Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors


A common way of balancing play in Video Games is to classify units, attacks, and skills into several distinct classes, with each class having a clear advantage and disadvantage over other classes; in other words, the classes interact with each other like a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. This helps encourage different playstyles by making the effectiveness of a given class slightly context-specific, and encouraging the player to utilize a variety of classes, rather than relying on a single strongest one.

Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors is a common Sub-Trope if the relationship is specifically limited to special skills or magic (with regular skills/attacks classed as Non-Elemental), but the tactical use of Rock-Paper-Scissors relationships can in concept be extended to any aspect of any game.

For example, in strategy games:

  • Ranged units (i.e. Snipers; Tanks; Gunships; Cruisers) defeat fast units
  • Fast units (i.e. Infantry; Jeeps; Fighters; Submarines) defeat siege units
  • Siege units (i.e. Machine Gunners; Artillery; Bombers; Battleships) defeat ranged units

Or in fighting games, beat-em-ups, and hack-n-slashers:

  • Defending blocks attacks
  • Attacking interrupts grappling
  • Grappling cuts through defending

Or in Platformers:

  • Fast/hovering characters excel at horizontal platforming stages
  • High-jump/flying characters excel at vertical platforming stages
  • Strong/heavy characters excel at combat/boss battles

Or in RPGs:

  • Warriors are well armed and well trained fighters who overpower and outlast rogues
  • Mages have powerful distance magic that can kill a warrior before he can get in range
  • Rogues are sneaky and can get the jump on a Mage and kill him before he can fight back

Or in shooters:

  • Handguns beat heavy weapons
  • Heavy weapons beat rifles/snipers
  • Rifles/snipers beat handguns

It is important to note that sometimes Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors can be applied separately to an individual units's offensive and defensive potential, which makes the Meta Game more complicated because the relationships are twofold. For example, tanks may have an advantage against infantry in general, but equipping said infantry units with anti-tank rocketry can level the playing field by creating a Mutual Disadvantage, where both units get an attack boost against each other (especially if the quicker infantry gets to shoot first). Likewise, tanks armed with anti-tank cannons or rocketry won't necessarily have their usual advantage against infantry as would tanks armed with machineguns and flamethrowers, and machinegun-toting tanks will also be at a disadvantage against other tanks with cannons or rockets.

In Strategy games specifically, Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors provides an easy discouragement to the Zerg Rush, as a player building a massive swarm of identical, low-cost and moderately-powerful units (hoping to wipe out enemy forces with sheer numbers alone) may suddenly find themselves annihilated by a small number of unit exploiting their army's common vulnerability.

To a limited extent this can be Truth in Television; there are plenty of examples of, say, medieval heavy cavalry getting skewered by pikemen, who would in turn be meat on the table for a bunch of men with crossbows — who would themselves be easily trampled by said cavalry before they could load their next shot. But the rock-paper-scissors relationship is often much more explicit, and much purer, in games.

Crippling Overspecialisation can sometimes be used to enforce this relation. Related to Situational Damage Attack in that some kind of attack may be more effective to enemies with a certain inferior attribute.


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    Bladed Weapons Triangle 
  • Sword beats Axe
  • Axe beats Spear
  • Spear Beats Sword


    Ranged Weapons Triangle 
  • Direct-attack weapon (such as sword) beats ranged-attack weapon (such as bow)
  • Magic beats direct-attack weapon
  • Ranged-attack weapon beats magic


    Reversed Ranged Weapons Triangle 
Some games reverse the ranged weapons triangle. "Straight" and "reversed" were picked arbitrarily; please don't be offended.


