Strategic Command 2 GOLD – Strategy Advice from ‘Brute Force’ Scenario Writer
"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."
As a World War II buff and wargamer, I find the above quote corresponds well to how the Allies and Axis played their roles during the last major war of the 20th century. (The quote is frequently attributed to Sun Tzu but cannot be found in The Art of War—Ed.) It is my opinion that—man for man—although the Germans were the better soldiers of the war, they lacked a coherent strategy for bringing about a decisive victory; while the Allies managed their offensives inefficiently, which prolonged the war. Despite the latter, the Allied overall grand strategy was sound and unified, and it won the war.
The concept of strategic planning is often overlooked by many wargamers when playing a World War II campaign game. Many gamers have a tendency to play out history, attempt to repeat battles, make many small campaigns, or fall in love with units. I, on the other hand, am convinced that the foundation of a winning strategy for a World War II game is to determine your current goal, build for that goal, throw everything you have at that goal, then move onto the next goal. Whether this goal is offensive or defensive in nature doesn’t matter. It is the basic premise for victory and how I designed the AI for "Brute Force."
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In writing the scenarios "Brute Force 1939" and "Brute Force 1942" that are included in Strategic Command 2 GOLD (developed by Fury Software, distributed by Battlefront.com), I was guided by some of my favorite material from the various grand strategy boardgames that are currently on the market. This article will focus on strategic planning for "Brute Force 1939" and how I adapted this strategy for its artificial intelligence.
The AI in the Strategic Command game series uses fuzzy logic to drive tactical situations for its units. It is up to the scenario designer to give it direction. The scripting is very flexible and allows a great deal of creativity. The fuzzy AI determines battle situations and determines when to attack, reinforce, retreat, or defend. I took the construct of battlefield AI generals and gave them several strategic plans. The Axis have eight offensive strategic plans and five defensive plans. The Allies have seven offensive/reactive plans with six defensive plans. An AI with several strategic plans cannot be predicted, thus mimicking human behavior.
Having a strategic plan—and preparing for it—will greatly increase a player’s chance of success while moderating the impact of the little tactical mistakes one might make along the way. I will cover two strategic plans a gamer can use in "Brute Force"—one for the Axis and one for the Allies—to demonstrate this concept.
Mediterranean Conquest: This strategy has two options for its approach and both require massive airpower, so the player should build as many airplanes as possible. Only a few extra land units need to be built. There usually is no 1941 Barbarossa with this strategy. Taking Gibraltar requires a conquered France and not declaring Vichy in both cases.
The first option is to directly go through Spain and take Gibraltar. On the initial invasion, focus on taking Bilbao first, then Barcelona; don’t focus on both at the same time. These cities hold the roads and rail lines for supply. The goal is to take out Spain, Gibraltar, and then Portugal. Once the Iberian Peninsula is taken you can move east and take Greece. Move the combined Axis air forces east to pound the Royal Navy. Move land units down to take North Africa and push east toward Egypt. Use your massive air cover to protect their movement. Once Egypt is taken, the Axis can focus on attacking Iraq and Persia, denying the Allies valuable resources and securing their conquests.
The second option for the Axis is far more daring: a naval/airborne invasion of Gibraltar. The Axis must take Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria, basing all their air power near Oran and Rabat. Use air power to force the Royal Navy from the sea areas surrounding southern Spain. Next, use air power to destroy the British fortification and port at Gibraltar. Invade by sea or use paratroopers. Be alert to Allied movements—a smart UK player will invade Portugal and use it as an airbase to counter air attacks as well as to defend Morocco. Once Gibraltar is taken, the Axis can swing east and conquer North Africa and the Middle East as stated above. With both options the Axis should be in an excellent position to threaten the USSR.
Sealion Defense: The UK has two important priorities in this hypothetical invasion of the homeland by German forces: defend its convoys and protect its island. Building land units and fighters accomplishes the task of protecting the islands. The destroyer groups will take care of the convoys. In North Africa the Allied goal is one of defense and delay while contending with Sealion. With all your land units built you can control where the Germans land and how to deal with them. Your fighters should be kept far enough back to intercept but not be subject to attack. Beef up anti-aircraft defenses and, if possible, buy some anti-air units to defend landing sites. Your ships should be defending up the coast, not in the channel, if the Germans have air superiority. A small northern fleet should be enough to thwart an end-around invasion since the Germans have no technology in amphibious assault nor do they possess long-range aircraft. The three ports in the south of England are vital to the German assault. If you are having problems holding all three, then give up the western-most port. You can easily bottleneck the Germans in Plymouth for a long time. Use armor in the rear to run up and destroy units that have landed on the coast. If the Germans do manage to get a good foothold on the British Isles, fall back using terrain to continue the defensive plan. Never evacuate England as long as you hold a city and a port: it is much easier for the USA to reinforce it than to invade it.
Summary: Notice that the above strategies for the Axis or Allies focus on one particular goal. Whether that goal is offensive or defensive in nature, the strategy doesn’t change: plan, build, and throw everything you have at that goal until it is accomplished. Do not build unnecessary units such as Russian submarines when you’re in the middle of an all-out 1941 Barbarossa scenario. The same focus should be applied when purchasing technology. Keep in mind where you are fighting and maintain a balance of units for the plan. An example is for the German player to be careful not to overbuild armies for assaulting France in 1940; too many armies will get in each other’s way. The Germans need to build one or two tanks to maintain a good balance, since the area is small and maneuverability is required for staging a proper attack.
The perfect attack against a tile in Strategic Command 2 is a double-deep set of units and one or two tactical air. Tactical air strikes reduce the morale of a unit and remove entrenchments; then, the first line of units can attack and pull back. Now the second set of units move forward and continue the attack. Pay attention to terrain, mobility, and entrenchment levels. Use a balanced land force when attacking or defending.
Following the steps I have described for a goal will downsize tactical mistakes within the game. A proper plan transforms the question, "How am I going to fill in this hole in my lines?" into "Which unit is best to fill in this hole in my lines?" The former comes from a position of deficiency; the latter comes from a position of having options. When you have options, luck is less a factor. Think about your goals when on the offensive or defensive and plan for them. If you do not lose focus on what needs to be accomplished, your chance of success will be more attributable to skill rather than to luck.
About the Author
Alvaro (Al) Sousa has been a lifetime gamer since being introduced to chess at the age of 5. At 15, he played his first complex strategy game, Third Reich, and has been hooked on World War II history and games ever since, favoring grand strategy games that generate multiple aspects of play. He is also a successful poker player—you have been warned. Currently, he does freelance beta test work and scenario design for Fury Software. He says his wife has always told him "do what you love," and he hopes to follow his passion and make the leap to fulltime game design work in the near future.