1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 23

Chapter 20

July, 1632

“Order Kameroff to take his battalion to the west.” Bernie grinned as the barely-bearded Russian wearing two stars on his collar moved his finger along the map, over a set of hills then northwest along a river. “He is to take dispatch riders and notify us at the first sign of the enemy.”

This was not the war games Bernie had played as a kid. There was no fog of war in Africa Corps, or the other war games Bernie played. There, everyone could see what the other side was doing. Not in this game, which had been designed by army officers instead of geeks.

“Yes, sir,” said the veteran with the graying beard halfway down his chest and a single bar on his collar. There was probably a bit of amusement in his voice. But if the “general” felt any offense at that amusement, he kept it to himself.

The “lieutenant” left to deliver the orders. The “general’s” sigh was barely audible. This was his first time in the War Room and he was clearly trying hard to keep up a good front.

It was Bernie’s first time in the war room, too. Bernie had told some of the guardsmen at the Dacha about war games and football last winter. He’d drawn plays on a slate, and a small hex grid map on another. The guards had been less interested in the football plays than in the grid map. Perhaps because the grid map war game was a game that involved dice. And in Russia, in winter, playing dice was something to do. Anyway, Bernie had spent many evenings with the guards and the serving maids building a simple war game for the guards to play and insisting that the maids should be allowed to play if they wanted to.

The guards gave in pretty easily. The girls were pretty, after all. The game was based on some battle that Ivan the Terrible had fought. The guards told Bernie the situation, how many troops of what kind Ivan had, how many the enemy had, the terrain, the supply situation, stuff like that, sometimes consulting with Father Kiril, a priest and historian, to get the details right. As they gave Bernie details, he would fold them into the game. The supply situation became supply units that had to travel back and forth to the front. Terrain was added to the map and restricted movements, till they had something approaching a working game.

Then Bernie had gotten busy with other stuff and forgotten about it. The guards, a couple of the maids and Father Kiril hadn’t. They had taken the game and continued to refine it, added other maps and other battles. The guards had told their friends in the Russian military about it and word had gotten to the generals, who in turn became interested in it as a teaching tool for young officers and some not so young. It had become quite the rage in the Kremlin.

General Mikhail Borisovich Shein, the hero of the defense of Smolensk who had avoided being the goat of the Smolensk War only by the intercession of up-timer records, said the games by themselves were the next best thing to useless, perhaps even worse than useless. Still, when combined with the experience of senior officers, they would allow the learning of war with much less loss of blood. So he had let them be played and even incorporated them, with modifications, of course, into the training of young officers.

General Shein wanted the fog of war in the games. So the official games were played in three rooms — the commander of one force in one room, the commander of the other force in another, and finally the judges in a third. This way the players could see only their troops and not all of them. Only the judges in the third room could see it all.

Bernie thought that sounded neat, but obviously entailed a great deal of work. It was a lot of work, but almost nothing compared to the actual moving of troops and staging mock battles. He looked back at the kids doing their planning on the game board.

“General” Ivan Milosevic was clearly a very nervous kid, as well he should be. Bernie had been briefed over beers last night. The lad had been cleaning up at the standard games, with his partner in crime, Boris Timofeivich, acting as the bank and the person the bets were made with.

The members of the service nobility didn’t choose to believe that a lowly baker’s son would be able to beat them at a game so clearly based on the arts of war. The boys had been cleaning up, and because Timofeivich was not just service nobility but a member of a cadet branch of one of the great houses, they were finding it difficult to welsh when they lost. Clearly, the lads must be cheating somehow, else the arrogant little baker’s boy would have been losing. Either that or the games were not an accurate reflection of real war. Well, they probably weren’t, Bernie figured, but that wasn’t why the members of the service nobility were getting their clocks cleaned by the kid. The kid was good.

The “general” looked over at the “captain,” his partner in crime, then back at the map. It was a carefully-drawn map of western Russia, Lithuania and eastern Poland, that had elevation lines in some places and little humps drawn for hills and trees drawn for forests in others.

One of the things that Vladimir had sent — before he’d sent Bernie, in fact — was a map-making kit. The Russians had been putting it to good use. It and quite a few copies of it. The kit wasn’t that much. A pair of sighting devices that could be placed at a known distance from one another. A compass and plumb bob for each device so that the direction each is pointed can be determined precisely. And something for them both to look at, a stick stuck in the ground some distance off. The rest was recording and calculation. Dictatorships do have their advantages. It wasn’t hard for the czar and Boyar Duma to order the maps made in this new way and to have survey teams trained. The new maps were a combination of the surveys and the maps they already had. Even though several hundred people had been put to work on the project, the results were as yet spotty. Very good right around Moscow where the teams were trained and along the rivers where the surveys were concentrated, not so good in forests where it took more work.

Hence the contour lines here and little trees over there. The map was actually fairly pretty. Which was beside the point. Ivan pointed at a hill, just a little bump drawn on the map. “If it’s high enough,” he said, “we’ll build a temporary fort here . . .”

While Ivan talked, Bernie looked at the map and nodded. He hadn’t seen it till Ivan had pointed it out, but it was clear enough now. If they were going to be attacked, that would be one of the ways that the attack might come. If the map was accurate, the other ways would be easier to reach and see from up there. The kids really were good at the games. But Bernie had no idea how well that would translate into being good at war.

The “lieutenant,” Gorgii Ameroff, came back into the room and nodded to Bernie. Gorgii was an old veteran and had seen war firsthand. He also had his doubts about how well the skills of the gaming room would translate into the field. As best as Bernie could tell, Gorgii was a staff officer looking after the training of young officers under the command of a higher officer.

Bernie wasn’t sure, but from Gorgii’s expression the kids were doing pretty good and Gorgii didn’t quite know how to take that. Totally aside from his youth, the fact that Ivan was from a modest family, more merchant class than nobility, annoyed Gorgii. Bernie knew Gorgii was still trying to work out how he felt about that. It just didn’t seem right that this baker’s son would have such talent or potential. The changes brought on by the Ring of Fire were disturbing.

The question wasn’t just how well the games would translate into real battle, but also how much practice at war could be gained. Stories told around campfires of battles fought a generation ago didn’t necessarily translate all that well to the real world. But they were a real part of teaching the young men the art of war. With the games, a young student might command in a month the same number of battles he would fight in a dozen years of service. Experience, even the sort of pseudo-experience provided by the games, might make the difference between seeing or missing a danger or an opportunity on which a battle might be won or lost.

Bernie waved to Gorgii and quietly left the room. He needed to get back to the Dacha.