You have to play these 1.600 Viking War Games

Her er en artikel om brætspil fra War is Boring, som får lukket utroligt meget ud om et spil, som vi ikke rigtig ved noget om. Den griber fat i ideen om, at hvis man studerer en given kultur/samfund/races kulturelle output, kan man forstå dem i krig. Det var ideen bag Grand Admiral Thrawns militære successer i Star Wars-romanerne The Thrawn Trilogy, men det spillede også en rolle i The Culture-romanen The Player of Games, og nu får en journalist og en ex-spook spundet en historie over det også. Jeg har omskrevet artiklen, da jeg finder at her tale om både urimelig historiespekulation (prøv at finde skriftlige kilder om brætspil i nordisk jernalder og middelalder -held og lykke) og ringe forståelse af spil og spilkultur.

You have to play these 1.600 Viking War Games

Especially if you’re a diplomat, soldier or spy, says one ex-spook

Elven warriors storm into the torch-lit camp of an orc clan. Outnumbered, the ambushed orcs are far from their dragon. Their one goal: to keep as much territory as possible.

At first glance, Small World (prounounced “Small World”) might just look like a knock-off version of chess with Flying Elves and Dragon Master Orcs, but the game is at least 1000 years younger—already well-known by 2009 A.D.—and is perhaps a lot more relevant to the conflicts of the 21st century.

“I love the asymmetry in this game. To win in this game, you absolutely have to think like your opponent,” emails Kristan Wheaton, a former Army foreign area officer and ex-analyst at U.S. European Command’s Intelligence Directorate. “Geography, force structure, force size and objectives are different for the two sides. If you can’t think like your opponent, you can’t win. I don’t know of a better analogy for post-Cold War conflict.”

The game is similar to chess, but with several important differences. Instead of two identical and equal opponents facing each other, Small World is a game where one side is surrounded and outnumbered—like a Viking war party caught in an ambush.


The game might seem unbalanced. The attacking Marauding Trolls player has 10 total pieces—known as “trolls”—to the other player’s meager and surrounded 7 Forest Dwarves. But the dwarf-player has several advantages.

Dwarf-player has additional ways of scoring points from capturing both forests and mountains, and even during decline dwarves scores extra points from mountains.

Other rules? All pieces can attack adjacent areas. One player makes the first move. Black can block off several mountains and forests by moving quickly, forming the equivalent of a medieval shield wall.

“If the dwarf goes as hard as he can as early as he can for the forests and the other side is not really on its toes, the non-dwarf side typically loses in just a few turns,” adds Wheaton, who now teaches intelligence studies at Mercyhurst University. “Among experienced players, however, this rarely happens.”

If lines are solid, they have to be flanked. Thus, it’s in black’s interest to force a symmetrical battle to force a likely win. If white can avoid engaging in a battle on black’s terms, then white’s chances of winning improve.

This was especially true at the time period this game was played, when battles were largely skirmishes and sieges, and before future tanks arrived on the scene. Two warring sides would sit opposite each other, fighting for territories, hearts and minds, until the loser was exhausted or eliminated.

“Small World seems to teach a number of lessons to young board gamers,” Wheaton explains. “For example, it takes at least two soldiers to ‘kill’ an enemy (elementary battle tactics?), territories are the most important elements on the board (reinforcing the social order?), and, surrounded and cut off, it is easier (in novice games) for the smaller force to win (morale booster?). Someone analyzing the boardgamers might learn a good bit about how they fight and what they value (and what they fear) by playing this game.”

That’s how, Wheaton notes, the game gives insight for generals, diplomats and spies tasked with fighting, besting—or at least—understanding what an enemy or rival thinks.

Small World is a board gamers worst case scenario: Outnumbered, cut off from their boats—and on the verge of being massacred. Understanding the game played by board gamers on the way to raid conventions of their booty meant understanding something about the way the board gamers saw themselves. The total time spent playing the game may have been more than any individual warrior spent sacking the conventions, for instance.

“I think the games cultures play can help intelligence professionals understand something about the way cultures think about strategy. Much of the language of strategy gets re-cast as the language of the game,” Wheaton adds.

“There is no U.S. military officer who would not know what his or her boss meant if the boss said, ‘we are going to do an end-run on them’ and no U.S. official would misunderstand ‘It’s fourth and 10 and we have to punt.’ These kinds of games produce a common strategic language that cuts across bureaucratic lines. The military and the State Department may not understand each other but they both understand American football.”

More than that, understanding the games people play might help you learn more about how they operate.

“I don’t want to make more of this than it deserves,” Wheaton wrote, “but it seems logical to me, if I am very interested in a senior board gamer at a game convention, to ask, ‘What games does he like to play?’”


Det er ikke et spørgsmål, om man kan lære noget om spil, men hvor meget man kan tillade sig at udlede om en hedengangen kultur gennem et sæt brikker, en spilleplade og et regelhefte. Ligeledes er det også let at psykologisere over et brætspil, men vi kan også erstatte brætspil med rollespil eller computerspil og tage øvelsen en gang mere – det er stadig en reduktionistisk øvelse – omend det er sjovt i fiktion.

Hvor meget kan vi udlede af spil om folk og om folks kultur?

Offentliggjort af Morten Greis

Historiker, etnolog, brygger, fægter, rollespiller, science fiction entusiast History and Ethnology, brewer and fencer, roleplayer and science fiction enthusiast

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