Tag Archives: Tactics

Ty Bomba’s Primer on Strategy & Tactics

Legendary wargame designer Ty Bomba.

I can think of no better introduction for Ty Bomba than his Wikipedia entry: “Ty Bomba is a prolific wargame designer from the United States. He is credited as the designer of over 125 board games or game items. At times between 1976 and 1988, Bomba held a security clearance as a certified Arabic and Russian linguist for the US Air Force, US Army, and the National Security Agency. In 1988, he was elected to the Charles Roberts Awards Hall of Fame. He was previously a senior editor at Strategy & Tactics Press. Bomba was co-founder and designer for XTR Corporation, a company that existed between 1989 and 2001. ” In other words, a very impressive career in wargame design and military strategy and tactical thinking.

Ty recently posted his Primer on Strategy & Tactics on Facebook and I asked his permission to repost it here, which he very kindly gave. I have spent much of my professional career trying to create computer algorithms for military tactics and strategy (a subject that I call ‘computational military reasoning’ and have written extensively about here). Ty has very succinctly stated much of what I’ve attempted to accomplish in his Primer below. Ty can be found on Facebook as ‘Ty Bomba’.

Ty Bomba’s Primer on Strategy and Tactics

Everything in strategy is very simple, but that does not mean everything is very easy” – Carl von Clausewitz.

Strategy Defined
A plan or policy intended to achieve a major or overall aim, and having to be
achieved in the face of opposition from others. All strategy is a contextual
interpretation of a problem and a compromised rationalization of a
solution. There are no formulas to end the tensions inescapably imposed by
uncertain intentions, faulty assumptions, unknown capabilities and vaguely
understood risks.

Laws of Strategy

  1. Know your own capabilities.
  2. Know your opponent’s capabilities and objectives.
  3. Pit your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses.
  4. Prevent your opponent from pitting his strengths against your
  5. Never pit your strengths against your opponent’s strengths.
  6. Maintain an emergency reserve of five to 25 percent of your strength.
  7. Keep in mind your desired end-state: only do things that move you closer
    to it.
  8. Never repeat an already failed strategy with the expectation of getting a
    better result from it.
  9. The overarching objective of your strategy should be to create a state of
    surprise in your opponent. That uncertainty will delay, and otherwise make
    less efficient, his countermoves. That is a force multiplier for you.

Common Reasons for Strategic Failure

  1. Overconfidence due to previous successes.
  2. Analyzing information only after sifting it through the filter of dogma.
  3. Operating with insufficient reserves.
  4. Mirror imaging – using one’s own rationales to interpret the actions or
    intentions of an opponent – is the most common fault among decision
  5. Objectives not well explained to those below the highest level of command.
  6. Objectives not adjusted according to new data coming from the
    operational environment.
  7. Unanticipated outside influences.

Tactics Defined
An action intended to achieve a specific end, undertaken while in contact with the

Laws of Tactics

  1. Always seek to control the local high ground or its aerial or outer space
  2. Move in short bounds from cover to cover so as not to be caught in the
    open by your opponent.
  3. Maneuver so as to engage your opponent on his flank or from behind and
    so as to prevent him from engaging you in that way.
  4. Don’t confuse “concealment” with “cover.” The former only gets you out of
    sight; the latter also offers protection from enemy fire.

Juncture of Tactics & Strategy
Your superior strategy can make up for your poor tactics; however, your superior
tactics will not make up for your poor strategy. As Sun Tzu put it: “Good strategy
combined with poor tactics is the slowest route to victory; good tactics combined
with poor strategy is just so much noise before your final defeat.”

Surprise is a state of confusion in your opponent, induced by your introducing the
unexpected. At the strategic level, surprise is often viewed as the tool of the
weaker side, as the stronger side has the option of simply applying greater force.
At the tactical level, surprise is considered a force multiplier for the side causing it
by creating a temporary period of confusion and vulnerability in the surprised
force. Having multiple objectives lies at the heart of creating surprise in an

The Most Difficult Thing
The most difficult thing in a dynamic situation is to know when to change
strategies. If you do it too soon or too often, you’re not a strategist; you’re an
opportunist. If you do it too late, or refuse to do it no matter what, again you’re
not a strategist; you’re a fanatic. Opportunists and fanatics are both easily
defeated by good strategists.

