Strategic eXpanse #31 – Strategic Warfare Part 1

Join Nate, Oliver, Mark, Joshua and Troy as they discuss Warfare in 4X games and provide examples of games that both do it well and potentially innovate. They also discuss ideas that they’d like to see developers implement in future games.


Strategic Position & Maneuver – 04:05

  1. Stellaris past Dev Diary about doomstacks
  2. Age of Wonders 3 Steam page
  3. Endless Legend Steam page
  4. Endless Space 2 Steam page
  5. Galactic Civilizations III Steam page
  6. Stellaris past Dev Diary about Starlanes and Galactic Terrain
  7. UltraCorps homepage
  8. Sword of the Stars Steam page
  9. Battlestar Galactica Deadlock Steam page
  10. Distant Worlds: Universe Steam page
  11. Interstellar Space: Genesis webpage
  12. Eador: Imperium Steam page
  13. Catan boardgame on BoardGameGeek
  14. Pandora: First Contact Steam page
  15. Civilization 6 Steam page
  16. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri on GOG

Information Space – 41:54

  1. Endless Space 2 Steam page
  2. Armada 2526 Gold Edition Steam page
  3. Ascendancy page on Mobygames

Fleet management + composition with strategic ramifications – 57:15

  1. Advance Wars webpage
  2. Fire Emblem series on Mobygames
  3. Total Annihilation Steam page
  4. Master of Orion 1 Steam page
  5. Sorcerer King: Rivals Steam page


16 thoughts on “Strategic eXpanse #31 – Strategic Warfare Part 1

  1. An interesting discussion with some good points made. Suffice to say I don’t agree with everything you guys said, but there’s food for thought.

    On the subject of doomstacks, my personal take is that rather than introduce rules that limit the player’s choices, it would be better to make doomstacks not automatically the best choice. If there were serious drawbacks to putting all your power in one place players might be inclined not to always do so. As is so often the case when it comes to game rules, the keyword here is tradeoffs.

    One aspect of that could be supply mechanics, which have been advocated by many others, but it doesn’t need to stop there. For instance, larger fleets could be less efficient than smaller ones in terms of movement on the strategic layer, maneuverability on the tactical layer, a vulnerability to certain specialized weaponry (as discussed) or even an inability to bring all forces to bear on the enemy at once, as is done in Sword of the Stars.

    Further, there could be indirect disadvantages to massing your ships into a large wrecking ball. Perhaps having so many ships away from your home territory will cause unhappiness at home due to a feeling of being exposed, or disloyal systems might choose to rebel if they think they can get away with it. Criminal elements such as pirates could take advantage of the lack of military presence in your systems, resulting in an economic hit. Perhaps it could even make the empire more vulnerable to sabotage by enemy agents due to having too few ships patrolling its systems. Stuff like that.

    Moving on, information warfare also comes into it, which you guys talked about. An aspect of 4X gaming that contributes to the warfare problems is that the player (often) has very good information about what’s happening, and by extension his military does too. A fleet or army on the other side of the galaxy (world) will immediately know of any threats going on back home, and can respond instantly. Many military sci-fi stories I’ve read feature limited – and often very slow – communications between fleets and their bases of operation, which greatly complicates strategic considerations. You can’t really have that in a game because it would be frustrating for a player and nigh impossible for an AI to competently handle, but I do feel the strategic layer suffers for giving out too much information and letting players act on it too readily. Would you still send your doomstack deep into enemy territory if you could only commit it to that one campaign and not give it new orders until it returned? I’m not sure I would.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. @BTAxis

      Thanks for your reply. i totally agree with you regarding doomstacks and information war. A lot of the discussion regarding doomstacks centered on the ideas you mentioned – trying to create organic and real incentives to not pile all of your fleets together. Arbitrary fleet size limits are, IMHO, an unappealing band-aid (are band-aid’s ever appealing?). I’d much prefer a supply type system. We also discussed the idea that the spool-up time for larger fleets could be much higher, making them more unwieldy.

      Anyway – great points.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Seconded about the doomstacks. I find the “logistics” limits to be really artificial. In general, I don’t like game mechanics that force me into decisions with the explanation of, essentially, “because I said so.”

        Instead, create a reason that makes me CHOOSE not to doomstack because, for whatever reason, it’s suboptimal. Make me need to have variable units. Make positioning and organization of armies important. Create tough choices using terrain/geography. All of these are ways to make me move away from the dreaded doomstacks voluntarily rather than with arbitrary limits.

