Stars!-R-Us Article

The Principles of War
by: Brian Weeden

Part I : The Principles of War

Tonight in my AFROTC class, we were talking about the principles of war and how they were applied in Desert Storm. Well, seening as how Stars! is a very strategic game (the best I have ever played) I decided to write an article that deals with strategy. For furthur knowledge about strategy Sun-Tzu's classic "The Art of War" is a must and Clausewitz is also a good start. This article is part one of two and deals with what the principles of war are and how our military uses them. The second article will apply the principles to Stars!.

There are nine principles of war that our military uses. These were developed very recently (post-cold war) and are what the Gulf War was based one. The first three are the basis of military strategy. 6-9 support the first three.  The last three wrap up the whole package into a complete unit.

Principle #1 - Objective

To be sucessful in any military campaign you MUST have a clear and well-defined objective. Clausewitz says, "the military objective must be the same as the political objective." I wish that the bozos running the Vietnam war had remembered that.

Principle #2 - Offensive

"The best defense is a good offense" is a very well known saying and it holds true. As Sun-Tzu put it "keep the enemy under strain".  Being on the offensive is all about having the enemy react to what you do instead of just acting. This does two things; first, it keeps them on their toes, and secondly you have a better chance of predicting what they will do.

Principle #3 - Mass

Mass is about concentrating enough combat power at the right time and in the right place to get the job done. It does not mean to just throw everything and the kitchen sink into the battle; just make sure you have the forces to accomplish the objective (see #1).

Principle #4 - Economy of Force

As we said in #3, we want to get the job done without wasting resources. One way to do this is to hit the primary objective with the main bulk of your resources and to keep the forces at the secondary objective(s) at a minimum. In the Gulf War this was used in the air campaign. The air plan was based around "gravity circles", basically start at the center (Bahgdad) and work outwards. Cut the head off and then deal with the remmnants.

Principle #5 - Manuever

Sun-Tzu called this one the "most difficult art", and it is. The mission of the US Air Force is "Global Power, Global Reach" and it is based on this principle. In the Gulf we had F-117s flying nonstop out of New Mexico, hit Bhagdad, and fly back. We had B-52s flying in from Mynot in North Dakota, hitting Bhagdad, refueling in Diego Garcia, and flying back. We airlifted a heck of a lot of equipment to Saudi. In the ground war, the Ist Armored Cavalry races hundereds of miles to the west to get around behing the Iraquis and suceeded in entraping them.

Principle #6 - Unity of Command.

All the efforts of war should share a common goal and a common command where possible. In Vietnam, the air force, marines, and navy all had their own separate commands calling down airstrikes, along with the White House acting on its own. In the Gulf, all airstrikes, no matter if you flew for the US or for France, were cleared and approved by USAF Lt. Gen Horner. And good ol' Norman had complete control of the ground war.

Principle #7 - Security

Friendly forces must be kept from harm, by both active and passive measures. Pretty simple stuff, but hard to implement. Security, like many of the other principles, comes down to military intelligence (I know, it is one heck of an oxymoron).

Principle #8 - Surprise

Sun-Tzu - "Act if the enemy is unprepared and strike when it is unexpected."  Boy, you gotta love those F-117s and those Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Tomahawks have an accuracy of the width of a football goal post after flying 500+ miles. And we launced 1200 of those puppies the first night of the air war. Too bad they cost $1 million apiece.

Principle #9 - Simplicty

"Simplify, simplify, simplify." Sun-Tzu - "Reduce the risk of the fog of war." If your plan is dependant on A going to B, then B going to C, then C going to D, what happens is B shits the bed? You've got a problem. Just remember KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid. Because war looks nice on paper but all kinds of things happen when the bullets start flying.

Part II : The Principles of Stars!

