|“||In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory.||”|
|—-Sun Tzu, the Art of War|
Indirect approach refers to a military strategy that emphasizes detouring away from powerful concentrations of enemies and avoiding the gnawing of friendly and/or allied troops, by following the path of least resistance. It consists on avoiding direct attacks on firm defensive/offensive positions and to disrupting the enemy's balance by exploiting their weaknesses. It also gives emphasis to knowing the enemy, and striking where the ratio of losses of an enemy will be larger.
A type of warfare that favors indirect approach is irregular warfare (including Guerilla warfare).
The opposing military strategy is the direct approach, which primarily emphasizes striking the center of weight of an enemy, usually an important structure, a military leader or the main corps of an army.
Following the Indirect Approach isn't just limited to a strategic level, but also finds application in the tactical level, where it is quite recommended by some famous strategic analysts in real life, among them the semi-legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu, as it allows for avoidance of losses. It is often a necessary choice on behalf of the weakest party in a war.
In the Age of Empires series, elements of indirect approach exist in all games of the series, mainly in the form of hit-and-run tactics and in conversion, but each game also has its own unique features that benefit an Indirect Approach (for example, see below for the stealth mode feature in Age of Empires III).
Hit-and-run is a tactical doctrine where the player tries to inflict damage to an enemy position and then, withdraws to avoid an enemy retaliation. It is executed mainly from light cavalry units, who usually are tough enough to survive some enemy attacks, yet fast enough to exit an area, should there be resistance.
Ranged cavalry (for example Cavalry Archers or Dragoons) in particular, are an excellent unit for hit-and-run tactics, boasting decent HP, combined with speed and most importantly, a ranged attack. However, they are usually vulnerable to foot archer units, pike/spear units and other cavalry, so they are often have to be accompanied with melee cavalry units, that protect them and also provide additional power.
Ideal targets for such tactics are mainly soft ones, such as Villagers, Monks/Priests (depending on the game), and of course, trade units. In general, any casualty that can put a dent to the enemy's economy should be considered as a target. Usually, rusher civilizations are the best at executing hit-and-run, though there may be exceptions.
- Examples of favorable hit-and-run
An example of ideal civilizations and units for hit-and-run, from the Age of Empires game, the Horse Archer and Scout lines are the prime examples of units that can execute such tactics, though at earlier stages on the game, it's the Scout that can be used so, as the Horse Archer is available at the Iron Age, with an excellent civilization for using them being the Yamato, as they receive a 25% discount on both cavalry lines.
It is highly advised that if a player can afford it, they should combine hit-and-run tactics with the creation of forward bases, ideally consisting of 1 or 2 military structures (e.g. Stables) and/or defensive structures. For example, a form of Castle drop can be executed in Age of Empires II by some civilizations (even outside the Arena), with the Castle denying a great area to the enemy, while their unique units harass nearby enemies. Ideal civilizations for such tactics include ones with good ranged cavalry (e.g. Berbers) or with fast infantry (e.g. Celts, Ethiopians, Malians).
In Age of Empires III, the game introduced a new mode for some units called the stealth mode. While in this mode, units that are affected move slower than normal, but also remain concealed from the enemy, allowing them to plan surprise attacks on vulnerable positions, kill some units, and then retreat before resistance can arrive, not unlike in real-life Guerilla Warfare. The best unit in this case is the Forest Prowler, who combines an attack with great range, good LOS and Stealth.
Benefits of hit-and-run
- Allows players to avoid casualties, thus saving resources.
- Withers the enemy's economy.
- Psychologically, it can catch off guard enemy players, and even make them do a wrong move.
- Allows to keep the pressure on enemies, while allowing players to safely Boom.
The concept of hit-and-run is related to the concept of Rushing.
Conversion, the act of converting a neutral or enemy unit or building can also be considered a form of Indirect Approach, as depending on what unit is converted, it can allow a player to increase the survivability of his/her army, while also wearing down that of the enemy.
Monks, Priests, or whatever else (depending on the game) can convert a unit should usually try to aim for units that are vulnerable to conversion, usually bruisers that are tough to defeat, and can kill much of the player's army, diminishing thus casualties while also using the converted unit(s) to strike its former army.
For example, in Age of Empires II, recommended targets for conversion in a battle include units such as War Elephants and Boyars, both vulnerable to conversion and very hard to beat. Likewise, in Age of Mythology, the best targets for Shennong Monks and the Traitor power are late game myth units, while treasure guardian conversion in Age of Empires III should usually aim for units such as Polar Bears.
Of course, conversion isn't limited to such units; among other units, one can also try to convert enemy Villagers, preferably close to enemy lines, and then use them to construct defensive structures, in order to harass nearby foes (not recommended for the Traitor power).
While most god powers in Age of Mythology are fairly straightforward, with many Mythic Age powers providing powerful, damaging effects with little else, many can still be used in a way that allows for an Indirect Approach.
A prominent example is the Underworld Passage power, as it allows for Greek players to launch surprise attacks from one point to another, even behind enemy lines. Others provide effects that while harmful to an enemy, don't usually destroy an entire town or army, yet prove to be useful by negating an enemy's strengths. Some examples include:
- Pestilence - causes military structures in an area to stop producing for 45 seconds.
- Locust Swarm - summons a swarm of locusts that damage Villagers and Farms, thus putting a dent into the enemy's economy.
- Forest Fire - sets trees on fire, damages nearby enemies, great for denying Wood to an enemy.
- Great Journey - grants a speed boost to a player's units, excellent for hit-and-run.