Micro is an abbreviation for micromanagement, or, small-scale manual control over units. This has the advantage of overriding the creatures' AI, which typically results in increased performance and a higher chance of winning battles.
You should always be aware of the health of your units. This is absolutely essential.
"If everything else fails, retreat" - 36 StrategemsThe most basic form of micro is unit positioning, which primarily consists entering and retreating from the field of engagement. If your forces have the upper hand, push forward; if not, retreat. It is generally wise to retreat before your forces have been destroyed, since it is easier to rebuild an already-existing army than to start all over again, particularly if your wounded units can regenerate.
Focus fire refers to using multiple units to concentrate their attacks on a single enemy unit. Since units in Impossible Creatures output the same damage per second (DPS) regardless of their HP, wounding ten units and killing none is less effective than killing four and having six at full health.
Whilst focus fire can be used by both ranged and melee units, melee focus fire is far more advanced and will be discussed later. For ranged units, simply select all your ranged units and order them to attack a single enemy unit.
Targets of Opportunity
If a unit is low on HP, it should be prioritised.
Exploiting the AI
AI is imperfect, so you can force the AI to behave in a certain way that your opponent will not be able to stop (whilst he may be able to minimise this effect, he will never be able to completely stop it). Some examples of this are provided below:
- Dancing. If a unit is low on HP, pull it back from the battle. The AI will direct any units targetting it to follow, which gives you a good opportunity to hit them. If your opponent is microing, they will generally override this command by manually switching targets, at which point you send it back in. When used properly, it looks like your units are dancing in and out of combat, hence the name. Note that this is difficult to master on an individual level.
- Baiting. Most of the time, units are set to aggressive stance (pursue until the target is destroyed, disappears, or the unit dies), so you can bait them very effectively by moving into their field of vision and then withdrawing. This can divide enemy formations effectively and is a good way to lower their numbers in a battle.
To control groups of units effectively, you will have to learn to use control groups well. It is generally a good idea to have one control group for your entire army and one control group for each type of unit. As an example, if you have a force of ranged, melee and casters, you could have Group 3 as the entire army, Group 4 as melee, Group 5 as range and Group 6 as casters. The advantages of this are plentiful: [picture to be added]
- No units are left behind. This might seem incredibly obvious, but it's extremely annoying when you lose a battle because you only brought half of your army. If you have the units, you may as well use them!
- Individual control over unit types. Melee units should be at the front, ranged units should be behind them, and casters should be at the back. This allows the melee units to chomp away, the ranged units to attack with relative impunity and prevents the fragile casters from being targetted easily. This kind of formation is particularly important when you are using meatshields, since their whole purpose is to act as a barrier.
- Simpler to address weaknesses. If your opponent brings out artillery, any ranged units are going to be vulnerable. Being able to quickly pull them back without having your melee disengage is very useful and prevents unnecessary losses.
The next aspect of group control brings the level down to small groups. Once again, the goal is increased efficiency. To illustrate the importance of controlling small groups of units, consider the following scenario:
You have been using control groups to some success, and your units are positioned according to the above recommendation. This has given you the advantage in a battle and you are pushing forward. However, as you do so, some of your units are left behind. Using control groups to move them isn't the best idea, as some of your units are already in combat and you don't want to disrupt their formations. What do you do?
The best solution is very simple: select those units by dragging a selection box around them and ordering them to move forward. This retains the formations of the units in battle and brings the rest of your forces into play. This is an invaluable technique and it is imperative that you pay attention to the entire battlefield so that your full force is attacking the enemy.
This is identical in principle to the individual unit dancing mentioned above; the only difference is that you move a group of units back when their HP gets low. It is far easier to execute than dancing individual units in and out and is far more practical in large battles where it is generally impossible to micro individual units.
The following techniques are both the most complex and most powerful form of micro, generally requiring a high average APM (actions per minute) in order to use properly.
Individual Unit Control
The name of this technique is self-explanatory; how to go about it and when to use it is not. Note that while this is the purest and most effective form of micro, practical limitations make it almost impossible to control every unit individually in a large battle.
When should you do this?
The best time is during a small battle. Two examples are provided below:
- You will find yourself using heavy micro when you have very few ranged units and your opponent sets one melee unit to follow each of them. The solution here is to queue a series of move commands for each ranged unit to keep it moving. (If the melee are faster than the range, this is less effective for obvious reasons.) Simultaneously, create more units while the melee are occupied. Once you have additional units, pick off the melee to free your ranged units. As your ranged units are freed, bring them to bear on the remaining melee.
- A similar situation to 1; if you have several units chasing one of your melee, queue up a series of commands so that they chase it. In the meantime, pick them off with the rest of your forces. This is especially effective if you are able to split an enemy's force in two.
Can you micro too much?
Yes. Units cannot attack when they are moving, so if you are re-position your units too much, you will actually decrease their effectiveness by reducing the time they spend attacking. The trick is to move as little as possible while keeping as many units alive as you can, and unfortunately, it is a skill that only comes with practice.
How do you utilise focus fire with melee units?
Focus fire with melee units utilises the same principle as focus fire with ranged units, but the level of skill required to successfully execute it is much higher. Until you are proficient at micro, I would not recommend you attempt this, as it is easy to overdo.
You should be very good at monitoring your units' HP before attempting focus fire with melee. When a unit's HP gets low, move it back slightly and direct other melee units onto its target. Once they attack, stop retreating and engage.
Attack ArcsA good attack arc is essential, since the army with the larger attack arc has a higher DPS due to the larger surface area. Now, the theory here is simple (as but a cursory glance at the accompanying picture would reveal), but efficient execution is surprisingly difficult, and is bound up in the next concept.
