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Wavinator

Tactical Resolution of Strategic Clashes

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I haven't seen many games of late use tactical resolution for strategic level turn-based strategy clashes. Are there obvious flaws to this feature or is this more an issue with popularity?

For the record, what I'm talking about is when two units representing some large force like a flotilla or platoon clash on the grand strategy map the game zooms in and allows the player to see and move groups of units which represent the main force.

The last game I played which had this feature was Age of Wonders (which was out an age ago). Newer strategy games tend to favor real-time, continuous representation (likely for the sake of almighty immersion) but it's not the same feel.

Can anyone list any features or highlights that really make this sort of gameplay stand out (or things to avoid)? Gameplay bogging down I can see being one major potential problem, although I think this can be handled by limiting units at the strategic level.

Thoughts?

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I'd say it's more that the turned-based strategy genre just doesn't seem to get a whole lot of new blood outside of some of the bigger hits like the Civilization series.

That said I can think of quite a few that did it much more recently that AoW. The Heroes of Might and Magic series has always worked that way (#5 came out in '06). Elemental: War of Magic was put out by Stardock earlier this year but it had a number of bugs and other issues with it's release.

Sword of the Stars came out in '06 and had combat resolved in real time in a separated environment than the strategic game, as did Star Wars: Empire at War (though their strategic level may have also been real-time). I believe the Total War series does this as well but I haven't played any of them.

One thing that helps to prevent it from bogging down is an 'auto resolve' option. I rarely ever use it, but it's nice to know it's there. I usually feel like I must resolve the combat myself because I generally get significantly better results than the automatic resolution. It's frustrating to have an auto combat lose half my army to a army when I could manually control them and take no loses at all.

A danger I always seemed to run into was the "Fleet of Doom" effect where I could easily bunch up my entire fleet and defend or attack with it against everybody. It's more problematic with the real time variant since command and control becomes more difficult.

Sword of the Stars had an interesting mechanic that would limit the number of ships you'd be able to have in combat based on actual command ratings of the ships in your fleet. For example if you had a Command Cruiser you'd be able to have more ships in combat than otherwise.

Empire at War had a similar mechanic but you didn't have any way to bump the cap. That got a little annoying when you could build 10 Star Destroyers but in combat you could only use 3 or 4. At least if one blew up you could bring in one of the others as a reinforcement (which would have made a much more interesting pre-combat option if you could take every in if you wanted or keep back some reserves just in case).

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KISS. If you don't have a real reason to add tactical level combat, you shouldn't.

Usually the amount of individual combats that happen (per turn, or per unit of time in a real-time game) will vary throughout the game. The duration of tactical combat has to be low enough that the maximum realistic amount of combats is still bearable. If the battles are fast, is the player really making any decisions other than micromanagement? Or any decisions that could not be handled faster and smoother while staying at the strategic level?

Rarely do units have such features in their strategic level representation that it naturally extends into interesting tactical level combat. And if the interesting features only emerge at the tactical level, chances are good that the tactical combat will feel tacked-on.

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Let's not also forget the Total War series. Personally, I think it's just a feature that's fallen out of favour a little at present. RTS games seem to be incorporating some sort of macro-scale campaign, but it's not quite the same thing.

Features fall into and out of favour all the time.

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Original post by Stroppy Katamari
KISS. If you don't have a real reason to add tactical level combat, you shouldn't.

Usually the amount of individual combats that happen (per turn, or per unit of time in a real-time game) will vary throughout the game. The duration of tactical combat has to be low enough that the maximum realistic amount of combats is still bearable. If the battles are fast, is the player really making any decisions other than micromanagement? Or any decisions that could not be handled faster and smoother while staying at the strategic level?

Rarely do units have such features in their strategic level representation that it naturally extends into interesting tactical level combat. And if the interesting features only emerge at the tactical level, chances are good that the tactical combat will feel tacked-on.


I agree with this.

Also, combats are generally one-sided. The tactical part is just mopping up or watching as your forces get slaughtered. In other words, it adds nothing to the game.