Computational military reasoning.

Computational military reasoning is a phrase that I coined to describe the process of a machine performing human-level analysis of tactical and strategic problems. I have spent the last 30 years of my life working on this problem. It was the theme of my doctoral research in computer science. The abstract for my doctoral dissertation reads:

We present here TIGER, a Tactical Inference Generator computer program that was designed as a test-bed program for our research, and the results of a series of surveys of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) testing the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1:  There is agreement among military experts that tactical situations exhibit certain features (or attributes) and that these features can be used by SMEs to group tactical situations by similarity.

Hypothesis 2:  The best match (by TIGER of a new scenario to a scenario from its historical database) predicts what the experts would choose.

We have conducted three surveys of SMEs and have concluded that there is, indeed, a statistically significant confirmation of Hypothesis 1, that there is agreement among military SMEs that tactical situations exhibit certain features (or attributes) and, that these features can be used to group, or identify, similar tactical situations. The statistical confidence level for this confirmation of Hypothesis 1 is greater than twice the prior probability.

In order to test Hypothesis 2 we constructed, after SME survey analysis, a series of algorithms, which we present here, for the analysis of SME identified tactical features (or attributes) including: interior lines, restricted avenues of approach, restricted avenues of attack, slope of attack, weighted force relationships and anchored or unanchored flanks. Furthermore, the construction, and implementation, of these algorithms, required the design and implementation of certain ‘building block’ algorithms including: range of influence, optimal FindPath, ComputeGroupsByThreshold and ComputeGroupsByNumber.

We further present an overview of TIGER, itself, and the built-in utilities necessary for creating three-dimensional tactical situations, complete with terrain, elevation and unit types as well as our implementation of Gennari, Fisher and Langley’s CLASSIT classification system.

Lastly, we present TIGER’s classification of twenty historical tactical situations and five hypothetical tactical situations and the SME survey results of TIGER’s classification that resulted in TIGER correctly predicting what the SMEs would choose in four out of five tests (using a one sided Wald test resulted in p = 0.0001 which is statistically significant).

TIGER logo from my doctoral research.

TIGER logo from my doctoral research.

The entire dissertation can be downloaded here

I have also written a number of papers about implementing tactical maneuvers: “Implementing the Five Canonical Offensive Maneuvers in a CGF Environment,” which can be downloaded here. And “Algorithms for Generating Attribute Values for the Classification of Tactical Situations,” which can be downloaded here.

What will make General Staff stand out from other wargames is that it will be the first commercial computer wargame to implement this research. I have high hopes that General Staff will have the most advanced tactical AI ever produced in a computer wargame.

What does General Staff look like?

I tell my students that one of the first things they should do when creating a game is design a logo. This may not seem obvious or logical. Probably a lot of people leave designing a logo towards the end of a project. I think this is a mistake.

Click to enlarge.

Once you have a logo it shows everybody working on the project exactly what the feel and image is we’re working towards.

For General Staff I wanted a 19th century feel; something that brought back the original Kriegsspiel, old, faded maps and general staff officers in Napoleonic and Victorian uniforms. The type that I chose (Blaisdell and K22 Monastic) are classic Victorian fonts. The image in the logo is an engraving of the original Kriegsspiel being played; presumably in Prussia.

When you look at the General Staff logo it is obvious what the game looks and feels like; this is not a zombie chasing game, this is not an RPG, this is not Lara Croft, Tomb Raider (games that I all like and play, by the way). General Staff is a thinking game. It is a tactical game.

Ed Isenberg did a fantastic job creating the first map for General Staff.
He perfectly captured the feel of playing Kriegsspiel on an old map; complete with coffee stains and map folds.

The first General Staff battlefield.

The first General Staff battlefield. Click to enlarge.