But don't get too self-assured either. The reason why a person fails to beat a turtler could just be because he's bad at it, too. I.e. unrelated to the game design. In Starcraft 2, for instance, there's practically zero difference in viability between defensive, offensive and production strategies. They all cancel eachother out, not to mention the fact that the inferiority of a tactic can be eliminated by exploiting not only an opponent's weaknesses, but his strengths as well).
I disagree here. In Starcraft 2, once you've put the opponent on one base and keep the siege, there is nothing they can do because resources run out too rapidly. Since a siege won't really happen in the first 2-5 minutes of gameplay (an attack yes, but a siege? not really) by the time the siege is well established, the attacker can expand to all areas he or she so wishes performing supremacy. If the siege is well established, it will take minutes before the advantage kicks in favor of the attacker, and there really isn't anything you can do as a turtle in SC2 to avoid that. This game strongly encourages movement and expansion (taking risks) over being careful. Its a good decision because their endgame was to make a fast-paced strategy game with split-second decisions. This wouldn't work with any component of turn-based strategy or slower-pace games.
But that could be said equally about the number of units you got or how you macro them. You need upgrades, but a bad microer can lose against someone with inferior tech if the other guys kill off his units 3-by-1. I remember a match where I had about 12 units and he had 18 or 20 or so, and I won the standoff with only 3 or 4 units lost. Not because I had better tech or in spite of his tech being better, but because of micro alone. Now give that player +1 or +2 in both weapons and armor and I'd still win the fight, although with maybe 6-8 units lost instead.
However, I'm not in Diamond league and I haven't played SC2 in ages, so you may be right about that game though. Balance is key.
Then it really depends on your audience. By default, I check at the competitive leagues only, where "flaws" inherent to the player are diminished (giving better insight into actual balancing issues). But you've never stated you wanted to make it a - balanced or b - competitive. What's your audience?
There's also the idea of top players swapping their strategies mid-game (e.g. from attacking aggressively to suddenly turtling over a bigger perimeter), which is a nightmare to manage but it can seriously upset the information the opponent is getting about you, if executed well.
Generally speaking, there is no reason to change strategy unless the current strategy is not working or the opponent has adjusted to it. Changing strategy for the sake of it is like saying "I have 100% chances of winning, but I'm changing strategy so that I have 25% chances of losing, 50% chances of winning and 25% chances of surprising the enemy!".
That said however, on a more realistic approach to medieval warfare, I would support your theory, but out of utter necessity. In the middle ages, there was a "season" for warfare, and there is a reason to this. Everytime that season stopped, most, if not all, conflicts paused until the next year.
Because the army lived on its stomach, and the logistics for food conservation were precarious, they had to live off the land. That makes sense if you strike during spring or summer as there should be a lot of food in each villages, but during winter? not so much.
So there is a price to actual expansion, and every now and then, you must stop advancing and stabilize something (economy, morale, food production, etc).
Kohan I and II had a pretty good idea about resupply lines for your armies which is worth looking into.
You'll also find much interest in Dune 2 (the original RTS). The game mechanics oftentimes forced you to bring your harvester much too close to your opponents. At first, you could just be offensive about it and place your units between the known enemy outpost and your harvester, but in later missions where you were faced with Sardaukar and the two houses that you weren't (Ordos and/or Atreidis and/or Harkonen) the enemy could come of any side and defending your supply line was more important.
Basically, you need to have game mechanics that force a shift in strategy. Unlike SC2, which is more like chess (strategies of the two players are directly responsible for the shift of strategy of the other player with no external element) you can build around game-changers. A Sandworm is one, a resupply line is too.
You're hitting the nail here, IMO. I do want a Trebuchet to my game, but it's highly limited by the factors you're mentioning here. In my concept, you cannot use the Trebuchet offensively (it's stationary and has an active ability that may or may not cost stone to fire and has a cooldown). You target an area and it hit's randomly within that field. The Trebuchet is strictly a late-game item and the counter to it is any fast units that are able to move away from the field in time. In some minor sense, it's the equivalent to Starcraft 2 nukes.
