- 1 Advanced Tactics
- 2 Strategy
- 3 Weapon specialties
- 4 Recruiting
- 5 Know the Battlefield
- 6 Zone Of Control
- 7 (ZoC)
- 8 Retreating
- 9 See Also
This page assumes that the reader has read GettingStarted and is familiar with the WesnothManual. It assumes you have played enough games to be familiar with the system, and know how to push units around, and are now looking for insight in how to outthink the AI or a human opponent. Some tactics only useful in specific circumstances and foolish at other times. Pick and choose those that fit your particular style. Do you overwhelm your opponent with sheer numbers, or a few well-chosen high-level units? Do you prefer to "roleplay" one race? Do you want to play many scenarios, or replay one over and over until you achieve the perfect game?
From Sun Tsu to "Shock and Awe", military writers have stressed that one must not enter into a conflict unless you are substantially stronger than your enemy. In Wesnoth, this means
- more units
- better (stronger, higher level) units, and
- superior healing ability in your second line.
Napoleon was especially skilled at maneuvering his forces so as to gain an advantage even when outnumbered. By attacking his enemy in the center, he broke their lines and divided the enemy forces in two. Then, a small detachment fortified their position and held off one flank, while Napoleon's main force attacked the now outnumbered other half. After reducing the first half, the main force would rejoin the flank-holders and destroy the remaining half. (This strategy is known as "defeat in detail".)
To implement this in Wesnoth, leave a few units with many hit points in favorable terrain on one flank, while the majority of your force attacks on a different front. For example, two red and one white mage, or three paladins. By combining healers and the healing effect of villages, a small force can hold off superior numbers for a very long time.
You can misdirect the AI (and a surprising number of human opponents) by sending a few units towards an objective like an enemy leader, village, or bridge. They will overreact and position their units badly. Similarly, you can send fast units behind the enemy lines to capture villages. Do not attempt to hold them; instead move onto the next while the enemy diverts front line troops or reinforcements. Flying units are particularly adept at this since they ignore terrain. Sometimes a feint can turn into your main offensive as well, if the enemy calls a bluff and ignores your feinting units.
Bounding (or leap frog)
Every strategist throughout history warns to "keep a reserve". In Wesnoth, this means that you must not attack with all your units. Instead, hold back units to exploit holes caused by your initial attacks. Or, you might need to move a fresh unit with many hit points to the front line so they can 'take a beating' and hold your lines.
In modern times, the "reserve" concept has been expanded as follows. Divide your main force into two groups, and attack with the first while holding the second back. When the first group is chewed up, they retreat to healers or villages, while you attack with the second group. This approach allows you to distribute experience more evenly among your units, particularly useful in a longer campaign. However, selecting which units deliver the blow levels units faster, if you need the higher-level units. This way, you are less likely to lose units with higher exp, resulting in more units succeeding in levelling up.
Do not use high level units, and definitely not your commander, to guard the healers or villages, as the enemy might focus on them instead, and attack the wounded seeking aid.
Sometimes, if it is a favorable time of day, you can quickly achieve victory with an all-out assault. If the enemy is clearly weaker then you, or the conditions are right, this can be an effective strategy. Most of the time, however, commanders are adviced to use other, more elegant strategies.
Small and strong
Develop a small core group of high level units. Recall a strike force for one or two turns, then move off in a tight pack. Most should be level 2, with a few level 3 units to hold the flanks or commit in the 2-3 most decisive rounds. With this strategy, you'll need fewer villages to provide income, and thus be less distracted with acquiring them.
Remember to recruit level 1 units to absorb the enemy's first attacks, as well as for feints and holding unimportant villages. Allow those that survive to finish off dying enemy units to replace any of your core group that make the final sacrifice. In other words, since some of your leveled units are expected to die, you need to level up new units to replace them.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
Have a mix of melee and ranged units, and attack enemy archers in melee with your fighters and attack enemy fighters in ranged with your archers. Useful when combined with ZoC, otherwise the enemy's archers will attack your fighters, vice versa, and your advantage with this tactic will be minimalized.
