Idle Musing: The Joy Of Unwinnable Skirmishes

There he is.
Or at least against the odds skirmishes. This is an afternoon ode to that time when you set up a skirmish mode in an RTS and pitch yourself against extraordinary odds (perhaps with a chum to help you). It’s one of those little pleasures that I think most RTS players understand, but is probably unknown by, well, the rest of humanity.

Yes, the “Idle Musing” prefix indicates a vague attempt at a new series in which I will look at the little things that make games so satisfying, and try to describe them in a way that makes them clearer to all. I want to spend a bit of time talking about the nuances of game-playing experiences that we see across lots of different games, those things that gamers return to games for that aren’t always on the prescribed feature lists of the Next Big Thing. These are the subtle satisfactions derived from a deeply sophisticated form of entertainment, and many of the key reasons why we keep coming back.

Anyway, yes, those big skirmishes.

I’ve lost count of the number of games I’ve actually done this in, or been able to do this in, but the two I generally reach for when I want to do this stuff are Dawn Of War and Supreme Commander. The experience in each is rather different, for while they’re both real-time strategies with some robo-death, their pace and scope is radically different. What they both offer, however, is the possibility of starting out in a strong position, which you can quickly consolidate, and then playing against multiple AI which you can balance back and forth to find that sweet spot where you can’t quite, or can *only just* beat them.

Dawn Of War usually unfolds a bit quicker than Supreme Commander, and the time it takes either you, or the AI, to build an unstoppable army of destruction usually doesn’t top about twenty minutes, although resource and tech-tree deadlock can prolong it. Usually the tide turns when a few of the super-units are unlocked, and THOOM, they rip through someone’s lines, and then it’s just tidying up.

It’s not quite the same with SupCom, which has such enormous scale that this process can take hours if the deadlock sets in. There’s something extraordinarily satisfying about the experience, however, and not least because of the sheer difficulty of taking on the hardest AI. The concentration required to manage the battles which will take place as you secure your resources is one of those things that is rewarding in its own right: a sort of “best use of consciousness” that you get from being really focused on an activity. In SupCom this isn’t something you’re best doing solo, either. While in Dawn Of War I’d be happy to play alone versus a selection of normal and hard AI, Supreme Commander is arguably best played versus a couple of hard AI versus a co-op team, with the co-ordination such a thing entails. You’ll want a very big map and all afternoon to pull it off, of course.

Most recently, I notice, Men Of War Assault squad has formalised this kind of play with a DLC that is simply waves of increasingly tough baddies that you fight off until you are overwhelmed. They’re recognising exactly the kind of setup I am talking about here and making a game mode out of it.

The way RTS games work means that this sort of rolling crises management is unique to them, and I can’t think of anything else that is particular analogous. Consequently, explaining the appeal of the skirmis is similar to trying to explain the feeling of being engrossed in a novel to someone who cannot read. It’s that sort of “if a Lion could speak we could not understand him” territory. Even though gamers can speak, people do not really understand what they are saying.

I suppose what I find interesting about this stuff is that it doesn’t allow you time to think, but is also not demanding of reflexes in the same way that a bout Quake is. The challenge is no less engaging, or demanding of attention and quick-thinking, but because of the way your attention has to be spread across the multiple units, there is a sort of higher pleasure in tactical thinking. Also when you are playing with the variables of a game’s skirmish modes you get a sense of tinkering with a larger system: fiddling with the workings of an engine that you can then see the results – either in being overwhelmed by AI hordes, or just about being able to

The preference for it being a skirmish game, of course, is that it is not competitive. While it can be intense and focused – and you can even be beaten AI – not having an actual human opponent removes an important psychology anxiety. This, therefore, is, I think, the most relaxing way to play an RTS. No worries about an ongoing campaign, or unlocking the next bit of unit-tree from the story – you’ve got everything to play with, and it becomes a continuous feedback loop of gathering resources and sending tiny men to their deaths. And I could do that forever.


  1. simoroth says:

    One of my favourites used to be removing the unit cap on DOW and playing against the Orks on difficult. It was beautiful,a small group of elite marines ploughing their way into an almost eternal hoard. Like an exquisite John Blanche masterpiece.

    • Qwentle says:

      I did the same with a Seer Council :) The first time I really disliked Steam was when it force-patched DoW to make them balanced. It was better for online play, but I tend to stay away from that in RTS’

    • ceriphim says:

      I wish GW would get over themselves and make a proper PC tabletop 40k game. Nothing released has been just the right flavor for me. Give me my goddamn army and let me do whatever I want with it!

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      phuzz says:

      @ceriphim I agree with you, I’d love a PC version of standard 40k, especially if they let you paint your miniatures. However, I think the reason there isn’t such a thing is just that if GW allowed such a thing to be released, then almost nobody would bother spending (potentially far more) money on the actual table top version.