Note to readers:

In the first part of this article, I talked about the nine Principles of War that the Department of Defense (DOD) has established for its standard military doctrine. Here I would like to take them and apply them to Stars!, being that it is in my humble opinion the best pure strategic game of all time. One note that I would like to make now: my favorite PRT is IT and I play it almost exclusively. Don't be discouraged if the majority of my examples apply to this PRT; I just find it easier to talk about what I know. And I am sure that there are many people out there who would be more than willing to give examples for their own favorite PRT. I will also gear many examples towards alliances, as they are almost necessary to survive in Stars!.

Master Sun said:
"War is a vital matter of state. It is the field on which life or death is determined and the road that leads to either survial or ruin, and must be examined with the greatest of care." - from "Sun-Tzu, the Art of War"

War is an inevitable occurance in any game of Stars!, even those among friends. It is the true test of a person's mettle and their skill. No matter how skillful a negotiator, how friendly you are, war IS inevitable because you will always have something that someone else wants or vice versa. So it makes sense that in order to be the best, one must study war and to do that is to study strategy. Strategy is the art of planning and directing large-scale military movements and operations. The nine Principles of War outline the basics for a sound strategy and provide guidelines. They are in no way absolute, but provide a strong base.

Principle #1 - Objective

Whenever military action is planned, you must decide on an objective. It can be as broad as to eliminate your biggest threat, or as simple as taking out a colony. The more specific the objective is, the easier it is to devise a strategy to achieve it. If your objective is to take out the player in the #1 spot, that will require many smaller objectives with the overall objective. I find it easier to break a large objective down into smaller bites and to attack each one in order of importance. But HOW you approach it is not as important as making sure that you have a CLEAR and well-defined objective.

Principle #2 - Offensive

A good offense is the best defense (unless you happen to be SD with all those nasty detonating minefields). It is all about initiative. If you have a stack of 50 nubians loaded with 21 Nexii and 15 Armageddons each, it doesnt matter what your opponent has on his Nubians if they have equal number of ships and less initiative. You will fire first and do a heck of a lot of damage. Same thing on a larger scale. If you initate the offensive, your opponent will have to react to what you are doing instead of taking his own action. That puts you at an advantage, and it is very hard to overcome unless you are prepared.

Principle #3 - Mass

Mass is all about concentrating your combat power at the right time and at the right place. It does NOT mean that you need to totally overwhelm your opponent, just put enough forces in place to guarantee that you get the job done. That is one of the things that I love about being an IT. With infin/infin gates I can shift my forces to meet whatever comes my way. I also find that penetrating scanners are invaluable tools. It is very hard, even for an IT, to be in the right place when you dont know what is coming. And with the IT's ability to scan any planet in range of the stargates that has a stargate, I can know where the attack is most likely to come from and where to counter attack.

Principle #4 - Economy of Force

Keep your forces dedicated to the secondary targets to a minimum and avoid wasting resources (in a combat sense).  If one of your primary goals is to knock out a heavily defended planet, dont waste time taking out all the weaker planets around it, UNLESS there is a good advantage. For example, if your ally is making a stealthed assault on an enemy homeworld, attacking the enemy's other planets on your part is a good idea. They will move forces to defend against your attack and will be open to your ally. If they do see both attacks, they will be forced to make a decision: lose a lot of planets or lose my homeworld. Not an easy decision. Economy of force also means knowing just how much to put in the right place. Using 100 Battleships to take out a space dock and a planet of 150k is not very economic, and those extra battleships would probably be better used elsewhere (maybe to beat up on those darn HE).

Principle #5 - Manuever

One of the primary reasons that the Mongols were so good at what they did was their cavalry. They could ride circles around enemy infantry and pick them off as they wished (oversimplified example). Same rule applies in Stars! and relates back to mass. As an IT, I have a habit of placing colonies in key strategic areas of the universe and within my allies' territory. This allows me to gate fleets all over the place and pick off planets one by one, and also be ready to defend any counter attack.

