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Tip of the Week #98 - Advanced CFT Tactics

By Eph2.8-9 - 23rd May 2010 - 19:16 PM

Do you hate Orcas? Tired of those GDI flyboys darting in, sniping your Harvesters, Shatterers, Tripods, or any other kind of expensive vehicle, forcing you to spend precious money building something other than the MARV, Hexapod, or Redeemer? Do Firehawks annoy you when they swoop in, pound your precious Tiberium Chemical Plant so you can't one-click your way to victory? How about ZOCOM Hammerheads smashing your upgraded Power Plants? Do you relish cutting down infantry squads or scouting vehicles that are out to see what you're up to? Does anti-scouting fill you with some kind of twisted glee as you prepare your dozen Stormriders, Commando Reckoner, or giant manspam from behind the safety of the fog of war?

Date: May 24, 2010
Game: Kane's Wrath 1.02
Author: Eph2.8-9
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you will likely hate this tip of the week. Especially if you are a Nod faction player, because this tip makes SAMs far less effective against Orcas. I can just tell you're excited already.

What I am about to detail will make scouting as GDI or Nod easier and cheaper. It will provide cover for your air units (particularly GDI). And it all involves one of the most underrated abilities in the game: Call For Transport.

You're skeptical, I can tell. Nobody uses Call For Transport for anything other than transport and even then, only rarely. The last tip of the week that discussed CFT was about Commandos and Engineers. That's because they're not maximizing its potential. You can still use CFT for all those things, but since the last tip already covered that in depth, I'm going to skip the vanilla "use CFT to transport units" segment.

Don't think of CFT as a slow, vulnerable, attention-grabbing way of transporting units around. Think of it as a flying meatshield that happens to have pretty decent line of sight and is also dirt cheap when you use an empty one. In fact, from now on, just assume that when I talk about CFT in terms of scouting or meatshielding, that it's an empty transport, because anything else is a waste of money. How do you get the transport to still be controllable even when it's empty? It's as simple as applying this little trick:

Select a suitable infantry unit and Call For Transport, and then immediately issue a stop order on that unit. The V35 Ox will kind of shoot down to the ground and land right on top of the unit, but won't pick it up. Select the Ox and give it a movement order, and it will lift off without the unit and you can still control it, making it the cheapest and fastest scout ever.

You can retain call for transport for vehicles as well, but the method is different. If you use the stop method, the transport will land instantly like with infantry, but you cannot control it and it will fly away. If you give both the transport and the unit it is coming to collect movement orders simultaneously, then you can retain both. If you give movement orders to the ground unit first then it will fail and behave as though you hit stop. If you select the transport and give it a move order first, it will continue picking up the unit, but if you then give the unit another order or stop it then the transport will carry out the order you first gave it and you get to control it. This is, however, much more complex and difficult than just selecting both at once and moving them. You can give the combined movement order as late as you like so long as the vehicle hasn't been picked up and you can retain the transport.

Further testing shows that infantry follow the same rule, you can give both the infantry and transport a movement order and you will retain transport control. The difference is there seems to be a small animation delay when the transport is at ground level for infantry which is not present for vehicles; this allows time to issue an order before it lifts off, by which time you can no longer retain control. The bottom line is that it is usually easier to obtain an empty transport via an infantry unit.

As a scout


V35 Ox
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Hitpoints: 2500 (vGDI),
750 (Steel Talons and ZOCOM)
Speed: 160
Cost: 200
A V35 Ox transport is on par with the fastest ground vehicle in the game, the Attack Bike. This means that it is faster than a Pitbull (115) and much faster than a Rifleman (57). As far as cost is concerned, it's $100 less than a Rifleman for something 3 times as fast that also flies. It's also $500 less than a Pitbull, trading stealth detection, a little bit of vision radius and a pair of light missiles for flight, speed, and cost. Truth be told, you can get about the same vision with a V35 transport as you can with Riflemen or a Pitbull at a fraction of the cost and, in the case of the Riflemen, much faster and less vulnerably so.