      Although having played quite a bit of Space Crusade with my house recently is making me want to fire up an Amiga emulator and find a copy of the computer version.

    • Boozebeard says:

      What Phuzz said. It would put a (potential substantial) dent in their table top revenue.

      If they ever did it, it would probably be free to play and require micro transactions for units.

    • psyk says:

      Cause board gamers all ways want to play the computer version.

    • scatterbrainless says:

      One of the specialist games would be wonderful on PC: Necromunda, Inquisitor or another Space Hulk.

    • Ergonomic Cat says:

      I don’t believe the Blood Bowl game has impacted their sales of Blood Bowl minis at all.

      Speaking from totally anecdotal experience, I’ve purchased Blood Bowl teams after playing the game, which I never would have done otherwise….

      And I’m pretty sure that no one says “Oh, it’s 40k night at the shop tonight….Eh, I’ll just stay home and play on the PC.”

      The PC is for when you don’t have the time to go to the real games. You could argue that it lets you play more, which makes you anticipate the nights less, which might make you less inclined to go, but I suspect people would look at their pile of figs and say “Yeah, I should really go.”

    • Nate says:

      Actually, Blood Bowl is probably the perfect example of this in action.

      BB is the sort of game where once people have a team, they stop shelling out the big bucks. GW saw this with the re-release of BB: they anticipated that it would lead to only modest sales of miniatures, and so it did. (Miniatures are where the money’s at, not rules.) BB’s re-release was an act of love for the game, rather than something with good profit potential.

      So releasing BB the videogame was easy– it doesn’t cut into miniature profits, because BB doesn’t make good miniature profits anyways. That’s not the same with the big-money GW games, WH and 40k. There is a really significant “Oh man that new thing is so cool” that drives some spectacular sales, and it’s not hard to believe that having access to that new thing via a videogame would reduce miniature sales. Clearly, mini sales wouldn’t dry up! But consider that 10-20 minis are about the same price as a AAA videogame. Even a small effect could mean it’s a Bad Idea.

      That’s not to say that nobody could make a tabletop fantasy-ish wargame into a video game. The start-up costs are quite a bit less than the startup for mini wargames. Obv, GW has the lion’s share when it comes to valuable licenses, though.

  2. pakoito says:

    hehehe this is just what I’ve been saying for years about RTS. No unlocking, clear objectives and no enemy player on the other side so twitchness, mindgames and economics is not as required.

  3. JackShandy says:

    “This is an afternoon ode to that time when you set up a skirmish mode in an RTS and pitch yourself against extraordinary odds (perhaps with a chum to help you). It’s one of those little pleasures that I think most RTS players understand, but is probably unknown by, well, the rest of humanity.”

    Gears of War’s Horde mode begs to differ. (Along with the similar modes in almost every shooter thing, nowadays).

    • Groove says:

      That’s what I was thinking of as the closest analogy (especially to the Men of War waves thingie).

      The RTS version at even it’s closest is miles removed though, since you’re managing such vast swathes of space-death while also managing some form resource economy.

      A personal favourite is when you set up a machine that can keep ticking with little outside input, while you cackle merrily from your godhead. DoW was nice for this, or anything with artillery and stupid AI (C&C). Super abilities were a plus, gives you something to do between laughing (C&C).

    • Fumarole says:

      Gears of War players are not included in humanity, obviously.

    • psyk says:

      Was going to post the same thing in reply to this gem.

      “The way RTS games work means that this sort of rolling crises management is unique to them, and I can’t think of anything else that is particular analogous. Consequently, explaining the appeal of the skirmis is similar to trying to explain the feeling of being engrossed in a novel to someone who cannot read. It’s that sort of “if a Lion could speak we could not understand him” territory. Even though gamers can speak, people do not really understand what they are saying.”

    • fooga44 says:

      They great irony is that he’s just explaining survival mode. A mode that many games have had going back to the beginning of video games. Smash TV is the definition of ‘crisis management’.

  4. westyfield says:

    Many a happy afternoon was whiled away playing Generals with a friend, against several hard AI players. Love doing this sort of thing, Sins of a Solar Empire is my personal favourite for solo-play against the hordes.

  5. Spad says:

    Used to do this all the time in Company of Heroes with my housemate; the two of us against overwhelming odds, digging in and building up our forces until we could mount a functional offensive and slowly push our way to victory.

    • MonkeyMonster says:

      Still do when my friend and I can manage the timings. the bigger 3v3 or 4v4 monster battles and you’re barely struggling at the feckin AI will lob an uber tank your way or throw large scale artillery… Love that game so much I’m replaying from start for the 4th time.

