Do you enjoy the rock, paper scissor combat mechanics of some strategy games?

To be more specific, I’m talking about the combat mechanic where there are multiple types of damage and multiple types of defense. For example in some space strategy games there are weapons such as laser, missile and ballistics with corresponding armor of shield, flak, and armor to counter them. In Fallen Enchantress I think there is blunt, cutting and piercing with corresponding defenses. Quite often these games allow the player to design their own units with some mixture of weapons and armor. Quite often the game plays out like this…

  1. Peacefully explore.
  2. Locate another race.
  3. See their units have a lot of one type of defense (such as armor) but not much of another (shields).
  4. Design units with a lot of beams since they don’t have shields.
  5. They start designing units with shields.
  6. You adjust your ships.

This leads to a lot of busywork which may just eventually lead to more balanced ship design or just a constant merry go round of adjustments. For me, this is pretty tedious and unit design is the most least enjoyable aspect of the game. Fallen Enchantress at least adds some more interesting effects into the mix instead of just weapons and armor. It is also interesting to not that they are ditching this system in the expansion for Fallen Enchantress.

How do you feel about this type of system? Are there any games that get it right? What are better alternatives that still offer some customization that is meaningful and offer depth. To me the above system isn’t all that deep since it just leads to constant juggling of components based on what the enemy has. Perhaps if there was a cost involved when the player changes designs, or if those designs were not immediately available it would actually add some planning and depth to the system.

Stardock love that technique and used it big time in the Galactic Civilizations series. Lasers vs Shields, Ballistics vs Armour, Missile versus Point Defence. Endless Space is another game that follows the same Rock/Paper/Scissors model. Personally, I don’t like it and prefer much meatier systems where there are multiple counters for anything and no one technology/weapon is game winner.

For example, the Sword of the Stars series has an amazing system where not only are there numerous weapons/defenses that force real difficult choices to your research/ship building, but also the technology tree randomly limits what is available each game. That way, if you are facing an enemy that loves missiles and don’t have the option to research point defence, you’re in for a world of hurt, but you still have options further down the tree or by going for shield/armour tech.

The issue is that any system where unit variety has any meaning can be described as “rock, paper, scissors,” even if it isn’t. Take the basic combined arms of ground warfare: infantry, cavalry, and artillery, where “cavalry” can be horses or armored units, and “artillery” can be longbows or MLRS. You could describe that as cavalry easily defeats artillery, entrenched infantry can defeat cavalry, artillery digs out entrenched infantry. Taking “more of the right type” is not how you field an army, though.

The alternative to trying to model the value of combined arms (on land, at sea, or in space) is one-dimensional force levels, where the only number is army / fleet size. Such systems make combat rather dull, though you can design an interesting game around such if you make the rest of the game more interesting.

Perhaps what you’re talking about is the specific case where the design is essentially simple force levels with abstract flavors. I.e. ships armed with “lasers, missiles or ballistics” without any other meaningful differences. I agree, that’s not terribly interesting, because it’s just a lazy, arbitrary layer that doesn’t make the underlying dull approach more fun. Rather, I’d say that any attempt to liven up combat needs genuine qualitative differences.

Take the ship customization of Master of Orion 2. You have long-range missiles with a limited number of shots, countermeasures for those missiles, energy weapons both short and long range, shields with both ablative and blocking properties, armor, and shield-piercing and armor-piercing weapon variants. The “right mix” varies enormously based on relative technologies, force levels, and ship speeds. Missiles for example are very powerful early in the game when ships are slow and it takes a long time to reach energy weapon range. MIRV missiles are particularly powerful when your missile technology is much better than the defender’s shields, but not so great as shield damage blocking improves.

I never found that to be busywork or tedious, because the decision process from step (3) to (4) isn’t as simple as you describe, and may not be possible immediately because you need to do research.

I prefer soft counters with the rare and heavily specialized hard-counter, the specialization of which should open up a vulnerability on yourself. An example I can think of is Sword of the Stars, where you you have ways of countering certain weapons but it’s usually at a cost. You can add Reflective Coating to your armor to help mitigate against laser damage, but it comes at an increased cost and does nothing to other weapon types (and certainly doesn’t guarantee a win against lasers, it just helps). You can put a ballistic shield that gives you immunity to ballistic weapons, but it only covers 180 degrees, you sacrifice a lot of offensive power to use it, and it does nothing to stop energy based weapons. It’s a good counter for someone who has put all their eggs into one research basket but you’re screwed if they just slap a couple heavy beams on their ships or are simply able to flank their ship and nail the areas not covered by the shield.

So… yea, I think providing counters and counter-counters to a strategy game is important but it needs to be more in-depth than “You built Cavalry so I built Spearmen, I win”.

This isn’t technically rock-paper-scissors, which would more usually be associated with for instance “archers beat infantry beat cavalry beat archers”. In other words, units have hard counters which in turn have hard counters. In the OP’s system, there’s nothing in principle beyond unit cost to stop people from creating all-rounder units that have no hard counter.

For me, this question ties neatly into the “simpler, more steamlined, board-game-like mechanics are inherently superior” topic discussed in the thread for Jon Shafer’s At the Gates.
Personally, I almost always prefer the more realistic approach.
For example, it might make sense to have an energy shield being inefficient (or useless) against ballistic weaponry or to have chaff which only affects missiles (naturally), but it’s easy to overdo this.
I can’t recall which RTS it was, but there was one in which using a non-counter unit basically did no damage whatsoever - that sucks.


Personally, I almost always prefer the more realistic approach.
For example, it might make sense to have an energy shield being inefficient (or useless) against ballistic weaponry or to have chaff which only affects missiles (naturally), but it’s easy to overdo this.
I can’t recall which RTS it was, but there was one in which using a non-counter unit basically did no damage whatsoever - that sucks.

