Saturday, June 25, 2011

Artillery Through the Ages

Artillery is both especially powerful and particularly weak.   Artillery brings a decisively powerful punch to the battle.  Artillery can either soften up the enemy prior to an assault or finish off a weakened enemy.  This strength is countered by a decrease in mobility and 'set up' time before it may attack.

Antique Artillery Uses
From Antiquity to roughly the medieval era, artillery is primarily a siege weapon or used in defense of fortified positions.  In siege they were used to propel items over the walls, while in defense they were used to mow down assaulting infantry trying to climb over the walls.  During this time artillery is mostly a 'static' weapon, moved or constructed on-site, and needs to be protected by other units.

In antique-era games, Artillery provides a harassing effect during sieges, but by themselves artillery is easily dispatched.  On the battlefield, Artillery will not be found.

Early Gunpowder Artillery
Sometime during the renaissance period, from roughly early 1400's on, artillery became powerful enough to bring down castle walls on their own.  This changed the role of artillery from a siege 'nice to have', to a requirement.  Artillery was heavy and hard to move, but could be found in almost all European armies.

A disadvantage of the gunpowder weapons is the inability to build them 'on-site'.  Suddenly, the logistics of a siege became more complex as artillery units, and their ammunition, must be transported to the siege location.  On the battlefield, artillery was still too heavy to move and too inaccurate.  Given the size, unwieldiness, and cost of these weapons, a great tactic is to engage the weapon before it arrives at its destination.  As such, armies formed around the artillery pieces as protection for them to arrive at their location.

Late Gunpowder Era Artillery
From roughly the 17th century to The Great War (WWI), advances in artillery permitted them to become lighter, more powerful, and more accurate.  These, coupled with improved munition types, transformed artillery to a battlefield weapon.  Whereas before artillery was to be protected, now it could effectively fight on the battlefield.

Still, artillery never "held the line" without support.  Instead, artillery became a strong and powerful balancing factor.  Able to engage the enemy at long range, artillery demoralized the enemy.  At close range a few canon loaded with canister rounds could devastate an infantry or cavalry charge.  Once in place during a battle, artillery could be moved short distances effectively, but long advances or retreats were impossible.  This made Artillery a 'set-piece' unit on the battlefield.

The weakness of artillery at this stage is the low rate of fire and set up time.  Although some units could achieve fairly good rates of fire over short periods of time, it could not be maintained indefinitely.  Additionally, the setup time required to prepare artillery for firing meant the opposing forces could 'take cover' to reduce their exposure to fire.  As an example, during the American Civil War, only about 10% of battlefield casualties were caused by artillery.

Sea Artillery
Artillery was quickly adopted by naval units.  Prior to canons at sea, the primary method of taking a ship was to board it or ram it.  Ramming was as dangerous to the attacker as the defender.  Boarding usually meant the unit with the larger crew would win.

The introduction of canons permitted ships to attack from further away than the boarding and ram ships.  It also allowed ships to bombard forts and buildings on shore, purportedly in support of ground troops assaulting at the same time.

Modern Artillery
In the modern age, from WWI onwards, artillery came into its own.  Mobile artillery, what would have been an artillery canon on wheels, became the tank and self-propelled gun we know today.  Artillery hurls shells miles.

Rocket Artillery
Rockets were first used around the mid-1200s by the Chinese.  However, they were probably more an instrument of fear than a true damaging force, much like elephants were to Alexander the Great.  In World War II, with the German Nebelwerfer and Soviet Katyusha systems, rockets added the a capability of doing physical damage to their fear aspect.  The fear of rockets lies not only in their destructive capacity, but the fact a volley of rockets lands without warning and in a relatively small area.  Modern rockets are capable of traveling hundreds of miles, or around the world if the ICBM is considered a form of rocket artillery.  Modern conventional rockets can deliver a variety of payloads and, unlike their predecessors, can deliver it with precision accuracy.

Aircraft were the earliest "super long range" form of artillery.  During WWII, bombers could travel hundreds of miles from Britain to Germany, dropping thousands of pounds of explosives on the way.  In the wars of Korea and Vietnam, radio communications allowed aircraft to coordinate with front line infantry, filling the role of artillery by bringing heavy explosives to a points on the front lines.  In this regard, aircraft may be viewed as a form of artillery.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Odd happenings with the blog

This weeks post will be delayed.  I've received messages some of the entries on the blog which were already published were being republished throughout the week.  However, when I look, it appears to not have happened.

I'll post a little later this week to ensure this is the case after I investigate this further.

Friday, June 10, 2011

New Happenings on the Blog

Today I'm going to start a few new items which will appear on the blog.  First, I am interested in feedback, so if you enjoy reading my thoughts on a subject, please let me know: either email or comment below to let me know I'm doing it right (or wrong)!

