Planetary Annihilation Strategy
Got eco and production nailed down? Been winning more games than losing? Still feeling that something is missing? This guide offers you insight into that missing something: an understanding of the greater mechanics at work on such large scale battlefields, information that transcends the current meta. It’s all about your Planetary Annihilation strategy.
Being able to see the grander scheme of things will win you battles much more often than skills with the mouse and keyboard ever will. You’ll find something to help improve your game in here.
This guide is aimed mostly at intermediate and pro players who want to further up their game through greater understanding of large scale warfare, and it’s content can mostly be applied to other RTS as well. It aims to identify key components of winning strategies, regardless of map, context or scale of the conflict. Think of it as a small treaty on virtual warfare.
Herein you’ll find many warnings about common mistakes made by intermediate and even pro level players, along with more general strategies to up your game and general food for thought. I will elaborate on many of the concepts found in the Planetary Annihilation Pyramid – it’s an excellent resource and I recommend it for all PA players.
If anyone reading this feels I missed something important or would like to provide examples of how these “grand strategies” have helped them achieve dominance you’re more than welcome to add a comment, I’ll add the good stuff to the guide. If you think I’m full of it you’re still welcome to comment. If you’re a new player but ended up here, great, welcome! But first you should check out The Foundations of Good Play and 2.5 Minutes to Becoming a Better PA Player.
The first notion that needs to be understood in order to begin grand strategizing is battle spaces. Those are commonly defined as ground, water, air and orbital. It’s not entirely false, but it’s important to further subdivide different areas when dealing with such large scale combat. In the case of a moon your battle spaces could consist of ‘Metal Cluster A’, ‘Metal Cluster B’, ‘Large Metal Plains”, ‘Airspace’ and ‘Orbital’, therefore dividing “ground” into 3 major areas. On an Earthlike planet every major lake and ocean would become its own naval battle space, while ground would again be divided into areas according to resource proximity and clustering along with physical segregation. An area walled off by mountains that generate choke points for instance could be it’s own battle space.
The same concept can be extended to all other types of planets. Before you pick your commander’s landing site, take a look around your starting planet to identify these battle spaces. Make sure you understand which ones are of economic significance and which ones are of military significance. Just because an area is devoid of metal doesn’t mean there’s no reason to be there.
As you progress into the late game you may want to take another look around the system and redefine your battle spaces. With long range units like Shellers and GIL-Es entering the field, the concept of military significance changes radically and you should acknowledge that when defining your battle spaces. Lakes make a good example of this: during T1 warfare, naval is fairly restricted, but when you acquire T2 the range on a Leviathan can suddenly make the lake important, allowing denial of large areas to your enemy. You don’t want to commit to it too heavily, but you should certainly look at it differently as you pan around the map. If your enemy thinks of it first and sails across that lake unopposed you may come to regret your decision.
Choosing Your Battles
Before the battle begins you have yet more analysis to perform, and that will lead to our first decisions! Now that we’ve identified our battle spaces we need to figure out which ones we will attempt to dominate, which ones we will attempt to deny, and which ones we will simply ignore. Resource rich battle spaces should be your first priority. Look carefully at the terrain in that battle space as it should dictate what sort of units you’ll be producing. Large, open terrain will usually favor swift units such as bots. There’s nowhere to corner them and they can use their speed and agility to keep the opposition at arm’s length, picking off one side of the formation. Conversely, very restrictive terrain favors tougher units such as tanks. They can simply push against the opponent until it’s backed into a corner or draw them to a choke point where you can out-range them while managing their numbers.
Scouting wins games can’t be said enough.
Once your units have taken over you should move fabbers in to establish a forward base and some raiding defense; the bulk of your main army should move to occupy areas of military importance such as choke points or enemy production centers. Air units are of course useful in all situations; see the Air Supremacy section for details.
When the game begins, if you are losing the war for dominance of a specific battle space it may be wiser to pull out your main army and instead use harassment tactics to force your enemy to overcommit to it while you turn your attention elsewhere. Just make sure “elsewhere” can supply you with sufficient eco to compensate for the loss of the other battle space.
