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Scouting refers to the actions of sending scouts to gather information about your opponent(s), particlarly their actions and possible plans. However, many people are not aware of how to scout, when to scout, and what to do after scouting. This guide aims to correct this problem.

The Basics

Why Should I Scout?

Scouting is almost always essential in the early game unless you are facing a known and entirely predictable opponent, as it is at this point that there is the greatest variance in paths, since all options are open to a player. After they have made certain choices, it is much harder to change direction and alter their strategies, so the ideal time to scout is just after this point has been reached for the first time.

It transpires that the optimal time and method of scouting is to send a Henchman towards the enemy base at the 1:00 mark (assuming a normal map size). This is true for several reasons:

  1. It is early enough to spot a level 1 rush
  2. It is late enough to discern what your opponent is doing
  3. You can mildly harass your opponent before they have creatures that would kill your Henchman quickly

You should not assign a low-level unit to scouting duty as many players do, as this will hurt your ability to tech up to level 2, waste a slot and get not get to the enemy base in time.

How Should I Scout?

An ideal scouting pattern follows thusly:

  1. A Henchman is sent out around the 1:00 mark (Ideally, a henchman that has just returned coal)
  2. Several commands should be queued up by means of the "shift" key to ensure that a safe path is plotted and the Henchman does not stop
  3. This path needs to take the scout extremely close to the enemy lab so that you can count the number of Henchmen and Lightning Rods your opponent has
  4. After you have passed by the lab and done the counting, plot a course to the nearest expansion points and see if your opponent has set up any workshops

However, that in and of itself is insufficent, as the scouting data require interpretation. It's all very well noting that he has 1 Lightning Rod (LR) and 10 Henchmen, but what does this tell you?

Interpretation

The most common build orders and their respective data revealed by scouting are given below:

  1. Level 1 Rush
  2. Fast Level 2 Rush (no expansion)
  3. Slow Level 2 Rush ( no expansion)
  4. Very Fast Level 3 Rush
  5. Booming or Teching

(It should be noted that the primary assumption here is that your opponent is reasonably skilled. If they are not, their early-game activity can throw you off, but you probably won't be in much danger from them either.)

Level 1 Rush

If a person is level 1 rushing, they will have 0-1 LRs set up and a smaller number of Henchmen. Since your Henchman will arrive at the enemy lab at approximately 1:30, if they have less than 9 henchmen, they are either level 1 rushing or expanded extremely early. Fortunately, there is a simple way to distinguish between the two: send your Henchman to investigate the closest expansion points. If you see no workshop, they are almost certainly level 1 rushing and you should react accordingly.

Fast Level 2 Rush

This is by far the most common build order. By the 1:30 mark, your opponent will have 10-12 Henchmen and 2 LRs. If you are not planning on rushing, you should prepare to defend against a rush.

A variant of this build order is to throw up a CC and expand immediately after hitting level 2 instead of rushing, as this gives them an economic advantage while allowing them to stop rushes.

Slow Level 2 Rush

The second most common build order. Your opponent will either have 1-2 LRs, more than 12 Henchmen at the lab and no expansion, or 1-2 LRs, 9-11 Henchmen and an expansion.

Very Fast Level 3 Rush

This particular build order is much rarer than the others, but is still fairly popular. If you see 3-4 LRs and 10-12 Henchmen, respond as you would to a slow level 2 rush (you can obviously skip the attacking the expansion).

Booming or Teching

As this initally unfolds almost identically to a slow level 2 rush, the signs and response are identical.

Responding

After you know how to interpret your opponent's actions, it is only logical to learn how to respond to what your opponent is doing. Since you will normally be opening with a fast level 2 build, we will look at reacting to three scenarios above from that perspective.

Level 1 Rush

If you suspect a level 1 rush, the first thing you should do is hotkey a couple of Henchmen (via control groups) and send them out in different directions to try to locate the CC. As soon as you see it (or incoming creatures), pull these henchmen back. If you have started level 2 research, do the following:1

  1. Cancel level 2
  2. Delete one LR and place a fence tile two unit spaces away from your remaining LR (right)
  3. Build a Soundbeam Tower (SB) between the remaining LR and the fence (right) with 5 Henchmen
  4. Continue producing Henchmen and use the 5 that built the SB to fight the level 1s with move-attack commands
  5. Micro your wounded Henchmen back by telling them to mine and pull fresh ones from the coal piles as necessary
  6. Stay close to the lab, as Henchmen have an attack boost when in sight of it
  7. Build a second SB if possible and advance to level 2 when you have the electricity
  8. Set up a CC and a second LR
  9. Push forward into your opponent's base

If you have not started level 2 research, simply skip steps 1 and 2.

Fast Level 2 Rush

The seemingly omnipresent level 2 rush is a great technique for making people who don't know how to defend against it cry. Far be it from me to wish to add to my jar of tears shed by noobs I have mercilessly eviscerated over the years by not providing a counter...

If you suspect a level 2 rush, you should proceed to level 2 as normal and scout with a Henchman to determine if the CC is forward-built/proxied (i.e. constructed very close to your base to minimise the rushing distance). If it is, do the following:

  1. Construct a CC near your lab and set its rally point nearby
  2. Make level 2s as soon as you hit level 2. Try to get a good mix of melee and ranged units (a 1:1 ratio is optimal here)
  3. Once the enemy units appear, keep the battle closer to your CC (to reduce the time reinforcements take to arrive) and micro so that your ranged units are at the back and are focus firing
  4. If their CC is not directly in the path of their Lab, send a couple of melee units to harass their Henchmen when there is a lull in combat
  5. Push out to their CC once you have an edge. After you have eliminated the majority of their creatures, redirect your attention to the enemy lab

If the CC is back-built (as is more common in higher-tier games), throw up a Workshop while making units. The previous rules provide a good general framework once correctly adjusted:

  1. Construct the CC near your lab with 3 Henchmen. When it is done, send them to a nearby expansion point and have them build a Workshop there
  2. Construct level 2s as normal and build Henchmen slowly
  3. You will be at an initial disadvantage in numbers when the enemy units first appear (unless your opponent's macro is absolutely terrible), so you will want to micro and possibly pull some Henchmen from your Lab coal to build an SB or two and fight
  4. Once you either destroy the initial group or force a retreat, build more LRs and produce more Henchmen
  5. Move out, but be careful not to push too far, as you units do have limits!

Slow Level 2 Rush

If you scout a slow level 2 rush, the best tactic is to do a fast level 2 rush! Pull your scouting henchman back to a safe location, send another one from the lab, and do the following:

  1. Build a CC in a location where you can attack both the expansion and the Lab easily and at the same time if necessary (an ideal spot is an equal distance from both, with a clear route of attack)
  2. Attack the expansion. You will quickly overrun it and force them to destroy the Workshop and bring their Henchmen back to their Lab
  3. Push forward to the Lab, but bear in mind they can afford to pull Henchmen from coal to help fight
  4. If necessary, build an SB near their CC to assist your units

Additional Scouting

You do not need to limit scouting to the very early game. It can be useful to send a Henchman or a cheap unit in to the enemy base to scout out their buildings and unit composition if you suspect they are going to attack soon or just want information.

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