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Battle Tactics
Battle Tactics

by Rick McDowell

I have heard many tales of woe from crestfallen generals. These unfortunate commanders entered an important battle, confident of victory, only to emerge from the field badly bloodied and beaten. How could they have miscalculated so miserably? Did they really consider all the factors that they might have? How can they avoid the same fatal pitfalls the next time?

It is too bad that two numbers are included on the Status Update concerning military groups. These are the "Estimated Value in Current Terrain" and the "Estimated Value vs. Population Centers". The problem is not that these numbers are incorrect, but rather that generals place too much stock in them. "Well, my group's value vs. p.c.'s is 12,300 and the p.c. has a defensive value of 11,000. This will clearly be an easy victory, right?" Wrong. The combat routines in Alamaze are very involved. Players should resist the temptation to think that a battle is resolved according to which side has the highest number going into the battle. Several other factors are of major importance in resolving combat against both population centers and other groups. These include:

1. Defensive Value. Each group has a defensive value, which is a weighting of how durable its soldiers are. Troops which are more heavily armored (heavy infantry as opposed to light infantry) or are of especially tough races (Giants, Dragons) will have much higher defensive values than will lighter armored forces. The defensive value determines the extent to which the force will be subjected to casualties in each phase of battle. Thus, a group with a high defensive value will actually fight as if its "Estimated Value" was much higher. Conversely, one with a low defensive value will not fight as well as its "Estimated Value" might indicate. Players are not told outright what their defensive values are. They must deduce these from their brigade makeup and from the description of their kingdom's military.

2. Wizards. No inclusion is made for the effect wizards and their spells may have on a battle. Players most definitely must estimate the effect both their wizards and those of their opponents will have on the battle. This consideration can easily override the significance of all other factors in the case of several high powered wizards. Do not neglect the advantage of a wizard which has reached the level at which he provides the capabilities of "Presence". The effects of presence do not require a spell to be cast: they work in every battle in which the wizard's group participates. Presence adds to the group's offense and defense.

3. Artifacts. Weapon artifacts will add to the groups values in every phase of combat.

4. How a Battle Unfolds. Battles are broken into phases. During each phase both sides have the opportunity to inflict damage on its opponent. After each phase, if either side has met its retreat criteria, it will seek to disengage from battle. In a group vs group battle, the phases progress as follows: archery, magic, cavalry, infantry, combined.

In the archery phase, only the missile troops of each side will be considered as regards offensive capabilities, although casualties which result from the missile phase will be distributed amongst all troop types.

In the magic phase, all offensive spells cast by the wizards on each side are resolved and casualties determined. Defensive spells are each implemented prior to the beginning of the battle.

The initial cavalry values of each side are reduced by the level of casualties the side has suffered in the archery and magic phases. Example: entering a battle, a Ranger force had a total value in terrain of 12,000 points, of which 4000 was due to its cavalry. In a battle against its Darkelven opponent, the group suffered 25% casualties in the archery & magic phases. Only 3000 of its cavalry value will be considered in the cavalry phase.

Similar to the cavalry phase, the infantry phase begins by reducing the infantry values of each side by the % of casualties the group has suffered. Remaining infantry values then inflict damage on the opponent.

If neither side has retreated or been destroyed through this point (rare, unless sides are very evenly matched), then the full remaining forces of each side are thrust into the fray to settle the engagement (archery, cavalry, and infantry troops combined).

5. Brigade Composition. What troop types comprise the brigade? As detailed above, this will significantly affect how the battle will be resolved. Other things being equal, in a battle between two groups of equal strength, if one's strength lies in its cavalry, and the strength of the other in its infantry, the battle will favor the side with the strong cavalry (since its impact is felt before that of the infantry).

6. Military Discipline. Each kingdom is rated for its military discipline. This rating has a major effect on the additional losses a group will suffer if it is forced to retreat from a combat. Players are not told directly what their discipline rating is, although this is hinted at in the description of kingdoms in the rules and in the kingdom's setup sheets. In addition to discipline, speed (eg, Dragons, cavalry) and leadership may mitigate losses in retreat. The least disciplined kingdoms may suffer up to 25% additional casualties just trying to exit the battlefield. The best of retreats may be accomplished with minimal additional losses.

7. Acceptable Casualty Levels. Another factor which varies by kingdom is the extent to which the kingdom will accept casualties in the battle and continue fighting without retreat. This casualty acceptance affects each of the three tactical selections differently. The optimum situation for a kingdom would be a very low threshold for a tactical selection of 1 (probing attack or organized withdrawal) and very high casualty acceptance for a tactical selection of 3. Most kingdoms do not enjoy such parameters. Barbarians may have very high thresholds at all tactical levels (once they're in battle they're having too much fun to withdraw) or relatively low thresholds at each level (Dragons can get in and get out quickly with tac selection 1, but they're not keen on the idea of actually dying just to get at a few more bipeds under tac selection 3).

8. Terrain. Terrain not only affects a kingdom based on its modifier for terrain, but may affect the values of archers and cavalry independent of kingdom. For example, cavalry is virtually negated in the mountains (fights at 25% of value).

9. Other factors. Leadership, morale, and attrition are each integrated into the "Estimated Value" numbers, but should be considered separately. For example, a group with high attrition will almost certainly suffer the loss of an additional brigade over what it would have lost with low attrition, since the high attrition represents the fact that this group is carrying brigades which are already below full strength, thus require fewer casualties to tip the scale to a full brigade lost. Leaders give a % adjustment to the strength of a group. It is criminal to have a marshal or warlord in a small group. That is, a Warlord in an army group of 20,000 points provides a bonus 5000 points to his group. The same Warlord in a single brigade of 2000 points only provides a bonus of 500 points. It's difficult to win by giving away 4500 points in leadership by having a Warlord in the wrong group.

Conclusions? Consider well where and when you will fight your battles. The goal is not merely to engage the enemy, but to do so on favorable terms. Have you assembled your leaders into your main group? Do your troops currently have high morale? Do you have some less valuable brigade types present to absorb the brunt of the casualties? Is the battle fought on terrain which favors your force and hinders your opponent? If so, you are ready to engage. As you order the attack, what tactical selection will you make?

If your force is light, quick, has good discipline, is supported by wizards casting battle magic and features archers (eg: Elves, Darkelves, Warlock) you should give serious consideration to a tactical selection of 1 or 2. Why not attack at level 3? If your foe has not been disposed of before that time, after your wizards and archers have taken their toll, the remainder of the battle is likely to turn against you. Get out. In addition, your disciplined troops are better able to make a retreat.

If your force is heavily dependent on the impact of its infantry (eg: Barbarians, Uriks, Dwarves) you need to engage in battles you wish to win at a selection of tactic 3. Only after your force has swatted aside the archers, cavalry, and magic of your foes will your muscle be felt. A less severe tactic may have your forces retreating after they have taken your enemy's best punches and before you can deal out your own punishment. Always try to fight these battles in restrictive terrain, where your opponent's archers and cavalry will be hampered.

As can be seen, more is involved in battle preparation than may be apparent to the neophyte. Here's hoping your next battle will be a tale of triumph!
Thanks Rick. I always liked your oracle articles. This one was quite good in explaining the process without giving too much of the detail away.

I have been re-reading your three part "Fifteen Who Would Rule Alamaze" article in preparation for the upcoming game.
Just hoping some players who may not have seen this article before may benefit from it.
Excellent article. Helps a lot for the current games I am in. Thanks.
Nice write up on battle tactics, just what I was looking for, thanks !

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