In all fighting, the direct method may be used to for joining battles, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory. 

Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, the end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.

–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter 5: “Energy,” [5-6].

“Barbarians don’t fight fair.”

“Barbarians are cowards, they like ambushes.”

“If we could only corner them, and get them in a pitched battle…”

–Said every “civilized” person unfortunate enough to ever fight a so-called “barbarian.”

Years ago, in a game of Seven Years’ War, I had fielded Prussians against the Bearded Bastard’s Russians. A couple of units of Cossacks, irregular cavalry armed with lances of all things,  supported his main Russian battle line.

Most of my own forces had been supplemented by a low wall, and a small town for additional cover. I was feeling pretty smug, and let The Bearded Bastard know it. Finally, my time to beat him had come.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Russian Empire a strained relationship with the Cossacks on their borderlands. They were vicious fighters, and with the proper incentives they could be employed alongside regular troops.

The downside: they were unpredictable.

Karl Von Clausewitz, the famed Prussian general and veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, had seen of the worst of the fighting and bloodshed, yet he feared the Cossacks, holding them in contempt of their destructive ways. He blamed them for the burning of Moscow when they should have been fighting for the Tsar against Napoleon.

There’s even a case where the Cossacks stopped fighting to sell captured horses.*

The Romans and the Chinese built walls to keep the barbarians out. And these walls, for a time. But each empire discovered they had to keep building more and more walls. And somehow, the barbarians would occasionally slip through.

Indeed, in that Seven Years’ War battle, the Bearded Bastard had his Cossacks and I gloated about my walls.

Then the Bearded Bastard said: “Now I know exactly where not to attack you.”

Next on The Art of Wargaming: “How to Cheat without Breaking the Rules.”

*Further Reading: John Keegan, A History of Warfare (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), pages 3-10.