B.T.T. Master Index

B. T. T.

Basic Tactical Training


Table of Contents


Basic Tactical Training (BTT) is designed for people who have little tactical expertise or have difficulty expressing their plans on paper. This primer will guide you through various aspects of formulating and phrasing a tactical plan. It is strongly recommended that even experienced tacticians skim this primer to see what is expected.

The primer is divided into several lessons.  Each lesson includes a text lecture explaining the subject matter, and may include examples or diagrams.  At the end of the lesson, exercises will be listed that go along with the lesson. It is recommended that you read each lesson and do the exercises before moving on to the next, unless you are very certain you have a firm grasp of the concepts taught.

Basic Tactical Training is intended mostly to help you form thorough solutions, not necessarily insightful ones. Of the two, being thorough is easier and usually much more important, so although the exercises may seem very rudimentary, you will be glad of them later, because there is no way to go on to advanced skills until you have mastery of the basics. Don't try to do algebra before you can do arithmetic.

As always, if you have any questions or comments regarding anything on this web page, please contact Tactician and Softrazor.

Lesson One: Deployment


DEPLOY (di-`ploi) v.
1a: to extend (a military unit) esp. in width
1b: to place in battle formation or appropriate positions
2 : to spread out, utilize, or arrange esp. strategically


The first step in a tactical plan is to spread out your troops into effective positions and get them ready for combat. This is called deployment. There are several guidelines to keep in mind when deploying troops:

The first consideration is to put your troops where they are needed, and where they can accomplish their tasks effectively. If a soldier's job is to guard a doorway, do not place him thirty feet away from it. If his job is to snipe, put him within easy range of the path he will be sniping people on. If you want him to provide cover fire for an escape, put him in a place where he blocks the escape route from the enemy and can easily defend it.

angle.jpg (4635 bytes) The second is not to cluster your troops too tightly together. It is to your advantage to make the angle between your troops as wide as possible, so it will be more difficult for your enemy to focus their attacks. If all your troops are in front of the enemy, they only have to face one direction, and if they like, they can surround you. If your troops are on two sides of the enemy, they are forced to divide their forces, or allow you to shoot them in the back, and you can surround them.

At the same time, do not deploy your troops too far apart. If they are too spread out to help each other, then they are not one force, but many individual soldiers, and if the enemy concentrates their forces they can wipe out yours one at a time.

Spreading forces allows an attack against the enemy from the side or the back.
The third guideline is to place your troops in positions that afford direct advantages in combat. You should consider where the man can see to and fire at without leaving his position (against a wall near a corner is usually a bad position, for example, because the soldier will not be able to see the area around the corner). Put the troop in a place where he will be able to see and attack his target. Don't forget to consider the relative height of the position -- if the soldier is high up (in a tree, for example) he will usually be able to and shoot farther. los.jpg (6274 bytes)
The soldier's line of sight to the gray areas is compromised.

It is also useful in combat to have concealment (so it is difficult to be seen) and cover (to block enemy fire). On stealth missions, and on most offensive missions, concealment is usually more important than cover. On defense, cover is usually more important than concealment. In either case, one or the other is one of the most important considerations for deployment. Keep in mind that height not only lets you see farther, but also usually makes you easier to see, so it is a double-edged sword.


Keep in mind that your troops must be able to get into the position where you deploy them (for example, you may not be able to put them on the roof if there is no way to get up). Consider how long it will take for your troops to get into position, and if they go near the enemy, the chances of being attacked before they are in position.

When writing up your tactical plan, deployment should usually be the first thing you describe. Be sure to explain not only where you are sending each of your soldiers, but also (if it is not explained later in your plan) why you are sending them there.


Lesson Summary


Lesson Two: Formation


FORMATION (for-`ma-shun) n.
1 : an act of giving form or shape to something or of taking form; DEVELOPMENT
2 : something that is formed
3 : the manner in which a thing is formed; STRUCTURE
4 : an arrangement of a body or group of persons or things in some prescribed manner or for a particular purpose


It is typical, upon the deployment of a large group of troops, to organize them into a particular formation. The formation indicates the position of each soldier relative to each other when they move as a body. There are two major types of formations: static formations and dynamic formations.

