Starting Units

In real-time and turn-based strategy games where the player constructs units for use on the battlefield, it is often the case that you will have some units available at the beginning of the game that you cannot train more of, at least not until you have teched up. This is fair enough when you control nothing but a single base, given that they presumably were sent from elsewhere. When you control a entire faction from the start and you have units that you cannot actually build yet, it raises the question of how your faction got hold of them in the first place. Sometimes an inversion occurs: you are told that your faction or a particular region is famous for such-and-such unit and will get some kind of bonus to their construction, even if no such unit exists anywhere at the beginning of play.

Possibly justified or handwaved if it is either a unit that is designed to be self-sufficient, Lost Technology or your in-game forces are simply cut off from reinforcements.


  • This goes at least as far back as Dune II. You always started off with just your construction yard, and had to build every other facility necessary to create new units. As a result you always started off with units you couldn't build immediately, and thus couldn't replace until later if they were lost. Justified because in the game the units had been sent with you to help you fulfill your mission.
  • In Warcraft III skirmishes, you start out with 5 workers, or, if you're playing as the Undead, you get 3 Acolytes and a Ghoul. The Ghoul, while also a basic melee unit, is needed to chop lumber (which the Acolytes can't do), and you can't build more until your Crypt has been summoned. In campaign missions, you typically start off with your heroes, some workers and a handful of combat units, which vary by mission.In skirmish games, you can choose to start with one of four heroes at random.
    • In some missions in Warcraft III and both Starcraft installments, you start with unique units that cannot be replaced from buildings, usually stronger than standard units.
  • The Total War games are full of these:
    • In Shogun: Total War, one of the starting provinces of the Shimazu clan is said to be famous for its No-Dachi Samurai and any such unit trained there will get a +1 experience bonus. Thing is, none of the factions have such troops at the beginning of the game and you will not be able to construct the building that trains them until one of your existing units have reached a certain experience level. In other words, the province is famous for something that will only conditionally be found there.
    • Medieval: Total War is full of these: The Holy Roman Empire start off with some Vikings they can never train more of, the Byzantines start off with a unit of Varangian Guard (which they can't build for several decades, until they build the needed buildings somewhere) and a non-mercenary unit of Alan Mercenary Cavalry (which they can't build at all, and can only hire as mercenaries). The Sicilians also start off with a pair of Barques, which they can't build at all, being limited to the Galley/Dromon line of ships, same as the Italians, Papacy, and Byzantines. Aragon has a valor bonus to building Gungalleys, which neither the Aragonese nor Spanish can build at all. Tripoli starts off (depending on era) either owned by the Egyptians or French, yet it has a valor bonus to building a unit only the Turks can build. Several provinces have valor bonuses to units NO ONE can build, such as Chivalric Foot Knights in Ile de France, Gothic Foot Knights in Brandenburg, and Hospitaller Foot Knights on Rhodes.
    • In Rome: Total War the Julii faction had some starting archers they could only build more of if they upgraded their barracks. Probably similar cases for other factions too.
      • The worst of these by far were the Greeks, who started with a single unit of Spartan Hoplites, a top-tier unit that won't show up for a long, long time and even then can only be recruited in limited numbers in one city. Perhaps justified by them being the best unit in the game.
    • In Empire: Total War, France starts off with light infantry they must research and upgrade barracks in order to build more of. Same for the navy: without several turns of research and expansion of shipyards you will not be able to build more of the fifth-rate frigate your lone starting admiral commands from, much less more powerful vessels.
    • In Napoleon: Total War, France starts out with a single unit of Old Guard, much like the Spartans above, pretty much the best unit in the game. Due to the new reinforcement mechanics the unit can be reinforced endlessly (unlike most previous games where every lost soldier was gone for good unless you could recruit the unit), but if that unit is wiped out, it's going to be a loooong time before it can be replaced. Same goes for the Russians and their unit of Pavlovsk Grenadiers. Then the British start out with some King's German Legion units, which can't be recruited at all in the main campaign.
    • Total War: Shogun 2 has all the clans start with a unit of Yari Samurai despite most of them not having the required building that trains them in their starting provinces. In the Fall of the Samurai expansion, the factions typically start out with kachi and line infantry they cannot recruit yet.
  • In Age of Empires, the Town Centre is the only building able to construct peasants, and you can't build another one until you reach the bronze age. In Age of Empires II you start the game with a single scout cavalry, and you cannot build another until you advance an age.
    • Age of Mythology works in a similar fashion, but the starting units vary depending on your civ; Greeks have the same as in Empires (except the scout can't be replaced), Egyptians start with a priest (and their Paraoh soon after) and the Norse start with a wagon, some dwarves and an ulfsark (light infantry scout who also serves as an initial builder).
