When, in the consequence of heavy rains up-country, a river which your wish to ford is swollen and flecked with foam, you must wait until it subsides.

Country in which there are precipitous cliffs with torrents running between, deep natural hollows, confined places, tangled thicket, quagmires and crevasses, should be left with all possible speed and not approached. While we keep away from such places, we should get the enemy to approach them; while we face them, we should let the enemy have them on his rear.

If in the neighborhood of your camp there should be any hilly country, ponds surrounded by aquatic grass, hollow basins filled with reeds, or woods with thick undergrowth, they must be carefully routed out and searched; for theses are places where men in ambush or insidious spies are likely to be lurking.

–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter IX: The Army on the March, [14-17].

Some popular wargames encourage players to pile on the wargaming terrain, just fill the tabletop with forests, villages, swamps, and other interesting features. But there’s a point where this goes too far. And the game can slow to a crawl as players try maneuver in, out, and around said terrain.

The Bearded Bastard liked to put difficult terrain right in the middle of deployment areas. He thought it was funny. I discovered this during my “watching and waiting” phase.

One day, he even let me help set up. As bit of revenge I filled the tabletop with impassible terrain: I put a dense forest down the middle of the tabletop so the armies couldn’t see each other, with a river or two, with a single bridge leading to an obscure, non-strategic, part of the battlefield. There was a small lake surrounded by rugged hills.

And as a finishing touch, I placed patches of woods in each deployment zone.

Then I chuckled with glee.

The Bearded Bastard shook his head.

When the other players arrived, they cried out: “What the hell!?!”

But they deployed their armies and played anyway, all the while griping about the terrain. I watched and was very amused.

The end result: a draw. Not even The Bearded Bastard could surmount that terrain. He, of course, had told them I had set the table.

“Why?” One player asked. “What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking: ‘I’m not going to play in this game.’”

More grumbling.

“Well, why didn’t you remove some of the terrain before you started playing?” I said. “Is there a rule against that?”


Lesson: Show up early so you can observe and participate in terrain set up.

Next on The Art of Wargaming:

Is the Objective Really Bait?