There is one esoteric trick you can do if you're desperate for airborne stealth detection, but I really don't see the value. Use Call For Transport on a vehicle like a Pitbull, drop a Sensor Pod on the Pitbull, then fly it over with the Ox. You must have the Sensor Pod to detect stealth. Again, this is rather pointless, since Orcas have Pulse Scan and Sensor Pods and you can use Radar Scan from the Command Post.

Carryall
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Hitpoints: 2500
Speed: 100
Cost: 200
On the Nod side, well, you're not so lucky. Your transport only has speed 100. What does that mean? Unless the GDI player has devoted himself to predspam and there's absolutely no way to get into his base, you're better off using Raider Buggies, which are faster and only marginally more expensive by a whole $300. Of course, the CFT is cheaper than Venoms, but still slower.

The one caution I have about using CFT as a scout is that you preferably don't want to use it until you're just about to unleash your Orcas or Hammerheads, or after your opponent has scouted your Airfield. A flying transport cruising over his base will tip him off to what's coming, just like a Radar Scan lets him know that you're at tier 2.

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As a meatshield


This is where CFT really becomes irritating, particularly to Nod and Scrin players who rely on SAMs or Plasma Missile Batteries for anti-air defense. Think Orca Strike, but without the damage, cheaper, weaker, and infinitely spammable. The GDI V35 Ox and Nod Carryall both have 2500 hitpoints. What does that mean? That means that they have more health than an Orca and almost as much as a Firehawk. That means that they can soak up the first few rounds of SAM fire, as the only way a single SAM battery can take down an Ox transport is if they have Tiberium Core Missiles and Quad Turrets. By the time the SAM battery reloads, your Orcas can pop their first Harvester, or last long enough to knock out a second or even third Harvester. A good idea when using this trick is to hotkey your transport, preferably with a button that's close to the one you use for your strike aircraft. This tactic will primarily have to be used by vGDI, though, because the Steel Talons and ZOCOM Ox Transports have a paltry 750 health. You can still use them to draw the initial salvo of rockets due to the longer reload time and overkill potential of rocket-based weapons, but they are far less effective.

If you're using a transport in conjunction with Firehawks, timing will be everything, as the Firehawks will need to be right behind the transport. Once the SAMs start firing at the transport, swoop in, bomb something, and use Stratofighter Boosters to get out of there before they can fire again. SAMs also overkill, meaning that if there are multiple SAM sites, they will all fire at the hapless transport, allowing the Firehawks to bomb them and then boost out before they are ready to fire again.

Note that I have been discussing this tactic primarily against static defenses and not mobile anti-air units such as Gun Walkers or Pitbulls. That's because static defenses are much easier to exploit; their AI instructs them to target the first thing that approaches, not the most dangerous. Also, they can't be type-selected and nobody puts them in control groups, so re-targeting them manually to go after your Orcas and Firehawks is going to be well-nigh impossible if you time the Orcas and V35 Ox to arrive in close sequence. This is particularly true for Nod SAMs, as each mini-turret must be individually selected. Annoying, right?

Nod players will likely rely on manspam, SAMs, and perhaps Bikes to protect their Harvesters. Because all of those are rocket-based, they overkill. Swoop your transport in, draw the first round of rockets, and unload some pain on their Harvesters. If there's a heavy air defense, you'll likely lose one or two Orcas in exchange for a Harvester or two. If the air defense is lighter, you can probably knock out a Harvester and get away without any losses, depending on your micro and the defenses. Once Tiberium Core Attack Bikes or Mantises become the primary form of air defense, though, you might as well forget about Orcas and Firehawks if the Nod player is good at using them, CFT or no CFT. That doesn't meant that CFT loses its value as a scout, but any kind of air is too vulnerable to Tiberium Core units to make air-raiding cost-effective. The same goes for a decent cluster of Venoms; they will bypass the transport and go for the aircraft.