Principle #6 - Unity of Command

This is essential to any game in which you are allied with other players. If all of your allies are running around fighting their own wars, you are probably not much more effective than if you were not allied. You would not be obeying many of the other principles, like mass and economy of force. Now, I am not saying let someone else dictate how you play your game; rather, elect one person to be the military commander. They are in charge of conducting ship movements and allocating forces. Input and advice from allies is greatly needed for this to work right. Everyone can be in on the decision and the formation of the strategy, but one person is needed at the top to make sure that things go smoothly. The democratic process may be great, but who wants to argue for days when your homeworld just got blasted down to 400 colonists.

Principle #7 - Security

Once again this mainly applies to game with allies. The best laid plan is of no use once the enemy gets a hold of it. Unfortunately, in Stars! it is very hard to completely trust your allies in the game, unless you came together before the game started. There is absolutely no certainty that they wont betray you. But even if your allies are completely trustworthy, there is still a security issue. If all of a sudden I see 30 warships arrive at the nearest enemy planet, and the turn after 20 bombers arrive, I know something is up. So ship movements need to be disguised. Ways of doing this include naming, cloaking, and hiding behind planets (if your opponent doesnt have penetrating scanners). By naming I mean calling your warships large freighters and so on. This will only work against lazy people or ones who are not paying attention, but sometimes it is worth the effort.

Principle #8 - Surprise

Think Pearl Harbor (although recent deveopments claim otherwise). Think those nasty SS cloaked fleets running around. In a game that I am currently playing (Swimming in Boranium) a SS race was terrorizing everyone. The game started with 1000 turns force generated and this guy had every single fleet cloaked to 98%.  I never saw one fleet of his (until I took out his homeworld) and I had planets just 300 ly away. Scary thing. If he had decided to go west instead of north I wouldnt have lasted long. And when I took his homeworld (when his warships were off sacking my ally's home planet) I had no clue whether I would be ableto hold it until bombers arrived or if there was a fleet of 100 Nubians lurking nearby. I had to go in without bombers because he had minefield all over the place and I wanted to surprise him (imagine that, a SS getting surprised).  One thing that often goes unnoticed is to not only have surprise on your side, but striking where the enemy is weak. If you hit someone's homeworld with a cloaked fleet of say 20 BBs, it doesnt matter if he saw you or not if he has a Death Star and 50 ships defending. You're toast. Surprise is all about striking when and where the enemy doesn't expect it.

Principle #9 - Simplicity

"The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray." That famous line from Steinbeck's classic is probably the underlying definition of what happens in war. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong, especially with a complicated plan. Think of it this way. Each part of the plan has a 99% success rate. Pretty good, right? But what happens if the plan has 100 parts? Well, according to what I remember from high school (correct me if I am wrong) the probability that you will successful is 0.99^100 which is about 36.7%. Not good odds in my book if you are betting the farm. Anyone know 'Toole's corollary? - "Murphy was an optimist."  A great tactical geniuis like Napoleon might be able to construct and carry out a plan of that kind of magnitude, but for the common weekend warrior like you and me we need to keep it simple. Simple does not mean stupid, just eliminate the unnecessary items and deal with the basics.

What does it all mean?

Okay, if you have stuck with me till this part, you are at least interested in becoming a better Stars! player. You adopt all of the principles, make them your holy text, sleep with them at night, and you ask "What next?" Well, I would like to put my own two cents in. One of the things that I have learned is that practice and patience are pretty much essential. I have been playing Stars! for about 2 years now and still making mistakes and learning new things. But I know that I have come a long ways from when I first started. That is good enough for me to keep going.

Creativity goes a long ways when coming up with your strategy. Consider Hannibal and his elephants. Not only did they get good miles to the bushel, but they also scared the crap out of the enemy and could crush small huts. Don't be afraid to get creative and take risks. Just be prepared to accept the consequences when you are wrong. If you can do that, who knows - you might be the next Alexander the Great.

Brian Weeden

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