I played this game online in the past, but stopped after losing every battle for several days straight. The single-player campaign was enough to get me familiar with the units, but it was clear that I didn't have the skills to compete -- nor the inclination to build those skills. I set the game aside and got busy with other things, and several years went by, but one day I was surprised to discover that the urge to play it had returned.
Since I'm older now, I can't do a marathon immersive gaming session like the ones I did years ago, but I can still get a few good chunks of time here and there. I want to see what I've missed, and I probably also want to prove to myself that I'm still up to the challenge. Could I really become a competent player, or is the new generation of games and gamers just too much for me to handle?
This is a log of the tactics I learned, and the skills I developed. There are also some extra combat summaries that I culled from this page for the sake of brevity.
First step: Refresh my memory of the game by playing against the computer in single-player mode. The race I preferred in the past was the Night Elves, and I decided to stick with that. I went a few rounds with the Undead, restoring saved games to try out different tactics.
One of the fears I had in past games was that I would accidentally hit my own units with a spell in the heat of battle. Today I noticed that if I click an aggressive spell on a friendly unit, the click isn't accepted, and I get the message, "unable to target own units". Different than what I remember from Starcraft, and quite handy.
Next step: Log on to Battle.net. Of course my old account was long gone, but my username wasn't taken, so I just recreated it. I was in no shape to go head-to-head so I decided to look at the 'non-standard' games section.
There are some advanced maps out there, and a bunch of variations on similar themes.
Group keys are good. You need at least one for each hero of course, but the true strength of group keys is in subdividing your army. The minimum needed is one key for melee troops, and one key for ranged units. You need at least this much of a split because your melee and ranged units need to fight differently in order to be the most effective.
The melee group is best directed by telling it to attack "at a place" where enemy units are standing. Each member of the group will march in that direction and start wailing on the first unit they bump into. If you told the group to attack just one unit out of five, they would waste most of their time trying to surround that one unit, blundering into each other and changing direction while the opposing army pokes them in the ribs. Not good. So, your melee units should not be picky about what they attack.
Ranged units are the opposite, however. They can all target one enemy without interfering with each other ... for the most part. If you gang them up on one unit, and that unit is killed, you've just shifted the balance of power in your favor. By contrast, telling ranged units to attack "at a place" would leave enemy units standing longer than they might otherwise. Instead of slowly injuring three enemies, it's best to knock down one immediately. So your ranged units need to attack in sequence, not in parallel. Hence the other group key.
Unlike Starcraft, where as the Zerg you might use every grouping key on the keyboard just to move your army around, you can pass entire games with a maxed out army and only use four group keys for units. Sometimes just two -- one melee, and one ranged.
Group keys have another use as well, which is very handy. You can assign buildings to group keys. You can also assign multiple buildings of the same type to one group key, and have them build units all at once. If you always assign certain buildings to certain group keys, you'll always be able to produce new units exactly when you can afford them.
You can also set the 'rally point' of buildings en-masse, by selecting all the buildings and right-clicking on a target -- which can be a fellow unit, instead of just a point on the map. If you set the 'rally point' to always be your number one hero, for example, your units will always go to where your hero is, and automatically follow him/her around.
(Note that, in earlier versions of Warcraft III, a unit set to 'follow' would not engage in an attack. It would just stand there in combat like a statue. In the latest patched version, units set to 'follow' will begin attacking if the unit they're following decides to attack. This change eliminates a huge downside to using 'follow'.)
Here's the setup I'm comfortable with right now:
Key 1 - melee units, including melee hero
Key 2 - ranged units, including ranged hero
Key 3 - Chimaera, or secondary ranged units with third hero
Key 4 - Hippogryphs
Key 5 - Druids of the Talon
Key 6 - Faerie Dragons
Key 7 - Chimaera roosts
Key 8 - Ancients of Wind
Key 9 - Ancients of Lore (Tier 2 units)
Key 0 - Ancients of War (Tier 1 units)
I assign the keys as the structures are planted, and always set them to rally to the melee hero.
I've noticed that many players use a short list of common abbreviations when speaking to one another:
|gg -||Said when a player is about to sign off, or sometimes after a player has done something surprisingly effective. It's either "good game", or "good gaming".|
|gl hf -||Sometimes said at the beginning of a game. It stands for "Good Luck and Have Fun", but it's apparently going out of style - half the time it's mocked by other players. One especially cynical player replied "gf hl", then explained that it meant, "Get Fucked. I Hope you Lose."|
The level of social maturity amongst players is on a tight bell-curve centered around the age of 14, and seems to be completely independent of skill level. You can fight a level 1 player who says, "How's the weather where you're at?" and "What ho! Mind your ballistas, yea verily!" Then you can have a level 25 player wander into a team game and scream "HAHAHAAAmy fleet OWNZ your n00bs asses! u all suck!" A brilliant strategist, yes. Also, a turd.
I dove right into the 1v1 games, losing to anything and everything, regardless of level. I got beaten the worst by the Orcs. After many defeats I want back to the single-player game against the computer, and tested out 'faerie fire', to see if I was missing anything. I attacked a few units and noted the difference with or without the 'debuff' (as these detrimental spells are called). A reduction of armor by 4 is apparently a non-trivial change.
I won a couple of games, but these were drowned in a sea of defeats. The Night Elf players were consistently handing me my hat. I saved a few replays, and discovered that every Night Elf opponent did two things in common.
Aside from that, their skills were all in timing - they never entered a battle they weren't certain to win. Several times, my whole army was toast, down to the last man, and my opponent still ran home and rebuilt a full army before coming back with ballistas to finish the job.
I also learned today that scrolls of 'town portal' pick up a lot of units -- much more than the status display can show. Your entire army can always be transported. Also, to activate them faster, you can click near a town hall on the mini-map instead of finding it in your main view. Very helpful for usage in the heat of battle.
Today I also encountered an amazing Human army. A mass human spellcaster group - few aggressive units, then a pile of healers, spellbreakers, and sorcerers, always backed up by spellcasting heros who hang out in back. This force immobilizes your units, weakens them, takes away their mana, steals their enchantments, and constantly heals the few soldiers you manage attack. Meanwhile, blizzards and fire explosions erupt in your ranks.
I found a raging debate in several forums over how to best counter this army. The general agreement was to go heavy on bears, first because they get very close to the front line making fire and ice storm spells less useful, and second because they can cast roar, which is area-effect. That means it adds a dozen 'buffs' to units surrounding the bear, keeping the spellbreakers busy stealing enchantments. If the bears roar enough, all their mana is gone, meaning they do not suffer a 'mana burn' effect.
I really need to get the hang of ballistas. They can really aggravate an entrenched player, and are also helpful in combat, but I almost never build them. Gotta fix that.
Tried my hand at a few of these, and lost of course. So far it looks like there are three basic rules for success:
If you don't follow these rules, at least one player will get tougher than you, faster. That player will mow you down while you're picking at the others.
The orcs are my biggest enemy, I think. The combination of Tauren and Batriders screws me up big time. The tauren stomp the ground up, while the batriders take out anything in the air by exploding in fiery suicide. There's got to be some way to counter this.
To keep myself amused while scanning for a game to start, I've taken to joining a Battle.net chat room at random. It's just like the IRC of old - freaks and morons, all shouting at once in 1337sp34k. You can identify the Macintosh players because they use the ALT-symbols more freely in their 1337. This dull roar is punctuated by guild announcements from bots - pasting the same message into the chat room over and over again, pleading for residents to come join channel so-and-so to be part of guild such-and-such.
Your typical chat session.
Watched a replay of a Night Elf who trounced me - he started with the Keeper of the Grove and produced a horde of Archers. It reminded me that there are strong tactics and weak tactics, but ultimately there is no perfect build order or strategy that will never lose. In terms of unit types and technology I was ahead of this player, but at the time he chose to strike, my forces were overwhelmed.
His mass-archer strategy had a downside though, which I saw in the replay: He had to hang out at home accumulating massive amounts of wood, which called for a lot of wisps. I actually had four archers and my hero on the map before he had anything but his hero, and I could have seriously damaged him, even pinned him at home and won, if I'd been aggressive enough.
I think the relevant lesson here is, if your build order is strong at certain points, you need to exploit that time period, hopefully by harassing the other player.
Had my first encounter with 'That Damn Windwalking Orc' today.
The Orc Blademaster hero has an ability called Windwalking. If he turns it on, he becomes invisible, and also able to walk through other units. He remains invisible until he attacks something.
A Blademaster heading for your base.
So, an unscrupulous Orc player will choose this hero, and send him straight out to look for your enemy camp. When he gets near he'll turn on Windwalking, march around any early defenses, and start chopping up your defenseless peons, grunts, or wisps. You'll come running back to base and lob a few arrows at him, at which point he'll turn on Windwalking and disappear again. He'll do this over and over until his mana runs out - and you won't be sure if he's gone home, or if he's hanging around waiting for you to leave.
Beating up on your wisps. The scum!
It's extremely annoying.
