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I think I finally "get" advance/assault operations


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I have been puzzled about advance/assault operations for a long time, and actually haven’t played any until recently (maybe not since CMBO even). I decided to spend some time studying them, and have some observations to offer for feedback from anyone who has a better/different understanding or at least a genuine interest in this game option.

My questions could be boiled down to three:

1) Given that the stated objective for the attacker is to get to the end of the Operation map as quickly as possible, how important is it to inflict casualties on the enemy? Does it matter at all, or is it just as effective to try bypassing the enemy and racing ahead (something like racing for the flag in an ME)?

2) Why could I never (or almost never) seem to get better than a “minor victory” as attacker but could easily get a “total victory” as defender?

3) What are the essential differences between advance and assault operations from the perspective of a player?

With regard to the first question: What struck me the most from analyzing these operations is this -- the distance which an attacker is able to penetrate on a given battle map is less important than the distance in which the battle map shifts from one battle to the next. Put another way, the attacker cannot get to the end of the Operation map until that part of the map shows up on a battle map. The sooner it shows up, the more quickly it is possible for the attacker to accomplish the operation objective. If that part of the map never shows up, the defender wins automatically.

In general, the biggest determinant of how far the battle map shifts is how well the defender holds his ground in the previous battle. The attacker may break thru part of the line and race to the end of the battle map, but the battle map will shift only so far until the back end of the map runs in to defending units (more or less). Of course, if the attacker fails to make any significant penetration that also will cause the map to shift little or none. That is, the attacker can lose map shifting momentum entirely by a failure to penetrate, but a long narrow penetration may not gain much greater benefit.

In order to get a significant shifting of the map, the attacker has to at some point dislodge, eliminate and rout defenders everywhere along the line. This may be easier to do in the second battle rather than the first, or in the third battle rather than before, but the longer it takes, the harder it gets for the attacker to achieve a victory.

My conclusion: success for the attacker depends on combining a deep penetration with tactics that force the defender all along the line back a significant distance before a given battle ends. The exact balance needed between these two differs somewhat between advance and assault operations. In general, penetration benefits more in an advance operation; driving back defenders matters more in an assault operation.

With regard to the second question: realistically, victory ratings in advance/assault operations are much closer to “pass/fail” than they are to grades. But this depends a lot on how the designer has constructed the operation.

A good example is Rune’s Blitzkrieg Axis Assault Operation on the CMBB CD. This is a five battle operation. If the Axis makes it to the end of the Operation map by the end of battle #5, he gets a minor victory (I think a draw does not happen in these operations, but maybe someone has seen one occur). If he makes it by the end of battle #4, he still only gets a minor victory. If he makes it by the end of battle #3, he gets a tactical victory. If he makes it by the end of battle #2, he gets a major victory. If he makes it by the end of battle #1, he would get a total victory. If he never makes it, he gets a total defeat (I don’t think there are minor, tactical or major defeats in these operations, but again, someone may be able to correct me).

Getting to the end of the Operation map in battle #1 is impossible, so a total victory is impossible. Getting to the end in battle #2 is theoretically possible, but highly improbable even against the AI. Doing so requires virtual annihilation or routing of most/all of the defending forces in battle #1 (within 15 turns). Getting to the end in battle #3 is certainly possible, although unlikely against a human player given the forces involved at that point (I won’t say more to avoid a spoiler). Even against the AI it can be difficult and may take some luck. As a result, one has to approach an operation like this expecting to get a minor victory, working hard to avoid a total defeat, and hoping for a tactical victory.

This situation changes if the designer adds more battles to the operation without adding more distance to the map. My own thinking is that it’s better for designers to do what Rune has done here: that is, players should accept pass/fail type results, which keep the operations from being overly long. Also, longer operations tend to give a significant advantage to whichever side has the best supply/recovery settings regardless of tactical skill.

