Sun Tzu Master of Strategy

Now that I have your attention!

Last year and early this year we looked at the evolution of the concept of The Operational Art of War in the link and another post as it related to OCS here.

Prior to those posts the fundamental learning taken on was that of the Military thinking around OODA loops that continued for 4 or 5 more posts on the topic where the concepts were applied as best possible in a game of SCS – Bastogne.

While a laymans effort and fairly basic at that, the writing opened my eyes to a number of things that bear noting.

As a basic level of understanding an appreciation of the Operational Art of War and how it differs from Classical Battle strategy has made a difference in how I play games, how I approach different eras and how one can appreciate certain games designs more fully.

The nature of war from Classical to Op Art styles took on significance in the Napoleonic era. In the past one of the biggest challenges was finding each others armies and then forcing the issue on a predetermined or favorable location to your side. As armies grew in size Logistics also began to play its hand beyond mere forage.

The ability of armies to find each other especially in Europe became easier during the 1800’s with more sophisticated intelligence and data gathering plus the rapid growth in the size of armies meant a limit to the number of likely avenues and approaches in a given geography.

The problem still remained in forcing the definitive fight and the destruction of the enemies will to fight. Napoleon was one of the first Europeans to master early forms of Operational Art.  Exploring 1806 and 1809 in the Days series from OSG allowed all of us to see how the maneuver, lines of advance, logistics and ability to bring so much force to bear upon the enemies Center of Gravity was crucial in the drive for Strategic victory.

As technology and weapons advanced so to did the strategies employed by Generals. Exploring OCS and the speedy movement of tank formations tied back to logistic needs has radically changed how I approach other games.

Despite my poor playing and reading of the rules in a recent game of The Mighty Endeavour I used concepts from Op Art to try and destroy the enemy via supply attrition and carefully placed attacks. That failed. However there was more precise attacking, less bashing and thrashing.

At one point a poorly read rule, had me thinking a huge German force was cut off, but alas not to be so! The supply rules were too generous!

Even playing something such as Hannibal Rome v Carthage the ability to keep Carthage forces off balance using repeated attacks on their homeland allowed me to have a plan for the game despite not ‘knowing’ the intrinsic best practices of the title or the mechanics. Lots of fun, but sadly on hold due to an opponent being AWOL.

So the learning continues and the experiences are richer for it!


Sun Tzu was another strategist. What might he have to offer?

The link below takes you to’s site where  Major Matt Cavanaugh writes about SunTzu’s prime directive!

“To attack the enemies strategy first and foremost.”

Sounds very much akin to Operational Arts core concepts. It also highlights for me the desire to think a little more about a military situation and step back and see why or how events and choices impacted strategy. Big wars like Vietnam and the Korean war were obvious examples of how the Western forces not only lost but were doomed to lose given their abandonment of Operational Art of War strategy and in particular Sun Tzu;s teachings.

From a previous post: here we can read the below and see some similarities between Op Art and Sun Tzu. We will explore this further which will hopefully lead us to a fuller understanding of why some Wars and Events ended up how they did.

“Finding the Center of Gravity (COG) . By looking at mutual strengths and weaknesses we can determine or create vulnerabilities and strong points.  There in lie the decisive or critical points. Rivers, towns, hills, Supply depots, rail heads, bridging etc.

End State (ES) How will a commander know he has achieved his goal, what will that look like? You will note that these are much higher level as I mentioned, and I often wonder if we displace meanings. The concept of Operational Art are really in my mind the linkages between Strategy and Tactics. They are not just a logistics plan.

Simon Naveh wrote “that Military Force is an open system; its interaction of component parts is non linear and is dominated by aim.”  

Op Art determines the missions and objectives that support the strategy, which in turn drive the tactics developed for that mission or objective. Here is another great definition of what Operational Art is from 1923 where Svechin (a Russian Military Theorist) proposed that operational art was “the totality of maneuvers and battles in a given part of a theater of military action directed toward the achievement of the common goal, set as final in the given period of the campaign.” “

How much more graceful and eloquent with the same thought is Nagarjuna?:

Method is more important than strength,

when you wish to control your enemies.

SunTzu carries on the thought:

“Once you know your enemy well, you are ready to start thinking of ways to disrupt his strategy.

Only after you understand your enemy, can you begin to devise a plan to attack his strategy. Attacking your enemy’s strategy without doing your homework can backfire on you.

You must be able to understand what is going on in your enemy’s mind in order to plan your own strategy. You must know who he is and how he thinks in order to predict how he will react and what his next move will be.”

So this Eastern Strategist who is read and used world wide throws the Western notions into the backwards assed abyss of  immature thinking.  This guy was think like an Operational Strategist before Alexander was a mote in Gods eye!

Not only was he thinking about the topic, but he was executing the practice of it artfully.  He took a small nation state, and using his applied strategy dominated his Era and helped the Ruler rise to great levels.

I think it would very interesting to see how the concepts of Sun Tzu’s philosophy map to Op Art and how we can leverage these elements in our game play, and as a lens to better see game designs, better understand histories follies and just have a jolly good time with it all.

More to come.


Hey!! At least say something! ;)