Break Blade 04: Understanding Baldr

I had meant to write a post on this earlier, but I was bogged down by school assignments. Having read ghostlightning‘s post already, I’ve decided to write this post as a response to a few comments that were made on his post. That is to say, people have been wondering: what is up with Baldr? He’s a well-respected commander, yet seems to make many silly decisions. I can’t say some aren’t silly, but I will endeavor to at least provide probable reasons why things happened as they did. As you can tell, this will be all speculative.

What is the man behind those sunglasses thinking?

The most essential thing to get out of the way first, is to understand the larger, strategic considerations at the moment. Naturally, the most expedient way to get started is with a map.

 

via the Manga

As we can see, locked into the main continent are 3 major political entities. Athens and Orlando are much larger than Krishna, so it’s all a pretty rough spot. Now that they’re determined to fight, it is as Hodr suggested: asking for military assistance from Orlando is essential. Krishna itself has sortied most of its fighting power, with its Vanguard of General True’s force having been annihilated in an ambush earlier. This told Baldr that, at the very least, Borcuse was already within the Kingdom, having gotten past the border (somehow) with a force large enough to do the job on General True, undetected by scouts. This also means that Borcuse has advanced beyond the border fortress that was mentioned earlier (where a siege is presumably still ongoing). Borcuse has taken the gamble of advancing around the fortress, threatening the possibility of having his supply lines cut.

Presumably, when they had planned out the strategy earlier, they had expected to meet Borcuse at the border (where his supply line would not be threatened). This changed, probably since Borcuse did something akin to Napoleon-style forced marching (remember, even if Break Blade is mecha, the golem pilots get tired out from manipulating quartz ligaments, as shown by the difficulty in wielding oversized swords!), costing them an army, but also means Borcuse is in a risky position himself: he cannot afford a protracted campaign. With a force limited in size by the necessity of having to keep a supply line that isn’t too easy to disrupt, he has to at least secure a strong position before Orlando’s forces presumably arrive.

As a plus for Borcuse though, since his strike was made in surprise, it probably means Krishna probably has not had a chance to put into motion a policy such as Scorched Earth. He can probably secure supplies as he goes, as long as he’s able to keep the momentum up. So his force size may not be that limited. Not to mention, Krishna is not too big itself, so there’s not much space to buy time with either. Ultimately, a strategy based on trying to get Borcuse to overextend is unlikely the work, hence the move for direct confrontation, at least to buy time.

Anyhow, with the strategic concerns, I think it’s safe to surmise Baldr’s main goals:

Best: Deal major blow to Borcuse’s force, and make his campaign untenable.

Second Best: Buy enough time for reinforcements from Orlando.

From there, we’ll start looking at the battle itself.

Home advantage

As you’d expect, since it’s their own land, Baldr was able to pretty easily secure a strong position albeit an entirely defensive one. Still, if terrain won you battles, war would be a lot simpler. However, there is a fairly glaring weakness with that position: there’s a limit to how many troops can be placed on the hill and defend it. Additionally, it’s open on at least 3 sides, if not on all sides. As a result, Baldr’s effective force is fairly predictable, and open to flanking, whilst Borcuse, attacking out of a canyon/valley of some sort, has a theoretically unknown force size, in addition to a route of retreat that would be very difficult to cut off (at least, from Baldr’s position).

 

Now, comparing the forces, Baldr started with roughly 70 troops to Borcuse’s 50. This is based on dialogue from scouts, so there could be hidden units, but since none were used, we’ll assume there aren’t any (other than the reinforcements cryptically assumed by Elza).

At a glance, this works out well for Baldr. However, Baldr’s force is pretty much Krishna’s entire mobile force, with only the forces at the fortress and those defending the capital left. Borcuse on the other hand, probably hasn’t even fielded his full force (Elza seemed pretty confident that Borcuse would have reinforcements). This essentially means that Baldr cannot really allow for a battle of attrition, even if Borcuse’s numbers are lower.

So what happens when Borcuse’s attack splits into two flanks to start what seems to be a pincer? If we presume Borcuse has reinforcements as Elza suggests, then depending on whether the hill Baldr is seated on has a fourth side on the back, or if it connects to more high ground, then he is (by waiting) risking either the flanks rejoining behind him and Borcuse advancing from the front to attack on the opposite of the rejoined flanks or the two flanks attacking on each side, while Borcuse’s reinforcements come and he attacks down the middle.

