[HoMM] Poor Man Teleports: Value from normally-impossible resource exchanges

Keep an eye out for opportunities to make normally-impossible resource exchanges! The “poor man town portal” tactic from Heroes of Might and Magic III, a maneuver which allows a player to effectively trade gold for movement points, il;l

In HoMMIII, the movement point pool on the main hero is arguably a player’s most valuable resource. There is a very powerful level 4 spell, “Town Portal,” that teleports the casting hero to an allied town, but it is rarely accessible early on. A “poor man TP” can accomplish a similar end. To perform a poor man TP, a player sends their hero into a combat with the intent to immediately retreat, causing that hero to disappear from the strategic map and become available for rehire at that player’s town taverns. Rehiring the hero at a town costs 2,500 gold and respawns the hero at the town’s location. Essentially, the player spends gold to move their hero from the location of the combat to the location of the town without having to spend movement points to walk the intervening distance. Check out the following example of HoMM streamer Fredostrike using a pair of poor man teleports to great effect in a ranked match.

Let’s set the stage: Fredo is playing on a randomly generated Jeebus Cross map. On JC, players always start on opposite sides, with a richly-rewarding desert biome between them. Powerful armies block the desert entry points. This is a heavily tempo-oriented map type: the player faster to penetrate the center gets first pick of its contents. In this example, Fredo has just beaten his desert guard with his main hero, Shakti, leaving Shakti very low on mana and movement points. Shakti must visit a town to regenerate mana, so Fredo uses the last of his movement to attack and then retreat from a group of psychic elementals, rehiring Shakti in his initial town east of the desert:

At the start of the next turn, Shakti is a long way from the desert but has full mana and movement. Fredo sends Shakti into the closest availabe combat and retreats. Fredo uses a secondary hero, still in the desert and carrying the bulk of Fredo’s troops, to capture a town. Fredo immediately builds a tavern in the town and with it rehires Shakti, spawning him in the desert with full mana and plenty of movement points:

Fredo’s excellent pair of teleports were instrumental to winning the match, overcoming what had been a rocky early start.

Aside: To more cleanly focus on the normally-impossible gold-for-movement exchange aspect of poor man TPs, my initial “how-to” skipped over some key details that you need to know if you want to actually use the tactic in your own games. First, when a hero retreats from combat they lose all of their troops. Preserve the lives of your units by trading them to a secondary hero before sending the main into the to-be-retreated-from combat. Ideally, you can even prepare a hero chain to quickly ferry the army back to whichever town you intend to use for rehire. Second, note that a hero only gets a chance to retreat when it is their turn in combat. An enemy with higher speed than your token army might be able to reach and eliminate your troops before you get a turn, resulting in the loss (rather than retreat) of the hero. When teleporting a hero off of an enemy that out-speeds you, increase your chances of being able to take a turn by bringing many separate single-unit stacks, such that even if some fall at least one will likely survive the onslaught.

[EUIV] Prioritize your bottlenecks!

Prioritize your bottlenecks! Developing quickly and harmoniously is a key aspect of strong play. Good or poor development has a compounding effect that ripples through the entire game. A bottleneck, by its very nature, creates a cascade of hampered progression and lost tempo. Identifying and addressing current and expected bottlenecks should be one of your top priorities in any game. Take moments while playing to stop and ask yourself the identifying question “What am I waiting on?” and actionable followup “How can I speed that up?”

Analyst Reman’s Paradox knows well the importance of finding and solving the holdups. His video evaluation of military idea groups in EUIV explicitly bases his assessment in how effectively each option works to improve bottlenecks to empire development:

You as a player should be mindful of your personal strengths and weaknesses when identifying a bottleneck to your play. Reman shares the key insight that a newer EUIV player is more likely to be limited by combat and so will especially benefit spending their idea group slots on military ideas early and often. A veteran, better able to find easy wars and prosecute them efficiently, should deprioritize military ideas in favor of ones that indirectly generate opportunities for efficient wars from a strong position:

In the rest of the video, Reman breaks each military idea group into its specifics and discusses the conditions to which each is best suited. As Reman’s work is so densely on-target, I think it best to let him speak for himself:

[M:tG] Gaining advantage from Wasteland’s seemingly-symmetrical attrition

Andrea Mengucci is an expert Magic: the Gathering player known especially for his love for the Legacy format. One of the defining features of Legacy gameplay is the presence of very powerful nonbasic land cards. The format’s most important check on its nonbasics is Wasteland, which can sacrifice itself to destroy another nonbasic land. In this clip, Andrea is playing against a Wasteland deck and finds himself faced with one of the Legacy format’s classic forks in the road: should he spend his turn’s land drop on a more flexible/powerful nonbasic or a less-vulnerable basic land?

