who acted as an impartial judge and declared the victors of each match. Other elements include color coded armies, uniform rules for movement and combat, timed turns, different movement speeds, and rules governing communication between officers and their men. The game was designed to be played by up to ten players and there were even rules for ordering the hierarchy. To reflect actual combat, if certain units couldn't see each other, their controlling players were not allowed to discuss strategies or issue commands.
Kriegsspiel was played purely as a military exercise so there isn't a story imbued in the rules. However, considering the time period, it's the perfect game to use if you'd like to reenact a particular battle from the 19th century or play a historic fantasy campaign of your own design. Of course, as with all tabletop gaming, there's nothing to stop players from coming up with truly unique lore to set the scene.
Where to find it:
Considering that the game is nearly 200 years old, it might be a little difficult to find let alone people to play with. The first step you should take is picking up a modern publication of the rules. The 1824 version is currently owned by Two Fat Lardies and can be purchased for ten British pounds. Blocks and other game pieces can be purchased from Irregular Miniatures LTD (click the "Base and Kriegspiel blocks" link on the leftfor fairly low prices. If you're feeling a little lost or confused with the game, Kriegsspiel News is an online community dedicated to playing Kriegsspiel and maintaining an active community. With all these in hand, all you have to do is find a buddy willing to try out a centuries-old wargaming system and you're good to go!