First, the strat: use a compact team of Elite Special Forces and Assault Infantry under the cover of a General’s Ambush to instantly capture the enemy’s capital with no warning. Combined with the Super Collider and World Government, this eliminates the enemy player within seconds of your Elite Special Forces becoming visible, and provides no obvious visual or audio queue for your opponent to react to until it’s too late.
Although difficult to accomplish, this is a cheese strat I find quite rewarding to pull off. I imagine it would also be somewhat tilting to lose against, because to some players it’ll feel as though there’s no counter (which for the record I don’t think is true).
At its core, this strat utilises the well known combination of Super Collider -> World Government to immediately activate whichever win condition you have available. The difference here is that there is basically no alarm or warning. Unlike nuclear weapons or a Wonder victory, a warning sound will only play after your Elite Special Forces finish their Sabotage, at which point it’s too late to do anything. There’ll be a notification for your Super Collider being built (which a seasoned player will be wary of), but nothing else that rouses suspicion.
Let’s be realistic. This isn’t something you can pull out every game. The hurdles for succeeding with this strategy are steep.
- A large squad of Elite Special Forces is actually quite expensive since they ramp up to cost 120 Metal 120 Wealth, and you’ll already want to have a few ESFs escorting ground troops elsewhere (making the cost “pre-ramped” when you build a brand new batch for this strategy).
- It requires you to navigate past any Lookouts / Static Anti-Air Defenses. Alternatively, it requires you to make your opponent focus really intently on an area away from your path and his capital.
- Super Collider and World Government have a very high combined cost, and the Super Collider takes an awful long time to build. If you invest too much into having the resources and manpower to build it ASAP in a game, you leave yourself open to being overpowered by standard military forces (since you’re spending those resources on non-combat investments).
- You have to make it to the Information Age in good shape! This is probably by far the biggest issue here, although it’s absolutely possible to use this strategy during Age 6/7 at a smaller scale to simply take a city quickly, rather than try to win a game or eliminate a player. Even then, this strategy is very “slow” – and slow strategies often lose to well executed “fast” strategies because they simply take too long to pay off.
One saving grace for this strategy is its usefulness in a stalemate. Whether due to distance, defender-advantaged terrain, or some other factor entirely, you’ll sometimes get stuck in the mud with your opponent, with neither of you seemingly able to make any headway into the other’s territory. If you’re in that position, the Stealth Elite Special Forces Insta-wiN (henceforth SESFIN) might just be for you.
Here’s your SESFIN shopping list.
- A bunch of Elite Special Forces to reduce the city. I believe a Major City buffed by a fully upgraded Temple + Lumber Mill has 16250 Hit Points. This means you must have an absolute minimum of 6 ESFs1 to 100-to-0 the capital. If the city has no Temple or your opponent hasn’t finished their city-buffing Temple and Lumber Mill research, you can technically get away with less than that. If your opponent has anything to buff the city further (Mayans, Temple of Tikal etc), you may need to increase your minimum. Either way, I recommend aiming for 8-12, which gives you a bit of breathing room in case you sustain a couple of losses during your secret mission. If you’re particularly worried about losses (perhaps the city has a two or three towers next to it), even 16 wouldn’t be too unreasonable.
- At least one General for his Ambush special ability. You’ll need to use this while you’re out of sight, and ideally navigate around anything that can reveal stealth. For that reason, I suggest going with 2-3 Generals so that you have more time to maneuver. With two or more Generals you can also use Forced March to speed up your journey, but this also makes it easier for units to become mispositioned before you can correct their pathing.
- A handful of infantry to capture the city. The type of infantry isn’t strictly important, but Assault Infantry are the fastest and cheapest option, while offering the best all-rounder in a fight if you get caught out. Whichever infantry you choose, you’ll need enough of them to overpower the city’s immediate vicinity (typically just citizens), but you’ll want to keep the group’s overall size manageable so that you can move cohesively. If you have too many units, it increases your chance of being detected. Too few and the city won’t be captured after you reduce it. I recommend a minimum of 8, but you might be able to squeeze in with 6, possibly less. Since they’re cheap2 I’d aim for 10 or so, but you may want to go with a few more than that to firmly ensure the capture goes through if you’re expecting some light resistance.
- The Super Collider built or nearly-built by the time you reach the capital. This alone can make some players antsy, so you might need to defend it while it’s being constructed.
- Enough Food and Knowledge on hand to research World Government as you finish the Super Collider. It’s extremely unlikely you can stealth in a force large enough to hold the capital after capturing it, so you’ll need World Government’s instant-capture for this to work.
- Optional: Supply Wagons to prevent attrition. While not strictly necessary, your infantry do take attrition damage even through stealth. Adding a wagon or two makes the unit group slightly clumsier, but the group should still be small enough to be manageable.
- Optional: A distraction or diversion. Pretending you’re Snake is all well and good, but there’s a high probability that there’ll be SAM sites or other stealth-revealers somewhere along the way to your objective. While being detected by them won’t literally warn your opponent with an audible alarm unless you open fire, you definitely don’t want to give your opponent the chance to notice you if you can avoid it. Temporarily throwing your army at something of importance that’s some distance away from his capital should be enough to keep your opponent’s eyes away from his impending defeat.
So far I’ve attempted to use this strategy once against a Toughest in a 1v1, and a couple of times against a friend while playing online. All three times were successful, but it’s important to point out that I had an upper hand to varying degrees in each of these games already. I was in a position to choose how I won, not if I won. That doesn’t mean that this can’t work in games that are close, but it’s definitely more done for style points than practicality. As previously mentioned, the resources required to pull this off (and the risk that it won’t succeed) mean that your opponent absolutely can counter it: by spending the same thousands of resources on an army and airforce, and using it to not only thwart your preparation (defensive scouts / SAM sites / helicopters, destroying libraries, destroying Super Collider before completion), but threaten your capital. At the end of the day, most cheese can be easily countered by a smart player.
One situation that makes it easier to pull off is any mode with Sudden Death or Sudden Death Capital as the win condition. For example, shortly after writing this article I pulled off this strategy a fourth time in Assassin – against the person attacking me.
Where’s the fun in giving your opponent any warning?
A more pragmatic version of this strategy would be to use Cruise Missiles to remotely reduce the city, then use a group of infantry with both Ambush and Forced March to sprint to capture it while the missiles are in the air. Bombers and nukes are also options, but tend to provide a lot more time to react – whether proactively or reactively. That’d be no fun now, would it?
Replays of this strategy are now available in my public Keybase directory!
(2021 update: I legit accidentally deleted the entire folder on Keybase whoops. If you’re reading this and actually care, hit me up and I can probably dig up the replays for you)
- 1v1 vs Toughest (when I had the slow Super Collider).
- 1v2 vs friend, using the strat to avoid a messy fight.
- 1v2 vs friend, testing the strat for the first time.
- Assassin game – here I use the strategy against my target and then immediately follow up by using a variation of the strategy (mostly planes and ground forces) against my attacker, much to his surprise.
- Assassin game – accidentally selected Random and ended up with Lakota; utilising pre-scouting to ensure it was a viable option, used the strat in tandem with conventional forces to knock out my attacker and avoid a messy late-game fight.
- Bear in mind that although Commandos, Special Forces, and Elite Special Forces all have the same basic Sabotage ability (reduce building’s current HP by half), the minimum damage dealt increases as the unit is upgraded (200 -> 400 -> 800). Some targets will need slightly more Commandos / Special Forces to destroy than if you were using ESF.
- Even though they’re not technically “cheap”, in terms of late game resources Food and Timber tend to be less of a resource bottleneck than say, Oil or Wealth