I find this game challenging and interesting and there are several reasons for that. First, as you have noticed, the game has dynamic AI. that will use different disposition of forces every time. Also, dummy objectives are a great thing as you are never sure where the enemy will decide to concentrate their force. In other games, I could always guess where the enemy would be, so I could maneuver freely around that point, cover ground quickly, flank it etc. Here, the game is keeping me honest and I need to maintain proper stance all that time, e.g push scouts ahead, keep proper spacing etc.
For example, you mentioned that AI placed infantry on the other side of the river. In my game, AI placed there something with more punch (anti-tank gun or BMP) and that opened my BTR’s like cans. This is one of the reasons why I abandoned the eastern approach, as I didn’t want to spend time and resources clearing a few houses in the corner of the map.
Second, the game really rewards methodical planning and execution and punishes click and drag approach that we are so used to. Most of other RTS games are set in WW2 setting, but weapons from late 80-ties were much more lethal. That, combined with order delay can ruin your day pretty quickly. To counter that I’m using disabled points a lot, so support units have a pre-planned path to approach front line or flank, while units that in defensive posture have pre-planned fall-back path (reverse for vehicles).
I’m also trying to develop a fairly detailed plan before I start the battle, and that implies not only to think about the general direction of advance but I try to figure out where and when I want to have individual unit positioned. This is not because I expect that the plan will survive the first contact, but it forces me to be methodical and go through rigorous assessment of terrain, forces, visibility, avenues of approach etc. It is like a going through questionnaire and forcing yourself to actually articulate answers instead of just skipping over with a warm feeling that you know what you are doing.
Additional advantage of having a plan is that it helps me to understand why things failed (and they will fail) and learn lessons from it. I planned my battle, I assumed certain things and I failed to execute. If underlying assumptions (on terrain, enemy position…) are clearly expressed in my plan, it is easier to identify the one that did not work.
As I mentioned in another thread, I find "101 Tactics" series of articles very useful. I suggest that you should look at Articles 001 to 005 that lay out basics of mission planning. Advices there are of general nature, but they should not be regarded as a cookbook with recipe for every tactical situation, but more as a guideline or “questionnaire” that needs to be filled.
I still cannot post links, so search for Armchair general tactics 101.
For example, lets try to apply OAKOC acronym (defined in Article 002) on this scenario:
• O (Obstacles) – Where are the existing (natural) obstacles? Where are the emplaced (manmade) obstacles? How will they or could they influence maneuver and the flow of forces?
The river is a major obstacle and it is fordable at two locations, eastern and western fords.
• A (Avenues of Approach) – Based on the obstacles; where can you and the enemy move and with what impact on formation and rate? Where are the mounted avenues? Where are the dismounted avenues? Where are the air avenues?
The river dictates two potential routes, Western and Eastern causeways.
Western causeway can be used for mounted offensive, as it allows echelon and line formations.
Eastern causeway favours infantry action, at least in vicinity of the river. Forest limits movement of vehicles, while burnt areas that does not provide concealment. (I learned that the hard way).
• K (Key Terrain) – Where are the areas along the avenues of approach that provide a decided advantage for you or the enemy?
I will focus on Western Causeway, because this is where my main effort was:
There are a few houses and forested areas where enemy can hide AT guns. This is why Phase Lines “Франкфурт” (Frankfurt), “Штутгарт” (Stuttgart) and Кёльн (Cologne) are placed there, as they represent major milestones that need to be achieved before the majority of force could proceed forward.
Northern side of the river lays on higher ground, and that gives me excellent overwatch positions, i.e. Battle Positions “Сталинград” (Stalingrad) and “Ленинград” (Leningrad).
• O (Observation and Fields of Fire) – Where can you or the enemy detect each other? Where can you or the enemy physically engage each other with weapon systems? Where are the potential engagement areas and kill sacks? Defensible terrain?
The terrain is open and weather is good, that means that detection can occur early. This leads to one of the hardest questions for me: how to determine the distance between advancing forces, i.e. scouts, infantry and tanks?
Too close, and AT guns will engage follow up force (vehicles) before they are detected.