Lands are important because they typically produce mana, the resource used to cast spells. Sacrificing a Wasteland to destroy a nonbasic sets both players back on their mana development by a turn. When does activating Wasteland favor a Wasteland player? Andrea points out two long-recognized ways to profit from the mutual attrition.

The usual use of Wasteland is what Andrea calls here a “tempo Wasteland” that sets both players back on mana at a moment in which the Wastelander has a superior board presence (e.g. 1 creature against 0, as in the clip). The Wastelanding player seeks to preserve their advantaged board state as long as possible, as the onus is on opponent to find some relevant and castable spell to equalize. If they did not have a way to equalize with last turn’s mana, and one uses a Wasteland to set them back to that same mana, they probably will still be unable to equalize for at least another turn cycle.

The second type of Wateland is more brutal, hoping that the opponent does not have any more lands in hand to replace what was destroyed, leaving the player’s spells stranded in hand, uncastable until they draw lands from their deck.

In the video, Andrea recognizes that he is behind on board, as the opponent got to play first and has a Deathrite Shaman out while Andrea has nothing on the battlefield to oppose. Playing out a nonbasic land would open him up to being punished by a Wasteland that would preserve the imbalance of power. Andrea wisely chooses to play out a basic land to ensure that he will have two mana available on his second turn.

[HoI4] Identify limiting resources to inform a harmonious plan

A player should identify their limiting and abundant resource types. Such identification is important for developing a harmonious strategic plan that employs the player’s resources proportionately, which in turn helps avert unnecessarily bottlenecked development. This general principle appears in many games. Here we’ll take a look at its relevance through moments from a Hearts of Iron 4 multiplayer game review by content creator FeedBackGaming.

Germany’s initial spawn has access to high production relative to manpower. This lets us identify manpower as the limiting resource and production as abundant. The faction is therefore encouraged to spend production to increase the efficacy of the manpower, in this case by adding support battalions to infantry divisions:

Soviet strengths are flipped relative to Germany. The Soviet start has a huge pool of manpower relative to their factory production capability. This lets us identify production as a limiting resource and manpower as abundant. A harmonious Soviet plan is therefore angled towards quantity over quality. The nation has access to national foci, advisors, and techs that further reward a quantity-over-quality strategy. This game’s Soviet player erred with the design of their basic infantry division. By adding anti-tank and artillery infantry divisions, he nearly doubled their production cost relative to the default. This bottleneck and the limiting production resource in turn halved the rate at which he could actually field his manpower reserves. Ultimately, he lost a defensive war against Germany and Japan while still having plenty of unfielded manpower stagnating uselessly:

[CS:GO] /u/Nydursurmainus giving key context to Taco’s performance stats

Redditor /u/Nydusurmainus crafted a response to what he saw as excessive community criticism of competitive Counter Strike: Global Offensive player Taco’s performance in a series played between the high-tier teams SK Gaming and Ninjas In Pyjamas. In his view, the community outrage that has targeted Taco due to his play statistics from the matches (e.g. kill/death ratio) is misplaced and fails to account for how Taco and his team actually performed round to round. We’ve posted in this vein previously with an article titled “Statistics only go so far.

There are some arguable flaws in /u/Nydusurmainus’ analytical methodology, such as opening himself up to confirmation bias, but his overall point stands strong: you cannot just take the numbers to assess a player’s efficacy. The stats need context to determine whether they show above- or below-par performance. In looking at the actual matches, /u/Nydusurmainus finds important factors influencing Taco’s stats. For example, Taco usually functions in a support/flank/rearguard role. He often sacrifices his own cash pool to equip a teammate, increasing their power at cost to his own. When nobody from the enemy team tries to flank around back, his rearguard potential goes unharnessed. Taco repeatedly was pushed into unlikely-to-win scenarios where his teammates fell elsewhere on the map, leaving him to hide or attempt a retake while outnumbered.

The analysis is not exhaustive and cannot be taken to mean that Taco played superbly. But it does provide an important caution about jumping on a group-think bandwagon and looking at (un)impressive numbers without understanding the context against which those statistics must be evaluated to have useful meaning. This is the type of skeptical, critical, and analytical approach that gamers should try to take when reflecting on matches, whether as a player or as a spectator.