Now you figured out where your primary focus should be and what sort of units will get you the best results there your strategy is starting to take form! We’re not done analyzing just yet; turn now to the other battle spaces you’ve identified. Do you have a big enough attention span to dominate them too? Your opponent will ultimately dictate whether or not you can attempt domination over multiple battle spaces, depending on how he chooses to divide his own eco and attention. It is better to win the eco-rich battle space while your opponent wastes resources defending areas you don’t care for. In most situations however, there will not be a single eco rich area. Since you cannot have a major presence in all major battle spaces, you must deny those you cannot rule to your enemy. Denial is often much easier to achieve than domination and requires much less of your attention span. Denial tactics alone will not win you the game, but they are essential to victory. This is often achieved through static defense (a Pelter with a few turrets and walls for instance) and raiding. Since you do not plan on permanently occupying the area yourself you do not need to engage the enemy. Just have your raiders wreck eco and any production found while avoiding confrontations. Not only will you score some good metal damage, but you’ll be keeping your enemy busy away from your real target.
Finally, you’ll need to look at the other battle spaces: those of limited value. Lakes are again great examples of that. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go there, but make sure your presence is well measured. A presence in a lake that extends between both spawn areas will allow you to use the powerful ship-mounted weapons of naval units, but once you’ve cleared the coasts it’s all wasted metal. In such a situation you would be wise to attempt domination or denial with as few resources as possible because even if you fail at your objective for that battle space it cannot cost you the game. Your resources would be much better spent going for the land and air should the majority of the metal be on the land. Similarly, a major choke point between you and your enemy may well be worth deploying some assets, but if you commit too hard to it your enemy will simply find another way to attack. You should never completely abandon a battle space as even a tiny, intermittent presence can force your enemy to overcommit to a useless battle space, giving you more freedom in those that matter.
Now that we know where our forces will be concentrated, where we’ll be using denial tactics, where we won’t be doing anything except raiding, and what kind of units will be our primary focus, we’re about ready hit the start button!
The Great Game Begins!
You know all that planning we’ve been doing? This is where it falls apart!
Planning is important as someone without a plan is doomed before the battle even begins – but you must be ready to discard your plan at any moment. Reacting to your enemy is more important than carrying your plan forward, but if you have good intelligence gathering in place you can often counter your enemy without diverging too far from your original goals. These things have been explained in much greater detail in other guides but they can never be said enough:
- always be expanding your eco
- always be expanding your production
- always be raiding
- always be scouting
- always be producing units
- if you lose your scout or fabbers then replace them ASAP, but don’t go mass fabbers unless you already dominate all relevant battle spaces and have eco to support it (and even then it’s still a gamble)
Expanding eco and production should be done in the battle spaces you plan on dominating. You should nonetheless expand your eco in every direction. If your opponent can’t be bothered to raid then it’s free eco, otherwise it’s a single lost fabber, no biggy. You can then put some of that “free” eco to good use either asserting domination of your chosen battle space or setting up anti-raiding defense in your new eco field in case your opponent wakes up. When you do so, take 15 secs to queue up lots of buildings so you won’t have to look that way again unless trouble comes at you. You can then turn your attention back to your main battle spaces while your fabber places eco and raiding defense.
While your fabbers are doing that your scouts should be working at uncovering your enemy’s plans. What kind of factories are they building? How many do they have? Do they have static defense and if so where are they weakest/absent? Where are their armies and what are they composed of? Even if your enemy completely dominates the map you may locate an undefended path to send Boom bots through, or a convenient spot to drop a Teleporter and move your army right into their base while their forces are away dominating the field. Scouting wins games – can’t be said enough. On defense it will tell you what counters to prepare and on offense it will find you the path of least resistance. Make sure you get scouts added to your regular production lines. I personally like to have 1 air factory producing one air scout for every 5-6 fighters and bombers, this way I always have one handy before I send out a strike force. If you’re not scouting every 3 or 4 minutes at least, you’re asking for trouble.
