The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is his power to control success. 

Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter IV: Tactical Dispositions, [16]

A long time ago, back when I was in middle school, my friends and I played a lot of Risk.

Many wargamers will decry Risk as not a “real wargame.”

I tend to agree. In Risk, you roll six-sided dice, try to capture continents, and hold out until you can trade your cards in for armies. Not much in the way of tactics, is there?

Certainly, but the lessons in strategy are priceless, as well as learning the evils of hubris.

We played a lot of Risk, and I won a lot of Risk.

My secret: getting the other players to attack each other. Then I would come in and mop up…

…and then I’d brag about it.

We often played at the local youth outreach center run by a local Christian church. The director was a twenty-something guy named Mark. He was cool. He wasn’t preachy or judgmental like many other Christians seemed to be. He even played D&D (gasp!).

One summer afternoon, while at the youth center, I started gloating about my victories over the other players during a game.

Mark walked up and asked how the game was going.

“Look,” I said. “I’m conquering the world.” My hordes were poised to invade Australia and defeat my final opponent, who was a good friend of mine.

And that’s the catch with Risk among boys at that age: it can be the epitome of the Social Beast, as players form and break alliances.

But I suspect Mark noticed my friends’ feelings being hurt.

“Love conquers all,” he said.

“No!” I picked up the attack dice for my final offensive. “I conquer all!”

And then dice gods abandoned me.

My friend kept rolling double sixes for defense. Somehow I broke through his main armies in Siam and invaded Australia itself. He made a last stand in Eastern Australia: his single army against my eleven.

He almost won. For me, it was a pyrrhic victory.

I started my final turn with somewhere around 80 armies, but ended the game with perhaps a half-dozen.

And it’d be a long time before I’d win another game of Risk. I’d pissed off my friends with my snotty attitude. It later games they’d form alliances specifically to knock me out of the game.

Normally, I’d be the one who proposed a game of Risk. Afterwards, I was reluctant to join a game. This went on for about a year until we bored with the game.

The Moral: You may defeat your opponents’ and be glad in your victory, but don’t rub it in. Beware hubris or The Social Beast will bite you. 

Tempting hubris is the biggest mistake you can commit in wargaming. If you do it often enough, you have a bunch of miniatures but nobody will want to game with you.

It’s a lesson I wish would have stayed with me more often than not as I first started getting into tabletop wargaming in college.

Next on The Art of Wargaming: “Seven Diceless Strategies for Victory”