You suck at real time strategy games, so here are 10 ways to improve

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(The following article is reprinted without the permission of the site where it orginally appeared, because they never paid me, so I can do whatever I want with it. The article is relevant now because I’ve been playing weekly Age of Empires III matches against my good friend, Jason McMaster, and I’m hoping this will help him out of his 4-to-1 losing streak.)

There are different levels of playing RTSs. Like 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 likewell, likeokay, I’ve never gotten further than learning how the pieces move in chess, because I’m too busy playing RTSs. But I know there’s a deeper level where you use phrases like “Sicilian opening” and “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 article. So send the link to this article to all your friends who suck at RTSs. Because I’m going to give them ten tips to make them better. Note that some of this applies to MOBAs, which are just RTSs for people who can’t handle the challenge of actual RTSs.

After the jump, A.B.V.

1. Different sides
For Pete’s sake, quit playing just one side. Half of the battle is knowing what toys the other guy has. And the best way to know that is to play with them yourself.

2. Speed
As a guy who likes playing RTSs 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 if you play Guitar Hero at “hard”, how “medium” feels so much slower and easy 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.

3. Lose a lot
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 you have to think not in terms of winning and losing, but in terms of learning.

4. 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.

5. Don’t bother trying to play Starcraft II online
It’s too hardcore for you. Seriously, put it away and try something more newbie friendly. You’re only making it harder for yourself.

6. Hotkeys, hotkeys, hotkeys
You have two hands. Use them both. 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 half-way.

7. ABV
A, Always. B, Be. V, Villagering. The dirty little secret about RTSs 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.

Also, put that coffee down. Coffee is for villagers.

8. Combined arms
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 feel you, since I do, too. But the more a game is based on the paper/rock/scissors model, the more you’re just potentially gimping yourself.

9. 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 RTSs that don’t benefit from having multiple barracks, factories, and/or airports. Unit bandwidth, if you will. This works for two reasons: 1) the increased speed at converting resources to units and 2) the saved time moving units from a barracks closer to the fighting.

10. Read this article.
You’re good on this one.

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