Tips For Playing They Are Billions

Tips For Playing They Are Billions

They Are Billions is an Early Access PC strategy game about trying to build a city while fighting off hordes of zombies. It’s surprisingly fun and polished, but also incredibly brutal. If you want to have any chance of not dying right away, I have some tips for you.

If you’ve played an RTS such as The Settlers or Age of Empires before, you’ll feel right at home in They Are Billions‘ setup. A central command building gives you extra resources at regular intervals that you can then use to construct more buildings and grow even more. Even if you’re new to the genre, developer Numantian Games’ take on it is a little more approachable with very little to actually micromanage except whatever fighting units you create to march around and keep your city safe. The rest pretty simple: Build a thing, earn resources from the things, and then use those to build another thing.

Once you get comfortable with the controls and menu layout (remember to press “Tab” in order to rotate buildings before you place them or double-click a specific one in order to select all the others like it), you’re ready for the more complicated parts of the game.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you want to survive as long as possible and potentially even make it through to the end.

Double stack your walls, always, no matter what, seriously just do it.

There are two types of walls in the game: Wood and stone. The former will do well enough early in the game, but unlocking the stone walls in the tech tree should be a priority. That upgrade alone will more than double the strength of your defences. How can you double them even beyond that? Literally build a second wall. They Are Billions only lets you build two walls back-to-back. If you want to start making another set ,you’ll need to space them farther apart, which is something I sometimes do depending on the situation. Walls aren’t cheap, especially the stones ones. If you’re trying to wall in large areas you might be tempted to skimp, at least for a little bit. Don’t! If anything, not being able to afford double walls means you rethink how you’ve positioned the perimeter of your base.

Keep your resource levels balanced.

The economy of They Are Billions revolves around money, workers, food and electricity. Then there’s a second set of resources which are primarily for building: Wood, stone, iron and oil. Those commodities can be bought and sold at the market (once you build it) and are harvested from placing mines, sawmills and the like next to certain parts of the map.

One of the biggest obstacles to survival outside of the zombies themselves is managing resource bottlenecks. For example, you might need more electricity in order to power the new mine you want to build. However, the mill that would give you the electricity requires additional workers. In order to get those additional workers you need to build more houses, but more houses requires more food, so before you do anything you’ll need to construct a fishing rig, hunters’ hut or farm.

In the bottom right corner of your screen the game keeps track of what you’re netting in each of these resources. The best thing you can do is develop evenly and make sure that none of them ever gets too low. There’s nothing worse than being short on a particular resource and having no immediate way to harvest more right as the next zombie wave is about to hit.

Always be building.

On the outside They Are Billions is a strategy game about turtling, but on a more basic level it’s a race to see how fast you can build a colony, maximise its economy, and stock up on defensive structures and powerful units. In order to be making top-tier Thanatos and Titan units by the end, and these are the ones you’ll want to prioritise, you’re going to need to reach the oil age and have a lot of housing supported by multiple banks to be making enough cash.

When the game starts, begin building houses and a sawmill. Then expand with hunters’ huts and fishing until you have enough food to make more housing. Add a mill for more electricity and keep repeating until you’re in a position to save for a barracks, wood workshop and warehouses. While you’ll need to maximise wood, stone, iron and eventually oil production to keep filling out your technology tree, workers and money are the two resources you’ll always be looking to come back to and maximise the most.

Keep a small force available for scouting and thinning the horde.

While you’re busy expanding your base and preparing your defences, it’s also important to put together a small band of fighters (mostly archers and snipers; soldiers aren’t really worth it) to patrol the map and slowly kill as many of the ambient zombies as possible. You don’t want the final wave to hit and have twice as many to fight all of the sudden.

Keeping a roving band of fighters moving around is also a good way to train them. After killing a certain number of zombies, fighters will turn gold and become veterans, boosting their stats and making them much more lethal. Your mobile death squad also helps out during zombie waves, allowing you to plug a particular hole in your defences if say, you forgot to double the walls like you were supposed to. Plus, a force of elite snipers and archers, somewhere between 20-40 strong, will be needed in order take out the zombie villages on the outskirts of the map before the final wave. While the number of zombies these villages spawn is finite, you can keep them from ever coming into this world to begin with by clearing them once you have the military might available.

Make sure to set units’ priorities.

While we’re on the topic of micromanaging your fighting squad, it’s also important to set their priorities. In addition to moving fighting units around and being able to set patrols, you can also decide whether they target the nearest enemy or the strongest. You’ll want a mix of different types of units prioritising different things. For the watchtowers you put behind walls at each choke point (you are doing this, right?) two snipers and two archers is a good, affordable mix. From there, you should make sure the snipers are prioritising the most dangerous enemies since they have longer range and deal more damage, making it easier for them to take down bigger zombies while they slowly approach as your archers focus on the grunts already at your doorstep.

