How to get better at tactical games?
June 7, 2008 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I absolutely suck at all squad-based tactical games (Jagged Alliance, Silent Storm, Fallout Tactics, SWAT). For those of you that are actually good at these types of games, what makes you successful?

I already know one of my problems is that I micromanage the hell out of every character I can. I swap characters' equipment and roles pretty much after every battle because I just don't know (and can never figure out) what the right balance of offensive/defensive characters is, and in what ways I should use them.

The other issue I have is that when presented with something like a hostage situation in a house (SWAT) or a series of better armed/equipped enemies (Front Mission, Fallout) I don't have a real plan for exactly how I'm going to attack the situation without getting half the team wiped out.

- How should the unit be "built?" How many close-combat units, how many long-range units, how many support units? What kind of weaponry should each use?
- How do I approach the house/enemy?
- In what order should my units enter the building/engage the enemy?
- How do I clear the room?
- When a firefight starts, when should I stay on the defensive, and when should I push forward?

Hopefully you can understand my frustration by this point.

I realize different games may require different strategies, but I would really appreciate some general (or game-specific) advice from people who are good at this sort of game.
posted by Ziggy Zaga to Technology (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Of those games, I've only played Front Mission and a little bit of Silent Storm, but my main strategy in those types of games are to stay back and use long range weapons. I try to take care of enemies that have long range weapons first as well.
posted by demiurge at 11:36 AM on June 7, 2008

My main strategy in these games is to repeatedly quick-save and quick-load when one of my guys gets shot.
posted by pravit at 11:42 AM on June 7, 2008

The biggest part of being successful in any of those games is realizing which classes/units are inordinately powerful compared to the other units, and which are practically useless. In a game without classes this can apply to weapons or equipment aswell.

In Silent Storm for example, you want to have a good amount of snipers since they have the best perks. Lots of one shot kills, firing through walls with little penalty, long range. And as far as underpowered classes go, the support classes (medics and engineers) are quite weak, as the support classes usually are. In this case, you want to bring as few as possible, and in Silent Storm medics can get engineering skills and vice versa, so bring one and have them specialize in both. Keep them in the back until you need them.

The second biggest part is knowing the levels. Where the enemy is waiting to ambush you, where the biggest group of soldiers is, where the reinforcements will come from. Personally I don't finish a stage unless all my units are alive at the end, and you will never/rarely be able to get through a stage without casualities the first time you play it.

Finally, don't swap characters, it is better to use the same solid group of units throughout the whole game than to spread equipment and experience over a larger group, making them generally less powerful overall.
posted by paradoxflow at 1:11 PM on June 7, 2008

Might add Nectaris, Panzer General. Unholy War, Carnage Heart, Master of Monsters, and Brass Hats (all of which are highly recommended by-the-way) to your list (not specifically squad based, but the tactics are the same)

Taking advantage of terrain is a huge bonus (if you are outnumbered, find an area of the map where the enemy can come at you only a few units at a time [like a passage]. Put the units that can take the most amount of damage upfront, and whittle them down with your artillery. Conversely, if you have the advantage, try to draw the enemy out into the open (by leaving a high value target relatively unprotected, etc.). Try to keep your units on high defense (usually high ground or spaces where movement is severely hampered) spaces and force the enemy onto low defense spaces if they want to attack you. I find most maps are designed with terrain in mind.

Try to take out enemy artillery as early as possible (the old saying artillery rules the battle field is most apt in these types of games) and take pains to protect yours. Keep out of the range of enemy artillery as much as possible until you see an opening to commit yourself into taking out theirs.

Conserve your troops (don't rush your elite troops into hairy situations unless you are absolutely certain you can get them back out. Sacrificing some green troops is usually better, and you can use your elite troops for support).

Most AI in these types of games are dumb. They will generally attack first and ask questions later. If you position yourself to make the most of your counterattacks (highly defensive troops on highly defensive terrain with the mainstay of your troops ready to open up the battle after the enemy has committed itself to an opening attack), you can usually inflict the most amount of damage with the least amount of casualties.

Having a four to one ratio of ground units compare to artillery is probably a good rule of thumb. Adjust with the experience of your troops.

And sometimes stupid blind luck really does win the day :)
posted by quintessencesluglord at 1:50 PM on June 7, 2008

I've not messed much with the games you've listed, but I am a veteran of the tactical genre in general. Here are some general guidelines for the whup-ass.

1) White Mage FTW: Most of these games have healer/medic/repair drone units of some kind. It is not possible to overpower or overprotect these units - even a squad of mediocre offensive units can be a nightmare to face when supported by an advanced support unit. Make the enemy waste turns/ammo inflicting damage that you immediately negate. The flipside of this rule is that the enemy's medic is your first primary target, Geneva conventions be damned.

2) Incapacitation: Inflicting damage shouldn't be your prime goal when engaging initially. Your first wave of moves ought to be aimed at crippling the enemy's capabilities. In the turn-based games you mentioned, this might be the use of abilities that slow the enemy, negate some of their abilities or otherwise screw up their plans for you. In the more action-oriented games you mentioned, this means embracing flashbangs, smoke grenades, gas attacks and so on. This is especially useful in those hostage and room-clearing situations you mentioned. It's fine if the civilian is blind for a second if that means you'll get'em out in one piece. Do this first so that when you do start inflicting damage, the enemy can't make an effective reprisal.

3) Each according to their ability: This seems obvious, but make sure you're using your units to do their actual job. Snipers don't belong on the frontlines, assaults don't belong skulking on rooftops, medics don't belong in any direct engagement, demolitions should focus damaging the unit types that their teammates can't touch. I can't tell you how many nubs have screwed up games of Battlefield for me by aiming their rocket launchers at infantry while tanks roll over us or how many medics have been unavailable to revive fallen comrades because they keep rushing into hails of lead.

