Out4Blood & El_Cap's Rise of Nations Strategy

Monday, September 15, 2003

Thoughts on the strategic stagnation in RON
I posted earlier wondering why we don't see more prolific strategy posting on this game. On the surface, this game appears to have marvelous depth, with a variety of civilizations, a multitude of ages, numerous technologies, great RPS interplay of units, and many different victory conditions. On the surface.

But after the playing the game quite a bit, it's become apparent, to me at least, that much of that depth is superficial. There seems to be pretty much one basic strategy for this game. Economy wins. Three main factors for this are:

Defense is very strong
Ages are short
Armies are always the same

Early defense is very strong. Attrition makes attacks before the advent of supply carts a risky venture. Once your opponent gets attrition, a failed attack means the loss of your entire army with no gain other than minor economic disruption. So any attack you make must be enough to completely take out a town. But because of attrition garrisoning troops your opponent only needs a handful of defenders to resist pretty much any early attack. Raiding (except for the Mongols) seems a limited option. A wildly successful raid at best kills an equivalent portion of villagers to compensate for the loss of troops. Even after supply carts are available, it is still easier to defend with smaller numbers of troops who attack and draw out the siege defenders and then garrison back to safety when the enemy responds. So making a small early force of defensive units becomes the dominant strategy.

Ages are short. Because there are so many ages, the time spent in a particular age is usually very short. Players are faced with the choice of upgrading troops NOW for the attack, or to just wait until the next age. At that point, unlike (AOE and AOK) they can upgrade their troops to the new ones without going through all the previous upgrades. Meaning it becomes better to dash through to the ages as efficiently as possible to an age where attacking become more effective. Attacking becomes a lot easier in the gunpowder and industrial ages. So why not wait?

Armies are always the same. Two factors collide to make army composition relatively mindless. First of all, the cost escalation for each additional unit of the same type encourages players to make armies with lots of different units. Secondly, the overwhelming counter abilities of units against certain other units make having a one- or two-unit army rather stupid. This ensures that the best army is one that contains a smattering of all unit types, which oddly enough looks JUST like the army the OTHER guy has. Who wins, largely depends on army size, which goes back to the best economy. (IMO, having cost escalation is a poor way to encourage army composition. In reality, building additional units should be CHEAPER, not more expensive, as a civilization realizes benefits of scale and learning curve. Then you’d see players forced to make strategic choices, specializing in particular units, and encourage better cooperation in team games.)

So despite the huge variety and massive scale, the strategic depth seems to be LESS than that of other RTS games, like Kohan, for example, where with only 4 factions, you have completely different army types and philosophies of playstyle. This may be one reason why there is so little being written about strategy. Just not much there to think about, I guess.

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