[OW] Widowmaker bait was opportunistic, not planned

I like the work Blitz Esports Overwatch does on YouTube in breaking down tactical scenarios, including a look at how Team Korea’s Widowmaker influenced the Hanamura map win against Team Canada. But I disagree with the slant of their take, which seems to indicate that Team Korea’s bait was pre-meditated and intentional. To my eyes, it looked opportunistic. That is, Canada got baited, but Korea did not really go out of their way to arrange or force a bait scenario…they were just quick to capitalize when it appeared. Let’s check out the tactics breakdown, then go into the critique:

The first signs that Korea did not specifically use Widowmaker as bait have to do with the response to the Winston dive on Widowmaker at 1:23. First, Widowmaker when trying to escape actually runs into the corner…she was positioned to peek the angle for headshots, rather than being fully prepped for a bait and run. In response to the Winston leap, D.Va boosts to protect Widow, as is her job, but there was no guarantee that the Winston she pushed would necessarily be in a position to be shoved out the window, though it was good to go for the chance once it arose. Further, the Widow uses her hook to escape at the same time that Winston gets pushed, and didn’t have sight on her reinforcing D.Va until the hook was already cast. These factors make it look to me like Widow was trying to protect herself without expectation of backup.

Then at 1:46, when Widowmaker and Tracer have an inconclusive duel, Widow of course looks for an opportunity to escape as soon as possible. It’s true that the resulting escape leaves Tracer baited and alone outside the point and away from the main fight, but Tracer is advantaged in that 1v1 scenario that appeared before Widow’s hook came back off of cooldown. That’s not a situation a Widow looks to get into intentionally. She missed her shots on the Tracer upstairs beforehand, and ends up in a close range 1v1 against her outside…not a favored situation! It’s lucky for her that she stayed alive long enough to pull herself back up to the ledge.

So there are (at least) four factors that indicate that Team Korea did not premeditate to arrange the baits on Winston and Tracer. First, Widow not being positioned to escape the leap immediately, second the Widow jumping out the window just as her support knocks the monkey outside, third the fortune needed in the timing to knock the monkey out the window, and fourth the unfavorable nature of a close range 1v1 with Tracer that Widow happens to survive. I want to reiterate Blitz Esports Overwatch does really good work, and I love to check it out. Their analysis of the importance of these baits is largely correct, but the slant is slightly off.

Team Canada got baited, but Team Korea did not purposefully “use Widowmaker as bait.”

[Civ] Super micro management saves Baba a critical turn

Civ V NQMod streamer BabaYetu_ saves a turn on the construction of the hotly-contested Hanging Gardens wonder with a beautiful display of expertise. Baba’s micro speaks to intertwined cross-game ideas: pursuing marginal value to pass a threshold of effect and win a contested gamestate. Let’s check out the clip:

It is imperative that Baba push to finish the Hanging Gardens wonder in as few turns as possible. Multiple players are likely to be going for it, but only the first player to complete it will win the race. The others will end up paying the opportunity cost of spending time on the wonder without even earning the reward of completing it in their empires, meaning they will have painfully wasted their city production time for naught.

Accruing little advantages to production can be important, but only helps if it passes the threshold of effect. In this case, that means actually moving up the construction schedule by a full turn. At the start of this clip, Baba realizes that he is tantalizingly close to finishing the wonder in two turns. At that point with his starting trajectory he would have 163.65 of the required 167 production required. Painfully close! Baba strains to find ways to generate the necessary 3.35 prod over the next two turns.

Baba notes at the start “we have two food stored.” One can also see that at the start, the city is growing at a rate of +1.1 food/turn after consumption. Each citizen consumes 1 food/turn to avoid dying to starvation. The city’s stockpiled food allows baba to transfer a citizen from the +2 food +1 hammer buffalo tile the +0 food +2 hammer hill. With these temporary assignments, the city will go to -1 food/turn, which it can sustain for two turns before exhausting the 2 food stockpile.

Baba has cultural policies from the Tradition tree, one of which gives his empire a bonus +15% production to world wonders. This bonus ends up being very important. Moving a citizen from buffalo to hill netted him +1.15 hammers/turn for two turns, a total +2.30. Without the policy, it would only have been an even +2. But he still needs a little more, 3.35-2.30=1.05. Where will it come from? On the second of these two turns, Baba finishes improving a pasture on horses, which gives the tile +1 production, or +1.15 towards wonders. 2.30+1.15=3.45, which is greater than the missing 3.35 by just 0.1 production. There it is! With only one tenth of a production to spare, Baba makes the wonder in the space of two turns instead of three.

