The Strategy of Supreme Commander
Hi there. My name’s TAG_uberge3k, and I play a borderline unhealthy amount of Supreme Commander.
I’m writing this guide for several reasons. The first is that our SCFA community is still going strong; I’m seeing new people eager to learn the game on a daily basis. The second is that this can only be expected to grow exponentially as FAF continues to grow. And the third is that I’ve explained these concepts to dozens of people in game and in chat, and having a nice, large, up to date article to link people to in the future would save me a whole lot of time (and have better punctuation! woo!).
I’ll try not to step on the toes of the other excellent guides; I’ve honestly not looked at them for a couple years now so any resemblance is unintended. Some overlap is to be expected of course, but I’ll try to focus on topics which I’ve not seen covered in depth before. Without further ado let’s begin your journey from noob to pro…Introduction
So, you’re new to the SCFA (Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance) scene. Perhaps you’ve just discovered this game, and feel in love, as I and so many others did, with its enormous scale, smooth features, and tightly balanced, incredibly deep gameplay. Or maybe you’re an old hand at this but are wondering what you can do to improve your game.
Before I can offer specific tips and high-level advice we need to cement three, unmovable rules about the game. They are: Counters, Intelligence, and Economy. These three concepts are interwoven throughout the entire game, and you will need all three to win in any type of game; from 1v1s to team games to zany game modes such as Phantom X.Counters
The entire game is made of counters. Every unit, every tactic, and every high level strategy can be countered, and is usually far cheaper than what your opponent invested into it; be that resources or micro (though most usually the former). By successfully countering an attack, you’ve accomplished several things:
1) Protected yourself in the near term (yay!)
2) Forced your opponent to switch to a new tactic; put him on the back foot, so to speak.
3) Put yourself in a stronger position if there’s a wreck field and you’ve kept control over it.
Still not convinced? Still thinking I’m a rambling lunatic who needs his Microsoft Word privileges revoked? Well, that last part might be true on occasion, but take these examples before making up your mind:
Problem: My opponent has made a T1 army of about 10 tanks.
Counter: Use my own (slightly larger) army of T1 tanks and kill his.
Counter: Use my ACU to plow through them, gaining valuable veterancy and soaking up damage that might have otherwise killed some of my units.
Counter: Use air to bomb his tanks, without any losses from me.
Bad counter: Start building T1 PD. Why does this not work? Because a single T1 arty will render it completely useless. And then you just wasted enough mass to build ~7 more tanks. PDs will not (except in very specific scenarios) win games. You need mobile units to win games.
Problem: My enemy has made T1 bombers and is killing things in my base.
Counter (best!): Scout them and see the bomber coming with radar, scouts, etc (this feeds into #2, Intelligence). Have your own air ready to kill it before it drops a single bomb. Congratulations, your opponent just gave you a mass donation! Find that wreck and reclaim it. (this feeds into #3, economy)
Counter: But I don’t have an air fac? Okay, then rush a T1 AA turret. This flies in the face of the previous example, of avoiding stationary turrets whenever possible, but sometimes you simply screwed up and don’t have the right counter on hand. T1 AA turrets are very effective at defending against air, but you’ve at best just matched their tactic, and at worst now need to waste a lot of mass to put this counter in several vulnerable places. (remember that bombers can move very quickly and go and kill things in unprotected places)
Counter: Maybe I don’t have enough engineers to quickly build an AA turret in time? And/or I want to be able to protect other areas of my base without needing dozens of AA turrets? Then spam mobile T1 AA. 3-4 of them will kill a bomber in one pass and, best of all, they move! Once you’ve killed the initial strike, spread them out so the rest of your base is protected.
Problem: My enemy has made a TML launcher and is sniping my mex’s.
Counter: Scout his TML, and build TMD in the most likely places he’ll target. Alternatively, kill the TML launcher in some way. Your opponent has now wasted a fairly hefty chunk of mass on a useless unit. (Seeing a pattern yet? Yup, the best counters are the ones which leverage the other two facets of gameplay; we’ll get to them in just a moment). Note how TMDs are much cheaper than TMLs – this illustrates my prior point of counters usually being much cheaper than the units they counter.
Problem: My enemy has an experimental unit.