Other things I learned in FFA today:
Surveillance is key:
Back when I played Starcraft, I was able to dominate the game because I constantly spied on everyone else, and could choose when to enter any conflict. With the Zerg, I sent Zerglings patrolling to all corners of the map, acting as expendable scouts. With the Protoss, I produced Observers and tried to watch all the expansion points and major byways.
Now as the Night Elves, I make heavy use of Sentinels, and eventually the Owl Scout. Placing Sentinels around the map as often as possible has already saved my bacon countless times.
I've got to rely less on mousing down to the buttons. Today I began training myself to hit 'd' key when I wanted the Warden's poisoned dagger spell, instead of mousing down to the button every time.
A strange tactic:
A few minutes into a game, I saw a bunch of Peons walk up to my base. The Human player then started building lumber mills around my base, shutting me in. Then he began building towers around the outside. His plan was to confine me, then shoot me full of holes and win the game immediately. A surprising and innovative strategy.
Peons, wearing their 'militia' gear, headed for my base.
I uprooted my Ancient of War so it could walk over and bash at one of the mills, but the Human Peons just started repairing it. I thought I would be toast, until I realized that the Warden could choose the 'Blink' ability as her first spell. I summoned her, selected the spell, and teleported outside the barricade.
A whirlwind of unwelcome construction.
I chopped at his Peons enough to prevent the guard towers from being completed, and in the meantime made a handful of Archers. Together they killed enough Peons to halt the tower production. The Human player must have been discouraged, because he quit the game shortly afterwards.
Harassing those nasty Peons. Go away! Yarrrgh!
One wacky Elf player had his base chewed up, then was left alone by the othes. He rebuilt, then uprooted all his trees and had them eat pathways into the forest. With his base squirreled away, he then produced a load of catapults, and flicked projectiles at anyone who wandered in looking for him.
It was like an amusement park. The other players spared him long enough to see the buildings, then abandoned him and started attacking each other. He took the opportunity to drain a nearby goldmine, and built a large fleet with the proceeds. With everyone else exhausted from fighting, he mopped up the map and won the game, taunting us the whole way.
These are very different from FFA or 1v1.
If the enemy wanders into your base with superior firepower, it is actually acceptable to let them kick the entire thing to the ground. You just run to a companion base and rebuild there, then sneak back to the goldmine when the enemy team's attention wanders elsewhere. You also have to produce units very quickly and harass like hell, especially on large maps, because any player who hides in a corner long enough will tech up to a high level and build a victory fleet, then mop up all your buildings.
I spent one 4v4 game being harassed by That Damn Orc Windwalker, and couldn't contribute units to the fray. Then the third player decided to dig in by building a hundred towers, which further reduced our offense. All four opponents teched up, then sent second-teir armies bearing down at us. Of course, my base was first in line, since it had already been crippled by the windwalker.
In the 4v4 game after that, my base was actually totally destroyed in the first five minutes of the game. I'd lent cash to teammates already, so I was in good standing with them, and they gave me cash to restart my base. I rebuilt it twice more, each time getting it vacuumed up by enemy forces who promptly left the scene. Finally I built a tree of life around the corner and walked it up to the mine all sneaky like, and built the rest of my base in and around an ally's territory. I summoned up a couple dozen dryads which became instrumental in thrashing the enemy victory-fleets, and finally got a taste of 4v4 victory.
The 3v3 I chose after that was with a pro, who gave me some good advice - if summoned units are attacking your base, you can pull a Wisp off of lumber production and tell it to 'detonate' near the units. The explosion does a hefty 250 damage to them. I had a vague notion that this worked well against the spirit wolves summoned by the orc hero, and the elementals from the archmage, but was surprised to learn that it also affected the trees that the Keeper of the Grove created.
It seems like the key to winning these games in the long haul is to starve the opponent for gold, by hitting mines over and over again so they waste resources rebuilding.
I've started creepjacking regularly. This is the tactic of sneaking up on your enemy while he is engaged in fighting the monsters built into the map, catching your foe in a crossfire. He usually gets so screwed up he has to teleport home. It's probably happening more because I'm out on the map creeping more often, and because I'm being more consistent with putting up the Sentinel owls.
I've also learned the basics of micromanagement while creeping. Usually the monsters will focus their ire at one particular unit, which you can lead safely out of battle. Beyond a certain distance, the monsters will switch their attention to another unit. If you keep switching on them, you can defeat very tough melee critters without suffering a casualty.
The trick is to watch the status display of your grouped units, and double-click on the one that's being beat on the most. Send it running away, and turn your attention back to combat. The creep will refocus, and even if you assign another command to your group, the damaged unit will now be on the edge of combat instead of the middle. If it's your hero getting damaged too much, you're better off running him/her all the way home and re-making your group, because the hero has a tendency to run into the center of combat no matter where he/she is.
Keeping units from dying is what makes a pro player - each one of those is a walking investment, and you can't afford to be at anything less than top strength at any time. Also, in contrast to the other races, the night elf base units remain useful at later stages because they can be enhanced repeatedly.
A couple times after stomping an army now, I've had the opponent just quit the game rather than continuing. It seems once you get above a certain level, you start to recognize when you're doomed. It always comes as a surprise - I never expect an opponent to quit unless I have just shredded his army and am actually standing in the middle of his base halfway through knocking it down.
I've got to stop using the 'a' key to explicitly sign an attack, but instead use right-click. That way if I accidentally click on my own unit in battle, my army will just be assigned to 'follow' it, instead of clubbing it unconscious.
What finally boots people out of their fortified bases is that they hit 100 food and can't bulk up anymore. In fact, 25 minutes into a game it's no longer advisable to leave home with anything less.
At that point, you're hoarding money for future re-creations of your army, once it gets slaughtered in combat. Then the important point becomes infrastructure, so you learn to lay out your base for mass production. (At least two of everything.) Then, once you've maxed out and are accumulating cash, you might consider building an entire replica of your base somewhere else so that you can defend one with an army spawned by the other. There's always lots to do.
A good yardstick I've noticed in measuring your minute-by-minute performance: Until you hit 100 food, you should always be flat broke. Otherwise, someone out there has a better army than yours.
I racked my brain for ways to counter the human 'all magic user' tactic, and realized that the answer might be obvious - use the faerie dragons to damage the casters.
I did some inconclusive experiments with them in a vs. computer match. They were hard to position properly because of their slow movement speed and small size. They tended to get lost in the chaos of a battle, and when I did activate them, the spellcasters were often out of range.
On the other hand, I was pleased to discover that even the healing spell cast by the undead's floating idol was subject to blasts of lightning from the dragon, and that the more dragons I threw in, the more lightning they were able to dish out.
Trying this tactic in a FFA game didn't work, because the human player I was facing was very skilled at moving his spellcasters out of the fight the second he saw the dragons activate. If I could get better control over them, I could throw them in against lesser skilled players, but the dragons are not the definite solution against the human spellcaster horde.
I also experimented with command-queueing, trying to get four ravens to cast cyclone on successive units, but the results were disappointing because they cast the spell so fast that the units tended to land all at once, granting only a short reprieve against a large land army. I'm still hopeful that it will counteract the orc land-horde tactic, though.
Command-queueing worked much better when I tried it with the ranged units - shift-clicking on sequential targets made a little flag icon appear over each one, and as soon as the first one fell, they all changed their focus very handily. In a FFA game it was tough to keep track of what to target, but in a series of 1v1 games it gave me a serious combat advantage, since I was able to group-target with my ranged units and control my hero at the same time, instead of trading off.
It worked well until I began going up against fellow Night Elves. Then I realized one of the factors in my continuous defea: They always ramp up to second-teir units as quickly as they can, playing defensively until then. The money they save by not investing in smaller units allows their second-teir army to be larger than mine, and I inevitably fall after a couple of skirmishes.
I got yelled at today by one orc player for consistently destroying his expansions. He failed to notice the Sentinel owls I had placed above each mine, and after his third base fell he began yelling "FUCK U NOOB ['newbie', or amateur player] ONLY NOOB PLAYERS USE NE [night elves] GET SOME SKILS RETARD". I replied "uh huh". Then he charged my base, and when I ate his army he quit the game.
On to the FFA games again.
One player used the common tactic of making a pile of orc bat-riders, and then going from base to base destroying only the central buildings, seriously handicapping his competitors. Another player replied, "I used to see that tactic a lot when I played a year ago. Then I left this game for World of Warcraft, and all my skills went down the drain."
People get real chatty in FFA, talking about their jobs and other hobbies, and expert players sometimes leave defeated bases partially intact so that their owners can continue as spectators, or get the full replay for later study.
Today's big game: Two night elves, two undead. The second NE was an amateur player who got booted quickly. The undead fought for the middle of the map, and I walked in a few times and spoiled the fight. Teal got the worse of it, and actually quit the game out of frustration because my unit control was so effective. Meanwhile purple built up an odd army - half beetles, half banshees - and they ate up the map with a level 10 Panderan Brewmaster in the front. I have no idea how that guy got to such a high level. He ate my whole base, but I spawned mines everywhere and nearly rebuilt a big enough army to fight him again before being knocked out.
