Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Art of Maneuver in a Solar Empire

In my playing of Sins of a Solar Empire and reading of a biography of President Dwight Eisenhower, I've noticed something interesting. The biography takes the reader through every major strategic, tactical, and logistic consideration in World War II (in Eisenhower's time). The attention to detail made me realize commonalities between the movements in World War II, the importance of positioning in battles, and the way Sins of a Solar Empire embraces this need for maneuver where few other RTS (real-time strategy) games do.

The Art of Flanking

In all the wars that I've read about, the goal is not to destroy the enemy or to kill people. Instead, each battle involves moving troops around in an effort to flank the enemy: to attack the enemy from a position that they do not expect or cannot defend against. Often this involves sliding a unit around the side or the back. The goal of this is to, essentially, freak the enemy out in a way that has people running away or surrendering. Very rarely are battles fought to the death. Instead, battles end when one side is outmaneuvered and thus feel that they either have to retreat or wave the white flag.

Another goal in flanking an enemy is to cut off their line of supply or connection to their own territory. If cut off, not only does the enemy fail to receive more fuel, ammunition, or reinforcements, but they also are dealt a severe blow to their morale, or willingness to fight, that often results in the entire unit's surrender.

Strategy itself is defined by the positioning of units and maneuvering them into positions that can make the most difference. This approach in flanking has many applications given the many situations that can arise in battle. And, finally, this explanation circumstantially helps to explain why it is often so interesting (for me, at least) to read about wars and how they play out. They certainly do result in the loss of human life, which is tragic. But the best generals are those who can play the game of flanking the best, and knowing when to act is also a crucially important skill. These skills help to end wars quicker, stem the loss of life, and thus are compelling to read about.

Chokepoints and Outmaneuvering

Sins of a Solar Empire is a game that seizes on this concept of flanking and maneuver. It defines the game. For the galaxies of Sins are laid out in a way that gives only a handful of routes with which to attack a planet, and deciding which planets are most important, must be fortified, or can be safely ignored is immensely important.

For these planets can act as chokepoints, areas which the enemy must take in order to push on to your more lucrative worlds. It is easy to recognize them and, when one does, essential to fortify them extensively to make seizing the planet very difficult. Harder to recognize are lateral chokepoints, planets which either: connect to two of your own front line worlds; or they connect to two of your opponent's worlds, or more. With regard to the former instance, stationing your reserve fleet at the lateral chokepoint allows it to be in an excellent position to respond to the attack of either front line world. With regard to the latter, holding the lateral chokepoint forces your opponent to worry about attack on either of his two worlds, even if you don't actually plan on doing so.

Maneuver and maneuvering well can win the game for you. In a recent game, I played against a computer-controlled player who had a habit of putting all of his eggs in one basket; he would have a massive fleet that would be very difficult to stop, but it required him to use all of his ships at one planet at a time. After a few early losses, I decided to try splitting my own fleet into two groups, positioning them at two entrances to my territory and heavily fortifying a far away third (so I wouldn't have to worry about it). Every time the computer attacked me, I would position the beleagured fleet near to repair bays to allieviate losses while my other fleet attacked one of his bordering homeworlds.

I did this because I knew exactly where his fleet was; and he was nowhere near to my second fleet. Consequently, it allowed me to take the planet, fortify it a bit, and then hold a distracting action when his juggernaut showed up to stop me. When it did, my first fleet attacked his flanks, another planet that his own fleet was now nowhere near. With this strategy I was able to outmaneuver the juggernaut, chip away at his economic potential, and finally draw his weakened fleet into battle in an effort to reclaim one of the planets where, on the defensive, I was able to combine both of my battle groups and destroy him.


This sort of give and take is indicative of how important the art of maneuver is within Sins of a Solar Empire. By taking advantage of positioning and striking carefully on the flanks where the enemy was unprepared, I was able to overcome a numerically superior enemy who, at first, held more planets than I. By fortifying my far away border with another computer player, I looked to the defenses of my own flank so that it could not be taken advantage of while I was busy.

It was very exciting to read about this link between strategy in Sins and strategy in the way real wars play out. And I think it is a quality Sins has that few other RTS games possess. After all, in other games it is very common to simply amass a large variety of units and then collide them against the other player's army in a huge battle of attrition. But rarely does the geography of the map, possible maneuvers, and existence of chokepoints prevail as it has in Sins of a Solar Empire.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your post immensely. I have also found the ability to maneuver and strategize the aspect of this game that draws me deeper into the play.