In the sixteen’s century, Spain was at its peak. It had the largest naval power and having found the New World, it was extremely busy with various conquests, exercising its military and colonial power. Philip II, the Spanish king, disliked Protestantism and was determined to restore Catholicism to England. Meanwhile, England was in deep financial trouble. When Elizabeth I became the Queen, she decided that the only way to bring stability was to get rich. A rich country could counteract the threat of its rivals such as France and Spain. Without money it was doomed. Step by step, Elizabeth worked to increase the wealth of the country through economic reforms. In particular she was very wary of a standing army’s expenses and was determined to stay out of costly wars. After all she wanted the country to get rich and there was no way to get rich if she was constantly at war or preparing for one.
Meanwhile, Philip had his eyes on England. By getting loans from Italians he embarked on a vast program to prepare an invading armada. His thought was he could pay back the loans later by the treasures they found in the New World. Elizabeth knew that with the vast resources available to Spain, there was no way she could match the Spanish army and naval power directly. She needed to act indirectly.
What Elizabeth did next eventually led to a historic turning point in the ranking of world powers. To maintain their vast empire, Spain had to rely on treasure ships that would bring gold back to the country from the New World. Elizabeth saw the treasure ships as a potential weak point. She set Sir Francis Drake to attack the Spanish treasure ships but act only as an independent pirate. No one was meant to know the connection between Drake and Elizabeth. Next, Elizabeth set up an extensive network of spies to report back on all the Spanish activities in particular about their progress on preparing an invading Armada. Eventually, this spy network became the largest spy agency in Europe.
Drake caused heavy losses on Spanish. Since the gold was used to finance Spain’s empire and their expansion, the lack of money forced them to borrow more. In turn, the Italians raised their loan rates which meant that now it would cost the Spanish even more to prepare the Armada. Nevertheless, they carried on.
In 1588, the Spanish Armada was finally ready, though Elizabeth knew a lot on what was about to approach them. The Spanish started their journey towards England. The English, rather than sending a matching naval power, send only a small number of ships. Their aim was to harass the incoming Spanish Armada which they succeeded well. Next, when the Spanish stationed in a harbour in north of Europe (near Netherlands and Belgium which at the time belonged to Spain), another set of English ships continued with the harassment. This time they sent 8 large ships full of flammable content towards the bulk of the Spanish Armada. This led to chaos and the subsequent attack by the English resulted in several losses as ships collided with each other in their haste to escape the flames or the attacks. The losses significantly affected the Spanish moral. The Spanish decided to retreat back to home, but they went through a route around Scotland to avoid further contact with the English navy on their way back. This worked against them as the storm in the north of Ireland sank quite a few ships and damaged many of them. By the time they were back to Spain, two third of the Spanish Armada was lost and the rest were heavily damaged. Meanwhile the English had not lost even a single ship!
Even at this point, Elizabeth still had her eyes on her ultimate goal; stability and long term dominance. Rather than immediately embarking on an invasion when the Spanish were weak, she carried on with the original plan. She continued to increase the pressure on Philip’s financial resources so that Philip would eventually abandon his dream of expanding Catholicism.
The Spanish Armada cost the Spain dearly and it heavily affected them. The costly Armada together with the lost treasure ships put a great toll on Spanish finances. In fact, Spain never recovered from this and the turn of events ultimately led to the rise of the British Empire and their unrivalled global naval power a couple of hundred years later.
The Moral of the Story
Elizabeth’s greatest strategy was that she wanted to gain maximum results using only limited resources. She was not concerned with matching Philip’s vast invading force with an equivalent of her own. Instead, she was looking for weak points where just a little nudge here and there could have devastating results. The idea was not to totally confront the enemy on his terms, but instead take the initiative and anticipate the opponent’s moves every step of the way and do something to demoralise them. She was not worried about the unmatched capability, in fact she considered the limitation as an advantage as she could rely on more creativity and innovation.
Sometimes when formulating your strategy, you must ignore your relative strength. Aim to achieve a maximum by using only a minimum. The self-imposed limitation helps you to become more inventive. Your creativity allows you save up your resources, stay focused and even have fun in the process.
When playing Risk, avoid formulating a predefined strategy with specific goals. These goals are much like dreams. They are wishful thinking that may lead to wasting lots of armies and ultimately defeat.
Instead, you must ground yourself in reality. Think of what you have. Think of your strengths and weaknesses. Think how you can get a critical territory, an important part of the map or controlling a passage using minimal number of armies but that would give you a huge advantage. Think how you can weaken another player to the point of elimination without using many armies at all. Can you set other players to do the dirty job on your behalf? Can you overwhelm your opponents diplomatically? Can you lead your opponents to a different part of the map away from you? Can you reduce your opponents’ overall armies substantially without losing much yourself?
A great tool in getting maximum effect without much cost to you is to use deception. In Risk, this can manifest itself in many ways. Your moves may lead other players to think that you have a certain plan while in the background you might be leading them into a trap. For example, you may nail a continent with a large concentration of armies. Others may think that you want to expand in this direction and might aim to equalise your armies there to defend against it. As a result of this they have to pull armies from somewhere else which now becomes a new weak point. You can now deceive them by attacking this weak spot.
Another form of deception in Risk is propaganda. Particularly effective when engaged in negotiations and diplomacy, it can easily lead to significant turning points in the game.
Getting maximum results with minimum cost means constantly looking for opponents that you can easily eliminate. At a given point in any game of Risk, there is a player that is weaker than anyone else. You should always be aware of this player since his elimination can give you multitudes of rewards; you end up with one less player to deal with; you gain confidence that you are leading the game and you acquire the territories, continents and most importantly the cards. However, the most important benefit of all is that you create chaos by changing the balance of power. As soon as a player is eliminated, everyone has to think about the new situation; how it would benefit them and how it could threaten them. You could see it coming because you planned the move, but perhaps they could not. If you act quickly enough they may not have enough time to think their moves through and you could again change the map substantially to and them on their toes. If you continue with a steady approach, you could soon eliminate them all and win another glorious game of Risk.
Remember, if you have a limitation you value what you have more, hence you can be more creative in using it. Necessity breads creativity. Make the necessity yourself, and creativity will follow.
“Even if you are wealthy, act poor.” Pablo Picasso