[PUBG] Tempo and the landing phase

PUBG is a highlander-style arena shooter in which 100 players parachute in to an island and only one team survives. Winners must play for tempo to survive the early game and prepare for the midgame.

Players start with no equipment. Players need equipment to deal and mitigate damage. An advantage in the presence or power-level of one’s equipment is decisive in engagements. For example, a player with a weapon can freely kill a player with no weapon; a level 2 helmet allows one to survive many shots that would kill you in a level 1 helm. The first players to land get first pick of the available equipment.

The quality of loot drops across a map varies with the density of the buildings in an area. A safe and cozy isolated shack is going to roll on a very low quality loot table, meaning weaker armors, weaker weapons, fewer bullets in each pile of ammo, and fewer items in general. A map’s towns and military bases however will have more and higher-tier items. In a smaller village you might be lucky to find a tommy gun in time to fight, but in an a rich area you might well find all that you need on the rooftop you land on.

Areas with rich loot are usually highly-contested, and many landers will die in the early combats, some before they even manage to equip and load a weapon. Players on PC should use the fastest of the three ways to pick up an item:

After the opening’s landing, initial-weapon-finding, and first round of combats have been resolved, survivors will look to assemble coherent ensembles of weapon attachments for the slots on their guns. For example, a player’s sniper rifle could be filled out by finding a cheekpad, an extended rifle magazine, and a silencer. A mini-uzi could fill its slots with an smg compensator, an extended smg magazine, and a folding stock. Additionally, players look to find higher tier armors, and healing items.

“Looting” is what PUBG calls the process of scouring buildings (and bodies) for weapons, attachments, and healing items. The survivors of the initial drop phase that loot most efficiently (without dying…) will find themselves best set up for the midgame. Quick looting involves pathing well through each building, progressing between unlooted structures while avoiding looted ones, and quickly pulling needed items into the inventory. It’s important to learn what each item looks like at a distance, so you can avoid checking each loot pile’s item list and instead prioritize which loot piles to approach and which to avoid.

Tempo in the early game is as critical in PUBG as it is in all games. Developing well means developing quickly. Players use a lead in development to set up unfair fights against those slow to start, and to match those peers of theirs who also develop at top speed.

[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.

[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.

[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:

[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.

[HoMM3] TheKnownWorld on Using Multiple Heroes

Heroes of Might and Magic III YouTuber and Twitch streamer TheKnownWorld presents a short and sweet argument for using multiple heroes, backed up by clear comparisons and helpful tips.

One especially hard-hitting point in the video is the day 3 treasury comparison between the single- and multi-hero examples: even though hiring extra heroes costs 2,500 gold apiece, the faster rate of exploration and access to more loose resource piles means that the multi-hero approach largely pays for itself.

[Chess] Dynamic protection of the knight

International Master John Bartholomew reviews a moment in a blitz game where his knight has no static defender (i.e. is not protected by a pawn). However, the knight is in fact dynamically protected. Were attacked, a check against the black king would buy time to reposition the knight, as the opponent would need to spend their move getting their king out of check rather than capturing the loose piece.