The only situation I would consider tactical resolution is if individual units have tactical depth, combats are few, important, rarely one-sided and the scope of the game makes representing individual units on the map impossible.

If units have no tactical depth, they give no interesting choice to the player and make the tactical combats boring. If combats are too frequent, they slow down the game flow. If combats the outcome of combats is unimportant, either because units are meaningless or it's one-sided, the player will not feel involved and it will feel like a chore. The last point is more of a hardware resource issue. Representing 2 million tiles is impossible, but grouping them into 20K tiles makes it manageable. In this situation, tactical combats are necessary.

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It sounds like you're describing positioning units sort of like you do in Civilization. I think it leads to a more chess like feel when moving units which can be fun if you don't mind taking the time to think about what you're doing. It does really bog down when you have a lot of units to command though. You either end up having to issue orders to every unit or you end up forgetting about a unit that you had exploring somewhere when you've been distracted by a battle near your capital. Limiting the number of units available to the player could work well to avoid bogging things down and keep things interesting but the game would probably have to strictly be a combat strategy sort of thing.

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Original post by MagForceSeven
I usually feel like I must resolve the combat myself because I generally get significantly better results than the automatic resolution. It's frustrating to have an auto combat lose half my army to a army when I could manually control them and take no loses at all.
I think this is a problem in and of itself: even before you enter combat you already know the outcome, and you are only taking tactical command to improve the survival rate a little.

If there is going to be tactical resolution, then it needs to have a significant chance of affecting the outcome. Which means you need a *lot* of tactical depth to individual units and terrain. Enough that a tiny army can defeat a significantly larger army given favourable terrain and good tactical control...

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Personally I really like the "Mixed time" strategy game: A turn based high level strategic level where you handle building, and a real time tactical game where you actually fight without distractions of construction and such.

One thing I would really love to see is to move away from the 'auto-resolve' button, and give you more options if you don't wish to command the fight directly.

Pinning an army down and actually destroying it should be hard, especially smaller armies. In Total War, it always bugged me that the AI could attack me with a super stack of units when I had only a minor army, but I could nearly win when manually controlling it, or at least make the attacking army pay dearly for my defeat. But if I auto-resolved, even with a quality general, I lost my entire army, and they would take a fraction of the losses I would have dealt if I commanded the field myself.


Offer different options for your AI general to go for, Full attack, Withdraw/retreat, fighting withdraw, delaying action, harassment-flanking, full retreat and regrouping (At the cost of a sizable portion of your army, but less chance of being caught and surrounded than a standard withdraw.)

Basically, let me choose an auto resolve that likely comes out closer to what I would have done if I commanded it myself.

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Original post by swiftcoder
If there is going to be tactical resolution, then it needs to have a significant chance of affecting the outcome. Which means you need a *lot* of tactical depth to individual units and terrain. Enough that a tiny army can defeat a significantly larger army given favourable terrain and good tactical control...


Agreed. What I would love to see is for auto-resolution to be good-enough for a lot of the fluff battles but to have the tactical resolution available for the really important battles where you need to actually employ cunning or terrain. When I've got overwhelming force it's just boring.

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Original post by MagForceSeven
Quote:
Original post by swiftcoder
If there is going to be tactical resolution, then it needs to have a significant chance of affecting the outcome. Which means you need a *lot* of tactical depth to individual units and terrain. Enough that a tiny army can defeat a significantly larger army given favourable terrain and good tactical control...


Agreed. What I would love to see is for auto-resolution to be good-enough for a lot of the fluff battles but to have the tactical resolution available for the really important battles where you need to actually employ cunning or terrain. When I've got overwhelming force it's just boring.

I'd still micromanage everything because it's just better.
Actually, I'd quit the game because I don't want to micromanage everything.
The real solution, if you want some key battles to be under manual control and the rest handled automatically, is that the manual control cannot be unlimited. Maybe you have an avatar in the world, and you get to manually resolve only those fights where the avatar is involved. Or you have to pay to get manual control of a given battle, so a lot of the time it's simply not worth doing.