Using the Terrain
"We may distinguish six kinds of terrain, to wit: (1) Accessible ground; (2) entangling ground; (3) temporizing ground; (4) narrow passes; (5) precipitous heights; (6) positions at a great distance from the enemy." - Sun Tzu
As a general rule, units work best in wide, open spaces. You have much more room to manoeuvre, flank, dance, etc., and you will have good attack arcs. You typically want to force the enemy into a "chokepoint" (a small pass; commonly abbreviated to "choke") so that their units are blocked by yours; their attack arcs (and corresponding DPS) will be much smaller and they will find it difficult to retreat.
High ground is useful as ranged units get an attack bonus when firing from there. This, however, is not essential.
Choosing the Position of Battle
After factoring the above considerations into account, your next goal should be to fight closer to your CCs until your force is larger than his. This allows your reinforcements to arrive more quickly, and in IC, reinforcements can turn the tide of the battle extremely quickly.
- To flank, have a group of units some distance away from the main battle.
- Pull your main force back into a wide space so that the flank group is directly to the left or right of the enemy units.
- Move in with the flank towards the rear of the enemy's force (typically where the ranged units are).
As mentioned above, the best time to attack the enemy force is when it is at the mouth of a choke. If your scouts see a large number of units approaching your base (too many for you to handle at once), the first thing you should do is not panic. Move your units forward and engage them at the mouth of the choke. This will give you an edge in the battle, stop their army from attacking all at once and give you time to make the units necessary to push them back.
You can also use fence micro at this point to buy time (for more on this, see the section below).
Multiple Pronged Attacks and Raiding
It's comparatively easy for an opponent to micro against you in one battle. It's far more difficult for them to micro effectively against you in four locations at once. So, when you go knocking at the front door of their main, send some raiders to all of their expansion points (expos). Your opponent now has a choice: does he focus on protecting his expos or on winning the main battle? If he attempts to save his expos, his involvement in the main battle will drop substantially, giving you an excellent opportunity to overrun his forces. If he attempts to win the main battle, his economy will be crippled and he will likely have to go all-in at your main. Since you are forcing him to do one or the other (or attempt to do both, which will probably result in him doing neither unless he is far better than you), it pays to analyse them in detail:
- He defends his expos. In order to do this, he will typically pull his main force back and send a detachment to deal with your raiders. However, he will definitely lose some henchmen in the process, so you have made progress. If this happens, push forward and try to kill as many units as possible as you will have the advantage with your micro. If you do not destroy his main force, you cannot realistically consider this tactic a success.
- He ignores his expos. This is more dangerous. If he does so, he typically feels that he can afford to ignore them and it is highly likely that your main army is outclassed by his. Here, you can either continue to fight if you think you can pull through, or begin to pull back and encourage an all-in. If he takes the bait, move your raiders from his expos and labrush him. If not, sit back and build up a force large enough to attack him. You should have an economic advantage, so this probably won't be too difficult.
There is, of course, the very rare third option, where your opponent doesn't even notice that you've raided him. If you're lucky enough to encounter this, punish him for not paying attention and have a cigar to celebrate your good fortune. ;)
Defensive Structure Micro
Fence micro is a frequently neglected skill that is essential to keeping enemy units out of your base. When most people make a wall with bramble fences to deny entry, they simply leave the fence. Then, when a gap appears as the result of an attack, they might consider repairing it, although it is more likely that they will forget it.
It is better, however, to not only repair the fence after an attack, but to repair the fence while the attack is in progress. If you do this well, the enemy units will not even get into your base:
- Move your units near the fence so that you can attack their units. At the same time, pull two henchmen from mining to repair the fence. You can pull more if you feel it is necessary.
- When a fence tile's health drops, build one tile behind it and one tile to either side. (You don't have to actively monitor the tiles' HP, since they noticeably wilt when this gets low.)
- If your henchmen are targetted, use dance micro by sending the wounded henchmen back to mine and pulling another one from mining.
For artillery units, two additional steps are required, as their splash damage is excellent against all buildings. You will also need five or six henchmen:
- While you are reinforcing your fence wall, shadow-build a few fence tiles where the artillery units are standing. Since they will most likely be set to aggressive attack stance, they will attack the tiles underneath their feet once their last target has been destroyed. This will give you more time to repair your fence and possibly push out with your melee units.
- Delete one fence tile and move out with four of your henchmen. With two henchmen, place fence tiles that are spread out and some distance away from your main fence so that you form several partial walls (this works better in small chokes). This prolongs the life of the fence. With the other two, start attacking the artillery units; your opponent will probably pull them back. [picture to be added]
Now, the primary goal of fence micro is to buy time, so if you are not doing anything else at this point, consider the effort a micro-heavy exercise in wasting time. By keeping your opponent out of your base, you buy time to make more buildings and freely tech up; so much so that you can easily be one research level ahead of your opponent. When this happens, you can either push out as soon as you have a few units or continue teching and stomp them much later on.
Soundbeam Tower Micro
Soundbeam Towers (SBTs) are very effective in combination with fence micro; doubly so when you take control of them and prioritise targets of opportunity. Your goal here should be to place them in strategic locations behind your fence so that they can attack with impunity. While they are actually very weak against Level 2s and above--thus, they should usually be protected by fence--they are capable of slowing down all targetted units without High Endurance. This is a very useful ability that will vastly increase your chances of holding off an attack while spending very little on units. [picture to be added]
Note that SBTs can also be placed in battles to give a small attack boost to your army and to reveal camouflaged or digging units. It is recommended that you research the SBT upgrade before you do this late in the game.
Recommended reading: http://classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.html