Stars!-R-Us Article

Concepts Of Warfare
by: Mikkel

A few years ago I taught a mini-course in wargaming and tactics.  I wrote a series of short lectures/explanations of basic military principals for that course and have decided to do a little editing and post a few of them here. If I get positive responses, I will post all of them.  While they do not apply specifically to Stars!, they should be of help to the novice trying to make that difficult jump to the intermediate level. I am going to try and add a short Stars! section to the end of each segment.

Feel free to contact me with observations, critiques, questions etc (no flames please, I can handle them, I don't handle them well, but I can handle them) at:


***   and a hellva lot better than no plan!   ***

To start an operation without a specific set of goals and an idea of how you are going to achieve them is foolish and most likely doomed to failure (often because of "bad luck" according to the person in charge). The basic process of formulating a workable plan is simple, if you just follow a few simple steps. While it probable won't be a work of genius, or as good as Rommel's or Alexander's; don't worry...they're dead and won't be playing. It will however be a hell of a lot better than no plan.

***  MAKE A PLAN: 101  ***

Look at the situation and define a set of clear-cut and realistic final goals. What EXACTLY are you trying to achieve? It is often helpful to make a written list. The simple act of writing things down can help clarify thoughts and ideas; reveal gaps in thinking, etc. Do you need to hold a bridge? Destroy the enemy completely? Have a certain force left at turn 20?

Look at the battlefield. Are there any unusual features that will help or hinder you in your drive towards these goals? Have you taken maximum advantage of ALL natural conditions? (Is it absolutely necessary to start armored operations in the middle of the monsoon season?)(NOTE: Train yourself to ALWAYS strive for "MAXIMUM ADVANTAGE." Never accept less from your thinking...unless you like whining about why you lost and the unfairness of the universe in general. You will face opponents for whom victory is a burning obsession. They will do all of these things and much more in their drive to win. You will lose to them if you do not have the discipline to take these steps. Saying "It's only a game" is the same as saying, "I don't mind losing.")

Determine what intermediate steps will be necessary to accomplish these goals. ("Here we are at the river, did anyone bring a bridge?")

Check to see that you have (or will have) the resources necessary to achieve each intermediate step, if not, go back and look at the situation again and start over. In a game situation you have probably misunderstood something.

Develop a general plan that will accomplish these steps in the shortest amount of time possible. If you procrastinate, time will be a deadly and implacable foe...never waste a favorable wind or tide ...never. Being there a turn ahead of your enemy means getting to pick your ground. Ask the Yankees at Gettysburg if that helped them. "First'us with the most'us."

Now...CHALLENGE YOUR PLAN! Tear it apart! Look for weaknesses...your enemy most certainly will. Look for and eliminate redundancies. Look for can they be eliminated or their impact lessened? Can any sections be completed with less material? In less time? Is there a better, faster, cheaper, deadlier way of doing any of this? Where am I vulnerable? What will I run out of first? What will I do about it? (This is quite likely the most important and enjoyable, phase of planning. Now, before you are buried under the details of running a campaign, take the time to scrutinize the road you intend to follow. Fill in the pot holes and clear away the underbrush, explore side roads and back there a another way to get from here to there? it now, you won't have time later. (NOTE: Challenge all assumptions! Assumption is the mother of all great fuck-ups. "German tanks can't possibly get through those woods." "Battleships can't be sunk by airplanes." "He won't attack me...he promised."))

Revise your plan as necessary and challenge it again...and get the idea.

Place your starting forces and double check that each unit really is in the correct place with the correct orders. Nothing screws up a campaign worse than a dumb mistake at the start.

Excute the plan, but remember, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." You must be ready to flex and shift; zig and zag; shoot and scoot; bob and weave...remember where those side roads and back roads are, because you will surely need them...keep your plan flexible and your objectives constant. Ted Turner named his racing boat "Tenacious" for a reason. Never lose sight of your goals...dogged, unrelenting, persistence pays off, time and time again.

Planning is a learned skill. The more of it you do, the better you get. You may never be a tactical genius but a solid, well thought out plan will keep you from being this game's quick lunch. And you will get better each time you do it. Experienced players may not look like they're doing all of this, don't be fooled. Their experience allows them to operate with less formal planning but they have paid their dues and done it in the past.  They may have 100's of hours in on a particular game system or set of rules and now are masters of their craft. Until you have that many hours in, you must make the plan...challenge the plan...revise the plan...execute the plan...etc.