In a static formation, the participants are locked into position and do not move relative to each other. Because they require a great deal of precision, static formations are difficult to execute, and are very rarely preferable to dynamic formations, because they make the movements of the unit more predictable (and therefore render it easier for the enemy to target). However, there is one instance in which a static formation is desirable: when one or more participants in the formation need to be shielded from attack at all costs, a static formation is useful for defending them, because it is difficult to fire through the formation.

(NOTE: There may be other, very rare cases in which a static formation will prove useful, but these do not bear mentioning.)

weave.jpg (3566 bytes) A more common use of formations is the dynamic formation, where the soldiers constantly move relative to each other. One common dynamic formation is the weave (left), which involves three soldiers. Each person, in turn, moves from one end of a horizontal line to the other. A more flexible example of a dynamic formation is the fulcrum (right), where an agile, lightly-armed soldier (who is able to dodge effectively) stays between a more heavily-armed soldier, who cannot move as quickly, and any enemies who might try to take advantage of this fact; meanwhile, the heavily-armed soldier provides fire support. Note that the light soldier does not need to run as far as the enemy, and the heavy soldier does not need to run at all. fulcrum.jpg (4850 bytes)
Each man moves across when another comes up behind him. The light soldier "pivots" around the heavy soldier to block the enemy.

Dynamic formations, if executed effectively, often do not give the impression of being in a formation at all. They are notable for their adaptability; it should not be necessary, barring extreme circumstances, to change formation in mid-battle, because the formation should allow for a certain degree of change already.


Formations usually need to be custom-designed to suit the situation, so it is of little use to memorize a score of "standard" formations. However, when building a formation, there are several things to keep in mind:

  1. Utilize your range. Weapons with greater range should be placed in the rear, and weapons with shorter range in front, so that the enemy enters the range of both weapons at closer to the same time, subjecting himself to many attacks at once.
  2. Utilize your mobility. Lighter weapons generally allow their user to move more quickly, so put them in the positions of your formation that require the most footwork. Also, because they have the greatest ability to dodge, they should be placed in positions likely to attract the most enemy fire (especially because the enemy will usually try to target heavier weapons).
  3. If anyone in the unit is important and needs to remain dry, put them in a protected position. Have other people distract the enemy, run interference, or provide cover fire. If the enemy knows that this person is important, try to keep them towards the rear of the formation in battle (towards the center out of battle, in case of a rear attack) and, if possible, out of sight. When possible, give them a light weapon so they can dodge more effectively and will be less likely to be targeted by the enemy.
  4. Never use a static formation without very good reason.

Remember that it is not usually worth providing a formation unless the unit contains several people (usually at least three). Also keep in mind that formations tend to reduce overall speed and stealth, so for assignments that place a premium on those qualities, formations may be inappropriate.

Finally, do not use a formation if anyone in the unit is unwilling or unable to stay in formation, your troops will do better to fend for themselves if they can't count on consistency in their allies.


Lesson Summary


Lesson Three: Battle Plans


PLAN (`plan) v.
1 : to arrange the parts of; DESIGN
2 : to devise or project the realization of achievement of
3 : to have in mind; INTEND


This is the heart of a tactical plan, the plans for the actual battle. This involves telling everyone what to expect to happen and what to do about it -- who to concentrate their fire on, when to fall back, when to advance. Using well-integrated plans is essential to your forces fighting as a single army rather than many individuals, and this, in turn, is the key to success. Well, one of the keys, anyway . . .


The most important thing to keep in mind while laying your battle plans is what your goal is. If your goal is to keep the enemy out of a building, then your defenders should probably not retreat inside of the building. At the same time, they should not pursue enemies far away from the building, because it will leave an opening that another enemy might get through.

On offense, you usually want to start by advancing very quickly, lay down heavy fire, and then either press your advantage or retreat before they can retaliate. In defense, you usually want to hold your ground at all costs, because if your defensive line breaks in one place, this creates a hole that the enemy can pour through, and your entire deployment will need to be changed immediately, which is never a good thing (because usually you don't have time to change it in, let alone time to think about it).

