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Strategy Versus Tactics

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"All branches of military art are closely associated with one another: Tactics make the steps from which an Operational leap is formed; Strategy points out the path."
Aleksandr Svechin, Strategy and Operational Art (1927)

To get what you want from a war, you need to know exactly what you want and how to get it, including whether a war is a good/the best way to get what you want in the first place! But many people aren't well-informed about how it all works out. Traditionallynote , the planning and execution of a war was broken down into two levels:

  • Strategic - the goal you want to achieve in the long-term; the "What" you want to accomplish.
  • Tactical - the methods used to try to achieve short-term goals that are supposed to help achieve the overall strategic goal; the "How" you use to accomplish it.

Focusing only on the short-term often ends up screwing you over in the long-term. In storytelling this is sometimes ignored or glossed over; the immediate result is all that matters. Then there are the stories about how tough it can be to stick to the strategy when it might be simpler and more gratifying to do the thing that looks more honorable or piles up more meaningless victories. As long as there is a polarity of this sort, the story will be able to mine some good conflict.

In the early to mid 20th century, scholars took on a more "scientific" (for lack of a better word) study of warfare. This resulted in several other levels being added to the traditional two:

  • Grand-Strategic - level at which War, Economics, Diplomacy, and Politics overlap and the ends of any potential wars are decided.
    • Who the practitioners are: Heads of state, heads of government, lawmakers, very senior civil servants, and the very highest ranked military officers.
    • Scope: Grand Strategy encompasses all wars and strategies a state is involved in, and the mobilisation of all resources of a state for the creation and maintenance of military forces.
    • Measure of Success: Success means wisely implementing policies that are in a country's best interests, be they war or peace. This is the level at which war-production and recruitment is decided, and the equipment and personnel allocated to each strategy.
    • What it looks like in practice: This is a level at which there are lots of meetings with loads of politicians, civil servants, senior military figures, and diplomats. There are oodles of graphs and statistics, and the maps are world and continental ones.
  • Strategic - level at which goals/"means" (to "ends" dictated by Grand Strategy) are determined and military forces are committed and supplied to carry them out.
    • Who the practitioners are: High ranking admirals and generals, backed by large staffs of mid-level officers, themselves assisted by experienced enlisted personnel.
    • Scope: The whole war. Still has a little to do with economics, diplomacy and politics — but only within the context of the war and its goals. This is the level at which units, equipment, and supplies are committed to specific operations/campaigns.
    • Measure of Success: Success means wisely identifying realistic/achievable goals that will likely help to end the war in the way determined by the Grand Strategy.
    • What it looks like in practice: This is a level at which there are regular meetings between senior military figures (and some civilians and/or foreigners) with some statistics and regional (and some provincial) maps, perhaps with a big arrow or two on them.
  • Operation/Campaign - level at which a goal of the war is singled out and made the focus of a plan of action to be undertaken by a military force with the units assigned to it by the higher-ups.
    • Who the practitioners are: Somewhat less senior generals and admirals, backed by somewhat more modest staffs of mid-level officers.
    • Scope: This plan is enacted in an 'Operation' or 'Campaign' of limited duration in which the forces manoeuvre and engage the enemy, often with the aim of encircling parts of their force and destroying these or forcing their surrender - weakening the enemy force for subsequent operations/campaigns and thereby making it easier to (eventually) achieve the Strategic Goal. This is the level at which equipment and personnel are committed to specific engagements/battles.
    • Measure of Success: Success means wisely charting out realistic plans for one's commanders that will, over the course of several (net successful) operations, accomplish the strategic goal.
    • What it looks like in practice: This is a level at which there are loads of meetings of medium-level commanders with buckets of statistics and schedules and regional+provincial+local maps with some little red arrows on them. Operations Centers in the style of The War Room with lots of Big Boards are common here.
  • Tactical - level at which military units fight enemy ones in various skirmishes/firefights/engagements/battles in accordance with an Operational/Campaign plan, making best use of the personnel and equipment allocated to them under the plan.
    • Who the practitioners are: Mid-level to junior officers commanding units of many enlisted personnel led by junior officers and senior enlisted.
    • Scope: This is the level of the individual military unit: various formations of infantry, armor/cavalry, artillery, aviation, naval ships, and so on.
    • Measure of Success: Success means fulfilling the Operational/Campaign plan. This often means inflicting greater losses upon the enemy in some engagements/battles, but not necessarily. It is perfectly possible to take heavier losses in/"lose" every tactical engagement and successfully execute the Operation/Campaign plan, or "win" each engagement/battle and fail. Given that the aim of many campaigns/operations is to encircle and then capture large enemy forces — avoiding grinding one's way through their equivalent in combat (which is costly to one's own forces too) — too great a focus upon the tactical level is particularly egregious.
    • What this looks like in practice: This is a level at which low-level commanders exchange messages or meet handfuls of others in hastily-prepared bunkers to pore over a schedule, a provincial map with a big red arrow, and a fistful of local maps marked with the occasional scribble here and there. After each such meeting these commanders will stay in touch and try to adapt the plan to the prevailing circumstances as the technology of the time allows, using messengers, radio, or other signals.
  • Combat Theory - The lowest level possible.
    • Who the practitioners are: In principle, enlisted personnel, but can be anyone who winds up in a fight by accident or intention.
    • Scope: This is how the individual fights. The type of weapons and armor they use, the way they use their equipment and the environment in a firefight, the kind of training that they have received, and the actual techniques they use in combat. What this looks like will vary wildly by era and region, but it encompasses every method of fighting available to everyone involved in the conflict.
    • Measure of Success: The techniques, equipment, etc used by one's own troops are effective against the enemy and destroy them or render them ineffective while maintaining their own combat strength. How well the individual fights in combat and is protected by personal gear is the first step to making any progress in a war. After all, if your soldiers can't fight effectively, then tactics and strategy will be useless.
    • What this looks like in practice: Actual combat with each individual using the weapons available to them.