[CS:GO] Play to your outs: roca heroic 1v4

(1:01:00-1:01:16) In this post we look at a very intense and short 1 vs. 4 fight won by CS:GO player roca in a recent ESL Pro League match. The moment lets us get at the cross-game rule “play to your outs,” a theme that has come up explicitly in two previous posts on this site. There’s no point for roca in trying to play around correct lines from his opponents, since he cannot beat proper play and cannot escape. Instead, he his forced to assume his opponents will err and be ready to jump on the opportunities. The fight happens in a very short timespan, so instead of breaking it into pieces each only a couple of seconds long, let us look at it in one go and refer to the timestamps mentioned in the discussion to scrub to and revisit as necessary:

To the extent CLG allows, roca’s specific job here is to find a series of 1v1s, each time seeking to have cover against the directions of the other likely approachers. He wants as much as possible to avoid being visible to two or more opponents at once (always true in CS:GO, but especially so here). CLG’s job, which they fail at utterly, is to communicate and coordinate, to deduce roca’s exact position as precisely as possible and jointly peek him from two or more angles at once. The goal behind this ideal approach for CLG is to force a scenario where even if roca gets a kill on one of the people peeking him, he dies from the other peeker’s angle without being able to point a weapon in that direction.

At 1:01:01 roca fires unsuccessfully at CLG Rickeh, and the sound gives away his position. The four living counter-terrorists close in on the spot from different directions. The 1v4 is on.

At 1:01:06, roca gets his first kill of the 1v4 on the far side of the trainbed in the center of the bomb site, though we cannot see detail with this camera angle. By staying on that side of the obstacle, he holds cover against the correctly-assumed approaches of 2 of the remaining opponents, coming through the short path from the other bombsite. Without more onscreen detail in the cast, we can only say that unsuccessful peek by CLG FNS was hasty, as his other teammates are not yet close enough to simultaneously peek.

Then we see a really stupid maneuver by CLG nahtE that culminates with his death at 1:01:09. He runs up to the trainbed and jumps atop it to peek the far side where they know roca must somewhere be waiting. Sound is an extremely important scouting tool in Counter Strike, and roca is able to both hear nahtE’s non-walking approach and his jump landing on the metal trainbed. nahtE is alone, his exact position known to roca while only roca’s general position is known in turn. Thus, the 1v1 that nahtE forces is disadvantaged due to the information asymmetry, and he is predictably killed for his efforts. He should have worked to help prepare a 2v1, using his close position near the train to hear if roca repositions with a noise-making run or jump.

After this startlingly ill-considered asyemmetrically informed solo push, roca cleans up the remaining two opponents with two more unnecessarily gifted 1v1 scenarios, though at least these last two CTs almost peeked together.

(1:01:28-1:01:40) The commentator, JRTTV on Twitch, takes a brief moment in the timeout period after the fight to broadly confirm the foolishness of CLG’s gifting roca with a series of sequential 1v1s instead of peeking together:

Roca gave himself the chances he needed to get lucky, preparing for a series of 1v1s and fortunately being gifted them by overly hasty opponents. He played to his outs, making guesses about the likely approaches and timings of his opponents, keeping covered from the angles of enemy reinforcements, listening for ill-advised solo rushes on his position, and finding the headshots he needed before his opponents could do the same in each of the four duels that they allowed.

[SSBM] Sharp or Practical Play: Tech-Chasing vs. Reads.

(0:38-0:51) Today’s highlights for discussion are drawn from Super Smash Bros. Melee player Armada’s recent video addressing common misconceptions about tech-chasing vs. reads. His points lead us to the cross-game idea of sharp versus practical play:

We’ll need some some basic background and definitions for non-Smashers. In SSBM, a struck character can fall to the stage. To avoid being knocked prone, a falling player can attempt a tech by tapping the shield button just before/as their character contacts the ground. If successfully timed, the teching character will quickly bounce back to a standing position (a “tech-in-place”). If combined with a left or right directional input, the tech will include a roll to the chosen side (a “techroll”). A tech has a small window of vulnerability at its completion during which the character cannot act but can be hit. Tech-chasing and reading share the goal of punishing the opponent during this critical moment. Tech-chasing is waiting a beat to see which tech an opponent will go for and then quickly re-positioning to strike at end of their animation. A read is an attempt to guess in advance which tech an opponent will attempt and moving immediately to cover it.

