Building Your Skillset

From Armagetron

This article is for new players that want to get good at the game. It provides a path to follow and discusses the basic set of skills that are needed to play the game. Even older players can benefit from this article, and are invited to contribute their collected wisdom.

Server Selection

Armagetron's extreme customizability means there some servers are wildly different than local games. Generally you'll wind up playing in popular servers where the people are nice to you, regardless of settings. However, to get really good at the game you will want to gravitate toward servers with with these settings:

  • Low Ping (more responsive, less lag)
  • Low Rubber (you should explode if you touch a wall for more than a fraction of a second)
  • Finite Trails (forces you to interact with opponents more often)

There is a fine balance between speed, rubber, trail length, turn radius, and arena size. It's hard to find the "Goldilocks zone," but if you see some players doing amazing things you'll know you're getting closer.

Some servers disable brakes. It's debatable whether leaning to play without brakes is helpful. Some players see brakes as a crutch, but others see brakes as an essential part of advanced maneuvering. It's probably helpful to disable your brake key and try playing without them for a little while because brakes are temporary and sometimes you won't have any to use, so knowing how to control your speed without is a good idea.

Likewise, you should occasionally play on high ping servers to be familiar with how network latency affects your ability to survive.


Grinding is such a basic part of the game that it's the first area for you to focus on. If you can't grind well, you can't accelerate well, it's as simple as that. Grinding can be defined as "Getting as close to the wall as possible without crashing, and turning so that you are running parallel to the wall". This is for any player's wall as well as the Rim Wall. In order to grind, you approach a wall and actually hit it. At the moment of contact with the wall, there will be a slight pause before your cycle explodes into pieces. The length of that pause is determined by your speed and the amount of rubber available. When you have run out of rubber, you explode. So the longer you wait before turning, the closer you will be to the wall after you turn.

Grinding is also a tactic, as well as a basic maneuvering skill. As a tactic, it's fairly straightforward. To seal someone in a box, you have to grind the open points on the box, closing the box. To drive someone into a corner (any corner, not necessarily the grid corners) you have to grind both sides of the corner, leaving one side with enough space for the player to reasonably get in it and sealing the other side so they can't turn without hitting your wall. Grinding as a tactic can be effective, but is also easily defeated by better grinding, so while you need to build this skill first, it's a skill you should work on intermittently on its own. Instead, focus on working grinding into the rest of your tactics, where it will serve you best.

More information can be found on the Grinding page.


Speed confers a strong advantage to a person who can maneuver at high speeds, but a tactical advantage can also be gained by being good at low speed maneuvering, especially against someone who depends on speed and is therefore likely to have a weakness in low speed maneuvering. As you pick up speed, it becomes harder to grind any wall you approach, because the magical period during which you have struck the wall but haven't crashed is reduced in time, requiring faster moves to make the grind.

Speed isn't used as a standalone tactic, generally. It is part of every move you ever make, however. A speed kill is generally associated with a pretty simple kill that you earned through the advantages conveyed by high speeds, but the kill itself is usually very basic in nature. If your speed is high enough compared to the bike you've targeted, it is possible to build all four sides of the box around that bike before they escape and/or attack you directly.

To build skills at different speeds, you want to work in both an open grid and a pretty confined grid. The open grid will give you plenty of opportunities to work on grinding at high speeds, and the confined grid will give you plenty of opportunities to work on maneuvering at high speeds in close quarters. The open grid will also give you an area in which to work on building a high speed and maintaining it. Reaching a high speed is generally pretty easy, but staying at a high speed is harder because as you get faster you have to grind more to stay fast.

Building Speed With a Launcher

One of the best ways to build up speed is by folding back on your trail and driving between a gap for an extra speed boost. (Also called a slingshot)

The basic maneuver goes like this. First, you head straight in one direction for a little bit- the longer you make it, the faster you will come out. Once you have gone far enough, do a 180 and follow your trail back almost to the end. Next, do a 180 into your last wall like you are going to box yourself. Then do a 180 towards the wall you are grinding now which will take you out of your box and shoot you out a lot faster then you went in. Note that this will shoot you in the opposite direction of your first turn, so you could either turn the direction opposite your desired final orientation, or you could throw in another 180 outward before you do the inward 180. It sounds kind of confusing when I write it out, but it is really easy once you get the hang of it.



Maneuvering and mazing are shades of the same skills. Mazing can be defined as maneuvering at close quarters, but that's not entirely accurate. Maneuvering is as much navigation as it is simple turning. The right moves can be found to kill everyone at any speed in any situation, so this is easily the most important skill you need to build. It's also the most basic skill of the game, so you will always be working on it.

