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Post  Iordor Thu Jul 31, 2014 12:56 am


I feel like not enough is written down about map-making and balancing, and many people seem to have conflicting views on the subject. Or don't fully understand certain aspects. So I've decided to start writing a series of articles on the subject as and when I feel elements need to be covered. Perhaps one day these articles and others like them can be structured into a complete map making guide.

This article largely covers the infantry FTA counter, how it works, and when it is and is not appropriate.

What is FTA?

(fig 1)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) NZyXhKQ

Figure 1 is a very simple symmetrical map. Symmetrical maps are very easy to balance because it is very easy to see that both sides have all the same terrain and properties, and aren't able to do anything sneaky.

Symmetrical maps have one flaw though, which is first turn advantage (or FTA for short). FTA arises because advance wars is a turn based game. Orange Star have first turn so they get to move all their units before Blue Moon whom have second turn. This means that all of Orange Star's Day 1 moves happen before all of Blue Moon's Day 1 moves. This is obviously unfair on Blue Moon since in game time all of the moves are happening at the same time i.e. Day 1.

Orange Star has a huge advantage because whenever time is a factor, such as when you need to know "who moved to this position first on Day 1" or "who fired first on Day 1" Orange Star is always considered to have done everything first. this means Blue Moon arrives at positions to find them already filled and has to suffer damage before they can return fire (obviously with reduced effectiveness)

Lets take a brief look at FTA in action.

(fig 2)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) KVknNsM

Above we see the end of Orange Star's turn on the first day. They have built two infantry.

(fig 3)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) N8TtKNl

Now we see the end of Orange Star's turn on the second day. They have advanced the two infantry they built last turn and have built two more infantry. In the meantime Blue Moon have also built two infantry.

(fig 4)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) HolJfDN

Ultimately we come to the end of Orange Star's turn on the third day. Blue Moon has again made the same moves as Orange Star advancing their infantry on Day 2 and building two more, but inevitably come Day 3 Orange Star is able to advance once again and take up prime position on both neutral properties. Orange Star now has the choice of firing at Blue Moon from superior terrain or capturing the neutral properties.

In this example it is virtually impossible now for Blue Moon to prevent Orange Star capturing both properties, even if Blue Moon attack, Orange Star can just join the infantry backed up behind them and continue the capture.

Once Orange Star have captured both neutral properties they will have superior income allowing them to build bigger and better units at a faster rate. This will strengthen their advantage over Blue Moon even more. It is fairly ridiculous to expect Blue Moon to ever win on this map. and certainly ridiculous to call it fair.

Countering FTA

Symmetrical maps always have FTA. This does not mean that symmetrical maps are bad. As was pointed out at the beginning of the last section, symmetrical maps are very good for ensuring terrain and property distribution is fair (which is a real nightmare with non-symmetrical maps).

The only thing stopping symmetrical maps being perfectly fair is FTA. So what most experienced mapmakers do is give Blue Moon a very small non-symmetrical advantage to offset the FTA, and make things fair again.

The infantry counter

(fig 5)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) 6l3dz2j

The infantry counter is a method of countering FTA by giving the second player a single pre-deployed infantry. In figure 5 we can see the infantry has been placed on one of Blue Moon's bases.

How this counter works is it essentially gives Blue Moon first turn from that one base. The infantry counter works perfectly on this map because the map is almost like two separate games. there is a game on the top and a game on the bottom.

OS has first turn on the bottom because they have first turn literally, and nothing has changed here from Figure 1 where they had FTA. On the top however the pre-deployed Blue Moon infantry has allowed Blue Moon to have a pseudo first turn on the top.

In short Orange Star have FTA on the bottom and Blue Moon have FTA on the top. Given that the top and bottom are identical we can conclude that neither side has any advantage over the other. lets see how the game progresses...

(fig 6)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) CoE9I18

here we see the end of Day 1. Orange Star built two infantry as in the previous game. and Blue Moon has also built 2 infantry (exactly like in the previous game) the difference is that the pre-deployed Blue Moon infantry has already advanced on the top path. This is because Blue Moon is now a turn ahead on the top path. If you look back you can see this is the reverse of the situation in Figure 3.

