Everyone must have a strategy. Even though everyone agrees on this, knowing exactly what this means has never been clear. There have been many attempts in examining this concept in more detail and various researchers and philosophers such as Sun Tzu and Clausewitz have contributed significantly.
There seems to be a need for a Theory of Strategy that identifies the most important elements and concepts related to a strategy. At the end of the day, the intention is to know what you may do given a set of circumstances. A good system is a system that asks you interesting questions. By attempting to answer those questions, you will construct and understand your strategy in a better way.
Recently, there has been some attempt in this regard. An article by Gregory D. Foster under the title of Towards a Theory of Strategy attempts to provide the building blocks of this theory. Foster aims to define a theory that capture the essence of strategic decision making. The core of his theory is summarised in this article along with examples for Risk board game.
1. Strategy is proactive and anticipatory.
Strategy should not be used to manage crisis. You need to anticipate the outcome of your strategy and be able to accommodate its potential ending.
In Risk: Don’twait for a player to attack you or to lead the game. Most of the time if you have global strategy, you can easily anticipate the threats. Attack is the best form of defence, but you can only use it when you know where the threat is.
2. Strategist must know what is to be accomplished.
A strategist must know the end state that he is trying to achieve. This is absolutely critical. Without knowing the end result, you may achieve what you wanted; but what you wanted might not have been what you should have got.
In Risk: The overall goal in a single game of Risk is to win. That’s an easy target. However, your goal may be to win repeatedly, for example to increase your overall score when playing online. In that case, you need to make sure that your actions in this game can contribute towards your main goal. If you end up losing the game, but protected your position in the long run, then you have accomplished your objective. Always know what you want.
3. A strategy must identify an appropriate balance among the objectives sought, the methods to pursue the objectives, and the resources available.
If a strategy is not balanced, too much effort might be spent on finding the means, when the end might not have been worth the effort.
In Risk: Never get carried away emotionally. If your objective is set as the destruction of your opponent no matter what, you may end up sacrificing a lot of your armies and your reputation to achieve a goal that may not have been that important. Always consider what you gain in relation to what you lose. This is applicable both tactically and strategically.
4. Political purpose must dominate all strategy.
Clausewitz’ famously said, "War is merely the continuation of policy by other means." In the end of the day, what matters is the end. You should never lose sight of it.
In Risk: With politics you may achieve a lot more than using pure brute force. It will cost you less, it will teach you how to be diplomatical, it will show you ways you may have not thought of before. It makes your life easier. If you are in trouble when under attack by your opponent, always ask yourself what you can do politically to stop him attacking you. There is always a way out.
5. Strategy is hierarchical.
The following represents the main layers:
- A. Grand Strategy. The highest level of strategy which is mainly used for your survival. This includes all options, such as diplomatic, military, economic and informational instruments.
- B. Military Strategy. The general military strategy used to achieve the Grand Strategy.
- C. Theatre Strategy. Lower level military strategy used to achieve specific objectives in conjunction with tactical manoeuvres
In Risk: This is the three layer approach discussed in Chapter 2 of Total Diplomacy, where diplomacy is the highest level, followed by strategy and tactics .
6. Strategy is comprehensive.
Strategyshould consider internal and external factors. The strategist should be aware that objectives, concepts, and resources have an effect on the environment around him. Thus, the strategist must have a comprehensive knowledge of what else is happening and the potential effects of his own choices to the nth degree on his and other nations.
In Risk: Always consider the effect of a particular action on the game environment. A strategy might sound valid; however its effect on others may provoke an unanticipated reaction. You need to consider the consequences of your actions and how you plan to deal with them. For an interesting example see this Risk game scenario.
7. Strategy is developed from a thorough analysis and knowledge of the strategic situation or environment.
Strategy should consider all aspects of an environment. When devising a strategy, you cannot afford to ignore your opponent’s overall situation. Everything counts and all aspects must be scrutinized.
In Risk: Examine your opponent in detail: How many armies has he got? How many countries? What is the likelihood of being attacked from him? Is it likely that he could become an ally of your enemy? Is he about to get lots of armies? Can you make a deal with him? Has he got a history with other players?
8. Some risk is inherent to all strategy and the best any strategy can offer is a favourable balance against failure.
Never underestimate the power of luck. Remember it works both ways. If something didn’t go according to plan due to some unfortunate event, then just accept it and move on. Some things are not meant to be. On the other hand, always be ready to take advantage of an opponent’s misfortune (when appropriate) to turn the tables.
In Risk: As with the name of the game, there is always a risk associated with every move you make. The trick is not to get hanged up on the luck factor, and move on with the flow of the game. Your time will come. Stick to it and be patient.
By following these principles, you can devise an effective strategy to compete with your opponents. Just make sure that you ask the right questions from yourself. You can get those questions by referring to the Theory of Strategy. Here are some questions you may like to ask yourself:
- Am I getting carried away?
- Am I thinking in the right level?
- Have I considered everything?
Can you suggest other useful questions?