[Debord, Guy]. Le Jeu de la GuerreParis: Les Jeux stratégiques et historiques, 1977 [but 1978?]. White cardboard box; 36 x 28.5 x 3.5 cm. First “commercial” edition after a limited metal edition (3 or 4 copies).

This is the only copy we have seen in the trade or at auction. We locate a single OCLC copy at the BnF in Paris, part of Guy Debord’s archive.

Physical description

The box contains:

Game rule: 23 p.; 22 x 26 cm.; black ink on white stock
Game board: 55.5 x 44 cm.; black and white squares
Games pieces: 34 round-shaped wooden pieces

Inspiration

The Game of War is a Clausewitz simulator: a Napoleonic-era military strategy game where armies must maintain their communications structure to survive – and where victory is achieved by smashing your opponent’s supply network rather than by taking their pieces.

 

Game history

Le Jeu de la Guerre (The Game of War) is Guy Debord’s foray into the world of war games. In 1965, he filed a patent for Kriegspiel, which he had invented in the 1950s. In 1977, Guy Debord and Gerard Lebovici created a new company – “Les Jeux Strategiques et Historiques” (Strategic and Historical Games) – for the sole purpose of commercializing Le Jeu de la Guerre. The same year, three or four metal prototypes with silver-plated copper tokens are produced by Mr. Raoult, a Parisian artisan.

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Although a commercial edition was to be released in 1977, it faced delays: “By the end of June, 1978…Debord finished drafting a written copy of the game rules. ‘I am sending you the rules soon,’ he wrote to Lebovici.’ The juridico-geometric writing style has cost me innumerable headaches.’ (source). In 1978 – but perhaps several years later – a hand-crafted trade edition is released. While it is unclear how many copies were produced, it is believed to have been a “very small number”: the game quickly sold out, and was not re-released for over two decades (source).

In 1987, Editions Gerard Lebovici released the book Le Jeu de la Guerre: Relevé des positions successives de toutes les forces au cours d’une partie, the annotated account of a single game between Debord and his wife, Alice Becker-Ho. Alexander Galloway, an NYU scholar who has been researching Le Jeu de la Guerre for many years, believes that Debord played South (source). The book was re-released by Gallimard in 2006 but, just like the 1987 edition, it did not include the actual game.

It was not until 2007 that Atlas edition published the first English translation of the book, the work of Donald Nicholson-Smith. This was also the first edition (since the original release) “to be accompanied by a game-board and counters allowing readers to play “at home” according to the rules given.” (source)

In 2008, a computer version of the game was made available for free by the N.Y.U-based Radical Software Group, or RSG, under the original name Kriegspiel. According to RSG, this was”an attempt to reinterpret Debord’s ideas in the contemporary landscape, while maintaining a fidelity to his original thinking.” (source). The same  year, however, Debord’s widow sent cease-and-desist letters requesting that Kriegspiel be taken off-line. The game is now shown on the RSG website as “relaunching soon” (source).

Today, The Game of War is played around the world. Class Wargames regularly schedules gaming events, and even created a 27-minute film inspired by the Game of War (see here)

Game overview

The game uses a mapboard containing 500 squares (25 x 20) divided in two by a border line. Each territory has 2 arsenal squares, 3 fortress squares, and 9 mountain squares (blocking movement,shooting and communication lines). Setup of units (infantry, cavalry, artillery, horse artillery) is free and secret. At his turn, each player may move up to 5 units and/or attack. Aim of the game is to completely destroy the enemy or conquer his 2 arsenals. No dice: combats are resolved taking into account the attack/defense ratios of the opponents (unit retreats from -1, and is destroyed from -2) Communication lines are critical. (source)

More detailed rules available at RSG 

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Sources

The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/05/05/war-games-4

Liberation: http://www.liberation.fr/ecrans/2008/03/17/le-wargame-de-guy-debord-in-situ_67435?page=article

RSG: http://r-s-g.org/kriegspiel/about.php

Board Game Geek: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/27323/le-jeu-de-la-guerre

Etienne Mineur: http://www.my-os.net/blog/index.php?2012/08/01/1660-le-jeu-de-la-guerre-un-wargame-de-guy-debord

Atlas Press: https://www.atlaspress.co.uk/index.cgi?action=view_eclectic&number=5

Class Wargames: http://www.classwargames.net/?p=1636

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