The Basic Battle Cycle

Those who play strategy games understand the concept war, on the “game level”. Reinforcement, multi-tasking, micro-managment, concepts which are not alien to an experienced gamer. However, before somebody reaches a certain level of expertise in strategy games, they will often have to improve their skills and abilities, as well as familiarize themself with certain concepts of war, which might work in a game. One of these is what I call the Basic Battle Cycle. If you played any strategy game, you might had noticed that a war or a battle has its stages. What we might not notice is that these stages are in fact a closed cycle, and the one thing which decides when the next stage occurs is initiative, which might sound like a purely RPG concept (who strikes first) but it applies to war as well. How? Read on.

Basic Battle Cycle

You attack, then the enemy counter-attacks... Then you have to defend yourself and eventually counter-attack, starting the cycle anew.

The Basic Battle Cycle

Imagine you are playing an RTS, like Company of Heroes, or equivalent. You prepare your force for an attack and send it against your enemy. On the way, you find the enemy defenses and your force clashes with that of your enemy’s. After a bloody struggle you suddenly notice, that no matter how hard you try, you cannot punch through and then comes the feeling of “I have to retreat and regroup”. What I just described here is the first stage of the Battle Cycle, the Attack. It might be you who is attacking, or the enemy, it might be even an open pitched battle where two attacking forces meet. During the attack, whoever is making the first blow assumes the initiative. They make the first move and you have to counter it, with your own forces, or earlier preparations. If you planned it out well, you will notice that the enemy’s attack slowly dies down in strength.

There are a number of signs when an enemy’s attack, and thus initiative, dies down:

  • Less Units are sent against your front
  • Heavier enemy units are not thrown into the front, and instead kept in the back
  • There is an odd moment of “silence”
  • The enemy is slowly falling back

It is hard to define what is meant by “silence”, but for example, your defense could be so devastating, that the enemy lost all of his or her units. The silence is the sudden halt of any attack, and while you sit at your defense line wondering what happened, the enemy is trying to frantically rebuild his force.

When faced with superior numbers, defend. When the enemy is broken, pursue them.

When the enemy’s initiative dies down, and their attack stops, there should be a second stage of the Battle Cycle, the Counter-Attack.

The Counter-Attack involves the defenders moving out of their positions and into enemy territory. You seize the initiative, by attacking the weakened enemy forces and you either destroy the remaining enemy forces, or gain as much ground as possible, before the inevitable counter-attack or encountering a solid enemy defense. Depending on the map and “setting”, the defender might use the time to reinforce his positions instead of advancing, because it might be impossible to fortify a new forward position.

There are cases when there isn’t even a full cycle, but a quick victory for either side. However, if both sides are equally prepared for a lengthier battle, and they have the reserves or the means to quickly reinforce, then it will never be the case of a single decisive attack, but instead, this “Ping-Pong” of attacks and defences.

Realising that this cycle exists, helps you plan out your strategy and tactics. The moment this cycle is broken means that one of the sides managed to outweight the other, in terms of power or reserves. Although it is tempting to believe that the Battle Cycle could go on indefinitely, usually one of the sides will manage to eventually out power the other. Failure to see this cycle means that you, as a defender, might not seize the initiative and attack, allowing the enemy to regroup and reinforce. There is always an element of risk in strategy games. In this case, moving out of your positions could result in walking into a trap.

A few brief words on Initiative

Initiative is what allows you to make the first blow. The enemy will have to counter your attack, but as mentioned earlier, you will have to eventually surrender the Initiative or lose it. If you find yourself using up your Initiative but not achieving anything, do the sensible thing and give it to your foe. Unless you are playing a game mode where you have to beat the enemy, they will have to move forward at some point. Forcing the cycle to move forward allows you to weaken the enemy while they attack, instead of losing your own manpower on fruitless attacks.

It is tempting to assume, that the side which wins, is the one with the superb defence. The truth is, there is always the means to counter a supreme defensive. Artillery bombing, sabotage, aerial bombing, probing enemy positions for a weakness, there is never a case of an “impenetrable” defense. If there is ever a game where a defense cannot be defeat in some way, that simply means that the game’s balance is off.  If one player decides to surrender his entire initiative to you, use the opportunity to build up a powerful force for the eventual attack.

There are many other “strategy” concepts you will often encounter. The Basic Battle Cycle does not only apply to RTS style games, but also many other strategy game genres. Although it might not be often used, or one side might be always more dominant than the others, it is useful to be aware of it, once it does happen.

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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