Good planning will pay off in ways you never imagine. You will find that you grow "luckier" the more you advance plan. You will discover that most of your opponents are making it up as they go along. They are the ones who never give a thought as to why they lost a battle and will never ask for a critique or advice. They are the ones who will read this and say it's too much like work or that it's not their style. These people are your natural prey...snack on them until you run into that guy over the hill who has his own plan and you happen to be right in his way. Then the fun really begins.

***  STARS!  ***

Stars! offers you the unique opportunity to design your soldiers to fit the battlefield and the exact plan you intend to excute. You should look at the parameters of the game, paying particular attention to the winning conditions. Decide before you design your race specifically how you intend to win this game. If you must fulfill 4 of 6 conditions, you should decide which 4 you are going to do and design a race that maximizes your chances to do so. You should also look at the physical makeup of the universe to determine what PRT and LRTs will be most effective. One interesting exercise is to design the worse possible race for a specific game. If you know what is bad, it is often easy to reverse engineer that to what is best. Do you really want to take a race with a 1:10 hability ratio into a small, sparce universe with no ram-scoops?

If you found this helpful and/or thought week, interior verses exterior lines of communication. The extra credit question is: You are faced with two opponents simultaneously, one larger than the other. You can whip either one individually but cannot beat their combined force. Which do you attack first? And why?

***   WARGAMING 102: Concepts of Warfare   ***

War is not an art form and it is not a science. It is not even a thing. It is more like a corrosive chemical process that occurs over a lengthy period of time. No one has found any all-powerful formulas that guarantee success. There are, however, several general concepts that have been discovered over the long history of warfare.  If these concepts are applied artfully, as circumstances require, they give you a high probability of  victory.  Violating or ignoring them is something you do at your own risk. They have withstood the fire of that most heated crucible... combat. But, before you can apply or ignore them you must know them:

MASS: God is normally on the side with the biggest cannon.  Victory usually goes to the side that can put the most firepower onto the battlefield. You need to concentrate your forces. Avoid "defeat in detail." This often requires patience...a commodity lacking in many younger game players. Some numbers you should be familar with: to attack you should have a theatre wide combat ratio of at least 2:1. At the specific point of attack you should have at least a 3:1 advantage over the defender. These ratios are not perfect indicators of victory or defeat.  However, if you are attacking and are below these ratios I would suggest a long, hard look at alternatives and objectives.

INFORMATION/SECURITY: Shoot all spies out of hand! As much as it is humanly possible you should deny any scrap of information to your enemy while gathering as much as possible about your enemy's forces; their size, number and deployment, manufacturing capablility. Always consider that your opponent is as smart, clever, tricky and determined as you are. Never base a plan on the assumption (All together class..."Assumption is the mother of.....") of a stupid or unobservant enemy.

SIMPLICITY: Combat is hard...the enemy nevers does what you expect much less what you planned for. Keep your objectives and plans SIMPLE. Elaborate and complicated plans never the simplicity and success of the attack on Pearl Harbor with the complicated failure of the attack on Midway.

ECONOMY OF FORCE: You cannot do everything at once. No one has that amount of resources. The more realistic the rules, the more important this becomes.  Decide what has to be done and in what order (See WARGAMING 101: Battle Plans). Then parcel out your forces for each phase of the operation. And most important...burn this into your brain...keep a large uncommitted reserve. This reserve is for key operations that require massive amounts of firepower. It gives you a prepared line of defense to fall back to if an attack fails or your line is broken and you must retreat. It is your insurance against all the unforseen circumstances that will occur in the process of waging a military campagin. When *all* of your forces are committed and tangled up with the enemy; you are in a survival situation. Defeat is looming on the immediate horizon.  You cannot parry the next thrust and it could easily be the killing stroke.  A large uncommitted reserve will allow you to snatch survival from the jaws of disaster and victory from stalemate. It gives you the means to inflict decisive, crushing defeat instead of only gaining a minor victory. World War II was prolonged by at least one year due to the German Army's insistence on maintaining a reserve force no matter how desparate their situation became. And finally, this reserve allows you to see how the battle goes; pinpoint the critical time/place and put your maximum firepower where it will do the most good.

MAINTAIN YOUR OBJECTIVE: Once you begin an operation there is always the temptation to change objectives. The less hard information a commander has, the thicker the "fog of war" is, the greater the temptation.  Resist this siren's will waste time, energy and the lives of your troops. History shows that the army that sticks to its original goals is the one most likely to succeed. In 1973 the Egyptians crossed the Suez Canal with the plan of digging in to repel the ineveritable Israeli counter-attack. They changed their minds and launched futher offensive opporations. The Eqyptian losses were very heavy and the Israeli counter-attack ended on the Egyption side of the canal. Know why you are fighting this battle so you don't get sidetracked. Once you have accomplished your objective; reinforce, resupply and consolidate before striking out again.


