Hey, everyone! Welcome to our new piece of Daily Content! Every Tuesday, we will be releasing articles about our games! These can range from simple things like analyzing the base pentagon in BattleCON to complex card counting in EXCEED. This week, we have a BattleCON Guide from Aliphant! Credits to D (Daniel Zeiger) for helping with the editing.
An Introduction to Positional Counterplay
This is the second of a two-part series about positioning in BattleCON – this article draws from material covered in the first, so if you haven't read it already, you can check it out here. If you understand the basic concepts of positioning but want to take your play to the next level, this article is for you.
The first article nailed down the fundamentals of positioning; this article introduces a more dynamic perspective. Now that you have the tools to evaluate the board state and figure out the best positioning for yourself and your opponent, it's time to learn how to use those skills in a particular game and adapt your game plan in response to your opponent's actions.
What is positional counterplay?
Good positioning is about learning the positions that are most valuable to one player, but positional counterplay is about interactions between both players. Counterplay is an extension of normal gameplay that takes into account the entire game state; positional counterplay is therefore a process of jockeying for favorable positions between players. Key spaces are contested, fighters move into and out of preferred ranges, and card lock is exacerbated by errors and punished by the opponent.
Your goal is to seize valuable positioning while simultaneously denying the opponent valuable positioning. If your positioning is better than your opponent's, you'll have an easier time landing and avoiding hits. Remember: your decisions matter. If you make your moves with the intent of maximizing the value of your positioning, you will have the upper hand.
This guide is by no means exhaustive – far from it. It covers only the broadest strokes of positional counterplay and only to a limited extent. Skill at positional counterplay will naturally come with experience in applying the concepts in this article to actual gameplay. With that said, I hope this article will help you understand what you need to do to improve your game.
The Tortoise and the Hare
In BattleCON, movement effects happen one at a time in whatever phase of the game they trigger, starting with the Active Player's effects, then moving to the Reactive Player's effects (if relevant). So when jockeying for a better position with your opponent, is it better to have your movement effects trigger before or after theirs?
The principle underlying this dilemma is simple: fast is strong, slow is safe. That's quite an oversimplification, of course, so let's break it down.
Slow Movement Effects
"Slow" movement effects are movements effects that trigger later than other movement effects in the same beat. This does not necessarily mean that they are attached to the Reactive Player – the Reactive Player's Start of Beat (SoB) movement is "faster" than the Active Player's End of Beat (EoB) movement, for example. There are two main advantages attached to using "slow" movement effects.
- Slow movement effects are more flexible. Because slow movement effects happen after other movement effects have already occurred, they give you the ability to respond to opponent movements that have already happened.
Consider the following scenario as an example:
Here, although Rukyuk is the Active Player, Hikaru's SoB movement on Dodge goes first, before the After Activating (AA) movement on Reload. Since Hikaru is a melee fighter who wishes to stick as closely as possible to Rukyuk, a ranger, the spaces marked with black dots are the most viable positions for Hikaru to move to.
We see here that the slowness of Rukyuk's movement effect has granted him more powerful positioning. If Hikaru moves onto the black dot on the right, Rukyuk responds by moving to the leftmost edge (marked with a red dot) to maximize the distance between himself and Hikaru. However, if Hikaru dodges to the black dot on the left, Rukyuk can instead choose to move to the rightmost edge (also marked with a red dot). Because he selects his movement only after Hikaru has committed to his, Rukyuk is able to decide how far he wants to be from Hikaru at the end of the beat.
- Slow movement effects are more secure. Security, the counterpart of flexibility, ensures that your opponents do not alter your positioning with their own movement effects. The simplest way to deny your opponent flexibility is by having the slowest movement effect. This prevents them from moving after you, which makes your position secure.
To illustrate this concept, consider a similar scenario to the one above.
In this scenario, both fighters have played Dodge, each with different agendas – Hikaru wants to get closer, while Rukyuk wishes to move further away, as usual. Because Hikaru finishes his movement (to one of the spaces marked in black) first, Rukyuk is free to move to his preferred range (by moving to one of the spaces marked in red). He doesn't have to worry that Hikaru will chase him and close the gap, because he possesses the slowest movement. Hikaru cannot possibly alter the positioning after he is done moving. Thus, Rukyuk's slow movement provides security in his positioning.
