The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will even roll stones along its course. The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.
Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and prompt in his decision.
Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, the releasing of a trigger.
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter 5:”Energy,” [12-15]
There’s a great scene in Rome, the HBO series, where Mark Antony (James Purefoy) and Octavian Caesar (Simon Woods) are watching the Battle of Philippi unfold. Philippi was the final showdown between them and Julius Caesar’s assassins, Marcus Brutus and Cassius Longinus.
At least 100,000 legionnaires from each side fought for the fate of the Roman Republic. And as the forces clashed, a fog of war descended on the battlefield.
Octavian Caesar: “What’s happening? Can you tell?”
Mark Antony: [Munching on a loaf of bread] “No idea.” [He drops the loaf, turns to his soldiers, draws his sword.] “On my command, follow me!”
Octavian: [Nervous] “Where are you going?”
Antony: “When in doubt… attack!”
While the TV show may not have been quite true to history (Philippi was fought on two separate battles) the exchange captures the essence of Antony found in the original sources like Plutarch’s Lives.
So here are three lessons from history and the TV show you can use when playing tabletop wargames.
1. Forget Others’ Opinions About You
On a long enough timeline, the more decisive you are, the more others will resent you.
Throughout the TV series and history Mark Antony took actions with offended or brought fear to his opponents. Cicero wrote entire speeches condemning Antony (usually when Antony wasn’t around).
Forget about appeasing your “betters” or peers. Don’t be afraid to try a new tactic or call somebody out on their BS. Don’t be afraid of possibly looking stupid. There’ll always be another game.
Do you know the difference between a sound tactic and a stupid one? Victory.
2. Lead by Example
Some wargamers are terrified to commit their forces. Others like to boast and brag. Some just won’t ever follow the plan.
It’s best you let your own actions compensate. Let your skill and prowess be known by what you do and not by what you say.
Mark Antony was a soldier’s soldier, having demonstrated himself in battle time and again. In one instance soldiers of an enemy general, Lepidus, allowed Mark Antony to enter their camp and take command without a fight.
There is an exception to this rule: you probably don’t want to imitate Antony’s drunkenness… and perhaps that whole seduction and death by Cleopatra thing.
3. When in Doubt… Attack!
In that Philippi scene, Antony essentially commanded a force of reserve cavalry–perfect to restore order to the fog of war at the right moment.
In the historical battle, according to Appian of Alexandria, Antony charged Brutus’s fortifications with such audacity that it stunned Brutus’s troops. It was weak point in the enemy’s army.
When confusion reigns on the battlefield, look for the enemy’s weak point and charge.
Save your energy for that crucial moment. Let your enemy expend his.
In any case, it’s best you take the offensive. Be decisive.
Next on The Art of Wargaming: “How The Bearded Bastard Crushed His Opponents.”