When and Where to Expand
Wed 8th Aug 2012 - 5:38pm: Starcraft II
Expanding is a critical element of nearly every players Starcraft arsenal. Knowing exactly where and when to expand, in many cases, can make or break a game. Taking an expansion is not always as simple as one might think, expanding at an inopportune time can leave your opponent a very wide timing to make an attack and you will either have very little to defend with, in terms of army, or be in a horrible location on the map. Because expanding can be tricky, I felt it necessary to devote an article to help players evaluate when and where they should be expanding.
As every Starcraft player knows, the Ladder is a very peculiar place, especially in the lower leagues, where attempting strategies that the pros pull off is simply impossible. Strangely, expanding can actually be one of those things. Most low level play is centered around 1 base all-ins and strategies of that nature. With that comes two problems. If you get to higher leagues, those strategies will begin to fail and secondly, not knowing how to expand or develop into a macro game can simply devastate your gameplay progression.
So the first logical question is: when do I expand? Well there are a number of good answers to this question. As the saying goes, “when you’re ahead, get more ahead,” so if you find yourself in a significant lead and in a position of dominance on the map, it never hurts to throw down an expansion just to give yourself that extra bit of security should to game carry on a bit further.
While this situation may seem like a bit of a no-brainer, I have seen many a ladder game slip out of a player’s grasp because they thought they could win in the heat of the moment and when their attack ultimately failed, they had nothing to fall back on. It is important to be able to realize that when you have a lead, you should try and stretch it rather than risk it.
What about early game situations though? This is often a point of contention among many players. I have always been of the mindset that it is a sign of an intelligent player to know when to let your opponent have an expansion. If you see your opponent going for their natural at a relatively quick time, it doesn’t really hurt to go ahead and drop yours down too. This is a point in a game where decision making really comes into play.
You have two choices: expand as well, or, go for an incredibly aggressive 1 base all-in. I am generally far more in favor of the former. Thinking you can take out an expansion and devoting your entire opening to it and failing is a surefire way to lose the game in a matter of minutes. Instead, take a step back, expand, and try and play out a longer game. There is nothing worse than trying to play the early game while being one base down.
As the game progresses you will probably start thinking about how and when you can take your third or even fourth. This decision typically comes up at around the time your army is getting maxed and most players are thinking about attacking and how they can get the biggest and most powerful army and often overlook expanding.
Think about it this way. If your attack does do decent damage, but doesn’t win the game, you need to be able to remax quicker than your opponent and not be out of resources. For this reason, taking an expansion when you are about to engage in a large battle is often recommended. Besides, if you are maxed and are starting to build up a bank anyway, feel free to maybe even throw down a double expand! It can almost ensure victory if you have any success with your attack.
Once you’ve made the decision to expand, you need to decide where exactly you are going to expand. In my article about picking the right maps I did a race by race breakdown of generally where each race should be expanding, so for the purposes of saving space, you can view those articles below.
Essentially, what you want to look for in an expansion is one that is close to your main that you can defend and does not have a number of attack paths leading to it. Maps like Cloud Kingdom LE and Ohana LE have incredibly accessible natural expansions and make taking a second base incredibly easy, regardless of race.
But what if you want to be a little bit sneaky? Taking a “ninja expansion” is usually the answer. Executing this is a very high risk-high reward kind of play. If you manage to secure a ninja expansion and it goes unsoucted you can almost guarantee yourself a victory because having two bases worth of incomes while your opponent only thinks you have one, generally puts you in a phenomenal position. However, these ninja expansions are typically far from your base and in locations that are not particularly easy to get to meaning that if it gets found out, you will most likely lose it and be put into a significant disadvantage in the game.
A little tip for Terran players in regard to taking ninja expands is that you should always dump as many MULEs as possible into it. The reason is because your MULEs will deplete the resources much faster than SCVs so if the base does get scouted, you were able to harvest much more of the resources from it.
Ninja expansions can kind of go either way. I wouldn’t argue in either way of it necessarily. They are kind of useless in the late game because most of the map has been scouted anyway so you should try and keep new expansions located closer to your army.
When it comes to actually expanding you need to be able to stay safe. Splitting your army to defend a third and natural is almost always a good idea. This allows you to by some time by having some units engaging while the rest of your army makes its way back in. Throwing up some defensive structures like Photon Cannons, Bunkers or Spine/Spore Crawlers are also invaluable when it comes to expanding. All of those things can afford you the extra few seconds you need to get your army into the right position.
Simply put, expanding is just an overlooked and incredibly important aspect of the game in the lower leagues. While 1 base all-ins can certainly be effective if you really catch your opponent being greedy, more often than not you are far better of expanding too!