Counter: Hopefully, you’ve at least matched them in eco, and have scouted before to see it being built. This should give you more than enough time to rush your own experimental to counter it. Ideally, you can then choose the field of battle (maybe your opponent hasn’t scouted you, and sends his exp straight to your base?) – if you kill his exp and your exp survives, you will be in a vastly superior position. Even if you can just reclaim as much of his exp’s wreck as possible, you’ll be in a much better position.
If you find yourself in a position where you cannot counter something your opponent has done, then this is almost certainly due to something you did. While it’s a natural reaction to blame the game, blame the units, and generally blame everything but yourself, this is also the fastest way to ensure that you never improve! Remember; you learn far more from defeats than you do from wins. Watch as many replays as you can, and see where you went wrong, and what your opponent did wrong, and how you can avoid the former and exploit the latter in the future.Intelligence
No, I don’t mean the IQ score kind. Although more of that is always good to have on hand.
Intelligence, or intel, or scouting, or whatever you like to call it means one thing: knowing what your enemy is doing. If you know what he is doing, you can prepare counters in advance, and ensure that you are in a stronger position.
Radar is cheap. Even in early game, it will more than pay for itself by showing you when you have units coming to your doorstep so you can counter them as quickly as possible. There is no excuse not to have radar covering as much of the battlefield as you can afford, within reason of course (it wouldn’t make much sense to overbuild it; turn on Intelligence range rings in your game settings and try to keep as little overlap as you can).
Land scouts are cheap. You absolutely must have them mixed with your armies, as many units have a longer firing range than their visual range. That means that you’re making your units much less efficient if you if you do not have land scouts with them. Land scouts are also excellent to periodically send out across the map, especially on smaller maps, so you can see in advance what your enemy is doing and where he is going.
Air scouts are cheap. And very, very fast. That means that even if your enemy has AA everywhere, you can still usually get them over his base long enough to scout him before they die. If you have air superiority, there is no reason not to be scouting and ensuring that you know what your enemy is doing.
Note how every method of scouting is dirt cheap. There is quite simply no reason not to scout – you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.Economy
Economy is perhaps one of the most misunderstood portions of the game. A lot of new players will favor longer game modes, such as Phantom, Thermo games, Seton’s Clutch games, or the dreaded 20 No Rush game (typically loaded with restrictions on units that require counters; you can’t go a day on GPGNet without seeing the ridiculously titled “NR no nuke no arty no para no air no game enders no tele no sat no drones” game being hosted). This is easy to understand; there’s less pressure in this type of game, and you’re more or less free to do nothing but build your eco until you start spamming expirmentals. And everyone loves the big shiny units with gigantic laser beams right?
If there is only one lesson you take away from this article, let this be it:
Don’t play these types of games if you want to improve.
They teach you extraordinarily bad habits which will be very difficult to break. This is such an important piece of advice that it needs repeating:Don’t play these types of games if you want to improve!!!
Alright, so now we’ve established what not to do. How do you improve at eco, you say?
Eco, at its core, is the ability to effectively manage and balance your mass and energy income and expenditures. By now you should know that the single most effective starting BO (Build Order) for most maps looks like:
And then a mix of engineers and LABs + scouts to start taking other mex’s and raiding your enemy’s expansions.
After that, it’s more intuition than anything – one of the most common questions on the subject that I’m asked is “how do I know when to tech?” or “when should I upgrade <mass extractor, land factory, etc>?”.
The best that I can tell you is to start playing a lot of games and watching a lot of replays from the pros. Watch how they eco. You’ll notice two things:
1) They’re keeping as much of their mass spent as possible; usually slightly in the negative.
2) Their power is usually very well balanced; there is never too much wasted surplus, especially in the very early game.
The reason for #1 is that mass is the most important resource in the game. Every unit costs mass. The more mass you spend, the more units you have, and units win games! Your mass does absolutely nothing if it’s piling up in your storage, or, even worse, being wasted because you can’t spend it fast enough.
#2 is a corollary to #1. You only need power to satisfy the power requirement of building units, and to power shields / stealth / radar / other things which require energy to run. Power generators require mass to build; hence, building more energy costs you mass. Therefore, it makes sense to have as little as you can safely get away with, and put that mass towards units that shoot!
As for how and when to invest mass in upgrading your economy: there are no hard and fast rules. Keep in mind that a T2 mex costs 900 mass, which is equivalent to ~20 tanks. That T2 mex will take roughly 3 minutes to pay for itself. Will that extra eco in 3 minutes be worth more than 20 tanks right now? If the answer is yes, then it’s a good time to tech – if not, keep spamming until T1 spam isn’t working anymore!
