Basic Guide to StarCraft II for Newcomers
Units and Counters
Strategy and Tactics
Strategies to Try
Macro vs. Micro
Tips and Hints
This guide is for players who are new to StarCraft, or RTS games in general. I will cover some basic concepts in order to aide a player in his or her first few steps in the game. While most of the concepts mentioned in this guide can be used in single-player as well as multiplayer, it is important to note that they are two very different experiences. The single-player tends to focus on only a few objectives at a time while the multiplayer experience is very competitive and includes a lot of multitasking. This guide is mainly written with multiplayer in mind, as that is the most daunting for a new player.
At the start of every melee game a player will always be placed near a mineral field and two vespense gas veins. The player will find him or herself with one building and several workers; the worker performs two primary duties which are to harvest resources and construct buildings. You will be able to train additional workers through your primary building, and it is highly encouraged that you do so in order to compete economically. You will need an optimal number of workers harvesting in order to get a premium return of minerals and vespense to pay for your growing army. As an example, most players recommend 3 workers per mineral patch, in addition to 3 workers per vespense vein. Since most maps start with 7 mineral patches and 2 vespense veins, these players suggest that you will need 27 workers per base. More on bases in “Expanding”.
Minerals are used as money to pay for units, buildings, upgrades, and technology, and can be harvested in its raw form. Vespense is harvested by building a Refinery, Assimilator, or Extractor over the vespense vein, and the gas is used as fuel for more advanced units, such as tanks and aircraft, and is used for more powerful upgrades to existing units (and all units produced after the upgrade).
Supply is a third category in economy. Though not exactly a resource, Supply provides for a player’s army. Think of Supply as “food”; the more food you have, the larger an army you can supply. Supply is maintained by constructing a Supply Depot (Terran), a Pylon (Protoss), or an Overlord (Zerg). You will start with 10 or 11 supply, and each supply structure allows you about 8 more, although it may vary a little per race.
There are several different types of buildings. Most buildings produce different types of units, while some offer only upgrades. Some buildings are defensive, providing anti-air, detection, or additional firepower against intruders. Some buildings are “tiered”, meaning that you need building AA to build AB, AC, and AD, while needing building BA to build BB, BC, and BD, and so on.
Most strategy games use a “tier” system, and StarCraft is no exception. In StarCraft, however, tiers are not readily identified, meaning that someone might say a Hellion is tier 2, while another might argue that the Hellion is tier 1.5. It’s not important to know what tier each unit is, but it is important to grasp the idea that tiers do exist, and there is some semblance of progression.
Please note that a unit of a later tier is not necessarily more powerful than a unit of an earlier tier. Later tiers only give you more options, but not necessarily more powerful units. Every unit, especially given upgrades, is powerful in its own right. To emphasize, the very first unit you produce very well might be the best unit to use at the end of the match; it just all depends.
Units and Counters
StarCraft uses a “soft-counter” system. However, keep in mind the counter system is relatively complex and doesn’t work like paper, rock, and scissors (hence the “soft” counter). While in combat, terrain, visibility, surrounds and flanks, and upgrades all play a major role, as well as many other factors. For example, a zealot is an easy counter to marines in a fair fight. However, if marines are able to take cover behind buildings, or if they “kite” the zealots, or if they have a high-ground advantage, then the marines will be able to hold off the zealots until reinforcements arrive.
Economy is an incredibly important aspect of StarCraft. Typically your primary base is not enough to harvest the income you need, and so you will need to expand to another portion of the map. On most maps additional minerals and gas are located very near your starting area, usually just outside your chokepoint. You will likely have to build an expansion at some point at these locations. Some players prefer to expand early, and some late (and some “on-time”). At an expansion, you will only need a few buildings, which would be a Command Center, Nexus, or Hatchery, and a facility to convert raw vespense to a useable fuel (that would be the Refinery, Assimilator, or Extractor). You might consider building a few defense structures as well, since expansions tend to become hotspots of conflict during the match.
Each race has unique advantages that, when used correctly, can become quite powerful.
The Terrans, for example, can lift-off most of their buildings and fly them around the map. The buildings become unusable in-flight, but can be landed at hard to get to areas. Terrans also have access to scanning via the Orbital Command Center, which allows them to reveal any portion of the map. The Terran defenses are the strongest of the races, but are also very expensive. SCV’s are able to repair damaged Terran structures and mechanical units, while Medivacs can heal wounded biological units.
The Protoss typically maintain an expensive army, but each unit is worth the cost as they are very powerful. Protoss buildings and units use shields, so their hitpoints are effectively doubled. An enemy would have to apply enough damage to lower a Protoss’ shields before even harming the unit, and the shields regenerate quickly over time.
The Zerg are known for its swarms of units. They are able to amass an army very quickly, and although usually low in hitpoints, they make up for it in their speed, numbers, and damage. Zerg are very good at fast-expanding, scouting undefended areas, and map control. All Zerg units and buildings regenerate their health naturally over time, some faster than others.
Strategy and Tactics
There are many general strategies and tactics to use. I won’t go into specifics; those will be found in other guides. I’ll just briefly outline a few.
Harassing is a huge part of successful game-play. Harassing, more often than not, allows you to see what’s going on with your opponent; it allows you to see his army, his tech, his expansions, and even what he is investing towards. If you see certain buildings go down, and are able to identify what units they produce, then you can reasonably predict what units he will be making, and allows you to prepare. It also keeps him on his toes.
Teching is also a large part of StarCraft. You can have fewer units than your opponent but with a higher tech and upgrades you may be able to defeat him, or at least hold him off for a while.