The other option is to lengthen the battle map so that even a minor shift will cause the end of the Operation map to show up (which is meaningful only if the length of each battle is increased proportionately). Doing that takes away much of what makes these operations potentially interesting – it may make more sense simply to do it as a static operation with flags at the end of the map. On the other hand, I have begun to think that this might be a good alternative to an Exit scenario, since the AI can’t play these, and the point scoring system for Exit scenarios is sometimes skewed toward overvaluing the units attempting to exit.

With regard to the third question: the biggest difference that I see between advance and assault operations is that a human defender has more opportunity for holding ground in an assault operation, and thereby minimizing the distance for map shifting between battles. He does this by leaving some or all bypassed units where they are until the attacker eliminates them or drives them back. These units may actually start a new battle surrounded by the enemy, but it might not matter much –- casualties have no bearing on victory. Although I have not tested this, I believe that the defender could lose his entire force and still get a total victory if the attacker never makes it to the end of the map. And if the end of the map never shows up on a battle map, the defender’s victory is assured.

The AI by the way does not take advantage of this option. It will always move bypassed units back into its setup zone. When playing the AI, therefore, there are fewer differences between the two operation types. These are: in an advance operation against the AI, the attacker can gain a more forward setup zone –- and can move the battle map somewhat further -- by a deep penetration. The attacker is also able to start units anywhere in that region of the map. In an assault operation, the attacker will not be able to start units in areas where the defender had units at the end of the last battle, and the setup zone may not extend as far as he penetrated.

The manual says that in an assault operation, units may be cut off and therefore lose ammo resupply. I have seen this happen, but not very often. The manual also says that units may be cut off and locked in place. I have not yet seen this happen even when I’ve tried to make it happen. So I don’t know under what conditions this occurs.

The way I’ve started thinking about the two types is this: an assault operation is (grant me some simplification here) something like the Battle of the Bulge, in which the defenders ability to hold position in Bastogne ultimately helped to stall the attacker’s penetration in Bastogne’s rear. In effect, the Germans were never able to “move the battle map” to where it included Antwerp and so could not complete the mission.

An advance operation is something like the cross-desert races that the Axis and the British conducted in North Africa before El Alamein. The side on the attack could dislodge a defense position simply by getting some forces in its rear until the defender found a position it could hold or the attacker ran out of steam.

Sorry for the long post, but thought it might be interesting to some portion of the CM community.

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Been playing a few ops lately, some observations re: your observations...

1) It seems to me like the map (and the lines) move with respect to the relative "centers of gravity" of the attackers and defenders force. Thus a narrow, deep penetration may well move the map considerably in the attacker's favor, provided the bulk of the attacker's force has moved down the map. It's not so much the width of the penetration as the amount of your force you've moved forward from the starting lines. Conversely, if the defender moves his force forward of his starting position, he can offset gains by the attacker, or even move the map backwards, if he holds the attacker and moves his own force forward. I would suggest that the relevant issue is position of the forces relative to the starting lines, rather than size of penetration. Of course, if you push the defender back all along the lines, and penetrate in a few places, that'll certainly push the lines back, because the defender's forces are pushed back.

2) Definitely seen units too far forward of the main line not get resupplied. Never seen them "locked," but certainly units too far forward appear outside setup zones or in different colored setup zones than their base, so it's either pull 'em all the way back to the main line or leave 'em in place. Don't know if that's what the manual is talking about.

3) Points don't matter at all, except for determining global morale. As you say, as long as the defender has a couple men, he could win if the attacker doesn't make it to the end of the map (or wherever he needs to for victory if it's an attack). However, losing too many troops for the defender will trigger an auto-surrender and give a victory to the attacker no matter where the map is.

Just my 2 cents on what I've seen in ops...

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It seems to me like the map (and the lines) move with respect to the relative "centers of gravity" of the attackers and defenders force. Thus a narrow, deep penetration may well move the map considerably in the attacker's favor, provided the bulk of the attacker's force has moved down the map.
Upon further review ... I think what you are saying is basically correct. After looking at it more I realized that the location of the back end of the new battle map is derived from the new setup zone of the attacker, which itself is a function of how far and with how many units the attacker has penetrated in the previous battle map. Moving the map is still the key to success, but the defender's ability to "hold ground" is not as important for preventing that as I originally thought.

