Free for All: How to survive an attack in your favorite MMORTS

Grepolis screenshot
You know what I love about the MMORTS? It's the massive scale of everything involved. But it's not as though you are hand-crafting every single siege engine or raising armies of monsters one baddie at a time; that would simply take too long. The MMORTS is really a casual genre that is equal to playing with your action figures on a Saturday afternoon when you were nine years old. Don't let its casual nature fool you; just like those battles between plastic toys, the wars that can happen in your favorite MMORTS can suck you in and keep you glued to the screen for hours.

It's going to happen to you at some point. Some bigshot is going to send a round of spies, estimate that you're easy pickings, and throw a fresh batch of hurt your way. What do you do? The good news is that it can be a thrilling experience almost every time if you follow a few basic guidelines.

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Stay calm

When you are attacked, the worst thing you can do is panic. Freaking the heck out will result in making poor decisions, decisions that might make the outcome much worse than it should have been. The first thing I do when I see an incoming attack is establish how long I might have. A lot of the MMORTS titles I play give a warning of an attack or will tell you how long a siege might last. It doesn't matter whether it's a day or 30 minutes of hell you are bound to endure; if you have an idea of how long certain activities take or how much you can do in that time, then you can execute a plan. Run through a few rough worst-case scenarios in your head during peace time and you'll be surprised at how much easier it is to make a decision when the dogs of war are sniffing at your door.

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Communicate

If the particular game allows for it, I like to send a message to my attacker. The important thing to remember is that PvP in a PvP game is normal behavior. Most MMORTS games I play support a free-for-all PvP system, meaning that other players can attack you or your city for no reason at any time. It sounds horrible, but most of the time you can do all right with a good alliance and keeping your nose clean. When I am attacked, I do not take it personally. I remember this when I send a message asking why I am being attacked. Much of the time I will get a typical response of, "Oh, sorry. Nothing personal." But on a great day, I'll receive a roleplayed message in return, and the game takes on a much more realistic tone. Communication with an enemy is also a great way to meet a new friend, to gain valuable advice, and maybe to join a new alliance or guild.

Lord of Ultima screenshot
Take care of your goods

Why do others attack you? What reason could they have, besides just wanting to attack you for the heck of it, to send their troops against yours? Simple: goods. Most MMORTSes feature goods or materials as a very important part of their game. Your city, heroes or troops cannot operate without those goods or resources. You're being attacked because you have stuff, and the enemy wants your stuff. Before the attack lands, can you send some of the resources away? Have you built up any sort of protective building, like a vault or underground cave? I like to spend as many of my resources as I can before or during the attack. That way, my enemy comes out with mostly empty hands and will possibly think twice about attacking me again. Sometimes I have even sent goods away in caravans to random players just to make sure that my attacker gets none of it.

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Prepare for the attack

Preparation is key to keeping yourself alive and prospering in an MMORTS. It sounds obvious, but I have made the biggest mistakes when it comes to preparation. I get greedy and spend all of my goods on silly things like large, decorative buildings or by putting all of my goods into training only one type of soldier. I've learned my lessons over the years, though, and now keep an eye on how much an impact buildings have on my incoming resources. I try to maintain a balance in my armies, but I lean more toward a defensive role. Because I might be away from the game for days at a time, I need to be sure that I can withstand a battle or two without losing everything. If you're preparing yourself for an attack instead of constantly spending your budget on an offensive style, you can last longer. When you last longer, you can eventually grow your army into the juggernaut you've always dreamed of. Slow and steady might win the race, but it also makes for one killer army... eventually.

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Learn

Why not take even disastrous battle results and learn from them? Depending on the MMORTS, you can learn a lot from a battle report. Some of the better games even show you an animated recreation of the battle or walk you through a turn-by-turn breakdown. The MMORTS genre is not typically overly complicated. Systems can be broken down and understood relatively easily. One type of unit might be more powerful against another type. I just found out in one recent play session that my archers would have won the battle if I had only trained more of them.

What I truly enjoy about the MMORTS genre is not only that it is accessible to many different system specs due to its generally icon-based gameplay but also that many such titles run in the browser, making them playable from almost anywhere. They are also accessible to players like your truly who are far from military geniuses. I love how power players can game on for hours and hours, examining very minute detail, and I can play alongside them, barely clocking in 30 minutes a day. I learn as much as I can, when I can.

Do you have any advice for obtaining glory in an MMORTS?

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!
This article was originally published on Massively.