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Original post by Wavinator
I haven't seen many games of late use tactical resolution for strategic level turn-based strategy clashes. Are there obvious flaws to this feature or is this more an issue with popularity?
Yes, there is a critial flaw. Strategic level is about numbers and probability. When you fight 100 battles it averages out. Tactical combat in strategy level games is simply pointless and change nothing (it does not mean players don't like it, only that it is pointless timewaster and don't affect the game outcome). It might be also that people nowadays don't have much time and they simply can't play games that require 100 tactical level battles per gaming session.

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Well my first thought is the classic 4x games Masters of Orion and Masters of Orion 2. They were great at blending strategic level planning and tactical battles.

Features that make this kind of game play successful:
- Unit customization - The ability to fully design and configure units based on available technology.
- Combat depth - Tactical combat has to have a lot of depth in it to make it interesting. A large range of modifiers, stats, and options make it rich experience.
- Environmental factors - Let the environment play a role in the battle and let the player affect the environment. Give me the ability to create a mine field around my planets. Let nebulas conceal ships until they are ready to strike.
- Carry over between tactical and strategic - One my favourite features in MOO2 was the ability to take capture enemy ship in combat and use them against their former owner. Likewise give me the ability to send a wave of troop ships to drop their forces on the enemy planet regardless of whether the planet still has defence intact or not. That way I might lose the space battle but still take the planet.


I suppose in summary I'm saying Tactical resolution is good when there it is deep enough to allow different tactics, and is affect by the strategic choices before hand and has impact afterwards.

If it's just a case of two fleets with X attack and Y defence and control only means I might lose 1 ship instead of 2 then skip it. But if it's the case that I can design, build, and with careful control I can guide a small agile fleet to take on the enemy's death star then give me that ability.

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Original post by Stroppy Katamari
Maybe you have an avatar in the world, and you get to manually resolve only those fights where the avatar is involved. Or you have to pay to get manual control of a given battle, so a lot of the time it's simply not worth doing.


Hmm... that's interesting. Or perhaps a specific unit either built or awarded (like the Great Generals in the last couple Civ games). In the spirit of keeping it limited it would probably be better to award them in some reasonable way.

Somehow though that just feels like ignoring the problem. On the one hand it would make it feel less arbitrary that the auto battles performed worse than the manual ones.

Perhaps the issue is a question of level of information. One thing I don't ever recall seeing is a pre-fight estimate of causalities. If that were provided players may be more inclined to let the battle auto-resolve if they knew that they wouldn't lose (m)any units. The screen could even give some very basic controls over the tactical directives for the battle on a scale from "Highly Aggressive" to "Highly Defensive" (or something) so that if they wanted to risk more causalities on their side they would be able to inflict more damage.

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Original post by TechnoGoth
Well my first thought is the classic 4x games Masters of Orion and Masters of Orion 2. They were great at blending strategic level planning and tactical battles.
Great? Not even close. There are way too many meaningless tactical battles (for instance, ones where one party will just retreat and cannot possibly suffer any casualties) gumming up the works, and the tactical battles rarely give you any interesting decisions to make - the right thing to do is obvious. The one good thing about the tactical battles is that they give you a good feel for how beneficial a given ship modification actually is against the various ships of the enemy.

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Original post by Stroppy Katamari
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Original post by TechnoGoth
Well my first thought is the classic 4x games Masters of Orion and Masters of Orion 2. They were great at blending strategic level planning and tactical battles.
Great? Not even close. There are way too many meaningless tactical battles (for instance, ones where one party will just retreat and cannot possibly suffer any casualties) gumming up the works, and the tactical battles rarely give you any interesting decisions to make - the right thing to do is obvious. The one good thing about the tactical battles is that they give you a good feel for how beneficial a given ship modification actually is against the various ships of the enemy.


I agree that was true in single player, but multiplayer was a different story there was definite arms race when you played against other people, competing to counter each others fleet tactics and ships designs. Too many battles can make combat tiresome it’s like any feature if over done it and repetitive it can be tiresome.

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