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Hard counters?

Discussion in 'Strategy and Simulation' started by Arbiter, Oct 17, 2021.

  1. Arbiter Learned

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    Do hard counters make sense in strategy games - yes, no, maybe so? Which games benefited from them or the opposite?
     
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  2. ValeVelKal Arcane

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    Of course they make sense. SAM is an hard counter against airplanes. Modern ATGM is an hard counter against tanks.

    Wargame : Red Dragons has the best examples of hard counters given it is really terrain, units and "information situation" dependant. Your Apaches are hard counters for anything armored, two dudes with a MANPADS behind a bush are an hard counter for your Apache, and pretty much anything else is an hard counter for your two dudes with a MANPADS.
     
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  3. Arbiter Learned

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    In terms of game balancing, don't strong counters give huge advantage to players who aggressively scout their enemies?
     
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  4. Beowulf Arcane

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    It's a balancing act - not taking risks slows you down. If you want perfect information you might lose the battle in Wargame. Spending too much on scouts will leave you vulnerable in other areas, and recon by force might end badly.
    But, speaking strictly about that series, with some experience you generally know what to expect, given the deck construction restrictions for nations and rather limited map pool with known hiding spots.

    Sure, every now and then someone might surprise you in with some gimmick strat, outside of the established meta, but more often than not it will end badly for the person trying to do that.
     
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  5. Poseidon00 Arcane

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    I hate all strategy games that rely on a strict meta. It's not even a strategy game at that point. It is "follow these simple rules to win". No thought, no creativity, no nothing.
     
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  6. Beowulf Arcane

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    Well, if every player follows the same general meta and picks the units currently seen as the best, it will be a matter of skill anyway.
     
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  7. ValeVelKal Arcane

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    The "meta" is so complex in Wargame that it boils down to skill. Following the meta is going to give you maybe a 5% or 10% advantage, no more. I mean, except if you handicap yourself on purpose by taking just the Poles or ANZAC or Japan.
     
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  8. JarlFrank I like Thief THIS much Patron

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    How hard is a hard counter tho?

    I like Age of Empires 2, and it has a pretty well balanced set of counters. But you can still overwhelm counter units with the units that get countered provided you have
    a) a civ bonus that buffs those units
    b) upgraded your units more than the other guy
    c) numerical advantage
    d) really good micro skills

    Most prominently, the spearman line is supposed to defeat cavalry, and it does so by having massive bonus damage against all cav units. But I've seen games where people engaged in scout vs spearman matches and their scouts won due to good micro, having armor upgrades, and slight numerical superiority. Paladins, the highest upgrade of the knight line, can defeat halberdiers, the highest upgrade of the spearman line, one on one easily. So if you bring the same numbers, paladins will will against their direct counter. But they're much more expensive to recruit, so part of the spear line's counter is that they're super cheap to mass and get bonus damage against the way more expensive knight line.

    Does that make spears a hard counter against cavalry, or just a soft counter?
     
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  9. ValeVelKal Arcane

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    For me an hard counter is something that does not simply inflicts more damage, like in your paladin/pikemen example - this would be a (soft) counter.

    A hard counter massively defeats its opposition with no or neglectable losses when equal numbers are fighting.

    Typically AA hard counters planes (except Wild Weasels), but yeah if you bring 10 bombers the AA will go down and maybe it will only shoot down one plane. But bring 10 AA and depending on the micro only one or two planes have the time to destroy an AA.
     
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  10. Norfleet Moderator

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    That'd be a soft counter. A HARD counter is when the thing in question shuts the other thing down COLD, like, say, flying ranged unit vs. melee infantry, helicopters vs. tanks, jets vs. helicopters, etc. Each of these basically has the ability to slay the other with near impunity, with the hardness of the counter increasing depending on the level of impunity. Hard counters aren't things with 10%, 50%, or even 100% advantages. Hard counters are things with like 1000% or more. If you end up dividing by zero trying to figure out what the level of advantage is, you've got the hardest counter, where the existence of even a single unit of something can kill an effectively infinite number of the other with not a damn thing they can do about it.

    Also, generally, a thing has to be of comparable weight class or lower to be considered a counter. A nuke bomber might always be able to obliterate spearmans, but these things are so widely separated in weight class that nuke bombers should not be regarded as counters for spearmans. It's not a counter unless you are of similar or lesser weight class than what you are defeating.