If you know what your enemies are armed with -- better yet, if you know their deployment and/or formation -- you should definitely tell your troops who to target. Would you rather try to scare off the lightly-armed enemies so you can concentrate on the heavy artillery unmolested, or ignore the light weapons while you knock their fire support out from under them? If someone is playing a key role in a formation (such as running interference or providing a lot of cover fire), you'll want to take them out as soon as possible.

If you can knock the enemy out of formation or disrupt their plans, you'll have the initiative while they try to reorganize. When this happens, be sure to take advantage of it. This is when battles are decided.


Every once in a while, you'll be able to predict enemy movements very accurately. For example, if you know the enemy will have to come through a narrow doorway, or if you can determine where their defenders will be deployed. This occurs when the enemy has only one (or very few) good option(s), and is called a given.

When this happens, you should take advantage of the opportunity to make a very detailed battle plan. Because you know what the enemy will do (at least to a certain degree), the plan doesn't have to be as flexible. At this point, you should try to choose a plan that will further limit your enemy's choices, so you can continue to predict their actions -- for example, attacking a weak point in the enemy's defense will force them to either retreat or bring over reinforcements.


There is one final note. You should make it clear to your soldiers when you lay out a battle plan how critical it is that the plan be followed to the letter. If the plan needs to be followed very precisely to work, tell them that. If it is a flexible plan that does not require precision, your troops will then be free to go after targets of opportunity.

A target of opportunity is an unexpected chance to accomplish something. For example, if a group of your troops sees a single enemy, lightly armed, running across the field a little ways away, that could be a target of opportunity. If your troops are just guarding the area, you may want them to pursue the enemy and try to get him while he's alone, so you won't have to fight him as part of a large group. On the other hand, if your troops are lying in wait to ambush an enemy you're going to lead past them any minute, they probably should stay put, because if they miss the ambush it will cost you a lot more than you'd gain by taking out one enemy soldier.


The specifics of forming battle plans will be discussed further in Advanced Tactical Training.


Lesson Summary


Lesson Four: Composition


COMPOSITION (kam-puh-`zish-un) n.
1 : the manner in which something is composed
2 : a product of mixing or combining various elements or ingredients
3 : the quality or state of being compound


Now that you know how to do deployments, formations, and battle plans, it's time to put everything together! Obviously, each piece is dependent on the others; you cannot simply throw together a random deployment with some formations and battle plans, they have to fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Since you will usually develop all three and present them as a unit, it is necessary to learn how to fit them together.

The most pressing question is: if each of the three depends on the other two, where do you start? Wherever you feel inspired usually works best, but doesn't help you much if you don't have any great ideas yet. When in doubt, you should usually begin with the deployment, because that's usually the most simple and straightforward piece, and then set up the rest of your plan around that deployment; however, don't be afraid to alter your plan as you go along if you see a way to make it better.

Above all, if something doesn't seem to work very well, don't use it. Don't try to make it work, or make it sound like it would work. Back out and try something else.

That said, there aren't too many new pitfalls introduced here. If you feel that you've mastered the first three lessons, this should be a breeze.


Lesson Summary


Lesson Five: Depth


DEPTH (`depth) n.
1 : a profound or intense state (as of thought or feeling)
2 :
the quality of being deep
3 : the degree of intensity
4 : the quality of being profound (as in insight) or full (as of knowledge)
5 : the quality or state of being complete or thorough; THOROUGHNESS


Nothing up to this point should have been challenging. We defined some terminology, established a few guidelines, but if you've played any tactical games before, nothing should have seemed revolutionary. It has been, in a word, basic. Now we're about to move on to something a little more advanced, but first there is a critical threshold that must be crossed. From now on, this is the core of all your tactical plans. This is what separates the shallow plans we've been using from deep tactics.

The concept is simple: anyone can make a plan look good on paper, at least to the casual observer. No matter how perfect your plan is in your head, or when you type it on the computer, the real world has a pesky way of messing them up. Sometimes we've made a bad assumption, sometimes we've misjudged the opponent, sometimes it's just bad luck, but in any case, something goes wrong and our "perfect" plan falls apart.

The alarming frequency with which this happens in practice makes it clear that something must be done about it, or we may as well stop theorizing about tactics now; but don't worry, the solution is simple. All we need is a backup plan.