There is a constant interplay between each of these levels, where a decision at one level can affect the others. For example, what sort of war the political leadership at the Grand Strategic level expects they might have to fight will determine the types of equipment they procure, which will change the Combat Theory the troops will need to employ, which will change the Tactics available to commanders, meaning that certain Operations are more realistic than others, and that may determine what sort of Strategies are viable. Which will then further drive Grand Strategic plans...

English-language scholarship was slow to accept the existence of the other levels of warfare, only recognizing them fifty years after both were conceived of in their totality (the 1920s). This was largely because the small scale and scope of Anglo-American military operations in wartime and their highly unusual glut of logistical resources allowed British Commonwealth and US forces to improvise ad hoc campaigns which were generally passable despite the lack of intellectual and planning framework for them. Military studies of "Strategy" were largely or even entirely subsumed into the realm of "Politics" and therefore only had vague and limited military connotations, leaving military theory to a heavy focus upon Tactics.

Interestingly, "Operations/Campaigns" actually failed to jump the German-English and Russian-English language barriers until the concept itself was recognized. German theorists under von Schlieffen developed the first, tentative beginnings of the Operation ("Operativ") in the early 1900s and the concept of "Operational Art" was only fully realised by Soviet theorists including Isserson & Triandfillov in the late 1920s. Ignoring the actual concepts being proposed in those texts, all contemporary and subsequent US translations of these texts translated the term "Operation" as "Strategy". Curiously, and to their credit, the British actually managed to develop a flawed but semi-coherent concept of Operations as 'Minor Strategy' from their World War I experiences... until US theory came to dominate the NATO military theory in the 1950s.

In fiction, since many writers are not up to date on modern theories of warfare, the levels are often ignored or confused. Because they can be made showy and dramatic, there is a tendency to over-focus either on the Strategic and Grand-Strategic levels (often conflating the two) or the Combat Theory and Tactical levels (again, often blending the two together. In real life, how effectively one has planned and then managed an operation or campaign is often what actually wins wars, but watching mid-level officers sit in conference rooms and hash out logistic support and sequencing plans is hard to make entertaining. If the operational level does feature at all, it is usually in the form of The War Room, better known in real life as an operations center, which is where the operation is managed after the bulk of the planning is complete.

The trope often takes the form of An Aesop along the lines of "he won the battle but lost the war" (or the other way around). Related to Won the War, Lost the Peace (which is a strategic victory, but a grand-strategic defeat). Also, compare Hollywood Tactics which shows unrealistic battle plans that, logically, should fail but don't. Strategy itself is often dealt with by The Strategist who may or may not also be proficient in tactical thinking. See also We Win, Because You Didn't and Technician Versus Performer.

