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This article was written by War, member of Clan Burning Blade.
One half of the early game of any race has to do with your build order. So if you know efficient, appropriate build orders and have learned to execute them well consistently, then you're well into being competitive in the early game against good players. The other half of the early game has to do with how well you can dance. That's right, Daniel-son, you must remember the Wax-on, Wax-off. (Can I be more obscure?... Ummm maybe...)
Ok, ok, you're thinking to yourself, "Wtf is War talking about? He must've finally gone nuts after watching too many Karate Kid sequels." Well, I'm talking about your troop control in the early game. This includes your zealots, marines, zerglings, firebats, and hydralisks. Knowing how to control them is essential in playing the early game well.
No, it's not the macarena. But there is a dance they must learn. It's the same dance grunts and ogres used to do in war2. The concept behind the dance is really simple. It is that greater numbers win. Let's take a look at a group of zealots who know the dance well. Suppose you send 8 zealots to attack bottom right with the 'a' command. They encounter 11 enemy zealots on the way and engage in combat. If you leave them to fight, they'll all die while a lot of the enemy zealots will survive and come to your base to crush you. Knowing this, your zealots do the macarena... err I mean they retreat toward your reinforcements or your ally's. If your opponent used the 'a' or 'p' command and didn't pay attention to them, they'll follow your zealots. Your zealots meet up with 8 more zealots and together crush the enemy zealots. By doing this dance, you've just saved a bunch of your zealots while killing off a lot of your opponent's. Shared vision means that you and your teammates can do the seamless dance together. If they don't use the 'a' or 'p' command, then their troops will just get hit a lot while moving and you'll crush them anyway. If they do use the 'a' or 'p' command, you can set a trap for them and lead them there.
This is important because a lot rides on your troops. If you didn't do the dance, all your 8 zealots die while killing only 4 of theirs maybe. So you're down by 4 zealots. But by doing the dance, you might lose only 5 zealots while all of their 11 zealots die. In this case, you're up by 6 zealots. The difference is 10 zealots which is A LOT. That's equivalent to 40 zerglings or 20 marines in cost. Losing 6 zerglings because you didn't pay attention might be no big deal but losing 40? I don't think so.
There are many dance moves you can perform. If you only think about the situation, I'm sure you can come up with more moves of your own. So, anyway, I will discuss some of the more obvious moves you might already have seen from good players. One is the "unite" which is illustrated by the example I discussed above. Something like this is also what is meant by "good coordination" in allied melee games. Typically, however, allies try to coordinate by gathering their forces at certain area and then going in to attack an opponent together. This usually assures that your force will outnumber that of the opponent because your guys are together.
Another one is the "split." Just as it is in your advantage to unite your forces, it's also in your advantage to split your opponents' forces. Here's an example of how you do that. Suppose you see 12 enemy zealots heading toward your teammate's base. You notice that most of your teammates' guys are at an opponent's base, attacking him. He only has 4 zealots out (by his base) and will have 8 at the most when those 12 enemy zealots arrive there. You know that 12 vs 8 is a massacre and that the surviving zealots will proceed to cripple your teammate's economy and trash his town. But you have a zealot scout that can intercept those 12. So you do. You move him just close enough so that half of the 12 zealots will sight him and start to chase him. You've split their force. Instead of a force of 12 zealots heading to your teammate's town, a force of 6 zealots is now heading to your teammate's and the other 6 are following your lone zealot. You have enough zealots to take care of those 6 somewhere and you lead them there. The other 6 zealots get slaughtered at your teammate's base vs his 8. If your opponent realizes what you're doing and redirects those 6 back to your teammate's base, then you've bought your teammate some precious time. Perhaps enough time for him to produce enough troops to meet the 12. Or more time for you to send a force to his town before his economy is ruined. (I know I know; this kind of move is hard to make on the "fastest" speed setting which I see most people playing. For a more tactical game (and less of an arcade game), you should try "fast." I usually compromise and play "faster.")
What if your 8 zealots arrive at your opponent's base to find that he has 10 zealots waiting? In this case, you can try a small scale split. You approach him and when his zealots start to move toward yours, pull back. Unless they're very close together, only some will chase you while the others will just stand around, picking their noses. After putting some distance between the chasers and the nose-pickers, you engage them. If, say, 5 of them chased you, you will easily crush them and then proceed to crush the other 5. And you'll still have some zealots surviving who can then kill the peons. Now this is efficient troop management.