Scrin players tend to use Gun Walkers backed up by Plasma AA Batteries for air defense, with Storm Columns coming into play later on. That's not as fortuitous, because the Gun Walkers will be told to hit the Orcas first. On the other hand, it's pretty hard for Scrin to have Gun Walkers in sufficient numbers all over their base to deter Orcas everywhere, and if they do, they're not going to get their tier 3 any time soon, and that's good for you as GDI. Nor can Gun Walkers fire on the move, so it's likely that there will be some parts of the base only protected by Plasma AA Batteries. Plasma Batteries can be distracted long enough by the transport, perhaps enough time for your Orcas to pick off a Harvester at the edge of a field or possibly a Reactor. If there are Stormriders out and about, you'll need to snipe them or attack when they are elsewhere if you want to use Orcas effectively. Late-game, you can use CFT meatshielding to take the first hit from a Storm Column to allow your Firehawks or Hammerheads to pick off structures or units (read: scummy Scrin bugs Masterminds and Prodigies) cowering under the Ion Storm. If the Scrin player's attention is focused elsewhere, you can escape with one fewer aircraft loss.

Against GDI, CFT is less effective, because the weapon of choice against Orcas as GDI is the Pitbull in the early game and the Firehawk lategame, both of which any good player will tell to go after the Orcas/Firehawks, not the Ox transport. Of course, in the late-game, you can hope that his Firehawks are patrolling his base in AA mode waiting to attack anything flying. Send in a couple CFTs, watch the enemy Firehawks waste their ammunition, then boost in with your own Firehawks for a killing frenzy. That's not likely to happen against a player with good map awareness, but it's a cheap, relatively risk-free way of breaking a Firehawk stalemate.

One last note on GDI: if your enemy is silly enough to rely only on static AA Batteries, Rocket Harvesters or a few Missile Squads to counter Orcas, roll in the CFT and pop his Harvesters. True story, I once flew 4 Orcas and a CFT into a GDI base on Tournament Rift defended by three un-upgraded AA Batteries. The result was that I knocked out a full Harvester about to unload in exchange for one Orca. I'll take that trade.

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If there is just one anti-air turret that you are trying to meatshield against, it's better to get in range and then hold tight while it targets the transport. If you're trying to draw fire from multiple turrets, fly your transport(s) right over the AA turret. This will make it harder for your opponent to select the turret because there's a big flying thing sitting on top of it.

Nod has less use for CFT as a meatshield if they're trying to use Vertigoes. Anything that can shoot down Vertigoes effectively (Firehawks, Pitbulls, Stormriders, Tibcore Attack Bikes, etc.) will likely do so whether the CFT is there or not, because Vertigos are primarily countered by mobile AA. If the opponent does rely on turrets for countering Vertigos, the same tips that applied to GDI apply to Nod.

Eventually, of course, your opponent will wise up, tech up, or spam so many AA units that the transport won't help. If he's Nod and you're GDI, that means it's time to stop using your Orcas to snack on his Harvesters (unless you want cool screenshots of missiles flying and aircraft dying). "But I like snacking on his Harvesters even if there are 1342398 upgraded bikes and 25 SAM Turrets sitting by them," you protest. Ah, don't we all? Still, you must remember that he's probably investing a ton of money into those anti-air units/structures because he can't risk you raiding his Harvesters again and popping off another two or three. More importantly, if those 1342398 Tibcore Attack Bikes are protecting his fields, they aren't out snacking on your Harvesters. Now would be an excellent time to invest in another fun unit, the Predator tank, preferably flowing out of two or more War Factories like a river of menacing steel.

As a really dirty APC trick


This will probably work only once on your opponent, and then it will fail horribly every other time. Don't even try it against Scrin. Build some APCs, put Missile Squads and one or two Rifleman Squads in them. If he goes for mass tanks or tier-3 armor to counter and you have enough money on hand, you can use Call For Transport on your APCs and fly them over his tanks. The infantry inside will still fire out from inside, allowing you to do some damage as you chase his tanks back to base. Even though you can't order the units to attack so they won't focus fire, you can really trash a Predator or Scorpion army that left the anti-air at home. When your opponent wises up, retreat and drop your APCs somewhere safer, like your base. This trick is expensive, very vulnerable to fast anti-air like upgraded Venoms, Pitbulls, Stormriders, or Firehawks, so don't try it every game, or even most games. Just be aware that it does exist and could make for a fun noobbash.

