To begin by bluster, but afterwards to take flight at the enemy’s numbers, shows a supreme lack of intelligence.
When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths, it is a sign that the enemy wishes for a truce.
If the enemy’s troops march up angrily and remain facing ours for a long time without either joining battle or taking themselves off again, the situation is one that demands great vigilance and circumspection.
If our troops are no more in number than the enemy, that is amply sufficient; it only means no direct attack can be made. What we can do is simply to concentrate all our available strength, keep a close watch on the enemy, and obtain reinforcements.
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, The Army on the March, [37-40].
Once a friend’s son, who was a teenager, presented me with a prospective World War II scenario: The Germans enter a ruined town and the Americans ambush them. “It’d be like that last scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan, but the Americans have more tanks, artillery, and soldiers.”
I look at his sketch of the battlefield. He had marked “kill zones” where the Germans would suffer the most casualties. The Germans would get wiped out.
So I asked him: “Why would anybody want to play the Germans?”
“Oh,” he said.
Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with a scenario like that. Some players like to play the underdog and see how well they do before they armies gets destroyed. “Let’s see how many Persians I can take down with my Spartans at Thermopylae.” “How far can I advance against the Americans in the Battle of the Bulge?”
The key is whether or not the players understand they’re playing a “no-win” scenario beforehand.
Fortunately, dealing with scenarios like this is easy: you play once and think twice about gaming with the person running the scenario again.
Problems, however, arise when The Social Beast rears its ugly head. Maybe that gamer is friend going through a rough time. Maybe he brings some of the best painted miniatures you’ve ever seen. Maybe he’s a friend of a friend who doesn’t have many friends.
And get this: telling somebody “you’ve rigged the game” doesn’t help. They’ll either get defensive, you’ll be seen as committing a social faux pas, or both.
So how do you get the message across without disturbing the status quo among your circle of wargamer friends?
Answer: Turn your miniatures around on the tabletop and retreat until they’re off the table.
Now your new personal goal is to get as many of your units off the battlefield intact. You’ll still be in the game.
Is it childish? Perhaps. But not as childish as leaving a table in a huff.
Will you lose the game? Yes, indeed.
No doubt you’ll generate questions like: “What are you doing? Are you quitting?”
To which you can reply: “Going to get reinforcements. My troops wouldn’t have committed if they had known the true strength of the enemy.”
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on both of us.
Next on The Art of Wargaming:
The Tale of Blowhard Von Blowhard.