Help me become a general!
May 22, 2007 12:13 PM   Subscribe

How do I become better at real-time strategy games?

I want to dust off my copy of brood wars and play again. The problem is, I suck. Whenever I used to play my friends online I used to have my butt handed to me. Not everyone is born a tactician I guess.

So, what do I do to remedy this problem? Read Sun Tzu? There's gotta be a way to better my RTS-fu. I don't expect to win any tournaments but I want to be at least a bit of a challenge to my friends.

posted by aeighty to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I was an avid RTS fan for a long time (not particularly Brood Wars), and became pretty burned out once I figured that the process is a static model, and with all static models, it can be gamed. Sun Tzu and the like require a real-world full of unknowns and social behavior. Soldiers on a screen don't have the same degree of free-will and are generated by rather deterministic algorithms. With that in mind, here is my guide:

1. Cheat. The first thing I do is enter into a bot game and download a trainer or enter cheat codes. With money micromanagement out of the way, I can focus on the best combination of defense and offense, which units to build, what to concentrate on first. Often this is somewhat non-intuitive, and you'll find units and characters you would never spend time building are actually asymmetrically powerful and that you should spend a lot of time building 'unit x', which on the surface has a pretty stupid function.

2. Go to GameFAQs and read about the kids who spent hours figuring out the various quirks in the game. There are very often tips that are essential to utilize if you want to win. If your opponent utilizes a certain resource gathering trick, often you must to win.

3. Pick a strategy and stick with it. A thing I always reminded myself, that a Pyrrhic victory is still a victory. I have yet to see a game where a complete expenditure of resources on a huge offensive blitz hasn't dominated a game. Forgo all defenses except the basics, and go for the one huge hit against an opponent.

I find that the worse players are the cautious ones, the ones that would probably win a real-life scenario. You usually have to be aggressive to an absurd degree, with very little caution given to resource depletion and conservation of units. This is annoying, hectic, but it is what is required.
posted by geoff. at 12:30 PM on May 22, 2007

There are some basic steps you can take to improve your game significantly.
1) Memorize the basic builds for your chosen race.
2) Learn all the hotkeys for your race.
3) For each unit, learn its counter and what you need to do to get that counter. You want to be able to immediately start building the counter to whatever you see your opponent coming out with.
4) Learn the features of the common maps (Lost Temple esp.)

That should be enough to make you a challenge for any of your friends.
posted by Balna Watya at 12:35 PM on May 22, 2007

Heh.. reading Sun Tzu actually isn't that far off.

[these tips apply to how I play the game, not the uber-quick competitive RTS players who would destroy us all - and, I'm not really all that awesome at Starcaft, but I played tons of Warcraft II back in the day]

You have to know how far you can stretch your forces and still branch out and get more territory. The key is really controlling the resources on the map and using them the most efficiently.

Also, knowing what the other person has and being able to not only defend against it but know how to attack against it. The Terran scanner sweep is good for knowing where they are and what they have. If they seem to be building up tons of tanks, you'd better get some airborn fighters.

Practical tips:

Build as many workers as you can and always have them doing something - gathering or building. Workers sitting around = wasted money.

Don't forget about upgrading your technology.

When you feel you have enough resources to branch out and capture some new territory (minerals and gas concentrations) make sure you defend it securely. Try to pick a spot that's out of the way - that they haven't found yet or that is easy to defend (as opposed to right inbetween each other).

If you are victorious in a small skirmish, keep pushing ahead. If you let up and recharge your forces, it will let them do the same. I don't remember how many times my opponent would have had me if they would have just kept attacking, but they assumed I had more defenses back home.

Destroying their technology structures can do massive damage to their whole operation. Speaking of, if you have extra money and gas, build extra structures, just incase they are destroyed. You want to be able to keep building tanks (and structures are relatively cheap compared to the cost of losing one in the heat of battle.. it could mean the game).
posted by starman at 12:38 PM on May 22, 2007

1. Learn one race well (initially). Learn about all their units and upgrades. After this, bone up on your potential enemies and how your units can cut them up.

2. Early game build order is key. Save replays of games with your friends (I think starcraft has this function) and watch how they start. How many resource gatherers do they build, when do they build their barracks / factory, when do they tech up. Also, do they go for an expansion right away or opt to attack you instead?

3. Scout. Know what your enemies are up to. Don't let them get a corner expansion that you remain oblivious to.

4. Harass their economy. This means a worker massacre. Even if you lose a small attacking force, losing an entire crop of workers can cripple an early economy.

5. Be sneaky. Don't just try to bulldoze through their main defenses... sneak in the back way and attack their possibly undefended workers.

6. Macro management. You need to be able to bounce around the map, managing an attack, building a second wave and managing base expansion / teching up at the same time. Don't get too distracted on any one thing, you have to keep all the balls in the air.