One very common mistakes seen amongst new players is the tendency to build a single unit for their armies. “Going Boom bots” or “going Grenadier” are terrible ideas as once your enemy knows about it – which should be fast if they’re scouting – because they can then devise counters that guarantees them victories with a high metal destroyed to metal lost ratio in every engagement. Even if you do adapt it may be too late to recover. This is true for any and all units. Therefore unit mixes impose themselves as the more powerful solution.
You may want your raiding force to be made up of Dox exclusively to leverage their speed, or your air force to be exclusively fighters if you’re planning on denying the airspace rather than taking it, but your strike forces should always be mixed units. The mix itself should be determined based on scouting and include the counter(s) to whatever your enemy is doing. If for some reason you haven’t made contact with the enemy yet – different spawn planets for instance – then the safest course of action is to use land factories and produce lots of Bolos, a few Infernos and a few Spinners on repeat until you can locate your enemy, unless all the planets in the system are water planets or something – context should influence strategy.
Mass defense are actually a blessing to the opposing player
Do not focus on a single type of factory either. If you finally come across your enemy and they have mass Boom bots you’ll be happy you had a pair of bot factories ready to spit out Dox to counter. If you don’t have tanks (or naval on water planets) you’re missing out on the hard hitters. If you don’t have bots you’re missing out on the fast and annoying Dox or the powerful (and often underestimated) Combat Fabbers. If you don’t have air you’re giving up on a battle space and rapid response capabilities. Regardless of my overall strategy, I usually try to have a handful of other factories kept for special purposes.
Unlike Supreme Commander you can’t make custom formations for your units, but the AI is still pretty smart about it. Your Infernos will end up on the front line with the Dox as a screening force; your tanks should form up on either sides to cover the flanks; the Spinners and Shellers should find a place at the back away from all the raging projectiles; squishier attack and support units like Combat Fabbers and Grenadiers will find themselves in the middle protected by armored units on all sides. The same applies in the air: the bombers will hang out behind the fighters when flying formation so that they can drop their bombs in relative safety or at least have time to turn around should they find themselves in trouble.
In short, larger, mixed unit formations can better exploit the benefits of all your units while mitigating their weakness. This creates a more effective combat force than the same amount of metal spent on any single unit type.
Finally, there is one situation where you may want to drop this rule entirely and focus on a single unit type: the snipe. Sometimes you’ll find an opportunity, an undefended back door, a lone Commander that thinks itself sneaky or that’s been forgotten by the player, etc. In those situations it may be appropriate to temporarily halt all non-essential production and focus on the snipe. You’ll need to recognize the opportunity, your window of opportunity and when it closes. If you overcommit to the snipe and fail it may leave you vulnerable. You should never rely on sniping, but should be ready to do it at any moment.
On The Offensive
When attacking your enemy you often have a lot to gain by splitting your strike force into two or more groups. Most people respond to an attack by grabbing all nearby units and sending them at the first group they see. If you have another approaching from a different direction it will likely face little opposition as it makes its way through the enemy base. Even if your army is destroyed you’ll have scored some good eco and production hits, and you likely have a new army freshly produced and ready to march while your opponent is busy repairing the damaged you caused.
This is especially true when assaulting the enemy’s main base early on. The Commander’s Uber Cannon can rip right through an army, but the Commander can only be in one place at a time.
Be aware of your enemy’s radar positioning. If they see both armies coming at them they may be able to react, but if you have the second group skirt along the edge of their radar range you can wait for them to commit to defending against the first group before you send the second one in.
If you are spotted, you’ll need to decide immediately whether you carry on or retreat. Every second you waste thinking about it is a second your enemy gets to mobilize against you, and they likely have new units coming out of factories nearby to assist.
Remember that your armies need protection themselves. Don’t send a tank army without Spinners mixed in or air support nearby unless you’re sure your opponent has no bombers or gunships. Same for your airforce: make sure there’s a place they can retreat to that has anti air coverage in case they run into a larger fighter force than they can handle.
When an army is broken by static defense or large unit clusters, don’t send the next army that way! As always, scout for a weakness, find another way in, and suddenly all the fancy defence your enemy built is nothing but wasted metal. Mass defense are actually a blessing to the opposing player as its all eco that’s not going towards mobile units and therefore can only be involved in engagements in a very small part of the map. If it truly bothers you that much, take it out with artillery or air or something that your enemy hasn’t prepared a counter for. Armies should never fight mass defense.