In the former case, units on each side of the hill would be unable aid each other, density of their fire (I like to think of golems in these mass matches to be fairly akin to battles pitched between heavily armored archers who can carry shields, etc.) is lowered significantly, it’ll become harder to stop Borcuse’s troops from advancing up the hill, and finally their route of retreat would be cut off.

In the latter case, they would still be able to aid each other to a limited amount on each flank, but not very much, and the density of their fire to stop climbers becomes even sparser.

Either way, by giving up the initiative against the flanking tactic, Baldr ultimately surrenders a large part of the advantage of the higher ground. And in fact, he keeps all the disadvantages too. While the higher ground gives his troop a superior firing range, they are all essentially stuck there. Retreating away from the enemy is impractical (it’s a series of cliffs), meaning mobility really only exists downwards, towards Borcuse’s forces. Contrast this with Borcuse’s forces, who are able to run and gun on the open ground below, on static targets.

At the end of that way, Borcuse may very well be able to just bleed Baldr dry. It’d certainly be fitting for a nation with material and manpower superiority. That alone would probably be more than enough, but of course, it’s costly on both sides, and Borcuse has a much more convoluted plan in store. In the former case, it might even be possible to isolate Baldr’s position while the force splits up further and heads for the capital while Baldr is trapped on the hill.

I do wonder how Borcuse didn't lose any of the flanking troops to concentrated fire though

After all, even if the hill is higher ground, it essentially grants zero cover. It’s only so effective as the height difference preventing the pressure gun bullets from being at an effective range on the bulk of your forces. So getting put in a situation where they could arguably start climbing on you is awful.

 

So, Borcuse made his first move, and it’s a pretty damning one. Judging from Baldr’s reaction later, he had no sure idea that help was going to come from Rygart or anything, so I’m assuming he made decisions based on the idea that he can’t count on help. So, initiative is passed over to him. What should Baldr do as a counterattack now that he’s in a position that requires answering? Clearly, having his troops fire down isn’t having much of an effect to deter the flanking enemy. I’m sure he was considering this as Elza made her suggestion.

There's an obvious weakness in Borcuse's tactical deployment

Naturally, there’s always some sort of trade-off depending on how you deploy your troops. As offensively potent as the flanking tactic is, it leaves the center wide open. And Borcuse, as a commander in an age that lacks long-range communication systems, has to stay on the battlefield in a position where he can still direct his forces. He chooses right in the center there, wide open for a charge attack.

 

It’s the obvious thing to do. And if done well, will reap major profit. After all, as outlined before: “Best: Deal major blow to Borcuse’s force, and make his campaign untenable.” Just taking out Borcuse, or even just injuring him enough to require him to retreat, would be upsetting enough to probably cause his campaign on Krishna to be put on hold, buying them significant time. Defended by only 5 units, it’s a really enticing sort of trap.

And hey, what do you know! Just when Baldr was wondering what to do so not everything goes at Borcuse’s pace, right? Still, there’s got to be a trap waiting there. Everyone knows it.

But Elza’s sure confident that it’s worth the risk. And after doing some math, I guess Baldr figured they could hold 50 vs. 50 on the hill for a while. There’s no forces waiting to ambush in the center region for certain, and the enemy’s main force is separated into two at the moment. Finally, should there be an ambush waiting inside the canyon, the scouts should be able to pick them up somewhat, or at the very least be detected early enough that Elza can react.

Imagining the worst case scenario, reinforcements will come out of the canyon and the flanks will join up to surround Elza. Her charge attack should still be able to kill Borcuse, which is a huge boon. And the enemy’s now disorganized main force can be charged whilst they either face Elza or Baldr. At the least, the flanking attack is thwarted, and things should work out evenly at the least.

Another possibility is that Borcuse is not actually in the command golem (it doesn’t seem to be considered much of a possibility though, for whatever reason). In which case, Elza’s at least put a commander golem out of service, and the above should happen anyways.

Either way though, if he wants Elza to have a good chance of surviving (being sandwiched between forces coming out of the canyon and the main, visible force), she’ll probably need a decent number to link up shields with. Thus his bumping up of the number to 20 (theoretically the most he can spare). This is almost half of Borcuse’s main force, so it should be able to hold fast long enough for Baldr to break the back of Borcuse’s main force, right?

