Is attacking the optimal tactics?


I was thinking about conflict mechanics and (if I’m not missing something big) it appers broken to me.

it works like rock-paper-scissors. but not quite, there is no full circle.
the attack stops feint, the feint stops defend and nothing stops attack. A>F>D (I will leave maneuver aside)

so to me it seems that always attacking is optimal tactics, because attacker cannot be stopped and always rolls dice, be it versus or independent.

I have found an easy fix: defend stops feint, feint stops attack, nothing stops defend. D>F>A (and it seem to me more natural this way anyway). Always defending (that cannot be stopped) is not optimal tactic, because defender could never win this way and raising own disposition has a limit.

Does it make sense to you or am I missing something?

The attacker can’t be stopped from rolling dice, but that doesn’t mean that he’s going to succeed at his die roll.

AAA is not optimal strategy unless you have superior dice pools AND don’t mind compromises…

That said, AAA is a good strategy when you are WAY up, except that it means any opponent attacks will in fact land.

Also, if you don’t want a compromise, you need to use D at least enough to keep your margin.

And Maneuver is really far more powerful than it looks. Disarmed weapons can’t be rearmed. And if you star a turn with a disarm (volley 1), they can’t even reequip until the next turn, and then only if they have a second weapon.

it still seems to me that using action that simply cannot be thwarted and always has a chance to succeed, no matter what action opponent chooses is just optimal.
(dice, skill ratings and compromise aside, they are irrelevant to my point. and manevuer is outside the r-p-s circle, you can use it alongside the attack)

and I am quite curious, why did Luke choose this particular interaction between actions and not the other way I proposed in my first post. There has to be a reason I don’t see.

Holy cow! The game isn’t Rock-Paper-Scissors?! Quick, some one fix that! Because everyone says it’s rock paper scissors, so clearly I did something wrong!


Hi Corvus,
Game works just fine as is. Attack is what it is for a reason.

Thanks for your concern,

Attack is what it is for a reason.

…and the reason is?

or is it super confidential? :rolleyes:

One must attack to win, grasshopper.
One must not be attacked to win.

Defend counters attack, although the defender still has to roll. Is this not sufficient for you?

Conflicts are one-way streets. Once the characters have engaged in one, chances are they will emerge battered and owing compromises. Conflicts are not to be taken lightly.

OK I will state my point differently and if you dont think that it’s a problem, then I’ll let it be:

  • using only attack, one can win a conflict just with dumb luck, no thinking.

  • there is no way that someone would have a chance to win using any other action exclusively:
    defense and maneveur dont reduce opponents disposition and feint is simply negated by using attack.

  • in my version there is no action that can be used exclusively and have a chance to win a conflict.

that’s it.

combine that with that Aramis said earlier:

AAA is not optimal strategy unless you have superior dice pools AND don’t mind compromises…

The original poster (and I think a lot of other new MG players) might have mistaken hit points as being directly translated into disposition.

So, here’s the important concept: The winner in the conflict may suffer compromises if his disposition is lower-than-maximum. Let’s say the winner in the conflict started with 12 disposition. If he wins with 12, then he gets his goal, no compromises. If he wins with between 8 and 11, he has to make a minor compromise. If he wins between 4 to 7, he has to make a (medium) compromise. If he wins from 1 to 3, he has to make a major compromise. If he “wins” with a zero (ie, the opponent “wins” also), then there’s a possibility that he doesn’t win at all.

So, if someone is to use ATTACK! all the time, they are really risking losing disposition and possibly ending the conflict prematurely with a compromise that they may not want. (Because the opponent will manage to inflict some “damage” to the disposition).

That compromise is probably what is being overlooked here. It is almost inevitable that the victor will face a compromise.

Let me put a somewhat extreme example: Lieam vs Snake.

GM’s side: Nature 7 Snake, Goal is “Kill my opponent”, Starts with 11 Disposition.
PC’s side: Lieam with Fighter 3 / Nature 4 and Health 5, Goal is “Kill my opponent”, Starts with 7 Disposition.