    Other Video Game examples 
  • Very played with in King Arthur The Roleplaying Wargame. Terrain matters very much to the success of all units. Light infantry will beat nearly everything in the hard terrain (forests, shrubland, hills), especially forests, which will give them defensive bonuses while it hurts the effectiveness of everything else and makes them invisible until the enemy is near enough - and if no one goes into the forest, the light infantry still can charge from it while the enemy is near and get a large enough damage bonus which will likely have them win unless very outnumbered. Spearmen are less overtly good in hard terrain, but do well also and gains damage bonuses against enemy cavalry and ignores some armor. Heavy infantry are really slow and are good on soft terrain (plains, roads), but are very durable and has a good chance against anything they get into melee with. Cavalry are fast, will beat archers in melee, fight best on soft terrain, and can charge enemy down if they move past them with enough momentum... but as it damages them as well, making them much less effective against hardier and more armoured enemies or spearmen and it doesn't work against other horsemen. Knights are more damaging and hardier versions of Cavalry, with their higher defense and more damage, but are slower. Archers can attack from a far range, and are considered GameBreakers unless the "Weaken Archers" option is on, but do very poorly in melee and are vunerable to pretty much all damage, making the terrain between them and their enemies to be vital in ensuring their safety. They also can damage their allies if they are too close to their firing target. Crossbowmen are very similar, trading fire rates for anti-armour bonuses, damage, and making friendly fire even more likely with them firing in a line as opposed to an arc to their targets. And then... there's magic. Which can be later powerful enough to make up for any deficiencies in the structure of any of your armies.
  • Soul Nomad & the World Eaters makes use of a Melee > Ranged > Magic > Melee triangle. Other than that, there's also the Range > Flying variant with huge movement advantages given to Flying types by nature. There's also the Special type which is unaffected by normal rules.
  • In Fire Emblem, they call it the Weapon Triangle: Axe beats spear, spear beats sword, sword beats axe. Magic has its own triangle that varies by game; archers are outside of both. However Archers do trump flying units. A few units can actually use more than one weapon, so it's a matter of the right tool for the job. Most games also have specialized weapons that deal effective damage against a class of enemies, such as anti-armor, anti-cavalry and anti-dragon. There are also 'reaver' weapons that reverse the triangle. In Awakening, instead of 'reaver' weapons there are 'superior' weapons. In addition to the normal weapon triangle, each 'superior' weapon has +50 Hit/Avoid against weapons of the same type. In addition, there is also the Magic triangle, which has varying rules in each game.
    • Radiant Dawn makes uses both the triangle of Fire>Wind>Thunder>Fire and the triangle of Light>Dark>Anima>Light. Fire, Wind and Thunder are all three are treated as Anima, so all 3 beat Light, but are equally beaten by Darkness. Meaning we have a triangle in a triangle. Nevermind the fact that most casters have so much resistance to magic that it's usually more practical to just hit them with an axe. Each Laguz tribe is weak to an Anima magic (Mammals weak to fire, Birds weak to wind, Dragons weak to Thunder). Its a wonder why the Laguz don't have their own triangle (but that would mean giving Dragons another weakness). Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn are also the first games to have knives, which exist outside of the triangle. And Radiant Dawn removes Dracoknights weakness to bows and wind magic and gives them a weakness to thunder magic, Pegasus Knights are still weak to bows and wind.
    • Fire Emblem Awakening removes the Magic triangle and reverts Dracoknights to their previous status as being weak to bows and Wind magic.
    • Fire Emblem Fates shakes up the formula a bit. The sword beats axe beats lance beats swords triangle is still in play, but now other weapons get added into the triangle as well, with each weapon in the original triangle getting a sort of counterpart to it: swords and magic beats axes and bows beats lances and concealed weapons (such as knives used by the Ninja class) beats swords and magic. This notably adds an extra layer of strategy to something that was already apparent in previous Fire Emblem games: bows have always been meant to be the bane of the Pegasus Knight class as they do bonus damage to flying units, and while Wind Magic did bonus damage to them too, it wasn't quite as apparent as the high resistance of Pegasus Knights negated it. Since the Pegasus Knight's main weapon is the lance, they get an extra advantage against magic users and have to be doubly afraid of bow users now. The inverse can be said about the Wyvern Rider class, who instead uses axes and therefore increases the risk of fighting against magic users while worrying about bow users even less thanks to both the new triangle and their usually high defense stat.
    • Fire Emblem Heroes simplifies things by grouping all weapons under four colours. Red weapons (sword, red tomes and red breath) beat green weapons (axes, green tomes, green breath), which beats blue weapons (spears, blue tomes and blue breath), which beats red weapons. There are also gray/colourless weapons (bows, daggers and staves) which exist outside the triangle, though there are skills like -raven tomes what deal extra damage against them. Gem weapons and the Triangle Adept skills exaggerate this as they increase damage dealt and decrease damage taken when at weapon advantage and has reverse effect at weapon disadvantage.
  • Halo Wars did this plenty with units. Infantry are cheap Zerg Rushers who can fielded by the dozens, but are wiped out by vehicles who are rarer, more powerful, and durable. Said vehicles are then weak to aircraft, who tend to be weaker but faster with a healthy range of firepower, and then those aircraft are trumped by the infantry.
  • Inverted in the board game "Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage" where battles are resolved by playing cards representing one of four troop manoeuvers: left flanking, right flanking, direct assault, and envelopement. The counter to each is to play the same card. The battle is lost if you cannot play the same card in response.
  • Langrisser mimicks Fire Emblem's triangle with unit types: soldiers beat archers, who beat horsemen, who beat soldiers. Langrisser 2 (Der Langrisser on the SNES) changed it to be even closer by replacing the archers with spearman (soldiers > spearmen > horsemen > soldiers). Archers now have a multiple-square range and dominate fliers, but lose quickly in close-quarters.
  • In the Suikoden series, archery beats magic, magic beats charging, charging beats archery. This also carries over to the one-on-one duels, where a normal attack smacks a defending character, a desperation attack cancels a normal attack, and defense counters a desperation attack. Pretty much regular rock-paper-scissors with different names since you get to choose your type of attack each round.
    • Starting with Suikoden II, the randomosity of tactical battles was turned Up to Eleven, resulting in even archer units being capable of defeating infantry in melee combat. Figuring out what works and what doesn't is less unit type and more luck.
  • EndWar has Transports > Gunships > Tanks > Transports, with Engineers beating vehicles while in cover or buildings, and Riflemen beating Engineers. However, Riflemen will last a respectable amount of time against lighter vehicles while in cover and do even better in a building. The Command Vehicle has a lot of hitpoints but is mostly unarmed and relies on Attack Drones (or New Meat for Russians) for protection. Said escorts only stand any chance against Gunships (and infantry, in Russia's case). Artillery beats everything on the ground - as long as they're too far to return fire, that is. Gunships are particularly good at hunting tanks (can't hit them) and artillery (can't fire back) but against anything that can shoot back, mobility doesn't mean much.
    • In a Reality Is Unrealistic situation, Gunships are actually vulnerable to small arms fire from the ground: garrisoned infantry (even Riflemen) can and will shoot down Gunships that stray in range. This might seem like this trope but is actually Truth in Television.
    • A partial subversion to this trope is that, aside from Command Vehicles, every unit has an ability that can penetrate shields and knock down health directly. This means that even if you bring the good counter to bear against an enemy, you need luck or inattention on the enemy's part to kill them without casualties. Especially noticeable against JSF Engineers who, despite being vulnerable to Riflemen, can cut down whole swaths of them with a well-timed use of the SAW.
  • While Warcraft III uses this basic premise, the actual mechanics suffered a series of complete overhauls from patch to patch, going as far as introducing the "unarmored" armor type and later making some units of this armor type actually have armor for balance purposes.
    • Seeing as Agility increases armor, it can be assumed that anyone "unarmored" with a good armor value is simply an excellent dodger.
    • It wasn't as obvious in Warcraft II, but that's not saying much: Ballista ➞ Cannon Tower ➞ Footman ➞ Ballista. Or Gryphon ➞ Battleship ➞ Destroyer ➞ Gryphon. Or Gryphon ➞ Footman ➞ Archer ➞ Gryphon.
  • Advance Wars has a few of these: for example, Anti-Air ➞ B-Copter ➞ Tank ➞ Anti-Air. Or Cruiser ➞ Submarine ➞ Battleship ➞ Cruiser. The introduction of the Anti-Tank artillery in Advance Wars: Days of Ruin has created another one: Anti-Tank ➞ Tank ➞ Infantry ➞ Anti-Tank.
    • Unfortunately, Mech. spam still beats everything.
      • Though Infantry spam, backed up with a few indirects, tends to beat Mech. spam.
    • Some of this shows up in the commanders themselves. For example, Lash, who does more damage based on terrain bonuses) is countered by Sonja, who reduces enemy terrain bonuses. Andy, who can repair all friendly units on the map for 5 HP, counters basically any enemy with a damage-all-the-units-on-the-map power. Of course, all of this is really a moot point since certain pairings like Hachi/Colin and Kanbei beat basically everyone else down so hard that they're pretty much the right choice in any situation no matter what.
    • Its Spiritual Successor, Battalion Wars, pulls the same thing, just...larger. Infantry is vulnerable to tanks, Assault, and Flame vets, but strong against Bazooka vets. Bazooka vets are strong against Tanks. Light Tanks are vulnerable to Heavy Tanks, which are vulnerable to Gunships, which are vulnerable to Fighters, etc. The series is remarkably good at introducing each leg of the triangle (It's more like an irregular polygon, really) in such a way as to not confuse the player.
      • It also takes the action-oriented gameplay base into account. Most anti-tank or anti-air weapons can kill infantry easily, except they tend to be slower-moving, and troops can easily jump out of the way. Anti-air weapons can hurt ground targets, but have accuracy issues against them. Also, the mighty Battle Fortress is strong against all ground units... except for a Light Tank controlled by the player, who can use it's speed to avoid the Fortress' powerful but slow cannon fire.
  • Warrior Kings has the following: Heavy Infantry (polearm) beats Heavy Cavalry, Light Infantry (ranged foot) beats Heavy Infantry and Light Cavalry, Heavy Cavalry (melee horse) beats Light Infantry, Light Cavalry (ranged horse) beats Heavy Infantry and Heavy Cavalry.
