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FortKnox's Journal: Strategy VS Tactical... and other ramblings. 7

Journal by FortKnox
I have an interesting question. What's the difference between strategy and tactical?

I've always thought that tactics was a specific set of events. Something a "sergeant" or "platoon leader" would use with his troops. Tell them specifically what to do, so he knows what is going on, and can efficiently attack a target. For example, rush the soldiers down the hill, kill the workers quickly, then concentrate on the guards afterward.
Whereas, "strategy" was much much broader. The general would have the strategy, determining when and where to attack, and reasons behind it. For example, attack the supply lines first, to cripple the opponent, then hold a defensive stance until the opponent is in dire need of supply. Next surround the opponent and attack.

The "general" (strategy) determines the "when", "where", and "why" of the attack, while the "sergeant" (tactical) determines the "how". Strategy is the broad idea without the specifics, and the tactical is the specifics without the broad idea.

I am trying to explain why RTS's aren't, in my mind, strategical. I guess, because you can make supply lines, it is semi-strategical, but tactics rule the game. Its all because of one word: Micromanagement. Your a general! You shouldn't need to tell each specific soldier what to do! You should be delegating your authority.
And the "campaigns" of the RTS. Each story explains why you are going to the next level. That's the "general" giving you "the grunt" the strategy... you determine the tactics to use.

I've finally found a game I like, though. Conquest: Frontier Wars has a great idea: Admirals. If you want to go knock over a planet, order your admiral to go do it, and let him worry about the tactics. Sure, you can jump into the battle, but the generals do pretty well in combat.

Will other RTS designers pickup on the idea or make clones of successful games??
Well, there are two genres that are starting to jump onto the innovation highway, instead of making clone-games: FPS and RPG.
The FPS's are jumping aboard, cause of the modding community (hey, if I want the same game with different levels and a few more features, I'll make it myself!). The modding community forces game designers to bend their brains before coming out with a new game. That's what RTS games need to adopt to get out of this rut.
RPG's are going innovation-way because of the storytelling modes that the newer games come out with (Vampire: Masquerade, and Neverwinter Nights). You can build an online campaign with simple tools provided by the game. The next set of games will have to have something more than just a good story, now. And the new Freedom Fighters games makes sure that all characters you make are unique (including skins!).
Looks like some new technologies are helping "boost" the gaming industry out of the innovation rut that its been placed in. Maybe its just a way that game developers force their publishers to accept new ideas (cause its the publishers that say "Hey, everyone likes quake, lets make a game just like it!").


Note: Sorry this is so chaotic. If I had time, I'd organize it more...
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Strategy VS Tactical... and other ramblings.

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  • There's plenty of strategy to a game like StarCraft. The problem is that it's a fairly static game, and the terrain often does little to affect strategy. Everyone ends up finding the best strategies via repetition (or someone else's repetition, who then posts results to the net).

    Going "huge defense" is a pretty bad strategy in StarCraft. All sorts of strategies have been tested, and the better players have a pretty set strategy.

    Unfortunately, this means games are often decided by tactics and micromanagement. Not because there's no strategy, but because the best strategies have been figured out - and likely the two players' strategies are very similar (on any particular map).

    Here's what I think goes into a satisfying strategic game:

    1. Clarity. You should be able to have some grasp of how different units are going to work, and you should be able to predict to some extent how a position will evolve. Alpha Centauri frustrated me to no end - it was too difficult to plan strategy when you couldn't even remember which was better: "ECM cannon shockers" or "Laser quantom chaos squads". Too many rules means less joy. I don't like making decisions that make no sense, and seem to have little impact on the game.

    2. No "work". Black & White was an annoying game. To win, often I'd have to manually clear out a forest with my magic hand. In a good strategy game, you win by making better decisions, not by playing fetch with the trees.

    3. Meaningful, variable decisions. Chess is full of meaningful decisions that are difficult to make. There are no decisions that always work. If a game like StarCraft had meaningful decisions that were actually hard to make, it would be amazing.

    Anyways, that's what I think. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed playing a strategy game - although I'll admit to enjoying StarCraft for a while (until I figured out which strategies worked all the time).

    .
  • Have you never heard of Shogun: Total War? It is a relatively recent game(maybe 2 years old now) that played out on something like a RISK board, where you determine the strategy, and leave your tactics to your generals. You can jump in and do a battle if you want(There are something like up to 10k units in a large battle) but the units are themselves seperated into 60-120 person "squads" which fight as if they are one unit, but each one does its own fighting and pathfinding. If seems as if what you are talking about describes Shogun perfectly. Anyway, there is a new one headed our way sometime soon, but instead of medieval Japan, it is now set in medieval Europe, a place I believe it has real possibility. Hopefully by that time they will be including a polished multiplayer(Total wars was something like what happened w/ Warcraft 2, there was no multiplayer until the expansion) and a map editor or something like it.
  • Here's a model that I've found helpful for sorting out questions like this. It's especially useful for keeping people on track in business meetings -- you can recognize when they're getting too detailed (or not detailed enough) for the discussion at hand. But it's generic enough to fit a wide variety of situations.

    http://www.mgtaylor.com/mgtaylor/glasbead/vantgpts .htm [mgtaylor.com]

    To summarize, the vantage points from which an "enterprise" can be viewed are, from the broadest overview to the most specifically detailed:

    • Philosophy
    • Culture
    • Policy
    • Strategy
    • Tactical
    • Logistics
    • Tasks
    For definitions of each term, hit the link. Sounds like your "strategy" is everything from strategy up in this model and your "tactics" is everything from tactical down. That's a good way of dividing it up, I think -- the definitions given may be useful in sorting out what belongs to which.
  • I'm going to write a GPL'd Axis and Allies clone...

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