Strategy Games: Quality vs Quantity

I am certain you heard of this before. More or Better? Better or More? Quality vs Quantity. It is a legitimate concern in real-life terms and in strategy games of different types and sorts. Do you want more of something worse, or less of something better? Rather than telling you how to do your shopping, or what sort of holiday decisions you should undertake let us focus on Strategy Games alone. We immediately stand at a problem however. How do we define Quality and Quantity? The easiest way to differentiate between the two is Cost. Typically in Strategy games something that is more expensive to produce, maintain or purchase is of higher quality. Meanwhile the Quantity approach has a relatively low cost per unit. The best quick example that comes to my mind is from Shogun 2. For 800 Koku (points) you can purchase two Matchlock Kachi Units, or a single White-Bear Infantry Unit. Who would win, the two Matchlock Kachis Units, or the Single White-Bear Unit? We might be more prone to pick the White-Bear Unit but the truth is, “All depends on the circumstances.”. A lot depends on your opponent, on the territory you are playing on, reserves, production, etc.

Quality vs Quantity

Perhaps not the best example, but the Defence of Rorke’s Drift showed how a more disciplined and technologically superior force could defeat a much bigger army.

Quality vs Quantity – A relative approach

Shogun 2 has become a most recent example for me where Quality and Quantity meet head-on. You can have a bigger army of cheaper units, or a smaller army of more expensive or Veteran units. It is also here where I got this discussion running in my head of whether Quantity defeats Quality in Shogun 2. The answer is not that simple, because as I stated before everything depends on the situation.

My recent battles would suggest that Quantity prevails. Here are a few examples. In a 10,000 point battle on the sea my small fleet composed of different Corvettes, my Admiral’s Ironclad and a single Gunboat faced off against the impressive l’Ocean class Ironclad, which in all honesty could be defined as a Battleship. My little wooden ships were small in comparison to the Moloch that swam before me. I was concerned, worried, how was I to defeat a ship of that size, so heavily armored and so heavily gunned, with my own Corvettes? I did the only thing I could and I bombed the Battleship from one of its sides with every single one of my guns. I lost two ships but the Battleship was defeated (the smaller enemy Admiral Ship was squished soon after). Quantity prevailed (the l’Ocean costs 10,000 points, so technically it should be a one-ship navy).

A different battle. A standard 10,000 point land battle. On one end my mix of different troops, with cavalry, katanas and line infantry. On the other end, to my enormous surprise, Armstrong Cannons (best artillery available), a squad of Infanterie de Marine and British Marines (both Elite Units, and as it later turned out both had an extremely high level, so they could each cost around… 1800 points each) and countless Ninja. My Army at that stage had some but very limited experience, with no special units to speak of. To make a long story short, the enemy was entirely crushed. Quantity in this case also prevailed.

Then I had a “swap around”. I was faced with a numerically superior foe, while I decided to take some of my Veterans for a spin. I had 5 Units total, with Katanas, Yaris, Yari Cavalry and Black-Bears (including my General’s unit, without any pistols if you are wondering) while my foe had a huge number of bows and katanas, and I assume it was at least 2:1 if not a 3:1 situation. My entire army was committed to fighting the enemy and in this case the opposite happened, Quality prevailed.

In many other games we can find similar observations. Wargame:European Escalation also faces the question of whether you should have more cheaper troops, or less better quality troops. In Company of Heroes you typically want better troops, but sometimes have more cheaper troops favors you more than a small “Elite” company. I know that somebody among you might be thinking about such games likes Civilization but here the balance works differently. Civilization has technology, and we could argue that in that sense Technology offers Quality, however if technology is advanced enough the cost of a higher quality unit is equal or smaller to a “backward” previously “Quantity” unit. In Civilization you can eventually produce a Barbarian Warrior unit as easily as a unit of Riflemen, given the right circumstances, structures and local bonuses. While it is obvious that the Riflemen are better the relative cost of both units is equal (the cost of production, time and upkeep is the same). In Shogun 2, Company of Heroes or Men of War and many other RTS games you have a better grip on Quality and Quantity because the costs remain relatively stable (in Shogun 2 you can reduce recruitment costs but you still feel the weight of the Quality of a unit based on its upkeep). While considering the Quality and Quantity debate you have to take into account Technology. For example, the first tanks used in World War 1 were expensive to produce and maintain, compared to the tanks used in World War 2, however the impact they had was enormous. For their cost they were overwhelmingly powerful, since the enemy had no effective method of countering them.

In that sense, going back to Shogun 2, when a core Shogun 2 Army faces a Fall of the Samurai Army the costs of the units might be similar, but the quality if different. A lot more often a Shogun 2 Army will lose to an FoTS Army, because the quality and technology of these units is far superior. It is only through strategy and careful planning that the opposite happens, where an inferior unit or army defeats a superior one. While I did write a Guide discussing how a Shogun 2 Army can defeat an FoTS Army the sad truth is that usually you will still lose. The disparity of Quality through technology is much too big to cross it out of the equation. Even the basic FoTS Katana Kachi unit is superior to a Katana Samurai unit, not counting how Bow units fair against Line Infantry.

Let us put Technology aside, and assume that both armies have access to similar troops, for similar costs, and without any additional bonuses. Quality or Quantity? It all boils down, as in the examples given before, to not what types of units you use but HOW you use them. You might have a mass of troops, however bunching them up and sending them against a single enemy unit might eventually overwhelm said unit but it leaves your own units open to enemy fire. In turn, spreading out your small force to try and cover an entire map will not work. If you rely on either the Quality or the Quantity of your troops you must simply understand how to use them.

Then there is the middle ground, where you neither invest too much in Quality nor Quantity. While we might believe in the idea of a perfectly balanced army I do not believe such is possible. We will always instinctively lean toward either Quality or Quantity, depending on the situation. In Hearts of Iron as Germany we will invest more heavily in Elite Tank Divisions, while as the Soviet Unions we might rely on many more Infantry Divisions, to cover every inch of our borders. Or, if we want a more “RPG” example, we might prefer to use cheaper to train and Upkeep Rhodok Infantry over Swadian Knights, since we can have more quality infantry than quality knights.

This is also another thing to cover, the effectiveness of troops. Spearmen beat horses. Horses beat archers. Swordsmen with shields might be better for defending or attacking castles. A cheap unit of spearmen could take out a unit of incredibly expensive knights, just like a unit of archers or matchlocks high up on a wall may do far more damage than a unit of swordsmen down below. It still turns around to the question of HOW you use your troops. You do not need the top quality troops if you know how to use cheaper more numerous troops.

My Final Answer

I would say,taking into account all my experience and Strategy knowledge, that Quality and Quantity is not as important as your own skills and abilities to command and use your army. Technology is something entirely different. Technology changes the meanings of Quality and Quantity because on one end you have the “Savages” while on the other you have the “Modern” troops. Technology does not allow for a clear view of the quality and quantity of these units straight away. Typically a more advanced unit will be better off than a backward unit. However, as I found with my Shogun 2 Army, you may as well defeat a technologically superior foe, you just have to know how and have a bit of luck.

Alex “WriterX” Bielski

About The Author

Aleksander "WriterX" Bielski
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Student of Psychology, he was identified as a Nut-Job even before he started the course. Having done some small work as a Modder for a number of titles, and worked as a Game Designer part-time, Alex now writes in third person. As Co-Owner and Editor of he aims high, while being armed only with a sling. In the future, he hopes to become a fully qualified Newspaper Editor, and purchase Google.

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