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes has the Free Planets Alliance doing really well against the Galactic Empire in fleet battles, scoring tactical victories for several generations. At a certain point, Admiral Bruce Ashbey is asked if he wants a bigger fleet or a fortress in a strong strategic position. He chooses the bigger fleet. The Alliance ends up winning the battle, but the empire reacts by building Iserlohn fortress, which in the long run ends up giving the Empire the strategic advantage.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, Goku is a master fighter and one of the best. He succeeds by overcoming his limits and learning about his enemies on the fly during combat. However, several times he needs help from people like Kami, King Kai, and Vegeta when it comes to figuring out about bringing back the dead, defeating enemies that are stronger than him, and returning things to normal after everything is all said and done. In fact, at one point, Goku's goal was to have Gohan go SSJ 2 and defeat Cell, but he didn't take in consideration Gohan's mental limits or the effect it would have on his son. Piccolo calls him out on it. This action almost doomed the planet and got Goku killed when Gohan berserked and started toying with Cell. They got better as time went on... well, besides in Dragon Ball Super and especially Dragon Ball GT, where Goku gets worse.
  • Code Geass has the tactician versus strategist conflict at its very core. The Chessmaster Lelouch is plotting the downfall of Britannia, but is frequently foiled at individual engagements by the ace pilot, Suzaku. Lelouch mentions the conflict by name during his first internal meltdown, expressing anger that the ace pilot made him lose the battle and thus made him delay the next steps of his larger strategy. Note that Suzaku himself is no great tactician, he's simply so skilled a warrior (and his mech so powerful) that his presence at a battle upsets considerations of mere tactics.
  • At one point in Hoshin Engi, Chokomei points out that this is the difference between him and Taikobo, and breaks the fourth wall to tell the readers to look up the difference between the two if they don't know it. Taikobo is looking for a way to end the war with as few casualties as possible, to free the Human World from the influence of Sennin, so he favors strategy over tactic. Chokomei has little interest in the reasons or resolution of the war in itself, and is only in it for a good fight, so he favors tactics.
  • Overhaul in My Hero Academia shows the issues of being a good strategist but a poor tactician. He has a solid plan of allowing the Yakuza (namely, his group Shie Hassaikai) to return to power in the Japanese underworld by creating special drugs that can nullify the quirks of those shot. However when the chips are finally down, Overhaul's lack of improvisation ability forces him to rely on brute force. Not to mention, his lack of short-term foresight contributes to Shie Hassaikai's demise as shown when his decision to assault the League of Villains and cow them into serving the Hassaikai as powerful subordinates backfires as the League of Villains only feign loyalty to allow Toga & Twice into their base, giving the duo the opportunity to sabotage Shie Hassaikai during an assault by the heroes in retaliation.
  • By the strategy-tactics divide explained above, Taichi Yagami is a tactician, while his rival turned evil, Neo Saiba, is a strategist. Taichi is much better at discerning immediate strengths and weaknesses as well as coming up with quick plans to defuse the immediate situation while Neo is better at long term planning and backup plans. In the larger V-Tamer 01 conflict, Lord HolyAngemon is the strategist while Leo is the tactician. They can successfully beat stronger monsters in engagements through superior tactics but are ultimately losing the war with Demon because he doesn't have as many vulnerable areas to protect(that is, Lord HolyAngemon actually cares about the future stability of the continent, Demon hates the very concept of future stability and wants perpetual war to spread to as many areas as possible).
  • In The Saga of Tanya the Evil, Tanya is the only Imperial officer with a firm grasp of strategic and operational concepts, due to having originally been a modern Japanese salaryman. Unfortunately, her job is leading a special aerial strike unit, and her tactical victories are often meaningless on a larger scale because the General Staff have no clue what they're doing on a strategic level, leading to her being ordered to stand down when she wanted to attack and prevent the surviving soldiers of the Republic from retreating under an armistice to continue the war. In the end, she sees that on a grand-strategic level, the Empire cannot possibly win the war, and saves the Empire through a ruthless strategy of scorched-earth tactics and kamikaze attacks on nearby countries, leading to the enemy nations winning a Pyrrhic Victory over the Empire that allows the Empire to conditionally surrender and survive with its territory intact.

    Comic Books 
  • Nightwing is a masterful tactician, but not much for long term planning or politics. In the DC Universe, he's considered THE Leader archetype, when it comes to uniting any heroic army (no matter how large). This is often contrasted with Superman, who is very politically savvy and diplomatic, but is more comfortable inspiring than commanding. In the end, Nightwing really looks up to Superman—following his example more than Batman's—and Superman often steps aside to let Nightwing take command when needed.

  • The Resistance plotline in The Last Jedi has this as the conflict between Poe Dameron and Admiral Holdo. Poe is able to pull off short-term tactical victories against impossible odds but racks up devastating losses in lives and ships that the Resistance simply can't sustain. Meanwhile Holdo is wary of Pyrrhic Victories, and the all too likely scenario that the Resistance wins a series of small, costly, battles but ultimately loses the war, and thus has her eyes on the strategic goal of ensuring the Resistance survives to continue the fight. Neither side completely trusts the other or communicates their point of view, leading to the two sides undermining each other and opening a schism within the Resistance at the worst possible time.