The pause button is your friend.

Did you know that if you press the spacebar, you can pause the game? That makes the spacebar the most useful button in the game other than your right-click. Early on you might feel free and relaxed as you manage your base in real time, but if you really want to be prepared for the later phases, you’ll need to use every second. Nothing happens in the game when it’s paused, but you can still assign orders and place buildings, which will begin construction once you unpause.

Pausing often is not only helpful for taking stock of a situation and planning out your next phase of development, it’s also great for battles when you need to quickly shuffle units back and forth between different parts of your base while compensating for the less-than-great unit pathfinding. It might feel like cheating, but it isn’t. You might as well start doing it now, as opposed to three lost games later.

Always be looking for better choke points.

Zombies can’t walk through trees, climb over mountains, or swim. As a result, the game’s randomly generated maps will always present you with opportunities to use natural barricades for free. It’s a simple thing to keep in mind, but it grows more complex when you have to decide whether it’s worth it to expand and set up a new choke point versus staying closer to the defences you’ve already built.

A long wall isn’t always harder to defend, since the zombies almost always all attack in one specific area rather than spreading out. Long walls let you take advantage of the full area of effect of electric towers, ballistas, and the fighters in your towers, as opposed to needing to build all of those things separately at each new choke point. If you’re trading one long wall for three or more very small choke points, it probably isn’t worth it.

Make sure each building is producing as much as it can.

Buildings such as sawmills, mines and farms produce new resources at a set rate based on the terrain in their area. As you build out your base and things start to get tight, it can be appealing to just throw in the next building wherever it fits. With a little bit of thinking and planning ahead, you can usually get a lot more for a lot less.

If you have houses on grassy land, get rid of them and put your farm there instead. If you have a fishing rig on a lake, see if there isn’t a way you can spread it out farther and fit two or even three instead. And never, ever, place a sawmill or mine in a suboptimal spot. Wood and stone are two of the most important resources in the game, and you won’t encounter a ton of forests or big mineral deposits in the wild. Above all else, you should be giving those types of buildings top priority when it comes to placement. If your starting map area doesn’t have at least a few solid wooded areas and mineral deposits, you should immediately start over.

Don’t be afraid to destroy your own buildings.

This is a zombie game, so when things get killed they don’t just die, they become zombies. Houses, farms and barracks can all become deadly once the enemy horde gets their hands on them. That’s why the game won’t allow you to delete certain units when enemies get too close. You’ll have to think ahead and not be afraid to just destroy a whole section of your base if zombies are about to get through and infect it. You get half your spent resources back, and it destroying buildings can wind up being a good opportunity to fine-tune the layout of your base.

Set small goals and enjoy the learning curve.

Come to terms with the fact that you’re not going to win a game of They Are Billions on your first try. Or your second. Or maybe even your tenth. Fortunately, the game makes it easy to learn from each failure. Were you taking too long to develop? Did you expand too quickly, before you had enough resources to adequately defend? Or maybe you got to the final wave and it kicked your arse because you didn’t believe everyone who told you how hard it would be? Whatever happened, stay calm and enjoy the process.

Instead of trying to straight up win every game at first, focus on things that are more readily achievable. Maybe spend a playthrough trying simply to get to the final stage of technological development. Or even just to survive the first zombie wave. Either way, there’s plenty of learn and grow as a zombie-fighting city planner. The game’s still in Early Access, so there’s plenty of stuff that’s likely to change or get added down the road.


  • I’ve been on the fence about getting this but the RTS tortoise within me stirs from its slumber like Morla the ancient one.

    • Oh it’s good… I’m just putting together a rather lengthy hints and tips thing myself I’m about to post 🙂 Anyone else who has hints and tips do so too! This is the hardest game I’ve played in YEARS.

  • 1. Aggressive expansion is your friend believe it or not. Expand rapidly, you WILL need the space for housing and other resources.

    2. Get the Wood factory going ASAP. Ballista turrets are gold for aggressive expansion, one can fend off a small sized horde itself, buying you time before the decent sized hordes start invading, PLUS if you have Ballistas set up strategically, you can upgrade them to the minigun towers later for almost half the price.