Conclusion


I came up with these strategies as a way to make Orcas and Hammerheads harder to counter for Nod and Scrin. I was tired of two turrets and a few anti-air units holding off my air force from their Harvesters while they teched up to Tibcore or Shard Launchers. I knew that Orcas were viable, but I wanted to keep them alive longer. I was tired of having my scouts picked off by Scorpions, Attack Bikes or Raider Buggies, costing me money and awareness. I talked my ideas over with vOddy and Perfi and listened to their input, and got some tips from Gromij as well. I put this strategy up in the Unorthodox Strategy Contest and it has been mentioned elsewhere, but never been fully explained or exploited.

This is a useful way to extend the effectiveness of your Orcas and Hammerheads and provides GDI with another very useful scouting ability that costs only $200, is faster and cheaper than the Pitbull and less likely to die than Rifleman Squads. It does not make your air force invulnerable, but it does buy them a little more time against turrets.

Against a skilled player who has excellent map awareness and relies on mobile anti-air, this trick will do nothing for you in terms of meatshielding. Your Orcas or Firehawks will die just as fast as if the transport wasn't there. Against a solidly-defended base with a mix of static and mobile anti-air, your aircraft will be just as fruitless with or without the transport. CFT meatshielding only buys you a little time to get off the first round of Orca missiles or drop bombs and boost out. Sufficient mobile anti-air and careful micro (not just a-moving) will defeat Orcas regardless of where you use CFT or not. Of course, if there are not very many anti-air units or they are just attack-moving, enjoy painting the kill markers on your Orcas or Firehawks.

The last thing I can comment on is the timing. You want to send in the transport right before you attack if you're planning on using it as a meatshield. Too much delay and it will die before your planes arrive, leaving them unshielded. Your opponent will also be tipped off to the impending air raid, which is all kinds of unwise.

Replays



I only used CFT meatshielding once in this rather long matchup. You'll see four Orcas fly into an area defended by a SAM Turret, 2 or 3 Attack Bikes, and a handful of Militant Rocket Squads and snipe a full Harvester without any losses. Why? Because there was a transport drawing the fire for it.



This replay illustrates how valuable CFT can be. The first Orca raid took down three Harvesters in exchange for four Orcas. That's $4800 in Harvesters alone compared to $4400 in Orcas, not counting the economic hurt that losing 3 Harvesters causes, even on Decision. The only reason that the raid killed as many Harvesters as it did was because the V35 soaked up the first two rounds of SAM missiles, which allowed the Orcas to fire off all their missiles before falling. The later attempt to use CFT was poorly timed and it was against two fully-upgraded SAMs anyway. What it did allow was enough line of sight to see that there was a full Harvester near the edge of the Tiberium field, allowing me to snipe it and only lose one Orca. Again, a worthy trade.



This match only used CFT meatshielding once, but if you watch the replay and keep an eye on my Orcas, you'll see that un-upgraded static air defenses are not enough to protect against Orcas. Using a V35 as cover, four Orcas swoop in and pound a full Harvester, only losing one to the three AA Batteries protecting it.



This match also used CFT meatshielding once and that was enough. Because I was against ZOCOM, they had added anti-air in the form of the rockets on the Rocket Harvesters as well as three Pitbulls that should have been covering the Harvesters. Instead, a lack of paying attention cost him two Rocket Harvesters and another one severely damaged to one Orca lost. I later sniped that third Harvester with an Orca and used CFT to keep his base scouted throughout the game rather than throw Pitbulls or Riflemen into his defenses. The economic hit from that one raid delayed his Tech Center and kept him cranking turrets and Slingshots for fear I would return to attack his Rocket Harvesters again. In the meantime, I built up a large force of ground units and steamrolled him.

Discuss, rant, gnash your teeth, argue, etc. here in the main discussion forum

Special thanks to vOddy, Perfi, and especially Gromij for their contributions.