And a backup plan for the backup plan.

And a backup plan for the backup plan for the backup plan.

This is what I call "depth." Most of you probably did some of the exercises that went along with the previous lessons, and when you did, you probably didn't come up with a backup plan: you came up with one plan, and that was it (some of you may have done more). Put another way, there was one layer to your plan, or you planned to a depth of one. If you had come up with one backup plan in case something went wrong, then you planned to a depth of two. It is recommended that from now on, you plan to at least a depth of three.


Now there is a good way to add depth to your tactics, there is a bad way to add depth to your tactics, and there is a stupid way to pretend to add depth to your tactics.

The false (pretend) way is to develop several complete tactical plans that do not fit together. For example, imagine that I am developing a plan for three people to defend a doorway. My first plan is for one person to hide behind the open door, and when an enemy comes through, the other two will blast him with superheavy weaponry and get him to retreat through the door, then the person hiding behind it will slam it shut before they can make a second attack. It would not work for my backup plan to be that all three of them will hide in the far corners of the room and not fire at all when someone comes in, then rush him when he gets to the middle of the room. The problem is, by the time the first plan has been tried and has failed, it is too late to do use the second one. The plans conflict.

The bad way is to back out of your first plan completely and re-deploy your troops for a new plan. In the example above, maybe the backup plan if the enemy doesn't retreat back through the door is for everyone to run across the room, repump and set up behind some barricades to guard the exit (or the flag, or whatever it is that the enemy came into the room to use in the first place). Although this might work, it is so absurdly costly that it is barely worthy of being called a backup. My troops are abandoning their original positions, where they had a long time to set up and get ready,  they are giving the enemy a shot at their backs while they fall back, they are giving up the strategic location it was originally worth having them occupy, and they are letting the enemies see exactly what they are doing. This is better than nothing, but I would hardly call it good.

The good way is to take maximum advantage of circumstances, and try to turn failure to your advantage as much as possible. Using the same example, maybe the person behind the door will run up and dump a bucket of water on the enemy's head. Maybe he'll shut the door to prevent escape and start firing a CPS 3200 on typhoon setting from point-blank range. Maybe he'll tap the enemy on the shoulder to distract him and give the other two people a shot at his back. Whatever my backup plan is, it should be as smooth a transition from the old one as possible. If I do a really good job, you will not be able to tell when you read my final solution whether I wanted the enemy to retreat outside or stay in the room and suffter my "backup" plan.

If there was no backup plan to begin with, it is ludicrous to suppose that the soldier behind the door would happen to have a bucket of water, or a CPS 3200, or anything else he would want that he wouldn't have needed if the first plan had worked. However, if we think of this contingency in advance, we can prepare by putting a bucket of water behind the door with him, or arming him with an appropriate weapon, or giving him anything else he'll need to execute the backup plan (as long as it will not interfere with the original plan). This is why depth is so very important, even if your troops can think on their feet: right now, you have time to prepare. When things start going wrong, the enemy isn't going to wait while you go fill up a bucket of water.


When should you develop a backup plan? Any time there is a reasonable chance that something will go wrong. Don't figure out a contingency plan in case lightning strikes your gun and it breaks; figure out a contingency plan in case your scout gets caught and never comes back with a report, or in case the enemy catches wind of your ambush and takes another route, or in case your sniper misses his target and gets eliminated before he can take out the enemy commander, or in case the enemy isn't stupid enough to react exactly the way you hope they will when you launch the first wave of your attack.

How deep to plan is a more difficult question. You should continue adding more layers to your plan until you are convinced that if they all go wrong, either God or fate doesn't want you to win today. As a rule of thumb, about three layers is usually safe. If you don't have a plan C, then plans A and B had better be pure gold. If you don't have a plan B, then you'd better expect to lose. The only time you don't need a backup plan is when the odds are so incredibly heavily in your favor that you don't need an original plan either (a situation that will not occur in any problems on this web site...probably).


Oh, but you don't need to go back and revise your answers to all the exercises in the first four lessons to include another two layers of depth. They were, after all, just practice.


Lesson Summary