Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hex War Games - Strategy Part XI - Why Study Defense?

I've received several emails asking to start talking about offense.  A few comments from emails received include (I will not reveal who emailed them, and spelling mistakes are included):
  • 'Why study defense, offense is where it is at?'
  • 'Come on!  Get to the Offense!'
  • 'Enought with the Defense, get to the good stuff.'
  • 'Defense is booooorrrrinnnnggg!'
First, thanks for all the feedback, emails and comments.  I enjoy hearing from everyone, so please keep it up.  Second, starting next week we will begin studying the basics of Offense, but I'm taking this time to describe why understanding Defense is so critical.

Defense: The Universal Constant
Defense is the one aspect of combat all sides of a conflict are involved in, even the attacker.  The reason being not every unit can attack at all times.  A player who constantly attacks without repair and refit results in understrength units that cannot maintain the impetus for battle.  Even attackers must, at some point in time, stop to gather their forces together at a common location.  During this time, the attacking units are vulnerable unless they can effectively defend themselves.  So everyone, even the side which was the 'attacker' must go defensive at some point in time.

Defense Wins Wars, Offense Wins Battles
In long, drawn out affairs, it is possible to achieve a Pyrrhic Victory, a victory in the battlefield which eventually leads to the destruction of the war.  Indeed, the term "Pyrrhic Victory' comes from the King Pyrrhus of Epirus when fighting the Romans during the Pyrrhic Wars (c. 280 BC).  After two battles in which King Pyrrhus attacked and defeated the Romans, he had insufficient men to continue on, and this led to not only to the defeat of his nation, but to the conquering by Rome of all of Italy and Greece.1

But what of more modern cases of Defense winning wars and Offense Winning Battles?  In WWI the Germans attacked brilliantly with the Ludendorf offensive in 1918.   Their offensive operations tore through the countryside and defeated the enemy.  Unfortunately for the Germans, their units overextended their supply lines and they had to come to a halt.  By the time they were ready to renew the offensive, the Americans had arrived with over 250,000 fresh troops and the French had time to prepare a trap for the Germans.  When the German assault began again, the Germans were disastrously defeated.  In the first phase, the Germans lost near 230,000 casualties, in the renewed offensive they lost 3 times that number.2

Understanding Defense Leads to Better Offense

If, in the process of gaming, you develop 'The Ultimate Defense', simply wait.  Eventually someone will come along and ask you to play 'the other side' in the game and use your own Ultimate Defense against you.  Knowing the Ultimate Defense and how it works, you should have a better idea how to defeat it.  Of course, once your opponent sees how to defeat it, she will use that against you in the next game.  And so 'The Ultimate Defense' will need to evolve.

The key here is understanding how the defense works leads to better ways to counter it.  Warfare, like game play, evolves.  Only by playing and understanding both (or all) sides in a conflict does game play improve.

I remember often playing as the Warsaw Pact forces in a game called FEBA (now Tac Air).  The game was horribly unbalanced in terms of units.  NATO Forces were virtually undefeatable even when outnumbered 3 to 1.  Placing two NATO armored units next to each other created an impregnable wall and so my opponent always chose that option.  The key, as I learned, was to pick a sacrificial unit of mine and use its ZOC to force the NATO units to either separate or engage that single unit.  If separated, I would then overwhelm first one unit then the other.  If they came after the sacrificial unit, the rest of my army would bypass them, leaving the unit to its doom, but continuing the advance to the objective.  Only by understanding the defense could I shape my strategy to overcome it. 


I hope this explains the importance associated with understanding defense.  If looking for 'better offensive tactics to win', I recommend reviewing the defensive blog entries again and indepth.  Understanding how the defense works, its limitations, and why the opponent moves units into a particular place will better assist in determining how to defeat it.

With that, I promise the next blog entry will begin covering Offensive Operations.

I recommend researching the above battles at the local library.  Given the propensity of the web, I suggest reading the sites if library research is not desired.
2: Ludendorf Offensive

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