Planning operations that adhere to these concepts will raise your chances of success and make you a much more formidible opponent.  You may also find that the odd maneuvering of past opponents begins to make more sense when viewed with this knowledge.


When faced with two separate hostile forces; you want to attack before they have the opportunity to link up. Conventional wisdom says, all other things being equal, to attack the weaker force first. This way you will have the most favorable (highest) attacker to defender odds and thus should experience the least number of casualties. This puts you into the best position to take on the second and stronger force.  It is almost never in your best interest to allow them to join forces.

***  WARGAMING 103: Attack   ***

OK, you studied the situation, considered the principles, made your choices and finalized a battle plan.  The game starts and everything is going along just fine...but wait...over there! Whats that guy doing!?! Doesn't he realize that YOU need that particular piece of real estate!?! How dare he put troops there and claim that its his! Doesn't that ignorant slob know how important that piece of ground is to the proper working of your plan?

Its always comes down to this; someone else has something you need and they will not sell or negeoiate for it. You have no choice but to take it by force of arms. Now you must close with the enemy, bring him under your guns and destroy him. We are going to discuss the tactical principles that will help you eliminate your opposition as efficiently as possible.

First, you must put away any sense of openness and fair play.  Great generals never play fair. They are secretive and deceptive. You must learn to mislead your opponent as to your intentions, your strengths and objectives. The success of the great Normandy invasion was due to the fact that the Axis believed that the 'real' attack would be against Calais. As much as possible, you should strive to threaten two (or more) targets at the same time...this puts your enemy on "the horns of a dilemma." Reinforce here? Send troops there? Which? Your goal is to force him to split his forces in an attempt to defend several points at the same time.  This allows you to quickly concentrate your forces and destroy him in detail. Next, never even consider engaging in a "fair" fight.  You always want at least 3:1 odds and along with this, never attack where the enemy is strong. Attack where he is unprepared and weak. Your goal is to destroy him; not give him an even chance. Therefore, first thing you must concentrate on is picking when and where to fight.

Here are six of the most important tactical principles of warfare.  These will help you make your decisions about when and where (or even if) to fight. Study your battlefield situation and decide which is most applicable to your specific conditions. The process of deciding which principles to apply at which time is one of the most important and difficult qualities of being a good general.  It is also unfortunately, not one easily taught in a classroom. You must enter the fray and get your hands dirty under fire.  You will make mistakes that lose units, lose battles and even lose wars. you MUST go back over these battles and look for your mistakes...find better ways...find ways to avoid the thinking that lead to these mis-calculations in the first place.

And remember, the only bad mistake is the one you make twice.

1. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER mount a frontal assault. With pitifully few exceptions, the entire American Civil War and all of WWI are living testaments to the utter waste, complete futility and total stupidity of frontal assault. Frontal attacks are acceptable in only two circumstances:
a. You have TOTAL and OVERWHELMING superority in all areas and will not need the resouces you are about to throw away. b. You have ABSOLUTELY no other option.

What is a frontal assault? Its when, in view of the enemy, you mass your forces and make preparation to attack a strongly defended position and then are dumb enough to actually do it.  Massing your forces and making  preparations are excellent ploys to get the enemy to move his forces into an area to reinforce it. This is called "fixing" the enemy. You "fix" his troops in place and then attack a weaken sector elsewhere or mount a flank attack from an unexpected quarter.

2. Operate on the Line of Least Expectation/Least Resistance.  It takes nothing but a butcher to line up his forces and charge into the teeth of the enemies guns (Yes, Gen. Pickett that ridge over there ...the one on the other side of the open meadow ringed by cannon and sharpshooters...and I want you to take it now.) If an army suddenly appears where it is not expected, threatening supply lines and manufacturing facilities, the opposing general has no choice; he must move out of his carefully prepared defenses and get quickly to the scene.  Well thoughtout plans must be ones must be made in haste. Often in this hasty moving, he will make mistakes. Units arrieve piecemeal...unity is support is gone.  These units are ripe to be plucked, quickly and brutally.

