GC3 Tutorial: Surrounded on All Sides

In the wake of the Krynn's destruction, I expected that I'd be able to sit back and develop my empire in peace for a while. I was hoping for a nice and quiet game where I could experiment with the techs further down on the tree. None of my previous game had made it that far; they had all been wrapped up in roughly 100 turns, and I saw no need to delay a victory or keep playing on past the point of obvious dominance. With the absorption of the Krynn, I had now become the runaway empire in the galaxy. How would the other five leaders react? I had no idea, and I was curious to find out.

This is a picture of the southwest corner of the map, an empty region where no one had started initially. Market Garden and Frozen were the two planets originally in the Trillykins system. I intended to turn the former into a wealth planet due to some local bonuses, and the latter into a research planet, although it was going to take a very long time due to the extreme climate penalties. I also wanted to highlight something in this image: note the enemy ship in white near the center of the screen. It can be a little tough to see since my own Iconian ships are a similar color. That's one of the Krynn warships, which did not disappear when their empire was conquered. Unlike the Civilization games, taking all of the planets of an AI doesn't make their ships or starbases magically vanish. Instead, they become pirates, this game's version of the barbarians. I find that to be a very neat concept, the navy of a conquered race turning pirate in the far reaches of the galaxy. There were still a number of Krynn starbases scattered across my territory, and I would begin the slow task of grinding them down one at a time once my ships were repaired to full strength.

The other planet down in the southwest was Stehlen IV, the godly PC16 world that I renamed to Heaven upon capture. I intended this to be my premiere research planet for the future, a place where I could stack close to 10 research labs and get some kind of ridiculous science bonus. How do you think the AI had been managing this world while it was in Krynn hands?

Oh my. Now that is just sad. If you ever wondered why the AI needs such huge cheats to be effective, there's the proof in ample supply. There were several tiles going unused, and no, they weren't all damaged in the invasion. The Krynn simply hadn't built on those tiles yet, thanks to poor social spending on the sliders and the AI's insistence on using "Auto Upgrade Improvements". The Krynn had colonized this world over 50 turns earlier, there certainly was no excuse for blank tiles remaining unused. Then there were all the farms... I'm not even going to try to understand that bit of logic. Four different farms combined to occupy almost half of the developed tiles. Not much point in increasing the pop cap to 27 when the planet has fewer than 9 colonists living there! Where's that "duh" smiley again? Needless to say, I would tear out a lot of this infrastructure and replace it with more sensible buildings.

One of the other buildings that I unlocked on the tech tree was the tier 3 hospital, the Fertility Center. This building increases the growth rate of a planet by +100%, up from the +50% of the tier 2 hospital (Xeno Hospital). Based on what I saw in this game, I believe that population growth does not keep track of a second decimal place, and that growth takes place in increments of 0.1 to 0.2 to 0.3 pop at a time. If I'm wrong about this, then someone please let me know. If I'm correct, then there are two key breaking points in the formula: +50% growth and +150% growth. The +50% growth target is huge because it doubles population growth from 0.1 to 0.2 people per turn. There's two key ways to get there, either +25% from the tier 1 hospital along with +25% growth from 100% morale, or the straight +50% growth from the tier 2 xeno hospital. After that, there's a trough before reaching the tier 3 hospital's growth potential. Because of the way the game rounds in its math, I believe there's no difference between +51% growth and +149% growth. Any of those numbers will result in the same 0.2 pop per turn. The tier 3 fertility center is crucial, however, because that +100% growth can often get your planets up to 0.3 pop growth. Placing the hospital next to a farm is worth +5% growth, and with perfect morale, that's enough to reach +130%, only twenty percent short of the target. With a little help from techs, it should be possible to reach the +150% goal. Conversely, if you would somehow hit -50% growth, the population would also stop increasing entirely. Another reason why I do not recommend ignoring all happiness buildings and sitting on 0% morale with the growth penalty.

Of course, if GC3 is tracking another decimal place to the hundredths point, then forget everything that I just wrote about!

One other city management detail. There are several different planetary build options that serve as a production dump, in the same fashion as the "Wealth" build from the Civ games. "Birthing Subsidies" will add a bonus to growth, for example, while "Cultural Festival" will do the same for influence. There are similar options for wealth, research, and a few other categories. The math on these is a 10% bonus for every 10 production that the colony is producing. If I were to put all 212 production from New Iconia into Birthing Subsidies, it would improve growth by 210%. (That wouldn't be a very good use of my best production world unless I really needed more people for some reason.) However, there's a bit of a trick in that each planet will get the minimum 10% bonus if there's at least 1 production going into the category. In this picture, New Iconia has 99% of its production directed into the shipyard, and the remaining 1% social spending is enough to get the 10% growth bonus. This trick is much more useful in the early game where the total production and the percentage modifiers are both lower, and where 10% is more of a bonus. Feel free to use to your advantage if you enjoy the micro opportunities.

