Operations. Currently the only thing of note that a Task Force can do together as a team, making it the current central reason why Task Forces exist in the first place. These big base sets can take quite different tactics to manage compared to pretty much any other target. In this blog I will try to lay out a fundamental set of tactics that my own task force, CANADIANS-1867, led by me (Hiigara in game) has developed and used to progress through the operation ranks. The viewpoint is that of a tactical leader directing the rest of the members on a coordinated plan against each base.
Two main points about this guide:
-This is not based off of the views of a semi-elitist task force that strictly limits how low-level of a player they admit, heavily pushing to only have strong members and quickly kicking anyone who isn't up to their overbearing standards. This is based on a TF with a good 20-25 level spread of member levels, and every one of them can fill vital roles if done properly, yet still beat high Normal to Hard-ranked Ops.
-Over-teching an Op is not considered here. Any tactical discussions on a level 50+ player with end-game tech obliterating a Pencilneck base is completely irrelevant. The tactics presented below are based on Ops that are Hard or high Normal-ranked against your Task Force. None of what is presented below is based off of end-game tech players.
-The size of the rewards you see in the Op reward freighter depend on the size of the Task Force, the amount of points the entire TF together gets during the Op and a bit of scaling for your level, NOT HOW MANY POINTS YOUR OWN ATTACK GOT. Whether you got 100 points from soloing a base or didn't attack at all, if the sum total points at the end of the Op is the same for both situations your reward will be identical. So DON'T BE GREEDY and try to wait for others to do the low-point grunt work grinding through to a core which you then pop for minimal losses when you had the strength to put a big dent in a tough base. Ops are meant to be a team effort and the rewards are set up as such, so help your team!
-Lower level players will burn themselves out on a tough base before they do much of anything, and you'll eat up your attacks. A high level player with strong attack tech killing a nearly dead base that a lower level could handle is a complete waste of their strength. Direct the members where their strength can be most useful; not too much, not too little. For your upper level heavy hitters, call them out by name on a base note. To get lower levels to hit a weakened base, put a Level Limit on the note, e.g. "LEVEL LIMIT, 36 or less". Don't rely just on the Chat, that can easily get lost if people are talking quite a bit back and forth, but it is completely impossible for any player to start an attack on a base without the base note showing up on their screen at least once.
-Any troop can farm unguarded Power Cells. So what? You have to take the turrets to get the core; you won't win the Op on gunboats alone. Properly used your troops will do over 20 times the damage your gunboat could ever hope to achieve in one attack.
-Any troop can destroy an undefended Power Core. So what? You have to make the core undefended first, which is where the key discussions below come in.
-OBEY THE BASE NOTES! If you have a dedicated tactical planner for your Ops, they've been put in that role for a good reason. Don't go off on your own; you could attack a base on sight and melt through a dozen turrets, but if they're not even remotely close to the core and a different path mentioned on a note can get you to the core through half as many turrets, you've just completely wasted your attack. And if anything seems unclear, ASK FIRST. Don't shoot first and ask questions later.
This is a big one that could be a point of contention, so please keep an open mind.
Every possible troop type or primary combination can work if done properly on player bases, NPC bases and Resource bases (which will be referred to as Small bases in the rest of this blog) because of three key points:
1) There is a distinct limit to the quantity of the critical turrets that perfectly counter each troop configuration, especially on player bases
2) There is a distinct limit to how strong the Ice statue boosts will be on these bases, again especially on player bases, even the upper level ones where every statue is Ice because they are desperately trying to hold onto their VPs.
3) These bases are rather physically small; no matter where the critical building is (HQ, main resource base tower, etc) there isn't that much distance to move to get to it, especially important if smokescreen tactics are being used.
Operation bases have NONE of these weaknesses. Although you might get lucky and pull a rather soft layout that several additional troop configurations could work on, never assume you will especially when you start getting into the harder 4 base Ops like Powder Keg and Mambo. At these Op levels, positioning and distance are EVERYTHING; you want to avoid as many turrets as possible, and those you do hit you have to be able to take out safely and/or quickly. Because of this, several troop configurations that can work very well against small bases have proven time and again to completely fail on Ops; they need far too much stuff permanently stunned with Shock Bombs to operate which burns out your gunboat energy far too quickly to be effective. Any troop composition may work, to a point, but other troop compositions at equal tech levels will simply work better and you need to make every attack count.