Conversely, if the defender moves his force forward of his starting position, he can offset gains by the attacker, or even move the map backwards, if he holds the attacker and moves his own force forward.
I agree. It is interesting to me that the AI's tendency to attack while playing defense is something of an advantage in these operations, since losses don't matter.

Of course, if you push the defender back all along the lines, and penetrate in a few places, that'll certainly push the lines back, because the defender's forces are pushed back.
I agree, if the penetrations are deep enough.

Definitely seen units too far forward of the main line not get resupplied. Never seen them "locked," but certainly units too far forward appear outside setup zones or in different colored setup zones than their base, so it's either pull 'em all the way back to the main line or leave 'em in place. Don't know if that's what the manual is talking about
Some units that start a new battle outside the new setup zone get supplied, and others do not. I think it depends on the proximity of enemy units. "Locked" means that the unit cannot be moved back into the setup zone or anywhere else. You play it where it lays. But I haven't seen it, so don't know what would cause it.

Points don't matter at all, except for determining global morale. As you say, as long as the defender has a couple men, he could win if the attacker doesn't make it to the end of the map (or wherever he needs to for victory if it's an attack). However, losing too many troops for the defender will trigger an auto-surrender and give a victory to the attacker no matter where the map is.
There is no auto-surrender in these operations, nor any automatic ceasefire. Although global morale is tracked I don't think it matters (although it may influence any tendencies to rout and so forth). I think the defender could lose his entire force and still win. All he has to do is make sure the end of the Operation map never shows up.

[ March 03, 2008, 12:56 PM: Message edited by: SteveP ]

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Interesting on the auto-surrender. I did a quick check - it turns out you will get auto-surrendered, but it appears that you must lose your entire force and not have any reinforcements coming in subsequent battles in order to trigger it, a set of circumstances which I can't imagine actually happens often. (Didn't test every circumstance - for instance, if you lose your entire force and reinforcements don't come for a few battles afterwards). It is strange to see the game go on with no units on the board, though - all the enemy units go to contact markers...

Interesting stuff, SteveP.

Do you know what happens if the defender pushes the attacker off the back of the map? Does that give the defender a victory, or does the game just go on with the map not moving back any more in the next battle?

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This might have been even more interesting if I hadn't made several mistakes in my original post (including the title :D )

I still think that how far the map moves is the most important measure of success, but I now understand that how far it moves from one battle to the next is based on where the computer places the next battle's No Man's Land. The NML becomes the midpoint of the next battle map, and the attacker and defender split the rest of the map evenly. The exception to this is in the case where the next map includes one or the other end of the Operation map. This end becomes a limiting factor to the size of the setup zone for the attacker or defender as the case may be.

So, an attacker moves the map by moving the NML, but he can't move the NML any further than the end of the previous map. Based on this and knowing the length of the Operation map (which ought to be in the briefing but often isn't), it's possible to calculate the minimum number of battles required for the end of the Operation map to show up. For example, I now realize that in the Blitzkrieg operation, it is impossible for the attacker to win in the second battle, and very difficult if not improbable to win in the third.

If you are right about auto-surrender then that suggests a way for an attacker to win more than a minor victory. If you get to the final battle, you will know that all the reinforcements are on the map, and if you have the strength you can concentrate on attacking the defense rather than just getting to the end of the map. I suppose that means the realistic outcomes for an advance/assault operation are total victory, minor victory or total defeat.

As far as what would happen if the defense pushed the attacker off the map: my guess based on what I've seen going the other direction, is that the game would set an NML for the next map which allows some space for the attacker's reinforcements. OTOH, if the defender has achieved that kind of success, then I think it's certain the attacker will not succeed in any event, and the defender would get a total victory regardless.

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I have played both the Blitzkrieg and Descent on Maleme (CMAK) a lot recently.

I like the quirks which come with Operations--though I can imagine it drives some other people nuts--to the point of hating the things.