    • There's a bit more to it than that. Light Infantry beats everything other than some specific units, if the light infantry are garrisoned in a fort or if they are firing from a hill, Heavy Cavalry in a wedge can beat weaker Heavy Infantry that aren't in a good formation and amongst Light Infantry - archers rock against human targets and certain demons but do almost nothing against the larger demon types while gunners can do great hurt against any demon other than a Firbolg. Siege weapons rocks against anything that isn't heavy cavalry. Magic trumps everything that isn't protected by One God faith.
  • The Bleach DS videogame The 3rd Phantom has Power, which strikes once for major damage, Speed that attacks usually with 2 hits and Speed that attacks from 3 to 10 times (Flash Step masters, of course) Here, Power➞ Speed➞ Tech➞ Power. Non Com (healers, civilians, etc.) are weak to everything, and Bosses and other powerful enemies have ALL (Powerful) that beats everything. Having the type advantage guarantees a follow-up attack, so Bosses are quite a challenge if you are not careful and just play RPS with everything in your way...
  • World in Conflict's multiplayer revolves around a core dynamic that goes: Helicopters ➞ Tanks ➞ Anti-Air ➞ Helicopters. There's other units that play supporting side roles as well, such as infantry, anti-air helicopters, medium artillery or light tanks. But for the most part a team cannot do without the core combination of heavy tanks, heavy anti-air, and heavy attack helicopters, since you always need one component of your triangle to defeat a part of your enemy's. Also since these core units are limited to the armor, support and air roles respectively, it becomes imperative for players to coordinate with each other for mutual support or risk getting massacred.
  • Impossible Creatures: Artillery > Range > Melee > Artillery.
  • The Final Fantasy XII Real-Time Strategy Gaiden Game Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings uses the melee-ranged-flying triangle, plus Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors... though where espers are involved, the difference between ranks is large enough that, for example, a Rank 1 esper generally isn't strong enough to defeat a Rank 2 esper by itself, even with an elemental advantage in its favor. You have to summon more Rank 1 espers (and Rank 1's can be summoned quickly with little cost) to level the field. This definitely extends to the Rank 3 espers who, despite their high summoning cost, pack enough raw power to bring a world of pain upon anything in their path. Bahamut, for example, is a Rank 3 summon whose attacks have both a wide area of effect and devastating power; his Mega Flare in particular is Non-Elemental and also inflicts Disable, making it very difficult to counter, even with a group of ranged units.
  • Many Napoleonic and American Civil War wargames have an Infantry ➞ Cavalry ➞ Artillery setup. It works roughly like this: Infantry will beat Cavalry; during this era, Cavalry were armed for short range combat, and infantry had bayonets for their muskets/rifles that were effective Anti-Cavalry weapons. Infantry moved slowly and in large formations, making them vulnerable to Artillery fire, particularly canister rounds. Cavalry was faster and could overtake Artillery positions before they got too many shots off. Of course, this ignores factors like terrain and weather, but it's generally sound tactics in most strategy games.
    • Formations also plays a part - infantry at the time had 2 major battle formations - lines and squares. Lines for shooting other infantry, and squares to defend against cavalry.
      • THREE formations, you forgot columns. Say it with me children. "Lines and Columns and Squares". "Oh my!"
      • You also forgot the spread-out "skirmish" formation, used to harrass/delay the eneny advance.
    • The above is nevertheless true enough in broad lines that Bernard Cornwall, author of the Sharpe series of novels, has described Napoleonic warfare as a game of "paper, scissors, stone" (the British English name for the game) in the historical notes of his novels.
  • The online MMORPG Runescape has a 'combat triangle' of ranger (archer or other missile attacks) ➞ mages ➞ melee fighters who defeat rangers, etc.
    • This gets complicated when one considers the Protect prayers and that, more often than not, players versed well enough in at least two forms of combat have defensive strategies for just about any kind of attack. For example, a melee fighter could switch to dragon hide (but only with a ranged level of 40) or robes high in magic defense if he's being attacked by a mage.
    • Because of how pitifully broken it used to be, it was not so much as a "Combat Triangle" as it was a "Combat Squiggly Line". In fact, it went more like this: Melee → Ranger → Mage ← Melee. It is much more balanced in the current version of the game, especially after The Evolution of Combat, which was a huge overhaul of the game's combat mechanics.
  • The RTS War of the Ring has a simple system whereby Piercing > Crushing > Slashing > Piercing, then Hero > everything
  • Age of Mythology had the same Infantry > Cavalry > Archers > Infantry dynamic as its Age of Empires predecessor, but also added Mythological units which were effective against all of the regular units and Heroes which were effective against Myth units and vulnerable to regular units, thus adding a superdynamic of Heroes > Myth > Regular > Heroes.
    • Additionally, naval warfare follows a dynamic of Arrow Ships > Hammer/Ramming Ships > Siege Ships > Arrow Ships.
    • And the less common, but still important, Towers > Infantry > Seige Weapons > Towers.
    • The game does shake things up in several ways, though. For instance, each civilization has certain "counter" units that are effective against their own unit type but (usually) weak to everything else. This is played completely straight with the Greeks (who are, overall, the most generally straightforward civ), and more nuanced in other civs.
      • Example of that nuance: the Norse, an infantry-focused civ, is very vulnerable to archers- except for one of their units, which is specifically resistant to archers. Lacking archers of their own, they make do with a more varied infantry (including throwing axemen, who are good against flyers and infantry), a rather unusual cavalry segment (raiders ruin buildings and are fast, Jarls beat myth units and are effective as normal cavalry), and some of the best seige units in the game. Oh, and, with the right God, their heroes can occasionally summon Myth units out of nowhere.
  • In Homeworld a big, lumbering Heavy Cruiser simply can't hit light, maneuverable fighters unless it gets lucky; however, it has no problem hitting much bigger and slower frigates, which melt under its heavy firepower. Strike Craft eat Capships eat Frigates eat Strike Craft. It may not be an artificial stratification, but the tactical balance still exists.
    • The classification isn't exactly size, though. For example, an Ion Cannon Frigate is also armed only with a powerful but unmaneuverable gun.
      • The Crippling Overspecialization may be justified, since Ion Cannon Frigates are very specifically designed as cheap artillery ships that can damage opponents above their weight class. Adding on extra tonnage in point defense or secondary weapons would undermine the basic mission of the unit, or at least make them more expensive way to fill the role.
    • On the flip side, certain units are designed to reverse the triangle; Missile Destroyers are capital ships that fare poorly against frigates, but absolutely annihilate strike craft.
    • Homeworld 2 brought up this trope in full force. The Bomber < Interceptor < Corvette < Frigate < Destroyer < Battlecruiser < Bomber mechanic is still intact but now the damage inflicted by a correct counter is so high that just a few shots are enough to kill the target, quite unlike the minutes-long slugging matches of the predecessor.
      • At the same time we have Vaygr Lance Fighters (anti-corvette), Vaygr Laser Corvettes (anti-frigate) and Hiigaran Ion Cannon Frigates (anti-capital), every one of which can punch above their weight class. And despite Bombers upgraded with anti-subsystem bombs being a major menace to bigger ships, Battlecruisers are no longer Point Defenseless and can fend off small Bomber attacks on their own.
  • Vandal Hearts has two such cycles; one explicitly stated in the game's help, and one which becomes apparent through play. The one the help tells you about is Fliers > Soldiers > Archers > Fliers. The one which is revealed through gameplay is Armored > Melee > Magic > Armored.
    • The manual explains both.
    • To quote the game: "Sword defeats bow, bow defeats air and air defeats sword. Armour is strong but slow, mages are weak but wise and monks use word and claw." Other than the face that armour and monk are completely useless, it basically explains the entire tactical foundation of the game in two sentences.
  • PVP in World of Warcraft is a lot like this. It's very difficult for a Warrior to beat a Mage of the same level, but he'll cut through a Rogue like butter. That same Rogue can easily take down a Mage in two or three hits, provided he gets the element of surprise (which he usually does).
    • The pet-battle minigame is built around this. Every pet belongs to a family (humanoid, beast, elemental, etc.) which is resistant to attacks from one particular family, and vulnerable to another family. Furthermore, a pet from one family generally has at least one attack that uses a different family (e.g. a "beast" pet might have a single "undead" attack). Strategy relies heavily on exploiting those strengths and weaknesses when picking a pet team.
    • The ships in Warlords of Draenor's shipyard form a four point cycle. Not counting the Transport which delivers troops to Land objectives, the other four ships engage in naval battle thus:
      • Carriers have airplanes that can attack Battleships without coming in range of their guns.
      • Battleships have guns that can penetrate the armor on Destroyers.
      • Destroyers carry depth charges to attack Submarines.
      • Submarines attack from under the water where the Carrier's air support cannot attack.
    • A World of Warcraft video dating from Vanilla-era entitled World of Roguecraft attempted to explain how imbalanced certain classes were in world PvP. One part of the video refutes the idea that PvP is based on Rock-Paper-Scissors by showing how unbalanced the triad was:
    "Rogues are Scissors, Warriors are Rock; Hunters, Paladins, Priests, Druids, Mages, and Shamans are Paper. Warlocks are Mushrooms. Paper beats Rock, Scissors beat Paper. Scissors also happen to beat Rock, until Rock hits 60, at which point Rock becomes an unstoppable killing machine that also beats Paper, and would beat Scissors, but it can't find Scissors, because Scissors are invisible. So Scissors beat Paper and avoid Rock, and that is called 'Balance'."
  • There is a clear explanation of Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors in play in a Valkyria Chronicles trailer with Infantry ➞ Anti-Tank ➞ Tanks ➞ Snipers ➞ Infantry.
  • Some time around SoulCalibur 3, Namco started emphasizing Vertical Attack ➞ Horizontal Attack ➞ 8-Way Run ➞ Vertical Attack. It also seems to have an Attack ➞ Throw ➞ Guard Impact ➞ Attack system.
  • Dead or Alive has an Attack ➞ Throw ➞ Reversal ➞ system.
