Principle I: Laying Plans


Art of War in Middle Earth

Principle I: Laying Plans

This Chapter of Sun Tzu's work focuses on the deliberations the general must make before entering into battle.  The importance can not be understated and is summed very well in the Chapter's final principles:


Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought.
The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.
Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat:
how much more no calculation at all!

- Sun Tzu


Sun Tzu spends much of the early part of this chapter discussing the importance of war to the State ( government ) and defines the Five Constant Factors:


  • The Moral Law - Having the people in complete accord with their ruler
  • Heaven - Night and Day, Climate, Season, Time, etc.
  • Earth - Distances, Security, Open vs. Closed Ground, etc.
  • The Commander - Virtues of Wisdom, Sincerity, Benevolence, Courage and Strictness
  • Method and Discipline - Marshaling of the army in proper devisions and chain of command

Obviously most of these are well beyond the scope of a tactical-level game such as the Lord of the Rings SBG or WotR...especially one dealing with plastic figures.  :-) However, they do make for some very interresting reading and shed light on many of the political and military problems being faced even today.

Here we come to the more applicable principle of planning:




All warfare is based on deception

- Sun Tzu

The importance here is that your all movements must be concealed in such a way as to deceive your enemy.  More specific examples are given under later Principles, but it is important, critical even, to not understand the need for deception and misdirection as a foundation for victory.

Common errors made by players unversed in this need may include playing a static, focused army with obvious tactics (ie "Shield Wall"); playing the same force repeatedly; bragging about their plans or tactics, etc.

Some of Sun Tzu's most famous quotes come from his expansion on this theme.

Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable;
when using our forces, we must seem inactive;
when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away;
when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

- Sun Tzu

Again, in a game like the SBG where all models are on the table and visible to all players it may seem impossible to make any use of such tactics.  This is not the case!  The very fact that all models are indeed visible make it even easier to trap an unsuspecting opponent.  Keep your attention on one part of the board while measuring up your actions elsewhere.  Use your ruler to check distances to a point you do not intend to move.  Measure the movement range of an enemy model that you have no interest in. Let the enemy believe he can read your goals and he will never know what you are doing until you are done.


Hold out baits to entice the enmey.  Feign disorder, and crush him.

- Sun Tzu

This is an easy application.  Sometimes you may play your forces in a way that appears incoherent. Move units as if we are separating them, or focusing thier attentions elsewhere. Leave a small group positioned in such a way as to appear an easy target for the enemy to surround.  All the time you must be careful to keep your reserve capabilities unseen by the enemy. Let him think you are not aware of the risk, not aware of the proximity of your other models, and perhaps so focused on another goal as to be unwilling to aid your isolated force.  When he moves for them, wheel about, perhaps take advantage of a Heroic action or similar *wild card*.  Surprise and crush his force.


Measuring The Enemy

If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him.
If he is in superior strength, evade him.

- Sun Tzu

Since most SBG games are point-matches this may seem inappropriate.  However, even within an evenly "point matched" game the enemy forces are rarely of equal size and are not evenly distributed.  Here is the essence of measure.  Observe at each phase of the turn how the enemy has deployed his forces and how they measure against yours.  It is here, at the tactical level, that these principles begin to take shape.

If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him.
Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.

- Sun Tzu

The goal of manipulating the emotions of your opponent is to gain power over him.  If you are playing against someone that you consider a friend you probably want to be careful about pushing him to irritation.  However, you can always play on the natural ego present in all.  If your enemy has shows strong tactics and discipline, then perhaps you could feign that you are worried and begin to retreat your forces in multiple directions.  Do so in a way that your enemy grows arrogant of their strength over yours and breaks their line to pursue both.  You have no accomplished through deception what you may be unable to do by force.


Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

- Sun Tzu


Most units in the game have a limited mobility so this may not seem possible. Again this is an incorrect perception.  In a literal sense you may implement some units with high movement rates ( Eagles, Horses, Fell Beast, etc.).  These allow you to extend your range dramatically and if used correctly you can bring forces to bear quickly.  Indirectly though, the real power of this prinicle comes again from the art of deception noted above.  Misdirect your oponent's attention, hide your true objectives so that he moves to strengthen one part of his line, and then strike quickly where he is not ready for you.  Again, do not forget the possible use of Heroic actions.  A well positioned Heroic Combat could allow you to leap-frog almost twice as far as you otherwise could.


These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged before hand.

- Sun Tzu


At it's most basic level...*don't brag*.  You will have a much harder time decieving your enemy if you tell them where you are going to attack, how parts of your force can be used in special ways, or how you designed your army for greater mobility or range.  In addition to keeping your mouth shut, you must also be careful of your non-verbal communication.  Be aware of how you react physically to unexpected actions, or poor situations, or sudden turns of fortune so that you may either conceal these or represent yourself falsely.  And be careful that you do not let the enemy guess your goals simply by watching how you stare at one part of the board, or avoid looking at it completely.