7. Micro management. Don't just right click a bunch of units to their death. Send in a few guys and then retreat, if they're not paying attention you can lure out a few units to get massacred by the bulk of your force. Don't let this happen to your forces. Tell your group to attack specific units, concentrating your fire to get a kill at a time. Every unit killed is one less gun firing at you. As an aside, if your enemy is protoss, tell your guys to attack the CARRIER, don't just let them waste their time attacking the hundred little interceptors :)

Pretty soon you will be in their base killing their doodz. Keep at it!
posted by utsutsu at 12:48 PM on May 22, 2007

I've found that often my opponents make the mistake of believing that RTS games are entirely about combat and neglect the economics of the situation. Most RTS games have limited resources on the maps, and some are more limited than others. Grabbing resources early on, especially resources that your opponent needs, can make a huge difference in the long run. Back when I played Age of Empires II with my friends all the time, I always used to buy up an absurd amount of stone as soon as I had a marketplace and could afford to, even if I didn't need the stone right away. Why? Because every time someone, anyone, buys stone, it becomes more expensive for everyone else to buy it, and stone is the scarcest resource in the game. Get more resources for less effort/cost than your opponent and you will win endurance games, especially Age of Empires.

In Starcraft this doesn't work *quite* as well, as it's a lot easier to wipe your opponent out early in the game than it is in AOE. Still, if your game is dragging on, investing in high-vespene and low-mineral units (such as Archons) can make a big difference. Minerals can be completely depleted and eventually run out, but vespene geysers always produce a little vespene, even after they're depleted.

Don't forget the economics!
posted by Vorteks at 12:54 PM on May 22, 2007

I just played BroodWar last night for the first time in years. I'm guessing you saw the SCII trailer too :)

I played some comp stomp 6v2 and 5v3 games to get my "Zerg legs" back and it wasn't too humiliating. Like an over the hill fighter, I intend to go against a few palookas.

All of SC's quirks and limitations are well known. The Powell Doctrine style play still seems to be pretty popular. Maps with unlimited resources are very popular, so it becomes a race to see who can max out the unit limitations fastest (200 units per player IIRC), and then commencing with the attack. See also There is no strategy in StarCraft at everything2

I second Geoff's faq suggestion as well. I got pretty good at SC back in the early aughts by reading the build-order guides written by the master Microing-Jedi; these guides often contain insane amounts of detail, but I found that by using them more as a rough guide, my game improved.
posted by Scoo at 1:33 PM on May 22, 2007

Oh, and GL, HF, DD
posted by Scoo at 1:34 PM on May 22, 2007

If you have a computer that can handle it I would suggest trying Warhammer 40k Dawn of War and it's expansions, it removes a lot of the annoying micromanagement of other RTS's and essentially gives you resources for being aggressive. Its less about resource management and more about strategy, maybe more your cup of tea.
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:52 PM on May 22, 2007

Some top seated RTS ladder players gave me this excellent advice:

Don't practice losing.

What they would do if they felt they were losing a game is quit right then and there. They would not continue fighting a lost cause because this leads to a habit playing a defensive losing strategy.

This has an added bonus effect that I realized later on: your reputation will go up as a winner because your opponents will never see you on the ropes! They won't remember that that two minute game you conceded but they will always recall the long games where your armies were inexorable.
posted by Osmanthus at 2:21 PM on May 22, 2007

"I find that the worse players are the cautious ones, the ones that would probably win a real-life scenario. You usually have to be aggressive to an absurd degree, with very little caution given to resource depletion and conservation of units. This is annoying, hectic, but it is what is required."

Perhaps this is different in SC, but in AoE and a handful of other games, I always go for aggressive control of resources, then hardened defense of those resources, then a slow, ever-widening expansion.

Something that might help— play Risk often. I find that the same strategy that wins Risk wins RTS. Oh, and I always keep a fair number of defensive troops in reserve, because it makes it easier to suck in attackers, ambush them, and kill them all.
posted by klangklangston at 8:38 AM on May 23, 2007

One small thing that always put me over the people I played with: a spy on every pile of minerals. I usually played Zerg, and used buried zerglings for this. The idea is to prevent your enemy from expanding whenever possible. When you see your enemy's little builder start to build next to a pile of rocks, either show up with an army just as he finishes building (not before, otherwise he'll cancel the building and get his money back), or (this is lots of fun) wait until he has a small expansion complete with plenty of busy workers, then come in and annihilate it. If he brings his army to the expansion to guard it, hide your main army nearby and take a throw-away force to attack his main base until he pulls his army back to defend. Then squash the defenseless expansion with your main army. If your throw-away force is still alive and doing damage when the expansion is done, you might have your main army charge in as well, perhaps through a second approach (if there is one). Sometimes you can trap the enemy between your two forces and then steamroll through the base itself.

If you play this strategy, you need to be aggressive about it; DO NOT let the enemy take more than maybe one expansion, even if you have to lose your entire army to take them down. And in the meantime, expand as soon as you can afford to. If you've expanded and the enemy has not, it'll be that much easier for you to afford to replace the guys you've lost, leading to eventual victory. Expansions have the secondary benefit of spreading your buildings around, so you can survive the destruction of your main base if you need to. Always try to work up to having at least one of the important buildings in each base. This expansion/anti-expansion strat works because Starcraft is very much an economic game. Even the Big Game Hunters style high-resource maps will eventually come down to expansions (unless they end in an early rush -- rush attack and defense are all about build order and reinforcement speed, which others have already covered). Once you repel the initial rush, it's time to start taking and breaking expansions!

At any rate, scouting is very important in this game. At the very least, you must try to get detector coverage for some distance around your entire base, plus at least one detector over each of your expansions and (optimally) at all empty expansions and obvious points of enemy approach. In almost every match, there's someone who knows roughly where the enemy is and someone who doesn't... be the former.
posted by vorfeed at 1:54 PM on May 23, 2007

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