4) Pacing:That when to attack and when to hold back question of yours is especially important. I think the way to master this aspect of a game is always be thinking of what you would do in the enemy's position. They are subject to the same movement limitations and respawn rules as you are, so think about times those rules plus your enemy's plays have screwed you over, then endeavor to do the same to them. A good time to rush is right after some sort of punishing attack - for instance, in Battlefield, I like to advance right behind an artillery strike or a vehicle attack and get into position before the enemy has had a chance to recover. Shoot'em in the back while they're fleeing something bigger and scarier than you! Hold position if your squad's just been through a rough fight and needs time to mend - keep your eye on natural choke points along the shortest path between your spawnpoint and the enemy's, always thinking about how you would attack your position if you were playing the other side.

5) Weapons: My general rule of thumb when assembling loadouts is to give each unit the ability to handle as many situations as possible. In shooters, this generally means one short-range weapon and one long-range weapon. Keep an eye on what your teammates are using, so that your squad will have as many options as possible. If 2/3s of your team has spawned sniper, for example, you should pick a unit that can compensate for the weaknesses of the rest of your team.

Hope this helps! Happy fool-blasting!
posted by EatTheWeek at 1:51 PM on June 7, 2008

Oh, and one more thing. Your explosives don't always need to score direct kills. Sure, everyone loves to blow a bunch of dudes up with a single grenade, but they're just as useful for making their cover inhospitable. You know how a hunter will send his dog into the bush to flush out their prey? It's a lot like that - the explosion might not get'em, but if they sprint into your sights in a panic, then they wind up just as dead. The fewer exits the enemy has, the better this works. Toss in a grenade, then watch the way out. If you blow'em up, fine, but be ready to cut them down when they retreat.
posted by EatTheWeek at 2:14 PM on June 7, 2008

Not specific to those games, as I am more of a console strategy person, but from playing a lot of games in the Final Fantasy Tactics spectrum I can tell you that time is on your side, you can take your time in deciding your next moves and be sure to try and get a good idea of what the enemy is trying to accomplish. Furthermore do not over extend yourself, guys wandering off on their own are much easier to take down then guys who are supported.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:35 PM on June 7, 2008

If you're playing real-time strategy, here's a simple principle that applies to most battles.

If you have ten tanks, and they have ten tanks, and each one of your tanks is shooting at each of theirs, you're essentially even. What you want to do is focus all your firepower on one unit at a time. Units losing health will still dish out damage at their normal rate, so what you want to do is lower the amount of guns being fired at your guys. If your ten tanks fire at one of their tanks at a time, you'll have ten somewhat damaged tanks while they have nine guns, and you rapidly gain a firepower advantage that will stack as you remove more and more damage-dealers from the field.

As for tactical squad shooter-type games, I don't know what kind of control you're allowed, but here's what the pros tend to do.

You approach the house via one of its blind spots under sniper cover. When it comes time to enter a room, you do it fast and all at once. Chuck in a stun or flash grenade, then quickly fill the room with troops. Your guys fire as they move, with each soldier going left, then right, and back and forth in turn, so that your guys are enveloping the enemy by moving along the walls in both directions at once. (In Rainbow six, when you entered a room, your following squadmates automatically did this, running along the walls as they entered.)

The standard tactic for squad-based shooting is best described in the Brothers in Arms series. One squad pins the enemy down with concentrated fire while the other finds a flanking position and kills them. Alternatively, if you can't approach or flank a position, render it inhospitable with grenades. The grenade itself often won't kill the enemy, but will force them to bail out into your field of fire. So, when you chuck a pineapple, be ready to fire.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 11:27 PM on June 7, 2008

As for Fallout you probably want to use the SPECIAL system to more accurately develop your character for a type of attack. There are character guides on the fansites that will tell you how best to set up a character so that you have less problems to begin with. Jagged Alliance is similar.
posted by JJ86 at 4:39 AM on June 8, 2008

In most squad-based games, it's also very important to keep in mind that keeping all your characters configured similarly is essentially crippling them. They're intended to work as a team -- a squad, one might say -- and that means they should specialize, then support each other. The details vary quite a bit from game to game, but it's an important principle. Plan out a scenerio -- something like, "I'll send in my two scouts, and keep three snipers hanging back to pick off anyone they flush out, with a medic in reserve to heal up the scouts when they pull back."

Those kinds of setups can easily become your go-to tactics for approaching in-game challenges, and a flexible team will have a mix of specialties that allow it to play out a good handful of those sorts of scenarios.

An example from Front Mission IV, which I obsessively played until 5am far too many nights in a row. One mech, I beefed up with the heaviest armor money can buy, some brawling weapons, and a radar backpack that let him serve as a coming beacon for missiles launched by my other mechs. Their job was to stand back and rain fire on the mechs that #1 grappled with. They also carried medical packs and spare missile ammo to patch things up. A fourth mech carried a jet pack and heavy assault weapons for jump-in-jump-out mobility attacks, and the two remaining mechs carried sniper rifles for long distance kills.

They were not in ANY way balanced, but they worked together very well as a team. The snipers in particular focused on taking out arms of any enemy mechs that had rocket launchers or guided missiles, to cripple their weapons. Next priorities were any enemy mechs with EMP weapons that could cripple my own units.

The mix of strengths made each of the units more effective than they would have been if they were individually balanced against each other.

At least, that's my theory.
posted by verb at 4:24 PM on June 8, 2008

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