Regular readers will know I’m a fan of strategy games, and play them in my spare time. They are supposed to be relaxing.
Really, they aren’t.
Some are incredibly frustrating and difficult.
Even the least of them requires you to keep a close eye on what’s happening elsewhere. The best of them are Creative Assembly’s Total War games.
There is a phenomenon in the Total War games which comes when you reach a certain point. Good players can get there in 40 moves.
The decent players can get there in 100.
It’s a point where you’ve established yourself as so strong that the AI can do almost nothing to check your power.
After that, an effect called “steamrollering” comes into play … that’s when you have the economic and military capability that you start annihilating all the neighbouring powers, including those which have swollen to become dominant on their part of the map.
The designers know this, and so they’ve written into the game certain “endgame scenarios”, which are artificial challenges for when that point is reached.
In Shogun 2 it’s called Realm Divide; when your power reaches that tipping point, every other major faction – including the Shogunate – will declare war on you at the same time. In Rome 2 it’s the Roman Civil War which engulfs you, slicing your empire up like salami and making you fight for every inch of it all over again, but this time against armies as advanced as your own … and so on and so forth.
The thing is, the same process repeats itself if you’re good enough.
You reach a point where the momentum is all on your side and by the time you’ve dealt with the new threat, you’re even stronger than you were.
That’s if you’re good., if you can keep an eye on every front, and anticipate the problems and formulate the solutions. It requires calm and analysis and the discipline not to do anything daft. Keep your cool, think logically and you can do it.
This happens primarily because even the smartest AI cannot defeat a really good human player whose mind can concoct strategies it simply is not capable of matching.
The AI does not, for example, understand the concept of “trading land for time”; that’s the central thrust of Attila: Total War should you be mad enough to go the Western Roman Empire.
Holding onto all of your territory is impossible, so you fall back on the strongest provinces, you fortify them, you build their strength, riding out the storm, and you sacrifice the rest until you are strong enough to start re-taking it all a bit at a time.
Try asking the AI to do the same. You’ll see how poor its strategic brain is.
I sometimes wonder how close we are to steamrolling Sevco.
Their own strategic brain isn’t very smart at all.
I wonder how close we are to the moment where they throw everything they have in the arsenal at us, to forestall their own collapse.
It sometimes seems we’re on the brink of it.
If we’d won ten in a row, we might have done it already. Once we’ve moved in front of the Big Lie and settled this issue with the trophy count you may see it.
If this managerial appointment doesn’t work out for them, they will certainly be one step closer to it.
I know this; if we get straight into that Champions League groups next season that will boost our earnings tens of millions in front of theirs … depending on how we deploy that cash we could sew up the next title and the next one after that.
See, the steamrolling happens when you, as the player, have hit the top of the research tree and can get all the highest tier units, and once you combine that with the money to field three or four top tier armies you can’t really be beat unless you are careless.
With football teams it comes when one club has more money by far than the other and spends it to buy the best footballers it can and uses that team to acquire more money and on and on.
So, if you look at it like that you can see exactly how it might come about.
If our rise coincides with a drop off in their season tickets – a certainty eventually if our dominance goes on – then it could become a death spiral for them very, very quickly.
Does our board have the stomach for it?
Some people at our club very obviously believe that if we tip them over the edge that we will suffer for it. The thing is, we’ll never kill the idea of their club, so even if we’re five iterations down the road there will be something over there, and fans to follow it, who cling to all the outdated ideas and believe that they are special.
As long as there is a club calling itself Rangers our board will be quite content, I think, even if that club is a shambling, stumbling ruin.
I myself used to want them gone.
Knowing that they never will be this is now my preferred scenario; a club out of Ibrox so ruined and wretched that we can treat then like an unfortunate play-thing, something to be scorned and mocked.
Maybe I’ve played too many games. Maybe there’s a sadist in me.
But let me tell you what their version of “trading land for time” would have looked like. They had that opportunity, back when they had the time.
They were marooned in the bottom tier when their current club was founded.
They had a vastly better team than every side in that league even without bling signings. They could have ditched the idea of that, signed some top youth talent and built their club over that three or four year spell.
By the time they got to the SPFL they could have had a pile of money in the bank, a settled, good quality team filled with players who had been together for a while and they’d have been able to augment that squad with proper spending.
What would they have given up to accomplish that goal?
What would the equivalent of giving up the land have been?
Trophies. It’s that simple.
They proceeded to spend more than they should have, maintaining the second biggest wage bill in the country all the way, and far from accumulating cash reserves they ran up debts. They got to the Premiership in a worse state than Rangers was in when it went swirling down the tubes.
Seven years later we’ve got the five trebles and a double to prove it. So they wasted that time and in the end what? They didn’t get the trophies either on the climb through the ranks, not even the Challenge Cup until the fourth attempt, a pathetic statistic which should shame them.
What some in the media are urging them to do now is what we gamers call turtling. It’s a strategy game tactic which is as old as gaming itself.
Instead of expanding, you bunker.
You secure your nearest resource area and then you defend it, and your home base, with everything you can. And you hold out until your enemy is exhausted throwing troops against your wall of weaponry and you’ve rattled through the research tree and can afford the best of everything. Then you build up your forces and finally unleash them when you have everything you need to conquer.
The theory goes like this; if they focus on building up their squad, if they focus on giving their new manager time and letting him develop his plan, they have a chance.