So, the bad ones:
RIFLEMEN, ALONE OR OTHERWISE
When compared to several other troop combinations at equivalent tech levels, these fall flat all over the place. Their short range gets them in range of deadly stuff far too quickly; Rockets, Flamers and Shocklaunchers completely screw them up; they don't work as well as Heavies as a forward wall for Zookas/Tanks because they don't stand far enough apart from them to protect them from Shocklaunchers and even Rockets in some cases; they aren't a good "damage backup" for Heavies for the same reason, they don't stand far enough away to be protected from Rockets and Shocklaunchers; they can't handle running over very many standard Mines or Shock Mines; and finally the Building Damage boost from the statues is high enough at the mid to upper level Ops that their improved health over Zookas is overwhelmed anyways. Even against their "ideal" target, a pure Cannon and Boom Cannon cluster with no close heavy AoE support, a pure Zooka or Grenadier force just flat out outperforms them. Skip them.
As mentioned earlier, in the mid to upper level Ops positioning and distance are everything. Unlike any other troop, Warriors don't have any of either and their self-healing ability is not boosted by any statues so it gets completely overpowered. They live or die by your use of Shock Bombs and although they may be able to take out two or three key turrets on an attack, once the shocks wear off they will get obliterated in the blink of an eye. These points make Warriors the undisputed WORST troops to use on upper level Ops; although they have good damage output they get in range of too much nasty stuff far too quickly and have not even remotely close to the endurance needed to use their damage effectively. At the three base Ops and below, you may find small isolated sets (or singletons) of Rockets or Shocklaunchers far away from other support that Warriors could quickly get to and destroy, but such small spread-out pockets of artillery don't show up anymore at 4 base Ops and up and the Warriors won't really be able to handle anything else after that anyways, so on those SKIP WARRIORS COMPLETELY AT ALL COSTS. No attack should be launched with the intention of killing only two or three turrets.
Now the good ones.
These are listed as a Good troop, but only in very specific situations. Just like what was mentioned with the Warriors, their healing ability is not boosted by any statue. The damage output of the enemy turrets, however, is, and at the upper Op levels it will be quite heavily boosted. Except for very specific situations (which will be called out with other troop combinations) unless you can devote several size 20 minimum (level 16) boats to them they just get overpowered. However, in the aforementioned very specific situations they can be quite vital, so they're not counted out entirely.
Boat for boat their damage output is quite bad, but they have critically useful range and enough hitpoints to handle a couple of full Rocket Launcher salvos. Backed up by a hefty group of Medics (at least 12, preferably 16 at the upper Op levels) Tank-Medic can be one of the only troop combinations capable of handling a spread-out rocket line with no heavy Cannon or Shocklauncher support, as long as the Medics can handle the incoming DPS, in a long slow slugfest. Keep them away from Snipers too; at the building damage boosts you'll see at upper levels Snipers will also rip Tanks to shreds quickly. Layouts that allow these get rarer and rarer as you go up in OP difficulty.
Small overpriced indecisive bullet sponges, and originally considered a bad troop for Ops in this guide, however more recent experience has proven their worth in certain situations. One key problem with using Heavies as a forward wall for Zookas in higher level Ops is that the damage boosts get high enough that AoE turrets really start becoming a problem, like Flamethrowers and clusters of Rockets. One of your boats filled with Heavies may have a larger total pool of raw hitpoints for a forward wall than one of your Scorchers, and AoE turrets have a set DPS rate, however every additional target that an AoE turret can hit effectively multiplies its damage output against your wall, and can burn through sets of Heavies annoyingly quickly. There's also the fact that if individual Heavies on the outskirts of your Heavy line get dropped quickly from stuff like heavily boosted Snipers, Cannons, etc...your Zooka line gets exposed early on the edges and you'll start losing Zookas rather quickly. Against a Scorcher, however, those highly boosted AoE turrets get no multiplying factor because they can only hit one target and can therefore last a very long time; you just have to make sure to keep high damage single-target turrets like Cannons, Doom Cannons, Boom Cannons and high level Shockblasters stunned. One particular viable tactic against a base Power Core with a notable number of Rockets fully covering it from one side, get your force on the opposite side of the core and Flare the core so that your scorchers stay still while the Zookas work; the Scorchers will last significantly longer than a Heavies wall will. You will also need to be very careful of every single mine; without a wide Heavy wall running them over several could easily slip between your wandering Scorchers.
One final note: Scorchers only wander to a new building target if they see one within roughly the firing range of a machinegun turret, so if positioned properly you won't even need to flare a core or stun them to keep them staying still.
It didn't take long after several of our members unlocked these to find out that they are VERY useful in Ops. Big mixed clusters of short range turrets (Cannons, Flamers and Machineguns) show up frequently on upper level Ops, and Grenadiers are the only troop that can easily handle them without heavy shock support, sometimes even without any losses. Their range is their greatest strength, and as slow and inaccurate as their damage output may be they will slowly but surely melt through large sets of turrets that would quickly melt any other formation without shock support. Examples of this will be given below. It is highly recommended to issue orders to any TF member that has unlocked Grenadiers to also get all of their LCs to at least size 18 (level 14) to handle 3 each; you want as many Grenadiers as possible when you order a Grenadier strike, and don't bother bringing Medics; if they're getting hit by anything you're not positioning or using them properly. And since you're aiming to use them against stuff that can't shoot back you can focus all your gunboat energy to damage other critical turrets like touching clusters of Rockets; always remember to designate the gunboat targets when you order a Grenadier strike to not waste that collected energy. In some cases they may also be the ideal troop to actually hit the Power Core if they can safely do so unlike Zookas, although at upper level Ops it may take more than one Grenadier attack to pop a core. Adapt to the situation at hand.
