Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field; and the worst policy is to besiege walled cities.
The rule is, not to besieged wall cities if it can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war will take up to three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more.
The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege.
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter 3: “Attack by Stratagem,” [3-5].
Sieges on the tabletop are spectacular. All of those miniatures. The painted terrain. The sheer epicness of is why many wargamers get into the hobby in the first place.
The reality: siege scenarios suck.
I hate them. I hate the amount of preparation and planning they require. I hate every little “fiddly” rule that slows the game to a crawl. And I had the fact that every single siege I’ve played in has ended in disaster.
Sun Tzu is right: somebody always loses their patience.
Usually this is the attacker, but sometimes a defender loses patience and tries to sally forth against all odds.
Days of planning and painting. Hours of playing. Gone. Just gone.
Sometimes my fellow wargamers will approach me and say, “Hey, Stelios. You’ve got all of those Hundred Years’ War figures, let’s run the siege of Minas Tirith straight out of The Lord of Rings.”
“Um… okay. But who’s going to paint up all of those orcs and trolls? And the Nazgûl? And put together all of those walls and buildings? And who’s gonna build Grond!.. Grond!… Grond!!!”
Me chanting “Grond!” usually ends the conversation.
Yet in all seriousness: Siege scenarios just require a lot of commitment, effort, patience, and the study of “fiddly” rules.
How long does it take to dig a trench or tunnel? How do siege towers work? Battering rams? Trebuchet and cannon? How many hits can a wall take before being destroyed?
We’re in the age of wargaming where wargamers are resorting to simpler sets of rules. Companies are publishing skirmish games. Rules that require lots of study just aren’t as marketable anymore.
What are your thoughts on siege scenarios for wargames? What your experiences and what rule systems have you used?
Next on The Art of Wargaming: Do You Know How to Pick Your Battles?