Brian posted the following as a comment on our recent piece on historical incentives. We thought that, like David S. Pumpkins, it was its own thing, so we asked Brian's permission to share it as a separate post, and he kindly agreed.

“Boneheaded in hindsight” – there’s the money quote.

I don’t like idiot rules any more than you do – I’m perfectly capable of doing new stupid things all by myself – but there needs to be some array of mechanisms and incentives to impel players to do things that are foolish now, but were done then for a variety of reasons that must have been compelling at the time.

Take the invasion of Canada in 1775: Ethan Allen convinced Congress that Canada was held by only about 500 British regulars (in fact, there were only about 850, in two understrength battalions) and would be easy pickin’s.


Province of Quebec 1774, Atlas-Géographie, 1923, Les Frères Maristes. (Étude physique, politique, économique de la Province de Québec, Montreal, Granger Frères Ltée)

The Law of C’mon, It’ll Be Fun.

So off they went, in two columns that would have given them 6-1 or 7-1 odds, but for time, distance, logistics, and politics. Montgomery’s column started with 2,000 men and he took Montreal but he arrived at Quebec with only 300, due to having to leave a garrison at Montreal, and the term of so many militiamen having expired. Meanwhile, Arnold arrived at Quebec in early December with only 600 men after marching 300 miles in poor weather across crappy terrain. But they kept on.

The Law of the Crumbling Cookie: it may be falling apart, but you still want to get it in your mouth.

Things still looked good though, because the United States had now captured all of Canada, except the one-half square mile or so inside Quebec’s walls. Here's a nice shot of the Citadel:


La Citadelle de Quebec. The current fortification is a later improvement on the smaller, wooden citadel built in the mid 18th century. The Citadel remains an active military installation.

The Law of Spurious Success – look, we’ve conquered this huge friggin’ icebox!

Montgomery got some reinforcements and now had 2,000 men, but they were all militia whose terms expired at the end of 1775. So he made his attempt to storm the city, in the middle of a blizzard, on the last day of their term of service. And failed.

The Law of We Gotta Do Sumthin’.

Montgomery was killed and Arnold took over, kept up the investment, and replaced his losses but did not try to take the city again.


"The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775", John Trumball, 1786

The Law of Throwing Good Money After Bad.

So in the end, the United States sent 10,000 troops into Canada and all it did ultimately was divert a number of British (and German) battalions from the main effort in Boston (when the relief force arrived in May 1776). But it was started for what seemed to be a good and easy course of action at the time, and maintained for longer than it should have been for reasons that were also compelling – at the time.

These were all deliberate actions too – we can also discuss battles and campaigns that were started, flubbed, or concluded on the basis of simply wrong information or no information at all, simple mistakes, enemy misdirection, Fear of the Unknown, or transitory political drives. These are all things that are potentially available to wargame players, but few of them seem to have the patience to explore them because it means giving up an unacceptable degree of control over forces, information, and events.



1 comment

  • Thanks, I am glad you liked this post!
    Unfortunately the David S. Pumpkins youtube file at the link you provided is blocked in Canada for copyright reasons, so I don’t get to see what the joke is.
    The Law of America is Everywhere….

    Brian Train

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