[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:

[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:

[OTC] First Builder Advantage

I’ve featured Offworld Trading Company analysis on the site before, as its relatively simple rules and deep emergent depth make the game into an effective lens for highlighting cross-game strategy fundamentals. This post is the first of three covering topics I’ve pulled from philothanic’s coverage of a recent 4p FFA on Ceres. First and today, we’ll see an example of an early head start in development and tempo chaining (temporarily) into a maintained lead. Later in the week, we’ll look at how three players make the seemingly-identical choices to construct an Offworld Market yields unequal value due to differences in their positions. The third post in the series will let us look at distributed value being less impactful than concentrated value, as one player buys up a little bit of each other player’s stock instead of focusing on a target.

So, on to our first topic, the chaining of tempo/development advantages to maintain an early lead (at least for a while). We’ve seen this theme before in prior posts on Overwatch and Stellaris respectively.

Unfortunately this post may seem like we’re picking a bit on poor Adorfield, as he was for various reasons at different times a bit too slow to upgrade when he could have and was punished. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that he’s up against some of the best players of the OTC community, players quick to close their windows of vulnerability and faster to even inadvertently take advantage of others’ missteps.

Near the start of the game it is critical to upgrade to HQ2 quickly to gain extra tile claims to turn into resource production and profits. Adorfield got too tricky for his own good, at HQ1 buying up an early food stockpile in the knowledge that its price would inevitably rise. We’ve actually had a previous post where the same player used a similar tactic that did not pan out. Not a bad idea in and of itself, but here he could have sold some of the food in exchange for a faster upgrade and more tiles to leverage for profits:

Later on, Adorfield and Portia at HQ2 are BOTH punished for failing to upgrade to HQ3 when they had a window to do so. DeathTacticus, already a full HQ level ahead of them, beats both to it and ticks up to HQ4. Since he buys some of his upgrade resources off the market, their prices rise, increasing the costs of Adorfield’s and Portia’s upgrades. By being first to (yet again) click up, DT is able to maintain his early advantage and put the onus on the others to overcome inflated prices on the resources the other players need to follow suit. Sometimes, the inflation of market prices can punish the early upgrader, if another player is producing excess of those resources and can then sell off the surplus for extra cash, but in the early stages this is uncommon, as all players are fighting to upgrade quickly rather than overproducing construction resources for profit:

Adorfield has a lot of money on hand, and uses it to buy up the first half of his stock and then upgrade. This is safe but not necessarily optimal. He could upgrade himself and invest in buildings, patents, and production optimizations which he could cancel out of in case he needed that cash to defend his stock from a majority buy. Or he could sit at HQ4 and try to find a window to use his cash stockpile to tactically strike another player with a buyout. Also of note, Adorfield had a chance to take the upgrade earlier but avoided taking it, presumably to not be a target as the only HQ5 player, given that he was going unnoticed so far. But the guaranteed concrete advantages of upgrading could have been well worth the non-guaranteed risk of being dogpiled as a threat:

[HoMM3] Quicksand turns the tides

HoMM3 player Chris67132 stylishly navigates a tough early spot with style and Quicksand, a normally underwhelming spell he picked up from a level 2 spell shrine. Chris knows that a good or bad opening causes ripples that influence the whole game.

(10:00-11:00) With his main army positioned in the east with few targets in range, he faces a choice between burning multiple turns without deveoloping or putting everything towards beating “lots” of demons. Wasting time is asking to slowly lose down the line, so puts everything towards beating the Demons, knowing that he’ll also need a bit of luck with the random placements of his Quicksand to stand a chance. He also remembers from his last run that the wandering monster stack there was merely a “pack,” (10-19) one category smaller than “lots” (20-49), which gives him reason to believe the number demons will be closer to 20:

(11:03-15:40) The informed guess about the numbers proves true, with exactly 20 demons appearing in the group, the lowest amount possible for lots. He gets enough luck with quicksand to impede several Demon stacks over the course of the fight. He buys more time for his shooters by tempting demons to attack singleton out-of-the-way gargoyles. All told, the demons are delayed from closing with the shooters long enough for the ranged damage to take out almost all of them, cinching the much-needed win. The victory will allow him to him take the now-little-guarded neutral city early:

[Stellaris] Is Mastery of Nature excellent or terrible?

Let’s hear from two Stellaris players on their very different evaluations of the Mastery of Nature (MoN) ascension perk in Stellaris.