    • Magus44 says:

      Agree wholeheartedly. COH was what came to my mind.
      Did this with my brother against 3-4 hard/impossible AIs.
      Sometimes we’d win. But the losses were my favourites. Once we held out for 15+ minutes against Ze GERMANS. They killed us but took 20+ tank casualities. Even more inf.
      Heroes were born that day. And the promptly killed…
      Also I’ve somewhat had this in LOL games. Winning a 3 vs 5 game that went for 60+ mins was especially epic.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Let us take a moment of silence to mourn Company of Heroes Online.

      My favorite CoHO battle involved an utter stalemate against two players, gaining ground by inches and paying for every step with the blood of my men. Artillery turned the capture point region unrecognizable as wave after wave of infantry wrestled it back and forth, rushing forwards to capture and set up machine guns and barbed wire, then being pushed back as the attrition left me with insufficient men to hold it against their implacable advance. The final victory was won when I got five snipers into position, murdered every infantryman on the far side like some sort of gatling sniper cannon, then pushed my armor through the breach and raised so much havoc in their bases they couldn’t recover.

      Good times.

    • Syra says:

      Definitely COH… there’s a map where you can blow some of the bridges around your base area and just stack up defenses while the enemy keeps coming forever :D

  6. Skeletor68 says:

    Loved doing this in Total Annihilation but only playing defensively. Building ridiculous walls of cannons and lasers with construction bots patrolling up and down the perimeter to repair structures and about 100 fighters patrolling to negate any air threat. Beautiful.

    • Arona Daal says:

      You should try a Balanced Annihilation (or Zero-k) vs Chickens Match.

      I loved Supcom:FA but Zero-k has a much better interface and way more Units than any commercial RTS.

    • The white guar says:

      Then you would love doing it in Supreme Commander, as it basically is TA with great graphics and a huge scale (and i loved it too, it was my first RTS).

      Edit: come to think of it: that total annihilation tactic was probably the first example of a tower defense game. Omgmindblown.

    • Azhrarn says:

      @ the white guar:

      the trouble is, SupCom in many ways is a poor substitute for TA, the engine can’t handle the amount of units required.
      It’s pretty much mandatory to make SupCom Large Adress Aware as it is, and to use Boris’ Core Balancer to even keep the game running past the 1k units per side mark. And doing that will completely ruin the simulation sync, causing lots of lag.

      TA has none of those issues (it is a simpler game, granted), but in TA the battles can grow to far more ridiculous propertions than they can in SupCom, simply because the engine can take the punishment. I loved building entire walls of Vulcan (or Buzzsaw) Rapid Fire super artillery on the largest maps and throw litteral torrents of high explosive death at any radar blip that deigned to show it’s cheeky face. Ofcourse you’d need even more enormous walls of powerplants to keep the buggers fueled up and firing.
      Defensive play in TA became even more fun with all the new turrets in the various expansions, pop-up turrets, rapid firing short range energy cannon, heck even the humble PeeWee with it’s EMGs was fantastic to use (or the brawlers, short range ground attack planes throwing torrets of Energy Machine Gun fire everywhere while weaving back and forth to dodge missile fire).

    • The white guar says:

      Stop it! I can only resist so much before rushing on GOG with my happygamernostalgia face on wielding my credit card. My girlfriend would have to send a rescue team looking for me after a couple days :D

    • soco says:

      My friends and I still reminisce about a match of Total Annihilation where we added some mod dubbed the ‘bloodthirsty AI’. It kicked our teeth in so fast and set off a chain reaction of our commanders’ nukes going off as we had all fallen back to one area.

      Good times.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      TA was definitely awesome for that, especially with the incredible number of custom mods and maps. Most of them were apparently ridiculously imbalanced, but who the fuck cares when all you want is to launch hordes of big stompy robots who make the Krogoth look like a small tank at the AI?

      There’s an excellent client for TA called TA:Mutation I think, which would automatically synchronize mods and mutators with the host, provided you had them, and launch and connect the clients automatically.

      Oh and the mods/games for the open-source TA Spring engine (like Balanced Annihilation, Zero-K and others) are pretty cool, but the interface, game design and unit design is far from having the same level of polish as SupCom:FA. None of those mods is a straight TA replacement with the exact same units and overall balance either… a pity.

  7. Reapy says:

    I actually thought this was where tower defense games came from, this style of play…. I think people have figured out finally that people have been playing games this way for a long time, as more and more games have the ‘waves of bad guys forever’ modes in them now, like gears of war I think had a mode like this.

    Way back in warcraft 2 we used to play the ‘jimland’ map, it was this mega huge map with trees covering the whole thing and each player in the 4 corners. You were guaranteed to spend at least 45 minutes playing the game. The great part was that there was actually some strategy involved, but you would end up with these huge stalemates of tossing massive amounts of units at one another and would just basically run the other guy out of money.