Because of these advantages, movements that trigger later are often considered more powerful (with EoB movements being the most powerful of all), with the Reactive Player's movements considered more powerful than the Active Player's movements during the same phase. This is not, however, a universal rule. In some cases, moving sooner is better.
Fast Movement Effects
"Fast" movement effects are, unsurprisingly, the opposite of slow ones: they are movement effects that occur earlier in the beat than others. Although they are less powerful than "slow" movements, they have some unique advantages of their own.
- Fast movement effects are able to contest key spaces.
Only one fighter may occupy a space at any given time, so the first one to reach a key space (the center or the corners) can claim it right away and hold it until they're forced to move. In situations where both fighters wish to occupy a certain space, a fast movement effect may allow you to seize it before your opponent gets the chance. Let's examine a different scenario to illustrate this principle.
Here, Shekhtur, a melee fighter, wants to seize the strategically important center space (marked in black). Since Karin is a mid range fighter, she desires the center in order to keep Shekhtur from having it. Shekhtur wanted to move into the center with Unleashed's After Activating effect – but because Karin's Dodge activates at Start of Beat, Karin is able to take the center before Shekhtur gets the chance.
When both fighters are vying for a key space (whether because they both want it or because one of them doesn't want the other to have it), a fast movement effect allows you to claim that space first and put the kibosh on your opponent's plans.
- Fast movement effects are able to manipulate the direction of mono-directional movement.
In BattleCON, the movement keywords "Advance" and "Retreat" are always relative to your opponent. If you can manipulate where you are in relation to your opponent, you can force your opponent to move toward the "wrong" part of the board with their Advances and Retreats. To use the example given above, Karin was able to make Shekhtur move into an undesirable position (the corner), even though Shekhtur had originally been poised to move into a position that controlled the entire board (the center). This is because she switched sides with Shekhtur, so that retreating forced Shekhtur to move toward the corner instead of the center.
Switching sides with a fast movement effect allows you to control the direction of the opponent's movements relative to the board. This is especially relevant if you can force them into the smaller "half" of the board, guide them towards or away from the corner (whichever is more advantageous), or otherwise muck up whatever positioning they were trying to get.
The Doom of Damocles
Positioning matters because it is good to hit your opponent, and it is good to avoid getting hit. In no other situation is this more apparent than in situations where a dominant threat is in play. Dominant threats warp the decision-making process of both players because they're nearly unbeatable by conventional attack pairs – examples include Cadenza's Clockwork Shot, Hepzibah's Anathema Bloodlight, and Byron's Soulless Shot. Usually, the only recourse is to dodge these attacks (by playing Dodge or Dash).
Not every game will involve a dominant threat, but when one is on the table, positioning becomes more crucial than ever before. The two principles behind these threats are obvious, but they can be difficult to apply if you're not used to them: try to make your dominant threats unavoidable, and try to control your opponent's dominant threats.
As the player that holds the dominant threat, you should be looking for one thing in particular – the corner. The corner is a key space that many fighters seek to hold, but it is even more relevant when you have a dominant threat in hand. Fighters in the corner cannot be dodged – by removing the one source of counterplay every opponent has toward a dominant threat, you can set up beats where they are completely unable to stop you from hitting them for 6 or more damage. Vying to set up such unstoppable attacks frequently characterizes high-level play between characters with overwhelmingly powerful payout attacks.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Setting up and executing an unbeatable attack is one of the most dramatic displays of the power of positioning, and it can easily turn a losing game around. However, there are a few steps that must typically be completed before an attack is truly unstoppable.
- Set up in the corner.
Dominant threats do not generally block dodges by themselves, so you will need to rely on the corner to set them up. Although you can play a dominant threat and simply hope the opponent doesn't dodge, this leaves your ability to hit with your most powerful attack up to chance. I do not recommend playing BattleCON in this manner. Instead, you should negate the risk of a dodge ruining your plans (and discarding your greatest threat) by planting yourself in the corner so that your opponent cannot move past you.
