The technical definition of a counterattack or a counteroffensive is an offensive performed to retake an advantage lost by an enemy operation. A good example of a counterattack in a war would be the Mortain Counteroffensive during the Battle of Normandy. As RTS games usually only represent a single battle instead of multiple offensives, counteroffensives are technically impossible (unless you go and ask for a rematch :D). Counterattacks in RTS games take on a different form.
We all know the phrase, “Offense is the best defense”. Counterattacks in RTS games are usually defensive moves. There will be situations where you cannot meet your opponent’s advancing army head on due to having a weaker army yourself, or due to having a non-ideal composition. In these instances, it might be better to attack your opponent’s base while his army is marching across the map. This move is called a counterattack.
This tactic can force your opponent back to deal with your attack, buying you enough time to set up static defenses and build reinforcements. Or he can continue on his warpath towards your base initiating a race on whoever destroys his opponent’s structures and economy faster. Counterattacking forces a response which may or may not put you in a more favorable position.
When to Counterattack
Counterattacking is usually a defensive move as you would have no reason to risk a loss from a base race if you know you could take on your opponent’s army and defend his push. Conversely, a counterattack is usually employed when you can’t, due to perhaps a variety of reasons. Maybe his army is twice as large as yours or maybe your army composition has absolutely no hope of countering his. Or maybe you just need a little bit more time to build reinforcements, although in this situation, you may not want to lose your counterattacking force… just in case.
The Base Race
As I’ve said, your opponent can respond in one of two ways. He can respond by going back and dealing with your attack. But he can also continue his attack towards your base, conceding his own base in order to destroy yours. He passes the ball to your court and it’s now up to you to respond. If you managed to do enough damage to his base and able to procure additional reinforcements to take care of his attack, you can try to head back to your base yourself and defend. Or you could also continue your attack while you rally any reinforcement that goes through towards your attack. The goal now becomes to kill his stuff faster that he can kill yours, colloquially known as the base race.
Base race scenarios are usually always messy and coming out on top will always nearly depend on how much experience a player has in these situations. It’s always a good idea to save money to rebuild a new main building just in case. Remember to hide workers as well! In some RTS games, siege units help a ton during a base race.
If you want to read more about tactics in RTS games, I will be compiling a list of blog posts I do on tactics in a single page listed here! Thanks for reading!