You Have No Heavy Calvary

Written by Cliff Harris

February 24, 2009 // 9:29 a.m.

Tags: #empire #game-developer #gratuitous-space-battles #military #positech #rts #strategy #total-war

I've just finished my first play of the demo of Empire: Total War, and it reminds me of my original motivation for the design of Gratuitous Space Battles.

I'm a big fan of the Total War games, although I don't devote much time to the campaign game and certainly don't get time to play them as much as their true devotees. They have, for me a single major frustration. Although I might go to great lengths to field a decent army against my enemy, although I may pick a good formation and a decent time and month to fight, the moment the two armies come into contact it becomes an almighty uncontrollable scrum where almost anything could happen.

The basic dilemma is ranged units. If your guns can fire one metre further than the enemies, just ensure you are always at maximum range and shoot at him till you win. This may sound simplistic, but it's how a lot of real world battles were fought. The US & Buddies pulverised Saddam's army because their tanks could fire from further away. In the open tank battles of Gulf War 1 and 2, hardly a single tank shell of Iraqi origin hit anything.
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You Have No Heavy Calvary

Throughout history it's been the same. The medieval British kicked serious ass because we had longbows which shot a huge distance at incredible speed and force (at Agincourt 5,000 of the 6,000 English were archers).

In Napoleonic times, the French had a huge battery of cannons that could bombard almost any army to pieces. The reason the battle of Waterloo was lost was due to time pressure. The rain meant cavalry couldn't charge easily and guns were hard to manoeuvre. Napoleon couldn’t wait for the ground to dry and failed not because there was an easy counter to the 'grand batterie', because there simply wasn't one.

WW2 was no different. I was chatting to a guy at the tank museum one day (we all need hobbies) and he was saying how a Tiger tank could destroy a British Churchill or US Sherman at 2,000 metres. By contrast the Russian T-34 couldn’t penetrate the Tiger's frontal armour at point blank range.

Basically, if side A fields Tiger tanks and side B fields T-34s, side B will lose, unless you severely compensate with sheer numbers and suicidal bravery, starve the enemy of fuel or have air superiority. The phenomenon is best summed up by a quote from Braveheart; "You are outmatched. You have no heavy cavalry."

You Have No Heavy Calvary

So, all this leads me to believe that battles are not so much won on the battlefield, but on the drawing board, where boffins scratch heads and design a faster airplane, a bigger gun, better armour etc.

That's the basic design objective of my game. The battles are 50 percent what ships what you build, and 50 percent how you position them and what broad rules of engagement you set up. Once your spacefleet leaves spacedock, the battle is pretty much over. Actually commanding the fleet mid battle is a formality, and one I intend to skip.

Does this make the game less fun? Is it better to have an illusion of control during the actual battle? Or is it better to accept that it's out of your hands? I’d like to know your thoughts, so drop them in the comments below.

Some historians claim D-Day was won because Eisenhower had a great army and let them get on with it, whereas Hitler was micro-management crazy. I intend to put to the test the theory that the real satisfaction of military victory is seeing your forces triumph without you micro-managing your every move. They are still "your boys", after all.

Am I mad?

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