- Keep your enemies close.
Your opponent cannot move past you if you are in the corner, but they may still be able to move out of the Range of your attack by using Dodge or Dash to retreat. Many dominant threats have Range 1~4 or better (e.g., Cadenza's Clockwork Shot), which prevents nearby opponents from retreating out of range with Burst, Dodge, or Dash. It often helps to move your opponent into the space adjacent to the corner with Grasp or other movement effects so you can move yourself into the corner (typically with Dodge or Dash) as soon as an opportunity arises.
Keep in mind that an ideal setup can result in a large life swing. Aim for the corner, move the fight to the edge spaces, and be willing to make bad trades (i.e., deal less damage than you take) if the move that trades poorly also leads into the setup you need.
Of course, you can't assume that your opponent will happily allow you to set things up. Opponents will often take the corner space to keep it from you, even if it's not one of their favored spaces. If contesting it with a fast movement effect (as described above) is impossible, consider an alternative setup where the opponent is in the corner and you are at Range 4. Just like cornering yourself, this prevents Dodge and Dash from moving past you unless the opponent gains additional movement from their Style or antes. If you can put the opponent in a position to choose between taking the corner (allowing you to set up at Range 4) or giving it up (allowing you to corner yourself), you can...
- Force your opponent to play sub-optimally.
Your opponent will most likely be aware of your dominant threat and how you can set it up (if they don't seem to be aware of it, it is your duty to crush them with it until they learn to respect it). If they feel the need to play around it and prevent you from setting it up, their attacks and positioning decisions become more predictable.
For instance, an opponent may contest the corner so they can be sure they'll be able to dodge your dominant threat. You can then take advantage of the inherent weakness in corner positioning: players in the corner can't Burst. In this manner, other powerful threats that would normally be beaten by Burst (e.g., Shekhtur's Jugular Brand) become available.
If they play to avoid one attack, they risk playing into the other, and vice versa. The idea is to force a very difficult choice for your opponent, one that leaves you with strong options to play against them no matter what they choose. Keep the threat hanging over your opponent's head to force them to play conservatively, and if they start taking risks in an effort to escape, you can punish them easily.
As the threatened player, your objective is to prevent the threatener from achieving an ideal setup. You need keep your opponent second-guessing and unable to properly bring to bear the pressure that such a threat can exert. When positioning as the threatened player, in addition to other considerations, you must always keep a second way out. If your ability to evade the dominant threat is entirely wrapped up in a single Base (e.g., Dodge or Dash), playing that Base leaves your opponent free to crush you with their dominant threat. If you are forced to play your only answer, do so in a way that leaves you with another answer open the following beat.
This principle is easier to understand with a case study. (Studying counterplay requires more examples than studying principles alone because it's important to see how various positions conflict and interact.)
Zaamassal, who fears Cadenza's Clockwork Shot (his dominant threat) has decided to play Dodge, hoping to bait it out. Unfortunately for Zaamassal, Cadenza has simply played Press. Now that Zaamassal no longer has Dodge in hand, Cadenza's dominant threat will be much harder to answer. The question is: where should Zaamassal move with his Dodge?
At first, it seems intuitive for Zaamassal to seize the key corner space by advancing. However, due to the immense threat of Clockwork Shot, it's actually better for Zaamassal to retreat 2 spaces to avoid the Press. This allows him to always leave a second way out. By retreating 2, Zaamassal leaves open another way to avoid Clockwork Shot on the following beat – namely, by using Burst to retreat out of range..
Positional Counterplay Cheat Sheets
Hopefully, you now understand positional counterplay, how it is derived from the fundamentals of positioning, and how it can help take your game to the next level. As before, here are some quick references:
Relative speed is about the order in which effects are triggered, but Priority is still important!
The Active Player's After Activating is always faster than the Reactive Player's Before Activating.
But, even a Reactive Player's Start of Beat is faster than any player's Before Activating.
Thanks again, Aliphant and D! Tune in next week for another article about our games! Tells us the kind of content YOU want! Just put it in the comments below.