Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Braunstein - A Question From Ed

Vrisa and Chirine discover why Harchar's 'package cruises' are so cheap...

Here's another question from you, Gentle Readers; Ed writes:

edowarsblogAugust 4, 2014 at 1:40 PM

Chirine, thank you for the series of posts on Braunstein style games. I've only recently heard about this style of game and I find it quite fascinating. I'd very much like to run such a game sometime, whenever I can find enough space to set one up.

It sounds like most Braunsteins are scenario driven events, but have you any experience running an ongoing campaign-style game? Perhaps something where players represent entire kingdoms instead of small groups? I'm just curious whether a Braunstein format would be suitable for such a game. Thank you.

You're welcome! We do a lot of specific scenarios for Braunsteins, mostly because it is simply easier to do the larger 'public' events that way.

Yes, I do have a lot of experience with running these as part of a larger campaign; it's the way we used to do campaigns here in the Twin Cities in the 1970s and 1980s, usually at either The Little Tin Soldier Shoppe or at Conflict Simulation Association meetings at Coffman Union. There would be an over-all referee / GM - called a 'controller', in Tony Bath's book on how to run these campaigns - and players would pick a country to play. After that, it was up to them to run their little nations, to raise their armies, and get into trouble.

There was a very popular game out at that time called "Diplomacy", and this - with "Kingmaker" - was the basis of many fun campaigns. The players would send each other notes, and get together in the back corners during games to negotiate and plot with each other. Quite a few deals were made in Coffman's stairwells, for example.

The over-all Braunstein approach to the campaign would generate some wonderful miniatures games, and these in turn would be Braunsteins of their own. The national commanders of the various armies involved would have to recruit the other players to be their subordinate commanders on the table, and this process was fraught with peril - could you trust the guy not to do something that would mess you over, but benefit his country?

It was delightful, really. Think the battle of Bosworth Field, where Richard the Third found out just how far he could trust the Stanleys - NOT! - and many other real-world battles. Working from this, Phil did his own campaign setting, "Megarra", and this had all of the same elements of the classic Braunstein that the table-top battle version had.

Campaign games are fun, and I think you'd really enjoy this!!!


  1. Thank you so much for addressing my question in a specific post. Of course, it raises even more questions.

    It sounds as though battles between kingdoms were resolved as mini-Braunsteins, is that correct? Or were battles resolved on a more macro level, something like a game of Risk or, as you mentioned, Diplomacy? Maybe a bit of both, depending on circumstances?

    Was the campaign map drawn on hex paper, or laid out on a table much like a scenario-driven Braunstein? I assume in a campaign game much wheeling-and-dealing went on between players during 'off-hours,' between official sessions, as well.

    I've heard of Kingmaker and Diplomacy but have never played either game. In our circle, Diplomacy had a bit of a reputation as a game you don't play with friends...at least, not with people you wanted to keep as friends.

    Thank you again for this series of posts. It's opened my eyes to a whole new style of gaming, and I can't wait to give it a try.

    1. Thank you, once again! This is fun!

      Generally, battles were fought out on the table - that was mostly the purpose of the campaigns, to generate battle scenarios.

      Campaign maps could be drawn on hex paper, if somebody wanted to pay for it - this was back when sheets of the stuff were rare and expensive. We used a lot of 'real world' maps, from the UK Ordinance Survey and the US Coast and Geodetic Survey; the important thing was that the map had a grid, so the referree / GM could place units and people on the map. This is what Dave Arneson did for his adventures, with the 'Outdoor Survival' map.

      I'm delighted that you like this series, too!

      - chirine

  2. Sorry I have not written sooner, but I have been reading your articles eagerly. Some of the games we play are very Braunstein in nature, but perhaps without the subterfuge. We play many colonial and dark ages games and have had great fun playing these. My own persona in the dark ages games is "Odo the Unwashed" a recent convert to Christianity somewhere in the far reaches of Scotland. Or is it the Danelaw? We never pinned it down really! I think the best aspect of these games is when a common soldier survives wave after wave of hideous attacks and survives to fight another day! Keep up the great posts!

    1. Hear! Hear! You have our style of games nailed down nicely! Wonderful!

      - chirine

  3. Hi Ed & Jeff,
    I live on the west coast of the USA. Yes, we played Kingmaker and especially Diplomacy during my younger years. They are "watch for the back-stab" games (or expect the "vacillating ally" games).

    In our RPG group in the 1980's we only had one person come from the wargame hobby. I had an interest in wargaming from an early age but had no funds or players to engage in the hobby.
    But our wargaming player brought to our RPGs what you call the Braunstein approach, though we never called it anything but a campaign, in the late 1980's and 1990's. We just saw it as a normal extension of our gaming, knowing that RPGs had it's roots in wargaming. Generally, we had skirmish games with each faction having cross-purposes.

    In our later battles involving larger forces, we usually reduced the battle to a skirmish level, since we lacked the miniatures to game a large battle. The ratio of the forces were kept at the skirmish level. The results of the skirmish generally determined the outcome of the larger battle unless there was a "best of out some" number of skirmishes.

    And as Jeff notes, your commanders were other players from the other countries/factions in the overall game. So, there was always the nagging thought of whether they were helping or hindering your battle. But, you knew that if they did you wrong, there would be a opportunity to repay in a later battle involving their interests.

    1. Excellent comments - thank you for helping out with this!!! You're point about campaigns is exactly right; they were the same for us, both in miniatures and in RPGs. Phil's Tekumel game sessions were always referred to as "Phil's Tekumel campaign", for example.

      Great points!!! Thank you!!!

      - chirine

    2. That point about commanders being players from other factions was intriguing. I was thinking of a kingdom-level campaign, but interspersed with dungeon locations to which kingdoms could send expeditions (kingdoms need gold, and dungeons seem to be a good source of the stuff).

      Of necessity players from different factions would participate in the delve. So, do they play to keep their character alive, or try to undermine the expedition? Another alternative would be to just treat the entire dungeon as a mini-braunstein event.

      Not sure how it would work out in practice, but I think it'd be fun to find out.


    3. I'd try it - it's fun to watch as it happens, and take notes. Half the fun in these games are the after-action reports!

      - chirine