Descent on Maleme is interesting in that, as the Germans, you start with many of your forces well behind the enemy line (paradrop). Which way to move those forces, forward, or back toward your line, is thus an interesting decision. I think the issue of depth of penetration versus causing casualties can be reconciled as follows: given a certain degree of penetration, destroying enemy units moves the "average" down the map. I like this subtlety.

I agree there is an essence of pass/fail in these operations. But if, as the attacker, one reaches the end line, are casualties of no importance, really? I thought the level of the victory did depend partially on it--more so with Assaults than with Advances. It took me 5 battles to defeat the AI Russians in Blitzkrieg [nice, from a game-play perspective, that each side gets significant reinforcements each battle], and seem to remember getting something more than a marginal. But by the end of the last battle, the Russian AI had lost every unit--autosurrendered at that point?.

I think I had a locked AFV once, when it was bogged at the end of the battle.

[Re: Blitzkrieg. Against the AI, I found the most interesting battle the second one, both as attacker and defender. (With the AI on attack, I gave it +50% and +2 morale)]

[ March 04, 2008, 01:26 PM: Message edited by: Rankorian ]

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If moving the NML is key to success, then what do you have to do to get maximum movement as the attacker (or defender if aggressive with a counter-attack). What I've been looking for is a "rule-of-thumb" that gives me an idea of what I need to do for success. There are a lot of possible variables involved, so the best I've got so far is a theory.

There are only a couple of certainties, both of which are probably obvious. First, the movement of the NML is limited by how far a player has penetrated with at least one unit (there is an exception to this, which can occur in the first battle, but it's not important). Second, the NML will not move at all unless a player has penetrated past the mid-point of a battle map (with the same exception).

I believe the NML is moved based on a calculation that considers only the units that, at the end of a battle, are in the enemy's side of the map. That is, it's a line across the middle of the map that ultimately matters. Once you get units across the line, the amount that the NML shifts is a function of the number of units and how far they travelled across that line. As for whether these values vary depending on the size of the total forces involved, I don't know that. However, it appears that the numbers required are relatively small (for example, a platoon of tanks or a company of infantry). It also appears that distance carries slightly more weight than do numbers. Also, it appears that the defender needs about twice as many units at the same distance across the line (in the opposite direction, of course) as the attacker, in order to have a similar impact on the NML.

As near as I can tell, other units which do not cross the midpoint line are irrelevant. Also it doesn't matter how far the penetrating units travelled to get to an end point. I think it only matters where the units are when the battle ends. Also, I'm not clear whether the morale state of the units involved is a factor.

I also believe that the calculations are the same for assault and advance operations, but I can't say that I've really tested this yet.

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Rankorian: I haven't played Descent, but it seems to be an example of a distinct subset of operations that I've seen. While it is set up as an assault operation, the battle map is almost as large as the operation map. In fact, the battle map is as large as the parameters will allow it to be. So, moving the map is not an important success factor in an operation like that. To me, it is more like a static operation with no flags. Or, as I suggested in my first post, it may be something like a long exit scenario that the AI is able to play.

Casualties do not count in deciding victory in an advance/assault operation (with, it appears, the exception of a possible auto-surrender). Destroying or routing enemy units does help to move the map, especially if they are on your side of the map. Plus you don't have to face them again in a later battle.

I can see how an immobilized tank would be locked (surprised it wasn't abandoned). I wonder what would happen to that tank in an advance operation if it was outside of the proper setup zone. in the next battle.

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Vehicles that get bogged into immobilization sometimes go back to 'bogged' status, but are, of course, stuck where they lie. They start the next game with a chance to unbog, or they can go back to immob'ed. Had it happen even when they're in NML. If they're behind the enemies line, they abandon. At least, that's been my experience...

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Re: Descent on Maleme

The map may not move, but the NML needs to be moved all the way across the map--indeed that is the entire goal.

Indeed, moving units all the way to the end of the map does not result in a win--one could be have units at the end of the map, easily, in the first battle--since the Germans start with units scattered across the whole map. And I have had masses of units at the end of the map in the later battles, but no win because there were enough enemy units not near the end of the map--those end-of-map units just helped me move the NML along faster for the next battle.

