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Let's discuss the battle strategies of Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist

The Games of the Colonel: Analyzing the battle strategies of Fullmetal Alchemist

By Cara Gabrielle Olaguer Published Jul 28, 2020 12:00 am Updated Jul 31, 2020 7:45 am

Strategy, a series of decisions with an end goal in mind, is usually likened to a game. In particular, it is typically associated with one of the oldest two-player board games in the world — Chess. Thus, in most stories where strategy is at the fore, chess has, often than not, become its synonym and symbolic metaphor.

In 1970, however, that claim was soon challenged by the inception of the Game of the Generals.

The Game of the Generals (GG), also called The Generals or Salpakan, is a war simulation game invented by Sofronio Pasola Jr. Like chess, players operate with one objective in mind: capture the most important piece of the enemy’s side without being challenged.

And that is where the similarities ended. And that is also where allegations of GG “supplanting” chess should have been recanted. It is not the same game at all. Because while chess uses monarchical titles, military ranks are applied in GG. Another difference the board games have is that GG oftentimes utilizes an adjutant or arbiter while chess does not.

However, the chief contrast between the two lies in the most particular attribute of The Generals. Unlike chess where everything is laid out for the players to counter, GG players are blind to the identity of each other’s pieces throughout the game. Such a game requires a masterful cocktail of spatial skills, logic, and tact. Most of all, it is a game that requires one to master the Art of Deception.

For this reason, the Generals is the better game with which to discuss the battle strategies of Roy Mustang from Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA). Why so? It is because Colonel Roy Mustang primarily operates in subterfuge throughout the series.

The Mustang Unit from the Chapter 38 manga cover of the Fullmetal Alchemist.

After all, as an accomplished war veteran, he is not only a state alchemist who can manipulate fire as the Flame Alchemist, Roy is also a skilled leader and tactician, able to plan and execute schemes several steps ahead of his enemies, and can easily maneuver his subordinates in accordance with his plans.

One should also note how characters from the series, Roy in particular, mentions how he would like to “fish” out the enemies masquerading as members of the state forces of Amestris. This kind of thinking very much resembles the gameplay logic of The Generals.

Note that all references and conjectures made for this article largely used the manga and the 2009 Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (FMAB) anime series for its basis, and completely skips the 2003 anime series largely due to its departure from Arakawa’s established canon in the manga. It’s not meant to dismiss the 2003 anime, only that for the purposes of this article, it is overlooked for the sake of consistency.

The Mustang Unit

Colonel Roy Mustang is the Team’s Flag in GG — he represents the King in chess. As the Flag/King, it is the most important piece as it determines the outcome of the game. Thus, concealing its identity and location until it reaches the end of the other side of the board without being challenged is the most vital objective in GG.

If the Flag is threatened and discovered too early in the game, the rest of the team will be in peril and the game will end unless maneuvered otherwise. Such a position speaks volumes of the relevance of Roy’s role as the unit’s leader and how he is protected by his team and vice versa.

Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye, representing the Queen, is the next highest ranked member of the Mustang Unit. Given her skills and the strength of her character in the series, she is best represented with the dual role of Killers and Privates.

Killers in GG are typically the Spies and highest ranked Generals — Five-Star and Four-Star Generals — whose primary task is to eliminate hostiles to the Flag. Privates, on the other hand, are usually placed close to the Flag in order to identify and destroy the enemy Killers, particularly the Spies, in order to protect the way of the Flag to victory.

Sometimes, Privates are also used as decoys to the Flag, so if taken away, the comparative advantage of the team is severely damaged. Given that Riza is the only member with war experience and significant history with Roy, her contributions to the team and the GG gameplay are unparalleled. It should also be noted that Roy only departs from the team’s plan when Riza is in danger. This signifies the level of importance that Riza has to the team, especially to Roy.

Second Lieutenant Jean Havoc, also called the Knight and is known to be second in line to Riza, is best represented by Sweepers in GG. Sweepers, typically the Three-Star General down to the Lieutenant Colonel in the game, are next in the chain of command should the Killers be eliminated.

As seen in the series, Havoc is often leading the charge in Roy’s missions while Riza takes the rear in order to eliminate any hostiles that could jeopardize the team in the field. It is Roy’s strategy to pair Riza and Havoc in field operations given their combat (Havoc in offense) and tactical (Riza in defense) skills. Such a strategy can also be seen in GG, as Killers, Privates, and Sweepers typically flank the Flag for its protection. 

Warrant Officer Vato Falman, Second Lieutenant Heymans Breda, and Sergeant Major Kain Fuery are the Team’s Probers in GG. Falman, the Bishop, supports the team with his skills in intelligence despite his limited field experience. On the other hand, Breda, the Rook, takes over in missions in case Riza is not available and is therefore as skilled as she is in combat and covert ops.

Meanwhile, the Pawn, Fuery, is the team’s mechanics and communications specialist who provides additional support to the team. In GG, probers typically include the Major down to the Sergeant, and usually provide backup to the Privates, Killers, and Sweepers in the game.