(fig 7)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) JBLETQb

this is the end of Orange Star's turn on Day 2. as you can see the situation on the bottom is now the reverse of the situation on the top in Figure 6...

(fig 8 )
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) FE0WSvu

Blue Moon is now able to advance into position on the top city before OS.

(fig 9)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) QsIB6QX

OS in turn are able to advance onto the bottom city first. Both sides got a city each and balance is restored (hooray!)

Another nice feature of the infantry counter is that it staggers the number of units each side has after builds. Figure 8 is a snapshot of the end of Blue Moon's turn. If you count the number of units on each side you'll see that at the end of their turn Blue Moon has one infantry more than OS. Figure 9 is a snapshot taken at the end of Orange Star's following turn. If you count again you will notice that at the end of their turn Orange Star now one infantry more than Blue Moon.

Alternating like this is much more fair than in the previous FTA game, where Orange Star ended up with 2 more after each turn, and Blue Moon never ended up with more.

The infantry counter misused

While the infantry counter is probably the most effective way of countering FTA as demonstrated above. It is often used (or rather misused) in situations where it is not appropriate. So I'm going to run over some of the more common misuses so they can be identified and avoided...

the single base map

(fig 10)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) YlTtcq9

some maps only have one base each (or one starting base each). Orange Star still have FTA. But giving Blue Moon a pseudo first turn from one of their bases to counter this will result in Blue Moon having first turn from 100% of the bases. Or in other words the whole first turn and the FTA along with it.

(fig 11)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) 6TenyUB

here Blue Moon are not given the infantry counter, Orange Star goes first and builds an infantry. This game will inevitably play out the same as in the previous examples, and result in Orange Star getting the city.

(fig 12)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) R8XUExe

here Blue Moon is given the counter, but as you can see it has not made the game any more even, it has just handed the whole advantage over to Blue Moon instead. The infantry counter is inappropriate in this situation.

Maps with only 1 base are very difficult to balance because obviously the least Blue Moon can be given in compensation is 1 infantry, and 1 infantry is too much. the most you can hope for here is to reduce the FTA as much as possible removing key points from the center and dividing them evenly, as shown below.

(fig 13)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) NlqyZFt

While this reduces FTA to a certain extent it is far from perfect. The best thing a Mapper can do is avoid the single base situation all together.

The primary base map

(fig 14)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) FD7bjvI

Just because a map has 2 bases it does not always mean that those bases are in equally desirable positions. The map in Figure 14 is an example of this. The bases at the bottom are primary because they are right near the contested key point (the city) the bases at the top are very much secondary because they are in an almost useless location. While this is an extreme example, many maps have one base slightly more forward than the other. it's something to watch out for.

(fig 15)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) Dz7m0tB

Here we give Blue Moon the good old pre-deployed infantry, just like on the first map. Blue Moon now has first turn from the top base while Orange Star has first turn from the bottom base. So everything is fair right?... well obviously not. Getting first turn from the secondary base is fairly meaningless because Orange Star will still get to the key point first.

(fig 16)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) LrMciwb

Now the Blue Moon infantry has been moved onto the primary base instead. Obviously this hasn't really helped either because now Blue Moon has a clear advantage. this is for all intents and purposes the same as when we gave Blue Moon an infantry on the single base map (see Figure 12).

The primary/secondary base map isn't quite as difficult to balance as the single base map. sometimes if there isn't much difference between the bases, moving the infantry back off the primary base a little is sufficient, but obviously centre properties will still have to be removed.

(fig 17)

Here is another example of primary bases. The top bases are no longer so isolated, but the key points on this map have be unevenly distributed. Making the bottom bases much more important.

(fig 18)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) KcDmMFn

Here Blue Moon has first build from the primary base. this means that they will arrive at the two nearby neutral bases first, capture first and then have first build from those as well. all together Blue Moon will ended up with first build from 75% of the bases and will arrive at 83% of the key points first. this obviously places them in the advantaged category.

