Tag Archives: Sun Tzu

Fighting Is Dumb

High Command

Played High Command last night and got a solid fourth place out of four. I accord my sterling performance to several factors, such as forgetting to use all of my resources, letting myself get rattled and making dumb decisions, and the usual first-time-you-played-so-you-don’t-know-how-to-play issues.

The main problem though was that I spent a lot of resources fighting instead of winning. Most board games are about fighting. Drama needs conflict, and the best way to engineer conflict in tabletop games is to explicitly pit human players against each other.

However, as in real life, fighting is the absolute least efficient way to get what you want. If the arbitrary circumstances of board game rules didn’t make attrition warfare the only way to achieve victory, no one interested in winning would try it. It sucks down all your resources, is fraught with unmitigated risk, leaves very little to act with once the smoke clears, and the worst sin — it’s kind of boring and samey after a while.

If you ever read The Art of War, you might remember that Sun Tzu spends most of his words telling you how to win war by making sure you don’t have to fight. Many other military strategists write long books full of insights that basically amount to, “Here are all the things you should do before you have to break down and actually start killing each other.”  Games frequently skip past all of the maneuver though, the interesting part, the real war part, and cut to the stabby bit at the end.

On top of all of these things, this session was a particularly pernicious example of how dumb fighting is, because I spent a lot of time fighting one other player over one territory. Every once in a while I have to relearn this lesson it by losing hard: when you challenge a single player in a multiplayer game, you are handing fractions of victory to the non-participating players because they can spend resources winning instead of fighting.

Put another way, the winner is the player who contrives to fight least.

One reason for the rise of co-op board games is that as people come into this hobby, ever-more of them do not spring from the hobby’s wargaming loins. Customers want interesting games that don’t involve new complex ways to beat each other up. High Command is a decent game with some nice touches, especially for a deck builder. But I’d rather see (and make) more games that look for more clever conflict.


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