To be ignored of any of the one of the following four or five principles does not befit a warlike prince. When a warlike prince attacks a powerful state, his generalship shows itself in preventing the concentration of the enemy’s forces. He overawes his opponents, and their allies are prevented from joining against him.
Hence, he does not strive to ally himself with all and sundry, nor does his foster the power of other states. He carries out his own secret designs, keeping his antagonists in awe. Thus, he is able to capture their cities and overthrow their kingdoms.
Bestow rewards without regard to rule, issue orders without regard to previous arrangements; and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to do but with a single man.
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter XI: The Nine Situations, [53-56].
We were playing a Seven Years’ War scenario. I was still a newbie wargamer, I had bought some miniatures but hadn’t quite made the commitment to paint them. I was so long ago that the Bearded Bastard didn’t even have a beard.
Yet he had years of experience over me.
I certainly didn’t overawe my opponents, nor did I prevent the concentration of their forces. And since I was still learning the game, I had no secret designs–save one:
Capture the enemy commander-in-chief.
It was a daring plan, involving outmaneuvering the enemy and understanding rules for movement. Early on I flubbed and sent a cavalry regiment to their deaths by charging a line of formed infantry to the front.
But my other cavalry regiment managed to avoid combat and skirt the edge of the battle. My allies wondered what the heck I was doing, so were some of my opponents. Somebody asked me: “Are you going to cut off their supply road?” I said nothing. I didn’t even know cutting off their main road would earn us points in our favor.
Then moment came: “I charge my cavalry into the Commander-in-Chief!”
Conversation erupted. “Can you do that?”
“I don’t know. Can I?”
The Bearded Bastard, soft-spoken, said I couldn’t. It was in the rules.
The conversation degenerated into an argument over rules versus historical fact. According to historical precedent, I couldn’t: it just didn’t happen like that back in the day. Gentlemen couldn’t be charged by rabble. Others argued in my favor.
Meanwhile, The Bearded Bastard and I sat there, watching everybody else argue. The outcome of the game was at stake after all. Fifteen minutes were wasted.
Then The Bearded Bastard quietly opened up the rulebook and pointed to the obscure rule on page 32, section 7, subheading E, sub-paragraph 5. Nope, I couldn’t charge the C-n-C.
“But it was a good idea though,” he said.
Yet by lining up to charge his C-in-C, I exposed my flank to his cavalry. On his next turn The Bearded Bastard whisked C-in-C to slightly more secure surrounding and charged with his cavalry.
I got so mad I had to leave the room. In fact, I left the game all together, feeling that my time had been wasted.
I was surprised to be invited back to the next game.
“He thinks you’re a decent commander,” a friend told me, referring to who would become The Bearded Bastard.
I’d be years, however, before I felt that way…
Next on The Art of Wargaming:
My Last Game with The Bearded Bastard.