  • Empire Earth features a complicated system as it covers warfare from the Stone Age to the ultra-tech Nano age. For a large portion of the game it follows the Age of Empires model concerning infantry, calvary, and archers. The World War and Modern periods have a more complicated system which, despite the huge number of units, was at least somewhat intuitive - it was fairly obvious what the Anti-Tank Gun and Helicopter Anti-Tank unit was designed to fight, for example. The future periods became an almost completely arbitrary and unintuitive mess with a model of This Mech > That Mech > This Other Mech, etc. The game came with a poster covered in intricate diagrams charting the complicated RPS-style relationships (each of which had about 8 different units) for all 15 epochs. It was quite literally unreadable.
    • On land, things start easy: archers > swords/blunt weapons > spears > archers. Things start to get complicated when rifle-armed infantry appear and only get worse with the various cannon types and special infantry. In the future epochs, there is generally one anti-infantry mech, one anti-tank mech, one anti-building mech... Generally, if an artillery piece or mech does splash damage, it's an anti-infantry unit; if it doesn't do splash damage but still explodes, it's an anti-tank and anti-mech unit. Also, AP tanks > HE tanks > infantry > AT cannons > AP tanks is a straightforward one... until the two tank types are merged into the Laser tanks of the future epochs.
    • Cavalry uses much the same system as infantry (with sword cavalry, spear cavalry and chariot/horse archers), but it's complicated by arrow cavalry being phased out for gun cavalry, while sword cavalry lasts only one epoch after spear cavalry is made obsolete.
    • In water, battleships > frigates > galleys > battleships is the name of the game early on (although a single galley will do a lot of damage to a battleship, it still loses one-on-one). Later, galleys disappear but for all intents and purposes are supplanted by submarines (exact same strength and counter). A new equation is also introduced: cruisers > Sea Kings > submarines, with cruisers being vulnerable to everything not in the air and Sea Kings being vulnerable to everything not in the water. Aircraft carriers can wreak massive havoc if there aren't any cruisers nearby but die quickly if being shot at. Nuclear submarines are anti-ground artillery but they too die very quickly if shot at. Both of the latter are completely defenseless against submarines.
    • In the air, things remain straightforward: fighters beat everything else in the air (except a Zerg Rush of fighter bombers) but die against surface-based anti-air (which they can't shoot at). Fighter bombers beat ground units, bombers beat everything on the ground (especially so for nuclear bombers); everyone else is situational (AT helicopter for tanks, gunship for infantry, Sea King for submarines).
    • Empire Earth II on the other hand, streamlined the counter system... by assigning each class of units completely arbitrary bonuses. You essentially just had to take the game's word for it that riflemen were effective against light tanks and that heavy artillery could somehow kill a soldier holding a mortar better than a soldier holding a machine gun.
  • A basic concept in Falcom's Vantage Master games. Earth spirits are strong against water spirits, water is strong against fire, fire is strong against heaven (air), and heaven is strong against earth. On the other hand, a particularly powerful spirit can hold its own against a lower-ranking spirit of a 'superior' element.
  • Some players of the flight combat MMORPG Air Rivals argue that the character classes were meant to follow this pattern. However, the advantage is very situational and can be overcome with sufficient player ability. Supposedly: Interceptor ➞ Bomber ➞ Artillery ➞ Interceptor.
  • PvP Works somewhat like this in Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE Online, at least in straight DB v. DB Combat. Melee -> Magic -> Ranged. However, whichever demon you have out plays a big part of this. (Including with Mega Tens classic Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors theme)
    • From a strategic point of view, tightly clustered units beats rushing, Big Boom beats tight clusters, and rushing tends to allow people to escape the Big Boom.
    • In general, both PvP and PvE, there is a complicated triangle that goes like this: counter beats close range, dodge beats long range, block beats area of effect. there are tons of little variations, but the second half is charge beats block, sweep beats counter, close range beats dodge.
  • Jade Empire had this in combat: a fast/normal attack beats a strong attack by interrupting it before it hits; a strong attack beats blocking by smacking through the block; a block stops fast attacks dead for as long as you hold the block.
    • However, it ends up being broken to the point fast attack beats everything. Fast attack beats strong attack. You are usually a bit faster than enemies, so your fast attack also beats their fast attack. Block does not allow you to do damage or move and there is no stamina bar limiting your attacks, so there is no repercussion for just punching an enemy with fast attacks until they drop their block. Anything you can't defeat this way you're better off just dodging anyway.
  • DragonForce had an entire chart showing which unit type beat the other. Soldier/Samurai > Beastman/Monk > Cavalry > Soldier/Samurai was the main one. Archers and Mages were weak to everything, but since they had ranged attacks, everything took casualties from them until they closed to melee. Zombies beat everything except Mages and Monks. Harpies were strong against everything but fell hard to ranged attacks and Dragonmen, and Dragonmen beat everything but Samurai. The fact that samurai were about the only thing strong against Dragonmen meant players would find the dragon generals and convert them in a hurry, while farming the few castles that generate dragon crest items to equip their most important generals with Dragonmen. Samurai generals were kept on hand to decimate enemy dragon forces.
  • The Touhou spinoff PatchCon! Defend the Library! had melee, danmaku, and flight units. Melee units were fast and trumped danmaku, which had range and trumped flight, which was slow but powerful and trumped melee.
    • Also in the fighting games Immaterial and Missing Power, Scarlet Weather Rhapsody and Hisoutensoku, the mechanics goes as this: Graze beats projectiles beats melee beats graze.
  • Depending on the player's skill in build optimisation, Battle Stations mostly follows this. A missile ship will generally beat a ram ship, which will generally beat a tank ship, which will generally beat a cannon ship, which will generally beat a missile ship.
  • Civilization also uses this trope through the various eras in the game. The precise structure changes from game to game and from era to era within each game (hey, when you have a franchise with five games, plus expansions, each of which covers 6,000 years of history...)
  • Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord uses the Melee -> Ranged -> Magic -> Melee triangle. There are also Generic-type units and traps, which, as one might expect, have no notable advantages or disadvantages against any type.
  • Command & Conquer, up to Red Alert 3, at least, has the balance so that Infantry counters Rocket Soldier counters Tank and Plane, which counter Anti-Air and Anti-Ground, respectively, and Anti-Ground counters Infantry. Ok, so that's a bit convoluted, but you get the idea. Taken Up to Eleven with Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight. Anti-infantry/anti-tank/ant-air damage system was replaced by different damage types (laser, gun, splash). Units weak against particular types will be pulverized in blink of an eye. But any not responding unit will be ridiciously resilient. Also, this kind of rock-paper-scissors completely replaced anti-air mechanics. Thus, EVERY unit can fire at aircraft. Even MOLOTOVS TOSSING RIOTERS. Yep.
    • More like: Guns beat infantry, explosives beat vehicles. Other weapons varied depending on the game. Flamethrowers were usually good against infantry and buildings, Tiberium hurt infantry but generally didn't affect vehicles too much, Lasers and Electricity usually fried everything, but were generally so slow-firing that they were better against vehicles than groups of infantry, and so on.
    • A Naval example: Battleship is stronger than Destroyer. Submarine defeats Battleship, which has no anti-sub defenses. Destroyer has depth charges, and so beats Submarine.
    • The other rare occasions are weapons that don't exactly fall into either bullets or explosions. For example in Red Alert 2, Prism Tanks were effective against non-buildings (effective, hitting units causes splash damage) and Mirage Tanks' concentrated fire basically makes short work of anything.
      • The trope comes into full effect in Tiberium Alliances, where every unit is strong against either infantry, vehicles, buildings or aircraft.
  • Cartoon Network had a Mobile Suit Gundam Wing-themed flash game that used a system like this. sword -> gun -> laser -> sword, as I recall. Fun game too.
  • Battle Isle. Tanks beat air defence, air defence beats copter squads, copter squads beats tanks (because the tanks have no aerial attack).
  • Bungie's Myth games: dwarves (and other weak short range explosives) beat warriors (melee), warriors beat archers, archers beat dwarves. The gameplay encouraged close formations of dwarves in front, archers behind to shoot over their heads, and warriors behind them both to rush in when things get hairy.
  • Rise of Nations has a complex series of interlocking tactical wheels, depending on the age ten different types of ground units, five different types of sea units, four different types of air units, combat buildings, supply, and generalship all have defined x-beats-y interactions.
  • Team Fortress 2, a First-Person Shooter, does this with character classes in two cycles.
    • The explosives of the Demoman are very effective against the Engineer's buildings, with a Demo able to arc or bounce grenades to a sentry whilst staying out of sight. The Engineer's sentry gun provides very effective area denial against the Scout, who normally relies on being hard to hit. Finally, the Scout's speed makes him hard to hit for the Demoman, who only has projectile weapons and can hurt himself at close quarters, where Scout excels.
    • The Sniper has an easy target in the big, slow Heavy, who in turn is very ineffective at long range. However, the Heavy's close-quarter prowess and high health allow him to make short work of any Pyros and not even worry about being on fire. That same fire makes an excellent way to check for Spies, as a single puff of flame tells the Pyro whether a teammate is actually a Spy in disguise. Finally, a cloaked Spy can easy pass through a Sniper's line of sight undetected, and the latter's immobility and narrow sight makes him an easy target for a backstab.
    • A pair secondary cycle is formed between the Spy, the Engineer, and the Pyro, and the Heavy, Demoman, and Scout. The Pyro counters the Spy, as above, the Engineer's sentry renders the short-range Pyro helpless, and the Spy's disguises fool the sentry, his sapper shuts it down, and he can easily backstab the Engineer, given how focused he is on his building. Scout counters Demo as above, the Demo's ability to spam large amounts of explosives lets him chew through the heavy where other classes wound run dry or be out-gunned, and the heavy's constant spray of hitscan bullets lets him kill the scout the easiest of all the combat classes.
    • The Medic and the Soldier are left out of these cycles by design: one assists his teammates, while the other can do reasonably well in any situation. Of course, with the many different weapons, even they can fall into this: a Medic with the Blutsauger is notoriously effective against Pyros, while a Soldier who didn't equip a shotgun can expect to have all his attacks sent back at him by that same Pyro.
