The general who thoroughly understands the advantages that accompany variation of tactics knows how to handle his troops. The general who does not understand these, may be well acquainted with the configuration of the country, yet he will not able to turn his knowledge to practical account.

So, the student of war who is unversed in the art of war of varying his plans, even though he be acquainted with the Five Advantages, will fail to make the best use of his men.

Hence in the wise leader’s plans, considerations of advantages and of disadvantage will be blended together. If our expectations of advantage be tempered in this way, we may succeed in accomplishing the essential part of our schemes.

If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties we are always ready to seize and advantage, we may extricate ourselves from misfortune.

–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter VIII: Variation in Tactics, [4-9]

After a quiet month or two of not showing up to wargame with The Bearded Bastard, a friend persuaded me to go.

“We’ve all been wondering about you, Stelios.”

So I agreed. I put some D&D books in my pack. When we arrived, The Bearded Bastard was there, as were others, who were a little surprised to see me.

“Which side do you want to play?” The Bearded Bastard gestured to the miniature armies on the tabletop. They had already been set up.

“I’ll just watch today while I work on my campaign notes.” I’d been running a D&D campaign for some time. I placed my books and notes at a separate table, sat down, and started working.

“Are you sure you don’t want to play?” The Bearded Bastard asked. Me not participating left an odd number of players on one side, making it harder to divided up the armies.

“I’m sure.”

And so the wargame started, progressed along. And while I worked a little bit on my notes, I discovered it was quite fun to watch. When you’re not part of the game you see things: flaws in a player’s tactics, places of vulnerability.

Even The Bearded Bastard left himself vulnerable to attack at a couple points. Yet the opposing players either didn’t see their advantage, or thought it might be a trap.

I started watching The Bearded Bastard more closely. I saw his opponents panic into error, suffer paralysis by analysis. He remained in absolute control of the game. The other players deferred to him whenever there was question about the rules. He knew the rules better than they.

I had more fun that day, watching The Bearded Bastard beat my friends, than I had had in a long time.

Next on The Art of Wargaming:

Watching and Waiting, Part 2.