On The Defensive
I won’t be the first to say this, nor will I be the last – the best defense is a good offense! If your opponent is busy defending against your attacks,then they’re not attacking you and you don’t need to be defending. That being said, you should always worry about raiding groups. Since they are usually made up of fast units a counter raiding force should be air. The other option are static defenses – this is where they really shine. A pair of laser turrets with a wall can deal with some fairly large raiding forces. Throw in a Pelter and a radar and your enemy will now need to mobilize a real strike force to take down your eco, a strike force that won’t be elsewhere doing what it’s supposed to do.
You could add to that a handful of units, maybe a few Dox in case of Boom bots, or some Grenadiers for long range AoE attacks, but don’t overcommit – you have the main battle spaces to worry about! If your enemy does mobilize a strike force against your small defense, your own counter offensive will benefit from the wall’s protection allowing you to score some good hits.
The only time where defense is a valid strategy would be when outnumbered in a team game. If you’re 2v1 on a planet, you may want to turtle hard while your allies take over their own planets. Your goal is only to be a pain to your opponents while your allies plan a large scale invasion. If you do it right your opponents will waste a lot of metal on you while your allies build up their own eco in preparation for some game-ending move. Always keep in mind: if you defend one side of the map then your enemy is likely to come from the other.
When playing against human opponents, there is an additional battle space to consider: the mind. It can be exploited in many ways. A scared enemy makes mistakes, and even if it’s just a game no one likes to lose, so you can put the fear in them.
This is accomplished by giving your enemy the feeling that you are, in fact, an omnipresent deity. More specifically, by raiding. Raid often and everywhere. You don’t need to monitor those raids personally, just grab those Dox that you haven’t been using, split them into two or three groups and queue orders for each group to go around the planet from one metal field to the next. Soon enough your enemy will be dealing with more alerts than they have attention and that will cause most people to spread themselves very thin, defending every little piece of land they own. That’s when you march the doom army into their main base!
If you’re on the other end of such tactics, don’t panic! Identify key areas to concentrate your defense and more importantly seek out ways to retaliate. Let your opponent know that you won’t be going down that easy. Be a bully, if they are hiding in their base then make token attacks to keep the pressure on, or just patrol units at the edge of their radar range. If they’re raiding you all over then don’t just rebuild, respond in kind. If you can’t have the eco then neither can they!
Raid often and everywhere
You win the psychological game by forcing your enemy to go on the defensive. If you can force them to go full turtle out of fear of your omnipresent units then you’ve already won the game. Whatever happens, you have to keep the pressure on, even if you’re under considerable pressure yourself.
The larger the map, the more you will benefit from owning the skies. If you cannot take them for yourself you must deny them to your enemy. Air units are very fragile, but are equally useful thanks not only to powerful weapons but also their unrestricted mobility. A handful of bombers can destroy a ground force many times it size if the ground force doesn’t have Spinners in roughly equal numbers mixed in. If a critical mass of bombers is achieved, carpet bombing becomes possible, allowing you to stomp out entire armies and bases by just flying over in formation.
For this reason you should always have an air presence on all but the smallest of moons. Combined with proper scouting, an air force can quickly strike at all undefended areas across a planet. If, like me, you’re not big on air, do at least have a few air factories producing fighters so you can respond to enemy bombers and maintain air superiority in your defended areas. Unless scouting has revealed no enemy air presence at all, you should expect bombers to respond to land movement as soon as you leave the comfort of your defended areas. Keep your fighters on alert nearby, preferably hot-keyed to a control group.
Should you find yourself against an enemy with no air presence, you may want to consider shifting most (not all!) of your production to air units. You would own a battle space that overlaps all the others on that planet and in which you are uncontested, an advantage that can’t be overlooked.
Finally, in multi-planet systems you’ll want to have some Phoenix fighters at the ready too as soon as you have dominance over your starting planet. One of the most common strategies to defend an uncontested planet is to use patrolling air units along with mass air fabbers. A group of Phoenixes can usually destroy all the fabbers in seconds and pick off large numbers of aircraft that are scattered all over the planet before your enemy can group them, paving the way for a main invasion force. It’s also a good idea to stop T1 air production once you own your starting planet as it cannot be used to attack other planets, and you can’t win by defending. The eco will be better spent on getting a foothold on your enemy’s planet(s).
The orbital layer is unique to Planetary Annihilation and is often overlooked. It is the hardest battle space to dominate and the easiest to deny; as such you should aim for denial unless you have reason to believe (scouting!) that your enemy would be caught completely off guard against orbital strikes – no Umbrellas, Avengers and few or no fabbers around the strike area or worse: no Orbital Radar. SXX Lasers are extremely dangerous weapons, but all it takes is a single Umbrella to make them impotent. The Umbrella being much cheaper than the laser platform, it’s an easy decision.
The orbital layer is also where we find the best scout units in the game: radar satellites. They are sturdy and with a single mouse click can escape any and all threats, provided there are at least 2 planets in the system. That ability means you can use them effectively even if you do not control the orbital layer of another planet.
There are special circumstances where you’ll want to treat the orbital layer differently: gas giants and SXX snipes. SXX lasers in sufficient numbers can usually accomplish their mission even if you do not dominate the orbital battle space of a given planet. A small Avenger escort will allow them time to charge the lasers and unload them on the poor Commander below. On gas giants, domination means access to the incredibly effective Jigs and all the beautiful metal and energy they produce. Gas giants win wars, do not allow them to be claimed uncontested by your enemy.
If your enemy constantly destroys your jigs, make sure they can’t have any of his own. Jigs are fragile and do collateral damage when they explode, so it usually doesn’t take much to deny gas giant eco to your opponents. Consider setting up orbital factories around gas giants so you can produce Avengers and replace fabbers in-situ. If you’re uncontested on a gas giant, start queuing all the jigs you can safely fit (I recommend the “better jigs” mod to make that easy) and have one of your orbital factories mass produce fabbers set to assist the main builder. Your eco will grow exponentially as long as your opponent doesn’t wise up and contest your claim. If you remain uncontested then you’ve already won as your eco will allow you to send salvos of 20+ nukes at your enemies every few minutes, or build 5 Catalysts in less than a minute, etc.
Like real life militaries you may find that sometimes a small group of carefully inserted units can do more damage than your doom army you’ve been preparing. These “special operations” will require a lot of your attention span but can absolutely wreck your opponent. Common examples of this include the Inferno drop or the Teleporter team.
All such tactics rely on your awareness of the battlefield versus your enemy’s. If they don’t notice that you dropped two Infernos in the back of their base then a lot of power plants can be destroyed before a counter is mobilized.
As always, scout first, then look carefully at the layout of enemy structures and eco farms. Are they bunched up real tight with no air defense? That’s a job for some Pelican dropped Infernos. Spread more loosely? Airdrop some Combat Fabbers instead and throw up a Teleporter. Large group of fabbers making their way to start a new forward post? Send a quick bomber to ruin their fun. Undefended metal field? That’s not for spec ops, your raiders should have handled that already.
People will tend to identify front lines and consider everything behind that to be safe, often leaving holes that a spec ops unit can easily exploit to great effect at a low metal cost. The main resources you’ll be spending on these attacks is your attention, which of course is needed to monitor the op for maximum results. At worst, your enemy sees it on radar and responds with their air force and kills a handful of units, but a single successful op can gain you victory by crippling your enemy’s energy, which means no radar, no fabbers, no Umbrellas, no production, etc.
Combining spec ops units with regular assaults is even more terrifying as a good main assault force usually won’t need much microing from you, but may set your opponent in a panic organizing the defense, pulling away troops that could counter the spec ops. If you further divide their attention with some Dox raiding elsewhere you increase your chance of success substantially. The more you divide their attention the longer your spec ops team will have to operate with impunity.
The ultimate spec ops unit by far is the Unit Cannon, but by the time you have access to it your opponent will have more options to counter too. Scout well so you do not squander the initial surprise on low value targets. If you can, go for a Commander snipe because they’ll only be surprised once by the cannon, if at all.