  • Battle Realms really plays with this one. There are seven kinds of attack (slashing, blunt, piercing, crushing, fire, explosive and magic) and all units have their own degree of resistance (weak, normal or vulnerable) to each of the damage types. Thus, every unit in the game has some kind of counter through attacking it with the right unit — buildings and undead like the Necromancer fall quickly to Kill It with Fire, while heavily armored Dragon clan samurai and Wolf clan berserkers are best dealt with with magic attacks.
  • The Fort Condor minigame in Final Fantasy VII features differing soldier types have a rock-paper-scissors relationship to each other, giving and taking double or half the normal damage on a different type of unit:
    • Fast units (Attacker, Wyvern) defeat heavy units.
    • Heavy units (Defender, Beast) defeat ranged-attack units.
    • Ranged-attack units (Shooter, Barbarian) defeat fast units.
    • Exceptions include the "Fighter" (who has modest effectiveness all around) and stationary defenses, which have the highest raw attack power overall but are balanced by having a fixed attack range.
  • Dawn of War instead based it on weapons more than general unit types. Missiles and Lascannons beat Vehicles, Heavy Bolters/Big Shootas/Death Spinners/Burst Cannons killed infantry, Plasma killed Heavy Infantry, and so on. How effective a given unit was against enemy types depended on what weapon(s) it (and it's target) was armed with. This allowed the game to at least partially subvert both this and Crippling Overspecialization, as while a squad of infantry armed with missile launchers could face a Lascannon-bearing tank in battle, the fact that the tank could be armed with secondary Heavy Bolters meant that victory was by no means certain.
    • The game also usually had a similar hierarchy when it came to close combat involving certain units: Hero Unit > Demon > Walker > Hero Unit. All of which tended to make short work of Infantry in close combat.
    • The sequel had certain units armed with certain weapons that were good against certain units' armour types with abilities to flavour things up. However, these were not always clear, requiring players to look into external information sources and the Metagame to better understand what's good against what. The general pattern is not entirely clear, though suppression can make infantry nearly useless, ranged damage is always better than melee damage when out of melee range, artillery units beat anything that's foolish enough to stay in their range, deployed anti-vehicle counters force vehicles to retreat or be destroyed swiftly, and melee beats ranged infantry when in melee and do more damage against retreating units. The abilities of units really make things mixed up, with their uses and effectiveness against units varying. And the upgrades.
    • The upgrades - especially the interchangeable wargear in campaign mode - is really just putting a more complex spin on the same basic principals. Realize the enemy you're facing: if it's swarms and swarms of weak Tyranids or Guardsmen, equip rapid-fire and area-of-effect weapons, and bring as many flamers as possible; if you're going against heavy armor/daemons/monsters, pack the lascannon/missiles/power weapons and bolster them with melee support; if it's Space/Chaos Marines, focus on weapons that are effective more against Heavy Infantry, etc. Also partially subverted: if a lascannon, plasma cannon, or similar tank-buster shoots an infantry unit, even some that have heavy armor, that unit will die... And then all his buddies will shoot/chop you to pieces while reloading.
  • In Sacrifice, melee units have more health and speed than ranged units but only deal 10% melee damage to flyers, which ranged units deal full damage to. Ranged units, meanwhile, can't shoot while they're being pummeled in melee. This intuitively seems like Melee > Ranged > Flying > Melee but in practice Sacrifice has so many and varied units, and variations in types of missile, that it becomes more a matter of specific army makeup than a hard-and-fast rule. For example, the warmonger is a Pyro ranged unit specifically tailored to counter melee by having a very short-ranged but powerful machine gun, but is very big and slow and will get shot to pieces by artillery and snipers.
  • Dokapon Kingdom has this as the basis of their Combat System. Too bad Field Magic is overpowered, and that The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard (blatantly).
  • The Battlefield series places some emphasis on Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors, with varying degree of success.
    • In BF2, the concept is so sloppily implemented that helicopters and fighter jets lay waste to everything, including the stationary and mobile AA that was their designated counter. There's a reason infantry-only servers became so popular.
    • In general, the series' combat is based around tools' general effectiveness (some weapons are more effective at certain ranges) against infantry, and ground vehicles, at certain ranges. Other options may provide uselessness to other things aside from killing stuff and getting points. Air vehicles were generally able to beat their non-air adversaries easily (though there are occasionally some options against them), with strategically placed anti-air guns on the map allowed them to be chewed up if they strayed too close.
  • In the Koihime†Musou Visual Novels, Calvary > Archers > Infantry > Calvary.
  • Infinite Space has this to a degree with the Normal, Barrage, and Dodge commands. A Barrage attack is three times stronger than a Normal attack, but will complete whiff if the opponent is dodging. However the Normal attack actually becomes more accurate if used on a dodging opponent.
  • A few rock-paper-scissors relationships exist between units in Starcraft II. For example, Zerg Mutalisks are a strong counter to roaches; roaches are a strong counter to hydralisks; and hydralisks are a strong counter to mutalisks. Starcraft II also has challenge missions designed to teach players which work best against others.
    • In general though, both Starcraft and its sequel go for a more subtle and complex type of advantage system. There is rarely a simple triangle, and many advantages can be overcome through use of micro, mobility, terrain, or sheer numbers. For example, while the Thor is supposed to counter mutalisks, the mutalisks are far faster and can fly so they can still be used to attack undefended areas and run away before the thors arrive. Siege tanks have powerful attacks and splash damage, so they are usually good against swarms of weaker units, but if just a few of those units make it inside some of the tanks' minimum range, those tanks will be unable to damage their attackers and also likely to take friendly fire damage from the surrounding tanks.
  • It’s not explicitly stated, but the turn-based space-strategy game Stars! has the missile/chaff/beam weapon circle. Missiles do less damage than beam weapons but have a far longer range, so a missile ship can usually get a few shots in and destroy a beamer ship before it can get into range and bring its superior firepower to bear. However, each individual missile can only hit one ship per round, so it is possible to build hordes of tiny, cheap chaff ships whose sole purpose is to suck up one missile each and die. So you get capital ship killing missiles capable of hundreds of points of damage being used up to kill chaff with 20 hit points each while the beam weapon ship the chaff is protecting is able to close the gap. However beam weapons can shoot multiple targets a round and can chew up chaff like nothing, so chaff is a waste of resources against them. The result: Missile Ships > Beamer Ships > Beamer Ship + Chaff > Missile Ships. The endgame can easily turn into a “Redesign War”.
  • In Total War games, some soldier types are more effective against others. For instance, archers are good against heavy infantry, because they'll shoot from afar and automatically run away when the enemy gets close, and they can outrun heavy infantry (being lightly armored). But cavalry are good against archers, because the archers get only a few shots in before they have to switch to melee weapons (which they do have, but usually only weak ones, and not much armor). And so on.
    • Justified to some extent in that they usually don't get any bonus stats by fighting specific units, it's just the way they interact. The only exception is the "effective against armour" trait that certain missile units and axe-wielding infantry have.
    • However, this trope completely dominates TW multiplayer. There are strict rules as to which factions you should use to defeat certain other factions, based on their selection of units and those units' particular strengths. The particulars of this go somewhat beyond a simple rock-paper-scissors scheme, but the effect is the same - only a certain army selection using a certain deployment and certain tactics will guarantee victory against an experienced player using a given faction.
    • Beginning in Empire: Total War, the Agent units started to have a clearer Rock-Paper-Scissors relationship. Diplomatic units (Gentleman/Scholar, Metsuke) have a bonus against Subterfuge units (Rake, Ninja/Geisha), who have a bonus against Religious units (Missionary, Monk), who have a bonus against Diplomatic units. This isn't quite cut and dried as a very strong Ninja can assassinate a weak Metsuke, for example.
      • Starting with Empire: Total War and continuing in Napoleon: Total War, the creators boast that they are revamping the traditional Rock-Paper-Scissors relationship. Line infantry is now the mainstray of your forces with cavalry relegated to support and anti-artillery. Line infantry is a mix of ranged, melee, and spear units from previous games. Instead, the formation of your line infantry is likely to determine its success. Your line is being charged by cavalry? Form a stationary square that utterly obliterates any cavalry (some horses will throw off their riders rather than charge a wall of braced bayonets), but risk the enemy infantry charging the square or, better yet, the square becoming the target of enemy artillery. Other types of infantry exist, such as grenadiers (can slaughter large clusters of enemy units but have to get close) and light infantry (have long-range rifles for picking off the enemy from afar but don't have the firepower to match a line).
    • Total War: Shogun 2 has spear units that counter cavalry, but cavalry come in many varieties, and don't always win against archers (especially if they are samurai archers, or on good terrain), and while there are three main melee weapons, they don't function like this (Spears beat cavalry, Katana beat infantry, Naginata are a hybrid between the two with good survivability). Where this trope comes into play, is with the caste of the units: ashigaru have strength in numbers, Samurai have strength in armor, and Warrior Monk units have strength in damage output. So it goes like Mighty Glacier > Zerg Rush > Glass Cannon > Mighty Glacier.
    • Total War: Shogun 2 features a mild version of this trope that can be situational, due to terrain, fortifications, and so forth. Combined arms is always the best way to win, but in general cavalry > katana > naginata > yari (spear) > cavalry. Archery and musket units do not fall into the rock-paper-scissors since they cannot beat anyone in hand-to-hand but if supported can do outstanding damage and guarantee the victory of allied melee tropes when the lines close. Artillery units are like ranged units when used in the field.