(fig 19)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) YtBkA7I

Here the opposite is true. Getting first turn from the secondary base sucks and barly counters FTA at all.

The best way to balance this situation is make sure you divide key points evenly between bases.

Central key points.

We've come across central key points a little already in previous examples. Generally speaking central points are not a good idea, because they amplify FTA. In the first example there were two central points and each army got one of them so it worked out okay. But in the single base example the central property became a problem because only one side could get it, and that side was nearly always going to be the one with first turn.

(fig 20)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) Ks1UdNV

In Figure 20 there are two bases, and each base is an equal distance from the key point. It would be easy to assume that this is the perfect situation for a pre-deployed infantry just like on the first map. but unlike the first there is only one path to the enemy here and only one key point. This means whoever builds the first infantry will get there first. if Blue Moon has a pre-deployed infantry then they will have FTA. If they don't the Orange Star will have FTA.

The solution here is to avoid central properties. This does not mean you should avoid putting properties near the middle. in fact key points close to the centre are very important to promote fighting, but dead in the center is often not a good idea.

The high starting fund map

(fig 21)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) D4cjo32

okay so this map really does look like the first one, perfect situation for an infantry right? Well the difference here is that starting funds are much higher. What that means is that Orange Star is no longer limited to building just infantry on their first turn. They might choose to build 2 recons, or an infantry and a tank. Consequently Blue Moon's pre-deployed infantry is no longer sufficient to give them a pseudo first turn.

(fig 22)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) 7HWZDva

OS have FTA once again.

You could try giving Blue Moon a larger non-symmetrical advantage to bring the FTA back into check. but in all honesty Orange Star have many more options available to them now in terms of first builds. There is really no way to anticipate what they will do and prepare for it, and even if you did they would just do something else. The best solution is simple to not start with this many properties. The lower the starting funds the better.

The recon rush exploit

(fig 23)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) EMldgqK

this is a variation of the high starting fund map, but this time Blue Moon is the one that ends up with the advantage. The map in Figure 23 is almost identical to the first map. surly the pre-deployed infantry works here? Well actually yes this is a perfect occasion for an infantry. But the infantry is not the problem.

the problem here is the 4000 income on the first day. 4000 doesn't seem like much but it's just enough to buy a recon. For Orange Star buying a recon isn't a very attractive prospect because it will blow their entire day's funds. Meaning they can't build any infantry and they can't capture their key point.

BM however already have a free infantry. Usually this is considered fine because Orange Star get their funding first etc... but in this situation it allows Blue Moon to blow all their funds on a recon and still use the infantry to capture their key point.

(fig 24)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) CadKpqs

This is the end of day one. Orange Star started the game in typical fashion by building two infantry. Blue Moon however spent all their cash on a recon, but were still able to advance on the key point with their pre-deployed infantry.

(fig 25)
FTA Extended (by SmackCakes) TNFUqWP

The end of Day 2... Orange Star realizing what is happening build a recon of their own to fight back. But it is already too late Blue Moon are in control of both neutral properties.

This situation is actually fairly common, and many people play on maps like this without even realizing how unfair they are. Really this kind of thing just emphasizes why it is so important to keep starting funds to the absolute minimum.

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Post  Blanci Mon Aug 25, 2014 8:01 pm

Aah the  recon rush from the old forum ..brings back memories!

Although the idea of recon rush is clearly important, I pointed out years ago in the thread in old forum that this particular recon rush example as given is erroneous.  I provided analysis and others  verified that indeed the example doesnt work out if opponent plays cleverly !

I can recall or copy over the analysis when i get chance. Perhaps in the meantime maybe others might like to find the refutation. A CHALLENGE !  Actually it isnt so tough as there are not many choices available. Maybe even the Nintendo gameboy/ D's AI might find it. Anyhow the " refutation" can be seen on the old forum.

I think this serves is a good reminder that new players must not take previous old analysis and theory for granted. Every new generation needs to check over the details. Ok not every newcomer is going to have the patience and stamina to check everything but at least some players should be sceptical and make an effort .