  • Robb Stark in A Song of Ice and Fire is a brilliant tactician who is able to score sound victories against overwhelming Lannister forces. However, his strategic decisions are not nearly as good, and several characters comment that it is probably due to his youth (neatly deconstructing the Young Conqueror trope). On the other hand, Robb's nemesis Tywin Lannister concentrates on keeping Robb from winning a decisive battle, and despite losing battles he is constantly strengthening his family's position by creating alliances and thus placing himself in a better position to win the entire war. Sure enough, some of Robb's disgruntled followers leave him in a weakened position, and some others reach out to Tywin, and that's the end of Robb Stark.
    Robb: I've won every battle, but somehow I'm losing the war.
  • At Mindouas in the first volume of the Belisarius Series, the title character is rebuked for putting tactics before strategy in fighting a successful but seemingly needless battle with the Persians. In reality the reason was that he needed to gain an armistice as quickly as possible because a new enemy was looming on the horizon.
    • Belisarius' strategy was was a complex one of encouraging insurgency in his enemies' home empire and using the navy of his Axumite allies to strike on his enemies' flanks. His favorite tactics were to get to a key position before his enemy and bait him into attacking while he had a counterattack waiting on the flank. This worked many times either because the enemy commander absolutely had to attack, or because the enemy commander was Too Dumb to Live.
  • David Weber is well-known for including (usually very detailed) strategy and tactics in his novels. The Honorverse Companion House Of Steel includes an essay co-written by Weber and US Naval Analyst Christopher Weuve on building a military which goes into great detail about everything mentioned in this trope's description.
  • Over the course of the New Jedi Order, New Republic (later Galactic Alliance) fleets relied heavily on both superior strategy and superior tactics wherever possible, countering the invaders' immense numbers and fanatical devotion.
    • On the Alliance side, the "old school" generals such as Garm bel Iblis and Wedge Antilles, having started their careers in La Résistance, were masterful tacticians but relatively lackluster strategists; newer generals like Traest Kre'fey were less effective tacticians but had the eye for strategy that would eventually bring the war to an end. (Admiral Ackbar, being The Strategist who eventually put the Alliance on top during the war's difficult fourth year, was an exception to this trend.)
    • On the Vong side, Tsavong Lah had a brilliant strategy for bringing the Republic to its knees, but his limited tactical skills meant that it was immensely expensive in terms of men and materiel (and he was eventually Out-Gambitted by the Alliance), whereas his successor Nas Choka was less of a visionary strategist, but a much better tactician who countered many of the developments that had let the Republic win up to that point.
    • This was a running theme through the Legends canon; the various opponents of the Republic (Mandalorians, Vong, the various incarnations of the Sith Empire) would be better at tactics, and on an individual level, be better in combat than their Republic/Jedi counterpart. However, they tended to fight for the sake of fighting, which made their concept of strategy and logistics incredibly primitive compared to the Republic who wasn't as good at tactics, but was set up for a long-view, strategic approach. If the opponent struck hard and fast, they had a chance of crippling the Republic, but if the Republic got some breathing room and time to plan, then the enemy would end up on the wrong end of everything the Republic could throw at them and be overrun.
  • Also from Star Wars Legends, Grand Admiral Thrawn succeeds in putting the New Republic nearly on the ropes despite being at a resource disadvantage because he is a master of both small-scale tactics and large-scale strategy, and unlike many other Legends villains, he doesn't forget the grand scale in favor of small victories, making him a very difficult opponent. It also helped that his story took place very early in the canon; in his first book the New Republic leadership were so used to facing Vader and Palpatine's style of straightforward berserker attacks and simple ambushes that an Imperial commander using guile in his plans and reacting to a losing battle with an orderly retreat completely blindsided them.
  • The human Alethi and Parshendi in The Stormlight Archive solidly contrast each other in this regard. The physically stronger Parshendi are much more powerful and maneuverable than the human Alethi soldiers, who have to rely on regimented and tight formations and drilled coordination in the field. The Alethi tend to win through using long-term strategies, superior logistics, and disciplined soldiers to gradually wear down the Parshendi through a multi-year war of attrition. At the same time, the refusal of the Alethi high princes to work together means there's little strategic plan to trap and destroy the Parshendi armies.
  • One of the reasons why the immortal badass Corwin from The Chronicles of Amber is such a big fanboy of his older brother Benedict, is because he considers Benedict a true master of both strategy and tactics, which is why, when he's not in self-exile, Benedict is the unquestioned commander of the armed forces of a family that likes to think of themselves as gods.
  • Darrow of Lykos, The Reaper of Mars and the protagonist of Red Rising representes tactics while his nemesis, Adrius au Augustus known by the epithet The Jackal, is a strategist. Darrow is a great soldier and commander who comes up with creative and practical maneuvers in battle but lags behind The Jackal in terms of political savvy and Grand-Strategy. The Jackal, on the other hand, is an expert manipulator who ends up as the Big Bad of the series but falls short when directly commanding or fighting. In the end, all Darrow has to do to beat him is punch him once and rip his tongue out.
