In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack–the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.
The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle–you can never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination?
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter 5: “Energy,” [6-7].
In the early Hundred Years’ War, Edward of Woodstock led English forces in repeated victories over the French, most notably at the Battles of Crecy and Poitiers. From 1345 until his death in 1376 his campaigns used a variety of tactics to defeat his opponents.
During this time France was crippled, and unable to organize much resistance against English forces–especially after Poitiers in 1356 where Edward captured the French King John the Good. After this, France fell into a civil war.
How did he accomplish this? And what can we learn from his example?
1. He used himself as a target to draw out the enemy.
Many of his campaigns began with a chevauchee, a rapid-moving expedition across the French countryside of raiding and pillaging. He led such expeditions, and made himself a tempting target to French feudal warlords. If he could be captured, he could be held for ransom.
If the French didn’t come out of their strongholds, The Black Prince would continue his raiding and pillaging.
The lesson here is twofold: sometimes you’ve got to hold out a tempting bait to get a timid wargamer to engage, and furthermore its best if this bait can be a constant nuisance. Using this strategy can vary per wargame, but implementing will have your opponent furrowing his brow in frustration.
2. The Black Prince often avoided sieges.
Sieges were commonplace in medieval warfare, they were also costly for the besieger and the besieged. Months could be spent trying to get a town or castle to capitulate. And in that time both sides could succumb to disease because of unsanitary conditions.
For wargamers, sieges scenarios can be a tempting spectacle, but can ending costing time and money, resulting in disappointment.
Even in non-siege scenarios, there’s wisdom being mobile on the battlefield.
3. He Didn’t Let Chivalry Blind Him.
Yes, when he captured the French King John II (John the Good) at Poitiers, he afforded the king the respect and accouterments of ransom. But he did not fight fair. A pitched battle was that last thing he wanted with the French as he was outnumbered.
The longbow, of course, had long been used by the English. And it was the longbow which played and important role in securing the English victory at Poiters. The longbow certainly wasn’t a knightly weapon, and the chevauchee wasn’t a really a knightly tactic.
Some wargamers are tempted to adhere to some code of chivalry at the tabletop. While rules of sportsmanship are important, don’t let them blind you to certain realities.
If you have the chance to triumph over your opponent, do it without reservation.
Next on The Art of Wargaming: How to be Decisive like Mark Antony.