Last edited by Blanci on Sat Feb 07, 2015 3:59 pm; edited 2 times in total


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Post  Blanci Tue Sep 02, 2014 12:42 am

There seems to be another unclear example. Please anyone feel free to check over the logic below and comment.

The topic of primary secondary key points at figures 18 and 19 may need improving.
The idea should be sound but the example seems a bit unclear.

First, The beach allows OS top infantry to quickly descend. So OS actually gets all bases first, with second turn status now at top. Simply removing the beach may be appropriate for this theory, disconnecting the top and bottom regions.

However , In addition the top region has  a contested frontline city. Whereas the bottom region doesnt have such obviously contested cities, though in practice they may be somewhat contested. In fig 19 , If OS managed with his fta counter infantry  to capture the top contested city meanwhile getting and maintaining his lower cities then he looks good, perhaps better.

The example may work better if there were, say, two neighboring frontline cities on lower region.(assume no beach so top and bottom disconnected) in this case first player to capture one would likely soon capture the other due to proximity of supporting home ciy and since this would be BM then even losing top region contested city , he would get both lower region contested ciies and come out one city up advantage on balance.

Please feel free to criticise this analysis. I think its ok but these things need checking by others too.

ERRATA: silly me... i had noted OS and BM wrong way round. now corrected.


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Post  SmackCakes Sun Nov 11, 2018 1:08 am

Thank you for reposting this, it is nice to see that it still exists omewhere. Smile

Blanci is correct that there is more to the ‘Recon Rush’ example. I was actually aware of this at the time, however, I decided to leave the example in there, because it was something that tripped a lot of people up, in real games. Building infantry on day one is quite a natural first move. Perhaps it is careless, but you wouldn’t normally expect something so ordinary to immediately lose you the game. In the example, however, that is exactly what happens. Perhaps it’s just personal preference, but I consider a map that has a ‘trap’ like that, right in the opening, to be a poor design.

That example is indeed the ‘odd one out’, because unlike many of the others, the ‘trap’ can be avoided with precise play. OS needs to build his own recon on day one, and leave a base empty. If he does this, then the rest of the game should play out ‘more or less’ evenly. There is no ‘trap’ for BM, because he can see what OS is doing, and has time to respond (unless FoW). That is why I feel the situation is unfair, even if it is a different kind of unfair to the other examples.

As for analysis of the maps... there probably isn’t much point. Even at the time of writing, they would have been considered terrible maps, that weren’t worth playing on. I certainly never played on them, and I wouldn’t expect anyone else to.

At the time, there were a lot of people who didn’t really understand FTA, and plenty who denied it even existed. People were sticking predeployed infany on maps, because other people told them to, but without really understanding what it was for. There was a lot of confusion and misinformation.

These maps were never meant to be played or replicated. They were just simplified (and rather contrived) examples, so that people could see the issues, and then ‘hopefully’ understand and avoid them in their own maps.

Ultimately, I think the examples did what they were supposed to do, which is introduce people to FTA, and the infantry counter. The examples might not be perfect, and under heavy analysis, they may even contain quirks that I didn’t foresee. But that doesn’t mean the theory is bad. I made these examples up as I was writing, to be a visual aid; the ideas about FTA, however, were developed by lots of people, over many years, thousands of games, and plenty of deep analysis. So even where my examples are bad, the ideas behind them are still solid. Smile

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Post  Master Knight DH Tue Nov 13, 2018 11:55 pm

I log in to post something and notice the new post. And actually, you couldn't have picked a better topic to post on, because I want to chip in with, you probably guessed it, another new idea.

Thank you for expanding on the problem with Recon Rush. There are some people believe you think in absolutes, but even if that was true, I still absolutely concur that an entire match being determined by your very first move is unhealthy gameplay. Let me add that Recon VS City Infantry is 49% before any CO-related changes. Doesn't seem like much? Well, if the Infantry was going to be much needed for multiple captures, that is going to lead to the Recon virtually paying for itself in ONE attack: in funds, the damage done is the Infantry taking 500G worth of damage, then the loss of 1000G from failing to capture the first City, and then a loss of another 3000G for the 3 Day total delay of the second City. That's 4500G, which is rather much that early in the game. Oh, and even Grit, on a little luck, could do this. This is begging for people to choose Sami to reduce the delay a bit with the capture bonus, which is its own problem of character bias.

