What do Hannibal, and Robert E. Lee have in common?
They were also very unlikely to ever win.
Hannibal and Lee won famous, shattering victories. They won seminal battles and frequently dictated the course of entire campaigns if not wars with impunity for extended periods of time. They dominated the battlefield, imposing their will on the enemy. Yet they lost.
There were operational reasons they lost, Hannibal had no ability to breach the walls of Rome, or to besiege it. Lee never had the resources to force a major decision. But that wasn’t the extent of it.
They didn’t have the ability to string victories together to break the will of the enemy to fight like Scipio Africanus, or Grant and to carry through on their battlefield victories to conclude their wars.
Hannibal entered Italy and proceeded to destroy every army the Romans could scrape together time after time. To the point where the Romans more or less sat behind their walls and ignored the armies as much as possible. Hannibal could win all the battles he wanted but he couldn’t break Rome’s will.
Lee won victories just as devastating but he lacked the capability to string these victories together. On occasion he simply left the field and failed to seek a final decision, settling for driving back the Federal armies, but he never could turn A victory into victory for his “country”.
The US has won nearly every battle in the Vietnam War, and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet at the end of our contribution to the Vietnam war the North Vietnamese overran the south at about the same speed as they could drive through it. Iraq is as stable as a 3 year old doing cocaine and it’s an open question whether the current regime in Afghanistan could hold a PTA meeting let alone the determined Taliban offensive that is in the offing. We are a great nation for winning battles but we have forgotten that you have to win the war. We assume that if you score enough points time will run out and you can dump the gatorade and go hit the showers.
To win you have to set your goal and work backwards. Hannibal knew he had to take Rome but once his siege train was lost in the Alps he never reconstructed it (and it might not have done any good against Rome’s walls) and Rome is a rather hard city to besiege. Lee never could make the assault on Washington DC or destroy a Federal Army enough to let him inflict serious damage on the North to force a decision, instead scoring victories then letting the Union lick its wounds until the next time. America hasn’t set a goal since wrapping up the show on the U.S.S. Missouri and since then we have spent a lot of time accomplishing very little.
“But Corelin” I hear you ask “This is a gaming blog. Why are we talking about this stuff?”
Because it’s my damn blog! GET OFF MY LAWN.
And because it’s important in gaming. Sun Tzu famously said “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” I realize quoting him is a bit pompous. You may have read my blog before, it happens. Hannibal, Lee, and every US General since Ike put down his stars has forgotten this lesson. They go into battles prepared to win but not wars.
EvE Online has seen this as well. When I was in CoW our “Planning” was lucky to get 20 people with the right ships/fights in anything like the area we were fighting in. The Russians on the other hand were famous for getting the ever living snot knocked out of them for months then suddenly winning the whole damn war. Goons take meticulous planning to the level of any modern organization to turn their cavalcade of clumsy cohorts into a well-oiled machine. Admittedly a steampunky, lurching, “who knows what that bit” does machine but it gets the job done.
When you are getting into a game you need to set goals, and you need to at least be able to figure out how to reach them. FF XIV has lots to do and it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by choices. EvE has an even bigger menu and higher bars to leap to get there. Minecraft is a mind boggling game with nearly infinite possibilities (your world is about the size of Neptune) where you can get lost for days until you realize what you want to do, or just give up.
On the tabletop you are given objectives. You know what you have to do to win you just have to do it. And keep your opponent from doing it. The same rules apply though. Just because you have an objective doesn’t mean you are past step one. You have to define the objective in a way that your force can accomplish it, and hope they can. You have to plan what you will do to overcome your opponents moves and then you have to execute.
Have a plan. Stick to it. And let me know if you want me to write a post on how Lee was a terrible General.