Macsen likes taking MoN early and often in his games. The perk provides for free all tile-blocker-clearing techs and a discount towards tile clearing. In the early game, when all types of income are lower, the free techs and cheaper energy/mineral unblocking costs make a real difference. The techs alone tend to cost upwards of 20 months apiece in the early game. As for the yields, note that at the moment here where he’s picking MoN, his energy income merely +3 and his mineral income is +51. Most tile blockers cost 100 energy and minerals to remove. This means MON currently reduces the cost by 16 months worth of energy and 1 month worth of minerals. Macsen’s energy stockpile will soon be quickly drained by the costs of colonization and fleet maintenance, and he’s already using up his mineral income month to month, so he will definitely be able to make use of the discounts.

Tokryva disagrees, In a video (partially) titled “Mastery of Nature sucks,” he shares his reasons for strongly disliking the perk.

MoN provides a a 50% discount on the energy/mineral costs of blocker removal, but Tokryva does not value this bonus highly. He’s right that the discount is the weaker half of the perk:

Tokryva population growth is only limited by tile blockers when there are no unblocked and unworked tiles available. Since planets do not fill their unblocked tiles very early, Tokryva does not feel rushed to clear tiles:

Tokryva points out that Mastery of Nature’s free techs can be acquired the normal way, while the other ascension perks provide benefits that do not become obsolete. “Every tile blocker removal you can get by just researching. Why do you need them up front?”

In a similar vein, while there are many tile blocker types, they vary based on planet type, and in the early game the player will only be settling a few types of planets and therefore face only a few types of blockers.

Overall, Tokryva is completely right that Mastery of Nature falls off to the point of being essentially useless later in the game. However, his ascension perk choice came later than it could have because he split his tradition picks between two trees. Amusingly, he did this to target the research-boosting tradition from Discovery, but the % bonus from the tradition will take some time to catch up to the free research that comes with Mastery of Nature given the low research point income of the early game. Tokryva prefers a setup with stronger late game potential and synergy. However, in the long run a strong player will almost always win a game of Stellaris against the AI. When almost any start will eventually reach dominance in a strong player’s hands, we have to compare choices in terms of how quickly they reach such a state, not WHETHER they will. After all, one can win a game of Stellaris without taking ANY perks! It may feel bad later on to see the useless perk hogging a slot, but early development is critical to quickly and efficiently hitting a strong stride. I think Tokryva is also partially sour on Mastery of Nature because it has been nerfed, such that it feels bad to him taking a perk that once was better.

So who is right? Macsen and Tokryva both make good points, and their differing assessments are rooted more in their metrics for evaluation than in their knowledge of the facts. Macsen is looking to reach a sufficiently winning position quickly, while Tokryva prefers to avoid feelbads (dead later, was better before nerf) and seeks an empire with greater (if unnecessary) potential strength. In terms of tryhard decisionmaking, I think Macsen’s tempo/development-oriented approach has the right of it, but there are merits and good reasons behind both players’ thought processes.

[Classic] Who’s the Beatdown

Who’s the Beatdown?” is a 1999 Magic article from by Mike Flores that introduced the ideas and terminology of the relative beatdown and control roles. The concepts are strongly relevant to other games (e.g. this OTC match) and still alive in Magic analysis today.

The heart of the article is:

The most common (yet subtle, yet disastrous) mistake I see in tournament Magic is the misassignment of who is the beatdown deck and who is the control deck in a similar deck vs. similar deck matchup. The player who misassigns himself is inevitably the loser.

In similar deck vs. similar deck matchups, there are a couple of things that you want to look at to figure out what role to play:
1. Who has more damage? Usually he has to be the beatdown deck.
2. Who has more removal? Usually he has to be the control deck.
3. Who has more permission and card drawing? Almost always he has to be the control deck.

If you are the beatdown deck, you have to kill your opponent faster than he can kill you. If you are the control deck, you have to weather the early beatdown and get into a position where you can gain card advantage.

Misassignment of Role = Game Loss.

Critically, Flores points out that even in a match between similarly fast aggressive decks or slow controlling decks, one of the two will be a bit more aggressive or more controlling than the other as a static gamestate element, via the cards each players put in their deck.

The beatdown (or aggro) should play aggressively in pursuit of a shorter and more resource-scarce tempo-oriented game. The plan is to force the opponent to deal with immediate threats and minimize the time and resources they can afford to use investing for later. When the op does invest resources towards non-immediate ends, the goal is to go for the throat and punish, reaching critical pressure before the investments yield returns.

The control should play defensively in pursuit of a longer and more resource-rich value-oriented game. The plan is to survive while preparing for the long term, turning the tables as the op runs out of steam. The goal is to fend off short-term defeat with as few resources as possible, investing with as much as the op’s pressure allows.

Use beatdown (aggro) vs control roles as a lens for thinking about other games. Correctly determining your relative role will let you make better choices, nudging the game in a direction that favors your setup.