    3. Consider building the advanced wind turbine instead of the power plant when you can. The reason being, you can always build more houses to offset the labour cost and cash cost of the turbines, however, the power plants take stone and wood resources. Granted it’s 3 – 4 advanced turbines per factory, but space wise, it comes down the same (4×4 as opposed to 4 lots of 2×2)

    4. Snipers in the tower! Enough to make Vasilli Zaitsev proud! After you set up your base limits and have your ‘barriers’ to fend off invading hordes, set up ballistas to take out the crowds (they take out 3 – 4 zombies per bolt, later cannons take out 6 zombies per blast, shock towers do chain lightning which is brilliant for zombie hordes, but are slow to reload, so build 3 – 4 of these for mega-hordes and they keep going and going and going). Anyhow, AFTER you build these, set up 4 or so stone towers and fill them with snipers, however and set the snipers to ‘shoot the highest level target’, ensure you have done this. This means they will either shoot running zombies, or if the bloated zombies are there too, they will prioritise them (they knock down walls easily) or if Hags are there they’ll take them out (they jump walls entirely!) or they’ll shoot the spitting zombies (who spit snot at everyone from a distance).

    5. BE WISE ABOUT YOUR MAYOR CHOICE. Instant gratification does not always mean the right choice. Just because you can get those three Ballistas given to you by that Mayor right now, or they’ll bulk up your stone resources by 200, doesn’t mean it’s a better choice than that pesky 75% return upon destroying your own structures. THEY ARE BILLIONS is a game about the long term, not the short term. Take things that will affect your long term, cheaper pay rates are GOLD, especially for soldiers and snipers who will *cost you*. 75% destruction income return is essential. You can always, and will always, build all that other stuff later but all these percentages will add up in a huge way, trust me.

    6. Never be afraid to say “Screw it”, and start again. Learn from your mistakes, know how to do it better. The final horde that comes for you in the final few days is called “THEY ARE BILLIONS” and it’s unrelenting, it will crush you unless you’re fully prepared. All the hordes prior and simply testing your boundaries. Start again and again until you’re happy with the map you have, the strategies you’re formulating and the amount of chokepoints you have.

    7. Upgrade equally. You’ll pay for it on the back end if you don’t. If your base is a mix of tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3 items, your resource management is going to be *way* off. If you’re entirely tier 2 or tier 3, you’ll find your income will be fairly well balanced in terms of resource consumption. Your houses will supply income and workers that your factories will use, your factories will supply resources that other parts will use etc. Think of it as the circle of life, but all aspects of the circle must be strengthened equally. If these aren’t as equally as strong by your final home run stretch, you aren’t in your best position to win.

    8. Get the Engineering Center as soon as you can. This lets you build heavy units such as the rocket launcher weilding Thanatos and the gargantuan Titan unit. Sit this dude behind your walls, get half a dozen of them and watch the corpses fly as they unleash salvos as the hordes try to get in. You are going to need this center for the best units, it does cost to research them initially, 2000 for the Thanatos and 6000 for the Titan, but they’re worth it.

    9. At the current time, the Titan has been nerfed and the Thanatos has been declared the best unit for crowd control due to its AOE. It’s a rocket launcher with splash damage, couple up a bunch of these together and unleash heck!

    10. Take out the zombie towns on the map for maximum resources. But be careful, they unleash mini hordes. They do! So build towers near them with squads of troops protected to take out said hordes. Or make sure you can stand up to the swarms that bellow out.

    11. BUILD AS MANY WAREHOUSES AS POSSIBLE and a Market. Warehouses let you stockpile resources and increase your inventory. You’ll go from 50 of each resource, to adding 50 per warehouse. A market then lets you sell these for cash. BUILD AN OIL PLATFORM ASAP, as many as you can, because quite frankly, selling oil is a cash cow and lets you upgrade your base quickly.

    Anyhow that’s just some of them. Hope you enjoy, this is an awesome game, but hard as frakkin nails.

    • Your last few hints didn’t have bold titles, why do you hurt me…

      I jest, edit bug be damned, you make it sound so much better.
      I really just want a solid, modern RTS in the classic build to fart around in.
      This might not be that game but its definitely ticking the turtle box.

      • I know I missed the bold 🙁 I was going to edit but it’d stick it in moderation hell 🙁

        It’s a great RTS honestly, there’s no enemy base as such and right now it only has an ‘iron man mode’, where you can’t save and reload (only ‘save and exit’ and come back into your current game), but there’s a single player mode coming soon, plus new units, buildings, enemies and more. They’re clearly passionate about their game and it’s pretty impressive especially for the price. It’s highly polished and runs very well.

        I too want an oldschool Command and Conquer/Dune style RTS, if you want that, Homeworld Deserts of Kharak might tick that box moreso, that was fantastic. Check it out on youtube. But this as a turtling game, will really scratch that itch. The community is really, really calling out for a save mode for games under 100% difficulty (you get a percentage rating for your difficulty you choose, with other factors such as population, day length etc affecting it) which makes sense to me. You can only unlock each map by completing maps with a certain percentage or above.

        Hope you enjoy it 🙂

    • Some more stuff that’s helped me on my attempts:

      Try to aim to have your late-game front-line walls be 2-gap-2 thick, because some waves will have mobs of spitters, and they can hit towers over 2 thick walls.