So 20 and Elza does Baldr send. With one very important side clause.

Pretty straight forward

And then Elza:

 

“Hmm, for some reason the enemy’s main forces are not even moving or flinching as their commander is getting charged down. This is clearly suspicious. … Oh well.”

And that’s all she wrote. Well, maybe not. She could clearly see Borcuse getting no help. She was probably thinking that at the very least, she could kill Borcuse, even if she dies from an encirclement afterward. So I suppose that’s why she decided to push anyways, despite the clear strangeness of the situation. A one for one isn’t bad, all grand strategic considerations considered. She even skillfully and exactly pinned down his weapon and defense. It really is too bad about that tail.

So, Elza’s dead. How does the other 20 golems also die to just 5 other guys? A 4 to 1 ratio? Really? Well, you can just assume that Nike and Io have named-character super powers, and be pretty close to the truth, I think. But since this is an exercise that tries to ignore things that genres will take for granted, I’ll try to rationalize it as such:

It was all a calculated choice on Borcuse’s part to quickly and suddenly kill Elza at melee range, when Nike and Io have access to their really nasty scissor weapons. When Elza (a presumably important, charismatic figure of the troop) bites it suddenly, it’s probably pretty shocking. And taking advantage of that loss of focus, the elite few of Borcuse’s force mowed the 20 down. Well, that’s the best I can probably come up with.

The events are pretty instantaneous. Baldr never really had a chance to try to save Elza, or save the situation. It was over in seconds.

So now a bad situation has gone worse, arguably because a subordinate did not take a warning to heart. With evened numbers, Baldr will have an even rougher time holding that hill, and even less able to handle attrition. With the new balance of power, what does Borcuse do? He could simply continue the flanking attack and probably win, though it’d be unpleasant for his forces too. But instead, his forces do this:

Foreground: Baldr; mid to background: Borcuse

Borcuse’s units just stand there. In fact, they’ve been standing there for a long time. And to cap things off, Borcuse doesn’t give Baldr time for consideration. He brings out the big guns–what is called, in a terminology I’m not very fond of, “psy-war”, or psychological warfare. What I’m referring to, of course, is when he decides to have Nike “disassemble” Elza’s golem remnants in clear view.

 

Without even communicating to the troops to stop, Borcuse’s troops are already waiting. This sort of situation is what Borcuse has been waiting for all along, manipulating the fog of war and attacking Baldr’s plans as to create a dilemma of two bad results, that Baldr is forced to resolve in short time. And Borcuse tells the audience the two choices available directly too: either charge down this neat line I’ve drawn, where you’ll be taken on both sides by my forces and me from the front, or sit there on that hill, facing attacks from at least 3 directions while your troops are demoralized.

And as Borcuse expounds on thoroughly through the idea of “fear”, morale is a consideration of pivotal importance when considering two forces against one another. Baldr has to choose: does he rally the men for a charge, giving up the advantage of terrain, or does he decide to dig in and lose the confidence of his troop? Morale or terrain advantage: choose one.

And Baldr chose. Maybe out of anger, or perhaps there’s a seed of logic behind it? Well, the best I can come up with is, a demoralized troop can be extremely advantageous to the other side. Imagine your afraid troop, after seeing one of the best (but maybe not brightest) get killed, a great number of their peers slaughtered, forced to dig in and hold a meaningless rock. And presumably, your guys aren’t Japanese.

Best case scenario, your guys stick to and you attrite the most you can out of the enemy. But the more likely, worst case scenario? You try to hold, and eventually your army breaks and starts a chaotic retreat up the little hill, probably several falling over the side in the struggle, while you’re all picked off by enemy fire. Annihilation without a chance to even make them pay for it.

You could try to retreat at this point, but that’ll shoot the morale even lower, and you’ll definitely be pursued. And where is it that you will retreat to? Outside of a literal long march all the way back to the capital.

Instead, Baldr chose to charge and rally the troop. As Borcuse notes, it can convert that “fear into rage”. It’s not really hard to understand. Simply said, Baldr signed every soldier and himself onto a death wish, with the clause “Take as many of them down with us as possible” written in bold. After all, now they’re guaranteed to fight down to the last man, and attrite as much out of Borcuse’s force as possible, which has a larger meaning since Borcuse would next go on to probably face the defense forces left in the capital. Every one counts. Him charging in person too, is important, for that morale component.