Hit Point Conservation
Hit points are a unit's only non-renewable resource. Choose the attack which causes your unit the least damage, not deals out the most to the enemy. For example, assume you are attacking a unit that does 6-3 close combat, and has no range attack. Your unit has a 4-4 close combat and a 3-3 range attack. Consider the tactical situation carefully. Do you need to kill the unit this turn? Is it on a village or next to a healer? Do not automatically accept the computer's recommendation (it is simply the attack likely to do the most damage, regardless of how much you take!).
Remember, when a unit levels up, it regenerates its full HP allowance.
Finally, attacking an enemy leader, especially in a castle, is an expensive proposition, even if you use magical attacks. Expect to lose units while wearing down its hit points.
"Thieves are deft of foot, and elusive, making them difficult to hit. Being skilled at backstabbing, thieves do double damage when attacking an enemy that has an ally of the thief on its opposite side. Being of chaotic disposition, thieves fight better at night than during the day." --Thief_description
Assassins, Nightgaunts, Rogues, Shadows and Thieves can backstab. A Thief costs 12 gold and has base attack of 4-3. But with a backstab, it does an impressive 8-3, the equivalent of most Level 2 units. Backstabbing at night with a Strong Thief does 12-3. After 24 Experience Points, they level up to a Rogue doing 6-3 base...
You don't have to attack with another unit to get the backstab bonus -- there just needs to be a unit on the opposite side of the enemy. The ally can even move after the backstab, if it didn't use up its moves by moving into the enemy's Zone of Control this turn. Thieves work well in pairs against weak or unsupported units. They can surround a unit and attack it turn after turn.
Shamans, being slow, weak, and of limited firepower, need to be used carefully, but don't dismiss their offensive ability. Many enemy units such as Trolls (not to mention Troll Warriors!), Orcish Grunts, and Horsemen have two powerful attacks. You can cripple them for a round by Slowing them, effectively halving their attacks.
Of course this tactic is even more useful for your higher-level units: Druids, Shydes, and Goblin Pillagers.
Healing and Curing
Move your healers in pairs so that you retain the freedom to use them in combat when appropriate without having to retire to a village afterward. Remember the difference between healing and curing, put your better healers where they will be more needed.
Don't forget that with a Curing unit nearby, you needn't fear poison. An assassin's darts are only a serious threat if they can poison an unsupported unit. Your Druid or White Mage will cure the poison before it has time to work, (However, they cannot remove damage from a unit on the same turn they cure poison from that unit). and they can cure poison from every adjacent unit - irrespective of damage they have to heal.
Remember that your commander may recruit units when standing on any Keep tile, not only the one you start on. If you have two enemies, where one is some distance beyond the other (like in 'The Siege of Elensefar'), you recruit enough units to take out the first enemy Commander (and posssibly hold off the second enemy's front troops), then you move onto the slain Commander's Keep, and recruit the units you need to take out the remaining opposition. This saves you money in the long run, and keeps your Commander closer to the action so he may level up sooner.
If there are several enemies with significant difference in their strength of arms, first concentrate on the weakest, or else the one with the highest income potential. Move your Commander along with your troops, and after you have wiped this enemy out, use their Castle as your new base. This has the added benefit of protecting your Commander, often a target of enemy troops, so you don't need to recruit units only for protecting him, while your main force is engaged somewhere else. In the end, this will save you lots of gold. Such tactics are essential on maps with many opponents, for example against the AI on multiplayer map 'Dwarven Doors'.
Plan placement of units
Place recruited and recalled units manually. Choose the best castle tile for a unit to be placed by clicking on the tile before recruiting or recalling. This way you can often capture villages a turn earlier, or move units to critical map squares before your opponent.
For maps with narrow passages leading out of the castle (like Bay of Pearls or some of the random underground maps in Heir to the Throne), recruit or recall pairs of slow and fast units. Both units in such a pair will then be able to use their maximum movement without impeding each other. So recruit an Elvish Fighter together with a Horseman, or even an Elvish Fighter with an Elvish Archer.
- Some units, such as Orcish Grunts or Horseman, have no ranged attack. Take advantage of this by using units that are skilled in both melee and ranged, such as Elvish Rangers, so that when you attack you will never be hurt, but yet will not be at a disadvantage when you are attacked. The same goes for units with no melee attack, such at Dark Adepts.