Now this actually did catch me a bit off guard. The Drengin are Galactic Civ's most aggressive race, with all of their racial traits coming in the form of combat or production bonuses of some kind. They love the Malevolent ideology, and their planets are always full of slave camps for tile improvements. Space orcs basically. I'd seen them moving their ships around down in the south, but they were already at war with Altaria, and I didn't think the Drengin would want another opponent. Why would they want to go after the largest empire in the galaxy?

Oh. Guess that explains it. The power graph demonstrated how the AI empires had continued to build fleets and climbed well past mine. I built enough ships to deal with the Krynn, and once it was clear that I had space superiority, I went back to adding constructors for some economic starbases. That's why my power flatlined on the graph and even decreased when I lost ships to the Krynn navy. Meanwhile, the Drengin and Iridium had been surging forward, and even Altaria and the Yor were ahead of me now. Only the sad Thalans, who were getting kicked around by everyone else, remained below me in power. They seem to do poorly in most of the game I've played thus far. You'd think the bug race would have inherited better luck from the mighty Klackons! (The Thalans actually do extremely well on huge map sizes due to their per-planet bonuses. People on the GC3 forums are always raving about how overpowered the Thalan tech tree is when they keep playing those enormous maps. Perhaps my smaller map choices were hurting them in my games.)

This meant that it was time to cancel all my fancy peacetime builds and prepare for war once again. I had constructed a shipyard in the Kryseth system, and my two production centers at New Iconia and the Krynn homeworld began churning out more Stinger ships. Hmmm, they were looking a little long in the tooth by now. I needed to get some additional military techs to build bigger, faster, stronger ships. What were the Drengin packing?

Give the AI some credit for this design. The Drengin had clearly seen my Stinger design and built something that would work decently against it. Their ships were heavily based around mass drivers, and they included a good amount of point defense to stop the first volley from my missiles. The AI absolutely loves mass drivers in GC3, and so far I've never used any myself because their ships always seem to be packing mass drivers and armor, the counter to mass drivers. (There's a reason for this: Durantium resources allow you to build strong mass driver weapons, and the AI is obsessed with mining every resource on the map. Once they have the resource, they pick the strongest weapon available in their designs, and that happens to be mass drivers over and over again. Then they see all the other AI empires packing mass drivers and include armor to counter.) The Drengin had quite a few ships along our shared border, including the first AI transport ship that I'd seen down near Selzer III. Given the Drengin combat bonuses, I did not want that thing to reach one of my planets.

Of course, the AI had made the same critical mistake in this war that it had in my previous one against the Krynn: not enough speed. Most of the Drengin ships were only moving 3 tiles per turn, and that's simply not fast enough to pose much of a danger. By the time their navy could cross into my territory and begin threatening planets, I would have sufficient time to mount a response. In an amusing twist, those starbases at the bottom of my territory had previously belonged to the Krynn, and they became pirate starbases after my earlier conquest. Since the pirates are hostile to all empires, the Drengin actually attacked one of them and lost a good chunk of one of their stacks taking it out. My buddies, the Krynn pirates. Go figure.

Here's the design intended to counter the Drengin ships. I researched up to the tier 2 laser technology: Particle Beams. They do three damage per shot and this design has four of them mounted, for 12 damage total. I was still using Medium hulls for the moment, lacking the time to research up to Large size. Because the Drengin were so heavily focused on mass drivers, I've also added the tier 2 armor to this ship design, which provided 12 points of protection. The defensive stuff in this game will simply block incoming damage of the proper type until it's gone; this ship could take 12 points of damage from mass drivers before beginning to lose HP. With the remaining space, I've added two engines for 7 movement points, enough to fly circles around the slower Drengin ships. I could run from them if desired, while they could never escape my pursuing craft. Both New Iconia and Kryseth could build one of these per turn, and I was confident that these Particle ships would turn the tide of battle.

