Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter 3: “Laying Plans,” [6-7].
Your reputation as a wargamer precedes you and your reputation will be the foundation for victory and defeat. The more times you win against a group of wargamers, the more likely you will win in the future.
It’s your reputation that gives you the power to lower the morale of your opponents before the game even starts.
And, perhaps even more importantly, your reputation during the game will cause your opponents to be too frightened to call your bluffs.
The Bearded Bastard knew and understood this. He was very much like the ancient Chinese leader Chuko Liang who fought in The War of the Three Kingdoms (207 to 265 AD).
The story goes that Liang, while resting in a small town, learned that his rival was approaching with vast superior army. Outnumbered, Liang ordered his few troops to hide and the gates to the city opened.
Liang himself donned a Taoist robe and played a lute on top of the walls, completely visible to oncoming army.
The enemy commander, fearful of Liang’s prior deceptions and victories, thought he was leading his army into a trap. So he ordered his troops to do a hasty retreat.
Because of this, Liang was able to fight another day.
At times The Bearded Bastard would make a mistake but everybody would be too scared to exploit it. Why did he expose the flanks of his troops? Why did he pull back suddenly?
Even in weakness the Bearded Bastard appeared strong on the tabletop.
The opposite of this is having a bad reputation, one where your opponents are just eager to beat you. Wargamers love to gang up on Two-Fisted Cowards, for example.
A few years ago I watched a massive space battle in miniature, with 3-4 players per side, which was supposed to take an entire afternoon to play, end abruptly after two hours. One side, after destroying a particularly annoying Two-Fisted Coward’s fleet of starships, started to pack up and go home.
The referee, exasperated, asked why.
“We achieved our objectives,” they said.
They had barely engaged their other opponents’ ships, heading straight for the annoying wargamer.
The game could have been an enjoyable afternoon, but the annoying player had gone too far with his complaining and borderline cheating in prior games. When said player started his shenanigans in the naval game, the other players decided they weren’t going to put up with it for a whole afternoon.
In reality, though they won, everybody lost because everybody walked away feeling bitter about the experience.
And that’s the power of one’s reputation.
Next on The Art of Wargaming: “Do You Know How to Pick Your Battles?”