Foiling the AI

Foiling the AI

One of the best things about SMG is the strong AI.  If it cheats it disguises it well.  It will challenge you to find sound tactics rather than a way around AI cheats.

AI Strengths

Concentrating fire

When playing the AI you must keep a careful eye on every regiment near the shooting.  If you're not careful (particularly when playing the Union) you'll have regiments routing that were in good condition just moments before.  The AI is very good at finding vulnerable units and ganging up on them.  It's looking to cause a rout in order to punch a hole in your line and damage the morale of any nearby units.   Keep in mind that when one of your units routs, all nearby units gain a block of stress.  This can lead to a crumbling line.

Concentrating Fire

So far, I've found 3 conditions that lend themselves to getting a regiment picked on.  The last two present the opportunity for flanking fire which is why the AI pursues them.

  1. It has no cover.  In that case look out for concentrated artillery fire.

  2. There's a gap (it doesn't have to be large) on one or both sides of it.

    If this is the case, fill the gap as soon as possible.  I've found that the fastest way to accomplish this is to let the beleagured unit fall back while advancing reserves to alongside it.

  3. It's at the head of a salient, i.e., on the corner of a bent-back line.  That's the case in the screen shot above.

    Here are four corner formations in worst to best order:
    Corner Formation 1 This is the worst sort of corner formation.  There are two exposed flanks on the northeast corner.  The AI will seek them out, pile on the fire and try to force an opening here.
    Corner Formation 2 The unit facing east has covered its corner flank.   The other unit is still exposed however.  This is the sort of formation the units in the screen shot above have.
    Corner Formation 3 A unit has been placed into the corner at a 45 degree angle.  No one will get a full flanking shot on any your units.  However, they can still get flanking fire of a lesser degree on all three.
    Corner Formation 4 This is the best corner formation that I've discovered so far.   Inevitably, I find that I must pull back the corner unit (the one facing northeast).  In that case, I have a reserve to push forward.  All things being equal, by the time the reserve regiment wears out, the attack probably will have worn out as well.
    You've no doubt noticed that as the formations get better the number of units increases.  Keep in mind that it's likely that you will have access to those extra units.  In order to gang up on that corner the AI will have to pull troops from other areas.  That means you can pull your own troops from other areas.

Sometimes none of these three conditions is true, i.e., you present an unbroken, straight line to the AI.  However, it's still sometimes possible for it to gang up on a single unit.  I've found three ways to deal with this situation.
  1. Advance your unfired-upon regiments toward the enemy line until they draw fire.  For example, let's say the AI has 4 regiments facing 3 larger ones of yours. It would not be uncommon for the AI to focus the fire of all 4 of its regiments on one of yours. If this happens advance your unfired-upon regiments directly toward the enemy. The AI knows that damage increases a great deal when ranges are cut short. It will certainly wheel some of its regiments toward your advancing units rather than take point-blank, unreturned (and often flanking) fire. Pressure relieved.
  2. The following set of screen shots is a good illustration of this method. 

    The regiment at left is being fired on by 4 Federal units.  The regiment in the middle has someone to shoot at, but it would do better to draw away some of the fire on the left.  The regiment on the right isn't even in range.  It needs to advance regardless.

    Pressure on the left

    The unfired-upon regiments advance. Note that the center regiment has been given the Don't Stop command and has a green movement arrow. This regiment will have to be given a Halt order to stop.

    Advancing to relieve the pressure

    The middle regiment draws fire from two sets of Federals.  It stops and returns fire.   The right regiment is now in firing range.  It could be advanced more to draw fire, but in this case I don't think that's necessary.

    Pressure relieved

    If a situation doesn't allow for the above method then keep a careful eye on the regiment taking all the fire. Morale loss has a snowball effect. Damage may be slight early, but will accumulate at an ever faster pace. Before things get bad, get a reserve regiment or pull a regiment from a firing line and drag it alongside the beleagured unit. Allow the first unit to fall back if necessary to keep it from routing.

