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A Practical Lesson: The First Strike Capability

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Today, my fellow .orgers, I learnt something is school!

That's right - in my (otherwise boring) Social Studies class, we were talking about international politics, war and all that stuff, and I learned of a term which my brain, being completely ruined by video games and the corrupting influence of the internet, immidiately found applicable to many of the strategy games that I like to play, a few of the most obvious examples being the series by the names of Sid Meier's Civilization, Heroes of Might and Magic - and the Total War Series. The term is First Strike Capability.

In all its simplicity, First Strike Capability is a measure of how capable a nation is of completely overrunning another nation in the initial attack - The "First Strike". It works on many levels; entire nations (Does Spain have First Strike Capability against Portugal or Aragon from off the bat in Medieval I?), battles (Can the Carthaginian army on Sicily wipe off the Scipii or the Greek army on the island suffering only minimal casualties in Rome?) and even single encounters in battles (Will sending my Legionary Cavalry to deal with the Forester Warband cost me anything but symbolic losses? - also in Rome).

The term is important to strategic considerations in Total War games, and I believe many experienced players inadvertently use it, because of the entire setup of the game; once you've dealt with this opponent, there's always another one you need to deal with. Which means that it does a whole lot for your game to take only minor casualties instead of attacking two turns earlier and winning only a Pyrrhic victory. Also, if you are facing an enemy army which is not expanding in size, and are on equal terms with it, even waiting to hire a few extra units will secure yourself a much better chance of victory. I've thought up a few examples where waiting a few turns to secure that First Strike Capability could be worth it...

Rome: Total War - You are besieging a small city that has only wooden palisades and which is garrisoned by a single unit of Gaul Chosen Swordsmen. Your current army consists of two units of legionaries and two units of auxilia - enough to take the city, but with heavy losses. Waiting for a few more turns would allow you to reinforce your army with a unit of archers and a third unit of legionaries, manydoubling the amount of missile damage you can deal before going in hand-to-hand combat.

Medieval: Total War II - You are playing Milan and you've gathered a sizeable army to besiege Venice; the city has several layers of stone walls and even a few archer units; Waiting a few turns will allow you to produce and send in some catapults (or cannons) to deal with the walls and towers.

My point here is, of course, that if it is possible, it is much better to wait until you have enough forces to steamroll an opponent instead of getting stuck in the trenches in a long and painful war, and that it is therefore a good idea to ask yourself, before declaring war or engaging in a large-scale battle; Do I have a decisive advantage? If not, would I be able to obtain it within a reasonable time?

Of course, like all other moves, it has to be considered carefully; will delaying the attack on the Gaul city mean that you fail a valuable senate mission? Will waiting for your siege weapons to attack Venice leave your home city without defenses dangerously close to the treacherous French army that's been hanging around the woods all game? In these cases, it is worth to compare the risks/losses by delaying the attack compared to the benefit that is in maintaining an army in its shape instead of having to almost raise a new one from the scraps after a hard-earned, close victory.

Of course, crucial to the assesment of whether you have (or can achieve) the First Strike Capability is to have good intel on the enemy armies and to know your own strength. As Sun Tzu says in his Art of War, he who knows both the strength of his own armies and that of his enemies can fight a hundred battles without losing a single one.

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  1. Csargo's Avatar
    Very good post.
  2. Centurion1's Avatar
    enlightening. i enjoyed this read. as i enjoy most of your blog entries
  3. Diamondeye's Avatar
    Thanks for the thumbs-up, guys :)
  4. Askthepizzaguy's Avatar
    Fascinating. I had no idea you were a Medieval II player.

    We should talk more often about Medieval II.
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