The Colonel’s Playbook

As we have established the combatant roles of the Mustang Unit, we move forward to Roy Mustang’s strategy vis-à-vis the various schemes that can be used in GG. While Roy is prone to doing flashy stunts by himself, the same cannot be said for when he maneuvers his team. Instead, he relies on guile and complicated schemes throughout the series.

If we can speculate, his schemes can be compared with two common strategies used in GG. Note that the strategies below may often be used simultaneously by Roy in the series.

In particular, the strategies that match Roy’s schemes (from Wikipedia) are as follows:

Clustered Task Forces – Group a high-ranking general, a Spy, two Privates, and two to three officers into a ‘combined arms’ task forces whose job is to eliminate the enemy pieces in one area and to reduce his numbers. Switch the attack of defensive maneuvers from one side of the board to the other as needed to divert the opponent’s attention and make him become confused about the identity of your powerful pieces. Use expert maneuvering to isolate the enemy Flag and eliminate it.

Distributed Defense – Spread out the powerful pieces with supporting units to probe and ambush the enemy Killer pieces. Maneuver your pieces to rearrange them as blocking forces and to deceive the opponent as to which are powerful and sacrificial. Put lower-ranking generals in the rear areas [so] as to take over the defense or bring them forward to assist in the counterattack. [sic]”

Clustered Task Forces chiefly focus on the offense while the latter, of course, deals with providing the team a good defense. Despite this difference, however, the two are very similar in terms of (1) team composites and (2) team tactics. The team composites of the two strategies above specify the need for a skillful pairing of “powerful” and “sacrificial” members. The powerful members are typically the Killers, Sweepers, and Privates while the sacrificial ones are usually the Sweepers and/or Probers.

Meanwhile, the team tactics of Clustered Task Forces and Distributed Defense both heavily rely on deceiving the opponent of the identity of one’s team composites while carefully discerning and/or eliminating the enemy pieces. However, it should be noted that it is only with Distributed Defense where providing cover and back-up are especially emphasized.   

Thus said, we selected these strategies because of how similar its patterns are to Roy’s schemes in the series. As previously discussed, Roy typically plans out his missions with the following team composites:

Main Composite: Havoc in offense, Riza in defense, and Fuery in support (first team with combined task forces)

Supporting Composites: Breda in additional combat and covert ops, Falman in intelligence, and other characters — typically the Xing faction, Madame Christmas’s group, and other trustworthy contacts in the Amestris military — in support (second team with combined task forces)

While not all of the members in the supporting composite will be discussed at length in this study, understand that their combatant roles and composites were still included to provide clarity to Roy’s strategies, especially when adapted to a GG format.

As we have established how Roy strategizes his flanks in battle, we now move forward to how he (1) sets the stage for his counterattack, (2) identifies his opponents, and (3) maneuvers his forces to safety. In particular, we will illustrate these points with Episodes (EPs) 17 to 19 of FMAB or Chapters (CHs) 35 to 39 of the manga.

With regard to the set-up, Roy set out this scheme by responding to the trap that his enemies — the Homunculi — laid out by framing Second Lieutenant Maria Ross as the murderer of Roy’s best friend, the late Brigadier General Maes Hughes in EP 17, CH 35. Accordingly, the set-up of Second Lieutenant Ross followed Roy’s investigation towards the events surrounding the death of Hughes.

As Roy was in a precarious position given that Central was the base of operations for his enemies, he decided to counter in two phases: (1) rescuing Ross through Barry the Chopper and (2) staging her death by annihilating a dummy corpse with his flame alchemy.

Colonel Roy Mustang is questioned by a military officer over his alleged intervention following the supposed death of Second Lieutenant Maria Ross.

As his enemies wanted him to kill Ross, Roy succeeded in two fronts: ensuring the safety of an innocent soldier and appearing reckless in the eyes of the enemy. The deception even managed to fool other members of the military into thinking that he is a ruthless and cold-blooded soldier.

Another thing to note is that even the Homunculus Envy was satisfied that Roy supposedly “took the bait” as it appeared to them that his act damaged his reputation and led his subordinates to “distrust” him. In a GG gameplay, this can be compared to a player camouflaging his strategy by appearing weak or seemingly going along with the offensives of the opponent while carefully setting the stage for a counterattack.

The next stage — identifying the hostiles — of his counter strategy towards their enemies panned out in the succeeding episode. Basically, this was done in three phases: (1) prepare his main flank for counterattack — the Havoc-Riza-Fuery trio, (2) provide a counter bait, and (3) maneuver his other forces to safety.

In executing the first phase, he disguised his main flank’s absence by letting them all have a vacation leave while they prepared for the trap. Note that in the beginning of EP 17, CHs 36-37, Roy was supposedly “flirting” with Elizabeth on a military line while his plan was being carried out. We know later in the episode that Elizabeth referred to Riza, Kate to Kain Fuery, and Jacqueline to Jean Havoc. Doing so allowed Roy to (1) deceive his political opponents in the military by appearing reckless (again) and (2) provide a cover for his main flank.