    The other game I recall doing this with, all the time, is company of heros. My friend and I would basically spend a ton of time creating huge sandbag walls of impenetrable defenses against a ton of AI with really no objective to kill them, but to just keep everything at bay as long as possible.

    I also did this a lot with the original stronghold games. They give you this incredible amount of medieval toys to kill the AI with, and it makes a great setting for an avalanche of AI to die beneath beneath the gauntlet you’ve created for them.

  8. carn1x says:

    I think it’s a travesty that Rise Of Nations is almost impossible to find.

    I might go start a game of Empire Earth though, a decent second place to RoN.

    • Rymdkejsaren says:

      I still play Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends like this, which I think is an excellent game that sadly most people have barely heard about. I would love to see a sequel to that but that seems about as likely as Arnold Rimmer passing the astronavigation exam.

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      Really? Amazon has it listed for $8, and I know I’ve seen it in multiple Apple Stores in the past three years. Worth every penny.

      As for Rise of Legends: YES. Kingdoms of Amalur would’ve been a lot more interesting had they spruced up that setting rather than creating a new (generic) one from scratch. It’s biggest problem is that there’s virtually nothing that you can latch onto upon entering–including it’s RTS mechanics–but I think ground-level combat would’ve made that barrier to entry into an exotic allure.

    • marcusfell says:

      Rise of Ledgends? HELL YEAH

      I think my favorite game type is the one where you start out with a bigger city against like five other enemies.

  9. ShadowBlade says:

    I played like this with modded Total Annihilation and our own maps in Starcraft (TONS of resources). We’d play 2-vs-6 in both games. You’d either crumble or eventually break through to win. Good stuff :)

    In TA, I always entrench myself with huge walls of cannons, hundreds of air fighters on patrol, anti-nukes, anti-air cannons and a massive collection of builder planes. The planes would be tasked on every production building, while others would simply patrol the base, repairing and assisting. This was modded obviously to achieve high population. Nothing quite like TA out there :) The destruction and scale is immense.

    • Arona Daal says:

      I can only repeat myself::

      Love TA ?

      Try Balanced Annihilation or Zero-k,the modern and free Versions.

      BA is essentially TA Remake with modern Stuff like Multiplayer Lobby with Chatroom.

      And Zero-k is similar to TA with a slight Focus on Offense (less Turtling) and the *best* Userinterface and Unit AI for an RTS ive ever seen.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      Finest gaming memory of mine, or one of them, is in a Starcraft AI stomp. 4 humans vs 4 AI. We took a kicking, and wound up in one corner of the map with one building each. I remember being Terran and flying my base over there. We dug in and fought back, with just one building each, and it took FOUR HOURS but we clawed it back. We all agreed it was the best game we’d ever played in SC.

      I’ve never played Starcraft again as I know it will NEVER match that.

      I love this article as in RTS games I almost NEVER play the campaign more than once or twice. I’m all about the skirmish mode, and figured I was weird. So nice to see I’m far from alone. Right now for this sort of thing I have:

      DoW1 and 2
      Demigod (MEH!)
      Sin of a Solar empire (I’ll play it one day…)
      Red Alert… Erm… The last one.

      Plus I’m a sucker for Horde/Survival mode etc… In fact in L4D and L4D2 since the introduction of survival mode I’ve barely played the main game.

      My BIGGEST complaint about DOW2 is the fact that Last Stand isn’t single player. I keep hoping someone will mod it to be so as I don’t like playing with random strangers (and the one friend with the game is unreliable at best). That mode NEEDS a single player mod to be truly awesome. Same with Space Marine. (Actually that works fine in single player. You just tend to die very quickly)

  10. RichardFairbrass says:

    This article pretty much sums up exactly what I have spent uncountable hours doing over the years, and the exact 2 games I did it in. I’ve always enjoyed fighting battles on a massive scale and generally have been disappointed in the lack of games that have managed this since Total Annihilation showed how.

    SupCom obviously fitted into that gap perfectly, and just like its spiritual predecessor it made you pay for scale in CPU cycles. Not that long ago I tried a nice 4 v 4 skirmish on a mid size map (20 x 20 I think) on what can only be described as a monster workstation of a pc. Regardless, it didn’t take too long before the speed had reduced until everything appeared to be happening in bullet time. Having said that, it does increase the anticipation somewhat when your super unit colossus or monkeybadger takes half an hour to reach the enemy’s base.

    Dawn of War I have played even more, being a bit of a 40k nut. The limited scale was a bit of an issue, but the excellent mod support meant this could be negated easily enough. The only problem I found was that certain armies fared better with unlimited resources than others. Tau in particular could become unbeatable with a large enough army, and the orks’ ability to produce endless units for free could really start to hurt. Necrons were stuck on the other end of things and usually got pantsed within a few minutes of the start.