GM is using the “allegedly optimal” strategy of Attack-is-strong (Rock is strong, very strong)
Lieam is using the “allegedly odd mix”: Attack, Defend, Defend. (with the sword giving a bonus on defend)

Action 1: This is an independent interaction. There’s a chance that the snake will roll 7 successes, but it is very rare. On average, the snake will get 4 successes and bring Lieam down to 3 disposition. Lieam’s attack (Fighter 3 + Determined) will get 2 successes on average, bringing the Snake down to 9 disposition

Action 2: This is a versus interaction. Again the snake will get about 4 successes. But now it has to contend with Lieam’s defense (Nature 4 + Defender + sword). Lieam’s defense may yield 3 successes (more if he uses his fate). Lieam is down to 2 disposition.

Action 3: Same situation as 2, Lieam is down to 1 disposition.

(We’ve covered the topic of “I want to start escaping this conflict” somewhere else in the forums. So I think it is appropriate for the Lieam to narrate himself as trying to get away at this point.)

Repeat the round, same set of actions, except this time, Lieam puts his sword to attack.

Action 1: Attack vs Attack. This is an independent interaction. The snake will likely bring Lieam down to zero disposition; but Lieam can still get his “last hit in”. Lieam uses Fighter 3 + Determined + sword + tap Nature 4. Rolls 9 dice and probably gets 4 successes. Snake is down to 5 Disposition.

Conflict Ends.

Lieam “lost” since he has zero disposition. His goal of “kill the snake” is discarded.

Snake “wins” but only has 5 out of 11 disposition. That calls for a compromise. GM and Lieam negociate and come up with “Lieam manages to escape (since that’s how he narrated his actions) with an Injury, Angry, and Tired”.

Q: From a story standpoint, who won?
A: Well, the snake won because he managed to drive Lieam away … but Lieam did survive.

Q: So why would Lieam not use Attack-is-Strong from the very beginning and cut the conflict down to just two rounds … after all, isn’t it inevitable that Lieam would lose?
A: I have several reasons:

A1: Roleplaying-wise, I’d want to have a good narrative that would lead to the nearly-inevitable compromise at the end of the conflict. Both sides started out bloodthirsty. If all they had were two actions of attacks, the compromise might be bloodier (ie, “Lieam is now left for dead (ie, unconscious with a lot of conditions and penalties on abilities), and the Snake has an Injury (future PCs may encounter an injured snake)”)

A2: The more rounds that it takes in the conflict, the more interesting the session. Admit it, that 4 rounds of desperation is so much more fun than a 2 round (almost 1.5) round knockout.

A3: The more rounds that it takes, the more “luck” can be factored in. And in the case of multiple mice, there would be more “desperate acts” of tapping nature and using fate … and that may be enough for the mice to be on the winning side of the compromise.

A4: The more rounds that it takes, the more opportunities for skill/ability usage (hey, it’s the only form of “player experience”) and opportunities for earning checks.

It’s entirely possible to come out on top with Attack, Attack, Attack.

However, doing so leaves you wide open to attacks from your opponent. That means you owe your opponent a Compromise. Compromises always hurt. Depending on your opponent, a Compromise could leave you or one of your companions dead.

To really win a conflict, you need to reduce your opponent to zero disposition without losing too much of your own disposition. You can’t do that by spamming attack.

But I can stalemate you with Maneuver or Defend versus Attack, which gives you an incentive to use Feint, which gives me an incentive to use Attack. With everything balanced, then it’s just rock-paper-scissors. With a built in stalemate, there’s incentive to risk.


I don’t like this “easy fix” … because it drags the conflict out. If any team is “low on disposition”, they would start Defend-Defend-Defend to pump it back up. It’s the most conservative approach!

And for offense, the Feint becomes the only real choice … since you seem to have neutered Attack down to just a Vs Test (against defense and manuevers). Might as well use Feint which has two chances for independent test (vs feint and attack).

(edit: Luke finished his reply before I submitted this one. His response is probably clearer than mine)

Corvus, you’re ignoring the compromise result.