  • In 1632, Mike Stearns' strength as a general isn't tactics, but logistics. The supply system he builds and his foresight in asking for specialized items allows his division to march faster, fight more effectively and operate in worse conditions than any other in the region.
  • In the Starfire novels, there are two types of drives: military drives, which are very powerful and take up a small hull volume but must be periodically shut down for maintenance, and commercial drives, which are bulkier and slower but have far more endurance. Most warships accept no substitutes for military drives; however, the Bugs use commercial drives for their fleets, making their ships less capable and survivable but allowing them to more easily gather and deploy the crushingly huge attritional fleets they favor.
  • Battle School training in Ender's Game is supposed to turn a student into a brilliant strategist, yet practically every exercise they do is aimed to spaceship-like maneuvers in a zero-G environment. Logically this should train the student into a superb tactician/pilot, but it tells nothing of the strategic/operational scale of things. No logistics are involved into keeping a fleet battleworthy over light-years. No diplomacy or espionage, which are impossible in-universe anyway since the enemy is a telepathic Hive Mind.
    • Justified because the Human forces were launched before the students/commanders were even born, and have been traveling at relativistic speeds to the enemy home worlds for decades with no hope of reinforcements. The students are being trained to improvise tactics with the forces they have against unknown opposition. All the strategic decisions have already been made.
  • In Victoriaa far-right manifesto and a novel all in one, the author of which is versed in actual military theory — the protagonist expounds on these themes at length, often name-dropping real-world military thinkers such as John Boyd and Carl von Clausewitz. He's shown to direct individual battles, but also delivers heavy monologues on importance of morale, tactics and operations serving strategy rather than other way, fighting as a mere part of bigger grand-strategic picture, etc.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This can often be seen in competetive Reality Shows. If you focus on tactics and try to survive each round at any cost, you might sabotage your chances in the finals. On the other hand, being strategic and focusing too much on the endgame could keep you from getting there in the first place, or even being overlooked in favor of flashier players.
    • In Survivor, Russell Hantz exemplifies the "too tactical" side. He did anything he could to backstab his tribemates and make it to the finals in two separate seasons, but once he was there he had to face juries of evicted players that hated him and would never vote for him to win. Cirie Fields, on the other side of the coin, demonstrates the "too strategic" side. Cirie is considered one of the best strategic players ever due to her ability to constantly join the majority and pick off all opposition while being beloved by every player in the game. However, her complete inability to account for and react quickly to game-changing twists and maverick players acting against her vision always leaves her blindsided at the height of her power without ever making the finals.
    • The Amazing Race:
      • In season 18, best friends Zev & Justin were too tactical despite winning four legs. The partners have to split roadblocks (tasks for one person) equally and they failed pace themselves throughout the season. By the penultimate leg, Justin had used all of his allotment. That meant Zev, who’s mildly autistic, had to do a dancing task that was completely not in his wheelhouse and overwhelmed him. This lack of foresight was brought up by several teams and is more or less the reason they lost.
      • In season 25, married couple Adam & Bethany were in first place headed towards the mat in leg 2. Before checking in, they were given the option to check the surrounding grounds for the express pass which lets you skip a task. Bethany (on whom the movie Soul Surfer is based) is quite the Disabled Badass and a world class athlete but only has one arm. They did not hesitate to risk their first place to go get it because they figured she would inevitably come across some sort of task she could not physically do and it was a much better strategic move than coming in first. Jim & Misti (another married couple) who were in second didn’t even bother to go look for it. Jim said that they’d have been idiots to pass up something of such strategic value and he knew they weren’t idiots. They did come in first anyway but that’s only because the second and third teams had to do the challenge twice.
  • This is a theme of Breaking Bad (and Better Call Saul ) when it comes to the differences between Walter White and Gustavo Fring. Gustavo is an excellent strategist, having the ability to keep his illegal operation going for decades without getting caught. However, he is also shown to be a poor tactician prone to underestimating his opponents, which is why he needs Mike to handle all the short-term plans. This is shown in how Mike was instrumental in helping Gus’ smuggling operation beat Hector’s, and how anytime Mike is not directly involved in a plan, things go wrong for Gus. Walt, on the other hand, is a genius tactician, but a bad strategist. This ends up being the reason why even though Walt defeats Fring, he is not able to replicate his business strategy that kept him going for a very long time. He ends up being caught after a year and a half, and forced to go into hiding.

