Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend, march swiftly to places where you are not expected. An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches through country where the enemy is not.

–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter 6: “Weak Points and Strong,” [5-6].

Napoleon was a master strategist and tactician. He and his armies defeated the combined powers of Europe during his reign. Any wargamer would do well the emulate the following tactics Napoleon used against his opponent.

1. Pin the Opponent with a Distraction. 

Napoleon would send the vanguards of his army to attack the enemy. The enemy, thinking he was engaging France’s main battle lines, would commit his forces. But this was just a feint.

Napoleon would then…

2. Outflank the opponent, cutting lines of communication.


The Coalition armies would attack France from the Holy Roman Empire, but after being held by Napoleon’s vanguard, they would suddenly find the French attacking from behind. Very demoralizing.

You can do #1 and #2 on the tabletop with large body of “average” troops–or cannon fodder–so long as they hold the line. Meanwhile, your fast-moving crack troops (heck, they don’t even have to be elite) outflank the enemy and attack from the rear. In many games this causes serious morale issues. Getting attacked from behind, even by piddly troops, can often mean defeat for the defender.

3. Split the Enemy, Divide and Conquer

Against weaker enemies, Napoleon would send his armies to prevent them from reforming into a cohesive whole.

On the tabletop this works best when you’re facing multiple opponents on one side. One opponent commands Force A, the other Force B, you want to send your forces between the two to stop them from coordinating with each other if you.

Beware, however, of being surrounded or subject to concentrated fire from both forces.

4. Use Reserves.

Wargamers often commit everything to the battle as soon as they can. Napoleon didn’t. He would hold reserve units back, waiting to send them in at the precise moment to turn the battle. Often he would keep his reserve until near the end of the battle, when the enemy was worn out, to bring out a decisive and complete victory.

A fresh unit, say cavalry or something else fast-moving, arriving on the scene (especially from behind) can be so demoralizing to your opponent they’ll want to give up.

5. Give Credit Where Credit is Due.

“You call these baubles, well, it is with baubles that men are led… Do you think that you would be able to make men fight by reasoning?” –Napoleon Bonaparte.

I’m not saying you should give awards to your fellow wargamers.

Yet, the smallest gestures can win friends among your wargaming peers. Even if they defeat you, congratulate them. If you defeat them, comment their tactics.

You never know when they might be an ally in a multiplayer game and you need them to stick to the plan at a crucial moment…

Next on The Art of Wargaming: “How to Use Skirmishers.”