    Hard counters are rarely about bonus vs. and more about some mechanical reason why the other unit stomps you flat. Something that is faster and has better range than the other thing tends to be a hard counter to that thing, for instance, because speed + range advantage = ability to attack without the enemy having the ability to respond.

    Hard counters give huge advantages to players who have informational superiority. How this superiority is obtained is immaterial. There is not necessarily scouting in a given game, there may be no hidden information and the game is played with perfect information...but if the one player has a clear informational superiority in that he can predict the other player's moves or has a superior understanding of the mechanics, he will crush that other guy like skull of pig.

    Disclaimer: Pig skulls are not actually that easy to crush, I have tried it.
     
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  11. Niggerino Savant

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    Airplanes can also counter SAM.
     
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  12. spectre Arcane

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    Well, you can always play the "what if" game. For example: sure, walls hard counter cavalry, but what if the cavaly encircles the settlement and prevents communications and supplies.
    The point is, the presence of a hard counter prevents normal deployment of the countered element (because the losses would be unacceptable). It can resume after it's eliminated or supressed, but this requires recon and specialized tactics.
     
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  13. Johannes Arcane

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    Yeah, like in chess you can win by following the simple meta of "don't hang your pieces". Banal, shit, boring.
     
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  14. spectre Arcane

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    Well, most of the time, the meta is making sure you're not bringing a knife to a gunfight. There's going to be a meta in each competitive game, because people tend to gravitate towards shit that works. If doing X gives you an immediate 2% advantage, why deprive yourself of it?
    It can be a problem in a game context when meta invalidates the majority of choices that would otherwise be possible to make in a game, or when retarded groupthink comes into play and you keep seeing people do the same shit over and over again.

    Just to sperg a bit over the chess analogy, I think a better one would be "pawn to e4." A lot of people will do it automatically. Some just ape what they've seen good players do. Others know the theory that it gives you the best board position.
    Following an opening strategy doesn't mean the game now plays itself, but what you're doing is eliminating empty moves that have known outcomes and fast forward the game to the part where it gets interesting.
    Of course, if you manage to spot a scrub who plays by script, you can go off the beaten path and make them uncomfortable, but you won't get many of those in a high stakes game.
     
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  15. Norfleet Moderator

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    That's because walls DON'T hard-counter cavalry. They're not a counter at all, they're simply a stalling tactic.
     
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  16. spectre Arcane

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    There's not a thing you can do on horseback with a melee weapon versus a guy standing on a wall. More importantly, fortifications prevent cavalry from charging (i.e. cavalry doing the cavalry thing) and restrict its maneuvering.
    If cavalry can't do the cavalry thing, that sounds like a pretty hard counter. But of course, that depends on how you understand it, as far as we can have a formal definition for something used informally in online gaming.
     
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  17. Norfleet Moderator

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    That counters the specific TACTIC of cavalry charges...as you can see, it does not actually counter the cavalry themselves, which are still free to do another very important cavalry thing: Marauding. To function as a counter to the thing itself, you have to actually be capable of neutralizing the actual thing. Since there is no way for a wall to give chase to and drive off the cavalry, they only counter the cavalry charge, which is just a single aspect of the cavalry, not the entire cavalry.

    The hard counter to cavalry, for instance, seems to have been the automatic rifle. Since the widespread use of automatic rifles and machineguns, cavalry has no longer been employed on the battlefield, with remaining "cavalry" troops becoming dragoons (mounted infantry) instead. Being up on your high horse in the face of automatic gunfire is a recipe for a quick death.
     
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  18. Niggerino Savant

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    M&B taught us that in the event of a siege cavalry can turn into infantry.
     
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  19. Norfleet Moderator

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    I seem to recall you could dismount your knights in Total War, too.
     
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  20. spectre Arcane

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    Yeah, but is it still cavalry we're working with? I mean, xir can identify as such, but it's as though something is missing...

    Ok, but can dragoons be still used for marauding? If not, according to your own words, it's not also not a hard counter. So what was the hard counter? Motorized infantry? Yeah, that doesn't sit well with me.
    I'm not too keen on arguing semantics like this, because I don't necessarily disagree. If something becomes obsolete, which is an extreme case, it's most definitely due to hard counters becoming widespread and easy to deploy.