Too far and vehicles will not be able to support scouts and infantry when they get pinned down.
Rule of tumb stipulates two thirds of the effective range of the majority of employed weapons (see Article 102). However, as in this case enemy does not have ATGM and I feel confident because I'm attacking with overwhelming force and control high ground, so I went with smaller separation.
• C (Cover and Concealment) – Where are the areas that you or the enemy can evade fire? Where are the areas that you or the enemy can evade visual detection?
There re not many areas where enemy can avoid detection, apart from forested regions and houses.
I hope that this illustrate the value of structured, formal approach.
But, perhaps the most important and practical take that a new player could obtain from these articles is a necessity to determine a decisive point. A decisive point is something that is crucial for execution of a mission that, if achieved, will determine the course of the battle. It can be terrain-oriented (a position that needs to be held or covered approach that will enable flanking) enemy-oriented (unit that is a keystone of defense) or time-oriented (importance of timing attacks or time limit for execution of the mission). The decisive point helps you to define your intention, and from intention your units will get its purpose, and purpose will flow down into individual orders.
For example, I decided that the decisive point for this battle would be control of the ridge that I named Battle Position “Сталинград”. This is due to following reasons:
1. The position provides tremendous field of fire. In some plays, I actually placed two tanks platoons there, as I wanted to ensure that I have superior fire power. The game has an element of luck, like real life, and that pesky T-55 could get a lucky shot at the weak spot of your T-72. So, sometimes, it is good to double down and increase probability of killing enemy before he kills you.
2. It enables control of central portion of the plain, which splits enemy zone of operations into two halves and prevent flanking, which actually happened when enemy rushed the enemy platoon across the field.
3. It provides security for mortar sections in the rear. We can argue if that was necessary or not, but A.I. showed that is capable of executing counter attacks, and I also like to role play my game. Competent commander would never leave mortars unprotected in a field.
Another example, at the moment I’m working on a plan for Winter Desolation scenario. In this scenario I need to move quickly a mechanized force (in the north-west corner) and reinforce a tank platoon in the south, while Soviet forces are rolling from the east and are trying to cut my lines of communications.
So, in this scenario the decisive point is time. Will I manage to move my mechanized force down before lines are cut? In order to do that, I need to avoid contact with an enemy as combat will slow me down. This leads to following considerations:
1. Route: which route is the farthest from the enemy?
2. Concealment: it is night, so visibility is low, but should I deploy additional smoke screens to prevent enemy from observing my movement?
3. Interdiction: how to prevent enemy from interdicting my lines? My BTR’s have 7.62mm machine guns, not a match for a tank or BMP, but infantry squads have recoilless guns. Should I dismount leading squads and try to secure critical intersection until my column passes?
These are decisions that flowing down from a choice of the decisive point.
Third, and the last point that I will try to make is that units should be used in a way that they are supposed to be used in real life, and this can be only learned by trial and error method. This sounds obvious, but that is where our previous experience with other RTS does not help, as usually it is enough to just select a bunch of units and order them to go forward. This game, in my opinion, models well strength and weaknesses of individual units, so we should study their specs in order to understand how they should be utilized.
For example, tanks and assault guns are there to support infantry, but APC’s (Armored Personal Carriers) are just glorified trucks and it is best if they stay behind. However, in some circumstances, APC’s could be brought forward to lay out suppressive fire.
IFV’s (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) are between tanks and APC’s in terms of capability and tactics. If the threat of anti-tank weapond is low, they could be used as tanks and support infantry with direct fire. If the threat is high and we have a luxury of having tanks in our OOB, they should be kept behind tanks. But then Bradley is heavier and better armored than BMP and that could affect tactics as well. If enemy is charging ahead with armor, they could be employed as mobile anti-tank teams, firing from concealed positions and then moving to a reserve site.
I apologize if some of my points are considered obvious, but as I mentioned at the beginning, we often have that knowledge ingrained in us, but sometimes it is difficult to fill the “questionnaire” and put that knowledge into structured and determined plan of action. I hope that these thoughts would help with that.