    • The above chain is somewhat of a stretch; naginata are more of a Jack-of-All-Stats Mighty Glacier, and cavalry are specialized for striking otherwise occupied units (yari cavalry and light cavalry are the Fragile Speedster who aren't good against anything in a prolonged brawl, and low numbers means even katana cavalry can be isolated and surrounded by archers). Where this trope does fit clearly, is in the three castes of fighters: the samurai armor beats the Cannon Fodder ashigaru's weak attack, the Warrior Monk's strong attack counters Samurai armor, and an ashigaru unit's raw numbers defeat unarmored and rare Warrior Monk units.
    • In Fall of the Samurai, set about 1870, artillery is king but cavalry beats artillery if the cavalry can charge, modern beats traditional if the terrain is open enough to bring the guns to bear, and infantry > cavalry > artillery > infantry. However, massed artillery which is supported wins hands down over the others due to its ability cover nearly the entire battlefield and sweep away the enemy army before it can form up. The support units just keep the enemy from sending cavalry to ride down the big guns before the shells have finished off the enemy line.
  • To some extent in Company of Heroes: in general, it's Infantry > Anti-tank gun > Armored vehicles > infantry. But there are a dizzying variety of exceptions - Panzershreck-wielding Tank Busters, sticky bombs thrown by Riflemen, emplaced MGs that will shred infantry and can activate armor-piercing bullets - and that's not even including elements like artillery, cover, or flanking, all of which are implemented. In short, there's no single game-winning combination that won't cost an impractically high amount of resources; balance is maintained through the different costs and usages of the units rather than a strict rock-paper-scissors dynamic.
    • They may not actually be any tactical rock-paper-scissors even without upgrades. The basic rifleman will have a tough time against MG emplacements and if strategically placed, an AT gun or two will murder units (it's still firing an explosive shell). Tanks, despite usually requiring infantry support in real life, can hold its own against anything other than a tank or an AT gun because infantry can't do creative things like hop up and drop a grenade in. Basically, you can't really use the typical tactical rock-paper-scissors mindset in this game.
      • If you think infantry can't kill tanks, you've never faced Ranger or Panzergrenadier spam. Even a Tiger II is meat against 3-4 squads of Rangers.
  • Star Wars: Rebellion divides starships into starfighters and capital ships. Even starfighters with hyperdrive need a capital ship base when they go on the offense; they can retreat on their own, however. But more relevant is that some fighters specialize in dealing with fighters (A-wing, TIE Interceptor), some specialize in dealing with capital ships (B-wing, Y-wing, TIE Bomber), and some are the Jack-of-All-Stats (X-wing, TIE Defender). One, the TIE Fighter, is completely useless. Capital ships also specialize in dealing with fighters, dealing with capital ships, or transporting fighters or troops. And this overspecialization ultimately results in the Death Star, which can wipe out capital ships easily but is defenseless against fighters (except the A-wing).
  • The three ancients in Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem go in a Rock Paper Scissors pattern: Chattur'gha beats Xel'lotath, Xel'lotath beats Ulyaoth, and Ulyaoth beats Chattur'gha. The fourth ancient, Mantorok, is manipulating events so that the three end up destroying each other.
  • Gladius has three classes of gladiator, heavy, medium and light. Heavy gladiators crush medium gladiators who squash light gladiators who run rings around heavy gladiators. You do less damage and take more from the weight class you are weak against while doing more and taking less from the one you are strong against. A skilled player can sometimes overcome the disadvantage through careful use of skills, facing and height.
  • The battles in Jump Super Stars and its sequel run on this. The playable and supporting characters are all divided in three categories: 力 (chikara, strength - usually fighting manga protagonists), 知 (chi, knowledge - mostly reserved for mentors and/or Lancers) and 笑 (warai, laugh - which are characters from gag manga, or Idiot Heroes). By the system, strong beats smart, smart beats funny and funny beats strong. Doesn't mean you can't beat other characters with a "bad" combination, but following the Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors here will net you a quicker and easier win.
  • Yggdra Union has a complex, multilayered example. At it's base, you have the classic swords beat axes beat lances beat swords. Collectively, these three shock weapons beat bows, bows beat magic, and magic beats shock weapons. In addition, you have "lump" weapons (used by summoned creatures) that are weak against magic and neutral to everything else; Scythes (used by the Big Bad and his Elite Mooks) that trump shock weapons and are neutral to everything else; and the "book" weapon type which trumps other magic.
    • Blaze Union added a character that attacks with a koto, and Gloria Union replaced bows with guns, which have the same properties. The koto is neutral to everything.
  • Half-Minute Hero has a mode called EvilLord 30 which uses a monster summoning system based on this, Nimbles beat Shooters, Shooters beat Brawlers and Brawlers beat Nimbles. It is made kinda redundant by the end though when Brawlers destroy everything if you hide in a corner near a Goddess Shop.
  • Warhammer Online tried to do this; heavy tanks weather the storm of ranged DPS to crush their faces, ranged DPS obliterates lightly armored melee DPS, melee DPS have enough tricks to knock out the tanks or at least murder the support keeping the tank alive. Support units themselves work differently depending on race, but usually get yelled at to heal, heal and heal some more even if they're supposed to be a "balanced" or buff/debuff specialist. This can work out in some smaller scenarios, but the massive end-game PVP RVR battles the game was touted to be all about usually boil down to "Right, who can lay down the most AOE damage the fastest?"
  • Spellbound Kingdoms combat system is focused on responsive tactics. A combatant switches between different moves of the style, while styles themselves are built for specific advantages — Guardsman is good at shielding himself and another, while Swashbuckler has mobility and morale based tactics. As such,
    "not all styles are meant to be balanced against each other individually. Rather, the game as a whole is balanced. Some styles should consistently kick certain other styles from here to the Kingdoms and back!"
  • Age of Wonders has several sets; in Shadow Magic, the simplest for human troops is: Halberdiers < Swordsmen < Cavalry < Halberdiers. Because the former is the weakest by stats, but Polearm gives bonus vs. cavalry and fliers, First Strike means even near-dead units can't be mopped up with impunity and due to cost rate 1:1.5:3.5 for equal gold there's too many of them to answer all attacks.
  • Advanced Strategic Command has a lot of units good against specific other types, such as Anti-Air units being weak against sea- or land-based units, and most of them are fodder for aviation. The simplest and cheapest rock-paper-scissors cycle is Assault Trooper < Sniper (hits infantry from afar hard and without retaliation) < Light Tank < Assault Trooper (anti-tank rocket).
  • Knights Of The Crystal's Arena features a 3-on-3, and this is implemented: Weapon-based jobs beat Magic-based jobs, Magic-based jobs beat Bare Hand-based jobs, and Bare Hand-based jobs beat Weapon-based jobs. Any subversion of this combat triangle may apply, though; if the job level is high enough, arena ability(ies) are activated, or both.
  • In Red Alert 3: Paradox, surface units are primarily divided three ways; infantry, light vehicles, and heavy armour, countered by small arms, light ordinance, and anti-tank weapons respectively. Each is also soft-countered by the weapons a grade above and below it; so light armour gets the short end of the stick as guns and cannons still hurt it relatively well, and autocannons are very flexible, though their soft counter damage is reduced. Further complicating matters, however, is a second set of softer counters devoted to air units, and specialty counter cycles for structures, urban garrisons, defensive turrets, and units with unusual properties, plus weapons that cut across counter lines. Then, it gets really complicated, with units that mezz, buff, debuff, and otherwise play with the counter cycle.
    • Special note must be made of the Bhor Waveform Device, an allied unit that flips counters around, turning tank armour to infantry and vis versa, throwing off attempts to counter or making enemy units easy targets.
  • Cosmic Break has a rock-paper-scissors system with its Air, Land, and Artillery units and the weapons they specialize in: Air units are best at using beam weapons against Land units, while Land units specialize in melee weapons which Artillery units are weak against, and Artillery units' long-range missile weapons can easily swat Air units out of the sky.
  • Battlestar Galactica Online: Strikes, with their mobility, can nibble Lines to death. Escorts are intended to defend against them, but their size makes them prey for Lines. Carriers don't really fit.
  • Jade Cocoon 2 overlaps this with Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors. Fire monsters have strong attacks that can kill water monsters quickly, but struggle against earth types with good defence. Earth monsters have stat boosting abilities and a focus on defence, letting them stand up to fire types, but are vulnerable to special attacks. Wind monsters have enemy weakening attacks that counteract earth, but water minions typically have resistances to them. Water monsters can heal their allies and resist special attacks by wind monsters, but lack the defence needed to withstand fire.
  • SD Gundam Capsule Fighter doesn't even hide this, outright labeling everything as Rock (melee), Paper (general purpose), and Scissors (ranged). A few units have special skills designed specifically to break the paradigm by increasing their defense against their respective weakness (Rocks vs. long-range weapons, Papers vs. mid-range weapons, Scissors vs. melee attacks). This has been nulled, though, with the advent of the Generation Six update and the removal of this system.
  • The Ancient Art Of War employed this with the three unit types:
    • Archers defeat Knights because the Knights move slowly enough to get picked off
    • Barbarians defeat Archers because they move in quickly and take out the Archers
    • Knights defeat Barbarians because the Knights can chop off Barbarian heads before they can close
  • In Star Wars: Empire At War, this applies both in space and on land. In space, Fighters -> Bombers -> Capital Ships -> Light Cruiser-> Fighters. On land Infantry -> Missile troops -> Vehicles -> Infantry, with some vehicles also being more effective against other vehicles.
  • Marvel: Avengers Alliance has five classes in this circle (Blaster -> Bruiser -> Scrapper -> Infiltrator -> Tactician -> Blaster) and a sixth 'Generalist' class which is neither strong nor weak against any class.
  • This is a large part of Kabam games on Facebook, like Dragons Of Atlantis and Kingdoms Of Camelot. You must scout and find out what your enemy has and send out troops accordingly to succeed in a hit. Mounted troops, for example, are weak to Pikemen. Swordsmen are strong against horses. And it's not only their troops you have to plan for, but their wall defenses. Siege weapons are weak against Trebuchets. Militiamen are sent first to take out traps. Heavy cavalry and cavalry will die if there are spikes or caltrops present. And now KOC has the added element of the Throne Room, which gives boosts to certain troops.
