A question about language

What, to you, does the phrase ‘Divide and Conquer’ mean?

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Off the top of my head: cause the opposition to be fragmented, and thus deal with them piecemeal (either as individual factions one at a time, or that and they’re also weakened from fighting each other).


Thanks @RogerBW

Now. Has anyone ever heard of it being used to describe the opposite?

To divide your own forces to take out an enemy unit?

I’ve never heard that context that I know

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I’ve only ever heard it used in the context that @RogerBW mentioned.

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The closest I’ve come is in a computing context - “divide and conquer” traditionally is used to mean breaking a problem into smaller bits until they’re small enough to be trivial (e.g. the Quicksort algorithm), but I’ve seen it also used when the system has a large number of relatively low-powered compute units, so in effect you’ve already been forced to divide your forces and you’ll do best if you take that into account when deciding how to solve the problem.


Thanks all.

A tiny spoiler from the most recent episode of Picard

The only related term I can think of is “defeat in detail” (i.e. what happens when the enemy has successfully divided you and is now conquering, and why in general you shouldn’t split your forces).

It’s interesting… I have been exposed to the “incorrect” application of “Divide and Conquer,” but only in the context of dividing one’s own forces in order to divide the opposition.

(as an aside: I’ve always thought pincer attacks were idiotic because you’re dividing your potentially-numerical-superior force in half, which means the enemy can attack half of it before the other half can engage… what is the Napoleonic term… a “Denied Flank”, where you rush your entire army to one side? Anyway, I’ve never seen a pincer attack work in any wargame I’ve played, although I suspect it has worked at least once or twice historically…)

Like, “We’re going to divide and conquer… Hans, you take the left flank, Franz, you take the right, and I’ll run up the middle.” You are dividing your own forces specifically to avoid letting the enemy unite or to break them apart.

The concept of Pacman’ing one enemy at a time with your entire force doesn’t sound like a “Divide and Conquer” to me, it sounds like a blitzkrieg or rapid strike or what-have-you… something about hitting before the enemy can unify is different from dividing one’s own forces to prevent the enemy from unifying.
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The refused flank thing is something I came across in my 40k days.

This is just one of a number of similar things in Picard. I won’t go into the others as they deal with serious mental health issues.

I have to just assume the writers aren’t particularly experienced.*

Or ever watched Star Trek the next generation.*

**Or Season one of Picard.


Wargames played for fun usually have “equal” forces. In real wars, pincer movements are a way to make use of having superior forces. If you have superior mobility, you can use it to surround the enemy and cut off their supplies. Armies with weak morale and/or weak logistics can be defeated rather easily that way.


Another consideration is fog of war, which is hard to do well in games without multiple boards. Is this scouting force you’ve just come across the front of the enemy main body, in which case you may need to throw everything at it, or is it part of a pincer in which case you need to reserve some of your force to defend the flanks, or is it a complete decoy with the enemy main body elsewhere?


That’s the bunny.
I haven’t watched any Picard (I don’t think I have a streaming service with access to it), but I’ve heard very mixed things. Granted, I also heard mixed things about Discovery (which I love… up to season 3 now… although it predictably does time travel spectacularly badly), and mixed things about the new Star Trek movies (again, loved all three of them, although obviously the ending of the second one had to be retconned due to spectacularly bad writing…)…

Basically when it comes to sci-fi I remember the long droughts of anything SW or ST that would last decades and am super happy to be given almost anything. Even Book of Boba Fett, which I would say was 90% disappointing, was still good enough that I am super glad it exists.

Anyway. Refused Flanks. Damn clever tactic.

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Pincer attacks are more about striking in unexpected areas when the enemy is fixed in position and unable to react or realign to face the threat. Particularly troublesome if military doctrine and strategy is based around linear warfare and relatively inflexible formations.


I’ve tried it in Battlefleet Gothic and Star Wars Armada, using lighter, faster ships in an attempt to encircle slower, more powerful ships to strike at their weaker sides/rear.

The end result is invariably that the big ships point towards one side of the pincer and punch through it as my ships expend their weapons uselessly against their forward armaments. And yes, the other side of the pincer gets some licks in against the rear, but usually not enough to compensate for the loss of half my fleet. The enemy then pivots around (slowly and ponderously sometimes, sure) and pounds the other half of my ships into dust.

Turns out that I am just bad at that sort of tactic. The best success I have is by using a wedge of torpedoes/fighters directly forward into the middle of the enemy fleet: as the enemy redirects left and right to avoid that barrage, I focus fire on their now-impromptu “pincer” attack and divide and conquer, taking each half out in turn.

Again, I’m certain that pincer attacks work, but not in any wargame situation I’ve played. But, it should be pointed out, I’m a better-than-average-but-not-great wargamer.

Legion is all about leveraging combined firepower and advantageous positions. Infinity is about eliminating weak resources and denying or avoiding hard targets. WarMachine is (or was, when I played it) surgical strikes to eliminate opponent generals or getting powerful alpha-strikes to blunt retaliation. Armada is about optimal position and focusing firepower on one ship at a time. Battletech is about walking up and punching each other until somebody falls down… etc, etc…

I’m sure there are games (or scenarios) where flanking or encircling is a useful strategy, but as pointed out above, wargames are usually about equal-strength armies which usually precludes “flanks” to a large extent (although both WarMachine and Legion do have weak support units that are usually kept away from the front lines of a conflict).

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The only real world examples that spring immediately to mind are the battles of Chancellorsville and second Bull Run in which Jackson led flanking maneuvers involving substantial enough portions of his forces that it gets colloquially described as Lee having “split his force”. With Chancellorsville in particular it involved the Union flank being “in the air”.

I’ve never heard those described as divide and conquer.


nope! (to the opposite interpretation)

I think I heard this first from Roman warfare, specifically Caesar used the phrase in a way that indicated he wanted to divide the opponents forces in such a way, that they couldn’t help/influence each other and thus were easily overwhelmed. (I am not wrong about Caesar–I had to translate Bellum Gallicum in school–but wikipedia suggests the original attribution is Philip of Macedon)

I use this phrase in a work context where I mean that I take a problem and pull it apart into smaller disjunct problems which are each handled easier than if you just take on the whole blob.

So to me this will always be: divide the problem/opponent to make it easier to handle. Never the opposite. If anyone uses it to say that they divide their efforts to tackle one big blob… that may sometimes be a feasible strategy but it surely has another name and not divide and conquer.


slight spoiler alert

They did not.
Otherwise they would know that Guinan had already met Picard before the 21st century (in the 19th century: episode Time’s Arrow), and both characters should know that.


Eh, they’re just getting old and forgot about it :stuck_out_tongue: