Zergling Rush

The Zergling Rush is probably one of the most recognizable gambits in the gaming culture. Even players, who never played StarCraft often have a rudimentary idea what it is is referring to. In fact, the term is so well-know that it seems to have undergone a slight semantic shift. People often mistake it with attacking the other player with a overwhelmingly large quantity of small units. The name is often abbreviated to a misleading “Zerg Rush”. I presume the reason is that most people never actually executed a real, honest Zergling Rush.

But with StarCraft II out many players – me included – can dip back in the world of StarCraft to re-visit some of it’s classic tropes. I must admit even though I was the victim of numerous Zergling Rushes, I have never played the Zerg race for long enough to try this particular strategy by myself. Thankfully the well-structured multi-player system in StarCraft II encourages players to experiment a lot more. Inspired by some of the challenges, I just recently gave it a coupe of shots. It’s an experience I strongly recommend.

So here is a recipe for a classic “6-Pool Zergling Rush”. Contrary to what many people think, the idea is not to build a ton of small units. Instead, you need to execute an extremely time-sensitive build sequence to get offensive units as fast as humanly possible and use them to cripple the enemy before they can do anything about it.

  • 1. Don’t build a drone. As the game begins you have 50 minerals to build your first drone. Don’t! Instead, send all your other drones to collect minerals and wait until you get 200 minerals. In fact, if everything goes well, you will finish the game with just 5 drones. They will be enough to produce the small quantities of units you need.
  • 2. Build a Spawning Pool. As soon as you have 200 minerals, quickly select one of the drones and build a Spawning Pool. This building is everything you require to produce Zerglings. If things go well, you won’t be building any other building in this game.
  • 3. Produce an Overlord. The Spawning Pool takes some time to build. Meanwhile your mineral count should hit 100. Use this opportunity to build an Overlord. It will allow you to keep producing more Zerglings as reinforcements to the initial 6.
  • 4. Produce 6 Zerglings. By the time the Spawning Pool gets finished, your mineral count should be back around 150 minerals. This is it. Produce 6 Zerglings as soon as you can. You should have 3 larvae. Each larva will mutate into 2 Zerglings. Set the rally point at the enemy base so the Zerglings will start running there as soon as they hatch.
  • 5. Keep pumping Zerglings. As your Zerglings make their way to the enemy base, keep producing even more Zerglings. Turn every new larva into Zerglings. Because of the rally point, they will join the first 6 as soon as they hatch. It’s a good idea to put your hatchery on a control group. (Select it and press Ctrl + 1. No matter where you are, you can then always produce more Zerglings by simply pressing 1, S, Z. Keep doing this throughout the next step).
  • 6. Cripple the Enemy. Now comes the tricky part. You have only 6 Zerglings and you need to do as much damage as possible as you can. Ideally you enemy shouldn’t be able to recover. It all depends on how fast they are. The computer AI is fairly quick and mostly has already a first production building up. Concentrate on destroying all producing facilities. Alternatively, you could also try to kill their economy units. This part is really hectic and requires quite some micro-management skill. If your Zerglings encounter resistance, you need to properly judge if they are in danger and maneuver them in a position where they are at an advantage. Luckily, there should be more Zerglings steadily pouring in. So you can always retreat for a second to meet up with the next group of reinforcements.

Here is a video tutorial to see how this looks like in practice. Note that the recipe is a little bit different in this video. Also, it’s a video that actually shows a failed Zergling Rush. The enemy is able to defend themselves.

After executing it for a couple of times, I really stared appreciating the different nuances of this strategy. First of all, it’s incredibly risky. You go all out. By the time you reach you enemy, they will have an economy way ahead of you. If they manage to stop your Zerglings, you will be caught with you pants down. They will be able to produce units much more quickly than you do. Your chances are will be slim. On the other hand, if you succeed, you win the entire game in just 5 minutes with minimal effort.

And of course, it’s incredibly frustrating. In the early days, Zerg players used to rush and quit if they failed. It was rare to have a proper game against a Zerg player. Nowadays, things are more balanced and it’s not such a popular strategy anymore.

But finally, there is something beautiful about it as well. The way the timing works out. The way all the mechanics click into place to give you just enough resources for this one attack. Even with such a tight schedule there is still some room to mix things up. For example, in the video above, the player builds two drones instead of the Overlord. He builds the Overlord after the 6 Zerglings hatch. This slows down the initial reinforcements but leaves him in a slightly better position when the rush eventually fails.

Of course I don’t suggest trying this on real players. However, it’s fun to use it on the AI. Even on “Insane” difficulty, the AI can be easily defeated in under 5 minutes. And the game actually encourages to try it out by giving out achievements for doing so.

The Zergling Rush turned from a degenerative strategy to a well-know and almost over-used meme. The challenges and achievements in StarCraft II acknowledge the Zergling Rush as a valid aspect of the game. Nowadays it almost comes with the class of a risky opening in a chess game. It’s fascinating to be able to watch this niche of gaming culture mature and create it’s own history. StarCraft II it’s the perfect opportunity to re-discover and experience this history on your own. Who knows how this part of culture will evolve further.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

2 responses to “Zergling Rush”

  1. One A Day Picks of the Week 2nd – 8th August « rudderless

    [...] The erudite Adam Englebright waxed lyrical about Lost and its epilogue this week, as Jennifer Allen attempted to go cold turkey on buying games. Not easy, Jen. Not easy. Particularly with games like Starcraft 2 to tempt us into emptying our wallets. For the unenlightened, Krystian Majewski explains how to execute a classic Zergling Rush. [...]

  2. Wes

    If you want to take a safer approach, you can build four Drones and drop the Spawning Pool when your supply hits 10. You won’t get into the base as fast, and it’s unlikely you will win outright, but you can still damage his mining line, and you’ll be in better shape if you fail.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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