Tactics versus Strategy



While I am still quite busy with real-life (as well as quite enjoying myself playing the Legacy of the Void ladder), I figured I could type out a quick post about the nature of and misconceptions about tactics and strategy.

In typical online discussions about RTS, it’s almost inevitable that the topic of tactics versus strategy will come up. Arguments about how most modern RTS games focus too much on tactics (sometimes also referred to as micromanagement) and not enough on strategy are all too common.


Just so you don’t think I’m making it up.

What exactly is the difference between the two? Is the RTS genre really focusing too much on tactics and not enough on strategy? Should games sacrifice tactical depth in order to accommodate the armchair generals (⸮) who would rather have everything automated in order to focus on strategy?

Primarily, what exactly is the difference between tactics and strategy? Wikipedia succintly puts the difference as follows:

Strategy is undertaken before the battle. Tactics are implemented during battle.

In essence, strategy is the game plan. What you plan on doing and how you plan on doing it is what is defined as strategy. Tactics, on the other hand, deals with the execution of your strategy. Tactics is how you implement your strategy, and is usually quite fluid as it will adapt to the ever evolving battlefield. In RTS games, this would translate of course, to micromanagement such as setting up flanks, maneuvers, and formations.

The common misconception is that tactics and strategy are all dependent on scale. While this notion is true to some extent, I often see people attributed the terms based purely on scale, namely:

  • large scale, moving armies around = strategy
  • small scale, small unit management = tactics

Apparently, RTS games that are not as big as Supreme Commander in scale is entirely devoid of strategy and thus do not warrant the attention of these armchair generals (⸮). As we now come to understand, this is of course, wrong.

It could easily be argued that the units we control in modern RTS games are representative of larger unit formations and the argument that strategy and tactics are based on scale would easily turn on its head. If a single unit in Starcraft 2 is meant to correspond to a squad of units, would the game still be considered devoid of strategy when controlling 4 marines is equivalent to controlling a platoon of marines, and controlling a standard SC2 army is akin to commanding a whole division?

Both strategy and tactics have its place in the modern RTS genre. Strategy is how you intend to defeat your opponent, tactics is how you execute your strategy. I wish people would stop expecting a whole genre to change just because they’ve played SupCom and arbitrarily determined that it is the standard to which all RTS games are going to be compared just because it enabled their fantasies of becoming armchair generals (⸮).

Because  it’s only strategy when it’s large scale. As if squad leader, platoon leader, company commanders and battalion commanders don’t exist.

Apologies for the rant.



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