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Post by kjn »

Another article in my loose series on theoretical concepts in playing Wesnoth.

Delay and delaying actions, as used here, means using a smaller or inferior force to hinder or force an enemy force to slow down, preferably while still preserving the combat power of your own units. It is an operational concept where tactics often play a huge role.

Note that the delaying action is different from avoiding action. The delaying units will probably see combat, but will avoid becoming decisively engaged. Preferably, any engaged unit will be disengaged safely during your own turn. If a unit cannot be disengaged, then it must be sacrificed rather than reinforced with other units.

Ie, in a delaying action you must use expendable units, but treat the force as a whole as non-expendable. Otherwise, your units are more acting as a speedbump for the enemy (sometimes necessary, but not germane for this article).

Common to all delay is that you trade land (hexes) for time (turns) in a controlled manner.

Delay can serve several different purposes in Wesnoth, but there are also instances where its use is not a good idea.

Split Enemy Forces

Perhaps the archetypical example of delaying action is when the enemy forces are in two different concentrations. A smaller part of your army is used to delay one of the enemy concentrations, while the major part of your army destroys the other.

This is one of the principal ways that an outnumbered force can win a battle or campaign, and lies behind Clausewitz' emphasis on the Schwerpunkt, on keeping your force concentrated.

First with the Most

If there is an objective or desirable terrain feature between you and the enemy, one way to claim it is to send a small and highly mobile part of your army past the objective to delay the enemy main force or vanguard. Instead, the objective will be fortified by your main force, that might gain a crucial turn this way to gain the necessary numbers, position, or formation, that the delaying force can then fall back to.

There is however a disadvantage to using delay in this case. Often (especially in single-player Wesnoth) the enemy attacks in waves due to the recruitment pattern. If the first wave is delayed, that also means that the distance between the first and subsequent waves becomes smaller, ie you will face a larger enemy concentration of units at a slightly later turn. This approach should thus be avoided if there is no valuable objective or feature that otherwise would be hard to reach.

Limited Effort

It should probably be stressed that delay is a limited effort, especially in the case of split enemy forces. It is more important that the initial main effort can be completed on time than that the delaying force is strong and can hold ground (in which case it becomes a holding effort).

Tactical Considerations

The first and foremost consideration is that delay requires high mobility, preferably higher than the enemy. Cheap skirmishing or harassing units thus generally make for good delaying units.

The second is that delaying units should have a zone of control (ie be level 1 or higher). Two level 0 unit have a front of two hexes; two level 1 units have a maximum front of six hexes, and have a much easier time to defend their own mobility. Related to this, it should be mentioned that delay as envisioned here is impossible against units with the Skirmishing ability, since they easily can place your delaying forces within their zone of control and wipe them out.

Another factor is that delaying units are not required to be as reliable as battleline units. Units with high defense can work just as well as units with lots of hit points or with high resistances.

Active and Passive Delay

Active delay means moving into, or staying in, contact with enemy units on your own turn. Passive delay means positioning your units at a distance before the enemy units, with the goal of limiting their forward mobility. Passive delay is much safer than active delay, since it can help to preserve hit points and means that enemy units will have a much harder time to fix the delaying units in place using zone of control.

Delay via Repulsion

Since the goal of the delaying force isn't to hold ground but to win time, it likely already has succeeded in its effort if the enemy try to outflank them. If the enemy try to do so using infavourable terrain it is even better. How long the delaying force should stay in place on such an occasion should be carefully assessed.

In most situations, it is probably better to do a premature and slow retreat than waiting until the flanking forces are about to strike or envelope the delaying force.

Slow and Poison

Both Slow and Poison suit themselves very well to delay. Slow will both severely limit the mobility of the targeted unit and preserve the hit points of the delaying force. However, due to how it is implemented, it only helps to limit the damage made when used on the defense, and not the mobility of the enemy units.

This means that delaying units with Slow, in order to make the greatest use of the ability, should use active delay and attack enemy units on their own turn. This exposes them to higher risk, but also brings much larger benefits than a passive delay.

Poison, on the other hand, works just as well on both attack and defense. However, since the poisoning unit will have to choose the proper attack, this ability can be worked around by the enemy. Ie, to bring maximum use of the ability, one must also use an active delay. However, this can be highly risky since the poisoned units often can stay effective in combat for a turn or two before they must seek curing.

Ie, an active delay effort is very dangerous against an enemy willing to take casualties, since neither Slow nor Poison will stop an enemy unit from moving forward to zone of control-block a unit next to them.

How to Counter a Delay

The best way of countering an enemy delay is to act very aggressively against the delaying force, with the goal of wiping it out quickly. This can turn the delaying action into a Pyrrhic victory for the enemy.

Another way to counter a delay when you have split forces, is that you act aggressively against the delaying force, while limiting yourself to a delaying or holding action with your other group of units.
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Re: Delay

Post by nuorc »

Nice read. :)

I don't really have much to add. Except maybe another way to counter a delay attempt: outflanking, as you pointed out for the enemy.

If, for example, the opponent has put some (heavy/slow) infantry in your cav's way, you could maybe just go around it. Or re-unite your cav with your main-force, leaving the interceptors basically useless in a remote part of the map. Since I'm somewhat a speed-freak, this could prove to be the best way for me.
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Re: Delay

Post by kjn »


I addressed outflanking a delaying force in the original article, but perhaps I wasn't entirely clear.

Outflanking a delaying force can work. However, an outflanking move is almost by definition slower than a frontal assault (since you have to move a longer way, and perhaps through rougher terrain). So once you note that the enemy tries to outflank your delaying force, it should start doing a slow and controlled retreat.

After all, the job of the delaying force isn't to stop the enemy or die gloriously, it is to delay the enemy. If it does so by combat, or by making the enemy wait for reinforcements, or by moving a longer distance doesn't matter.

(Last, heavy infantry or equivalent is about the last force one would use for a delaying effort! Except perhaps as a rearguard, but that is wholly another article.)
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Re: Delay

Post by pauxlo »

Another motive for delaying might be the time of day.

If the delayed force arrives not in their favorite time of day, you might then be able to deal with them easier.
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Re: Delay

Post by taptap »

This essay is pretty vague, examples may give clarity.

For the scout units you refer to I often find distraction works better in achieving a delay. Either the lure of chance to kill or the threat of village loss (or village loss and recapturing efforts) can effectively split up enemy forces without putting anything in between your main force and the enemy, but apparently that is not what you are talking about.
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