Thursday, January 13, 2011

Swarm: Arena #1 - General Strategy

Here I am, 11 days after my review of Swarm: Arena, still playing the game.  It's fast, tactical, and fun; why wouldn't I be playing it?  Combine that with a regular sparring partner (some people call them 'friends') and a desire to improve my rank on the ladder, and it's easy to see why I'm still satisfied with the game.

Here begins the first post of a long (I hope) series of Swarm: Arena related posts.  I'm going to try to hit every part of the game over time, including single-player survival modes and how to achieve the Steam Achievements.  Let's jump right into it.  For a review and explanation of the game and its rules, see the previous post.  Lastly, I'll summarize the points at the end for the busy (lazy?) readers out there.

General Strategy

Everyone that plays the game knows the object of the game: be the last ship (that's what I'm calling them) alive in the arena.  But how to go about doing this?  We need a plan.  I'll give you the first Fundamental Theorem of Swarm: Arena*:

1. Take. Your. Time.

Plan to win, but don't plan to win now.  This is one of the most important rules in just about every strategy game.  The fact is that impatient players don't win games.  The guy who's willing to outlast you, and has the skill to do it, is going to beat you time and time again.  What does this mean in Swarm: Arena?  To keep it general, it means that we want to develop an advantage over our opponent.  We can then either use that advantage to get a 60% chance to win, or we can use it to develop an advantage so big that we (almost) can't possibly lose.  Which sounds better?
Myself (green) versus Pandora AI.  I've got less powerups, but more drones and control of the center.  What's the rush?

The main advantage to gain in Swarm can be found in the form of powerups.  Having more drones than your opponent means that you can trade drones and still have some left while your opponent has none.  Since each drone takes out exactly one other drone as it makes contact and dies, having a few more drones than your opponent can be a big deal.  Similarly, having a higher level of power means you can control your drones more effectively.  We therefore need the best possible way to gain access to the most powerups.  This leads me to the second Fundamental Theorem of Swarm:

2. Gain map control!

Map control is usually used to describe real-time or turn-based strategy games.  But it's the same as board control in Chess, and it's the same thing exactly in Swarm.  It means that we want to position ourselves so that we have access to more of the playing area than our opponent.  Consider the following:

- Swarm is played in a rectangular area.
- Powerups randomly appear.
- Generally, being closer to powerups means you can get there first.

Thus, whenever possible, we wish to corner our opponent.  When impossible, taking the center is enough to ensure that we are closer to the majority of powerups that might appear.  I was inspired to write this during a ladder match where my opponent hung around the sides of the map most of the time.  I beat him 3-0, simply because I took my time, prevented him from getting powerups, and choosing to beat him when I had a clear enough advantage.
Who's in a better position?  Red may be safe, but green knows where it's at.

3. Stay with your drones.

Your drones keep you safe.  There are very few cases when you want to leave your 'army'.  An obvious exception is when you're desperate to stay alive, and that might require leaving drones outside your circle of influence.  It's fairly straightforward to cut a player off from their army once they're separated.  This leaves them with fewer drones to defend you with, and you can even turn back and destroy their inactive drones!
I left my drones behind!  Red is going to eat me alive.

*Numbered importance of rules subject to wild fluctuation based on my whim.
1. Take your time.  Use your advantage in powerups/drones to gain more of the same!
2. Gain map control.  The centre is a great place to be to have access to first pick of the powerups.
3. Stay with your drones.  You're vulnerable when you leave them, no matter how good that Shoot powerup looks...

In the future I'll be getting into more specifics in the very near future.  For now, I wanted to give people a general idea of how they should approach playing the game.

Post questions and they will be answered!


  1. I'm surprised to see you highlight "taking your time" as a predominant feature. It's certainly a key notion, but sometimes running straight in with a well-aimed strike right off the bat is the best way to destroy an unprepared opponent!

    Having re-read your previous Swarm post, I'm insulted to see you describe Circulate as a mainly defensive power :)

  2. Haha. Indeed, circulate is awesome offensively as well.

    To clarify, I mean that a player shouldn't simply rush. By all means, if the possibility for a strike opens up, it's worth taking! However, it's still worth noting that you're unlikely to kill them right then and there. Use the fact that they have a small area of influence (after being hit) to kill their drones, take board position, and increase advantage.