Unfortunately, it’s doomed.
As every player of strategy games knows, there is an obvious inherent danger in the turtling strategy; you allow your enemy to dominate the rest of the battle-sphere. Which means that they can secure every other resource area in the game unimpeded and use everything they earn to build up their own forces much greater than yours.
You’re giving the enemy a chance to get to the high-tier units first.
If they throw them at you in the right combination all you have is a fixed position defence to hold back the tide. Turtling is great as far as it goes, but there’s a reason it mainly only works against the AI. Against a smart human player that tactic does not stand a chance, and it doesn’t stand a chance here.
They cannot allow us unfettered access to those Champions League jackpots.
They cannot allow us to dominate this battle-sphere unimpeded.
They have to come at us, they have to try. But against an opponent almost at the steamrolling phase? That’s madness.
But maybe madness is all they have left.
Gamers know about madness too.
If you’d had a bad start, or suffered what’s known as a “curb stomping” and your best army has been annihilated, your finances are drained and you’re out of better options you might well choose to declare war on a hapless neighbour to grab additional resources and power … that of course opens you up to a two front war and good luck winning that … but we’ve all done it.
We’ve all come down to that choice where you need to put your last remaining cities on the line, or throw your last remaining army at superior forces and rely on some piece of tactical brilliance or an enemy mistake to pull you out of the hole.
And sometimes, because the AI is so poor in some of these games, you get exactly that.
I don’t think there’s enough over there for that.
If we hit the point of steamrolling, we’re going to drive over them like a tank and there’s only one thing that I can see that can stop that; some weird “end game scenario”, some cataclysmic event. COVID was an end-game scenario, almost as if it was conjured out of Ibrox itself to stop us.
Without COVID we’d have won ten in a row and the steamrollering would be in progress right now, perhaps even the curb stomping.
But that was such a once-in-a-generation event that no-one can foresee anything like it in our future. The administration crisis over there was like an end game scenario when they were already weak … that happens, by the way. The end-game scenarios can be set to trigger at random or after a set number of turns … so you might be midway through your expansion when it hits and that is not a good place to be.
Ibrox hoped for an end-game scenario involving a certain court case, a hope that looks to be dashed as Celtic seeks a settlement which will allow everyone to put this sordid, awful business behind them.
Even if they’d gotten what they wanted … that wouldn’t have hurt us half as much as they seem to think.
We’d have gotten through that battered but not broken, strong enough still to be able to win things on a regular basis until all those advantages we have kicked in again and propelled us towards the place we’re in right now.
The end-game scenario is more likely to happen on their end than ours.
As I’ve written before, fan pressure might tip the whole club towards a sale to some shady outside “investor” and instead of the spending of big money to catch us that investor might doom them to permanent irrelevance, blackmailing the fans into spending their money not to win things but just to keep their club alive in the literal sense.
Tens of thousands would probably do so, creating an Ibrox club which exists on a subsistence level but which is incapable of posing a threat.
Speculation? Yes. For sure.
It’s not for nothing that we call this “wargaming the scenarios” because that’s what’s it like.
And in the literal sense these are strategies many of us know well.
I’ve tried running empires where you tax the people to the max without turning them into rebels, all to feed the war machine. I’ve run cities which have gone nearly bankrupt, and been forced to cut back on everything, to get to the “subsistence level” – the point where you have enough citizens and thus tax revenue to be “back in profit” but without hospitals, policing, fire services or any of that other stuff you need – and then tried to “build back better” as Boris the Brazen Liar once put it.
It rarely works; once you hit a certain tipping point it’s all over.
And so I sit and I wonder; how close are we to pushing them over the edge?
How long until we reach a point where we’re so strong that the only thing that would peg us back would be some total disaster or colossal series of mistakes?
I’ll tell you this; we’re already in the place where I don’t believe for one minute that we will be caught without that.
They might win the occasional trophy but we’re going to overtake the lie and then put some distance between the two clubs, cementing our status as the undisputed biggest team in the country.
That will happen. We’re going to watch it happen.
All this week, the media is going to bang the drum on behalf of the new Ibrox boss. They will try to tell us that they can catch us, that he can turn things around, that he’s the genius they’ve been waiting for … none of it matters.
Because this is about us.
This is about how we keep rolling.
If we get the strategy right, if we get stay on top of this and don’t do anything daft, we will keep on growing our power and we will continually be able to invest in better talent … and if we do that then it’s just a matter of time before the steamrolling effect comes into play. And if you don’t believe that will happen, consider this.
This year will be the 40th anniversary of Dundee Utd’s title win in 1983.
It’s significant because that was the last title won in Scotland which was not won in Glasgow. Dundee Utd, Hearts and Aberdeen have all challenged for them but come up short since, Aberdeen and Hearts taking theirs down to the final day.
None of those clubs has a look in now because at some point in the mid-90’s we moved so far in front of them that we became uncatchable.
Only a fool could believe that that can’t happen between us and them … it could. Of course it could, and it’s not even that hard to see how it could come about.
Thanks to the guys – and especially my Aberdeonian friends – who are calling “foul!” on the article for the line about how no club outside Glasgow has won the title in 40 years. That’s wrong as their side won two in 1984 and 1985. I’m leaving my mistake in there to shame me and by way of an apology to them! Still, it’s a grim stat, isn’t it? I’d love a challenge from outside Glasgow to emerge.