      If you get a thanatos early, make sure you’re fortified before you use him, since the thanatos firing generates so much noise it will attract zombies from a massive radius.

      For markets selling resources manually net more gold than just letting it automatically sell overflow resources.

      Try to have a dedicated housing block centred on a market and a bank. You’re gonna need that gold.

      • Absolutely. Also I’ve found that wooden stakes work better than wire for some reason. Maybe they nerfed the wire or something, but at the moment I prefer building the wooden stakes??? I know it’s all still in balance mode but eh, there you go. I could be wrong, it’s just how it seems. The Tavern is coming soon and I’ve heard there may be a 4th tier eventually (I hope so!)

    • Wow! An article about a relevant video game!.

      And great follow up post Were!

      Gold stars for everyone.

  • After a decade(+) there is finally an RTS I enjoy playing. I thought SC2 was the deathknel of the genre, thankfully I was wrong. Twitch has some crazy skilled rts players (Anzelon comes to mind) playing this at map:4 @ 500% with no pause, you can get lot’s of ideas of how to play this.

  • ‘My’ tips.
    Note; they are mostly stolen as I’m a newb, but they made a huge difference for me.
    I’ll try keep em a little shorter too.

    At the beginning, use unit patrols to guard your base, instead of walls.

    Build a military compound ASAP and start producing Rangers.

    Use them for;
    Kiting and defeating the first 2-3 waves before you have walls/ballisters.
    To patrol and keep zombies from your base.
    To clear the map for expansion.

    Stay away from the corners, and North/South edges (edit: not E/W like I first mentioned) until you have like 30-40 soldiers or snipers as there are Harpies / spitters / fatties, and they are mean.

    Scratching posts
    Instead of spending resources on fully walling off everything, just stick up a single tile of wall between a building and where zombies will come from.

    When a zombie does slip past your patrol, they will attack(scratch) the post first, giving you time to respond.

    You don’t need to wall off anywhere near the beginning.

    For the first two waves, your rangers should be enough to kill them, (edit added next part) but for a little more security you can run a section of wall.

    (Edit: added next bit)
    I’m not 100% on when, I think just after wave 2? random mini-waves come from all sides. Having some small sections of wall on choke points and a single ballister is enough to take care of them.

    If you seem to miss alerts like I was, go to sound settings; leave alerts and unit sounds on max, but turn everything else down.

    Pay more attention to it; VERY useful for spotting danger.

    Alerts + Pause
    Hear an alert?
    Hit space to pause, look for the problem, assign response, un-pause.

    It’s not my prefered play style so I didn’t use it to start with, but it makes a big difference.

    Demolish your own stuff
    Two reasons.

    1. When a zombie destroys a building, it makes more zombies. So, destroy your buildings in the zombies path before they can, then place some walls to slow them down until backup arrives.

    2. To aid your economy.

    Placing buildings in pause mode lets you undo the placement without losing 50%.

    All buildings require resources for upkeep.

    Build as many residential buildings as you can; more collonists = more gold, and more workers (having lots of excess workers isn’t a bad thing).

    Banks increase income from surrounding housing – you can find optimal layout diagrams online.

    Markets decrease the amount of food required for surrounding housing. (Edit: added next bit) You can have upto 3 I believe, each till increase the amount resources are sold for, but housing can only receive the food credit once.

    Build warehouses to increase the amount of resources you can have in reserve (including gold). (edit: added next line) you can build as many as you need, each one increases the limit.

    Don’t build and run 8 quarries if you don’t need them, as they just drain resources; so keep them at a minimum, but don’t limit them if you need them. Note, you can pause them if not needed, same with mills.

    Don’t leave old ballisters, etc. behind in the middle of your base once you’ve expanded away from that area. They drain money, so destroy them; you can then put them somewhere more useful if needed.

    Power plants use huge amounts of stone to operate.

    Hunters cottage
    Me dumb, I didn’t realise they can be placed on grassy areas, and not just near a forrest.

    • Ha ha, I was the opposite for hunter’s cottages, I didn’t know they work near forests too.

      I definitely need to get more used to the pause. I mean, I accidentally pause out of habit because I keep pressing spacebar to go to an alert, but I don’t do it for the big things like final wave or mass building.

      • lol 🙂

        yep, I still don’t use it enough.

        I watched a guy on youtube playing at 320 percent (which he found extremely easy). There were a lot of things he did different, but I thought one of the biggest was that he used pause all the time. It gave him the chance to do lots of things at once; defend against a stray zombie, setup where his rangers would clear next, and use up his resources building and expanding. Meanwhile I’d have spent 3-4days in game time to have done the same amount.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!