Key note on them though: These are big guys, and they can tend to bunch up which can push some of them into range of Cannons and the like. If you can, try to keep them spread out when they attack their key targets to avoid bunching up.
The absolute undisputed champion formation of Ops in the most situations. It really is no contest; no other formation has the combined endurance and damage output of Heavy Zooka to put a deep, concentrated "punch" through a key area, and even if you do need to use Shockbombs to stun critical turrets like Cannons and Boom Cannons the damage output is enough to take full advantage of those critical few seconds. This has been seen in direct practice so often it's absolutely undisputable, and if you're worried about how you'll handle the small bases if you dedicate yourself to Heavy Zooka tech compared to the others, don't; Heavy Zooka is also one of the deadliest combinations against nearly any known base configuration if used properly and you're not drastically out-teched.
There is the option of putting Medics in with them, but keep a few things in mind. Against most Op Base configurations:
-Less than 3 boats of Zookas isn't enough damage output
-Less than 3 boats of Heavies isn't enough to properly cover 3 boats of Zookas, they spread out too much and the outliers will get snipped off early, unless you're burning through a spread out set of small turret pockets of mainly lower damage stuff. Then you might be able to sacrifice one boat of Heavies.
-One boat of Medics, even with 4 of them, really can't handle much at all since, again, their healing output can't get boosted by Statues but the enemy building damage does.
So if you're at least at HQ 16 and have your 7th boat to fill when you have 3 each of Heavies and Zookas, personally I recommend a fourth Heavy boat. Three boats of Zookas can do a LOT, and a fourth boat of Heavies to keep them alive longer is never a bad thing since if done properly your Heavies are the ones that will do the dying first.
UPDATE: The new Cryoneer troop released on June 6 2016 is a significant addition to Heavy-Zooka, giving birth to the Heavy-Zooka-Cryo or HZC formation. By slowing down enemy turret fire by a percentage which also drops their damage output by a percentage, and they spread out to hit un-frozen turrets as much as possible, this gives a significant increase to the endurance of Heavy Zooka far above what Medics could do at the upper Op levels with their unboosted healing. Since they unlock at HQ 20 and therefore at 8 boats, a good "standard" formation is 3 boats Heavies, 1 boat Cryos and the rest Zookas, preferably all at size 24.
Now for the Gunboat. What to do with all that energy? First thing to keep in mind, as mentioned before positioning and distance are EVERYTHING. The correct troop formation will profoundly outperform your gunboat no matter how many GBE statues you put up, if you use them properly. So always make sure you position your troops FIRST before you start launching damaging gunboat attacks. As for those:
ARTILLERY AND BARRAGE
At the upper Op levels (Powder Keg and above) the health boost from the statues is so great that even absolutely maxed Artillery and Barrage shots really start losing effectiveness, but don't completely count them out (especially if you're doing a proper Grenadier strike like mentioned above, or a power cell farming run). The best target for them is where they can hit several critical turrets at once, and more often than anything else Rocket Launchers in full protection range of the Power Core end up being the critical turrets to target. And if you are going to direct gunboat strikes at them, at the upper Op levels make sure you direct someone that can both farm a lot of energy with their troops and has high level Artillery and Barrage; don't let your potential energy farms get used up by someone too weak to do much with them.
At Ops around the level of Foxtrot is where these really lose nearly any effectiveness since you will start seeing bases with health boosts topping 600%. At this point even max level Artillery and Barrage are only useful for destroying something important that was critically damaged in a previous attack, minesweeping and perhaps one or two parting shots on something important if your troops or the timer are about to die.
FLARE AND SHOCKBOMB
Without question, these are the two most important things your gunboat can launch in an Op, with equal importance, if you haven't been ordered to do a Grenadier or farming attack. The importance of Positioning via flares should be obvious by now considering how many times I've mentioned it, and don't ignore leveling it. A 15 second burn may be enough for small bases but good Op base plans can often involve long-range runs, which you need at least a 20 second burn to really do well. As for Shockbomb, with a good troop composition (like Heavy Zooka) one well-placed Shockbomb could lead to the destruction of over half a dozen turrets which would have barely been scratched by the same energy costs in Artillery and Barrage. You could have a set of 1000% damage boosted turrets; a single Shockbomb stops them cold and lets your troops rip them to pieces. Always try to aim the Shockbomb to hit as many of the nastiest turrets as possible; it's possible to get up to 9 at once with one bomb if they're close enough.
