I think I am a decent commander, but the one thing I struggle with is going on the attack. I usually only attack AI and Inactive countries, but I use diplomacy with active players to survive instead of aggressiveness. I think this cowardice on my part has led to me being defeated a few times, and I'm probably prolonging games for not taking much action. I don't need your biggest secret, but I could use a few tips to help me be more confident and smart when I go on the offensive.
Try to use units that are good counters to the units you're expecting to fight. Use terrain to your advantage. Understand the most effective ways to use units. (Specifically, I highly recommend this forum thread (link) to learn about how to effectively use an airforce against another player.)
Make a plot of all the timestamps for messages/trades from the player you're attacking -- you might be able to find a 'gap' in the time they're online, which could possibly be when they sleep. If there's a pattern, you can use this knowledge to attack while they're offline, and be able to effect more damage before they can respond.
If you haven't seen it yet, you might be interested to read this player-written field manual (link); it's a little outdated in parts, but contains some good pointers on strategy.
There's also this strategy analysis (link) in the player-league subforum that is quite informative.
Rule number one: Win the information war!
You need to know everything you can about your enemy. Unit types, numbers, locations, strength, layout, etc. So for that you need Spies to reveal armies to you.
To reveal armies place Military Sabotage spies in provinces that have nothing to sabotage. No buildings, unlikely to have troops, etc. You usually need several because spies are well paid, and they take their pay at day change straight to the bar. It is likely that after a spy reveals armies for you that he will go on a three day bender and his report to you will be "Nothing new to report" because he can't see it from his barstool.
So if you know the enemy units and rough location you can build your armies to battle them. For example if they are building planes you build anti air and interceptors, if they build tanks you build antitanks, etc.
So once you have built your armies and chosen the time of the attack again information is the key. You need planes to scout and find the enemy. You need to counter their maneuvers. Find the enemy, don't let the enemy find you.War is a game that is played with a smile. If you can't smile, grin. If you can't grin keep out of the way til you can. - Winston Churchill
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Mixed kill stacks are useful for an offensive: Early 3-5 Inf, 3-5 Artillery, 1-3 AT, 3-5 AA & 1 or 2 AC. Park the stack at artillery range to target. Run a small mix from the stack forward in case of response from the target to screen the artillery. Use the AC's to capture adjacent provinces that are empty and then run them back to the air cover of the AA in the main stack. Once you take the objective advance to the next and repeat.
As the game progresses substitute LT for the AC's, Commandos for Inf and as Self Propelled become available SPAT, SPAA and SPART in place of their less mobile counterparts.
The mixed stack approach is a good generic for dealing with most opponent compositions. Mix in Interceptors from forward bases to provide scouting reports and additional air cover, especially when facing a TAC heavy opponent. Use your own TAC and Interceptor stacks to protect your flanks, soften especially hard targets and be a quick response to remote areas of your territory."A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week." - General George S. Patton, Jr.
"Do, or do not. There is no try" - Yoda
Thanks for the tips.
You also have to adapt your stacks to what your enemy has.