Another excellent time to tech is when you just won a skirmish and have a large wreck field to reclaim – oftentimes you may not be able to spend all of that mass, so if you have enough power on hand for a mex upgrade or two, quickly upgrading with the mass from the wreck field may be a great idea.
This brings us to another important topic: reclaiming. All engineering units can reclaim wreck fields, for 81% of that unit’s original cost. Eg, if there is a T2 tank wreck that cost 200 mass to build, reclaiming it will yield 162 mass. In this way, you can recycle the mass you already spent on those units (and better yet, take the mass from the units that your army has killed) and put that into even more units!
Fundamentally, the entire game boils down to “who can most efficiently convert the natural resources of this planet into flaming death to crush their enemy with?” Natural resources would include the mass deposits, hydrocarbon deposits, and reclaimable tress and rocks; basically, the mass and energy you start with on the map. You can then recycle the mass you spend later on, be that by reclaiming wreck fields or reclaiming buildings which are no longer needed – eg, if you were forced to build a few T1 PDs early on, but their use has long since been superseded by other units and you need a quick mass boost, they can be reclaimed for a healthy boost in mass. Similarly, if you have T3 pgens, you most certainly don’t need T1 pgens any longer, so reclaim away!After the basics
Alright, after mastering the above 3 keys of the game (or at least now having a good idea of what they are!), it’s time for some nitty gritty advice. This list is by no means exhaustive, as after ~3 years of playing online I’m still learning new things; think of it more as a basic checklist of stuff everyone needs to know. I see a lot of newbies making these same mistakes – don’t repeat them! Use your ACU!
Your ACU has roughly the power of 20 tanks on the battlefield in the early game, as it does 100DPS with its gun and has 10k-12k HP depending on your faction. It also gains veterancy every 20 kills, which adds extremely useful HP regen and extra HP. That means you can usually kill landspam up to groups of around 20 tanks, and, the more you use it, the better it gets over time! Not even mentioning the wealth of upgrades that are viable later in the midgame, compare and contrast these built-in offensive features with the comparatively meager buildpower that it has, which is equivalent to 2 T1 engineers. Do the math.
In case I need to spell it out: your ACU should be out killing things and taking map control in the early game. Do not let it sit in your base building pgens or assisting factories – get it out there and kill some stuff!You’ve spent your mass… but are you using it?
An equally important facet of the game, after successfully investing your mass in units which go pew-pew-pew, is using said pew-pew-pew-tastic units effectively. Do not let your units pile up in your base, collecting virtual dust, and generally being completely useless. If your units aren’t out attacking, defending, and generally being useful, then they may as well not even be there.
This doesn’t mean you should be throwing them away – on the contrary, an even worse mistake is wasting units. So many times I see new players throw their T1 tanks uselessly against a PD, or feed their enemy’s ACU veterancy by sending a trickle of spam towards it. You should always aim for superior localized firepower when deciding to engage your enemy, as that leads to fewer losses on your side – or in layman terms, make sure you can win a fight before starting it.Geometry: It’s not just for highschool anymore
Don’t worry, it’s far simpler than the heading might have sounded at first. When you send an army to attack something, try and line up your units so the maximum number of guns are on the minimum number of targets at a time, ideally so your units will intersect with the opposing army’s in a perpendicular fashion. Since that sounds confusing, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:
Use this to your advantage when you can, and avoid letting it happen to you at all costs!RECLAIM
Any engineering unit can reclaim wrecks and rocks/trees/random junk on the map. I cannot stress enough how important it is to reclaim everything you can find. In a map such as Open Palms, where there are veritable forests to reclaim, each reclaiming engineer can add approximately 1.5 mass and ~10 energy. That quickly adds up if you have many engineers reclaiming all at once. Simply put, given two equally skilled players, if one reclaims and one doesn’t, the one who reclaims will win every single time. Territory disputes: they’re not just for large countries anymore
On most every map, there is a decent distribution of mass deposits to fight over. If you control more of those mass deposits than your enemy, you’ll have a larger eco than him, and will therefore have more units to crush the life out of him with.
A simple rule of thumb that TAG_ROCK_ uses is “claim your half of the map, deny your opponent his half of the map, and you’ll win”. Study his replays. You can learn quite a bit by studying his replays, along with the other SCFA legends (TAG_PEBBLE, TAG_Seton, Voodoo_, LordVader, Remmy, etc), as they all have mastered these nuances of the game and more.
