[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.

[HoMM3] Why Luck and Leadership are not good enough

“Oh and The Pendant of Courage! Aren’t we glad that we don’t have expert luck and expert leadership?” In the clip below this writeup, Heroes of Might and Magic III YouTuber Chris67132 celebrates not having Luck or Leadership skills on his main heroes . Why?

When a hero gains a level, the player is presented with two skill options and selects one for the hero to learn or improve. Each hero has eight slots for skills, so choosing a sub-par skill carries the opportunity cost of being unable to put a better skill in that slot later. The Leadership and Luck skills respectively increase morale and luck of units in battle, up to +3 at expert rank. Morale and Luck always range between -3 and +3.

For a number of good reasons, Chris places little value on these skills and tries to avoid taking them. Here we see one of these reasons: The Pendant of Courage artifact (which he just gained) effectively duplicates both Expert Leadership and Expert Luck, giving +3 Luck and Morale when equipped without requiring any skill slots. Since Chris usually plays larger, longer maps with many opportunities for artifacts to spawn, he generally can get his hands on most any item sooner or later. The opportunity cost of using a hero’s neck slot is much more palatable than permanently using up one or two of a hero’s skill slots.

The Pendant of Courage does come with the opportunity cost of occupying a hero’s neck slot when equipped. However, this cost is much cheaper than committing skill slots, as the Pendant of Courage can be un/equipped at need, while a hero’s skill set is set in stone once chosen.

There are reasons for disfavoring the Leadership and Luck skills. Morale and luck procs are unreliably random and cannot be counted on to help when needed, while other skills such as Logistics or Earth Magic give consistent bonuses that one can plan around. In HoMM3 strategy, variance is usually considered bad for the player because it reduces one’s ability to limit risk. If an experienced player willingly engages in a fight, they have a good idea of the expected losses they will incur. A morale proc (which grants an extra move) for one of the player’s unit stacks may helpfully but unnecessarily reduce losses, while a morale proc for the enemy can be devastating. Chris and other experienced players often opt to prevent both sides of a combat from having morale proc by equipping The Spirit of Oppression item:

So in summary: Leadership and Luck skills prevent oen from taking other more powerful skills. Their effects can be replicated via certain items (and spells). They are highly variant and variance in HoMM3 overall works against the player by reducing their control over combat.

[SupCom] Heaven critiques a replay

Supreme Commander YouTuber Heaven reviews a replay and in the process addresses key cross-game ideas. Topics raised include efficient resource gathering strategies, harassment, prophylactic (i.e. preemptive) defense against predictable threats, opportunity costs of idle or ill-chosen units, the importance of converting an advantage into a greater one, and unit efficiency improvement via increased alpha-damage of massed lower-dam units.

This particular map, Loki, has trees near the players' starts that can be reclaimed for energy, allowing construction of power generators to be deferred. However, not all reclaimable trees are created equal: some are actually "tree groups" that can be sucked up by a single reclaim action and contain more energy, while others are less efficiently-reclaimable single trees:
Continue reading "[SupCom] Heaven critiques a replay"

[AoE2] Losing map control forces painful investment into towers

Here we have an Age of Empires 2: Rise of the Rajas match between top-tier players TheViper and Dogao, with commentary by ZeroEmpires and EscapeAoE. A few key moments in the commentary stood out.

Suffering from economic raiding, TheViper identifies cost-effective spots for watchtower placement. One tower in particular stands out as being in range to protecting three different resource patches, apparently netting good value from the wood and stone invested in the structure:

Unfortunately for TheViper, Dogao's harassment is able to continue due to a vulnerable angle and an exposed second wood patch. TheViper is forced to invest in more defensive watchtowers on a small tree cluster that will be quickly exhausted. Down the line, the opportunity cost of constructing those towers will hurt, as villagers mining stone for towers are not gathering food or gold for teching up:

[OTC] Opening tactic of temporary chems investment: a good idea poorly executed

In this clip from an Offworld Trading Company tournament, player adorfield recognizes that the neutral colony’s modules are consuming chemicals, gradually increasing the market price. Adorfield bought 60 chemicals early, knowing that he could sit on them for a period and then sell them at a profit.

This is, on its own, a sound plan. However, the plan should have been aimed at selling the chems as soon as the profits were enough to let him buy the HQ level 2 upgrade for additional tile claims. Instead, adorfield did not sell his stockpile, locking up thousands of dollars that needed to be used to jump start in the critical moments of the opening. The plan actually delayed his development rather than accelerating it.

Meanwhile, an opponent with unstifled development was able to use their faster HQ level 2 claims to snatch away the high aluminum tile adjacent to adorfield’s base. In this moment we can see how the error snowballed against adorfiel and seriously hampered his opening. Yes, the price of those chems will continue to rise, which does provide some benefit, but waiting for the price to rise further came with an enormous opportunity cost of upgrading later than his opponents.

[SupCom] Early aggression in an FFA hurts both participants relative to the other players

YouTuber and commentator Gyle notes early in this free-for-all that many players try to avoid early conflict. This idea crops up in other games with FFAs as well. Two players conflicting early burn resources on aggression while the noncombatants are free to instead invest in their economies.

And indeed in this case despite one player coming out on top, both of the two fighting players end up clearly behind the others in terms of mass income.

[EU4] Reman’s Paradox analyzes the new institutions mechanics

YouTuber Reman's Paradox demonstrates a high level of game knowledge backed up by data in this assessment of the new institutions mechanic in Europa Universalis IV. He also takes the laudable step of making his data and code available for others to use.

Below, I've pulled out four short sub-clips in which Reman raises ideas that may be relevant to thinking about other games.
Continue reading "[EU4] Reman’s Paradox analyzes the new institutions mechanics"

[AoE2] Overview of the Aztecs

YouTuber Spirit Of The Law conducts an excellent review of the strengths and weaknesses of the Aztec civilization, backed up by tests and mathcrafting. I've included the full video here, and below it I've pulled out a couple of small clips that I may want to reference later.
Continue reading "[AoE2] Overview of the Aztecs"

[Dom4] Sy on strategy and pretender design for LA Agartha

Dominions 4 is a turn-based fantasy wargame where the player is a god over a nation of worshippers, contesting with other pretender gods for the spot of top dog (er, top god?). Sy, a multiplayer Dominions veteran, walks us through his strategy in "I Equip My Heavy Crossbow" (game admins usually choose unusual names for the games they run). Sy's nation is Agartha, a race of cave-people. I've pulled out a few salient areas below, but the whole video is densely packed with more. First, Sy reviews why he considers Late Age Agartha a strong early- and mid-game nation:
Continue reading "[Dom4] Sy on strategy and pretender design for LA Agartha"