If you set a fully equipped army in march in order to snatch an advantage, the chances are that you will be too late. On the other hand, to detach a flying column for the purpose involves the sacrifice of its baggage and stores.
Thus, if you order your men to roll their buff-coats, and make forced marches without halting day or night, covering double the usual distance at a stretch, doing a hundred LI in order to wrest an advantage, the leaders of all your three divisions will fall into the hands of the enemy.
The stronger men will be in front, the jaded ones will fall behind, and on this plan only one-tenth of your army will reach its destination.
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter VII: “Maneuvering,” [6-8].
Sometimes, good sets of rules get a bad reputation because of one rotten player.
About twelve years ago, when Flames of War came to my local group of wargamers, I was intrigued by it. The player who introduced us to it would set up the scenarios, since he knew the rules, where he’d play the Germans (late war). The rest of us who had painted figures contributed Russians, English, and Americans, depending on the scenario.
Since I was broke at the time, I didn’t have the money to build another army, but I got to play a two or three times. The rules seemed all right. But there was one catch:
The Germans always won.
The organizing player always had the Germans on the defensive. The allies would have to run through an obstacle course of terrain while under constant fire to even get a shot at the Germans. And then the Germans would shoot, roll for “Stormtrooper Move” and then fall back.
Even worse, the player loved games where the allies had to cross the length of the table, not the width. The objective being to get to the other side. Of course, this meant the allies had to do a “Hail Mary” against stiff resistance.
In any wargame, it pays to be aggressive. As General Patton said: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
But this was like playing a scenario based on Operation Market Garden over and over again.
I didn’t want to invest in a Flames of War army if the Germans always won. What’s the point of playing?
Then one day I took a look at the rules. “Oh. We’re supposed to have concrete objectives besides ‘destroy most of the other forces’ or ‘get to the other side. Well that changes things. He’s not running the game right.”
I still have never built a Flames of War army. The other players got fed up with these scenarios, too, and quit playing. So there was no reason for me to start buying figures.
Yet in the intervening years, between then and now, my opinion of Flames of War has changed from negative to mostly positive. I’ve played a handful of games and generally like it.
It’s a beer-and-pretzels game. “Tankhammer” as some people call it.
It’s a pity that it left a bad taste in my mouth because of one rotten player.
Next on The Art of Wargaming: How The Bearded Bastard Crushed His Opponents [Part 3]