    Nothing felt quite as neat as setting up a 4 man Imperial team of Space marine, Imperial guard, Sisters of battle and Daemon Hunters (see below) and taking on a mass chaos or ork army. Taking 30 baneblades into battle against ranks of orks so deep they extend beyond your range of vision is a beautiful thing.

    For anyone who plays DoW multiplayer or skirmish I have to recommend the excellent Inquisition Daemonhunt mod: link to It’s made to pretty much the same standard as the official armies and adds a fun new force to the game. The tyranids mod can be fun too but unfortunately are a bit of a weak army. Neither of these work with the unit limit unlocker which is a bit of a bummer as well.

    • EvilLaufter says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who had this same experience with Dawn of War. I think out of all the games I’ve played, over all, it’s the game I’ve played the most. It’s nice having a well writen article that tries to explain my favorite aspect of RTS games.

      On a related DoW note, I know base Soulstorm is pretty rubbish, but the Ultimate Apocalypse mod makes the game actually worth buying. The mod is still in development but it’s a lot of fun, especially for this type of play (which I also really love as well). You can make the unit caps so large that it’s basically unlimited and supports both the Daemon Hunters and Tyranid mods.

      link to

  11. Mungrul says:

    I used to love doing this sort of thing in Total Annihilation. Nothing like digging in and battling wave after wave of enemies while you work towards a Krogoth or Vulcan Canon behind the front lines.
    I also found Myth games good for this too. While it didn’t have a skirmish mode, some of the bigger battles had that same allure thanks to the way that no two Myth matches were ever the same. And I still think the Dwarf in the Myth games is one of the best RTS units ever, purely because it was so chaotic that you never knew exactly what the outcome of it chucking a molotov would be.
    I seem to remember Impossible Creatures being good for this too thanks to the wild and whacky unit variation.

    These days, the same itch is scratched in a much more satisfying manner by Dwarf Fortress.

  12. carn1x says:

    My favourite TA tactic was Hawk swarms. I also loved trying to mass transport units in, but it wasn’t really viable on a massive scale like Supcom with it’s Ferry commands.

    • The white guar says:

      Oh the memories! I used to build so many hawks my sound card wouldn’t be able to reproduce all the noise and would give up, transforming the skirmish in a beeping slaughter.
      Also i loved the noise Pewees made when moving. It actually goes “pewee”!

  13. riadsala says:

    Sins of a Solar Empire is good for this too. You’ll usually have battles taking place on several fronts, and managing to get a nicely upgraded giant starbase in orbit around a chockpoint is very satisfying. Even when the AI eventually blows it up! Plus, the game has a slower pace, so it’s quite possible to just sit back and admire the view from time to time (although the battles could do with being a little more dynamic).

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      Agree with you. One of Sins’ best features is that defensive measures, while ultimately futile, can hold back enemy advances just long enough to bring your fleets back from the front and engage in massive, flashy battles. It’s structured better in that regard than really any other RTS that I can think of, though Rise of Nations has some good defensive options, as well.

  14. DanPryce says:

    Age of Mythology used to be my jam. There were a couple of maps where you could get one of each god on one map, and used to play those all the time. There was one map which was a ring of land around a massive lake, and i managed to build walls across it, even through enemy territory, separating it like a pizza.

    I am so going to re-install it when I get home.

  15. Koozer says:

    I do this most frequently in, er, BF1942. Me, my brother, and two friends (also brothers!) versus 60 mindless Nazi drones. Good times.

    • Veret says:

      Back in my day, we called that Left 4 Dead. I think some Turtle Rock devs said in an interview that’s more or less how they got the idea for the game.

    • Snuffy the Evil says:

      I used to do the same thing, only it was in Desert Combat. Gunning for the blackhawk was wonderfully catharic.

  16. fuggles says:

    It’s well worth playing the survival mod for dawn of war, wherein you set up a base and fight off ever increasing waves of bad guys.

    link to

  17. Jeremy says:

    I definitely love the “unwinnable skirmish” and I think it actually calls to mind some of the Tower Defense games that I’ve enjoyed over the years. I’m not a huge lover of all things TD, but the ones I have enjoyed seem to hit that perfect line that Jim is talking about.

  18. SirDigsby says:

    It’s a shame this hasn’t become a more standard and elaborated upon game mode in RTSs. SupCom was really excellent for marathon slogs against a stubborn AI: especially when it took the combined effort of yourself and a friend to both survive and win.

    Dawn of War’s last stand mode was a great time sink too.

  19. rockman29 says:

    I like these kinds of games too. To me they are like old-school Tower Defense games where at some point you just lose. I wish there was some reasonable Starcraft II one where it’s just the base game basically against swarms of zerg, kind of like that level where you defend from the Xelnaga/Zerg mutant things.

