If we know that our own men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the enemy is not open to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory.
If we know that the enemy is open to attack, and also know that our men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the nature of the ground makes fighting impracticable, we have still gong only halfway towards victory.
Hence the experienced soldier, once in motion, is never bewildered; once he has broken camp, he is never at a loss.
Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter X: “Terrain,” [27-31].
Listen: The Defeat of the Bearded Bastard happened in silence.
The Ancient Germans under my command fought The Bearded Bastard’s Roman Legions on the tabletop for nearly three hours.
“It was the quietest game I’ve ever seen played,” a friend later told the rest of the wargaming group. “And then suddenly it was over, and was picked up in record time.”
After a normal game, we would talk as we collectively picked up the miniatures and terrain. What went wrong. What went right. This could last up to an hour.
Yet this was not a normal game. I’d inflicted 80% casualties on The Bearded Bastard’s Romans. My Germans lost only a single unit. In other words, we had played The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, though that wasn’t our intention at the outset.
The Bearded Bastard had his miniatures and paraphernalia to his car in less than 20 minutes. He didn’t say a word to anybody on his way out.
This was fortunate, because I didn’t know if I could contain my elation for much longer. I never wanted to be that guy who wins and then laughs at his opponent. In the moment when The Bearded Bastard conceded defeat, the heavens didn’t open up, no epic Wagnerian opera music played out of thin air, but damn I felt wonderful.
A weight had been lifted.
“How did you do it?” my friends asked.
The Bearded Bastard had wanted a stand-up fight where he would have the advantage against my unarmored barbarians. Instead, I gave him a guerrilla war. Each patch of woods on the tabletop served as a small redoubt.
I had number of other advantages: I was in complete command of my forces. It was only me against The Bearded Bastard, no Blowhard von Blowhard or Cannon Fodder Joe, or anybody else who would risk the plan.
I also knew the rules better than The Bearded Bastard. For once, I would be teaching him the game.
While I had beaten him before, this was my first concerted effort to bring about a decisive victory based on tactics and planning, rather than happenstance and luck. Since that game I watched and waited, learning The Bearded Bastard’s strategies and tactics from an impartial viewpoint.
That morning, before the game, I told a friend: “I’m feeling plucky today.”
He said, “Good luck with that.” He figured I’d get trounced again and walk away from the table seething.
Yet my attitude had changed, and I believe this to be the true key to victory.
I saw the game as experiment in what I’d learned, instead of viewing it as an epic battle between myself and The Bearded Bastard. This gave me a certain amount of serenity and confidence I hadn’t had before. I could think clearly.
There is power in controlling your emotions, channeling the energies from worry and anger into analyzing a situation. There’s power in being calm, not letting your opponent get inside your head.
The Defeat of the Bearded Bastard was turning point in my tabletop hobbies and in life.
No doubt, some readers will think: “Come ‘on, it’s just a game. You’re just pushing around miniatures and rolling dice.”
Fine. It’s a fair assessment.
At the beginning of this series I proposed the question, “Wargaming: A Matter of Life and Death?”
If you can’t control your emotions when adversity or victory happens during a game, how can you control when adversity (or victory) happens in real life?
Next on The Art of Wargaming:
The Nine Situations, Part 1