Then there is the "merry-go-round." Imagine this situation. You send 8 zealots to attack your opponent and find that he has 14 zealots waiting for you. Even if you split them, chances aren't that good that you'll be able to take out even the divided groups one by one. What you do in this case is first to split your group into two groups of 1 zealot and 7 zealots. Hide the 7 zealots on a side and go in with your lone zealot who is your decoy. Try to get as many of the 14 zealots to follow your decoy into a futile chase. If the number of remaining zealots is small enough, you can crush them and then kill the peons while your decoy is playing merry-go-round with the other zealots. If you don't think you can crush the remaining zealots, then sneak by them and get to the peon line and slaughter the peons. You'll have done enough damage by the time they run back to the peon line to engage your zealots. You can then engage them or run away. The main idea behind "merry-go-round" is to lure as many of the enemy troops away from where the "action" is going to be.
The final offensive move I'll discuss is the "lure." The idea is very similar to the "unite" in that you're leading your opponent troops into a trap. What you do is set up your "offensive zone" where any battle fought there will be very favorable to you and then lead your enemy troops there. For example, a terran might set up a couple of bunkers side by side and some supply depots to surround them. Then a lone marine can lure enemy zealots there and have them slaughtered by the marines in the safety of the bunkers. Later you can add some siege tanks and some spider mines in the front for an even better offensive zone. A protoss player might position a few reavers in the back and zealots to cover the front. This setup will easily take out groups of zealots, hydras, zerglings, marines, firebats, and dragoons. You lure your enemies there and they finish the job.
I've seen the "lure" performed quite a few times. The first time I saw it in starcraft, I think, is when some fellow BBers and I played against Bob Fitch (lead programmer for Starcraft) and some other blizzard guys in some use map settings game. I'm not saying they developed this move first (who could possibly know?). I'm just saying that that's where I saw it first. I remember it well because I remember getting pissed off at my zealots getting lured and dying. :)
Before closing, I'll discuss one defensive move. It is the "delay." Suppose you spot 8 opponent zealots heading toward your town. Your guys are too far away to engage them before they do some serious damage to your base. And your allies are too far away too. When they get to your base, you only have 4 zealots there to defend. You're in serious trouble. It's time to dance. It's time to do the "delay." You position your 4 zealots on the side so they can lead the enemy zealots away from your base and delay their attack. If your opponent used the 'a' or 'p' command, his zealots will start following yours immediately after sighting them. When they do, you lead them away from your base, buying you time to produce more zealots or for your teammates to come and help you. When he sees what you're doing, he'll probably use the 'm'ove command to redirect them back to your base. If so, you follow them to your base. Once there, he'll have certain options. If he uses the attack or patrol command to destroy your base, then do the same thing again. Once again they'll follow you and you buy more time. If he uses the 's'top command, they'll also follow you and you can lead them away from your base. The only time his units won't follow yours is if he uses the hold position or the attack a building command. In either case, you can gang up on his zealots and win. You can tell what he is doing by noting whether his units follow yours. And then you act accordingly. Of course, he'll adjust when he sees what you're doing. But so do you. As soon as his zealots stop hitting buildings and start fighting back, you lead them away from your base. It's a battle of troop micromanagement at this point. And since your base is under attack, you have nothing better to do than micromanage your troops to either delay his attack and buy time or kill his guys. The beauty of it is that you force him to do nothing but pay attention to the troops too. If he shifts his attention to take care of troop production, economy, or base building, then you'll probably succeed in delaying his attack. Otherwise, you'll have an intricate dance going back and forth and at least drain his time responding to your moves.
To do the dance well, you must quickly assess the situation whenever your group of guys engage the enemy in combat. Quickly figure out whether they can win the battle by themselves or they need help. Then act accordingly. A diversion like the "merry-go-round" might be useful depending on the objective you have. Of course, you cannot do this against units that are much faster. But in my experience, even the slow zealots can do the dance against fast zerglings. Obviously it helps to have speed. And it also helps if your units have a ranged attack because then they don't have to get too close to the enemy to do these moves. The effectiveness of the dance also depends on things like the game's latency and speed settings. But whenever you can, dance, baby, dance!
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