There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general: (1) recklessness, which leads to destruction; (2) cowardice, which leads to capture; (3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults; (4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame; (5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.

These are the five besetting sins of a general, ruinous to the conduct of war.

When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the cause will surely be found among these five dangerous faults. Let them be a subject of meditation.

–Sun Tzu, The Art of Wargaming, Chapter VIII: Variation in Tactics, [12-14].

In retrospect, I possessed all of these faults when wargaming against The Bearded Bastard and other fellow gamers. By not playing, and just watching, for a few months gave me a certain amount of perspective on all of these faults.

I began to question: Is it The Bearded Bastard’s fault that I keep losing to him? Or should I take at least some responsibility for my defeats?

Through impatience and blind determination to win, I was reckless.

Because of many prior defeats, I had become cowardly, afraid to commit my forces.

Though The Bearded Bastard never insulted me, I carried a hasty temper.

So many losses was an insult to my honor, and I felt shame.

I played conservatively, to prevent losses under my command, which is far different than playing to win.

And after much introspection, I discovered I had carried a sixth fault, which I found many wargamers possess: the desire to play fair, and be a gentleman.

Why is this a fault? Isn’t being a gentleman an ideal? Certainly, but not with your forces on the tabletop. The Bearded Bastard played fair, to a certain extent, then it was no holds barred.

I was under a false assumption of playing nice and letting my opponents (even The Bearded Bastard) have the benefit of the doubt, out of respect of playing a friendly and fair game. Just as in the real-world people, even your friends, will take advantage of you in a wargame.

Whenever there was a rule dispute, I deferred my judgement to keep the game moving. I didn’t exploit rules minutiae because that what “rules lawyers” and “power gamers” do, and I didn’t want to be like them.

A guess what happened? I lost again, and again, and again.

I recall one painful experience with a good friend of mine. My British Cavalry charged his American Minutemen skirmishers on open ground. The British should have ridden the Minutemen down, as according to the rules the wouldn’t have time to shoot.

But… in the interest of fairness, I let my friend shoot his Minutemen skirmisher, albeit with penalty. What harm could it do?

The shot the cavalry, which halted its charge, and they fled into the woods on their turn.

With friends like that, I reflected how often I did this with The Bearded Bastard.

Next on The Art of Wargaming:

The Best Places to Run a Wargame.