Monday, April 7, 2008


I am reading George R. R. Martin's Songs of Ice and Fire series. GRRM does a great many things right. Here is one of those things.

GRRM understands games quite well. He is able to have one player in the game establish a dominant position that seems secure. Then GRRM is able to convincingly show that the dominant position is balanced on the knife's edge, that perhaps will slice the dominant player in half.

The story of Robb Stark is especially poignant. Stark rallies a large part of the kingdom to himself, building a strong coalition. He uses excellent strategies in winning every battle that he fights. But because he releases a hostage from service, refuses to kill an important prisoner and forsakes his arranged marriage, he ends up losing his ancestral lands, having his forces destroyed, and being killed by treacherous friends.

Along the way, one interesting military game that takes place is as follows. Stark's army is at his relative's stronghold, between his enemy's army and his enemy's lands, all aligned east/west. Stark leaves the stronghold and goes to ravage his enemy's lands to the west. His enemy marches west to find Stark and defeat him. Stark's relative decides that he will not only secure his stronghold, but will stop Stark's enemy from pursuing Stark west . The relative is successful at stopping Stark's enemy.

So Stark's enemy gives up on pursuing Stark and joins the battle in the south, turning the tide and winning the kingdom. If Stark's relative had obeyed orders, Stark's enemy would have pursued Stark and the battle for the kingdom would have come out differently.

However, Stark could have also done a better job. Stark could have told his relative that his plan was to have his enemy pursue him west, so that the relative would not have tried to stop the enemy.

Robert E. Lee made the same kind of mistake before Gettysburg. He gave JEB Stuart, "the eyes of his army," non-specific orders which resulted in Stuart being out of position to contribute to the battle.

In scene after scene, I can almost picture the game theoretic decision matrix that underlies the action. I doubt that GRRM has any formal game theoretic training. He certainly has a clear knowledge of history and an abundance of common sense and logic.

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