The absolute WRONG thing to do is think “well, if I tech these mex’s, I don’t have to bother with protecting those expansions!”. This is guaranteed to fail, as that T2 mex costs 900 mass and takes 3 minutes to pay for itself. Congratulations, you just gave your opponent a 20 tank lead! Not a great thing to do.
Comparitively, a T1 mex will pay for itself in 16 seconds, and 3 of them generate just as much as that T2 extractor.Less is usually more
There’s a natural tendency to go straight for the big units – the expirementals with their ridiculously high powered laser beams, the T3 air that massacres everything in the skies, or the T3 land that lays waste to whole armies of T1 and T2.
And, seemingly counterintuitively, this is almost always the wrong way to go! While you’re teching that land fac to T2, I’ve just gotten a 20 tank lead on your – and if I can use that to take more of the map, I can then tech myself AND still have those tanks that you let me build. In almost every situation, if you sacrifice map control on the altar of teching, you will likely lose as your enemy will have gain a large advantage over you – shiny new T2 tanks or not.
Remember… if T1/T2 didn’t have a use, they wouldn’t be in the game. And then we’d be playing something akin to Supreme Commander 2. *shudder*Concentrate your resources
Another common mistake that’s easily avoidable is trying to build too much, too soon. As an example, don’t try upgrading more than one mex at a time unless you are 100% certain you have enough mass to cover it. If possible, upgrade mass extractors in sequence, so you will get the maximum resource bonus as quickly as possible – eg, if you have the option of either focusing 100% of your build power on one thing at a time, or 50% of your build power on two things – always take the 100%, as then that thing will be done sooner and you’ll be able to send it out to do useful things rather than waiting to be finished being built.Balancing your attention
A simple fact of the game is that you have a limited amount of things you can do at one time. Strategic Zoom, while a terrific advancement, still doesn’t quite make up for us poor humans who can’t multitask well! You can only micro one set of tanks at a time, or micro your base, or complete much any task without requiring your undivided attention.
That leads to potential problems when you neglect one aspect or another; you forget to micro your army and it ends up getting hammered since it was approached at a perpendicular angle… Or you spend so much time microing your army that you forget to micro your base and end up wasting mass.
A good way to remedy this is to try playing zoomed out as much as possible. It’s very easy to zoom in and out and briefly focus on areas that need your attention, but try to return to a zoomed out state as quickly as possible so you can keep an eye on how things are progressing overall.
The opposite problem, of course, is not doing enough things! Most times, there’s always something that needs doing or could be improved if you microed it; microing your engies to use their maximum build range, for example, or microing LABs to avoid being killed by tanks. Rule of thumb: if you have nothing to do, find something to do!Balancing your economy
Even more balancing! You’d think this was Supreme Teetertotter. Well, in a sense you’d be right!
This is another common question I’m asked: “how much eco should I be spending on my upgrading my economy vs units?”. The answer is, unfortunately, not as clear cut as you might like: it depends entirely on the situation and what your goals are.
Basically, you want to be one step ahead of your enemy at all times. This means that by the time he’s going T2, you have your own T2 units rolling out, ready to counter his. You can match this pretty easily by keeping your scouting up.
If he’s going for eco, then that means he’s putting less mass into his army – and that means you may have an advantage to exploit in that window of time before that extra eco is useful to him. Similarly, if he’s upgrading a factory, you have a window of time to overwhelm with your landspam before you’re forced to upgrade yourself.
Of course, most times you’ll only see upgrading when the person upgrading is in a clear position to protect his half of the map. In this case, it means that you’re already behind by some amount (assuming, of course, that his tech isn’t in response to your tech), as you typically never want to put yourself in a disadvantage in the short term. Or in other words, long-term investment really isn’t applicable in SCFA – short term is much more important, so you can ensure that your expansions survive.
Does this mean that you should never tech? No, of course not. But it does mean that you should only do so when you know that it will be more cost effective than more landspam.Hydrocarbon planets, OR: BOs for Pros
I often see players ignoring hydrocarbon deposits. This is madness to me – they give 100 energy, yet only cost as much as ~2 pgens. That means they’re 2x as efficient as power generators. This is a nontrivial benefit in the early stage of the game.
