Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive. Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength. 

The general who is skilled in defense hides in the most secret recesses of the earth; he who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven. Thus on the one hand we have the ability to protect ourselves; on the other, a victory that is complete. 

–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter 4: Tactical Dispositions, [5-7].

It’s game day.

You and your opponent have deployed your armies on the tabletop in a standard “pitched battle” scenario. Right before the game starts you notice something that gives you pause:

Your opponent has deployed at least one or two elite units which clearly can outmatch your own forces. These could be Roman Praetorian guard versus your barbarian hordes, or a Star Destroyer versus your hodge-podge rebel fleet, or some crack British troops versus your untrained American militia.

What do you do?

Look to history:
In the American War of Independence, George Washington faced a similar situation after a series of defeats in the summer and autumn of 1776 against the British during the New York campaign.

British forces had occupied many of the major cities in the colonies. In its weakened state, Washington’s Continental Army could not withstand a pitched battle against the trained British troops. It needed to buy time to regroup, resupply.

Washington’s first goal was to keep the Continental Army intact. This should also be your first goal on the tabletop when presented with a superior force. Keep your forces intact as long as possible.

Washington’s second goal was to take the offensive as soon as possible. But did he attack the main body of the British army?


In late 1776, Washington with his army crossed the Delaware River and attacked the Hessian auxiliary garrison at Trenton, New Jersey. 

It was sound victory for the Continental Army.

This offensive lured some 5,000 British troops southward from Princeton to engage Washington’s forces.

Washington sent riflemen to delay the British advance. Meanwhile, Washington swung around the British army and defeated the British garrison at Princeton.

Washington only commanded around 2,400 troops.

But these victories bought the Continental Army more time to regroup. The victory raised morale. More recruits joined the American cause.

And these are the tactics you should employ when you face units on the tabletop which can easily defeat your own. Delay them. Outmaneuver them. Then attack the enemy’s weak points.

The average wargamer, upon seeing that he or she is outmatched, would probably play the scenario but deep down would already concede defeat.

Before the Battle of Trenton, Washington had to convince his troops to soldier on. Their terms of service were expiring. And it was winter, and they hadn’t been paid. If they hadn’t stayed, however, there wouldn’t have been not one victory, but two.

It’s one thing to win with a superior force through brute strength, it’s quite another to win through sound tactics and beat the odds.

It fact, it’s quite morale-boosting, great for one’s confidence.

Next on The Art of Wargaming: “Why You Should Disdain Easy Victories…”