The second phase was then offering a counter bait — Barry the Chopper — to “fish” out their opponents in EP 18, CH 37. As seen in the series, Roy anticipated that his enemies were going to attack again, especially after spotting Barry the Chopper during the previous episode. Note that Barry, who houses his soul in a vintage armor just like Alphonse Elric, was a former convict who escaped from his duty as sentry to one of the Homunculi's site of operations.

Given this, Roy used this information to his unit’s advantage as he accurately predicted that his opponents would want to tie up loose ends by eliminating Barry. Note that in a GG format, knowing how your enemy works is also crucial in winning the game.

An important thing to note is that Roy’s enemies particularly prefer to be aggressive against the Mustang unit throughout the series. In GG, the Homunculi would be using blitzkrieg, which typically involves an aggressive offense in the battlefield. We conjecture this scheme for the Homunculi, the main antagonists, based on what we can infer from the series.

Roy is... a skilled leader and tactician, able to plan and execute schemes several steps ahead of his enemies, and can easily maneuver his subordinates in accordance with his plans.

Basically, they tend to put forward their strongest even in the early stages of a battle, and only use veneers out of field missions — a luxury they can afford since they control the state of Amestris.

Such a strategy, however, usually lends itself to complacence as blitzkriegs are often outmaneuvered because aggressive offensives typically give away the location of their Killers and Sweepers. From there, a skillful player will already be able to identify and defeat the enemy Flag. That said, the Homunculi set out to eliminate Barry the Chopper by sending his real body, which allegedly housed an animal’s soul, to destroy the convict.

That said, as the Homunculi took the bait, Havoc led the charge in defending Barry the Chopper and Falman as they were attacked by Barry’s real body while Riza and Fuery provided them cover far away. This is the point where Roy’s strategies are easily comparable to the aforementioned GG schemes — Clustered Task Forces and Distributed Defense — as Havoc provides the offensives while Riza and Fuery discern their enemies’ positions and provide backup.

Meanwhile, Roy put Second Lieutenant Heymans Breda in charge of the third phase. To maneuver his forces to safety, Roy ordered Breda to arrange Second Lieutenant Maria Ross’s passage to Xing with the help of Ling Yao’s bodyguard Fu. Furthermore, Roy also had Breda meet Edward Elric and Major Alex Armstrong for two reasons: 1) reveal to them the truth of his earlier scheme in Central and 2) remove any potential disruptions for his main flank’s movements.

The first reason enabled Roy’s supporting composites — Breda, Ed, Armstrong, Ross, and Fu — to exchange vital information about their enemies. While the second reason was derided by Ed, it cannot be denied that some of his actions tend to disturb Roy’s plans.

That said, we adapt the third phase of Roy’s plan in GG with the following: 1) arranging the escape of Ross with maneuvering one’s pieces in a defensive position, 2) the info exchange between Ed and the others with a player hypothesizing what the strategy of his opponent is; and 3) removing Ed and Armstrong in Central with considering the strengths and weaknesses each piece brings to the board.

Despite these schemes, however, they were not able to anticipate the strength of the Homunculi. Thus, his main flank, especially Riza and Fuery, were nearly put in danger when the Homunculus Gluttony attacked the two. Moreover, since Roy rushed out in the field to save Riza and Fuery, his identity as the Team’s mastermind/Flag was further confirmed to the enemies.

Moreover, as seen in the succeeding episodes, EPs 19-21, CHs 38-40, his unit’s lead offensive, Havoc, was incapacitated following attacks from the Homunculus Lust. While Lust was eventually annihilated by Roy, another casualty in his team was Barry the Chopper. In the aftermath, Barry was still killed by his real body after the transmutation circle that carried his real soul was destroyed.

Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye in the aftermath of the Homunculus Gluttony’s attack.

However, despite Roy’s mistake to go to the battlefield, which revealed the level of his efforts against the Homunculi, his group was still able to achieve their main objective. As Roy later explained, using Barry the Chopper as bait was meant to discover who in the military was involved in clandestine operations.

As Riza was able to postulate the location of their enemy’s site of operations following the encounter, the group was also able to discern that the Homunculi’s reach extends to the top of the military brass, i.e. King Bradley, the leader of Amestris. From there, despite the team’s casualties, they resolved to plan and maneuver a better scheme, especially since Roy aimed to be the leader of Amestris as well.

All this pertains to Roy Mustang’s ability to strategize effectively using the Art of Deception in his schemes. Thus, his battle strategies can be easily adapted to the gameplay logic of the Game of the Generals.

To summarize, his methods can be paralleled with two common tactics from the game — knowing the capabilities of his team’s composites (Clustered Task Forces) and skillfully maneuvering them in order to identify, isolate, and counteract his opponent’s movements (Distributed Defenses).

In war, all is fair, and such is the Game of the Colonel.