Maneuvering as a tactic comes in three flavors: mazing, attack, and defense. Mazing is both an attack and a defense, and there's a fine line between a good mazer and a damn camper. Building a maze is tricky because it requires you to create paths that will confuse anybody who enters it, but still allow you to get out. Some players are easily suckered into mazes, others will go in to get you, and still others won't go in at all, preferring to fight in the open grid.

Maneuvering for attack is all about putting your wall in front of someone before they can turn away from it. You don't necessarily have to cross their line to get them to hit your wall. A little subtlety will go a long way in this regard. Tricking players to turn into your wall is generally more reliable (and harder) than just crossing their path.

Maneuvering for defense is all about putting walls in places to prevent someone from attacking you or allowing yourself a way out.


Zoning is what you might expect it to be if you've ever played a zone defense in any regular sport. The grid itself is made up of several zones. As walls get laid down, several zones will appear. Generally speaking, you can expect the zones to appear in a predictable fashion, even though all players on the grid will behave unpredictably. Being able to play the zones is comprised of knowing how to take advantage of each zone to attack someone, and knowing how to maneuver into and out of each zone consistently.

Each cycle also has several zones around it that interact with the zones of the arena, and with each other's zones. Each attack you make will be initiated first from your cycle, then through a specific zone around your cycle, through the grid zone that the two cycles are in, and through/across a zone around the target cycle, and finally ending at the target cycle.

On a simpler note, defending that requires initiating some sort of action is about closing your zones to the other cycle. The easiest way to do it is to turn around and run, but it's not the only way.

Working the zones is key to using zoning in your tactics. Like any other sport, zoning can be de-emphasized. But like the other sports, doing so opens up weaknesses. Zoning is most used in team play, when understanding the interaction of the zones is vital to killing other cycles without killing your teammates.

On the whole, zones get tighter and smaller as more players enter the grid, so your zone-based tactics will need to be different depending on the number of players on the grid.

Zoning is a complex topic. It is also a very low-level topic, since most of what's conceptually a zone in play is handled by a part of your brain that you're not conscious of. Most players either have only a rudimentary understanding of zones or none at all, yet they still consider zoning in their attacks and defenses. If you want to consider the phrase "zone of influence", from military jargon, during your play, then that's probably all you need to do unless you're a hopeless taxonomic freak.

Camera Control

Camera Control is all about being able to look around you so you know what's going on. It can be a hard skill to acquire, but it is an essential skill. Glance controls are the ones most used, because they give you the ability to look around and then return back to a regular view. There are other camera controls, such as zooming, and camera switching. You will need to find a combination of controls that works for you and then practice it. You will need to be able to switch views as instinctively and as easily as you turn your head while walking.


Dueling is obviously the skill that is used when it is you against one other cycle. The tactics change for one cycle versus many cycles. Dueling and jousting are similar, the difference between that jousting usually involves both cycles turning away and having to go back to the end of their traces to face each other again. This resembles medieval jousting quite a bit, actually. Dueling involves knowing the other player well enough to know how to attack them. Some players are better attacked by defending yourself instead and letting them screw up. Other players are better attacked in a straightforward fashion. Still others can only be defeated with subtlety and trickery. And still others only give you a few seconds to make an attack, and if it doesn't succeed you're dead. Dueling as a skill can be de-emphasized safely, if you're willing to sacrifice a point at the end of each round when it's just you and one other cycle. On servers that provide point awards just for being the last one standing (also known as the Camper Reward), you will have to duel the last enemy alive.

Keyboard Layout

Choosing your keybindings is pretty tricky. In any discussion of keybindings, I find that most people have completely different keybindings. How your hands work together is important. I would suggest that piano players and expert typists should put left-hand moves and cameras on their left hand, literally, and right-hand moves and cameras on their right hand. As a guitar player, I find putting moving on my right hand and cameras (and score) on my left-hand works very well. It's important to remember that you can bind the same action to multiple keys. This brings us to double-binding versus non-double-binding. I don't want to get into it as a tactic or skill, but choosing your keybindings is integral to choosing your game. It's also a subject you should revisit periodically and see if you can make your keybindings better.

Like I suggested at the beginning, I recommend unbinding your brake for starters. You can bind it later and work it into your skillset, but there are distinct advantages conveyed on the player who can play without brakes that can't be denied. Some servers don't have brakes at all, others make their brakes an accelerator. Even among servers that have brakes the effect of the brake varies widely. Players also vary widely in their opinion of the brake. As a result of all of this, the skillset that is most portable among servers is the skillset that doesn't depend on any specific brake effect and can also easily assimilate the server's brake settings. After you've gotten fairly good and find yourself winning a few rounds by skill rather than luck, then you might consider binding the brake key and learning how to use your brakes on the servers that have them.