Thursday, December 01, 2022
In 279 BC, after having won the Battle of Asculum against the Romans, King Pyrrhus of Epirus is reported to have said some version of "another victory like this, and we will be ruined!". Thus the term pyrrhic victory for a victory that comes with great losses. And unfortunately this is a concept that diminishes my fun in a lot of strategy / tactics game that I am playing, most recently Planetfall, but also classics like the Heroes of Might & Magic series.
In many of these games the surviving army of one battle is what you have as an army for the next battle. You get some reinforcements, and the survivors might gain some sort of experience and levels. But with reinforcements coming slowly, and veterans being hard to replace with fresh troops, and major loss of troops can be catastrophic for the rest of the campaign. The extreme case of that is tactical role-playing games, where you will want to never lose a single character. Thus you will want to engage *only* in fights that you are not only certain to win, but certain to win without any significant losses.
The game design problem of that is that roflstomping all enemies isn't as much fun as pitched battles. In D&D it is said that the art of DMing has a lot to do with making battles *seem* dangerous, without them actually being so. An AI you fight against in a computer game is usually less skilled at that sort of deception. So most of the battles I fought in Planetfall had me losing not a single unit, because I wouldn't engage if that was not the case. I only accepted losses for things like the final fight to eliminate a computer opponent, when ending a war was a big enough win to allow for losing some units.
The problem is a design where wins and losses snowball over the length of the campaign. I usually take perks for my Planetfall heroes that give them a better army at the start. Better starting troops means you can eliminate marauders from various resources and landmarks around your cities, which means faster expansion, which ends up with you getting access to more and better troops earlier. If you "won" your first battle while losing lots of units, your expansion would be seriously hampered by you having to replenish those troops.
Having said that, Planetfall is not the worst offender, because you start with tier I and II troops, and over the course of the game you get access to tier III and IV troops, which will be better than even veteran tier I troops. At a certain point in the game you can swarm the enemy with cheap troops and don't mind the losses. But 4X games in general certainly have a good start / bad start problem, where the effect of good or bad luck in the early stages of the game determines a lot of the outcome of the latter game.