Part 1: a strong start (250 rating and less)
. . . . Mistake: not having a build order.
A “build order” is a plan for what you are going to build at the start of a match.
“You can think of generic build orders as a ticket to enter competitive gameplay. If you don’t know any build orders, it does not matter how good of a strategist you are. You will probably die within the first minutes, or at least handicap yourself so much from the very start that you will die a slow painful death, over the course of the game.”
That is from the introduction to Heaven’s build order tutorial, which you should watch.
The first part of the standard build order for your ACU is:
- a land factory
- two pgens
- two mexes
- one more pgen
- two more mexes
- one more pgen
You make them, with your ACU, in that order. The reason this build order is so good is that you get a factory up quickly, so you can start making engineers; then you get enough energy that you won’t just run out of energy, and you get some mass income as well. It gets the mexes as quickly as possible without running out of energy.
But the build order is more than this: also you need to make more pgens and more factories. Your first factory should make mostly engineers so you have plenty of engineers to do all of the things. As long as more engineers keep coming out of your factory, hopefully when you see the engineers just standing there, that should help to remind you to give them orders.
This build order is far superior to making mexes and pgens before your first factory. For some reason, a lot of noobs like to do this. A factory can make engineers. Multiple engineers can build more mexes and pgens, much faster, than your ACU alone could hope to do. You want to grow quickly and you can’t do that without engineers.
Zock (one of the greatest Forged Alliance players of all time) teaches that in this game, the more economy you have, the faster you can grow. More economy means you can afford to build more pgens, which actually cost a lot of mass and energy. More economy means you can afford to upgrade more mass extractors, more quickly. More economy means you can afford to make more tanks, to secure more area, so you can build more mass extractors. There is a snowball effect to being bigger than your opponent. That is why it is so important that you don’t fall behind in the first few minutes of a match. The best way to do this, as a new player, is to steal a working build order (either a generic one, or a build order specific to the map) and follow that for the first 2-3 minutes+.
. . . . Mistake: not having a plan
A build order is a kind of plan. And when you are following a plan, you are under less stress. In Forged Alliance, you always have many options. The more choices you have to consider, the more stress you are under. If you are following a plan, you are taking choice away from yourself, which is actually a good thing.
According to Zock, it is always better to have a plan than to have no plan.
A plan can be as simple as: “I’m going to follow a generic build order, make 5 land factories in my base, and stream units out to the left in order to grab the expansion in the top-left corner of the map. My ACU is going to go south, and I’m going to send some units with it. The ACU is going to try to grab 3 mexes in the south and make a point defense there. Then I will make an air factory, send air scouts around the map to see what the situation is, and start upgrading my mexes back home, one at a time, to T2.” If you have that basic idea in your head, you will be able to make decisions and give orders much more quickly, which will give you the time you need to more effectively manage things.
It is said that “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” Sometimes that is true, sometimes not. But even if your plan is not working perfectly, it is giving you a framework to evaluate your situation and to more quickly decide what to do next (including: whether to change your plan).
Here is Zock’s explanation for why you need to have a plan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwwVVS5aGeA&list=PLJclJGPtIxW1Znl4idf8EEdHMnTzDJ810&t=51m46s
. . . . Mistake: staying in your base
New players often stay in their base. I don’t just mean the ACU stays in the starting location (which is not necessarily a bad idea, especially for lower-rated players who aren’t very good at keeping their ACU out of danger). I mean that no units at all leave the base until the core mexes are T2 and there’s a T2 factory. That is a terrible way to play.
If you stay in your base, while your opponent expands (sends engineers out to build mexes outside of their base), you will immediately fall behind in economy, and it will be basically impossible to recover from this early deficit.
A T1 mex gives 2 mass per second. If you upgrade it to T2, that will give you 6 mass per second. So by upgrading one of your mexes from T1 to T2, you get an extra 4 mass per second.
But it costs 900 mass to upgrade a mex. For 900 mass, you could build a land factory, 4 engineers, and 10 T1 mexes.
If your opponent expands and builds 10 T1 mexes outside of their base, while you stay home and upgrade one mex to T2, your opponent is going to have a gigantic advantage over you (you get +4 mass per second, and he gets +20). And, remember: in FAF, an economic advantage can snowball, because it costs mass and energy to build more pgens, and it costs mass and energy to upgrade mexes.
Whatever strategy you want to carry out in FAF, you need mass and energy to make it happen. If you allow yourself to fall far behind in mass income, you are making it impossible to battle your opponent, because they will always outnumber you. It is not so much fun to make executive-style decisions (“do I get T2 land and make Pillars, or do I just make 50 T1 tanks?”) when your economy is half as big as your opponent’s. Because even if you make smart decisions at that point, you can still be crushed.
I think one reason lower-rated players don’t try to expand is that they are afraid their expanding engineers will die. If you watch 1v1 games from higher-rated players, they lose engineers all the time. Engineers are not that expensive, and you should have a lot of them. You can and should try to protect your engineers. But the biggest mistake is to not even try to grab mexes.