Ironically, I recognize that the Recon's balance is a fine line, because of one general concept: formation. Most notably, the Recon is meant to be a fast-striking cavalry unit. Against scattered enemies, the Recon can do its pokes and never have to worry about retribution as long as the target is valid. Clusters, by contrast, are a different story, as the Recon barely damages anything and then the opposing enemies smash it easily. Since the Recon's only real valid targets are infantry, restricting its effectiveness to early game, it was inevitable that something about it would come up--not that I've ever seen a shortage of overly effective Fragile Speedsters in various games.

This actually brings me nicely to the idea I've been having in my head for some time now: 1 free Mech on the defense front for each player. Yes, I'm aware this would boost COs like Sami and Grit, but as usual, I'm for the execution being figured out for streamlining, so let me provide what I'm thinking: unit headcounts build up over the match, so predeployed units are far more subject to law of diminishing in the late game--the big issue is to make sure they don't break the early game first, but still having them blunt other early game issues.

The Mech would be solid for this. 2 Movement Power means he can't switch fronts easily, so he can't hope to create FTA from a front he's not even on, and being on the defense front means that if he even thinks of doing any overextended direct assault, the offense front's superior numbers will swallow him whole. What issue would the defense front Mech address? Vehicle FTA. Let me provide the nice numbers to showcase how the Mech would hold out against key vehicles in particular CO matchups.

Max Light Tank VS Jess Mech847558
Max Light Tank VS Grimm Mech1009275
Grimm Light Tank VS Jess Mech918163
Grimm Light Tank VS Grimm Mech10910081
Von Bolt Light Tank VS Jess Mech776953
Von Bolt Light Tank VS Grimm Mech928469
Jess Mech VS Max Light Tank494434
Jess Mech VS Grimm Light Tank585344
Jess Mech VS Von Bolt Light Tank443929
Grimm Mech VS Max Light Tank716349
Grimm Mech VS Grimm Light Tank857863
Grimm Mech VS Von Bolt Light Tank635642
Max Recon VS Jess Mech787054
Max Recon VS Grimm Mech938570
Grimm Recon VS Jess Mech847558
Grimm Recon VS Grimm Mech1009275
Von Bolt Recon VS Jess Mech716349
Von Bolt Recon VS Grimm Mech857863
Jess Mech VS Max Recon766853
Jess Mech VS Grimm Recon918368
Jess Mech VS Von Bolt Recon686045
Grimm Mech VS Max Recon1099876
Grimm Mech VS Grimm Recon13011998
Grimm Mech VS Von Bolt Recon988765

Doesn't seem so good for the Mech, but a second Mech can be purchased to stop an early vehicle from rampaging. I'm not going to do further calculations, but I'm sure you can come to the same conclusion that about anybody's Light Tank VS 2 Mechs guarantees a clear value loss for the Light Tank's owner. The Recon is the bigger threat due to lower value cost, but even then, a singular Recon also takes more damage, and two Recons is just asking to get minced by units that are more viable for late game.

This idea would actually help the Anti-Air Tank as well, because as long as it doesn't suffer an attack/defense mismatch, it will 1HKO the Mech. Fortunately, people won't destroy early game with it, because the Light Tank hard counters it for sooner. Of course, this does bring up that the whole idea actually doesn't address infantry lines, and I very much doubt spotting the player a free Anti-Air Tank even on the defense front would be a good idea.

...actually, I thought of another idea now, though more for navy maps: multiple Anti-Air Tanks on an island, since a Lander costs 4K less than 2 Anti-Air Tanks, even if transporting the 2 Anti-Air Tanks off of the island would no doubt time expenditure.

At any rate, summary is, predeployed units other than the FTA counter Infantry can actually help against FTA and other unhealthy gameplay but definitely would have to be used right.
Master Knight DH
Master Knight DH

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