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testudines suck

January 21, 2009

I don’t care if you’re a terrapin, tortoise, or a good old fashion turtle. It doesn’t matter how hard, or how thick your carapice is, if you’re pinned down long enough you’ll rot to death without ever having your shell broken. If you’ve played multiplayer games you probably know what campers and more importantly turtles are. Who hasn’t been there, heading into a flag room only to find the entire enemy team staring at it as if it was an obelisk torn from the world of Monty Python.

If you don’t know… well, you should. A turtle is when a group of players gather around an important objective, such as a flag, then refuse to leave the objective. The only exception is if the objective is an item that can be removed, if it somehow is, the turtle will mass up and chase it around like a carrot on a stick. However, unlike the tortoise and the hare, most flag runners don’t fall asleep and gloat under a tree.

Is there a benefit to this type of defense? Well, there can be, but it’s actually quite rare. If the other team has a small number of attackers, a turtle can be efficient to easily destroy the incoming attack without risk of losing their advantage. However, the turtle is actually at a very large disadvantage when attacked with sufficient force. Some of this is due to organization, but most of it is due to the position of the teams. A large force of defenders is at their own flag, but far away from the enemies. At the same moment a large force of attackers is at their opponents flag, while there is little threat to their own.

In this way if the attacking team slips up, nothing is lost. However, if the defending team slips up, they lose. So the defending team is at high risk, with small rewards, but the attacking team is at low risk, but with high rewards. If you know even a small part of game theory, or just understand simple logic, it becomes obvious that turtling in this way is not a good plan.

So, what is a good plan? The short answer is that a flexible strategy is best. The long answer is long.

What, you kept reading… okay, well to give the long answer you have the know what strategies are flexible. So, what are possible strategies for playing capture the flag? There are five basic setups.

  1. Full offense; your entire team is attacking.
  2. Full defense; a turtle, your full team is defending.
  3. Offensive; more of your team is attacking than defending.
  4. Defensive; most of your team is defending than attacking.
  5. Balanced; your team is split evenly on offense and defense.

There are different levels of these, but typically three and four are in ratios of 2:1. This means with a team of twelve you would have a group of four and a group of eight. There are some setups where you may have as high a ratio as 5:1, which would be divided up as a group of ten and a group of twelve. Much of what divides plans one and two from three and four is the actions of the group. If you have ten people at your flag, but your two attackers are not an active threat to the other team, you are in situation two. If your two others are a threat to the other team, you are in situation four.

The significance of these comes out more when you take into account both teams and what their situations and plans mean to each other. Here’s a quick rundown. For quick reference I’ll use these abbreviations: FO = full offensive, FD = full defensive, O = offensive, D = defensive, B = balanced.

  • FO beats FD, O and B
  • FD beats D and B
  • O beats FD, D and B
  • D beats FO
  • B beats D

The way this works is actually fairly simple. Whichever team has a larger force at their own flag is at a disadvantage, unless the size difference is enough to eliminate the risk of losing their flag. For instance a force of four attacking a full twelve man turtle has no chance of getting the opponents flag. Six people also stand a very slim chance of defeating a force twice their size. However, when you get to eight, or ten, it’s very likely that a capture will eventually occur.

So, should you always go full offense? No, your opponent will ninja your flag.

Should you always go offense? No, your opponent will throw their entire force at yours and your limited defense will be slaughtered and their larger force will clash with your smaller one at midfield.

So what do should you do? You should be flexible. Read the battlefield and see what your opponent is doing and adjust your strategy to counter it. The strategies that have the easiest time changing their situation in mid combat are FO and O, so it’s typically best to begin a game this way before feeling out the opponent. Typically O is safer than FO because before the teams have felt each other out, random ninjas can appear and make your flag disappear in a puff of acrid smoke… and seirously, no one likes ninjas.

What’s the moral of the story though? Turtles suck. A fully defensive strategy in a game with capturable objectives will always lose to a good offense. At the same time, if you see the enemy turtling up, don’t be scared. Gather up and organize your offense.  Slow and steady may win the race, but you know what? Aesop wasn’t a strategist.


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