And: since you know how frustrating it is to lose engineers: don’t forget to harass your opponent by killing his engineers. Sending out units for harassment is a very important part of getting out of your base.
. . . . Mistake: not making (enough) units
Part of the sluggish, passive mindset (that you are going to stay in your little castle, behind point defense, while you build up to Tech 3 or Tech 4) is that you don’t need units.
When you get over the turtle mindset, it is obvious that you are going to need many, many units (called “spam” because you are making so many of them) to do all of the things that you want to do around the map.
The best advice I ever got, was in my 8th ladder match, when @RLO told me, “wheres you spam” (meaning: why are you not making T1 spam?). I improved significantly after getting that piece of advice and taking it to heart.
. . . . Mistake: not making enough factories
Because turtle players don’t need many units, they only build 1-2 factories. If you watch games from high-level players, or even just players at the 400-500 rating points range, you will see a lot more factories.
How many factories to make? The short version is: one T1 factory for every 2 T1 mex you can hold.
If you start on a small map where you have 4 mexes in your base and 6 more nearby, then you’re going to need at least 5 land factories.
On a lot of maps, you might have 16 mexes or more that you can take and hold. So it is normal to build 8+ land factories, depending on the map. It takes time to get 8 factories up, but it also takes time to grab all of the mexes that you will need to run them.
Factories take a long time to build, so it is best to have more than 1 engineer at a time making a single factory. When you are just starting out, for small maps make all of the land factories in your base. Don’t try spreading them around a small map. Don’t just leave your ACU standing there. If your ACU is not going to leave your base, it should be building factories or pgens for you.
. . . . Mistake: idle factories
Another common mistake for new players is that they make factories they need, but then the factories are idle (not producing anything). If you make factories, but they don’t produce units, you are just wasting mass. There is an icon on the right side of the screen for idle factories. It can be smart to pay attention to that. But also, when you are zoomed out to take a look at the battlefield, one of the things to think about is “why are my factories doing, are they making the right things? Are they making anything?”
It is good to give your factory orders while they are still under construction. If you wait until they are fully built to give them orders, there will be some idle time.
Take advantage of the ability to make an “infinite build queue.” The “build queue” is the list of things that the factory is going to make. When it is not set to infinite, the factory will make those units, and then stop. When it is set to infinite, every time it makes a unit, it puts (at the back of the queue) an instruction to make the same unit. So it will make everything in the list, and then repeat, infinitely. If your factories are making an infinite number of units, you do not have to worry that they will ever be idle.
An extra factory can “assist” a lead factory. If you select a factory and tell it to “assist” another factory, the extra factory will make whatever units are in the lead factory’s queue and send them to the waypoint belonging to the lead factory.
This does not mean that you always want all of your factories producing things. If you are stalling mass or energy, you might have to make hard choices about what to make. But your goal in the early game should be to get up a number of T1 factories churning out “T1 spam” so that you have units that you can use to attack, defend, raid, scout, etc. You use these forces to spread out and grab more mexes so you can afford to build more pgens and more factories.
Set rally points for your factories. The default rally point is to dump all the units in front of the factory. It is much better to set a rally point a moderate distance away from your base, like a safe choke point or cluster of mexes that you want to hold, so that units will begin traveling as soon as they leave the factory.
. . . . Mistake: overbuilding point defense and putting it in the wrong places
Point defense and anti-air turrets can be extremely effective in certain situations. The highest-rated 1v1 ladder players will make defenses in basically every game—but not at the very start, and only when and where they are needed.
A point defense can only help you to hold one small spot. If it is an important spot, and you know it will be attacked soon, then it can be worth making the point defense.
The real problem with making too much point defense is that it shows you have the turtle mentality: your plan is to stay back and hide behind turrets, instead of creating swarms of robot armies to march across the countryside and burn down your opponent’s stuff.
. . . . Mistake: getting T2 too early or redundant T2
Part of the turtle mentality is the belief that “T1 sucks” so you should get T2 as quickly as possible. If you go straight to T2, without using T1 units to expand, you will not get ahead of your opponent. Their economy will be so much stronger than yours, that when they transition to T2, they will be able to get far ahead of you.
Just having T2 tech gives you some advantages over an opponent who does not have T2 (especially: TML and TMD). But it does not make you invincible. To actually make cool T2 stuff, you need mass and energy. The best way to get that economy is with aggressive expansion using T1 spam or T1 transports.
Another mistake I see is that the player will upgrade their ACU to T2 and also upgrade a factory to T2. Or they will upgrade a land factory and also an air factory to T2 at the same time. Doing it this way basically makes it twice as expensive to get to the next tech level.
I recommend that low-rated players never get the T2 upgrade on their ACU. You will just be tempted to build stuff around your ACU that you don’t really need.