Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for the opportunity of defeating the enemy.
To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.
Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.
–Sun Tzu, “The Art of War,” Chapter 4, “Tactical Dispositions,” [1-4].
Here’s how you put yourself beyond the possibility of defeat in wargaming:
1. If you keep playing against the same opponent repeatedly and losing: stop it.
Don’t do what I often did against The Bearded Bastard: kept playing and hoping for the best. To avoid defeat, don’t play.
Just take a break for a while. Come back when you can think with a clear head. In the meantime, studying your opponent.
2. Figure out your opponent’s favorite tactic.
Some wargamers are pretty obvious–they’ll invest heavily in some kind of elite unit to dominate the battlefield. Or they’ll hang back and let artillery pound you to smithereens. Or maybe they love the mobility of light cavalry or infantry units which can hit and run.
Other wargamers, like The Bearded Bastard, were not so obvious. There’s layers to their tactics. They’re like chess champions, thinking several moves ahead. But if you study them long enough, you’ll start to see patterns.
Once you understand the patterns, you can turn their tactics against them.
The Bearded Bastard loved to outflank you. It was just question of how and when.
3. Learn from your mistakes.
The best part about tabletop wargaming is that you can always play again. Next time you can try different tactics against your opponent.
So long as you keep an open mind, learn from your losses, it’s not a true defeat so long as you willing to back into the game.
But against skillful players and guys like The Bearded Bastard, you might want to wait a while.
Next on The Art of Wargaming: How to Fight Like George Washington.