Today's lesson: Bears are much more useful in bear form. Morphing them doesn't cost much mana, so it's good to keep them in bear form by default unless you're out of combat and you need healing.
I focused exclusively on FFA games today, and realized that, as one player put it, winning in FFA is mostly a matter of luck. Assuming everyone is equally skilled, your starting position on the map relative to your enemies is the primary factor in your success. You can only push those odds so far, by selectively engaging in combat, before you're starved for resources and have to do something rash.
I actually won several times today, and each time was obvious luck. The first time the other players were attacking each other, leaving me alone to mine the bottom of the map, and the second time the player who might have killed me was suddenly disconnected after a novice player smacked his town hall with a victory fleet.
Luck went against me more often, though. One game was all Night Elf, and my expansion base got ransacked by one foe at the exact same time as another rolled in with his pack of Chimaera to eat my home base. Next game, I built up exactly the wrong kind of army to go against an Orc player and was summarily crushed. After that came a round where two of the four players quit almost immediately, and the third hid at home until he could airlift a load of tanks into my base, demolishing it before I could respond.
The luck factor in FFA makes the game less enjoyable for me - there's no amount of skill I can accumulate that will overcome a bad position on the map, so my mind is less engaged as it is in a 1v1 situation. On the other hand, FFA players are the most friendly, amusing, and merciful of any game type. I could see myself playing this type non-competitively, just to socialize.
Decided to go heavy on the Druid of the Claw units, since I've all but ignored them in the past. They're not very useful until the game is well underway, because you need to be Tier 3 before the upgrade that turns them into bears is available.
|"Pulling a tank job":||The Human tactic of creating a squad of tanks, then sending it - usually unescorted - down to an enemy base and taking out as many buildings as possible before the squad is destroyed. A low blow that can severely cripple an opponent if timed right.|
|"Blood in the water":||What a Free-For-All player smells, when he sees two opponents take heavy losses fighting each other. He pounces on the surviving army with his own undamaged force, then goes looking for a base to destroy.|
I started the game by saying "Ahh, haven't seen this map in a while." The pink player replied: "shut up. next person to talk dies. i go after only them!" So I said, "WOOBA WOOBA WOOBA". He replied, "ok you die."
He then began to harass me with his Death Knight, but I kicked him out of the base, and went around to harass him back. Destroyed his mining facility, and kept spawning kitty-cats until I had a sizable ground army at home. He came around the backside with a huge crew of Ghouls - must have been his whole lumber harvesting contingent - and our two armies fought. He planted a tower and upgraded it, but the tide turned as I kept spawning priestesses, and he ran off.
So I followed him home. He'd started un-summoning his buildings for cash, so I attacked the few remaining, and he tried to lead my units away with his Knight. "That's right, run, you stupid bastard," I taunted him. He said nothing, but sent his surviving hero around the back of my base again to disrupt my lumber production - a last sucker punch. My rock-throwing towers knocked him out, and as his ghostly corpse rose into the air I typed: "Have a nice day." He'd built one Ziggurat in order to stay in the game (if you have zero buildings standing in 1v1 or FFA, you automatically lose) and he vanished once I kicked it over.
Then, of course, the unmolested red player glided over the trees with a victory fleet and burned me alive. My final message was, "Oh well, at least I took out pink."
The lesson here is, I should be aware that other players will respond based on the army I've shown them. If I have mainly a ground army (the type I favor in FFA games), I should come back at them with an air force the next time I rebuild it.
These monsters are nasty, but with extra healing power on my side, they soon fell.
I ran into the red NE army and demolished it down to one hero, who teleported home. The purple player had built a Chimaera fleet and was harassing the Human player with it. Acting on our fear of fleets, all four players converged on purple's base at the same time, leveled it, and then attacked each other. While this was happening, I noticed that red was building a fleet of his own, so I took out an expansion and charged his base with dryads to slow him down. Unfortunately, purple showed up again from an entirely different corner of the map with a second fleet just like the first, and I couldn't handle both of them, and was plowed under.
Tucked into the same place as before, I did the same expansion-grabbing trick, and began a third expansion only to see it pulverized by the Undead. I suspect it was the same player who showed me his beetle-and-magician fleet the other day. I confronted his army and was beaten, and then he began a march into my base, but I spawned dozens of rock-hurling trees and slowed him down enough to make him pull out. He'd missed my first expansion in the chaos, and I used the cash flow to hunker down and spawn a Chimaera fleet. Meanwhile, the Undead marched into the Orc base to my north, with sickeningly little resistance. I was hoping I could use my fleet to smack his buildings down from offshore, but just as the first units were ready, the Undead player mysteriously quit the game. Must have had an appointment. That left me, and the other Night Elf player along the top. He had one expansion, and appeared to be stuck at home. I took advantage of his sloth to spread my own expansions all over the bottom and side of the map, and completed my fleet. I spawned a horde of Griffins to protect them, and sent them from the sea into has base, but I forgot the breath upgrade so they weren't very effective.
Inside the base I found an incredible number of archers, but no air resistance of any kind. My Griffins were useless. The archers shot down most of the Chimaera, so I sent the Griffins sailing around the map to be cannon fodder while I retooled my forces. In the meantime, he sent his units to attack my base. It was a gigantic crowd of archers - not one other unit type aside from his hero, a Keeper of the Grove. That hero has a very powerful area-effect healing spell - perfect for an army of small units.
Since I didn't have a land army I could only offer token resistance, while I used my cash reserves to build another base on the opposite side of the map. From there, I spawned my own gigantic army of archers, using his strategy against him. Since he had failed to expand, his force dwindled, while I was able to keep producing Archers as they fell. I drove him all the way back to his home base and overran it, for a hard-won victory.
Started in the upper corner of the map, got several good expansions to myself, and an elite force just in time to scare away a Human player and an Orc player. I went exploring down south where the Human player came from, but before I cold locate him he quit the game. I waded in to take out the buildings at an expansion, and the remaining players noticed and declared that I had beaten the player. The Orc player clouted the Human player into submission, then had a run of bad luck when coming after me. I took out two of his expansions and we waded into each others' bases at the same time. I destroyed his base entirely, and he nearly destroyed mine, and we both hid in opposite corners of the map trying to rebuild a base and an army. The Human player kept attacking my expansions and pissed me off royally, and eventually damaged me so much I quit the game to leave him for the Orc player to mop up.
The Human player was ignorant of a general FFA rule: Try to attack all opponents evenly, or the one you ignore will overwhelm you. His ignorance of that rule made my game miserable, and made a guaranteed loss for us both. I rarely quit a game before the end, but in this case, it was hopeless.
And that's when I realized the FFA "golden rule": Stay out of trouble.
In the meantime, I could see the Human player a short distance away, gearing up a large land army. Just before I planted the expansion, I spied the Elf player charging right for me across the map. By pulling out a Dryad and poking the Human army, I led it into the path of the Elf army, causing them to converge on the site of my expansion. All three of our armies fought, and the Human player won and leveled the buildings, just in time for the Undead player to arrive at the scene sporting his own crew which beat the Humans into mush. So in rapid succession, all four players had converged at my expansion site and had a big old brawl. Undead had the last standing army, so he won of course.
This round illustrates the corollary to the FFA "golden rule": When you can, try and lead others into trouble.
When I attacked the Human player, I was acting on the desire to eliminate my neighbor before he eliminated my expansions, or at least scare him inside his base so I would be left alone. I felt I had no choice but to strike this guy first, and hard. If I hadn't been next to him on the map, it wouldn't have been necessary. The conflict resulting from that bad luck doomed us both to lose the technology race.
The lesson learned here is: Even among semi-literate gamer geeks, diplomacy is still a factor.
That and, I still have a lot to learn about the Night Elves.
Two Orcs and one Undead sharing the map, generally leaving each other alone. Both Orc players were unskilled - staying at home on a creep-heavy map. The Undead and I were neck-in-neck, and both started expansions at once. I was alerted to his impending attack on mine when he killed a wisp I'd sent out for a third base.
As soon as I saw him around the corner, I booted all the wisps out of the mine (told the tree to make five more of course), and planted them all as Ancient Protectors. They were about halfway finished growing when the Undead rounded the corner. My army was standing still in front of the trees, making the units invisible to him (shadow-melding) until he was quite close. A battle ensued, and I was careful to target the Floating Idols first, to remove his healing ability. The trees finished growing just after he teleported home.
Next, one Orc player charged the other and was driven out, and teleported home just in time to catch the Undead, who marched up and kicked the shit out of him. The Undead pulled away after all the defenses were down - probably leaving him as a distraction for the other players. He marched his army to the west and ran smack into my base, with my army standing out front. It took all my melee units to keep his hero busy, while my ranged units went after the Floating Idol, then the beetles. He was beating on my hero, and I 'blinked' myself over to the moon wells to charge back up, but she kept ignoring my 'move' orders and attacking instead, and seconds later she was toast.
