by Terikel Grayhair
A great general once said, “Surprise is a weapon that explodes in the mind and destroys all reason.” This is especially true of ambushes- taking the enemy by surprise from hidden forces and utterly destroying him while he stands unprepared for your assault. Ambushes can be achieved tactically and strategically- and this article shall discuss both.
The strategic ambush begins on the campaign map. The player parks a suitable warhost upon a tile that is lightly-wooded and nearby where the enemy shall pass. Ensure the army has a few movement points remaining by clicking upon it and seeing if it has some green highlights around it. Alternatively, checking the army details scroll should show some blue on the vertical slider bar to the right. The figure shall kneel, and report ‘ready to ambush.’ Now all that is needed is for an enemy army to come wandering by.
That sets up your ambush. Whether or not it shall be successful is determined by the AI. Not all ambushes are successfully prepared, no matter how delicately and perfectly placed. It is a random event. If the ambush is not successful, the army that wandered into your position will have time to prepare and your ambush becomes a normal battle. If successful, however, the enemy blundered into your position and has no time to prepare.
Rejoice! For you shall have the enemy in marching formation while you yourself have the freedom to deploy your forces to inflict maximum damage.
The enemy army is in march formation. The general should be at the head of the column. Any phalanxes will also be in march formation- four abreast. This is important to remember, because phalanxes are deadly from the front but weak from the side- and now that front is facing their general and is only four men wide.
Emplace your forces for maximum effect. This does not always mean maximum contact! Have a plan in mind when you deploy- remember, you have all the time in the world to put this correct, and his forces are already deployed. I have found it best to place my missile troops behind a line of melee troops on one side of the ambush, with my cavalry on another- all clustered about the head of the column. My plan is to have the missiles pepper the enemy while the melee troops charge- dragging the attention of the enemy forces to that side. Then I charge my cavalry from the opposite side. Often the result is instant rout. Then its roll up the rest of the army as mass panic ensues and the cavalry runs down the routers.
Remember local superiority when you plan. It is this ability to plan your ambush while the enemy is visible that is so deadly. You can overwhelm a good portion of his army while they are still in march formation and cause the mass panic, which ensures victory. It is through this that a smaller ambushing force can often annihilate a larger army.
Another good thing to remember is that the enemy will seldom move out of march formation while moving into position to strike back. This gives your forces the time they need to utterly smash the opposing force and prepare to deal with the rest of the force. Plus, if you finish off the portion you are currently working on before the rest arrive, you can smash the remainder while it is still in march formation.
A good, well-executed ambush seldom lasts longer than ten minutes from ‘Start Battle’ to ‘Victory’. Ambushes are also good ways for smaller, captain-led armies to annihilate larger armies and gain Heroic Victories, often granting a Man of the Hour should you be a little low on generals.
Should your ambush fail and the enemy has time to prepare, then you have a standard battle, as stated above. This also may lead to opportunities to perform a tactical ambush, as your forces are situated in lightly-wooded areas. Thus we shall now discuss the tactical ambush.
Most units have the ability to hide in woods. Some units, like Arcani, can hide anywhere, while others can hide in long grass. Only artillery and phalanxes cannot hide in woods, and even the phalanxes can hide if they revert to standard formation. And of course the commanding general is always visible to the enemy. This last piece is key to the successful tactical ambush.
The enemy will see your general. If you have other forces deployed among the trees, and the little pine-tree icon is showing on their unit card, then they are hidden and not seen by the enemy. The AI will therefore not react to their presence until they become unmasked by moving, attacking, or having an enemy unit wander too close. But the enemy will see your general, deploy, and move to engage him.
Thus place your forces in hiding and your general where the enemy’s advance will lead him past your hidden forces. And viola! Your hidden forces fall upon the flanks and rear of the enemy in a tactical ambush that should destroy a large portion of his army, and generate the mass panic needed to destroy the rest.
Timing is very important in the tactical ambush. If you assault too early, the enemy can react to your presence and destroy your ambushing force before it can perform its tasks. If you assault too late, your presence is revealed while moving- giving reaction time- plus the embattled portion of your army is sustaining losses in battle for far longer than necessary. Launching at the right time, however, minimizes your casualties while inflicting maximum casualties on your enemy.
So now you see the advantages of the Ambush. It is sneaky, cold-blooded, underhanded, and some consider it an dishonorable act, but it is deadly efficient at destroying an enemy warhost.
The enemy is not the only one who can be ambushed. This can happen to you too, any time you move forces about the campaign map with no spy preceding you. If caught in a successful ambush, your forces will be deployed in march formation, and the only thing you can do is press the ‘Start Battle’ button. You are screwed.
But not really. Pause is your friend, your savior from a defeat. Press Pause directly after pressing the ‘Start Battle’. You can now see how the Lord AI deployed his forces, and plan your reaction, then pray to the gods of war that your men execute their orders before the ambushers execute them.
The Lord AI will typically surround your column’s head as laid out above. But you are human, and with the advantage of stopped time, can plan your unit’s responses in detail to turn the tide against the ambushed and sow mischief among his forces.
Step One of the Save Your Butt Anti-Ambush Plan is not to panic. Time is stopped, something real-life generals cannot do. Evaluate your situation with regards to troops, abilities, and enemy.
Step Two is to issue your orders. Remember that your units are in march formation, just like those of the AI when you ambushed him. If you issue movement orders, those orders will be carried out in march formation. So a good idea is to use the ‘move and deploy’ function. Click on a unit, then to the left-front corner of where you want the unit to deploy. Holding the left button down, drag out the little yellow arrows to the size of the formation you want and then release. I typically order my forces every other unit to face to the left with the remainder facing to the right- this puts my army in the middle of an enemy sandwich, but one which allows all my forces to be facing the enemy- no flank or rear attacks on my boys! Any forces outside the circle of enemy forces become my reserve and are ordered into attack positions (and formation!) supporting the ambushed portion.
Step Three is unpause.
Step Four is to be a general. You have evaluated the situation and given your orders. Now you fight the battle on terms a little more even that those which you gave the Lord AI, and have a fighting chance- something you refused him.
The AI will often attempt tactical ambushes as well. It deploys its forces in its preset formations, then evaluates your position versus his and begins to move. All his forces are at this moment visible. When they stop, they kneel, and then disappear. They have not left, they are now hiding. Here you have the advantage of human memory. When your forces hide, the AI no longer sees them and thus no longer considers them. You, on the other hand, know those forces are there. You remember, he does not. Thus you can fight your battle with the knowledge that he has unseen forces there, and act accordingly.
The Ambush is a powerful tool in the hands of a Human player, but it is not the end of the world for one. Keep a cool head, be ruthless, and you shall prevail. Go now forth, young warlord, and utterly crush thy foes!