As in most things, I really like the Company of Heroes approach. It isn’t a strict RPS system as even ordinary infantry have ways of damaging heavy vehicles, but at the same time, no amount of shooting at a Tiger with an M1 Garand is going to hurt it. There are hard enough counters to discourage blobbing and encourage mixed arms (in vanilla CoH, anyway), but units aren’t usually so specialised that they’re useless if your enemy hasn’t built their equal but opposite counterpart.

That’s where you have capacity/support limits to units, so that all-rounder units cannot have enough of each defense/offense, regardless of cost. You have to choose between having mediocre all-rounder units, or powerful but dedicated specialist units.

I know that rock, paper, scissors is usually used to describe the spear men beat cavalry, swordsmen beat archer type of mechanics but it can also be used to describe the scenario I give in the OP. We are just talking at a slightly lower level, the weapon and defense components that make up a unit. I have been playing a little Endless Space lately, which is why I was thinking about it. Gal Civ and Fallen Enchantress are another ones I played with this system. In Endless Space, I’m pretty sure only one defense has any effect on a weapon. In Gal Civ and Fallen Enchantress I think non-optimal defense types still have some effect. In all 3 games, since new units can be designed at the blink of an eye without any cost (other than producing them which doesn’t take too long in general) the whole system feels like busywork to me.

I agree with the poster above that it isn’t interesting to just have 1 generic strength number, or one set of attack / defense numbers to differentiate units, but I don’t think the weapon / defense system I describe is the answer. I have Sword of the Stars, but never got into it much because it seemed like the empire management was pretty light and the focus was on ship combat, but maybe I’ll have to check it out to see how combat is handled. I’m curious to see if anyone else has any games that they think got it right. I never played any of the MOO games, so I don’t have experience on how that was handled.

To be clear, I am only talking about the scenario of a weapon having one type of effective defense and arbitrarily being able to create units with any combination of these, not the combined arms approach of needing to soften up entrenched infantry with artillery, cavalry being effective vs. infantry in the open, etc.

One nice twist Endless Space puts on it is that some hulls handle certain components easier. For example, one hull can increase the amount of weapon components that can fit on it while another can fit more support components. The problem is that after the first couple hulls it is always better just to use the most advanced hull type since it is vastly superior to the prior ones. It may take a little more time to build, but by that point you usually have system that can crank them out pretty fast.

I agree that an Endless Space or GalCiv II approach is not very interesting. On the other hand, I like the idea of being forced to adapt to your opponent’s designs. There just need to be some realistic limits to how much of an advantage you can get from correct counter-design decisions and also some significant friction to the whole process so that the design/counter-design cycle isn’t going too quickly. I also think that if this sort of thing is core the design, then it should be fairly hard to keep your designs under wraps. Players in the counter-design game should have decent but not perfect information about what a prospective opponent is doing. Finally, this stuff has to be understandable to the AI.

In Gal Civ, non-optimal defenses had no impact. 1 point in armour negated 1 point of ballistics fine. Simple as that. Not sure about Fallen Enchantress though.

I like the idea as mentioned above, of soft counter with rare and heavily specialized hard counter (although at a cost rather than a vulnerability per se). Funnily enough, I’m reminded of this mechanic while playing SS2 again - you can “research” body parts from enemies, and that gives you quite hefty extra damage against them (with any weapon). But the ability to research comes at a cost of points that could be put into other things.

Pure RPS is fine for little gamey games, and to some extent for games with specialized roles or factions, but I generally find it a bit tedious and immersion-breaking the more “realistic” and immersive a game is supposed to be. There’s not much it can realistically represent or be an abstraction for, except specialization.

This is from a non-official wiki, but non-optimal defenses do have an effect in Gal Civ:
All defense values are added together, but for non-optimal defense the square root is taken first and the value is rounded down (minimum of 1) before it is added to the other defenses. For example, if the attacker shoots with the laser and the defender has 1 in shields and 2 in armor then the maximum defense value is 1 + square root(2)
Here is the wiki if you are interested: Ship combat | Galactic Civilizations Wiki | Fandom

Never knew that, I stand corrected. Didn’t make much difference against those bloody Dread Lords though :(

I like the idea of soft-counters. Also, I find it interesting when resource costs (money, time, attention) are included in the equation. In the Age of Empires games a knight will still beat an individual pikeman, but for the same amount of resources you can build a squad of pikemen who will easily overpower a single knight.

I like that with Relic RTSs, skill most often determines whether a counter is successful or not. That is, in DoW2 a suppression team will typically destroy a melee unit if it enters its firing arc, but there are ways a skillful player can use misdirection, terrain, and special abilities to beat a suppression team with a melee unit. I really dislike using damage modifiers as the primary counter system, as it often renders units useless if your opponent already has a counter on the field.

Anyone who enjoys a good ship vs ship system should at look to the Renegade Legion: Interceptor game. I loved how the different weapons penetrated armor - how armor was in layers on a 10x10 grid, and various weapons would inflict different profiles of damage - lasers depending on size would be a single column penetrator (so more likely to go through armor and inflict minor component damage), where as explosives tended to be more cone shaped, shot gun type rounds would be a flat cake of damage… thrilling stuff.

Sword of the Stars 2 has a very similar model, with AP rounds going extremely deep while explosives spread across the first few layers. It really does add a serious layer of strategy when you go up against someone with a counter to your weapons.

It depends on the game’s focus. If the game is primarily a resource gathering / construction game, a simple RPS mechanic is fine. Even a high level strategic game, RPS can do okay, but usually I’d prefer some more positional elements, at least range and flanking or something.

If we’re talking more of a tactical game, than I like all sorts of nitty gritty.