The Undead army was destroyed down to the last unit, and his hero teleported home, up to level 9 from the combat. A few minutes later, the red Orc player let loose his horde of batriders, pulling the old "destroy the central building" trick. Purple was hit first, and he hadn't recovered from the Undead assault, so he was a goner. Then I was hit, at the same time as the Undead attacked my expansion with Frost Wyrms. I lost both Trees of Life, and would have been dead except I'd saved up a pile of cash, which I used to plant expansions all along the top of the map.
Meanwhile, the Undead player attacked the remaining Orc base, probably to even the odds. He was narrowly repelled, so he ran to the middle of the map and waited for another army, which I accidentally met head-on. I teleported back to my expansion (the Tree of Life at my home base was still missing), but the Undead army followed me. I had to flee home while he trashed the expansion. He must have assumed it was my only one - because he then went straight back to harassing the Orc player - but I'd actually started four expansions, and bought a large army with the accumulated gold. I sent it south and crushed an Undead expansion as payback. He didn't have much to defend with because he'd been too busy with the Orcs, but he pulled out what he had and sent it around the corner. I ate the army and chased him all the way to the center of his base in order to strike the killing blow to his hero, even though it cost most of my army.
I ran my hero home and left the Mountain Giants standing around as distraction. From there it was a race to see who could make the biggest army the fastest - and with four expansions to his one, I was ready for him. We clashed again at one of my mines, and I flattened him and then went looking for his gold supply - but found nothing. As I was looking, a horde of batriders flew over my head, making for the Undead base ... that damn Batrider strategy again! Only a fool would do it twice in one game!
So, I decided that now was a good time to hit the Orcs. I waded deep into the base, but the Undead player had tagged a beetle onto my army, so he saw the fracas. He decided now would be the perfect time to hit my expansion again. My owls spotted him coming, but I had no teleport scroll, so I had to draw out and hoof it across the entire map. By the time I arrived the expansion was toast, but the Undead player must have been feeling cocky because he attacked my home base just as my army rolled in - and we all know the rule about attacking Night Elves next to Moon Wells: Don't do it.
He was smacked down to his lone hero, and only escaped by drinking healing potions on the run. I chucked spears at him all the way down to his first expansion, which I roto-rooted again. After a breather, he began attacking my expansions with groups of two or three units at a time, trying to distract me. I split my army into two teams, and policed my expansions with one while seeking his with the other. I found one - the last one - and leveled it just in time for him to attack my base. I teleported home and sent my second group running over just in case. He was smashed down to the hero, with a few hit points left, and as he ran away, he quit the game. That left the red Orc player, who had apparently been sitting on his hands the entire time - I walked in and pounded his base apart with little trouble. We chatted the entire time. Hard-won victory!
Left alone along the top of the map, and the bottom Undead player quit. That left Human and Night Elf players on the sides to duke it out. I stayed out of trouble for as long as I could, but then had a nasty encounter with the Night Elves when I found that player's expansion. I whupped his army, and of course he immediately told the Human player to attack me.
The Human player and I met outside one of my expansions, which he blew up with tanks, and my army was chewed into hamburger. It was that same spellbreaker / healer / few melee units army I'd seen many times before.
My army getting blasted apart by mortar fire, behind a line of Knights. Sucks to be me.
The Human player could have sent his entire army into my base and toasted me, but instead he just sent his tanks in to destroy my Tree of Eternity, and ran the rest of his units home. I'd planted plenty of defensive trees, like a smart fellow, and even though he took out the tree his tanks were all lost in the process. Since I had a remaining expansion, I used it to spawn two more, then built up a badly-grouped army of archers and dryads. I don't know what happened in the next battle, but somehow when his replenished army clashed with mine, I utterly destroyed it. He must have been away from the keyboard or something - the slaughter made no sense.
This time, he ate crow.
This round was all but over - I destroyed both his expansions, and his army, starved for cash to begin with, never regrouped. He quit when I took out his hero for the third time. An unexpected victory.
I'm still not sure why the battle went so strongly in my favor, but it convinced me to go heavy on Archers the next time I met a Human player.
A proud Human army reduced to corpses and vengeful spirits.
I did a whole lot of experimenting in single-player mode today, trying to get into fights with the Humans in a controlled environment, but for some reason the computer would never go beyond Tier 1. No matter how much of the map I gave it, how I pounded it, how long I waited - it would never upgrade to a Castle, and never made any units besides Riflemen and Footmen, and one hero, sometimes two. It was very frustrating.
Played a FFA with one player quitting immediately. Razzed the human player until his hero was dead, then spread out along the bottom of the map, kicking down the frozen buildings of the Undead player who quit and installing a base there. The second Undead player was still alive at the top of the map, and the Human player felt hemmed in, and he wanted more resources to confront me, so he charged the Undead player first and took him out. I caught his forces returning home, strung out in a line, and dove in with my double-expansion fortified army. We both took heavy losses and he portaled home, and I led my survivors back to base to bulk up again.
I brought my army back and began flicking ballista fire at his towered expansion, which drew his army out. We fought and I destroyed the expansion, which surveillance told me was his only one. To my irritation, he'd sent a half-dozen tanks down to my base while we were fighting. He destroyed almost everything there despite the heavy fortifications I'd planted, but I had so much money saved up that I slapped down a new base almost immediately, very heavy on the trees. My army was still in good shape so I marched it into his base and destroyed it.
Of course he moved into the unoccupied Undead spot at the top of the map and began a second base, complete with a new expansion - but he was hampered by lack of funds, so it went slowly. He had just begun reassembling an army - looked like he was going heavy on flyers this time - when I started lobbing ballistas at his new expansion. Again, we had an encounter, and again, I took out the base. Seeing his emminent doom, he sighed, "That should have gone differently..." and quit the game.
Hrmmm. Half wins, half losses. Definite improvement, but I've still got a lot to learn.
Things I should have done differently:
When I saw that the NE player was running an a heavy melee-unit army, I should have immediately used my cash reserves to make an air force the second my army was toasted. The switchup would have been enough to win the game.
When I noticed that the NE player was camping outside his expansions and adding lots of towers to them, I should have used a small scout group to ping at them, triggering his use of a portal scroll to protect them. A single ballista would have done the job. Then after he'd used the portal and gone far away from his home base, I could have dodged in and ransacked it. People rarely split their armies, and this idea should be used to one's advantage.
Sharing the map with Humans, Orcs, and NE. The NE player tried to tech up very rapidly, and I ran into his army and ate it. Then I attacked him at home, twice, draining his moon wells each time, and kicking over most of his base. Then I left, to fry bigger fish.
I expanded to the plateau next door, then noticed the Orc player attack the Human player. The Orcs were devastated by the Human all-air force, but watching them gave me the opportunity to fine-tune my army for anti-air. I led a maxed-out group - twelve archers, eleven dryads, plus other units - to the entrance of his expansion and gave him a right good whupping, but just as I was charging in to attack his base, the Orc army came creeping along and charged mine. He managed it very poorly, and I kicked him out while at the same time fending off the NE player, who had recovered by then. "That's right, GET FUCKED!" I shouted over the chat console.
All three opponents hid in their bases at that point, and I took the opportunity to spawn expansions everywhere. My first order of business was to finish off the Night Elf player - but I charged with an incomplete force and, though I drained his moon wells and destroyed his Chimaera, I had to run back home before the campaign was won. Luckily the Orc player showed up right then to finish the job, and while he kicked over the buildings I created yet another anti-air force and met him enroute to my base. His army went 'splat'.
I patrolled the expansions for a while, then sent the army up to harass the Human player - but he'd made an all-Rifleman army that beat mine soundly. So, I spent a huge chunk of savings and created an almost-all-Bear army, guessing that it would be the perfect counter to it. I charged the Orc base with it first, to stop him from disrupting my base with his hero, and as soon as he was gone I led the still-growing army up to the Humans. I'd guessed well - the Bears tore the Riflemen apart, and I took out both his expansions and leveled his base for the victory.
All three players were poor challengers. According to the replay, they didn't act to preserve their units when creeping, they didn't micromanage well in battle, and they kept over-producing one kind of unit. The hapless NE player produced almost nothing but Chimaera, even though the tactic failed four times in a row.
Stuck between Humans and Undead, unable to expand. I struck the Humans first because they looked easier to defeat. Immediately I built expansions around them and in the middle of their defunct base, but before I could get re-established, the Undead charged me at home. He must have reasoned that I was busy cleaning up the Human player, and went diving for that window of opportunity.
I teleported home and scared him away, but then got cocky and attacked him without enough infrastructure to recover. He waded into my base a second time and destroyed it. I started rebuilding in the midst of the Human player's base, and re-summoned my hero. The Undead marched north to eradicate me, but ran into the remaining Human player right outside my ragtag installation. I cast 'Starfall' on the two armies as they fought, hoping to damage them both enough to leave me alone, but the Undead player rallied and wandered north. He kicked the second Human player to bits, and since I was down to two Trees of Life and nothing else, I decided I was doomed and quit.