  • In Marvel: Contest of Champions, characters are assigned to one of six classes based on the source of their power (the X-Men are almost all Mutant class, Spider-Man is a Science class Champion due to receiving his powers from a Freak Lab Accident, etc.) Characters with a class advantage get a slight bonus to health and attack power in battle, while characters with a class disadvantage get slight penalties to those stats. Mutant (any of the X-Men) -> Science (Spider-Man) -> Mystic (Scarlet Witch) -> Cosmic (Thor) -> Skill (The Punisher) -> Tech (Iron Man) -> Mutant.
  • The Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable fighting games follow an Attack -> Throw -> Counter -> Attack system when characters fight in melee range.
  • Fate/EXTRA has Attack, Guard, and Break. Attack is a fast, light attack that pokes holes in someone making a heavy Break attack, Guard blocks Attacks and allows a counter, but Break can smash through Guard. Servants also have Skills which disrupt any part of the whole cycle, though Guarding at least reduces damage from attack Skills. Most of the game centers around getting information on enemy Servants so you can predict and counter their attack patterns.
  • Fate/Grand Order has two distinct triangles among its classes: Saber > Lancer > Archer > Saber, and Rider > Caster > Assassin > Rider. Among the remaining classes, Avengers beat Rulers, Berserkers are offensively strong against and defensively weak against all others, and Rulers are defensively strong but offensively neutral against everything but Avengers and Berserkers. The special Shielder servant exists outside this system and is completely unaffected by class matchups.
  • Wizard101 has this for the elemental schools, storm wizards specialty is a powerful single strike attacks that can quickly kill an undefended opponent, ice wizards have a natural defense to all spells, the highest health, and the ability to create shields that reduce damage of a single strike by half allowing them to whittle away at the naturally low health of storm, fire specializes in the use of damage over time which enable them to get around ice's shields but it's susceptible to storm since storm can kill them before the fire's attacks to fully affect them.
  • Mega Man Battle Network 4, 5, and 6 extend the Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors to 4 new "tactical elements" Cursor > Breaker > Sword > Wind > Cursor. With +/-, Healing, and Obstacle types that are totally neutral to both weakness cycles.
  • The first X-Men Legends game has three damage types: Physical, Energy and Mental. This applied to most enemy types and to the X-Men you could use. Enemies that dealt Physical damage were bruisers, enemies that dealt energy damage were usually long-range attackers, and enemies that dealt Mental damage were support that would revive fallen enemies. Mechanical enemies like Sentinels were resistant to Mental damage, making characters like Jean Grey less than useful near the final levels of the game.
    • Physical: Wolverine, Beast, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Colossus.
    • Energy: Cyclops, Storm, Iceman, Gambit, Jubilee, Magma.
    • Mental: Jean Grey, Emma Frost, Psylocke, Professor X.
      • The second game would go on to introduce Elemental and Radiation damage. Radiation was essentially standard-fare RPG poison.
  • The Prince of Persia series features enemies that will always counter certain moves. Rather than just having the attack blocked, you always take damage for attempting it against that opponent, usually getting knocked down as well.
  • Both Ground Control games feature this, along with special emphasis on aerial units. The first game includes bombers, capable of demolishing a whole enemy base in around 15 seconds. Problem is, every anti-air unit here is insanely powerful, with one side having guided missiles and the other having quad machine gun vehicles in squads of four. Basically, you need to get into the base and take out those defences to allow aerodynes, which are already pointless by then. The sequel tones it down; aerial units can hurt infantry either lightly or not at all, they got rebalanced armor, and they are generally more like normal speedy tanks than the powerful fragile speeders they used to be. The rest of the units play this trope straight, except for the ability to flank and produce suppresive fire, which effectively means that even basic infantry can defeat the heaviest tank, if one plans carefully.
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, a side quest in the post-endgame zone the Sea involves battling Mer-kin gladiators. You can find three different Mer-kin weapons to use, each of which lets you learn three special attacks with that weapon which will counter the special moves of one of the types of gladiators you might encounter (the Mer-kin dodgeball is used to counter the Mer-kin bladeswitcher, the Mer-kin switchblade is used to counter the Mer-kin netdragger, and the Mer-kin dragnet is used to counter the Mer-kin balldodger).
  • In Armored Core V, there are three defense types, with corresponding weapons that inflict said damage types: KE (Kinetic Energy, basically bullets and the force from fragmentation explosive), CE (Chemical Energy, direct contact explosives), and TE (Thermal Energy, basically energy weapons such as lasers, plasma, and whatnot). Attacking an AC with the damage it is strong against, and the damage is "plinked", meaning it will deal very little damage. This is accompanied by a flashing message on your HUD that says "Ineffective", a certain impact sound. On the other hand, attacking said AC with something it is weak against is the easiest to deal massive damage. Likewise, each frame part of an AC (head, core, arms, legs) has a high rating for a certain defense type, and a much lower rating for the other two defense types. This makes it impossible to build an AC that has high overall ratings in all 3 defense types, and so you can only build an AC that has high ratings in only 2 defense types. Each AC can focus heavily on one defense with a secondary defense of sorts, and can carry up to 5 weapons. While carrying a weapon that fits every damage profile is an option, most go for the equipment that lets them maximize damage for 2 damage profiles (eg, 3 KE weapons and 2 TE weapons, say). This being an online squad-based game, most players rely on other teammates to cover for their shortcomings, making matches, especially one-on-one matches, heavily reliant on having the correct "hand".
    • In V's sequel, Verdict Day, this is heartily subverted as ineffective "plink" damage is increased, and weapons such as gatling guns and shotguns are very much viable to deal death via a thousand bullets. Furthermore, there is a certain attack value where even effective damage does not deal its full potential, making the rock-paper-scissors aspect much less pronounced. This has been double subverted and triple subverted due to successive patches. One can only wait until FROM concludes their "patch month" if the this trope will take place again.
  • Desert Moon: Flamethrowers/Imploders are effective against Hunter and Infected enemies by being able to do huge damage at close range note . Nail Gunners and Flare Gunners can't hit the burrowing Hunter at range or deal enough damage to the slow, durable, Zerg Rush of Infected, but they can beat the fast but weak Bursters. Bursters can easily kill Flamethrowers and Imploders as they're fast, not repelled by Flamethrower fire, can get past the Inmploder's slow fire rate and explode on death/contact and kill anything nearby.
  • In League of Legends, ranged carries (ADC, marksmen, usually start bottom lane) typically deal with tanks, assassins and mages (typically mid lane) burst down carries with a single skill rotation, while tanks (top lane) can easily survive several skill rotations from assassins and deal enough damage to kill them if it comes to 1v1 fight.
  • Dungeon Keeper 2 has four creature types; flankers, support, blitzers and blockers:
    • Flankers are weak individually, but if deployed in groups will use Zerg Rush tactics to surround enemies. They overwhelm blockers with minimal casualties but are whittled down by support.
    • Support creatures are Glass Cannons with ranged attacks. They can kill flankers without being threatened but tend to die quickly if the enemy deploys blitzers.
    • Blitzers use their speed and spells to charge through enemy ranks. Their AI will make them target enemy support creatures first, then turn around and attack the rest of the enemies from behind. Blockers can stop their charge.
    • Blockers are Mighty Glaciers who will choose one position prevent the enemy from getting past it. They can stop blitzer charges, but they tend to have slow attack speed and can't fight off flankers by themselves.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the sumo minigame is an example. Grappling is avoided by dodging, which is punished by striking, which is countered by grappling.
  • The Halloween Hack: PSI Flash (Whiteshock) works on undead, Hypnosis (Sleepstun) works on living enemies, and Paralysis (Timestop) works on dead enemies.
  • Warrior's Way from StreetPass Mii Plaza has a quite literal example, in that your three types of units are labelled with rock-paper-scissors symbols, as a reminder on what beats what: Cavalry (Rock) beats Archers (Scissors) beats Infantry (Paper) beats Cavalry.
  • Very important tetragonal scheme in The Battle for Middle-Earth, especially in sequel. Cavalry charges through archers, archers excel against normal infantry (with swords, axes etc.) and normal infantry crushes pikemen - which, of course, impale the cavalry easily.
  • If you factor out the units using special abilities, then GrimGrimoire has Alchemical over Glamour, Glamour over Necromany, Necromancy over Sorcery, and Sorcery over Alchemical. Units with the advantage take less damage and inflict more against vulnerable enemies.
  • Downplayed in Mount & Blade, with scheme similar to that from BFME 2. Cavalry ➞ archers ➞ light infantry (without big shields) ➞ pikemen ➞ cavalry. Terrain is extremely important, as cavalry in open plains is strong against everything, while mountains make it useless. Some kinds of archers can effectively defend against cavalry charges, some kinds of light and offensive footmen have shields and skills good enough to protect them against the arrows etc.
  • Rather downplayed in World of Warships. Destroyers mostly rely on their torpedoes which are great against slow and heavy battleships but not so good against more versatile cruisers. Cruisers with their fast guns hunt destroyers quite nice, but aren't very effective against powerful armor of battleships. Battleships' slow, powerful guns work great against cruisers, but destroyers can avoid their rounds. Aircraft carriers are extraordinary support, working somewhere beyond that scheme.
  • Certain heroes in Overwatch are meant as counters for each other. For example, Bastion is able to transform into a turret with a Gatling Gun, giving it ridiculous damage output at the cost of mobility. Genji has the Deflect ability, allowing him to send any projectile attacks (bullets, missiles, Energy Ball, etc) back at the shooter, while D.Va can Shoot the Bullet, stopping any projectile that enters the area of her Defense Matrix. Either character will negate the threat of Bastion's dakka, while having their own counters (Genji is a Fragile Speedster who cannot Deflect beam weapons, while D.Va is a Close Range Combatant vulnerable to snipers.)
  • Renowned Explorers has three forms of attack and associated "moods." Aggressive gets a bonus against Friendly, Friendly gets a bonus against Devious, and Devious gets a bonus against Aggressive.