Second, a few buddies and I are going to start an "After Actions Report" portion of the blog.  The idea is we will play a game and take pictures after ever turn.  We will then write about why we made the actions we did and see how the game plays out.  I will consolidate the information and the images; posting them to the blog. These will have "AAR:" in the title to recognize them from the other blog entries.  I am still working out the posting schedule, but we hope to start this within a week or so.

Third, I'm going to start a section by section review of the "classics" of strategy and their relevance in games.  I will start with the granddaddy of them all: Sun Tzu's Art of War.  Not sure what to name this yet, but we will find out.

Lastly, I would like to add a guest submission area.  If you have an article you'd like to post on the blog and it is relevant, please email it to me.  I will credit you in the title, the label, and will post soon as possible.  Simply email me your post and I'll gladly add it to the blog site.

So, no game advice this week, just housekeeping.

Thank you!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

First Mover Advantage

First Mover Advantage (FMA) is relevant to many games, including two of the oldest games: Go and Chess.  In many cases, this can be a 'king maker' as long as the player who goes first does not make a mistake.  In other games, it greatly impacts the strategy and tactical doctrine of game development.  There are many ways to attempt to resolve FMA, but not all of them function well, and not all games can be 'fixed'.

Definition of FMA
First Mover Advantage is the inherent advantage the player who moves first in a game has over the other players and should win the game.

Severity of FMA
A game's FMA severity will differ from light to severe.  In severe games, a lesser player can beat a better player if the lesser player goes first, even if the lesser player makes some mistakes.  Light FMA games provide a slight advantage to the first player which, if the player makes a mistake, may cost them the game. Such games are more balanced, but can become tricky to find

Example of Severe FMA
Consider the following simplistic game:
Objective: First person to place a unit in the square marked with 'X' wins
Rules: 1) Each unit may move one space at a time.
          2) Only one unit may occupy a space at a time
          3) Units may not capture other units

And now the board:
Horribly Imbalanced First Mover Advantage
 Obviously, whomever goes first will win.  There are many games with First Mover Advantage, some statistically proven, and others where it is obvious from playing the game.  In other games, the rules may be so complex as to hide the FMA issue and it may not be seen for some time.  The challenge is to identify these games quickly.
Symmetrical Games/Maps
Many times games begin with a symmetry, or close enough to symmetry, which supposedly makes things 'balanced'.  However, the symmetry may provide an illusion of 'balance' which hides the first mover advantage.

Detecting FMA in Symmetrical Games
Test 1: Symmetrical Move Method
A basic way to detect First Mover Advantage in Symmetrical games is to perform a 'Balance Test'.  In this type of test, the first player makes a legal move and the other player makes the same (or equivalent) move. This continues until one player cannot, due to a rules violation, make the same move.  Properly testing FMA using this methodology requires testing all, or very many, possible move variations.

Consider Chess as an example of testing FMA this way.  The game begins with symmetry:
Starting Positions
White, the first player, then moves the King's Pawn forward 2 spaces.  Black responds with the same, returning the symmetry.  White then moves  the Queen Pawn forward 2, and Black responds by moving the Black Queen Pawn forward 2.  Finally, white moves the King's Bishop to Queen's Knights 5.  The board with these moves is shown below:
Symmetry Broken
Technically, to restore symmetry, Black must move the Black King's Bishop forward.  However, the rules of the game declare the king cannot be in Check.  Therefore, Black's next move must be to either place a unit between the bishop and the king, or move the king.  Either of these breaks the 'symmetry', and so it can be assumed White has a First Mover Advantage.

In fact, statistics show that chess does suffer from FMA, but not by much.  I believe the statistical advantage of White to Black wins is somewhere around 52% to 56%.  However, this is only among players of equal caliber.  If I were to play Kasparov, I would expect to get trounced, whether I was White or Black.  This test simply shows FMA may exist, not how significance of the advantage.

Test 2: Reactionary Moving
Symmetry testing is great, but not complete.  Often times it leads to situations where either one player or the other makes an "idiotic" move just to test symmetry when a better move exists.  Similarly, many games have non-symmetrical setups, unit strengths or objectives which prevent Symmetrical testing.  In these cases, other tests are required.

'Reactionary Moving' is one such test.  In 'Reactionary Testing', the first player makes a move and the second player then makes the best of all possible moves against the move made.  If the second player's moves are always made 'in reaction' to the start player, First Mover Advantage probably exists.
Best Move?
A major issue with Reactionary Moving is subjectiveness.  First, 'best possible move' must be determined. This may not be seen for several moves if playing a complex game.  Second, determining if a move is made 'in reaction' to the first player is difficult.  Both of these elements require an objective analysis of the game and expertise in determining the outcome.

Test 3: Statistics
Another measure of whether a game has FMA is statistics.  In some games, such as Dominion, the game has so many randomizing factors as to make symmetry testing invalid and 'reactionary moving' too open to interpretation.  Statistics comes as the means of last resort for determining FMA.