Fought with a weak Night Elf player, who was trying to tech up to Chimaera very hastily. I pounced on his tavern-bought heros with my posse of kitty-cats, sending him home, and taunted: "That's right, run you teching-up bastard." The teal player asked: "Who's teching?" I replied: "Green. Feel free to smack his ass."
A little social engineering.
I geared up to charge green's base, but on the way my Sentinels observed the teal Undead charging in ahead of me. So I ran my force right into the Night Elf base after him, and started biting his army in the ass. He teleported home, so I started whomping on the Night Elf base, picking up where he left off... Until the purple Undead showed up and bit my army in the ass. I was almost destroyed, when the teal Undead showed up AGAIN and attacked the purple Undead and myself - three armies fighting in the midst of a fourth players' base. We ran away, and teal beat the Night Elf player so severely that he quit.
Meanwhile, purple rushed MY base, and I kicked him out. Then he came back, and I kicked him out AGAIN, and while he was fleeing he ran into the teal army AGAIN and was obliterated. Taking purple's cue, teal ran into my base and began chewing on it. I fought desperately to drive him off, and in a bizarre twist, purple showed up with a fresh army and plowed into teal -- right on my doorstep -- saying that he was going to "save me" to make an ally. Teal fled, but my base was a shambles.
I hid in the corner and rebuilt, and we all caught our breath. Then teal found me, but as soon as he attacked, purple bum-rushed him from the side. Teal ran away, and purple stayed nearby so I could "feed his heros", as part of our alliance. I sent collections of small units out and had them run circles around his heros, so he could earn easy experience points. Unfortunately teal came back and hit my base hard, and I scrambled to make an expansion in the far north while purple regrouped.
The two Undead players fought while I chatted online, only half interested in the game. Finally teal won, and since he wasn't my ally, I was doomed. So I quit.
The smallest FFA map, with the fewest resources, with a Human player, an Undead player, an Orc player, and myself the Night Elves. The Human player wasted his money on towers and then created a buttload of tanks. I took his expansion after destroying his tanks when he rolled them out in his only major attack. He spent the rest of the game broke and chatting, until the Undead player destroyed his Castle. The Undead player lost his air force in the process, however, and found himself in exactly the same position as the Human player.
Meanwhile, the Orc player spent his cash - home base and expansion - on a large air force, and kept it at home, afraid to confront me in the middle of the map. I dominated the game, but got bored waiting for the Orc player to do something, so I charged his base and lost my army. I assume he took his few surviving units out to roast the Undead, but I didn't hang around long enough to find out.
I ran a very good campaign on this map, destroying two players single-handedly. However the third was able to hide at home, and built a totally bizarre army of ballistas, Druids of the Talon, and Faerie Dragons. He caught me off guard twice, then as I was trying to shift gears to Bears and Griffins - which I thought would probably take him out - he rushed headlong into my base and chewed it up. A disappointing end to an otherwise excellent round.
After thinking about it longer, I realized that perhaps an army like that is best dealt with in two stages. Ballistas are slow, and anchored to the ground. They can't move very fast, and they need an escort everywhere they go. If I produced an air force and started attacking his base from the side, he would have to meet me in the air - which means morphing his Druids and sending them with his Dragons up to confront me. The Ballistas would be left behind. If I banked on fair losses from the air force, and overbalanced it for anti-air (lots and lots of Griffins), I could destroy his air force and have free reign to walk into his base.
In the meantime, with his ballistas unguarded and me in his house, his logical step would be to send the rest of his troops down to my base for a counterstrike. I'd have to rely on the slowness of the Ballistas to give me enough time to finish producing Bears or Chimaera, which could march up and take them out. I'd have to work fast to acheive the critical mass of units necessary, but it would probably work.
Kicked out a fellow Night Elf player who was a little slow on the draw - actually I pulled out of his base, but when the humans came running by, he must have lost hope. I installed a tree in his base immediately, grateful for the expansion. Then the yellow NE player rushed in on me with a horde of cats and archers, but I pushed him back thanks to my upgraded units. I tried to expand up through the center of the map, and after being rushed at home by yellow twice more we declared a truce while we beat on the Human player, who was creating an incredible horde of towers. I explored the top of the map and built many expansions, and then cleaned out the area between the Human player and his expansions, carving a circle around the map. The yellow player hit the expansions themselves with ballistas, and erased all the towers.
I arrived at home to accumulate units, then as I was striking out again I saw a pile of tanks roll by. The Human player was attempting to bomb us both into submission. I followed the tanks back to my base, then back to the Night Elf player, but left my units standing around a bit too long. The Night Elf player got angry and called off the truce. I honestly don't know where he got the funds for his later excursions, but regardless I was attacked in my home base three times, with hordes of archers. He ran out of steam just as the Human player was recuperating, and since I had plenty of cash due to the expansions I'd held at the top of the map, I picked apart the Human players' defenses. He said I was a cheater for calling a truce, then accused me of using a map hack. He picked away at the expansions he knew of, fighting me all the way to the last building, and when I knocked it over he was forcibly ejected from the game.
I located an Undead player to my south, and blitzed his hero, then ran back to base. He built up an army and headed south, avoiding me, and ran into the other Night Elf player. They tangled, and the Undead went back home again. He and I started expansions, but didn't invest in defenses for them. I teched up, and began building my secondary army. All this time, the fourth player had been strolling up and down the other side of the map, creeping everything. He started out dangerously weak, researching very heavily, straight to Frost Wyrms. By the time he arrived at my expansion and began stomping it, he had an army that outclassed mine. I teleported in to defend my expansion - which was probably a bad idea - and he whomped my army, then brutalized me at home, then attacked the other two players in succession, who were still gearing up to deal with each other. Once again, the game went easily to the player who was left alone.
An interesting thing I noticed during the replay was that he found my base, and saw my army outside, but steered a wide path around it to my expansion. Perhaps after he saw the extent of my forces, he decided it was safe to attack, as long as I wasn't near my moon wells. I should have let the expansion go.
A 1v1 game against the a fellow NE player - he charged me at home a few times, but fled when his units started to fall. I avoided teching up for a long while, concentrating instead on a large tier-1 army, and this time it worked.
After his second run on my base, I immediately started an expansion and then went looking for his. I managed to destroy it, though I took heavy losses. He waited around for a while at home to build more teir-2 units, then made a run for my own expansion. I knew what was coming, so I'd built a handful of trees around it. They wouldn't stop him, but they would delay him just long enough for my army to arrive. I targeted his hero, and he got scared when he saw her health dropping, so he took her out of the battle - but I hit her with too many Poisoned Dagger spells and she went down. That loss convinced him to turn tail and abandon my expansion, which was a fatal mistake.
I used the cash flow to produce a full army, including a second hero. I figured that he would fortify his expansion heavily the next time he tried planting it, which would keep his cash flow down, and prevent him from making such a large force. I sent a scouting owl over his base and discovered I was correct - he only had a handful of giants there, and his hero. I waded in and dismantled his base, then his expansion. We chatted for a while, and I summoned a third hero and began creeping him up for the hell of it, while I sent scouting owls around the map. I wasn't worried, since I knew from the owls that he wasn't anywhere near a mine. Finally I found his Tree of Life stuck at the end of a narrow alley he'd eaten into the forest. We played around for a while, then he got bored and finally left the game.
Want to move a huge army, but don't want to do a lot of clicking? Hit group key 3, then right-click a unit in group key 2. Hit group key 2, then right-click a unit in group-key 1. Hit group-key 1, and program your elaborate movement sequence. Your army will march off like a parade.
Note: Keep an eye on them!!
I've played several days of FFA games, but not documented them. I haven't learned anything new, except to see interesting variations of the tavern-bought heros combined with specialized armies.
I've also seen a sharp increase in the number of FFA wins - easy or otherwise - including a three-game winning streak, which seems crazy. That means I beat out nine players in a row. If I had to guess at the reasons behind the increase, I'd say that I'm learning which battles to avoid, and which battles to pursue. You always have a choice, unless someone walks directly into your home base - and that happens rarely.
So, I find that if you want the broadest range of choices, you need to have the strongest army on the map at any one time. Some players strategize for a weak beginning, some forget or are unable to upgrade. My usual approach is to make a large early army that can fold into an advanced army when the time comes.
Here's a breakdown:
This procedure was what carried me through the winning streak, so it's definitely worthwhile. It doesn't seem very innovative or surprising, but it is consistently strong, and that's what I'm after.
I've been learning dozens of little things as well, which are hard to describe without demonstrating them. Procedures for moving your army around on the map and positioning it, different times and places for setting waypoints, different attack procedures based on the kind of army you meet, different proportions of units to make in response to the enemy's own army... Good times and bad times to attack an enemy expansion, spawn an expansion of your own, or feign either one in order to distract a player...
A lot of it is good old psychology. There are times when a players' next move becomes obvious, because it's exactly what you would do. One of my favorite tricks is to walk right up to an enemy base and kick at an insignificant building just long enough to convince the player to teleport home. If you make a clean getaway, then they've wasted the scroll, which costs 350 gold - and they may even forget to buy another after they chase you away. It's the equivalent of ringing a doorbell of some cranky neighbor's house, and seeing the occupant run out after you with his pants down.