I'd also recommend giving an ability to your "walls" that have a high % to intercept the rocks. For example, your opponent really wants to fire at your critical command center (or whatever structure) but its entrenched in walls. If your walls have a static 70% chances of intercepting the block, that makes them more realistic that if its assumed the opponent can easily aim over them and still adequately hit their target.
Builds indeed, have to cancel out each other.
One of the main reasons why this is such a hard job in SC2 is because of their use of hard and soft counters. I applaud the idea, but its hard to make it all work out.
Blizzard did not specifically take the rock-paper-scissors approach. They did in some occurences (a unit doing more damage vs armored for example) but for the most part, they use soft counters, which basically means: if you use this unit in this way, it generally gives you an advantage against this unit if its used that way, under these conditions, in this type of environment and if the player reacts in that type of way rather than this type of way.
It is extremely complex as you can see.
An easy way to explain this would be the archer, cavalry and pikeman triangle.
If you make a rock-paper-scissor hard counter, you'll do this:
- Archer + 5 dmg vs pikeman
- Cavalry + 5 dmg vs archer
- Pikeman + 5 dmg vs Cavalry
It's not exciting, but it works. But if you really want to take advantage of a circumpstancial soft counter:
- Archer has a range of 10, no defense, (damage can pierce armor)
- Pikeman has a range of 2, slow to move, hard defense
- Cavalry has a range of 1, fast to move, low defense (can deal extra damage on initial charge).
Nothing here clearly says this unit is best against this other, but if you look deeper:
- An archer will get to fire a lot of times at a pikeman before it closes in, whereas it won't fire much at a cavalry. Based on the speed alone, one can assume the pikeman will take more damage despite his increased armor. The Archer is still a pikeman-hoser.
- The pikeman has a slightly longer range than the cavalry, which means it will fire first. Its improved defenses means that once in close combat, it would survive longer assuming similar damages and health points. The pikeman is still a cavalry-hoser.
- The cavalry is fast, which alone allows it to reduce damage taken from archers, and deal with them in a swift strike. It is still an archer-hoser.
Now the interesting part of soft counters is this:
- We've said the pikeman is a cavalry-hoser, but is it? What if pikemen are busy attacking other pikemen when the cavalry strikes? the dmg bonus from the charge would be devastating, and though the pikeman have the upper hand "theorically" it doesn't help if they're attacking something else, and though the cavalry is weaker in this encounter, if they can keep the focus on other units, they'll be the only ones doing damage. This can be done by kiting for example, given that they have the advantage of speed.
- But the pikeman are naturally born to handle this, and this is why they have that range of 2. They can't easily be kited, because they can always retaliate and hit first on every charge. Sure, the cavalry maximizes its special ability, but it does not compensate for the fact pikeman have armor and range.
- Thus, cavalry can be used to punish pikemen controllers if their eyes are someplace else, but they can't if pikemen are micro-ed appropriately.
I could go on, but I think you get my point.
Scouting is one of the minor aspects of an RTS game
You're being too modest. Scouting is a critical element of any decent RTS. It is generally impossible to win against a decent opponent without scouting (and scouting isn't just checking out their base at the start of the game to see what their build order is). You need to control the map, which means you need to know where units are concentrated at all times. The SC2 Protoss Observer is a very dedicated unit for that, but most games do with "secondary" scouts. In Age of Empires II, most civilizations start out with a weak cavalry whose speed makes it ideal for scouting. Players using it as an offensive or defensive weapon in the early game generally end up losing strategic advantage after its death. While it can harrass peasants and really be a nuisance to your opponent's tactics, its best used as a silent observer. Information has a value, and most player tend to forget this. It is oftentimes the major difference between a pro player and a good player. In SC2, a lot of Diamond player are highly skilled but not so efficient at getting sufficient information. In other words, they have conditionned their mind to analyze data and come up with the appropriate solution, but they just don't get enough data by lack of scouting.