  • As the author of Ravages of Time said himself, the manhua is all about strategy vs. strategy. Plans are often years, if not decades, in the making, with the levels I Know You Know I Know going into the dozens because each faction has genius-level strategists.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • In Professional Wrestling, the tag team of Pretty Boy Doug Somers and "Playboy" Buddy Rose are versed in different fields. In more than one promo, Rose claimed that they were unbeatable in part because he was a master of strategy and Somers was a master tactician.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This concept has a special meaning in the context of wargaming. It means "how big of a scenario does your game represent" and has a number of aspects including the number of forces a counter represents (usually bigger in a strategic game) and the details accounted for (usually there is more detail in a tactical game).
  • in the BattleTech universe, Khan Lincoln Osis of Clan Smoke Jaguar was noted as being an excellent tactician but poor strategist. This meant that when the Inner Sphere got together to take out a Clan, their ability to focus on the big picture and plan for winning over a large series of engagements instead of simply planning for the next battle meant that the Jaguars were unable to match the Inner Sphere and became the first faction in the game that was completely wiped out, as Osis had neglected the Jaguars' infrastructure to the point that they simply couldn't fight a large-scale war at all.
    • The Clans themselves were an example of this during the Inner Sphere invasion: As Clan military doctrine had focused around winning individual battles as cleanly and quickly as possible to reach a tactical objective for centuries, they proved unable to think in large-scale, operational terms. The Clan Invasion had crawled to a halt by the time the Inner Sphere suggested they settle it on Turkayyid (which became another example of this trope as the Clans proved unable to cooperate against ComStar's unified defense strategy). Only Clan Wolf and Clan Star Adder was able to see the invasion in strategical terms, and the Star Adders' realistic bid for an invasion force was denied by the other Clans.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • It's often said that the Space Marines win battles while the Imperial Guard win wars. Space Marines are made far superior to any human by virtue of their augmentations and equipment, but they're costly to make and limited in number so they're limited to crucial defence and strike actions often deep behind enemy lines, and once they've won they are moved on to the next deployment. Their status as effectively walking, talking humanoid living weapons also mean they often relate poorly to the Imperial citizens they're charged with protecting. Imperial Guardsmen on the other hand are much easier to raise and replace in large quantities, and combined with their considerable arsenal of fighting vehicles (many of them being actually superior to their counterparts among the Space Marines) mean they're not only better for capturing a large swathe of territory but better for holding it afterwards.
    • The rivalry between the Ultramarines (Tactics) and Alpha Legion (Strategy) could be seen as this. The Ultramarines Primarch Roboute Guilliman literally wrote the book on how to be a Space Marine, the Codex Astartes, and so they operate according to (most of) its guidelines. To the Ultramaries, war is a science and information is key to victory. The Alpha Legion couldn't be any more different: they only go to war directly when the deck has already long since been stacked in their favour, and when they do go, anything goes. Sabotage, infiltration, exploiting traitors, using non-Astartes assets, False Flags, Dressing as the Enemy, you name it. Individual squads are encouraged to take initiative or break with laid-out combat doctrine if a greater strategic objective can be obtained; if they succeed then that is good, and if they haven't then they've still helped in the long run by throwing the enemy off. During the Horus Heresy, the Alpha Legion antagonised the Ultramarines greatly because while they had the clear advantage in logistics and sheer skill, their rigid tactics could not compete with the Alpha's pure unorthodoxy. That said, the Ultramarine method was better for the Grand Strategy of the Great Crusade; when the war for a planet was won by the Ultramarines it could usually be brought into the Imperial fold as a productive world fairly seemlessly by adapting the existing political infrastructure, while the Alpha Legion tended to leave that infrastructure in tatters and the planet in chaos.
    • Once again with the Ultramarines but this time compared to a Loyalist Chapter, the Imperial Fists. The Ultramarines (Strategy) have managed to not only conquer planets but have also managed to built their own subrealm of 500 planets within the Imperium of Man known as Ultramar. The Imperial Fists (Tactics) have also built up a similar subrealm based around the siolar system of the planet Inwit. However, this realm is much smaller as the Imperial Fists focus on conquering and building military installations on planets, making them experts on defensive tactics and siege warfare.
  • In the Chronicles of Darkness, the divide is especially prevalent in matters concerning Werewolves, Mages, and Hunters.
    • The ongoing war between the Forsaken and Pure is primarily in favor of the Pure due to their strategic prowess; the Forsaken hold themselves back to try and remain loyal to their oath to Luna, where the Pure have been doing anything possible to achieve victory. It's been working too. The Pure now outnumber the Forsaken 3-to-1, and control large swathes of the United States.
    • For Mages and Hunters, the difference comes down to tiers. Tier 1 (Cabals and Cells) is typically the tactical level; nightly operations are planned and carried out. Tier 2 (Consiliums and Compacts) takes over the Operational level; this implies operations over a wide area, involving some coordination between Tier 1 groups but still retaining some focus on tactical acts. Tier 3 (Orders and Conspiracies) is heavily strategic, invovling backroom dealmaking and political manipulations to achieve the called for ends.