        I’m glad you enjoyed the podcast. It clearly made you think and to me, that means we were successful.


  2. Interesting show… really too many interesting topics to talk about. It might be better to break these kinds of shows into smaller segments so that each can generate the discussion that they deserve. I know that when it comes to Dominions 4 or 5 the eXplorminate staff have a blind spot and it would be worth discussing how those games discourage doom stacks (they are allowed but its generally sub-optimal play even for the AI). Suffice it to say that if your army is your most valuable resource then you are incentivized to doom stack it. In most games though your planets/cities should be the most valuable resource.

    Couple of nitpicks:

    1) Facing, flanking, weapon arcs are really tactical considerations not strategic ones. There was way too much talk about this for a show focused on strategic considerations.
    2) Army composition (mixed forces) is also a tactical consideration generally and does not belong in a strategic level analysis of games.

    I think the discussion about information was very interesting (both gathering intelligence and spreading disinformation) are very under-utilized ideas in the 4X genera.

    Show notes for this kind of show should be an outline of the major ideas that were discussed rather than an outline of the games that were mentioned and where their dev-journals can be found. While that information could be included – I think focusing on the concepts is much more valuable than listing games.



  3. There was an interesting multi-dimensional balance system in Stars! (with an explamation mark) 4x game mostly played PBEM or in online PBEM-style multiplayer, that was partly a result of a bad AI targeting algo that was I guess grandfathered in when it became clear how great it is :) The combat is auto resolved and you can play thru it.
    There were 2 types of weapons – beams and missiles. There are also shield-only beams (that are more powerful but don’t affect armor; and torpedos (subset of missiles) that were useless for mainline ships unfortunately.
    In general, the missiles were much more powerful than beams one on one and would obliterate them. However,
    1) The above mentioned targeting algorithm would shoot the least defended ships first, and a missile could only do one kill, so building 1000s of tiny ships with an engine (chaff) and a small laser would neutralize enemy missiles for a few turns (each 500-dmg missile would kill a 12-hp scout)
    2) Unless, of course, enemy beams got to the chaff – the beams didn’t have the 1-shot-1-kill restriction so they would shred thru chaff.
    So there was always a cat and mouse game of trying to design a ship that would get to chaff just in time to free up the missiles to do actual damage, or later in the game hitting fleets with suicide ships, stealth ships, exploding minefields etc. to kill their chaff.
    In addition, for fast movement (compared to the regular free flight with engines) players could build stargates on planets that generally have a weight limit, and sending a heavy missile ships would damage or destroy them while beam ships mostly could zip around freely (unless you built small missile ships, but then you don’t get as much benefit from targeting computers etc.).
    So, until the very end of the game a missile battleship is by far the most powerful ship period, but it cannot go anywhere very fast, and requires constant support because it can do nothing against chaff by itself. And if enemy kills your chaff killers or gets to your chaff with beams…
    Oh, and you ran out of missile mineral really fast whereas beams were relatively cheaper.
    This created a very interesting dynamic depending on how big your empire is, where your allies/enemies are, and what your goals were.
    Unfortunately at the very end of the tech tree you unlocked the infinitely flexible and light uber ship hull that made a lot of this nil; still, given that it was so flexible it was sometimes possible to counter exactly what your opponent is doing (e.g. if he went all beams, stuff it with deflectors, forgo missile defense and win) and force him to adapt.

    It was one of my first 4x games and I never knew how good it was until I played some other games in the field where you just build the optimal ship and spam as many as you can; I feel even Stellaris suffers from that to an extent.


  4. I’ll comment more once I finish listening, but @ BTAxis, logistics is, I believe, the main reason doom-stacks didn’t/don’t exist in real life, so they can be a perfectly serviceable explanation. However they need to be implemented in a way that doesn’t come across as “gamey” or tacked on.

    To do it right you need logistics, imho that is, to be a mechanic resulting from other mechanics, and not a mechanic on it’s own, so a “logistics score” would feel a bit gamey.

    Hypothetical example, in a medieval warfare game set in Europe. Base mechanics could be:

    arms and armour

    Manpower would be needed for everything in your empire, but also for warfare, so when you go to war, it’s a carefully thought out decision hopefully.

    Food is generated by your infrastructure, needs manpower to make things work.