Nukes, bodies with Halleys and activated metal planets may sound like great strategies, but they are not. These weapons end games, but they do not win games – an important distinction. In most cases, if you ended the game with a super weapon its because you had already won the game and just needed to decide which was the best way to strike the final blow.
Making super weapons your strategy is likely to get you killed as it may cause you to ignore dominance over eco-rich battle spaces. If you claim those areas – which you can only do properly with a unit presence – then your eco should easily ramp up. Once eco ramps up, super weapons are an option, still not a strategy. The strategy remains the same as always: expand, scout, raid, be a bully, find a weak spot, then strike hard and fast. Maybe your scouting will reveal no anti-nukes, and (assuming you have eco dominance) only then should you commit to nukes, and only if you can eliminate or cripple all opposition in the opening strike.
Planet smashing is often seen by newer players as a win button, but it is not so. First, the smasher deprives themself of all the eco on that body, so they can’t afford to miss in many situations. If they do not kill all enemy commanders then they’re out of a super weapon and lots of potential eco. Usually by the time you’ve got the eco to start smashing planets your opponent has everything he needs to evacuate his base should you try to smash it. Its not like they won’t see it coming! If your entire strategy was to smash a planet, you may return home to find it invaded.
The Annihilaser is unique in that once it is built it actually is a win button, unless you somehow finished it while the planet was still contested. That being said, it is still not a strategy, as if you rush the Catalysts you’re announcing to the world your intention, position and will be putting all your eco into it while your enemies stage proper invasions. If you follow the usual plan of constant expansion and aggression, at some point you’ll have the eco to just build it and end the game, but you will have won by owning territory and keeping your enemy on the defensive, not because you built the laser. That’s just how it ended.
In short: super weapons are amazing options to end a game, but they do not constitute a plan in themselves and lose effectiveness if you cannot achieve complete surprise.
There is an exception to this too: long games. It should certainly not happen in smaller games, but larger team games or FFAs can sometimes extend beyond 30 mins, at which point it is not unusual to see “planetary fortresses” – planets blanketed in Umbrellas and Anchors or similar defensive mechanisms. If you cannot break the fortress through conventional means you may need to fully commit to super weapons. Planetary fortresses are very demanding on resources, so you’ll usually be able to out-build the defender. You can use your super weapon to open up a landing site for an invasion if the Commander is too well defended. Just follow up that nuke with some orbital fabbers or Unit Cannon with Combat Fabbers mixed in to drop a quick Teleporter and move in the land armies.
So you’ve followed all my fancy advice and you’re still getting your ass kicked? Don’t despair, maybe your opponent is faster and has a greater attention span, but you might yet be able to steal a victory from this.
If you find yourself losing the eco wars and see no way to come back, don’t delete your comm just yet! While your opponent is winning and dominating the metal-rich battle spaces, they just might become careless, assuming their marching doom army cannot be stopped. This might open a window for a desperate snipe. Halt all your production and go Boom bots, or bombers, or SXX, or whatever your scouting says has the best chance of success. You’re losing, might as well play for all the marbles. I’m not exactly a pro player myself, but I’ve stolen a few victories from much higher ranked (and talented) folks than myself because I caught the Commander off guard while they were managing their doom army. Again, the key is to keep scouts on-hand.
This of course implies you should beware the same thing befalling your own Commander. If you’ve got the enemy up against the ropes, take a second to go mind your Commander.
If for some reason you’re reading this and don’t have the Planetary Annihilation Mod Manager (PAMM) then get it right now! UI mods are a legitimate way to up your game, even in tournaments, and all the pro players use them. They range from cosmetic changes to a 2nd PIP camera, going through adjustments to hotkeys, default orders and building placement, extra map tools and a whole lot more. If you don’t do it, your opponents will, so why deprive yourself of the goodies?
Feel like all UI mods are cheating? At the very least get PA Stats. It provides and stores extremely important data to up your game and comes with a global chat function where you can meet all the pros in-game; the devs even drop in to say hi!