  • All factions in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri start with a Colony Pod or two (unit that transforms into a base), depending on difficulty level ("easy" levels "Citizen" and "Specialist" get one; "normal" and "hard" "Talent" and above get two) and one additional unit. If you use the default rule, one pod will automatically turn into a base at the beginning of your first turn, so you don't so much get a pod as a base, and can start building right away. On the other hand, if you activate the "Look First" rule, you can, um, "look first" for a better base site. If "Look First" is on, you can't build anything at all until you've found that good base site and set up shop there, and therefore any unit you have is a Starting Unit—even the lowly Scout Patrol most factions get and the Scout Rover the Spartans get because they start with Doctrine: Mobility.
    • Also, the alien factions in the Alien Crossfire expansion start with an Ogre Mk 1, a powerful unit that you can never construct yourself, or even repair. They sometimes turn up in capsules, though. Justified since the aliens are both survivors of two warships that crashed on Planet.
    • The Cult of Planet starts with a brood of Mind Worms—the native life forms which psychically stun enemies with fear and then burrow into the subject's skulls to lay their eggs. Since the Cult worships Planet and thus has a positive Planet rating, it can capture wild worms from the beginning, but cannot breed them until researching Centauri Empathy.
  • By the same token, in most forms of Civilization, you start with a Settler (city-building unit) and a Warrior or other basic military unit. This might be obvious, but you cannot build any Settlers or Warriors or anything else for that matter until you order that first Settler to build a city.note 
  • In campaign mode, some missions in games like Warcraft and Starcraft would start you off with such units, or in one case, units you couldn't EVER build, like the Dark Templar in Starcraft, as well as other Hero units, who often had to be kept alive.
    • The first game actually considered Dark Templars "expendable hero units". The map editor for the expansion, in which Dark Templars are ordinary units, even allows both versions to be created, and they have some slight differences in stats.
    • In Warcraft II skirmishes you start with a town hall and a peasant. There's even an option to start with just the town hall.
  • The Mobile Construction Vehicle (MCV) in Command & Conquer. In the first game, it could only be built in the last missions (or in multiplayer, with the tech level set to the highest value) and required the most advanced structures of the game to be built. Later Red Alert games lowered the requirement, such as only requiring a repair depot, and by Red Alert 3, a new MCV can be built from the start.
  • In Galactic Civilizations II, you start with a flagship with a medium hull and a survey module, neither of which you have the tech for at the start of the game.
    • In the first game, your starting flagship has a good chance of becoming the most powerful warship in the game by exploring anomalies and getting better weapons, defenses, and speed, despite starting out with none of the above.
  • Homeworld is allowed to avert this trope since they make it clear that this is your race's first interstellar program. They have just finished the Mothership, have an orbital construction frame, probably a few ships required to perform the zero-gravity construction, and fighter-class vessels. Everything else they have to engineer on the spot during their campaign, basing it on the craft of their enemies.
  • Rise of Legends features an interesting example: While Giacomo can build Clockwork Men in the Vinci campaign, he always starts a scenario in the Alin campaign with a few Clockwork Men, which he cannot retrain.
    • Similarly, one of Giacomo's passive abilities in the Cuotl campaign is getting some non-retrainable Hybrid Clockwork Men.
  • Lords Of Magic is an extreme case. You're given points to buy various units before the start of the campaign, and can pick units from any faction except that of the Big Bad. Once the campaign starts, however, your main base of operations can only recruit units of your own faction. There's not even a Hand Wave for this.
  • The Warlords Battlecry series has the hero's retinue. These units are (usually) carried over from previous battles and can be from any race, more than likely making them unreplaceable in mid battle.
  • Dawn of War: Skirmish missions start you off with one builder and the main building. If the "assassinate" victory condition is active, you also get your race's hero free of charge (with the caveat that if he dies, well, Game Over). Leads to particularly hilarious examples when the AI attaches the hero the the first available squad as a meat shield but never changes it when there are better options. Campaign missions start you with the builder, building, hero, and in Dark Crusade and Soulstorm, whatever honor guard units you've acquired (they can't be replaced if killed on that mission, but you can buy new ones in between missions).
    • In the first game, orks get a squad of Slugga Boys in addition to the other units.
  • The Starters in Pokémon. All are more powerful than the average Pokemon at the start of the game and evolve into some of the strongest. There is only one of each outside of breeding and trading and players can only choose one. Handwaved with them belonging in a rare species. Later games provide a defense against the newcomer mistake of releasing their unique starter Pokemon by making them instantly come back, apparently too attached to the trainer to leave.
  • In both Battle Zone 1998 games, the Recycler mobile factory unit is irreplaceable, as the Recycler cannot be constructed using standard bio-metal shaping techniques. Losing your Recycler results in a mission failure, while destroying the enemy Recycler results in an instant win. In Instant Action mode for Battlezone II, the player can set the starting force for the AI and for himself - a "large" force will give the player three Sabers / Warriors, plus a pair of Rattlers / Guardians. Sabers and Warriors normally require the player to build a Factory/Kiln and a Relay bunker (Saber) or Forge (Warrior)
  • A no-video game example is Star Realms. Each player starts off with weak Scouts (which provide 1 Trade) and Vipers (which provide 1 attack). As the game goes on, the players want to get better ships, and try to get rid of the weaker units that clutter their deck.
  • Endless Legend starts the player off with two of their faction's basic infantry, a settler, and a Hero Unit. The infantry and settler can be quickly replaced once a city is built, but hiring a new hero requires some research and a heft sum of Dust