  1. If you need a pressured unit to stay put, try to have it keep its distance. A unit inflicts and takes less damage when it's farther from the enemy. At the expense of inflicting casualties, it will be able to hold its position longer.  Here are the numbers:
Less than 50 yards   -  150% normal fire effectiveness
50 to 100 yards   -  Normal fire effectiveness
100 to 150 yards   -  50% normal fire effectiveness
Therefore, try to keep the pressured unit more than 100 yards away.   As a guideline, a 2 tree by 2 tree square in an orchard is 80 yards across.  You can also gauge distances by choosing Show terrain grid on the Preferences screen.   Each square of the grid is 20 yards from side to side and about 30 yards from corner to corner

We've all had this experience before.  A scenario is getting under way.  You send a brigade off through the woods on a long march.  You then go to another part of the map to deal with other matters.  Suddenly you hear, "retreat!"  You might even hear it two or three times in succession.   You scroll back to the brigade to discover that several enemy regiments have popped out of the woods to deliver a surprise volley on your men.

The AI is very good at ambushes.  Veteran and crack units aren't as susceptible to them.  When the first volley is received they will probably keep their cool, form a line and start returning fire.  However, green and trained units will often run when ambushed (Union players beware).  Here are some ways to avoid getting ambushed.

  1. Scout an area before you move there.  In SMG this is done with commanders.  Set one on rally so that he'll move faster. Then have him scout the area where you intend to move your men.

  2. Keep an eye on your enemy.  For example, if you saw an enemy brigade marching around a moment ago, but they've suddenly disappeared, be wary of the path in front of where you last saw them.  They may still be moving, but are obscured by a fold in the hills.  However, they also may have stopped and are waiting for you to wander by.  Before moving troops there, have a commander take a look first.

  3. If you're moving troops to an area where you think or know enemy troops are lurking, get your men out of column formation and into line or skirmish formation as they near the area.  A regiment in column formation will take much more damage from a surprise volley than one in line or skirmish formation.

    If you're moving an entire brigade into a danger area, the ideal way to handle them is as follows:

    Put a regiment or two in skirmish formation and send them forward to flush out ambushers.   Skirmishers take minimal damage from surprise volleys and often give as much as they get.  Meanwhile, they expose the enemy's position and screen the main body of your force.  For a detailed walk-through of this process, see the article on cavalry and skirmishing infantry.

AI Weaknesses

Using Cover

The AI does not place a lot of value on cover.  This can be particularly exploited if you're on the defensive and/or you have good ground for artillery.  The screen shot above (under Concentrating Fire) is actually a good example of this.  A couple of those Federal regiments are under artillery fire because they're out in the open.  Meanwhile, my defending regiments and batteries are in the woods and, therefore, safe from artillery.

A good example of the AI's lack of respect for cover can be seen in Slocums Counterattack: Spangler's Spring.  Play as the Rebels and place several batteries on top of the Spangler's Knob VP site.  Also make a tight east-west infantry line at the edge of the woods.  Every time I've played this scenario the AI has tried to charge uphill through the open ground south of the Knob.  It always takes a lot casualties and has never broken through.  I've tried three different AI personalities including aggressive/indirect.  It's never veered from this tactic.

Keeping Reserves

This normally applies to scenarios where the AI is on the offensive.   If that's the case and you punch a hole in its line or find an exposed flank you'll often be in a good position to press the advantage.  The AI probably won't have anything readily available to meet your threat.

If the AI is defending a VP site, on the other hand, it probably placed a brigade or regiment on top of it early on.  It will use these troops as reserves.  At least you have an idea where the reserves will come from.

Becoming Distracted by Skirmishers

The AI puts a high priority on chasing away skirmishers.  I've seen AI regiments charge skirmishers at the expense of occupying a VP site.  For more information on using skirmishers against the AI see the end of the article on cavalry and skirmishing infantry.