I downloaded the replay of the Night Elf vs. Undead battle between the two top contenders for the last tournament, and watched it. I was surprised to discover that the Elf player made several egregious choices that doomed him almost immediately. The Undead player teched up and started producing an all-gargoyle army, and the instant the Elf player saw it he should have started producing buttloads of Archers.
Instead he blundered along with his original plan, and created an army of Dryads. Of course their lack of armor brought their rapid death, and he lost the game after a few painful clashes.
One surprising thing I did see, however, was that he summoned a pile of 'Skeleton Archers' to help defend himself when the Undead player creepjacked him. Seeing this made me realize that there's a lot I have to learn about the items and stores, and how to use them in combat. So today I played a few vs-computer games and investigated the items thoroughly.
What I found was pretty disappointing. There were two items I knew about and used already - the Orb of Poison and, of course, the Scroll of Town Portal. The rest were either healing potions of varying degree, or doodads that granted minor advantages.
Night Elf store items of note:
Moonstone: Creates a 30 second artificial night. I've never used this myself, but seen other Night Elf players activate it when entering a battle. Presumably they do it to enable 'Shadow Melding', so they can immediately hide any units that get too damaged. Perhaps they also exploit the enhanced vision range of their units when pursuing or fleeing.
The problem I have with Shadow Meld is that if you hide in a battle, the enemy still knows you're there. You're effectively trapped for as long as the player hangs around. Shadow Meld is useful in other ways - crafty reconnaissance for example - but those uses generally require more than 30 seconds.
Dust of Appearance: Since it contains two charges, not just one, it's a bargain when faced with that Damn Windwalking Blademaster. Of course, the shop needs to be built if this item is going to be available. I don't usually build the Ancient of Wonders until late in the game. Perhaps I should change that?
I also checked out the items available at the neutral shop. The Dust of Appearance is there, so if I find myself near a shop in the early game, I can still reveal a Damn Windwalker even if I haven't built the Ancient of Wonders. The only other item that stands out is the Scroll of Protection, granting a temporary armor increase. I've seen Human players use this to push up their already high armor bonuses.
Today I browsed through the entire Battle.net strategy guide. Most of it was review for me, but a few questions came up that I'd like to find answers for.
Of primary interest was the Keeper of the Grove's "Entangling Roots" spell. In recent games I've tried to use Starfall only to have my hero interrupted by a counter-spell, cast by an enemy hero. I would like to have the same ability, and as the Night Elves, my choices are between the Keeper of the Talon's "Cyclone" spell, and the Keeper of the Grove's "Entangling Roots". (Having only two choices is very irritating. The other three races have four each.)
I played several FFA-style versus-computer games, using the cheat codes to speed things up, and chose the Keeper of the Grove as a first hero. I found that Entangling Roots is a handy spell, even when creeping, but the Keeper really doesn't belong on the front lines, mixed in with the melee troops. That means I shouldn't have him set to group key 1, which causes him to run around clustered with my melee units. My second hero is always the Preistess of the Moon, as the perfect compliment to the ranged troops, so my alternative is to place the Keeper on group key 3 from the start. That gets a little complicated when trying to manage a small army. The Priestess is very much a set-and-forget kind of hero, but to use Entangling Roots effectively the Keeper must be easy to access.
Late in the game, when the Keeper was leveled up, I got to use 'Healing Rains', which rapidly heals and repairs units in an area around the Keeper even in the thick of combat. I was surprised to find that the spell has a very fast cooldown rate. (I even cast it twice in one combat round.) Thanks to that spell, I fought several battles against full armies and didn't lose a single unit. And even more amazing, all my units were at full health afterwards. Quite magical.
Healing Rains is also useful between battles and at home when the Moon Wells are dry, because of that fast cooldown rate. I don't have to worry about keeping the spell ready, like I do with Starfall.
I also discovered something else in the vs-computer games. None of the heros in the tavern have what could be considered an 'area-effect' enhancement, like the Thorns Aura or the Trueshot Aura. The closest match is the Pit Lord's "Howl" attack, which affects an area of hostile units. In any of the tavern-buyable heros, there are no other spells that activate instantly as an area-effect without aiming, yet also affect units individually. (The possible exception is the 'Tornado' spell from the Sea Witch, but that spell doesn't take effect instantly. The tornado has to prowl around first, and besides, it can be interrupted.)
The only reason I noticed this is because I was thinking to myself, "Wouldn't it be nice if all three of my heros had area-effect enhancements, boosting the power of my whole army?" When I was using the Keeper of the Grove, I noticed how much of a difference his 'Thorns Aura' made. Frankly, I'm amazed I survived without it.
I did some vs-computer playing with the Pit Lord as a first hero, and discovered that he makes a pretty decent one. 'Howl' also becomes a very useful spell if he leads into combat with the melee group - he gets exposed to the most enemies that way, and if he can last beyond the first seconds of the assault, the ranged attackers can shift the balance of power. (Perhaps this is where those anti-magic potions come in?) Howl has a limited range, but a 50% damage reduction on, for example, a buttload of Tauren, is one heck of a bonus. It instantly counteracts 'Bloodlust'.
I played a handful of Battle.net games today, choosing the Pit Lord as a first character. It's a tricky business because you have to sneak out to the Pub in the middle of the map to get access to the guy.
Results were mixed, though generally positive. I won two out of five FFA rounds. I was shocked to discover a fellow Night Elf player using the Panderan Brewmaster, followed up with the Pit Lord. Looks like I'm not the only one who noticed his ability.
Off to the side of the other players on the large city map, I creeped the Pit Lord heavily, and started an expansion in the empty slot next door. I ran across an Orc player, poked at his base, and then began to run away. He chased me, and I cut his Tauren hero off from his army, forcing him to spend a Town Portal scroll to escape. He left me alone for a good while, allowing me to creep up the other side of the map and start a second expansion.
Meanwhile the Orcs and Humans at the top corner were having a serious brawl. The Humans eventually won because they were able to keep the nearby expansion point, and when I rolled in to destroy that point I succeeded in beating the Human army. I had three heros by then, and was using Howl to great effect. Just as the Human forces left, the other Orc player showed his face again. My army needed repair, so I teleported home.
That Orc player went north, to harass the Human player, who was defenseless even though he had three good expansions. For some reason the Orcs left the base after knocking down a few buildings, and started beating on an expansion instead. Meanwhile I repaired my army and walked it across the map to the Orc expansions, and ate them both. Then I charged him at home.
That battle went very poorly, primarily because I didn't bother to prevent my ranged units from shooting the buildings instead of the enemy army. The Orc player was very skilled with his Tauren and their Spirit-Link abilities, and he wore my army down, finally obliterating it. Like a smart fellow, he marched directly over to my base and began kicking it for revenge. I put up a fight, but after his hero resurrected for the second time, he overpowered me. The Human player saw this happening, however, and decided that then would be the perfect time to assault the Orcs. Blood in the Water.
The Orc base was wiped entirely off the map. Since I'd killed his expansions earlier, he didn't have any cash to rebuild, so all he could do was slap a town hall down in the wilderness. Meanwhile, I'd been laying buildings down like crazy, at the expansion in the far corner. I had enough cash from it and two other expansions to generate half an army, and when the Human player came calling, I drove him out. Later on he would lament his decision to rush me, moaning over the chat console.
"You had to," I replied. "Got to kick those FFA players when they're down."
I finished buying back my army, and took it out for a joyride. That's when I discovered what had happened to the other Orc player. As I roamed the map looking for expansions to squash, the Human player kicked him out of the game by destroying his last few buildings. I waded into the Human base and let him have it. We chatted as I knocked his buildings down. "That Pit Lord is mean!" he said. "Yeah, he's a big old asshole." (The Pit Lord's dialogue is rather rude.)
So far, with the Keeper of the Grove on point-duty as the third hero, I've never been able to get him experienced enough to cast Healing Rains. Thorns Aura has been proving very effective, however.
In several battles I've wished that I could manipulate the heros individually, to enhance the effect of their channeling-type spells, without manipulating the group they belong to (melee or ranged). It's enough to make me consider changing my group-key configuration. Should I assign the three heros to 1, 2, and 3, and move melee and ranged to 4 and 5? Will they still maintain formation when moving? (It's important that the Priestess of the Moon and Keeper of the Grove hang near the back.)
If I do this, I'd want the melee hero to be on group key 1. But what if I want to summon the Priestess or Keeper first, so they can level up quicker? Is that a good idea? Will I end up assigning my first hero to key 2?
This group key changeup seemed like a good idea, until I put it into practice in a few vs-computer games. Assigning melee, ranged, and hero to different keys right at the beginning of the game makes moving a pain in the ass, and it can't really be optimized by using 'follow' either, since that puts the melee units too far in the front, and prevents them from assuming a correct formation when they stop marching.
