Looking forward to StarCraft II? You're not alone. The original version of StarCraft has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide (putting it behind only World of Warcraft and The Sims in sales), it has inspired its own course at the University of California, Berkeley, and it has even become a major national sport in South Korea. Now, after a five-month period of private beta testing, version II is ready for release.
Before you lead the charge against the Zerg, however, you'll want to brush up on your skills a bit. Here's how to avoid making the most common newbie mistakes--and save yourself from a butt-whupping. Be aware, too, that you can skip the launch-day lines by predownloading the client. Just log in to Battle.Net and pay on launch day to start playing immediately.
Getting Started With StarCraft II
If you've played only a few single-player missions in the original StarCraft, there are a few basic things you need to know about the game.
Use Attack to move units. When you select your units and order them to Move, they'll go to the specified destination but ignore any enemy units they pass along the way. To avoid this suicidally single-minded behavior, select your units and use the Attack command to send them to the desired location. They'll reach their destination just as quickly; but if they run into an enemy ambush, they'll defend themselves.
Try the A.I. Don't dive into the ranked mode games--you'll get stomped, and you won't learn much from the experience. Instead, open your own Custom Game and click the Add A.I. button to add a CPU-controlled player. Set the difficulty level to Very Easy, and you'll have all the time in the world to learn the technology trees and to practice deploying your units.
Use the Help menu. StarCraft II's built-in Help menu (accessible from the in-game menu or by pressing F12) can give you a brief overview of each race's tech trees, units, and potential counterunits.
Pick a race and play with it for a while. Each of the playable races in StarCraft II is very, very different: Protoss units are expensive but hard to kill, Zerg units can swarm across the map with cheap, disposable units, and Terrans can control the map with imposing fortifications and powerful ranged weaponry. Try each of them, but then pick the one you like best and stick with it for a while--it's easier to learn how to play one race well than to master three of them at once.
Avoiding Common StarCraft II Newbie Mistakes
If you completed the original Starcraft campaign and maybe played some games with your friends, you probably already knew all of the preceding tips. However, you can squeak by in campaign mode despite making a few common mistakes or falling into a few bad habits; those same mistakes and habits will get you killed online.
Build more workers. Workers give you money, and you need money to finance an army. If you think that you have too many workers, build an expansion at another mineral patch and send half of your workers over there--and continue building workers from both Command Centers. One base can support about two workers per mineral patch and three workers per Vespene gas geyser, so it's time to expand once you have about 20 workers at a base.
Keep an eye on your opponent. If you know what your opponent is doing, it's easier to devise an effective counterstrategy. Send an SCV out to look for the enemy maybe a minute into the game, and conduct additional surveillance periodically. Sacrifice overlords, build observers, use ComSat scans, whatever--few things are as frustrating as building a strong ground army and then losing because your opponent made a single air unit that you had no answer for.
Use the keyboard commands. Ordering your units around with the mouse is slow. Each command has a keyboard shortcut, such as A for Attack and B for Build. Get used to the keyboard commands, and your army will feel like a well-oiled machine.
Build lots of first-tier combat units. New players often try to build up their tech tree as quickly as possible because they want the big flashy stuff--and just as often lose to a guy who builds a handful of cheap attack units and attacks early. Think of it this way: you have to earn those big flashy units by living long enough to get them without losing, and for that you need Zerglings/Zealots/Marines.
Spend your money as quickly as possible. Money in the bank is money that isn't winning you the game. If you have more than 300 to 400 minerals on hand, you're not spending fast enough.
Don't worry about towers. Bunkers, Missile Turrets, Photon Cannons, Spine Crawlers, and Spore Crawlers--they're all great until someone walks right around them and kills all your dudes. Use them sparingly--a less-powerful unit that can move is often far more useful than a powerful one that can't. If you see your opponent building a bunch of towers early on to protect their base, relax--it means they're spending all their money on towers instead of on an army or on new technology.
Don't forget the detector. You'll want at least one unit that can move and detect cloaked units--Protoss Observers, Zerg Overseers, or the Terran Raven (or ComSat Sweep). You don't want to lose just because your opponent built one Dark Templar.