  20. frenz0rz says:

    There was a fantastic Dawn of War map that my brother and I used to do this on. I forget the name, but it comprised one large mountain range across the centre of the map dividing the two teams, with only a single narrow pass through the middle. We’d often make the enemy team all Orks for the full effect of digging in and desperately holding the line against the huge green mass, until we’d held out long enough to build up enough resources and overpower them.

    Many, many guardsmen died holding that pass.

  21. Soulstrider says:

    I was always a sucker for hold the line levels where you had to defend your bas against endless hordes of enemies.

    Fondly remember the Starcraft 1 level were you defended a Terran base against the Zerg swarms

    • Fumarole says:

      I was always a sucker for hold the line levels where you had to defend your bas against endless hordes of enemies.

      I got a smile when I imagined that the missing letter in the word bas above was an r.

  22. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    While kind of a poor multiplayer title–despite being multiplayer focused–Demigod offers a really nice singleplayer version of this. The limited number of demigods creates a nice sense of rivalry and keeps each participant from being redundant. Especially fun when playing as Rook, who doesn’t work well on the front line so much as he becomes the front line.

    • Chris D says:

      I was always fond of going eight against one on the prison map, which is probably the only one it’s viable on, but good fun.

  23. Bfox says:

    I too know the joy of losing a whole night to a single coop game of supcom against the AI hordes, If you’re planning on doing the same I’d heavily recommend installing a good AI mod first;
    link to
    It’ll stop the stockpiling of hundreds of units and super units doing nothing and just sitting pretty in their base and will actually march towards you in groups. READY THE DEFENCES :D

  24. Lamb Chop says:

    I prefer the endless, snowballing rage, stayed only briefly by the ephemeral joy of victory, that only competitive online play can provide.

  25. harvb says:

    I absolutely adore this kind of co-op game; me and a bunch of mates against hordes of enemy opponents. Dawn of War, funnily enough, was one of our main co-op meals on our diet of co-opness, along with the similar but more historically acurate Company of Heroes. I’d love to see more games doing this. Co-op always was the way forward, but the companies aren’t supporting it as much. Bah humbug.

  26. McDan says:

    The orignial dawn of war with the first two expansions (so not soulstorm) was my favourite for this. I remember one game with imperial guard against 7 ork AI and the battlefield ground couldn’t be seen for the ork and occaisional guard corpses. Magnificent stuff.

    And Supreme commander, well I’ve got a game that’s been going on for 4 years now with myself and an AI buddy against other AI, that should say how great I think that is. C&C generals was great as well for this. I just liked the ability/tech things you could play on opponents, I was an air force man myself for that really. Nice one for reminding me of these times Jim.

    • fuggles says:

      Heh, soulstorm for all its initial bugs is not that bad and certainly in skirmish it is better than Dark Crusade, it just suffered from being one expansion too many if you were getting them sequentially as the armies were a bit dull.

  27. Jimbo says:

    Company of Heroes with the infantry only mod, co-op skirmish against a bunch of the hardest AIs is good for this. Total carnage.

  28. sephiroth says:

    YES I agree fully with this concept.

    Sup Com is best played as a co op on one of the ‘good’ maps (seton’s clutch preferably) against 4 AI extremes.

    All you need is 1 afternoon, 1 capable RTS playing friend and a box of tea. actually some milk and a kettle come in handy as do two fairly capable computers and a good network cause sup com always will run like a cripple with 6000 odd units on the go.

    personally I like to take up the front possition on Seton’s clutch and build ‘The wall’. A defensive structure going right across the land bridge with ‘gates’ to allow armys to venture forth while making a nice big kill zone that *clears throat* NONE SHALL PASS!!!
    Thats the reason why coop is needed as the micro management it takes to do this without being swamped by 4 cheating AIs means you will be flanked or bombed in to the stone age so the other player solves that little issue. once your untouchable its then just a matter of finding enough unit cap to build an offensive force that can do anything.

    JOYS I tell ye JOYS!!!

    What I would like is for sup com or FA to actualy not slow right down on these big games and to have more than 1000 units a side. naval maps with slow down are unplayable!! and that is a shame at 500 unit cap 6 armys you get some great sea battles. Never had the time to spend the 4 or 5 days it would take to do a skirm with 1000 units a side on 81×81

  29. Premium User Badge

    Joshua says:

    The Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance campaign is really build around this theme. During the original, you’d often think: “*Sigh*, why does it take so long for my forces to build?”. Whilst in Forged Alliance, what you often think is: “AAA! Why does it take so long for my forces to build!?”.

  30. KDR_11k says:

    How did this story go up on RPS with neither the article nor the comments mentioning AI War Fleet Command? That game is the epitome of this whole idea, coop play against an unfairly overpowered AI that scales up to insane levels.

    • Nice Save says:

      All the way through the article I was thinking of AI War. It really does a good job at this.