End of day Battle.net FFA ranking: 254th
Today I varied my hero-summoning order, looking for clues to the best approach. I discovered that the melee-style hero claims more experience than the ranged hero just because it's usually the closest to the center of combat. So, even if I summon a ranged hero first, then summon a melee-hero second, the melee hero quickly catches up in levels. Furthermore, creep-gained experience is less wasted, since a level 5 hero isn't standing nearby to uselessly absorb the experience. At least, it seems that way - I still can't tell if a level 5 hero actually claims experience points that would go to lesser heros, or if that experience automatically shifts.
Two Undead players, two Night Elf players, each to a wide corner of the big Cityscape map. We chatted it up, and yellow bragged that he was ranked 3rd in FFA on all of Battle.net. "I always win!", he boasted.
For my first hero I chose the Priestess of the Moon. I was immediately harassed by the other Night Elf player's Demon Hunter hero, so I assumed we were neighbors - but when I went to explore, I found empty bases to my left and right. Turns out everyone got that arrangement.
The blue Undead went for a fast upgrade, while the yellow Undead built defensively. We all went out creeping and stayed clear of each other, like pros. Likewise, we all bought second heros at about the same time. I chose the Pit Lord, and put him up front to even out the experience gain, but on my first creeping attempt with him he got clobbered by a level 9 Golem. Very embarassing.
Blue quickly bought a third hero, and creeped the center of the map - a choice bit of real estate. That put his heros to 4, 3, and 2. Everyone started expansions then, as though it was choreographed. Red, yellow, and I took bases adjacent to our own, while blue took the nearest expansion out in the middle, which is always a riskier move. At this point none of us had been in any combat with each other.
Yellow had a large ground army, mostly beetles. Red had a pile of bears but hadn't upgraded to be able to morph them yet. I had an army similar to red's, but was able to transform my bears. Blue had a very small army - two Floating Idols, two beetles, and his three heros. Just enough to keep creeping the map, while he bought lots of upgrades and began summoning Frost Wyrms. Then, finally, some combat: Yellow and blue ran into each other by accident while creeping. Both lost heros, and yellow lost most of his army and teleported home.
Sensing his advantage, blue took his freshly completed Frost Wyrm group and started kicking at yellow's expansion. Yellow hadn't bought another portal scroll, so he was forced to walk back to his own base. He got the shit kicked out of him and quit the game. "I thought he said he always wins?" said blue, as he planted a third expansion right on top of yellow's first.
Meanwhile, red and I had huge armies that had not seen real combat. I decided to force the issue by jumping on red's first expansion and destroying it before he could teleport in, since it was undefended. At the same time I planted a second one of my own. I spied on red afterwards as he wandered around, and caught a glimpse of blue's army headed up for my first expansion. I was confident that I could beat what I saw, so I used my scroll and teleported into the base just as his first unit arrived.
I cast 'Roar' beforehand, and immediately cast 'Howl of Terror' when I landed. His Frost Wyrms were gathered around the tree so they all caught it, and their damage was reduced by 48 points each. That's a fucking big reduction. The first thing blue did was nuke my Keeper of the Grove, and he would have cast 'Sleep' on my Pit Lord, but it was fighting underneath his own Frost Wyrms, and the best he could do was put a Bear to sleep. I focus-fired on the Wyrms while the melee went to work. Blue was no slouch, and he beat my Pit Lord to death, but the experience I gained from the combat put my Priestess of the Moon over the top and she cast 'Starfall'. When the last Wyrm went down I began shooting at the melee troops, and blue had to use his scroll to get his heros home. The rest of his army was dead.
Meantime, red wandered into yellow's defunct base and began knocking it over for the free experience points. Blue had the same idea, and sent his two heros out alone, to gain a few points while waiting for a new army -- unaware that red had already done it and was lounging around outside. So essentially, blue handed his heros to red for easy devouring. But I had been planning to rush blue and kick him while he was down, so I'd sent my restored army down to yellow's expansion, where blue had set up shop. Since red was standing midway between yellow's old base and yellow's old expansion, we ran into each other.
We fought hard until I cast 'Starfall', and red ran away. He paused for a second, thinking he would wait for the spell to wear off while safely out of range, but must have decided against further combat. He went to the center of the map and healed up at the fountains. I crept out to his first expansion, which he had rebuilt. Just as red decided to rush into blue's heavily guarded expansion, I attacked his own, forcing him to teleport in with a half-dead army. He fought very well, dispelling my 'Roar' with the Dryads, casting 'Healing Rains' which he had just learned from rushing blue, and smacking the crap out of my Pit Lord, who keeled over late in the combat. He also used a fancy item which brought five of his bears back to life, but they got pelted with Starfall as he ordered them to attack my Priestess. The archers took them out, but it was close.
My army was decimated, but red's was utterly gone. Blue's too. I took the opportunity to trash red's other expansion, though I knew he was probably rich and it wouldn't stop him entirely. As I was shooting the Tree of Life, he emptied the wisps out of the mine and then blew them up, by casting 'Detonate'. "Interesting," I said. "You do that so I don't get the experience point, right?" "Yup," he replied. "You've never seen that? It's very common." "It just never occured to me before," I said.
|Quick wisp detonation:|
|Drag a select-box around the mine, but hold the mouse button down. When the tree of life is destroyed, release the button to select all the wisps. The hit "D" and click the mouse in place. Do this repeatedly until all the wisps evaporate. You've just denied your attacker the experience points.|
Blue was still rebuilding, and checking the corners for spare creeps. I prepared to rush him, but saw red heading for my expansion with a fresh new army. I teleported in quickly, and he and I had another huge brawl. It went very badly for red because he was bottlenecked at the entrance to the expansion, and five of his Bears got stuck behind his Archers who were hunkered down and shooting. He cast Healing Rains and I cast Starfall, and the two probably canceled each other out. Due to the bottleneck he lost his entire army, leaving me in pretty good shape. And good thing too, because blue had been spying on us the whole time, and took the opportunity to hit my first expansion.
I let him destroy it, and the next one too, while I walked my whole army home for healing at the Moon Wells. I discovered that the Keeper of the Grove had gained three levels during the last combat, so I spent them all. When blue went for my last expansion - the same one I'd fought red at - I teleported in. This time when I cast 'Howl of Terror' the Frost Wyrms lost 61 points of damage each. Whoooo doggy! I cast Starfall but blue immediately put the Priestess to sleep. Then the Keeper of the Grove gained another level, so I spent it and cast Healing Rains. Blue's sleep spell hadn't cooled down yet, so I got healed for a nice interval. We fought like crazy, but blue teleported home to save his heros. Once again, everyone's army was decimated at about the same time.
I'd lost fewer units than everyone else, so I had the largest bank account. Red was hurting for cash, so he set up three new expansions. Blue set up a third for himself, guarding it carefully with a ragtag army. Quite by accident I over-produced Dryads, and it turned out to be the perfect adaptation, since the levels gained by my heros had made them better meat-shields. I was still rounding out my units when blue stomped on one of red's expansions. Red begged for reprieve, but blue didn't listen. Since I figured blue was occupied, I sent my forces down to hit the new expansion - but on the way his army passed over my head, while mine was strung out in a big line. I panicked and pulled them back, so they could group together. I also noticed I'd forgotten to buy a Scroll of Town Portal, so I sent the Pit Lord waddling home to buy one. Blue ate up red's other expansion, prompting another outcry.
Then he did something stupid - he sent his accumulated forces over to check my last expansion point, and turned away from the keyboard. His route sent his units straight past my army. I hacked away at him for a good while before he noticed the mistake, and by then it was too late. He was destroyed. "Man, you had to be asleep at the wheel for that one," I said. He replied, "I turned my head while my guys were moving and you got them. That's game, I'm afraid." "Well played, blue," I said.
Not taking any chances, I immediately reversed direction and walked up to red's base. Sure enough, he had a fair army rebuilt. We both cast Healing Rains at the same time, which was rather comical. "Battle of the titans!!" I exclaimed. After eating his army, then his last expansion, I walked back to blue and stood outside his front door. After a short pause my army was reassembled, and I walked in for the kill. Blue cried, "Help, red!!" Red replied with, "WTF, you destroyed two of my expos! Why should I help you?" "LOL - Okay, you're right," said blue, and left the game.
Of course, red had bought another army, and rushed my base to try and kick me while I was occupied. He complimented me on my base layout as I teleported in, and he ran off. We met in the street, and he actually managed to kill my Pit Lord just by shooting at him. He'd finally summoned a third hero - the Priestess of the Moon - and when my Pit Lord went down, all three of his heros gained a level at the same time. I cast Starfall, but red had learned from his mistakes, and he immediately used Entangling Roots to stop it. Even so, I killed his army - and from then it was your basic expansion-gobbling prodecure, to starve him to death.
"The Pit Lord is a nice hero, but man is he RUDE!", I said, wasting time. "'WHAT TRICKERY IS THIS?' STFU PIT LORD!!'" When I hit red's last expansion he teleported in to defend, and got slaughtered. "Man I hate Starfall," he said, and left the game. Another couple of experience points, and the Pit Lord would have been level 10. As it was, my heros ended the game at 10, 10, and 9. This was probably my best game ever.