Fast-expanding is a very viable strategy to use. While it is expensive to invest in early on, you’ll be rewarded after you get that expansion established. Be prepared to defend your expansion, or keep it hidden away.
Rushing is when you train a few powerful units early on in the game and attack the enemy’s base before they have a chance to put up defenses or have an army to defend against your attack. A rush will typically happen with 3-4 minutes of the game, and can include the Planetary Fortress rush, Reaper rush, zergling rush, or zealot rush.
Delayed rush is just stalling a few additional moments to either a) build more units or b) tech to a slightly more powerful unit such as the stalker, marauder, or roach. Delayed rushing is not as effective in 1v1, but can be quite effective in 2v2.
Proxy-builds are best used early on in the game when your opponent has less of a chance of spotting the proxy. A proxy-build is when you build inside or very near your opponent’s base. The build doesn’t necessarily have to be out of his sight, but generally it is better to have your proxy hidden in a corner or another area that is out of the way or not easily reached. The building will then begin producing units immediately.
Containing a player to his base can be very difficult, but denying him movement on the map is a very effective technique that often leads to winning the match. To contain an opponent in his base most players will build defensive structures immediately outside the opponent’s base. It’s also important to expand, as it’s no benefit to you to hold an opponent in his base if you don’t expand yourself.
Hotkeys are integral to playing StarCraft. If you learn what the hotkeys are you will be able to build units quickly, and go back and forth between combat and base-building easier. Hotkeys can be found as a highlighted letter next to the ability. For example, the Attack command’s hotkey is “A” on the keyboard, or to build an SCV is “S”. You don’t have to learn hotkeys right from the start, but I just want you to know that they are there. I encourage you to practice with them a little, but only once you’ve become a little familiar with the game and understand basic build order.
Strategies to Try
Tips and Hints
Avoid Supply Lock – try to avoid becoming supply locked. That is, not having enough supply to build more units. Being supply locked is a huge delay for building an army.
Spend Your Money – I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but it is really easy to just let money pile up and not know what to spend it on, or possibly that you even have it. Make it a habit to view your Resources Display very frequently, and if you have money, spend it on something.
Keep Queues Low – When training units, try to only train 2 units per building. The buildings will allow you to queue up to 5 units, but you will have to pay for those units as they’re queued which take resources. Instead, build another building. Terran can attach reactors to their building, which allows the training of 2 units at the same time.
Keep your Buildings Queued – Always make it a habit to have a unit being produced in some building, somewhere. Saving resources for an upgrade, expensive unit, or expansion is acceptable, but other than that always keep building up your army. Don’t let your buildings set idle.
Don’t Be the Hero At the Wrong Time – Don’t go head strong into an army of the same size or one that’s bigger than yours. It’s bad for your health. Know when to back off, and do it often.
Be the Hero At the Right Time – Know when to attack the enemy. If you have a big army, and he’s teching (he won’t have a worthy army) then go into his base and destroy as much as you can, methodically (meaning, don’t just destroy random buildings, destroy the ones that count. If you don’t know what counts, then split your army into two groups and focus fire a building for each group).
Keep Your Units Accountable – Your units matter; know where they are at all times. Try not to leave stray units around the map.
Have a Plan – this is getting into slightly more advanced play, but if you’re up for it then be encouraged to have a pre-build in mind when starting the match. Have an idea or two when the match starts of what build order you’re going to follow. Change your build order to counter appropriately, but at the very least commit to an opening build, and you can abandon it and go a different route if you need to.
Macro vs. Micro
I suspect many players don’t know exactly what the difference between Macro and Micro is. In the original StarCraft and even in Warcraft III to some extent I didn’t, so my goal here is to break it down a little. In multiplayer, you will hear these terms a lot, as they refer to competitive play. In single-player they’re not important. This is a somewhat advanced concept, so please refer back if you’re still getting an idea of the game. When you feel you’re at the point where you understand basic build orders, how units work, and feel somewhat comfortable on your own feet, then the rest of this guide is here for you. I merely include it in the Newcomer’s Guide because these are often referred to terms, and I just want you to be aware of what they are. This will help you as you progress as a player.
StarCraft II is roughly 65% macro and 35% micro. Below are some examples of what the two are:
o Individual unit movements
Pulling an injured unit back
Switching out units, mitigating damage
Moving powerful, tank units forward
Moving weak, susceptible units back
Playing the game of “tag – you’re it”
o Using the right ability at the right time
Countering, disrupting enemy abilities
Buffing friendly units
Controlling the scouting unit
o Waypoints and queues
Designating what units do what, how many times, and where
Managing appropriate mineral intake for both short and long term
Managing appropriate vespense gas intake for short and long term
• Hiding economy
Making use of race’s macro abilities
• Zerg – Queen
• Protoss – Chrono Boost
• Terran - MULE
o Base layout
Placement of buildings, defenses
• Proximity of buildings to enemy while protecting base and avoiding destruction
o Map Control
o Countering unit types
Understanding and implementing unit counters
Queuing and building units
Building location, placement
o During Combat
During combat, it’s important to keep your macro up. This means continuing to build units or buildings even in the midst of a fight.
Sometimes Macro and Micro will overlap. Generally, what you do in the base can be considered macro, while what you do in combat is considered micro. That’s not always the case, but is an acceptable explanation.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read this. It is my hope that you have gained a better understanding of StarCraft and that you’ll find some of the aspects mentioned applicable to your game-play. In the psuedo-words of someone more famous than I: work it harder, make it better, do it faster. I wish you the best in your endeavors, and I look forward to gaming with you!