    • B1A4 says:

      Yes, AI WAR: FC is a game which builds on this. Sometimes i just build some defenses and destroy a lot of AIs gates and stations and intels until AIs are really pissed off and… just try to hold.

    • Mctittles says:

      Was just about to comment on that myself. Beat me to it.

  31. Ruffian says:

    Anyone play Company of Heroes? Me and my buds do this all the time, fire up COH with the Blitzkrieg mod, and take on two or three hard AI’s until we either win or get too pissed to continue lol. good times. I just love the way resource work in COH, scattered across the map – forcing you to set up front lines n defend places all over the map to retain superiority.

    Edit: I see now COH was indeed mentioned. lol, we always played as ze germans.

  32. Ham Solo says:

    I often had those matches with a buddy of mine in C&C3: Tiberium Wars and Kanes Wrath.
    Golly good fun.

  33. HexagonalBolts says:

    If you want ridiculously close battles: You cannot beat SC2. Recently a 45 minute game was so unbelievably tight that it came down to using our worker units to destroy the other team’s buildings and force them out the match.

    • Davie says:

      That’s actually the problem I’ve had with both Starcraft games–the tiniest decisions of timing and movement could make or break your entire strategy, so actually winning was mentally exhausting, never giving you time to think. I totally understand the appeal of that, but having it like that all the time (even the campaign in the first game) is a bit much.

      I much preferred Warcraft III’s slightly toned-down version of that, where you wouldn’t necessarily lose the entire game because the enemy had one extra worker collecting resources.

    • Davie says:

      I just realized you probably meant Supreme Commander 2, which kind of renders my above rambling irrelevant, eh?

  34. mickygor says:

    SupCom’s my drug for this. A few years ago, me and my housemates used to team up against a solitary Sorian AIx. Took the 3 of us ages to figure out how to conquer that monster. I like to think we’re a lot better at the game these days, lol

  35. Valhuen says:

    Thing of beauty, it is. Honestly I cannot remember a time when I actually played through an RTS single-player campaign (Tiberium Sun maybe?), whenever I pick up an RTS it’s straight to skirmish mode for me, and has been since owning the original C&C, then Red Alert on Playstation back in the mid-90’s.

    So many great games come and gone, C&C Series (up through Generals, Shockwave mod added years to that game for me), Dark Reign, Starcraft, Empire Earth II, Total Annihilation & Kingdoms, Warzone 2100, Earth 2160, Rise of Nations, Age of Empires, Cossacks Series, Kohan II: KoW, Universe at War, Supreme Commander FA. Probably a few personal jewels I am missing, own Dawn of War GE, and CoH, but have yet to try any deep playthroughs. Fewer games like the above are being made now days, which is unfortunate. Now everything has to be an RTS/FPS hybrid with smaller levels of troops. If someone released a monster RTS title with 3-4 unique sides, minimal story, but a ton of units & skirmish maps (or a simple editor), I think it would sell like crazy.

  36. Valhuen says:

    To add, someone mentioned Tower Defense games above catering to that style of play, and I would agree. Own over 300 games on Steam, and my most played title is Defense Grid at 125 hours, that game is a turtler’s dream. Only thing lacking is the ability to take it to the enemy.

  37. Arona Daal says:

    Roguelike Stone Soup (new Version) has a “Defend the Orb of Zot” Mode,which must be the first turnbased Variant of this.

  38. Carra says:

    It reminds me of one of the original Starcraft’s misisons where you defended a Terran base with bunkers against an ever increasing horde of zerg. Great fun!

    And yes, I’m also reminded of tower defense games. It’s you against an ever stronger growing horde of enemies.

  39. PleasingFungus says:

    “Most recently, I notice, Men Of War Assault squad has formalised this kind of play with a DLC that is simply waves of increasingly tough baddies that you fight off until you are overwhelmed. They’re recognising exactly the kind of setup I am talking about here and making a game mode out of it.”

    Well, no. The Assault Squad DLC you’re thinking of gives you 5 minutes to set up, makes you defend for half an hour, and then (if you survive that long!) asks you to press forward, retake the bases you’ve lost, and (OPERATIONAL AREA EXPANDED!) take out some new enemy bases that pop up on the other side of the map.

    But on a high enough difficulty, it’s a good approximation of what you’re talking about. ;)

  40. Plinglebob says:

    My favourite, while not quite a Skirmish map, is the final level of the Cybran Nation’s campaign in Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance. Due to the narrative, you get access to commanders from all 3 nations and its you against 3 AI opponents. Having access to all 3 tech trees means you can have a lot of fun creating varied forces covering for each sides main weaknesses. Sadly its probably one of the last RTS’s where turtling was a semi-valid tactic.

  41. Jake says:

    Company of Heroes is my favourite to do this in, especially with the Blitzkrieg mod.