    Arms and armour are either manufactured (needs manpower and raw materials, or some sort of market/trade mechanic)

    Morale is affected by training (requires resources,) societal status (namely, Knights would require extensive infrastructure, would have high morale but cost alot in terms of arms and armour, little manpower requirement perse).

    Looking at knights, you could, as this is a medieval game, divide your manpower so Nobles comprise x% and that’s where Knights come from etc. They could be a net drain on your economy, unless they become landlords.

    Already, you now have interesting limiters on amassing “the world’s biggest army.” ™

    As far as I know this game doesn’t exist but this set of interlocking mechanics could be very very interesting imho.

    Now, amassing an army – you “call” your banners, which levies most of your troops.

    Throw in seasonal considerations, linked to manpower, and you automatically conclude that winter warfare is a bad idea (no forage, low movement etc) but the best time to got to war is the harvest time, a.k.a. summer, so now you have opposing desires.

    Thus, no doomstack.

    I’m sure with some imagination you could transpose this into any setting.

    A Stellaris type game could introduce limited fuel (if you run out your ships default to solar power and go at approximately 10% sped) and food (your men still need to eat) or energy if you are a machine race.


  5. Going further, in your own territory resupply would obviously be easier. Going further afield, you would need supply ship/wagons, and forward bases.

    In our medieval example, this makes perfect sense, and you can throw in ravaging enemy territory as well, as a means of supply.

    So, looting could net you a largish immediate supply gain, but screw the land over. Not looting might be more difficult in the short term, but you get an intact city etc.

    That’s an interesting choice. Ravaging the land would hurt your enemy and induce him to leave the safety of his castles, which would otherwise be rather challenging to effectively siege.

    This is essentially what happened in real life. Medieval armies were quite small, and the campaigning window of opportunity was small, and if you resisted and lost your city, it was liable to be totally plundered by the victor. Handing it over intact was permissible and generally would spare your people rape and pillage etc.

    Armies didn’t get extremely large until the renaissance and after iirc.

    @ Cullster, not disagreeing perse but strategic flanking is very definitely a thing, as is combined arms.

    Napoleon was quite fond of placing one corps to occupy enemy armies on one side, whilst the main army was screwing over other enemies in detail, quite some distance away, basically flanking on a strategic scale because there would be several battles fought over larger distances.

    And then he would focus on his particular battle.

    Combined arms would be choosing which corps, or mixture, to send where.


    1. >doom-stacks didn’t/don’t exist in real life
      Sorry, but if Doomstacks didn’t exist in real life than what was battle of Tsushima? In that battle Russian empire basically took every available ship in Baltic fleet and sent (to their death) to try to help in Pacific. This is a pretty good example of a doomstack.
      Or even better, battle of Jutland, where basically all of German capital fleet was fighting pretty much all of RN capital fleet. (i.e. THE most powerful navy was fighting the second most powerful navy) This is as doomstacky as it gets.
      Decisive battle doctrine by IJN,
      Battle of Midway, was basically USN throwing every available fleet carrier vs every available fleet carrier of IJN plus a ton of battleships
      And this is basically out of my head, sure maybe on land doomstacks weren’t as used, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist


  6. Just throwing out some ideas for space.

    You can have “terrain” in space. Even our current knowledge shows us that space has a tonne of interesting things.

    Asteroid field, planet/oids etc.

    Planets could exert gravity which would affect your ships, and therefore strongly influence where you send them.

    asteroid belts would presumably be huuuuuuge, and therefore a consideration. Throw in weapon range and communications range. Launch your missiles but missiles require fuel. Granted there’s no gravity in space so the missile could go forever, but there’d be a limit on the radio signal required to steer it etc, so you could “dodge” them.

    The system mentioned by @sergey also sounds cool.

    Lasers could be very energy intensive, so you need energy to run your ship, and it regenerates slowly unless you use fuel, and fuel is finite.


  7. @ the 35 minute or so mark, Nate makes some good points about anti doomstack mechanics in the form of superweapons.

    these could also be area of effect strategic weapons.

    In a fantasy game these could be area of effect storms. I believe the revived magic mod for age of wonders 3 does this.

    In a space game this could be a deployable wormhole. Or, you could make it so that when one ship is destroyed, the resulting explosion could destroy everything around it etc.

    i stopped listening at 38 minutes, as dinner was ready :).



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