The best example is a BO that’s more or less specific to maps such as Canis River 3v3/4v4, where there is a hydro right next to your usual starting mex’s. In this case, the normal fac-pgen-pgen-mex-mex BO is usurped by the much more efficient fac-mex-mex-mex-hydro.Pressure
In most games, especially 1v1s, pressure is one of the main keys to victory. Simply put, pressure means that you’re forcing your enemy to react to what YOU’RE doing. If you have to react to what he’s doing, you’re already at a disadvantage. If you’re the one who pushing and making him react, then he’s distracted from putting his own plans in place.
Pressure isn’t something that can be measured in a bar, but it’s something that you’ll soon gain a natural feel for as you play more games.
You can’t play defensively and “turtle” – ie, only slowly and surely expand as you place a PD every other step. This type of gameplay is simply not effective – you need to aggressively push out, expand, raid, and most importantly, keep the pressure on your enemy.Have a plan
I find that it helps to set out with a specific goal in mind during games; otherwise, it’s easy to fall into the trap of reacting to whatever your enemy is doing. On most maps, early goals could mean getting raiding parties out and doing as much damage as possible. After that, it’s up to you to strategize – perhaps you’re doing for T2 land as soon as you see an advantage, or try and get an ACU upgrade to turn the tide of battle. You just need to plan for it in advance; for example, you can then remember to build a little extra power at the start so you’ll have extra when you want that gun upgrade later on.Overcharge: it’s what separates n00bs from pros
Overcharge, or OC, does an incredible 9k damage to units. It also does 400 to ACUs, and 800 to structures.
While it requires at least one energy storage for it to be used, as it takes 5k energy stored to fire, it is well worth the investment as it remains useful throughout most of the game. From killing groups of bunched up units, to one-shotting T2 and T3 units, and even as a last ditch effort to take out experimental units, OC is one of the most important tools in your ACU’s arsenal.
You should always beware of your enemy’s OC as well. Keep vulnerable T2 units away from it until you have groups of them that can stand a chance at taking it out.Cut off the head, and the body is useless
In the SCFA lore, your ACU contains the pilot, and a link to every unit it controls – if that unit is destroyed, the pilot is killed, and all of the units he controlled self-destruct.
This holds true in game as well. If your ACU dies, you die. And your units die too. So, don’t die!
This also means that the ultimate goal of every game is to kill your enemy’s ACU. Everything else is merely a means to this end.
Since you’ll be using your ACU offensively, you need to ensure you keep it alive too. If you see your enemy overextending their ACU, or generally leaving it open for a possible snipe, take the opportunity!
Other great ways of sniping inattentive / overextending ACUs include mercies, gunships, T3 sniper bots / percivals, and even TML.Armed with this knowledge, adjust it for the appropriate game type
This guide has more or less assumed we’re talking about 1v1 skirmishes. This is because the basic concepts inherent to 1v1s are used in every single other game mode – think of it as the foundation, with teamgames and modded games building on top of it.
In larger team games, teamwork is most probably the most important difference. You now have to work with and rely on one or more additional people. Communication is absolutely critical to your success as a whole – if you need help, ask for it! If you need to pool your resources into building an exp unit, ask for it! And if you see someone in trouble, cover their back.
Another difference is that since maps are usually larger, and you have more players with more ACUs on the field, it’s usually better to tech and eco faster than in a 1v1. In a 1v1 it’s usually rare to see a T2 mex, but in teamgames they’re usually upgraded fairly quickly.Respect thy neighbor, even after nukes go flying
My final piece of advice (for now!) is also the easiest to follow: be kind and respectful to those whom you play with and against. The vast majority of people in the community are easygoing and helpful – and if you keep a positive attitude I’m certain that they’ll be there for you when you have a question, want to practice, or just need a teammate for your next game!
Even though the game may be highly competitive, especially in very close 1v1s, remember to start each game with a “Hi, HF GL!”, end it with a “GG”, and you’ll be well on your way to building a reputation as a nice guy to play with.
That’s all for now. I’ll probably add/modify/update the guide as I get feedback on it. I hope it proves useful to you.
See you on the battlefield!
Changelog, for the one person who might care (which is probably me)
8/19/2011 Added picture to illustrate proper unit alignment.
8/19/2011 Fixed errors, added sections on distinguishing between 1v1/teamplay, OC, sniping ACUs, planning and aggression.
8/18/2011 Tweaked formatting, added sections on balancing your attention, reclaim, dividing your eco, and hydros.
8/18/2011 Initial post.