If you both attack and hit, you both win. Do you care if the other guy wins? No? Then AAA is absolutely the optimal path.

It also means you didn’t pick good stakes. If neither side cared what the other guy wanted, there was no conflict and the GM should’ve just said yes.


Mod’s Note: Hey folks, I know everyone is trying to be helpful, but let’s avoid the pile-on effect. No more responses in this thread until Corvus has had a chance to read the last few posts and respond, please.

My two cents – my experience roughly matches what Corvus says.

Defend and Feint are both risky choices, whereas Attack and Maneuver are both reliable. With the risky choices, there is the distinct possibility that you will be unable to roll and get nothing. With Attack and Maneuver, you always get to roll and your successes will always mean something useful for you.

As a player, I never take those risky choices, because they don’t have a greater payoff commensurate with their risk, in my opinion.

You’re not inherently stalemating, though. (I’m talking about Defend here rather than Maneuver.)

If you only use Defend and I only use attack, then your Disposition is going to randomly walk back and forth between zero and its starting value depending on our dice rolls. If I get lucky, I can win. If you get lucky, the most you can do is get back to your starting value, and additional successes are lost. And if I ever choose Feint, then you don’t get to roll.

There is a similarity to rock-paper-scissor because Feint clearly beats Defends, and Attack clearly beats Feint – i.e. if you chose the beaten maneuver, you don’t get to roll and your opponent gets to roll successes that are taken directly off your Disposition. In contrast, with Attack and Maneuver, you always get to roll, and your successes always get you something useful. Attack’s successes are more useful than Maneuver’s. i.e. One success in Maneuver gets you a one die advantage, equivalent to half a Disposition point, whereas one success in Attack gets you a full Disposition point. Still, Maneuver can be useful for timing and/or winning more completely.

It seems to me that you’re just reinforcing my point. Attack and Defend are evenly matched in Mouse Guard. Under certain circumstances, there’s a remote chance that an attacker can wipe out a Defender in one action, but I’m not talking about extreme circumstances. I’m talking about your four or five dice versus my four or five dice.

And as soon as you choose Feint, I’m choosing Attack. Hence we’re back into the cycle of risk.

Also, I’m not denying that Attack is needed to win. I’m merely refuting that A/A/A or P/P/P or Strike, Strike, Strike, Strike is the only valid strategy in the game.


Just to add to the many points already said, Attack is definitely needed to win. However, the other actions are needed to ensure an optimal win; i.e., one with a smaller compromise or no compromise. I could simply end there, but I’m somewhat bored and face a long night at work, so here I go:

As a supporting anecdote, my girlfriend and her friend used Attack/Attack/Attack in an argument conflict with the grain peddler. (Intents: “You must return with us to Lockhaven to be held accountable for your treason” vs “I won’t go with you. Your evidence is measley and my grain is needed in Barkstone.”) They ended up winning, but their disposition had been reduced to 1, which forced them into a major compromise: they got all the information on his treason, including the names of other conspirators, but he walked free… for now.

I suppose my point there is that, yes, they won but it was a pyhrric victory in that they didn’t get the exact thing they wanted. Had they been more flexible in their action choices, they would have stood a much better chance of achieving their intent with a much lesser compromise.

Another point to consider is that it is not meta-gaming to recognize that a guardmouse team is constantly using Attack/Attack/Attack. After the first volley, the GM is well within his/her rights to script actions to reduce Attack’s efficacy and bolster the GM team disposition with a few conservative Attacks tossed in. Any animal, especially one with sentience, will recognize a very specific fighting stance and respond appropriately. Watch a video of a cobra and a mongoose fighting, for example.

I played a game tonight and two players (independently from me) saw the same problem with the superior attack action. There was no fear and uncertainty in choosing attack action, because there is no action that can negate it.

your reasoning with compromises is all fine, but I still see mostly attacking as the safest way to actually win. You win and suck up compromise.

Next game, I will try my proposed method and see what happens.

Thank you.

What were the goals in your conflicts?