    Video Games 
  • A general example: in many multiplayer games with an objective more complex than wiping out the opposing team, players frequently get caught up in repeatedly killing the enemy without regard for whether this serves the actual objective of the current game round.
    • A particularly notable example is League of Legends thanks to its incredibly developed Professional Gaming scene. The best teams in the game aren't always determined by the individual skill of their players at the game's mechanics, but rather by the team's ability to capitalise on opportunities to take objectives and stay one step ahead of their opponents, a skill often known as "map rotation". A lot of upset victories have come from a team with far less kills than their opponents simply running rings around them on the map, and a good shot-caller is even more valuable than a good mechanical player.
  • In Dead Space, specifically, Dead Space 2, Nolan Stross comes up with a good long-term goal and got Isaac back on track by telling him necessary details. However, he only ever talks about destroying the Marker and fails tactical thinking when he fails to get it together and fight back due to the Marker driving him slowly insane and letting his guilt consume him. If it wasn't for Isaac's and Ellie's tactical thinking, the plan would have failed miserably.
  • Pick an RTS game, any RTS game. You have general goals (objectives and missions) which you have solid tactics to win.
    • The difference between "Macro" and "Micro" with Macro being Strategy, focused on advancing the tech tree, building bigger armies, more resource collection and building an army that counters the enemy while Micro consists of micro-managing your army to gain an advantage in individual battles. The best examples of each being Command and Conquer, a heavily macro and spam-and-counter based game and the X-craft series, with an Arbitrary Headcount Limit and much simpler damage typing rewards simply picking the "Counters everything somewhat" unit and dancing around with them.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir and Arl Eamon Guerrin are the tactician and the strategist, respectively. Loghain is an excellent general in the field, but his abrasive personality and tendency to treat the nobility as if they were soldiers makes him come off as a tyrant and leaves him with few allies where it matters most, and the country is fragmented in the face of the Blight. Eamon, in contrast, is well-spoken, courteous, and diplomatic, but nothing is spoken of his skill as a general. The Warden's quests for him in Denerim before the Landsmeet are focused on acquiring political support for Alistair's campaign for the throne, and Eamon is mainly concerned with ending the civil war as quickly as possible to deal with the Blight, which demonstrates his ability to see the big picture.
  • Colonel Mael Radec in Killzone is regarded as a gifted tactical genius, yet a "merely competent" strategist.
  • In Paradox Development Studio's Grand Strategy Games, the focus is on the Strategy side, as the outcome of battles and even wars are often predictable once they begin. What matters is your preexisting ability to mobilise and supply your troops, and an outnumbered or unprepared army often doesn't stand a chance.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, the Great War set between Oblivion and Skyrim boiled down to this when the Aldmeri Dominion invaded the Empire. The Dominion caught the Empire by surprise and cut off many southern cities, and achieved initial goals and many tactical victories. Then, seeing the Empire vulnerable, they overextended themselves and tried to capture the Imperial City. The Emperor, thinking long-term, chose to withdraw from the City with most of his forces and left only a single Legion to defend it. The Dominion occupied it only after a protracted siege, which bought the Emperor valuable time while continuing to drain Dominion resources. However, with their forces stretched out, exhausted, and fewer in number than the Imperial forces, the Dominion armies were vulnerable when the Empire regrouped and gathered fresh reinforcements from surrounding provinces (particularly Skyrim) untouched by the invasion. The Empire launched a massive, well-coordinated maneuver with three fresh armies to surround the Imperial City, cut off the main Dominion army, and crushed it. However, feeling that his armies were strained and fearing a Pyrrhic Victory, the Emperor notably did not counterattack into Dominion territory. The Dominion offered the White-Gold Concordat, a truce with terms heavily favorable to the Dominion, which the Emperor accepted. Included was the ceding of large tracts of Hammerfell to the Dominion, which immediately caused Hammerfell to secede from the Empire, as well as the banning of Talos worship, which was a major factor in causing Skyrim to erupt into Civil War. While the Dominion's initial strategy failed, they were still able to achieve stripping two more provinces away from the crumbling Empire, weakening them for the inevitable second Great War.
  • The Total War series features gameplay at almost every level, though it's mostly a turn-based Grand-Strategic game broken up by Tactical-level real-time battles. It's up to the player to manage their nation and armies properly at every level. Losing an individual battle does not always spell defeat for an entire war or campaign, and likewise, scoring a Pyrrhic Victory against an enemy might have serious negative consequences for the campaign in the long run.

