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I’ve decided to make a series of these.  Because I can.  And it entertains me.

And if you’re looking for something entertaining, feel free to stop over at my sister’s blog, http://nissaalexandrov.com/.  She’s the Mycroft to my Sherlock (in the sense that she’s the urbane and successful one, and I’m the drug-addled neurotic), so check it out.

But I digress.

Everything I Learned About International Brinksmanship I Learned From Tabletop Gaming.


To fill in the necessary backstory, possibly set to some peppy ’80s montage music: In the past couple decades, Games Workshop has produced a few skirmish level (8-12 pieces), tabletop (we play with little metal men, typically on tables with little buildings), campaign-based (you keep track of what happens to your little metal men) games.

It didn’t take me too long to figure out the four paths to victory.

The first path is to be lucky.  Given that there has been perhaps one person in the history of my gaming career with worse luck than me (Hi Mike!)… I pretty quickly decided to ignore that path.  For the record, my personal best in that department is rolling 14 ones on 16 dice.  Feel free to do the math on that.  It’ll frighten you.

The second path is to be good.  Tactical acumen and all that.  Problematically, when you’re dealing with games where functionally every major event is accompanied by a die roll and you have the sort of luck with dice that typically results in family fortunes being lost on the gaming tables of Monaco, you rapidly discover that while being tactically adept is useful, it can frequently be undermined by freak outbreaks of unlikely statistics.  See above.

The third path is to be a bully.  Pick fights you can win, and only fights you can win.  The problem there is more of a social one than anything else; pretty soon you wind up with a reputation as a bully, and then you don’t get to the play the game at all.

The final path, and the one most relevant to this particular post, is to never back down.  And make it well known that you never back down.  The morale of your little metal men might shatter and see them harried off the gaming table, but you, the player, never accept defeat and withdraw voluntarily.


Once you have that reputation, a healthy chunk of your opponents will find themselves… unnerved.  They may be winning the battle, but in campaign-based games (remember, your little metal men can die) victory can come at a cost that would make King Pyrrhus utter something memorable.  Though in this case it would probably be something about how those dice rolls were bullshit and he should get a re-roll, but you get the idea.


Don’t take this post as advocating political brinksmanship.  Taking extreme positions ought to be the final option short of war; something done once all conventional means of negotiation have failed in the face of unreasonable opposition.


If you’re going to take such a position, you’re going to want it to work.  And for that to be the case, the threat has to be credible.  It can’t be a “red line” that gets ignored because it’s politically unpopular; if you’re going to draw the line, so to speak, accept that your response must be in accordance with your rhetoric, regardless of the cost to your political career, lest you undermine not only your ability to make those sorts of threats in the future, but also the credibility of those who would follow you into office.