Crispy Gamer

Rush, Boom, Turtle: You Suck at RTS

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There are different levels of playing RTSes. It's like in chess. In chess, the first step is knowing how the pieces move. Once you reach that point, you can theoretically play a game just fine. But then there's a deeper level where you know things like ? well, like ? okay, I've never gotten further than learning how the pieces move in chess, because I'm too busy playing RTSes. But I know there's a deeper level where you use phrases like "Sicilian opening," "Queen's gambit" and other stuff referenced in the titles of spy novels.

So maybe that's where you're at with real-time strategy games -- in which case, you're probably not reading this column. So send the link to this column to all your friends who suck at RTSes, because I'm going to give them 10 tips to make them better.

10. Play thy enemy

For Pete's sake, quit playing just one side. Half the battle is knowing what toys the other guy has, and the best way to know that is to play with them yourself.

9. Speed skills

As a guy who likes playing RTSes slowly, as much as it pains me to recommend this, I'm going to suggest playing at a speed faster than what you're comfortable with. You know how after you play Guitar Hero at "hard," "medium" feels so much slower and easier to play when you go back to it? It's the same with an RTS. Playing at a faster speed will also help your muscle memory when it comes to navigating the interface. Just put the AI on dumb, and run through a few faster-than-usual games.

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You are not ready.

8. Lose to win

One of the best ways to learn tactics is to be on the business end of them. It's not pleasant if you're accustomed to the win-oriented philosophy of single-player gaming, but deal. You have to think not in terms of winning and losing, but in terms of learning.

7. Ditch the single-player campaign

Almost without exception, the campaign that comes with your RTS is not going to help you get better at the game. These are built to tell a stupid story or to introduce the units to people who can't be bothered to read manuals or even tool tips. Get thee to a skirmish mode.

6. Don't bother trying to play Supreme Commander

That game is too uber for you. Put it down. Seriously, put it down and try something more newbie-friendly. You're only making it harder for yourself.

5. Hotkeys, hotkeys, hotkeys

You have two hands. Use both of them. One goes on the mouse, the other goes on the keyboard. And until you're using your keyboard hand just as much as your mouse hand, you're only interfacing halfway.

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Coffee is for us.

4. A.B.V.

A, Always. B, Be. V, Villagering. The dirty little secret about RTSes is that they're based on economy. You suck resources from the map and convert them into an army. You then use your army to stop the other guy from sucking resources out of the map or, more likely, you make him waste his resources in battle. It's like drinking a milkshake. He who builds the bigger straw sooner wins. And the way you do this is by ABVing.

P.S. Put that coffee down. Coffee is for villagers.

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It takes all kinds.

3. Combined arms, or "A diverse army is a happy army"

Until you master the fine art of scouting and building specific counters, just build a couple of everything. You might really like Predator Tanks -- I do, too -- but the more a game is based on the paper/rock/scissors model, the more you're just potentially gimping yourself.

2. Build more than one barracks

One of the bottlenecks for most new players is the step between raw resources and military units. If you get a wicked economy going, it's not going to help you unless you can quickly translate it into military units. There are very few RTSes that don't benefit from having multiple barracks, factories and/or airports. This works for two reasons: 1) the increased speed when converting resources to units and 2) the time you save moving units from a barracks closer to the fighting.

1. Read this column

Duh. (Results may vary. Offer not guaranteed in the U.S. or foreign countries.)

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Congrats to the latest Unit of the Week.

Unit of the Week

The EALA team loves their rock/paper/scissors. So it?s a bit surprising to me that MARV is in the mix. I can't imagine that he's not miles and away better than his counterpart for the other factions. The great thing about MARV is that he pays for himself! Just drive him through an ore field (alt-click to queue up a few waypoints) and soon you'll be rolling in more money than you know what to do with. Considering doubling up on your barracks or war factory.

The Scrinn scavenger returns some money from destroyed enemies. I'm not sure what the lame-o NOD superunit does, but frankly, me and MARV don't care.

So let me tell you a little bit about the MARV's attack value, armor rating and hit points in comparison to the other units in Command & Conquer 3. Oh, wait, EALA doesn't believe in bothering players with stats, so I have no idea. I do know it's huge, hard to kill, and capable of regenerating its health if you pile in a couple of engineers. So my award for unit of the week goes to the Mammoth Armed Reclamation Vehicle.