    Web Comics 
  • Erfworld: Stanley the Tool is a genius when it comes to battle. He is an expert fighter (quite possibly the most powerful individual fighter in the world, especially with his trademark dwagonriders blitzes) and he rose from the rank of piker to Overlord of his side. However, he is not a strategist and, though he had success in the short-term, he failed to have a definitive grand strategy and he was very close to being killed by his enemies. That is until Parson was summoned. Parson himself has the problem of not thinking beyond the current campaign; his flagrant disregard for The Laws and Customs of War (attacking during negotiations especially being practically a signature move) means that the side's attempts at diplomacy once their position is secure are crippled before they begin.

    Web Original 
  • In the cartooning competition Strip Search, Amy originally tried applying some basic reality-show tactics, but the stress of the competition started getting to her after a surprise ruling by the judges. Tavis helped console her and pointed out that trying to win could be getting in the way of some of the real benefits of the show; the opportunity for the artists to hone their craft and make professional contacts with one another. She took the advice to heart and changed her strategy to simply being as good a artist as possible.

    Web Video 
  • Checkmate, Lincolnites!: In "Did the CONFEDERACY Have BETTER GENERALS?!," Billy Yank makes the case that although the Confederacy's commanders were indeed brilliant tacticians, the Union had a far better sense of strategy and logistics. Ultimately, the South's most prominent victories, such as the Battle of Chancellorsville, were tactically impressive maneuvers but did little to further their overall war aims, whereas each Union victory, especially in the West, brought the Confederacy one step closer to defeat through tearing out its logistical base.
    Billy Yank: You thought small, we thought big. That's why we won.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Sokka is The Strategist, while Zuko is the tactician. Sokka is heavily organised and is able to come up with detailed and effective strategies, while Zuko's plans generally involve him infiltrating a location alone, then responding to the situation on the ground as needed until he reaches the objective. That said, Zuko has a fatal flaw as a tactician: he'll come up with a clever way to get in and achieve his immediate objective, but not how to get out afterwards or exploit whatever gains he made.
    • Princess Azula representing a near perfect mix of the two is one of the big reasons she's so dangerous. She's willing to sacrifice battles for a greater end goal (Strategist), but also able to play a mean game of Xanatos Speed Chess decision-making when needed (Tactician). Her perfectly orchestrated, nearly single-handed coup of Ba Sing Se in the Book 2 finale demonstrated her unparalled skill in balancing the two out in a way that would leave even Grand Admiral Thrawn impressed.
    • Discussed in The Legend of Korra with Bolin and Asami's differing philosophies on Pai Sho. Bolin plays "street Pai Sho", a fast paced game of actions and reaction between players (tactics); while Asami plays classical Pai Sho, slowly and carefully thinking through every move and their possible implications (strategy). She wins almost every game they play because she's thinking ahead and he's just responding to her last move.
  • Speaking of Grand Admiral Thrawn, just as in his Star Wars Legends incarnation, in Star Wars Rebels he focuses on the strategic as much or more than the tactical. At the end of season 3 his having to follow idiotic higher orders against his better judgement coupled with the stupidity of one of his underlings helps explain why he doesn't defeat the heroes outright. In season four Governor Price proves to be the opposite, so laser-focused on the current engagement that she's willing to do more damage to her own facility than a major Rebel attack managed, solely to kill one man (a Jedi, but still). This ultimately ruins Thrawn's long-term plans, costs the Empire the system, and arguably hands the Rebels the entire war.