This is the second article in a series of tactical guides based on the Training Missions included in the game Theatre of War by 1C Company and Battlefront.com.
While the first training mission focussed mainly on the basic game mechanics, this second training mission covers some of the more detailed tactics required to win a battle, explains how to execute them in the game, and why a simple groupselect-point-and-click approach which works in many other RTS games will most likely fail in Theatre of War.
The focus in this tutorial mission is on assaulting fortified defensive positions, one of the most frequent - and most deadly - tasks the player and his virtual soldiers will have to face in the main campaign missions later on.
Needless to say, these tutorials can only scratch the surface in terms of tactics. Military tactics have been taught for thousands of years, and there is no one simple formula which will always lead to victory. Even during WW2, tactics employed by all sides have evolved alongside with technological and doctrinal advances. The goal of these training missions is to provide some of the raw basics - with increasing complexity from mission to mission - but in the end, each player will still have to write his own
personal tactics book when playing the full version of the game later.
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This second training mission requires the player to complete three objectives. Each objective includes breaching a different fortified enemy trench line, and each one is more difficult to tackle than the previous one. The player will learn how to adapt some military principles and how to use some of them on the virtual battlefield of Theatre of War. While TOW is not intended to be (and couldn't be, even if we wanted it to) a 100% realistic representation of World War Two combat, many of the same principles
apply which work in the real world and the player will have to master them to successfully complete the game's combat missions and campaigns.
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The first line
The player starts off with two infantry squads and three light tanks, set up behind the cover of a small grassy mound, providing cover from the first line of enemy defenses. The terrain to reach the first line consists of largely open grass fields, and a simple all out frontal attack would be suicidal against a serious opponent.
However, to make things a bit easier on the player for the first assault, the enemy is only equipped with rifles and machineguns, and has no heavy weapons, particularly no anti-tank guns. This will change for lines two and three, but for now there is little that can go wrong.
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The main idea for assaulting the fortified line is to use tanks to provide suppressive fire so that the enemy infantry soldiers are more busy with staying in cover than firing back. This principle is called "fire superiority", and one of the core tactics in TOW as well as in the real world is trying to establish such superiority at the key terrain locations you're going to attack (nobody can be strong everywhere at the same time).
The infantry will advance alongside the tanks by a technique called "leapfrogging" or also "moving by bounds" - one squad will lie prone and fire at the enemy while the other squad will run forward for a short stretch, then go prone and open fire; at that time, the other squad gets up and advances, and so forth. This repeats until the final assault on the trench itself. The fire support from the tanks should make this a fairly easy task for the first trench despite the open terrain.
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First we order tanks and infantry to simply move up to the crest of the hill lying between them and the enemy line. Here we pause for some time and wait for our guys to open fire from the relative safety of a rear slope position, i.e. lying prone just behind the crest line, using the slope of the terrain as cover against enemy fire.
One fundamental principle the player will need to master in TOW is how to use formations correctly. Any two and more units can be ordered to adapt a specific formation with one mouse click - the options include line, wedge, double column, tight formation, loose formation, and what is called a "free formation" which basically means that everyone is keeping their current relative position towards other members of the formation.
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The formation menu apears active as soon as more than one unit is selected, and is visible at the lower right edge of the user interface. Each formation has its distinct advantages, and learning when to use which formation will be one of the essential tasks a player will have to master.
A loose formation is useful against enemy artillery strikes. The soldiers or units in the formation spread out and move away from each other to minimize the chance that a lucky artillery round is able to wipe out more than one of them at a time.
A tight formation is useful for assaults against key points. The soldiers or vehicles move close to each other to be able to support each other and add "punch" to the assault.
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A free formation allows the player to basically design his own formation by placing units in a specific way. They will keep their distances from each other while moving to other waypoints.
A line formation is a basic combat formation in situations when you know where the enemy is and expect contact from the front. The line formation provides the best firepower to the front of the unit, but makes it somewhat vulnerable to attacks from the sides (flanks).
A Wedge sacrifices some firepower to the front for better protection of the flanks. It's the best formation to use for advancing units when the enemy location is not known and is a good defense against flanking attacks.
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A double-column formation is a standard travel formation. It allows units to travel quickly down narrow passageways or example roads. It sacrifices firepower to the front and rear, but it protects the flanks fairly well.
Since today's tutorial mission centers on assaulting fortified enemy positions, we will be using the line formation almost exclusively, as we know where the enemy comes from.
So much for the theory.
Just in time before the shooting starts :)