- When a battle is raging, use fast-moving units (your scouts) to distract the enemy by sneaking past enemy troops and conquering enemy villages, cutting off their gold supply or sometimes forcing them to split up their armies.
- If a battle occurs at a river or some other narrow pass, it can be beneficial to use skirmishing units such as Duelists to easily cross the river and surround your opponent or use airborne units like Gryphons to use the river squares without being at a great disadvantage.
- If you need to cross a large body of shallow water, mountains, cave floor, or other difficult terrain, use units whose moves are divisible by their movement on such terrain so moves don't go to waste. For example, if a unit takes three moves to get through one water tile, make sure it has three, six, or nine movement. Recalling 'quick' units can help ensure you've chosen the right ones. If you recall a unit with five movement points, they will only be able to move one hex per turn in terrain that requires three movement points, while a similar unit with six movement points can move two hexes per turn.
- Units such as Elvish Fighters that are cheap to produce in mass and that have both decent melee and ranged attacks can often be good for holding your front lines, since they will cause harm to their opponents no matter what they are. A front line of horsemen, on the other hand, is not good for holding a position, for they are costly, fall quickly to enemy archers, and probably will never be able to strike back.
Know the Battlefield
Reconnaissance - Know the Map
While attack is influenced by the time of day, defense is affected by terrain. First find all the castles and note the different kinds of terrain immediately surrounding them. If you're playing under Shroud, send out two or three scouts to locate the castles. This is also often worth it on Fog of War, because you learn what faction your enemy is (if you don't know already) and how defended their castle is. Expect to recruit more when they die. The knowledge they provide is worth more than their cost.
Survey - Know the Terrain
Take an overall look at the size of each terrain type and note which are the most important. This affects what units to select and their overall effectiveness. Then examine whether the main terrain is evenly distributed, scattered, or in a few large areas. Note what terrain you want to avoid and why. Mountains and deep water are bad for all but a few unit types. These act as walls which the opponents can use to trap you: of course, you can do likewise to your opponents. If you have saved some of your starting gold, you can also decide which units will be better for reinforcements based off a more common terrain.
Transport - Know the Pathways
Try to link advantageous terrain areas together in your mind from where your units are (your castle at start of play) to opposing and friendly castles. Use villages scattered between you and the target to influence the route to take, especially if you can't recruit any healing units. Decide which terrain is most favourable for your units and less favourable for the enemy. If you goal is to reach an object or hex, then do the same for that.
If one route proves difficult, switch to another. Get to know which routes work best for different units and locate meeting places to regroup units. Try to keep the opponents guessing what you're going to do next. By using several adjacent routes to a target, the opponents will have a tougher time stopping your advance. In some cases it is easier to send a main group directly towards the target and use fast units to circle around behind.
Features - Know the Traps
Note carefully where favourable terrain on either side of unfavourable reach their closest point. These are defense positions for you to ambush approaching opponents (with or without a thief) and provide protection for friendly units. Sometimes the terrain forms passages for units to pass through quickly. Check whether it takes fewer turns to move around slow terrain than through it. In slow terrain, it is tougher to encircle units and immobilise them, so drive them toward better suited terrain (using ZoC, see elsewhere) and encircle there.
Zone Of Control
The Zone Of Control allows you to build artificial barriers at will. With it, you can reduce the likelyhood that a weaker, injured unit will be killed, by reducing the number or kind of enemies that can reach it. It is hard to measure who has Movement Control because it depends on where the units are positioned more than how many there are. Although this is a tactical device, it is more strategically significant than tactical because Zone of Control applies before and after encounters, rather than during. Establishing and maintaining good Zones of Control gives you better mobility and control over most other aspects of the game, even against stronger units less well positioned.
Your units influence space beyond the hex they're standing on. The total area of influence includes the hexes adjacent to the units and this is the Zone Of Control. When strong opposing units approach your weaker ones, pay particular attention to the ZoC and terrain types. Combine the ZoC of your units to form a solid barrier. Your goal is to rearrange your units such that the opponent's attack occurs where your units are well positioned defensively and at the worst time of day for opposing units. Check that none of your units can be attacked by more than two enemy units and that no enemy unit can pass between them. In this case, you spread your units out, extending your ZoC and forcing the enemy to select one or more targets.