3. Maneuvere into the Enemies Rear. There is nothing that makes your opponent more confused, angry, insecure and likely to make a miscalculation than to suddenly discover that his supposedly secure rear areas are under attack by a powerful force.  This means that lines of supply and more importantly, secure lines of withdrawal are closed or threatened.  Now, in addition to all his normal duties, the enemy commander has to deals with an entirely new and very unpleasant set of problems:
a. How did those troops get there? b. Do I have nearby forces that can deal with them? c. Where are they going next? d. Where'd those guys come from? e. Are there more that I can't see? f. How'd he do that? g. How does this effect my front line dispositions? h. I've got to find out how he did that and plug the hole. i. What other surprises am I going to have to deal with?

As you can see, one of the most powerful elements of this maneuver is the effect it has on your enemy's mind. Napolean made a career out of the simple tactic of putting a strong blocking force accross his enemies line of retreat and then immediately forcing him back onto it. This is one of the few tactics that can be said to be "always right."

4. Occupy the Central Position. If you can keep the opposing forces separated and distant from each other, you will have made significant progress.  This will allow you to engage each force individually and on terms most advantageous to you. ("The only thing worse than having lots of enemies is seeing them unite.") Being in the middle also means that your forces have the shorter distances to travel. This allows you to concentrate forces more rapidly than your opposition. By picking your time and place with this in mind you will be able to attack with superior numbers at the point of conflict. In this situation you must force the action; you cannot let your adversaries dicate the flow of events. You must keep them off balance and guessing at your next movement or action.

5. Follow a Plan with Branchs. When planning an attack or invasion remember that the battle starts the moment the other guy sees forces headed in his direction.  If he sees a single force headed for a specific place he has a pretty good idea of what is about to happen and can quickly decide what to do to disrupt it. Even if that force changes direction he can follow it or shift to counter the change. But, if he is faced with three forces threatening three different targets; now what does he do? If these forces are close enough together so that two or more of them can quickly combine, his problems are even more distrubing.  If he splits his force to defend against each threat, he risks being defeated in detail. If he concentrates his force, he risks being in the wrong place and losing one or more of the other targets.  A plan with branchs is simply one that gives you the most flexibility for the longest time possible.  This keeps the opposition off-balance, reactive and divided - I hope you're beginning to see a pattern here.

6. Make Convergent Attacks. Very few battles or campaigns are one-shot affairs. Most involve a series of actions or battles that lead to a climatic moment which decides the final outcome. The amateur attacks here, then there, then over there...if he wins the final battle he is as surprised as the rest of us.  The true general is like a master choreographer; each action supports (or prepares for) the next.  From the very start he has, in his mind, a picture of the final moment and most important, how to get to it. Lets look at a representative battle:
a. We begin by massing troops in the center of the field...the enemy responds by doing the same. He is going to contest us here. b. The center of our line begins to is made with the enemy line...the fighting is fierce. The battle could go either way...the outcome hangs is in doubt. c. We allow the enemy to see us re-inforcing the center of our line...fresh troops going against his tired ones...he must react quickly...where are the closest reinforcements? There on his left flank. d. His orders go out and those troops move from the left towards the center. e. Suddenly, from behind a hill (gallouping out of the woods, decloaking from warp drive...whatever) a swiftly moving force appears and advances on his now weakened left flank. CRASH! Before he can react, they slam into each other. g. Outnumbered his left flank begins to give ground.  Quickly he sends orders countermanding his first orders...some units start back...confused others stop and ask for confirmation. A second wave hits the reeling left flank and it folds.  The line is breached...your troops pour through and begin hitting the center of his line on its flank.  Now his troops in the center are being attacked from two directions at the same time. There is try to face two foes at once... h. The last of your reserves surge forward and hit his weakening center...the die is cast...if his center can hold you will be lost...but no, they break!  They run! i. Victory now all you have to do is mop'em up.

The process of deciding which which of these principles to apply at a given moment is the most important and difficult quality of being a good general. Study your battlefield situation and decide which of these tactics is most applicable to your specific conditions. Unfortunately, this aptitude is not one easily taught in a classroom. You must enter the fray and get your hands dirty under fire.  You will make mistakes that lose units, lose battles and even lose wars. you MUST go back over these battles and look for your mistakes...find better ways...find ways to avoid the thinking that lead to these mis-calculations in the first place.  And remember, the only bad mistake is the one you make twice.

Be strong, command is not a place for the faint of is a place where great victories can be won. And remember the single most important thing is to keep your feet dry and your head down...

Feel free to respond, critize (but not flame), disagree with, etc....unstinting praise is always welcome.

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