On top of that, he managed to arrange for a fairly competent blitz formation too, despite all the terrible things that have happened. This is something I think you’d see more with tanks, but on open flat ground, I suppose it works out similarly for golems anyways.

Pretty sure that's how tanks would spread out as rearguard after punching through an enemy formation

Strictly speaking, the formation wasn’t entirely necessary at that point. It might have worked out better had he used the full brunt of his forces to punch straight at Borcuse, but this does, as noted, help prevent the two flanks from joining up very soon, which disrupts the enemy enough that Baldr’s offensive cannot be simply crushed quickly. The biggest shame is how Nike and Io somehow, with 4 guns, manage to stop the entire charge, since the splitting of the flanks would have otherwise been complete.

 

So, how many mistakes did Baldr actually make? He’s considered a “conservative” in the sense that he plays things by the textbook a lot, not conservative in the sense that he adopts cautionary, defensive postures a lot, though that is what he did.

The key move Borcuse made, was ultimately the lure of his 5-man defense isolated from the army. It wasn’t an issue of whether Baldr actually bit for the bait or not, however, but the way it limited Baldr’s choices. As a very powerful high-reward, unknown-risk proposition, it’s very distracting, especially for a by-the-book commander such as Baldr, where considering simple, but effective courses of action is his nature. Do you go on the counteroffensive, and rush straight into the enemy trap, just to change the situation that is growing worse by the second? Or do you dig in and try to hold out, and turn it into a fight of attrition?

This thought process, of course, naturally ignores other possibilities. Baldr’s not only distracted by the lure, but he is fairly attached to the high ground at that point of the battle, before the dilemma of morale vs. terrain comes up. Of course, perhaps he didn’t conceive of these ideas because they weren’t possible, but who knows?

What was actually preventing Baldr from waiting for the flanks to extend out to opposite sides of the hill, and then using his full force to charge down upon one flank, probably destroying or routing it? Of course, then, the other flank could take the high ground, but who cares? You just dealt a powerful blow on the enemy’s already inferior numbers. At this point, you could probably even retreat to a different defensive position and fight it out on a new day, and see if Borcuse is still willing to push on. Just an example of a possible alternative.

But because of Baldr’s personality, which Borcuse probably took into account, and Borcuse’s own ploy, Baldr basically gained a blind spot that excluded all possibilities outside of sitting and waiting, and biting the bait to give a shot at killing Borcuse. Either of these scenarios, as it turns out, is advantageous to Borcuse, as the one with the military tech to completely blunt the blitz attack and the ultimate numbers to try a strategy of attrition. Baldr only had the option of the former advantage, and he didn’t even know it!

The moment Baldr was consumed by the fog of war, hand-woven by Borcuse himself, it was already over, and the entire battle played out to Borcuse’s binary script. To borrow a bit of Sun Tzu, Borcuse knew his own forces, knew his enemy, and probably understood the terrain. He knows when he can attack, when his opponent could be attacked, when his opponent could attack, and when he could be attacked.

Compared with Baldr, who only knew himself and the terrain, but not the enemy. The Baldr that could understand when his forces could attack and could be attacked, but not when the enemy could attack or be attacked. This is the essential difference between him and Borcuse.

He is a competent general who, in Sun Tzuian terms, can make himself unconquerable. Borcuse is the military genius who can, while making himself unconquerable, use deception to make his opponent make themselves conquerable. Baldr is competent but predictable general that will inevitably be contrasted against the brilliant and inscrutable military god. And it is that simple facet of being predictable, that assured Borcuse, when making the gamble of splitting up his forces against a dig in opponent on higher ground, and leaving himself out in the open, that everything would go as his scenario projections described.

And ultimately, that’s all we’re supposed to take out of the scene. The classic helplessness of the competent, but predictable and unimaginative general before the might of a military genius who is able to innovate and deceive his opponents. And of course, this character flaw of Baldr, is what ultimately lets us see Rygart help save the day a bit, though not singlehandedly.

And of course, Rygart himself, is a powerful example of how inadequate intelligence can foil even the most carefully laid plans. Fortunately for Borcuse, he had kept that line of retreat wide open, and now the cat’s out-of-the-bag on Rygart.

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About ToastCrust

Generic procrastinator and Japanese Media hobbyist.
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