In most cases, the opponent will target one unit. You should ensure that each of your units is within the ZoC of at least two others. So when the enemy hits one unit, you can close in (encircle, encircle...) until reinforcements arrive. It is often as important to hold a ZoC as it is a village or passage.
While ZoC isn't very important against slow moving units, it is very effective against fast ones, such as horsemen, bats, ghosts, and wolf riders. The approach to handling these is assign two or three of your fastest units, target one long range opposing unit and spread yours out defensively between its target (usually villages) and itself in a semi-circle or line. Move these units toward the enemy so that it has increasingly less space to move. When it is within your ZoC, encircle and kill. Move on to the next long range unit and repeat.
After the first round (when everyone has recruited), all the units are grouped, so try to create a ZoC against all of the long range units as quickly as you can. In this way you can prevent them from spreading out, while you systematically encircle and kill each one. Since the opponent won't have occupied enough villages, there is a good chance all you'll have left are short range units to deal with.
Under FoW and Shroud, it is impossible to know what the opponent has recruited, but it is good practice to check your ZoC around your villages so you are not surprised by a sudden invasion. Early on, long range units are used to occupy villages, so the sooner you engage them, the less villages they can possess. Creating a ZoC quickly around unoccupied villages allows you to possess them at your leisure and keep them.
Another use in ZoC is deciding when and where battles will be fought. If the opponent moves into your ZoC, but positioned near unfavourable attack terrain, you have several choices. Either attack anyway, which is mostly bad, wait for the opponent to attack on its next turn, which gives it the choice of target, or move your units out of its ZoC to favourable terrain. You can check how far forward the units can move and place guard units to maintain your ZoC and centralise the others behind and protecting the guards. This forces the opponent to commit and gives you time to prepare a tactical counter-attack. Keep your guards guarding! If the ZoC crumbles your units will be overwhelmed.
The ZoC is effective when wounded units need to pass through hostile areas. Rather than closing in, form a large circle around the wounded presenting a much wider perimeter. This makes it harder for opposing units to attack all yours and allows you to keep healthy units within the ZoC and leap-frog when needed.
On approaching an opponent's castle, ZoC can be critical to your success. In some scenarios events are triggered when you occupy hexes directly next to a castle hex. Make sure the approaching units keep their distance from the castle, but within their ZoC. When assembled, move directly on to the castle.
For skirmishing units who ignore ZoC, you have little choice but build a solid wall of units. Alternatively, you may make a ZoC to block the typical units and prepare a welcoming party for the skirmishers.
In a campaign scenario, where the objective is to move a unit to a certain point on the map (often specified by a signpost) you can use more unimportant units and ZoC by placing them a space or two away from your leader and a space apart from each other, since in battle units can quite suddenly die, and you don't want that one to be your leader.
The encircling tactic by two units is very powerful, particularly against long range units. By placing two units on either side, you limit the opposing unit to 1 hex move in any direction. When the unit sidesteps in the following turn, you can re-encircle. This means you can hold the unit until reinfocements arrive and then adopt a leap-frog approach against very strong units.
Sometimes the battle doesn't go your way. Either you battle to the last unit, or retreat. The purpose of retreating is to regroup your units more effectively and give them time to heal. Retreating can be organised with a reverse leap-frog approach, where you give ground, encouraging the opponent to push forward. Now your healers are in front and moving toward better terrain where you can make a final stand.
Being prepared for, and knowing when to retreat, is also important. Too often a player tries to retreat, but has no reinforcements to halt the retreat. Try to leave a "safe zone" on a flank, protected by ZoC, where you can pull back.
The real problem with retreating is putting distance between your units and the opponents. If they can move faster than yours, you may have to setup a ZoC to last long enough for you to get your slow units to safety. Invisibility units are the best because they cannot be seen and will take the opponent valuable turns to find them. Once the group is safe, they can slip away unnoticed. Sometimes sending out a unit or two as a kamikaze works to slow them down - if the exp they gain matters less to them than saving more of your units does to you.