(0:51-1:10) It’s true that a reaction tech-chase performed perfectly is more optimal than a read. However, even a tiny mistake opens oneself up to a disproportionately large punish. In chess commentary, this is what is called “sharp” play. There is very little time for a player to recognize the tech animation and move with the opponent quickly enough. Being just a tiny bit slow to chase leaves one closing the distance for the opponent at a moment where they are free to act, handing them a potentially-deadly initiative.

(1:47-2:03) On the other hand, missing a read inherently involves creating distance by moving to a place other than the destination of the opponent’s tech. Going for a safe read is a “practical” line that gives up some value but avoids wagering too much on perfect execution. The distance created with a missed read protects one from a punish:

Players in Smash and other games are often faced with decisions analogous to the chase vs. read in SSBM. Sharp play seeks to hold on to the most edge but demands great execution to avoid spewing away one’s advantage. Practical play seeks to avoid opening oneself up to a big punish for a small mistake, but gives up some edge in exchange. In a perfect world, sharp play may be better, but in actual games between human players the trade-off is much murkier.

[AoE2] Opportunity Costs and Advance Times

(0:18-0:39) The cross-game theme in today’s post is opportunity cost as seen through the lens of advance timings in Age of Empires II HD. In AoE2, a player’s access to higher tier units and technologies is gated by their empire’s advancement through the Ages. There are four Ages: Dark, Feudal, Castle, and Imperial. Progressing from one to the next requires an investment of resources and town center time. Spirit Of The Law addresses a common misconception in the AoE2 community: the belief that faster age advance times indicate stronger play. It is true that a strong player’s efficient resource collection lets them advance through the ages more quickly than an inefficient player could. However, it is wrong to blindly believe that quicker advancement is always better. Resources and time sunk into an age upgrade are not available to be spent elsewhere. AoE2 players need to marry their targeted advance time to their gameplan, and keep their eyes peeled to spot the opponent’s advance time in order to predict what is coming for them:

(3:40-4:25) A player’s buildings change appearance depending on the age they are in, and players scout to spot the opposition’s advance timing. The time a player targets for advancement is an important clue about their chosen strategy. A quick upgrade from Dark to Feudal indicates some type of rush attack during Feudal. Slower advancement to Feudal tends to be more economically focused, allowing the town center to pump out more resource-gathering villagers before switching it over to researching the Feudal Age:

(5:09-5:38) A fast push to the third age, Castle, is usually part of an economic boom strategy, since villagers can only be recruited at town centers, and extra TCs (beyond the initial free one) can only be built starting at Castle. But advancing too hastily will backfire, because the town center cannot make villagers while it is busy researching Castle. “You run into trouble putting down town centers or making units, and it’s a bit like changing gears in your car too early and stalling the engine.” When your too-early Castle research finishes, you won’t have the villagers/income to actually take advantage of the overly-quick timing:

(8:20-8:54) Spirit asks top player TaToH questions relating to advance times. Scouts are a higly mobile mounted melee unit that become available in the Feudal Age, and TaToH shares his thinking on how a quick Feudal timing relates to the effectiveness of a scout rush. He tells Spirit the scouts have to hit while the opponent’s resource gathering areas are still vulnerable. The opponent wants to protect their resource patches to protect their economy against harassment. Striking before they make defenses and close the window of vulnerability lets one cause enough economic damage to offset the opportunity cost of the low-eco rush build (low-eco due to the lower villager count and lack of Loom research involved in a quick Feudal uptick). It’s not just that “earlier is better,” although there is some truth to that. There is a particular window that must be hit for the payoff to be reached:

(12:17-12:46) An early aggressive approach to the Feudal Age involves getting quickly out of the Dark Age, but TaToH shares how an aggressive (as opposed to economic) plan for the Castle Age will likely involve a slower than normal timing. The resources that would otherwise go towards an earlier Castle upgrade instead are put into military production buildings and technologies to upgrade the armor and/or weapons of the appropriate unit type. This type of lean attacking plan tries to keep extra unit production of units with weapon/armor upgrades going instead of focusing as much on extra town centers and villagers. As a result, it needs to strike damaging blows with its superior count and quality of units. Failing to cause real damage in this pushing window results in one’s low-villager economy sinking into irrelevance:

There are costs to making buildings, recruting units, researching techs, advancing to the next age, setting villagers to gather one resource type (instead of another), and so on. Spending resources one way incurrs the opportunity cost of not spending those resources in a different way. Players of all games are faced with these types of tradeoffs. Having a strategic plan will guide you to making fitting choices when faced these forks in the road. Tracking how other players allocate resources will clue you in to their thinking and help you respond with correct play.