    I get what you're saying that fortification itself does not pose an actual threat to a horseman, but in a lot of situations making something undeployable is almost as good as actual casualties.
    And there are few situations in actual warfare when you deploy a thing and the other side immediately loses and everyone dies (cue discussion about nuclear weapons, let's agree not to there just yet, K?).

    Now, I was actually focusing mostly on hard-countering heavy cavalry tactics, and I'd argue that countering tactics is just as good as countering the specific unit, eventually it can drive it into obsoletion.
    (it then becomes more a philosophical discussion - is cavalry dead, or only horseback cavalry? What about tank combat, can we draw any parallels here?).
    On the other hand, marauding is more of a light cavalry business. That role seems really hard to put down, because harassment, scouting and high mobility will always be circumstancially useful.
    Though I'll keep in mind to be more precise with this distinction in the future.
     
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  21. Van-d-all Erudite

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    Arguably it's the whole point; if the game tries to reflect reality. But the given W:RD example is somewhat exaggerated - there are grades of AA as there are grades of ECM - lousy manpads are hardly a deterrent for modern planes, but in principle, games trying to reflect military technology, will often have units being hard counters to other units against which they were designed to work against.

    IMO the only situation where hard counters could be bad, are abstract games with rules too few or simple to accommodate the consequences. This means either completely abstract games like party board games (not to be confused with wargames obviously) or the more arcade RTS games where most units deal damage to most other units and high TTK mitigates potential blunders. That said, an abstract rule set could still incorporate hard counters just fine, RTS games used to obsess over rock-paper-scissors balancing after all.
     
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  22. JarlFrank I like Thief THIS much Patron

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    Depends on which Total War. Certainly not the ones with knights in them (Medieval 1 and 2).

    Dragoons were introduced in Empire and Napoleon: melee cavalry that can dismount to become shooty infantry.

    Dismountable cavalry remained in later games like Rome 2 IIRC.
     
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  23. Norfleet Moderator

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    Yes, but dragoons are not true cavalry, in that they do not fight on horseback. Thus they don't count, nor does "armored cavalry", which fills a similar tactical role, but are cavalry in name only, being that they no longer use horses or any similar animal at all.

    Curiously, dragoons are actually still in use today, having last been seen in action in Afghanistan. But true cavalry, mounted warriors fighting primarily from horseback, is basically out, entirely due to the ubiquity of automatic weapons.

    No, it was definitely one of the ones with knights. I forget HOW exactly you did it, but I remember that under certain circumstances, knights would convert into "Dismounted Blah Blah" and fight as heavy infantry.

    I would argue that more abstracted games with simpler rulesets incorporate hard counters MORE frequently, because the simpler your ruleset is, the less room there is for soft outcomes. If anything, hard counters dominate this particular type of game, simply because the ruleset is too few and simple to incorporate much in the way of states between "win" and "lose" interactions between pieces.

    Rock-Paper-Scissors loops are, of course, very common as well in more abstract rulesets, where many lite-wargames tend to have a loop of swordsmans eating pikeneers eating cavalry eating swordsmans, whereas more fancypants wargames are more nuanced in how exactly things eat other things, like how in Total War, most things lose head-on to pikeneers, but most things win when flanking against the same.
     
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  24. Arbiter Learned

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    You can also dismount cavalry in Shogun 2.
     
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  25. darkpatriot Arcane

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    Another important consideration for the impact of hard counters is whether force composition can be changed during a fight (such as the traditional RTS where you are able to continue building units while the fighting is occurring) or if your force composition is fixed once the fighting occurs. Also related to that would be the significance of each fight and whether losing a single battle isn't a huge deal as you'll be able to rebuild (with a more adequate composition to deal with the enemy) or if losing each battle/fight is much more significant.

    If you can't dynamically adjust force composition and the consequences for losing single battles are very significant, I think hard counters probably lead to inferior gameplay. As the game is basically decided during the initial decisions for force composition, and the actual gameplay of the players (or AIs) is just the results of that force composition decision playing out with little chance of the player's actions and later decisions changing that.


    In general, the harder the counters the more the strategy of the game revolve around making sure you have the right force composition. Which isn't necessarily good or bad, but if you want other gameplay decisions to be more significant then softer counters may be the way to go. Hard counters are generally better fits for games where unit construction or selection is one of the main gameplay components, and probably less good fits for games where more of the focus for the gameplay decisions is about other stuff like tactical maneuvering in battles.
     
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