The most important moves I made in that last game were about deciding who and when to hit. Attacking the strongest player when he is at his weakest is the best policy, but the hard part is figuring out when that is. For a long time I lived in fear of the yellow player, who'd been bragging about his rank on Battle.net - but blue took him out easily. That immediately told me that blue was the toughest, an opinion further reinforced when I got a good look at red's army and saw that he was over-producing Bears.
Red was probably trying for the tactic of running in and destroying an enemy's infrastructure despite a superior air force, which would have worked well for him if he didn't have cash-flow problems. Even a few trees around a base are enough to delay an attacker so that you can teleport in if you want to - and may even be enough to scare an attacker away. Red only fortified one expansion - and that one time, I was delayed in destroying the Tree of Life, and he got to teleport in. Unfortunately he was pulling out of another battle to do so, which was a bad idea. Later in the game I would let the blue player just gobble up two expansions of mine because I wasn't ready to meet him yet. That decision easily saved my life.
I played almost a dozen more games today, and won more often than I lost. I always used the Pit Lord, Keeper of the Grove, and Priestess of the Moon, and I never summoned the Pit Lord first. When I lost, it was always to the Orcs. Either the good players are thinning out because of the emminent ladder reset, or my ordering of heros is paying off, or I'm just getting lucky. I used to think that I couldn't survive without using the Warden as a first hero -- she was the only character I felt I knew thoroughly. Turns out most of those skills work for all the melee characters.
I also used to be convinced that I had to summon a strong melee hero first, otherwise I would be at a disadvantage early in the game, and be subject to hero-killings. So far that hasn't been the case. I've been out creeping very heavily with the Keeper of the Grove, and been left well alone by other players. A few times when the game was underway, I was rushed at home, and cast Entangling Roots on the Orc Blademaster. Not only did I prevent him from Windwalking, but the second time I actually caught him long enough to kill him. Shortly after, that Orc player quit the game.
On that subject, I really need to do something about the Orcs. I've withstood Human, Undead, and even fellow Night Elf armies, though I suspect the Human armies in question were very badly managed. I never beat the Orc armies though. Bloodlusted Tauren under the influence of Spirit Link just cannot be overcome by a complementary Night Elf melee force, and they are always followed up with Batriders, which explode and kick the shit out of any air force I respond with. If I mix it up by producing Chimaera along with my Bears and Giants, I have no way of stopping the Batriders. If I shift Bears and Giants to Chimaera and keep the Archers, the Tauren stomp over and chew the Archers up, along with my Heros. And of course, Wolf Riders throw nets all over the Chimaera anyway.
My attempts to counteract Bloodlust with Dryads have been disappointing - the Dryads have to work their way into combat, and since they're unarmored they quickly turn into flying gore. Same with using the Keepers of the Talon - if I try to fly them in, they get stabbed by spear throwers, or burned to death by Batriders. If I try to walk them in, they never make it.
Looking over the unit stats, it looks like the solution must involve Chimaera somehow. Tauren have heavy armor, which takes extra damage from the Chimaera's magic attack. Since they're melee units they tend to cluster together, making them prone to the Chimaera's splash damage. With nearly equivalent resource costs, and at 5 food each, I can produce one Chimaera for every Tauren I'm up against. The big question is, how do I protect them?
I'm inclined to try a combo of evenly balanced Crows and Hippogryphs, with heavy Chimaera. This is almost completely opposite the army I spend most of my game building, which sucks a lot.
End of day Battle.net FFA ranking: 178th
I got to try that combo today, against an Orc player, and the results were miserable. He'd bought Orbs of Lightning for both of his melee heros, and between them and a handful of spear-throwers, he was able to destroy ten Chimaera in less than 40 seconds. Total losses to him: One shaman.
The Blademaster's lightning bolt fires so fast that he is actually able to permanently freeze a Chimaera in place and electrocute it to death, at no danger to himself. Since he's naturally magic resistant, the other Chimaera barely make a dent in him, even if they're focus-firing the whole time.
After assaulting him with that group I spent my remaining cash on the conventional mixed army I usually produce, though I was only able to create half of one before I went bankrupt. That actually managed to kill his entire army except for two of his heros, and he immediately bought the third hero back at the Tavern and went on a victory lap into my base.
The next game, by contrast, went very well. I built my conventional army, choosing the Priestess first, managed to aviod trouble, planted several expansions, creeped heavily, and jumped all over two other players when they were at their weakest. The first was an Orc who had no idea what he was doing, and the second was a Human player who must have fought with the other Human player over the adjacent expansion. He defeated the other Human player for me, and I broadsided his army coming home, then took his base apart while his heros hid inside.
Played an embarassing game where a Human crew chopped my base apart very early on. The Keeper of the Grove had run out of mana and the Moon Wells were dry, and I had only built one defensive tree. Very sad.
Got squished on the Cityscape map by a Human player, after fighting with a neighboring Human and then with the Night Elves hiding comfortably at the top. As soon as I got into the second skirmish with the Human player, I knew I was going to lose the game. We were both not following the golden FFA rule, "Stay out of trouble."
Got the perfect setup on the 'Gold Rush' map -- creeped heavily, teched up thoroughly, and accumulated 10000 gold in savings. Then I spotted the red Human army rolling out to crush the blue player, so I rolled into his base. He made the blue player quit, but he didn't have a portal scroll, so he had to pull back and regroup outside his own front door while I trashed his house.
I used Owls to watch him get ready, and pulled my forces to the far side of the nearly-destroyed base so I could meet him in an orderly fashion. Then, the purple Undead smacked him from behind, with his own full army! He cursed the purple player savagely as he was forced into a terrific brawl outside his base. He won the fight, but when he came walking in to meet me his army was full of holes, and I smashed it.
In retaliation he sent a crew of tanks up to my base, to blast it apart. I teleported in and they ran off, but as soon as I left to go beat on the purple Undead player, the tanks came back. I'd had the foresight to buy a Town Portal scroll for each of my heros, using some of that enormous cash reserve, so I teleported back a second time and then tacked an Owl onto the tank brigade. I watched it head off for purple's base, so I left by a side door, and prepared to hack apart purple's expansions.
Purple and I kicked the shit out of each other, but I had Healing Rains, so my army only lost a couple of units each time. Finally I destroyed his central base and he gave up, telling me, "Kill red for me. I've been fighting with him the whole game." "Will do! I hope!", I replied.
I sent my army back up to the Moon Wells, for healing and mana, and to meet with my replacement units. Then I exited the opposite side and made for red's original base, to verify it was still missing. On the way I ran headlong into a new red army. He fought well, and destroyed almost everything I had, then got cocky over the chat console as he prepped to charge into my house.
I ran a Dryad to the Tavern and bought back my two fallen heros, then sent them to join the third, who had retreated into the base. I'd planted the infrastructure for a big air force, but never used it. Now I put it to work with my cash reserves, and started six Chimaera, along with a parade of Bears and Archers. I managed to cough out about eight units before the Human player rushed in, and I cast Healing Rains while the first and second sets of Chimaera came up. Unit by unit, the tide of battle shifted, and suddenly red's army was gone. I was as surprised as he was.
Apparently when red had destroyed my expansions earlier, he'd unwittingly freed up enough food support for me to run a fleet of six Chimaera, six Bears, three heros, and a full compliment of 11 Archers. (11 Archers is 22 food, plus 15 for the heros, plus 30 for the Chimaera, and 24 for the Bears) Using it I destroyed three large cities that red had hastily erected in corners of the map, but as I was doing this, he built another full army, and again sent it into my base. I teleported home and we had a row, and I was able to cast Starfall and Healing Rains at the same time. Red took a long time using his Mountain King to interrupt Starfall, costing him a lot of units, and afterwards I realized that it was because a Chimaera had been floating just over the head of the Priestess, frustrating his attempts to target her. A sinister trick if it could be reliably reproduced.
Anyway, after buying that army, red's cash reserves were gone. I picked his remaining buildings off the map while we chatted. He had a few choice words for his Mountain King hero, calling him a "stupid worthless shit". I said, "Yeah, he is so FIRED. Mountain King = fired." We had a good laugh until I erased his last Town Hall, ending the game.
End of day Battle.net FFA ranking: 151st
I went on to play the game for another fifteen days, on a rush to accumulate wins and dominate the FFA ladder. I only managed a ranking of 63rd before I went on vacation. After a week away from the console, my addiction was broken. Shortly afterwards the ladder was reset and my accomplishments were erased. Oh well.
That final 15 days yielded meager knowledge - I had largely stopped scrutinizing my rounds and was banking on what I knew, sticking with the Priestess - Keeper - Pit Lord setup. I did learn some interesting things though:
At this point I highly recommend you continue by reading the epilogue. When I revisited Warcraft III the next year, to play more Free-For-All rounds, I began to make use of a unit I'd been ignoring previously: Mountain Giants. That changed everything. I blasted my way up to rank 12, in a relatively short time, before turning away from the game again.