It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surround him; if five to one, attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two. 

If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him. 

Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by a larger force.

–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter 3: “Attack by Stratagem,” [8-10].

I don’t believe in fairness; I believe in opportunities.

I don’t believe in balanced point systems; I believe in player skill.

I don’t believe in cheating; but I believe some players will try to waste my time.

The cheaters are easy to handle. Once you catch them cheating, it’s your choice whether or not to game with them again.

It’s the rigged scenarios that might a bit harder to spot.

Most wargaming scenarios are based on the pitched battle. Each side has roughly an equal number of forces (usually determined by points or some other system). Winning is determined by luck and player skill.

It’s when you get away from this standard set up you might start having issues.

Some historical wargamers like to run battles as they played out in history. (“Sorry, but the Spartans have to lose at Thermopylae, it’s just question of how long you can hold out.”) And as long as you understand this beforehand, it’s fine. Your choice.

Yet some wargamers will try to build scenarios specifically so they can win, and try to hide this fact.

Beware of the following scenarios:

  • Any game where your forces have a chance of taking casualties before the game even starts.
  • Any game at a first resembles a standard pitched battle, but your opponent has starts in a fortified position with elite forces and says “attack me.”
  • You’re a defender in a “last stand” and your forces are mediocre at best. (That is, they’re not Spartans).
  • Any scenario requiring an attacker to cross the entire length (not width) of the tabletop to achieve an objective. Chances are you’ll have to run through an obstacle course of terrain and hostile forces to get there, and you won’t make it in time.
  • Any scenario where you have to scout out hidden enemy forces without the adjudication  of a neutral referee.
  • Most games which involve random deployment.
  • Any wargame involving bunny rabbits. 

There’s a good chance that any of these kinds of scenarios are either rigged to your opponent’s favor or will just be a waste of time–especially where your supposed to attack a fortified enemy but you don’t outnumber his forces (at least 3-to-1).

The game where you have to spot hidden forces without a referee is a big red flag. (“Surprise! Oh sure, my orks were in those woods all along, I swear.”)

As are games with random deployment. Tactics just go out the window in games like this.

As for the bunny rabbits… well, let’s just say it’s really good to be the bunny rabbits.

The best way to pick your battles is to ask plenty of questions: 

  • Who is playing and what army lists are they using?
  • Where will you and your opponent’s armies be initially deployed?
  • When do players plan on picking up the game? Is there a time-limit in the scenario itself?
  • Why has the referee or key player chosen this particular scenario?
  • How can you achieve victory? Are the objectives concrete or vague?
  • And, perhaps most importantly: are there any special rules you need to know about before the game starts? 

Many referees haven’t thought through of the possibilities that could arise from running special scenario. For these referees, your questions will be welcome–especially if they’re preparing to run the game for a convention or a tournament.

It’s the ones who are subtly trying screw over their opponents you’ll have problems with.

They’re trying to make up for their lack of skill, and for some reason they’ll think an easy victory will somehow make up for whatever personal problems they have.

If say, you get three “red flags” to your questions, it’s probably best just to walk away. Save your frustrations for something else.

(Or, on the other hand, it is pretty hilarious when a wargamer tries to rig the scenario in his favor and gets defeated anyway…)

Next on The Art of Wargaming: “Why Wargaming Isn’t a Democracy.”