    Other Media 
  • In Babe Ruth: Man-Tank Gladiator man-tanks come in three styles: Heavy, the largest, strongest, and slowest style; Agile, the fastest and most nimble; and Long-reach, with extending tentacles capable of reaching a good distance. The Heavy could withstand the most of the Agile's attack and lay it out easily if it hit. The Agile could dodge the Long-Reach's attack and slip in close enough to hit it almost unchecked. And lastly, the Long-Reach could easily attack the Heavy from a distance, leaving it unable to hit back.
  • In Keijo!!!!!!!!, the players are divided into three categories - infighters, outfighters, and counters. Infighters overpower outfighters in direct combat, outfighters outspeed counters, and counters turn the infighters' strength against them.
  • Nerf NOW!! illustrates the necessity to have at least two of the three components.
  • Game Theorist/Designer David Sirlin notes that to have a tactically engaging game, at minimum: P1 has a Move M, P2 has a Counter C1, P1 has a counter to C1 C2, P2 has a Counter to C2 C3, P1 Counters C3 with M. RPS is just about the simplest implementation of this rule as you can get. The implications of sorting games that have this property by the Kolmogorov Complexity of their payoff tables are also fascinating, especially as applies to the competitive scene.
  • Medaka Box: Medaka, Zenkichi, Kumagawa, and Ajimu defeat their doppelgangers this way; Medaka defeats Zenkichi, Zenkichi defeats Kumagawa, Kumagawa defeats Ajimu, and Ajimu defeats Medaka.
  • Parodied in Brawl in the Family: In 499, Frederick is assailed by an Unknown Rival who intends beating him by exploiting the weapon triangle... only for Frederick inform him that being a Crutch Character beats everything.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has this, to a degree.
    • AD&D has weapon type vs. armor type modifiers — e.g. chain mail has +2 for slashing and -2 for blunt weapons, splint mail has 0 for slashing, +1 for piercing and +2 for blunt weapons. Combat & Tactics has three basic armor types (leather, mail, plate) against which some weapons were better (e.g. mace vs. mail, maul vs. mail or plate), worse (chakram vs. anything heavier than leather) or inefficient at all (blowgun vs. any heavy armor).
    • Telepathy in AD&D has 5 attack and 5 defence modes with specific adjustments against each other, from -5 to +5. If 5x5 table wasn't enough, Dark Sun sourcebook The Will and the Way adds 4 constructs/harbingers for each of 10 powers, expanding the table to 20x20 (plus the old 5x5 for opponents not using these) of the adjustments in range -8 to +8.
    • Nonmagical combat in 3rd Edition has a subtle version of this. Most Uberchargers (characters who rely on massive speed and damage) lose to Lockdown tactics (combining long-reach weapons with Counter Attacks that halt movement), which in turn has little defense against ranged combat. Other combat styles have less consistent properties, but are generally weaker.
  • In the Teen Titans episode "The End, pt. II", Starfire, Beast Boy and Cyborg have trouble defeating their respective clones. So, they switch enemies hoping to counter the clones. The resulting win implies that Cyborg is stronger than Beast Boy, Beast Boy is stronger than Starfire and Starfire is stronger than Cyborg.
    • Near-identical situation in a Justice League episode, as well, where the heroes switch up in order to defeat their robotic duplicates without being argued into despair.
    • And in the original Young Justice comic, when they're up against fake nemeses; Robin versus Joker, Superboy versus Metallo, Impulse versus Grodd. Robin works out that they need to switch. He beats Metallo, Superboy beats Grodd, and Impulse...is so annoying that he drives the Joker nuts with frustration.
  • Nontransitive dice do it for random number generation: if one die is rolled against another 1dA6 > 1dB6 > 1dC6 > 1dA6 in average (the specific probability varies in different sets).
  • xkcdb: Mormons < Police < neighbors < Mormons
  • The tabletop game Dungeon Quest settles all fights with a fantasy rock paper scissors of three moves: slash > leap aside > mighty blow > slash. The only kink is that player mighty blows deliver two points of damage, while the other two player moves and all monster moves only do one point.
  • Fencing swords have this built into their mechanics, and it is understood by sport fencers today. In it's simplest formulation, it goes like this: The direct attack is a fast thrust at the opponent. It is defeated by a parry-riposte, where you block the attack and immediately counter. The parry-riposte is confounded by the compound attack, where you present a menacing false attack (a feint), evade your opponent's parry, then attack for real. The compound attack is defeated by the counter attack, where you hit your opponent as he unwinds his over-long compound attack. The counter attack is defeated by the direct attack. A more complex discussion can be found on pretty much any site about the sport, and needless to say when you have to actually land the attacks against a flesh-and-blood opponent, it's not as easy as selecting the counter to their movement.
    • An alternate formulation is: attack, draw and feint. A "draw" is leaving a false opening with the intent responding with a parry-riposte. What is known as "countertime" is a weak attack intended to be parried as a set-up for a counter-parry/counter-riposte and thus is a draw rather than a feint.
  • Another big real-life example is boxing, where it's commonly believed that, all things equal, a boxer's style determines the outcome of a fight. An Out-Boxer, who keeps at a distance from his opponent and allows him to wear himself out, beats a Slugger, who favors punching power over technique and footwork. A Slugger beats an Swarmer, whose strategy is to crowd his opponent, and hit him over and over with hooks and uppercuts (which leaves him especially vulnerable to heavy punches, while the Slugger's strong chin lets them withstand the Swarmer's faster, but lighter strikes). An Swarmer is great against an out-fighter, who can't maintain the distance he's comfortable with when his opponent is charging him all the time.
  • For an example of this sort of thing happening in nature (combined with Color-Coded for Your Convenience, no less), look no further than the common side-blotched lizard. Specifically, the males of this species come in three varieties, easily distinguished by the color (orange, blue, or yellow) of the patch on their throat. Oranges are Boisterous Bruisers that can easily beat up on blues and take their partners; blues form strong bonds with their partners, making them far less likely to mate with yellows (the fact that blues are big enough to beat up on yellows and smart enough to recognize them also helps); yellows are very similar, size and appearance-wise, to females, and can thusly sneak past oranges with ease and mate with their partners unnoticed.
  • A literature example: in the fourth novel in Piers Anthony's Cluster series Thousandstar, three sapient species compete for control of precursor technology: the spherical Hydr O, whose needle-like water jets can penetrate the flesh of an Erb, but are vulnerable to the claws of a Squam; the snake-like Squam, whose claws can cut the flesh of a HydrO, but are vulnerable to the drilling action of an Erb; and the plant-like Erb, whose drilling action can penetrate the carapace of a squam, but are vulnerable to the water jets of a HydrO.
  • Mentioned by name in Wearing the Cape when Astra is introduced to the concept during her training and in the sequel novel has to organize her teammates on the fly during the climactic battle. It's mentioned that superhero teams in general try to do this whenever possible.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe goes into detail about the seven different styles of lightsaber combat and how each has certain advantages and disadvantages compared to the others (speed, strength, endurance etc.). In order, they are: Shii-Cho, Makashi, Soresu, Ataru, Shien/Djem So, Niman and Juyo/Vaapad.
  • The Digimon franchise gives us an interesting variation. Almost every Digimon belongs to one of three attributes: Vaccine, Data, or Virus. Vaccine is vulnerable to Data, Data to Virus, and Virus to Vaccine.
  • Invoked in Adventure Time. Finn and Jake were about to be killed by some ghosts due to an elaborated prank from Marceline. She comes to them to apologize, but states that vampires cannot win against ghosts; as she said, it was kind of a Rock Paper Scissors thing.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, this is the base theory behind different RC types and their resulting Kagune. A veteran Investigator explains to his rookie partner that in general, a Kagune will be strongest against the type directly above it and weakest to the one directly below it.
    • Ukaku: Uses speed to outmaneuver and overpower the plain Bikaku, but quickly depletes their energy reserve and risks running empty mid-fight. (Shoulders/Upper Back)
    • Koukaku: Their defensive capability is sufficient to tank out Ukaku's flurry of light attacks, but the increased defense comes with reduced speed. (Below/between the shoulder blades)
    • Rinkaku: Their offensive capability is enough to punch through the slow-moving Koukaku's defenses, but their RC cells are less concentrated, resulting in lower defense. (Waist)
    • Bikaku: Lacking any glaring weakness to prey on, they are considered a Rinkaku's worst enemy. (Tailbone)
  • In the Usagi Yojimbo RPG, Total Attack > Cautious Attack > Total Defense > Total Attack
  • Used by Shef when introducing his battle plan at the end of One King's Way: Coastal defense ship beats seagoing ship. Catapult beats coastal defense ship. Now, what beats catapult?
  • In X-Wing Miniatures, there are three chief strategies that more-or-less counter each other (although individual builds can monkey-wrench this in various ways, and the upgrades in each wave shift what's dominant). You have the Jousters, which are straightforward, tend to rely on durability and damage output, and want to fly in, shoot, turn around as the enemy go past, and keep shooting. Jousters are countered by Arc-Dodgers, which tend to be small, elite lists featuring extremely mobile ships that dodge enemy fire arcs, allowing them to gradually cut the enemy to death without ever getting hit, since Jousting ships tend to be only so-so when it comes to manoeuvrability. Arc-Dodgers are countered by Turrets, which tend to favour big, chunky, durable ships equipped with turret weapons that don't care about fire arcs, allowing them to soak up the relatively light damage output of Arc-Dodgers while spraying death at them no matter where they are...but their size, expense and lack of mobility allows jousters to gang up on them and cut them to ribbons with their superior damage output.
  • In mathematics this is called an "intransitive" relationship. (a transitive relationship is one where A>B>C = A>C.) In Professor Stewart's Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities, Ian Stewart illustrates this with a game played with three dice: a red one with the numbers 3, 4 and 8, a yellow one with the numbers 1, 5 and 9, and a blue one with the numbers 2, 6 and 7. Both players pick a dice and roll it, and the highest number wins. If The Mark seems suspicious, you "generously" allow them first pick to choose the best dice. Of course, the point is that you can always pick a dice that's better: the yellow dice beats the red two times out of three, the blue the yellow, and the red the blue. Stewart uses a further example of three football teams: one with a good goalie and defence, but a poor attack that loses to a good goalie; one with a good attack and defence, but a poor goalie that loses to a good defence; and one with a good goalie and attack, but a poor defence that loses to a good attack.