Here’s the first of hopefully more posts where I try to dig into Hero Academy tactics a bit. It started with a position I was thinking about in a League game recently–I tried to recreate it so I could take screenshots and I think I made an example that illustrates the point well. Warning in advance that seasoned players might find little holes the analysis or identify the superior lines of play easily, but this example should be close enough to make the concept clear.
I’m playing DE vs. TF2 as second player, and it’s my second turn (League match so opponent has taken 8 actions and I’ve taken 5). I don’t want to analyze the opening moves themselves though (that’s a separate topic) and instead just look at the current position. I don’t remember if my hand is identical to what it was in the actual game, but the key fact is the absence of a Priestess or Soul Harvest.
My 3 options generally are:
- Play a defensive/developing move, set up a position that continues to be safe against the Heavy while I dig for a healer.
- Knock down the Heavy with the Necromancer by moving him either one square south, or moving the Monk off the attack tile and then moving the Necro on (let’s assume the latter option, which is likely stronger since it leaves me with slightly more aggressive positioning).
- Move to either of those two squares and use the Scroll to KO and Phantom the Heavy.
The move we’re going to analyze today is 2. 1 can be done a variety of ways, but in general will leave open the possibility of a very strong crystal rush from opponent depending on what’s in her hand. Also, since I don’t have a healer, it’s very hard to be safe against the Heavy, since he can 3-shot any unit in melee, including my upgraded Necro. 3 gives the opposite result, I take all the initiative, but this is very early to use up a Scroll for a pretty marginal trade (one TF2 unit) so I really want a stable solution that avoids using it.
Let’s look at the position after 2:
First order of business, why it this is useful move for me? It’s usually bad practice to do partial damage (including a KO) against units in range of healer. But here it took 3 hits to KO the Heavy (one advantage of the positioning on the Attack square) and would take 4 heals to get him back to full (she can’t away with healing him 3 times since 900 HP is still in 2-shot range of the Necro). Her best way of healing the Heavy is actually to upgrade the Medic and heal 3 times, leaving him at 1170 HP (and then 1 AP to retreat). So what I can do in 3 AP she can undo in 3 AP, and I safely gain a little ground and set up a position covering the Assault square, and threaten to KO again next round.
But there’s a retaliation we have to worry about. What if she uses 1 AP to revive the Heavy, 1 to advance in melee range of the Necro, and 3 to KO the Necro? This is the resulting position:
Now, will she do this, and if she does, how does it turn out for me? This is the crux of the matter. And the whole outcome depends on whether I have a revive ability (Priestess or Soul Harvest) or not.
- If I do, I revive the Necro using 1 or 2 AP, kill/stomp the Heavy using any combination of stuff, and heal or even potion the Necro if I need to be safe. (I can actually consider just KO’ing the Heavy again, which might be safe since there’s no way for her to revive the Heavy and retreat safely, but we don’t have to get into that here). Either way, I’m in a position of strong advantage–killed a Heavy for free, ahead in development, and threatening to pick off a Medic right away.
- If I don’t, this turns out really badly for me. The best I can do is probably advance the Monk and drop the Medic in 4 hits (more valuable than killing the Heavy). She can retreat the Heavy and kill the Monk. I’ve lost 2 units and a Sword and have no units on the board, and the only consolation is taking out one of her Medics early (and not even that, if she has a Respawn in hand).
If I had the Priestess in hand, this would be a great opening. I could take this line of play confidently. Either my opponent uses the aggressive response pictured above and I blow her out, or she retreats and I start gaining ground.
But in the case at hand, I don’t have it. And any way you slice it, this potential response is a disaster for me. So what do I do?
The interesting option I want to discuss here is to go ahead and make the move anyway. I’m not saying it’s always right, but it’s a very important option to consider. In fact, if you don’t consider it, it’s a mathematical certainty that you’re not playing optimally. Your opponent does not know what you have in your hand, and if you never put them on a difficult decision based on that, you’re giving away most of the value of having a hidden hand in this game. It’s very easy for people, typically, to understand the importance of playing around important threats in your opponent’s hand, but for some reason harder to imagine making them do the same. But if you think of all the times you’ve passed on valuable moves because the threat of, for example, a Scroll made it too risky, it might become clearer.
In the case outlined here, my opponent will estimate the chance of me having a revive ability as something quite high. With 5 revive items in 25 tiles she hasn’t seen, even ignoring the Monty Hall probability effect (because I’ve not written that up in detail yet), the chance is 78% (with Monty it would be 88%). So don’t ask, “am I going to make a high-risk, high-reward move here”. Make your opponent ask. You get stuck making that call enough when the key item is (or isn’t) in your opponent’s hand. Don’t take it upon yourself to do it when you have the information and they don’t.
If they call the bluff? They will some of the time. But if you don’t ever do it, you’ll lose even more games by giving up the chance to gain a decisive advantage when you had it. This isn’t to say you should always be reckless. But when weighing the risk and reward of possible outcomes, always keep in mind that your opponent has to do the same.