    Dawn of War II is actually not bad either, set up a 3v3 with the enemy as max difficulty tyranids and try to survive against the eventual onslaught. Adjust your own teammate’s AI to make it harder or easier, he usually ends up running around capturing points so you don’t have to. I am looking forward to Codex Edition getting a bit more polished and getting the IG up to date.

  42. Insidious Rex says:

    RTS has been my favourite genre since the original C&C, and my favourite method of playing them has always been the turtle/massive cannon wall.

    I’m pretty rubbish at most (all) RTS games online because of this though, my opponents never seem to respect my turtling ways by having more/larger bases and a mobile army instead of static defence.

    Related to to this, I quite regularly play skirmish battles in Rome/Medieval/Empire Total War where I have only ranged units and the AI has masses of infantry and a small bridge to cross.

    Video games eh? Bliss.

  43. soco says:

    One game I haven’t seen mentioned yet that my friends and I would run a lot of coop vs monster AI was Empire Earth.

    Setting it up so that everyone started on large islands was awesome. I always got yelled at as I wasn’t offensive enough and always continued to line my coast with towers.

    • TH0TH says:

      Oh yes love me some Empire Earth, have had maps that have lasted days with a mate playing co-op vs ai, having divided the map early on and then littered trebuchets along the border, was still surprisingly effective against tanks in the later game, glad the gog ones work on my win7 machine, playing EE1&2 windowed as well. EE1 was my favourite tho :)

  44. Davie says:

    Oh yes. I especially loved doing this in Dawn of War with the unit cap removed and the Tyranids modded in. Bugs getting chewed up by my heavy bolters all day. Beautiful.

    For whatever reason, I’ve always liked defensive missions in games, RTSs especially. There’s something so satisfying about seeing the enemy repeatedly try and fail to breach your walls/lines/field of fire.

  45. D7ua9 says:

    I have a few friends I like to play the same sort of games with.

    Weve spent the most time playing skirmishes on Company of Heroes, but the AI in the vanilla game is way too easy. I recommend downloading the Blitzkrieg mod or the Eastern Front mod. Both add lots of content such as maps, units and harder AI.

    Personally I prefer Blitzkrieg for its large skill trees.

  46. Doddler says:

    Supreme Commander was the best for this. There’s an amazing custom multiplayer defense map where you defend a center point against an absurd non stop wave of enemies from all sides. I don’t think I’ve encountered anything quite so awesome in gaming as frantically trying to patch holes in defenses with my friends as literally everything is going to hell and having to personally take myself (the commander) to the front lines in a desperate struggle to hold on. It’s just way too much fun. It’s a real shame that SupCom 2 really kind of forgone many of the design features that really made TA and SupCom 1 great.

  47. Sardaukar says:

    Everyone mentions Supreme Commander. I assume they mean Forged Alliance as well, to which I ask: How? The bugged AI irreconcilably slows down the game after about an hour of play, more and more, until you’re in permanent bullet time. Was a fix for this found?

    • Zyrusticae says:

      Not really. I’m not sure if the third-party AIs fixed it or not (I don’t think so), but having increasingly more and more powerful PCs has upped the limit quite a bit. I can, for example, play 3v3 or 2v4 AI skirmishes without things slowing down past normal speed quite easily on my 2500k running at 4.7 GHz.

      But yeah, 8-player skirmishes are still completely unplayable after a certain amount of time. Damn shame, that.

    • Sardaukar says:

      The bug as I recall it didn’t really care what the match settings were; Even one AI would, I don’t really know, not unload some routine or something something resource leak, until it inexorably reached that unplayable state. I’d wipe the map and still have the slowness persist while the AI active.

      EDIT – Curiously, I don’t think it ever happened during the campaign.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      For me the “fix” was simply to have a quad-core processor. Mine is modest (Core 2 Quad 2.4GHz) but as I recall it handled a 1v8 skirmish without any frustrating slowdown. (I’m sure there was some, but not enough to be annoying or unplayable.) SupCom:FA was actually one of the first game I know of to take great advantage of multiple processors.

  48. Bhazor says:

    For me the best no win but hard fought skirmish game is Company of Heroes. In COH there is a real focus on turtling and on setting up multiple overlapping layers of defence. It really is deliciously tense watching two Jerry armies rolling up the hill through a hail of artillery, AT rounds and snipers. Knowing they’ll punch through your flimsy defences but hoping against hope that your last line of AT infantry will earn their Victoria Cross and bring down those blasted Tigers before they flatten the HQ.

    Losing can be fun. Or at least losing with a flourish can be.

  49. LuNatic says:

    Boot up AoE2, or RoN, either works. Pick the random map gametype. Set the mapsize to the smallest available, and the playercount to the highest. Set the AI to the hardest setting, and lock the teams to FFA.

    Good times!

  50. sloppy says:

    I absolutely love playing against the odds, the struggle to survive is so much fun!