All warfare is based on deception.

Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away, we must make him believe we are near.

–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter I: Laying Plans, 18.

Since wargaming is based on warfare, is all wargaming based on deception?

Yes… and no. There exists a certain “gentlemen’s agreement” between players: playing  by the rules as written—including certain house rules, make all dice rolls in the open, and so on.

Nobody likes, or should tolerate, a cheater.

Even so, there are ways to conceal your plans from your opponent.

1. Poker Face.
Some people are good at hiding their emotions, others aren’t. Play to your strengths. If you can hide your emotions, then do so behind a straight face.

If you cannot, then play the stage actor. Conceal your true emotions and entertain your opponent with your dramatics.

By doing so you’ll distract your opponent, and perhaps lure him into a false sense of security. A witty quote, a dramatic pose or gesture, can go a long way to relieve tension and by yourself time to come up with new tactics.

Don’t go overboard, however. The stage act can get tiresome after a while.

You may quote Shakespeare from time to time, or lines from your favorite war movies, but never Monty Python.

2. Inexplicable Deployment.
Your opponent may scoff at a unit he thinks is placed out of position, but later in the battle when this unit suddenly strikes without warning, it’ll wipe the smile off his face.

Wargaming groups often fall into standard methods of deployment. Many historical mass battles, for example, feature infantry in the center and cavalry on the wings. Mix things up by going against tried-and-true methods.

Because, while initial deployment matters a great deal, what really is important is where your forces can concentrate their power.

Study the battlefield, if you can, before the game starts. Deploy your forces for maximum effect.

3. Free moves.
One of the most overlooked aspect of wargaming are the free moves found in many rules. These allow your forces to move out of sequence of the regular unit movement phase. For example, many historical wargames allow cavalry to have a “break-through” move, where a charging cavalry regiment tramples down one enemy unit and continues on to another. This can seriously demoralize your opponent.

Light cavalry and skirmishers, as another example, can often move quickly around the battlefield, while ignoring movement penalties for standard units. Your opponent might disdain them, because they are ineffective, until they outflank his forces.

4. Dummy Markers.
Some wargame systems allow players to put down chits or markers in lieu of actual units. An opposing player has to “scout out” a particular part of the tabletop to see if your units are really there. If you allowed to, use these rules.

The downside: using dummy markers can make for a long game.

5. Hide Your Army List.
Who says you have to share your army list? (Well, maybe the game master)

So long as you have your army list written down according to the rules, and you don’t change it during play, you’re fine. The less your opponent knows about your army’s abilities, the better.

Dishonorable methods of deception: 
(Employ these at your own risk)

  1. Not using the right miniatures to represent a proper unit. (“Hey! I thought those were light cavalry!” “Well, too bad, today I’m running them as armored knights.”)
  2. Telling your opponent that a dummy marker is a dummy when it really isn’t.
  3. Making up your army list and abilities as you go.
  4. Telling new players “helpful” advice which only lets you destroy their forces faster.
  5. Pretending to know the rules when you really don’t.

“A general must be a charlatan.”
–Napoleon Bonaparte

Next on The Art of Wargaming: 6 Ways a Player Can Exploit Your Emotions.