So, is that like a Static Operation without flags? (I have never played one of those)

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Originally posted by Rankorian:

Re: Descent on Maleme

The map may not move, but the NML needs to be moved all the way across the map--indeed that is the entire goal.

Indeed, moving units all the way to the end of the map does not result in a win--one could be have units at the end of the map, easily, in the first battle--since the Germans start with units scattered across the whole map. And I have had masses of units at the end of the map in the later battles, but no win because there were enough enemy units not near the end of the map--those end-of-map units just helped me move the NML along faster for the next battle.

So, is that like a Static Operation without flags? (I have never played one of those)

It is true that in all operations the ability to move the NML is important. I agree that it useful in any operation to understand how the defender's positioning affects that.

My purpose in this thread was to call attention to the fact that in most advance/assault operations the ability to move the map a substantial distance in every battle is the true critical success factor. Moreover, the defender has a realistic chance of preventing you from ever getting in sight of (i.e, access to) the end of the Operation map during any of the battles.

In a static operation you don't have to move the map at all -- the flag or flags are there on the map from the very first battle. The defender can't prevent you from getting access to the flags if you can fight your way there on that map (just as in a typical scenario).

I think that Descent is more like the static operation because the distance you need to move the map in order to have access to the end of the Operation map is trivial. The defender probably cannot realistically keep that from you. The only significant difference from a static operation is that the "flag" is any point along the back end of the Operation map.

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  • 1 month later...

Has anyone won the advance op "Mobile Defense" as the Germans vs a human player? If so I was wondering if you could PLEASE tell me what tactics were used. I've never won as the Germans - to me it seems impossible because if you try to hold ground or go forward with your few ubertanks you can be easily surounded by swarms of Russian armor, but if you back up you give the enemy the end of the map.

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I don't have an answer for you, because I suspect there isn't a good one. The short battles (10+ turns) should help the defense, but I think this isn't enough, in part because of the relatively large NML (400 meters) on a comparatively short operation map. The Russians get about 20-25% of the distance they need simply by the shifting of the NML from battle to battle. The Russians need to get only a small portion of their AFV force to the end each battle map to get maximum shifting. An aggressive Russian should get the end of the operation map in sight in battle #4, and could possibly win as early as battle #3.

One of the things I've learned is that there is an analog to the "flag rush" tactic in these operations. If the attacker has a plentiful supply of mobile units, he can rush a bunch to the end of each battle map, figuring to absorb any losses that occur in the process. And losses don't count in the final result. There's not much the defender can do about this, especially when the attacker has ample mobile forces at hand (which is the case in this operation).

The idea of an operation that demonstrates the German mobile defense strategy is appealing, but I suspect this is not a good example of that. I think the map would need to be deeper and wider, with each battle map also being deeper. Also, while the Russians should be given more time in each battle, the Germans should have more stopping power on the front line (including AT mines and AT guns), supplemented by the ability to move mobile AT assets laterally in dead ground to where they are needed.

My guess is that for this operation to be balanced for H2H play, the Russian force would need to be reduced by 25-30%. I also don't understand why setup options for the first battle are so limited, especially with the number of locked units. Not to mention the fact that a lot of the units start out mounted in transport, which the AI can't handle.

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Well, of course, the Germans can win if the Russians cooperate -- which means taking a very cautious and slow moving, slow advancing approach. This could happen if the Russian player doesn't understand about the importance of moving the battle map, and about how easy if can be for the attacker to do that in an advance/assault operation if he is aggressive and has lots of AFVs to be aggressive with.

The other way for the Germans to win is simply being a lot better at fighting with armor.

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*** SPOILER FOR MOBILE DEFENSE ***

Just did a count and the Russians get 41 AFVs: 19 vet, 16 crack, and 6 elite.

The Germans get 16 AFVs: 3 vet, 13 crack, no elite, with seven of the 16 vehicles being on fixed carriages with paper thin armor.

I think you are right - the Russians could lose if the commander for some reason barely moved forward, but against an average or better opponent I can't imagine any kind of armor fighting skill that would save you.

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