General. Intermediate

[Meta] The Art of War (Robots)

Author - Ol’ Pappy

Sun Tzu was a Chinese military general who devised a series of rules for combat during the 5th century B.C. Cited by the greatest military minds of the modern age, Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War continues to transform our thinking around defeating our enemies. Compiled into 13 chapters, this small text has had a big impact on modern warfare. The key to crushing your enemies, Sun Tzu wrote, is to use your enemy’s strength against him. To outwit your foes, to strike where the enemy is not, and to use tactical advantages to bring devastation to all who oppose you.

Sun Tzu’s wisdom can be applied to War Robots, ensuring that you are armed with the advantages required to crush the reds, claim victory, and reap the rewards.

So let’s explore how Sun Tzu’s theories of war can be applied to the robotic battlefields of the future.


Laying Plans

When Ol’ Pappy hit the battlefield for the first time, nearly three years ago, I had only one “plan” — don’t get killed! And while the battles seemed chaotic at first, I quickly realized thinking on your feet would beat the legions of “button mashers” and campers that populated the lower tiers. Sometimes, I would wonder why everyone on my team would head off in the same direction, or after the same beacon, leaving their flanks undefended. Or why some bots would rush mindlessly to centre beacon, only to get killed alone, time and time again.

Today, I’m a member of VOX, one of the oldest iOS clans in the game. And at VOX, we spend plenty of time honing strategies for each map, as well as for each bot in the current meta. Most top clans run like finely-tuned machines — they devise tactics that work for each map, and aren’t afraid to change them if the meta requires it.

As Sun Tzu wrote in his chapter, Laying Plans:

“According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one’s plans.”

To repeat a broken plan is to ensure defeat. To not have a plan at all is to be defeated before the battle begins.


Waging War

When I first started playing, games typically ended very quickly; beacon bars took much longer to deplete, and without ancile and hard shields, all bots were vulnerable to devastating attack by punishers, orkans and other missile weapons.

Then, Pixonic changed the gameplay — in other words, it changed the rules of war. Beacon bars slowed down, shields of all kinds became the new meta, and now, many games last until the final few seconds of the 10-minute time limit.

Sun Tzu, in Chapter 2, wrote:

“In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.”

Similarly, your goal in War Robots must be to bring a fast and decisive end to the battle — so long as your foe is of equal strength.

When engaging in clan vs. clan battles, it is especially crucial to maintain beacon superiority at all times. Allowing the game to drag on too long brings too much uncertainty to the fight. The longer your enemy is on the battlefield, the more likely you are the one that is losing. So attack in teams, double and triple team your enemies. Hit hard and fast. Make sure the enemy’s beacon strength is constantly ebbing, and victory will be yours.


Attack by Stratagem

How many times have you seen teammates — usually assorted randoms — rush headlong to certain death. Maybe it’s a lone death button griffin, assaulting centre alone on Yamantau, only to be met by a nest of ancilots. Or a stalker sticking around too long trading magnum fire with a rhino as its stealth elapses.

More than 2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu, warned us all:

“He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”

As tough on the ego as it can be, sometimes, you simply need to put on the brakes, slow down your attacks — even to retreat, and to gather your forces. You need to assess what the red is, what its firepower is, its mobility, and make quick decisions whether this is a battle you can win. Ol’ Pappy likes a brawl as much as the next guy, but he ain’t crazy — if I’m running a plasma griff and I see a pair of plasma Galahads storming toward me, I’m turning tail to find better cover, or to find a teammate so we can try flank attacks or another stratagem.

Remember, a thinking pilot will beat a button masher 9 times out of 10.


Tactical Dispositions

Foolish pilots rushes blindly about the battlefield; wise pilots waits for the enemy to make a mistake, and then punishes him for it.

Sun Tzu spoke of this in chapter 4:

“To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”

I have to admit, this is a lesson I am still in the process of learning. Throughout my piloting career, I have been arguably overly aggressive. I AM the guy who, when running solo, rushes centre time and again while my random teammates camp in the back. I mech out constantly, even when playing with my clan.

Slowly, I am realizing that games aren’t won in the first 2 minutes, but they are always lost in the final two minutes. So, like Sun Tzu said, don’t be in a rush to attack everything in red. Pick your enemies, strike when they are vulnerable, when turned toward another enemy, or when their shields are down. And when your chance arises, strike with a thunderous and decisive blow.


Weak Points and Strong

Sun Tzu loved a good tussle, but he wasn’t crazy enough to go toe to toe with enemies of equal strength, or forces stronger than his. In his book, Tzu advises warriors to avoid battles unless you have at least double the strength of your enemy. A key to victory, he said, is to target weak points in the reds’ lines:

“You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended.”

I can’t count how many times, for instance, on Dead City I have seen 4 or even 5 reds all immediately go to the left, and then storm down the lone narrow alley toward our right beacon. And like lemmings, I will watch my random teammates rush over to meet them headlong. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose, but guaranteed, both sides will leave smoking husks of metal strewn over the battle field.

Few of my random teammates realize that, when the enemy masses on one side of the map, they have left both centre, and their weak side, exposed. That is the time to send fast bots rushing to get beacons, and to put pressure on the weak side beacon. From there, it is an easy thing to spawn raid each red as he is killed on the far side of the battlefield and respawns.

Always remember, foolish pilots attack where the enemy is strong. They’re the ones who spend the final minutes of games as spectators, meched out, and watching the battle as its lost.



In ancient Greece, 300 Spartans held off an invading army of thousands of Persians by funneling the enemy forces through a narrow mountain pass.

Sun Tzu recognized this, saying:

“With regard to NARROW PASSES, if you can occupy them first, let them be strongly garrisoned and await the advent of the enemy.

So too, in War Robots, you can and must use terrain to your advantage.

Unless heavily shielded, open terrain is almost certain death. Jumping on long maps will almost certainly be punished with trebuchet or gekko fire. When attacking centre, be sure your back is not exposed. Try to funnel groups of reds through walls and other barriers, so they can’t attack en masse. Corner shooting is your friend.

Be aware of your surroundings…. Or pay the price.


In Summary

For a guy who loved rules as much as Sun Tzu, perhaps his most important rule was as follows:

“Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time and general stagnation.”

What the good general is saying is, as clan leaders and as good teammates, we must always encourage in each other a sense of “enterprise” — i.e., the creativity on the battlefield that constantly surprises the enemy, than out thinks the reds, and leads to victory. The best players can adapt to anything thrown at them. They can help weaker players be better, and help strong players attack better as a team, rather than a collection of individuals.

So happy hunting, keep the reds in your sights, and keep Master Sun Tzu’s words etched in your mind during your next attack:

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”.


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Gerry Kichoklast month

Tips and tricks are fun, but learn from an expert live in 1on1 training here

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