Many players seem to have trouble using Smokescreen properly, especially when there is a long time delay from launch to landing because your troops are far away from the gunboat. And remember, some of your members may not even have it unlocked yet, so you should really focus on just breaking the turrets covering the critical path you have chosen to the power core. Still, it can be useful to get your troops through a critical, heavily covered but small area.
The statue damage boosts to turrets at the higher Op levels really starts to overpower this, and even during attacks on higher level small bases. So really don't rely on this too much. However, if your other attacks like Shockbomb have been used enough that their energy costs are too much but Medkit is still quite cheap, it could buy you those last few critical seconds you need to drop one more turret. So don't forget about them.
As annoying as it was, removing the abilities for Critters to follow flares and get boosted by Magma statues was a good thing to prevent this ability from being completely overpowered. However, this also means that this ability has extremely limited use. They can be used to distract a set of slow, single-target turrets like Cannons/Boom Cannons/Doom Cannons for a brief moment, take out undefended power cells and due to the slight triggering delay of small Mines one well-placed Critter shot could have them run through and trigger quite a few in a dense field, such as the ones the Circuit Board map is known for, allowing you to spread out the cost between these and Barrage to clear them.
Making A Plan For An Op Base Set
Once an Op is started, the very first thing that is needed before anyone attacks is a plan. The best plans for Op bases follow three key principles:
1) Completely avoid as many turrets as possible. Sounds simple, but a surprising number of people don't actually practice this at first. Every turret you can completely ignore is one less drain on your gunboat energy and troops.
2) Get Zookas into Core range. Without question, Zookas are THE ultimate Power Core killers. Boat for boat, not only do they have the highest possible damage output at equal upgrade levels past level 9, their range - surpassed only by Grenadiers - directly ties into principle 1. The trick is getting them there.
3) You need a good starting hit. For your lower level members to survive long enough to do anything, your higher level heavy hitters need to break open a starting hole in the most critical defenses, usually Rockets in core range. You will need to really understand what each of your heavy hitters is capable of and assess which of the Op bases they are best suited to do the most critical damage without wasting their strength.
With the above three principles in mind, knowledge of positioning and range of the turrets and possible troop combos, for each base you should be able to pick out the "critical path" that can get Zookas (or in some cases, Grenadiers) safely into core range so a decent number of them can fire on the Core without anything shooting back. Here's a couple of examples:
Here's a fresh Komondor base from the Mambo op. Looks kind of nasty doesn't it? So where do you start?
Look for the holes.
To begin with, that forward line of Cannons and Machineguns that are also decently covered by the southwest line of Rockets and Shocks....is no different than a line of Power Cells if you use Grenadiers, which outdistance everything:
Slowly but surely they can mow down that entire line, and the energy collected can be used to hit key rockets on the left. That south double line of Boom Cannons can be completely ignored, as can the south Rocket and Shock line which are out of proper range of the core from the north. If you can get past the left Rocket and Shock line, or at least drop the Rockets, a Heavy Zooka attack with little to no Shockbomb support can completely shred the Shocklaunchers and the Mortar line, and that Shock in the corner by the core, then a Grenadier strike can flatten all of that short range stuff close to the Core allowing themselves or Zookas to fry it.
A second example:
Here's a fresh Armadillo map on Mambo. Looks nasty doesn't it? But look closer...those left four rockets are out of range of the core, and a big chunk of that stuff in the southeast corner and around to the back is short range turrets that are fodder for Grenadiers:
This particular attack was done by yours truly. With a single Grenadier strike I took out over a dozen short range turrets and several Power Cells around the outer border and gunboated down that rocket quartet touching the core at the same time. One more Grenadier strike and Hooka strike each after my attack and we were pretty much in spitting distance of the core from around wide right. It was level limited immediately after that, and didn't take long to drop.
Sometimes you'll get lucky with a layout that allows something more sneaky.
Here's a fresh Gambit map from the Sour Grapes op. Look at how soft the stuff is along the left wall and by the core. I had to boost my GBE, TH and TD masterpieces for this, but:
I carefully landed my troops with a bit of Smoke cover from the boom cannons and moved them hard left to farm a bit of energy from the cells.
Then I started the main smoke rush up the wall, starting to the corner,
then continuing up the wall to just northwest of the core.
The flamethrower and shocklauncher by the core were the most dangerous turrets, so I stunned them out and let my troops go to work.
With the few key turrets by the core dead and my troops repositioned to be out of range of everything else, all that was left was to watch the core die.
So there are always options. Look for the critical path and the critical pocket where you will hit the core, and kill everything that can hit that pocket or path as you try to get Zookas or Grenadiers through it to the core.