Strategy Map

If you want to design strategy games one tool in your box should be a solid grounding in military history. Humans have been organizing, weaponizing, and strategizing since the dawn of history. The “system” has changed tremendously but the core principles seem to be eternal and immutable. Santayana’s famous quip “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” captures the thought completely. Here is a very simple map of how I envision the state space for military strategy:

Military Strategy Space

This is a very simple two dimensional graph that maps the Offense/Defense vs. Direct/Indirect variables.

Offense vs. Defense: The idea of offense and defense can be as simple as the degree to which an agent can determine events on the battlefield. There can be a lot of ambiguity in trying to figure this variable out. Attackers are generally considered to have high degrees of initiative. They can determine when and where forces clash. A defensive strategy is usually reactive. It tries to anticipate the offensive agent’s intentions and respond in a manner that denies him success. A defensive strategy however might still entail “attacking” or “counter-attacking.”

Direct vs. Indirect: Frontal Assault vs. Flanking Manuever. Given some goal is the best approach to go straight for it or to strike some other element that will cause the goal to fall into your hands. Sir B. H. Lidell Hart was an influential military analyst/historian who strongly championed the “indirect” approach. Having fought and been gassed in WWI the horrors of the massed frontal assault made a big impression on Hart. Starting with the American Civil War the lethality of modern weapons shifted the advantage to the defenders if the tactics of neatly ranked lines of battle charging in grand Napoleonic style were used by the attacker.

I’ve charted out 4 points that I think are representative of the compass points of each combination of variables. It’s a good starting place to start brushing up on some military history.

Pickett’s Charge: The “high water mark” of the Confederacy. Robert E. Lee gambles everything on a classic frontal assault into the center of the Union lines.

Rommel at Gazala: The Desert Fox outflanks Ritchie on the Gazala line then turns west to secure his own supply lines. A classic of maneuver warfare.

The Maginot Line: An impenertable line of heavily fortified strongpoints. Unbeatable if they come on in the same old way.

Hannibal at Cannae: Hannibal defeats a much larger Roman force by giving way in the center and enveloping the enemy on two sides.

Try maping out some of these. If you are not familiar with them then make some time and get a good book on the subject. I’m really making an effort to rekindle the eclectic thirst for knowledge that filled my twenties. My thirties was spent in tech/professional books. Time to enjoy the 40’s a little more and stimulate the mind as well.

Jackson at Chancellorsville

Nelson at Trafalgar

Von Manstein at Kharkov III “The backhand slap”

Leonidas at Thermopylae

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