The Theory of Gaming

March 30, 2008

Unit Costs Including Food Supply in Warcraft 3

Filed under: Game Analysis — Tags: , — spotpuff @ 6:38

Food isn’t free.

When looking at how much a unit “costs” in Warcraft 3, few people consider the costs associated with unit food supply into the cost of the unit. In most cases the most relevant data is simply the unit’s listed gold and lumber cost. Food usage does effect the unit’s final cost though since food supply is not free. Like any other resource in an RTS game, food costs you something to supply and that cost can be calculated.

This table illustrates the “actual” real cost of each race’s food supplying building.

Table 1: Food buildings with modified lumber cost

Building Food Provided Gold
Lumber Cost Build Time Lumber Cost+
Farm 6 80 20 35 55
Moon Well 10 180 40 50 90
Burrow 10 160 40 50 90
Ziggurat 10 150 50 50 50

The Lumber Cost+ column indicates the actual cost of lumber given the fact that a worker unit must construct the building and while they’re doing that they could have been harvesting lumber. This is of course assuming that you use a lumber harvesting worker to build a building and not a gold harvesting worker, which I think most would agree is a logical assumption.

Feeding the troops

So you’re ready to build a bunch of units to go crush your opponent’s base. Unfortunately for you, you have gold and lumber, but no food. What’s a player to do? Build some farms, of course.

Assuming you’re already at your pre-set food limit (all players start with a town hall which provides 10 food), you will be required to build additional farms (or town halls, which is less efficient than buildilng farms) to build additional units. Additional units do not just cost their listed gold and lumber price, they also incur an additional cost due to food costs. If you don’t believe the above is true, hit the food cap and try to build some more units. I promise it won’t work unless you spend some more resources to build some farms.

Now of course each race’s “farm” unit costs a different amount, and provides a different amount of food or function to each race. Burrows and Ziggurats can be upgraded at an additional cost to towers and Moon Wells double as health and mana restoration. But for the purposes of this article I’ll be looking specifically at the cost of the farm buildings and not their “value added” features, which at the end of the day don’t really matter in terms of food production. Regardless of how many static defenses your base already has, if you hit your food cap and need to build more farm units, a Ziggurat still costs the same amount even if you don’t need more defensive towers.

Given the food supplied by each farm building, you can calculate the additional cost involved in building any unit in Warcraft 3. That little food icon that each unit costs can be converted into an additional gold and lumber cost associated with each unit. Below is a table that shows the cost of each unit with the cost of their race’s farm building added in.

Table 2: Modified unit costs considering food cost.

Unit Gold
Lumber Cost Food Cost Gold Cost+ Lumber Cost+
Dragonhawk Rider 200 30 3 240 57.5
Flying Machine 90 30 1 103.33 39.17
Footman 135 0 2 161.67 18.33
Gryphon Rider 280 70 4 333.33 106.67
Knight 245 60 4 298.33 96.67
Mortar Team 180 70 3 220 97.5
Peasant 75 0 1 88.33 9.17
Priest 135 10 2 161.67 28.33
Rifleman 205 30 3 245 57.5
Siege Engine 195 60 3 235 87.5
Sorceress 155 20 2 181.67 38.33
Spell Breaker 215 30 3 255 57.5
Archer 130 10 2 166 28
Chimaera 330 70 5 420 115
Druid of the Claw 255 80 4 327 116
Druid of the Talon 135 20 2 171 38
Dryad 145 60 3 199 87
Faerie Dragon 155 25 2 191 43
Glaive Thrower 210 65 3 264 92
Hippogryph 160 20 2 196 38
Huntress 195 20 3 249 47
Mountain Giant 425 100 7 551 163
Wisp 60 0 1 78 9
Demolisher 220 50 4 284 86
Grunt 200 0 3 248 27
Kodo Beast 255 60 4 319 96
Peon 75 0 1 91 9
Raider 180 40 3 228 67
Shaman 130 20 2 162 38
Spirit Walker 195 35 3 243 62
Troll Berserker 135 20 2 167 38
Troll Headhunter 135 20 2 167 38
Tauren 280 80 5 360 125
Troll Batrider 160 40 2 192 58
Wind Rider 265 40 4 329 76
Witch Doctor 145 25 2 177 43
Abomination 240 70 4 300 90
Acolyte 75 0 1 90 5
Banshee 155 30 2 185 40
Crypt Fiend 215 40 3 260 55
Destroyer 0 0 2 30 10
Frost Wyrm 385 120 7 490 155
Gargoyle 185 30 2 215 40
Ghoul 120 0 2 150 10
Meat Wagon 230 50 4 290 70
Necromancer 145 20 2 175 30
Obsidian Statue 200 35 3 245 50

Of course food is not unlimited; there’s a cap of 100 food supply in Warcraft 3, so there is an even greater cost associated with using food than just looking at the resource cost. When you start getting close to either of the “soft” food caps at low and high upkeep (50 and 80 food, respectively), or the absolute food cap at 100, the cost of each unit becomes significantly more clear.

Perhaps you need to set up an expansion but you’re currently at 95/100 food used. Do you spend the last 5 food supply making 5 more peasants? Or do you build some more units to fight your opponent? Without food constraints you wouldn’t have to make that choice: you could make both. But food limits are in the game and so you have a decision to make. In the future I’m hoping to examine and quantify the costs associated with each unit more closely in order to look at effectively managing resources.

Generally speaking, the food limit will never be reached in a game since you and your opponent(s) will be trying to win. Low and high upkeep may be reached but both players usually do not allow each other to “build up” and hit the absolute food cap. Still, many players do not take into account that little food icon each unit costs is essentially a resource that costs gold, lumber, time and micromanagement resources as well.

That’s it for now, thanks for reading!

Rick commented that the cost of food supply is amortized over the lifetime of the farm building and this is true; I should have made it more clear that I am talking specifically about hitting the food limit and building more farms.  Assuming you’re going to build a NEW unit (which hopefully won’t die, but in all likelihood will) the costs are accurate.

Things can get even more complicated when you consider low and high upkeep, since in that case gold becomes even more scarce and costs are essentially inflated since you are making 7/4 gold per worker trip instead of 10.  I’ll hopefully look at resource management in a future article.

Thanks to Rick for the tip.



  1. Hey Phil,
    How do you amortize the cost of farms over generations of units? As you mentioned, you’re going to be battling, and your armies will destroy one another. When you rebuild units, you don’t need to build more farms. Effectively, you’re spreading that initial cost out. But it’s in the early game that the cost is most crucial to consider, so would you even bother spreading that cost out?

    Is it just your first generation of units that you would consider adding the farm cost to? With future generations just costing the posted gold/lumber values?

    Comment by Rick Weiss — March 30, 2008 @ 8:57

  2. Whoah this article is awesome!

    Comment by spotpuff — March 30, 2008 @ 9:03

  3. Hmm, that’s a good point. I guess this article assumes units are immortal!

    It really only applies to when you need to build more farms to build units, however, as you mentioned, if you already have the farms, then it doesn’t matter.

    Will probably post a revised copy later. Just wanted to get something up, but yeah, it isn’t my most extensive article.

    Comment by spotpuff — March 30, 2008 @ 9:07

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