Shipyards have an interesting property in GC3: more than one planet at a time can send their production to the same shipyard. Up to five different planets can contribute their production and help to pool their hammers for spaceship construction. This is done through the "Edit Sponsors" tab down in the bottom left corner. Planets within five tiles won't lose any production when sponsoring a shipyard. The distance in tiles is the green arrow symbol for each planet, and the three planets in the Kryseth system were all close enough to avoid the penalty. You can assign additional planets that are further away, of course, although there's an increasing amount of waste with more and more distance. I've also assigned Oasis as a contributer to this shipyard, which is 11 tiles distant and loses about 10% of its production. Pooling production together like this can be highly effective: note that the Kryseth shipyard has 231 hammers per turn right now! I often find myself turning the second, smaller planet in the home system (e.g. Mars for the Terrans and Sanctum in this game) into another location for production emphasis, and then having it contribute alongside the homeworld for shipbuilding. Bigger planets are certainly always better, with their ability to stack the bonuses from having additional tiles, but even small planets can help out through this cool shipyard sponsorship mechanic.

While we're here, I'll provide a non-cropped look at the Govern screen. This is your economic summary for the entire empire, the totals from every planet combined on each turn. You can also adjust the sliders for every planet at once here, although that's a poor choice. It's much more efficient to micro each planet individually. (I understand that in the original Galactic Civ game, you could only set the sliders globally.) At the moment, I was emphasizing manufacturing heavily to churn out some of those new Particle Beam ships and counter the Drengin menace. Also producing a nice research total as well! On the budget side of things, I was running heavily in the black right now, with tourism income making a major difference. I had two planets on wealth, the original Dodge and the new Market Garden, which were easily covering all of my expenses and then some. Like I said before, roughly one planet in ten seems to work for wealth generation. Since I had two wealth planets out of fifteen current colonies, I was making a tidy profit. The extra income was going into upgrades, as I attempted to turn my old Stinger designs into the new Particle Beam ones. The rules for upgrading are pretty flexible: you can turn any ship into any other ship of the same hull size at a cost in credits. I'm uncertain if you can upgrade between hull sizes. At 480 credits per upgrade, turning the old Stingers into the new Particle Beam ships was going to take some time and money.

When my fleet of new ships encountered the Drengin ships in a direct clash, the results were ugly:

For them. This is what can happen when one ship design directly counters another. The Drengin ships were completely dependent on mass drivers for their damage capabilities. They had to peel off the armor of my new Particle Beams before they could begin to start inflicting real damage. In small engagements like this, they couldn't even do that before their ships were destroyed. Only in a major fleet to fleet clash would they be able to do actual hull damage. Now that's not to say that the Drengin designs were bad either - they were actually pretty solid, aside from the terribly slow movement rate. Against my old Stinger designs, their ships were giving me a pounding. The Drengin ships also had significantly more HP than mine (note the 140 HP on a Medium hull, compared to my ships with 110 HP) and that let them stick in a fight for longer periods of time. They were simply up against a design which was a direct counter to theirs, and there was little they could do about that short of creating an entirely new design with heavy shielding. The AI was not up to that particular challenge. I didn't see much change in Drengin designs throughout the war.

Another ship that I refitted for this conflict was the ever-useful sensor ship, with this being the version 3 design. With more hull space available, I was able to get 6 movement and still have enough sensors to reveal the map 28 tiles away! I highlighted the two sensor ships in the above picture, and sure enough, together they removed the fog of war from every single tile in Drengin territory. The whole thing truly is silly. Still, the advantages are enormous, and with the AI cheating on map vision too, it's hard for me to resist the temptation.

This war was following a similar pattern to the previous one with the Krynn. First came the tactical part of the conflict, where my fleet clashed with theirs until one side managed to establish space supremacy. This took longer to achieve in this war, since the Drengin caught me a bit off guard this time. Once I'd wrestled away control of the skies, the invasion phase of the campaign could begin. There are a couple of my transports visible in the picture; they have the same icon as a colony ship, long and thin for the graphic. I'd already taken one planet from the Drengin, the former Selzer III which I had renamed to Bountiful. (Underwater, the top planet on the list, was an Aquatic extreme planet that I'd culture flipped from the Yor, in the far southwest system right next to Heaven.) Invading the Drengin is tougher than most other races because they have an ability that provides free defensive ships over planets and shipyards. They're weak, easily beatable ships, but that does mean that your transports have to be escorted to their destination. Without that racial ability, I could have taken planet after planet with ease using nothing other than my transports. They'd been upgraded to have 18 movement (!) at this point along with extra range. Instead, I had to wait for the slow-moving warships to tag along at 7 moves/turn, plus set up starbases here and there to extend their range. It was an interesting exercise in logistics.

Once I felt safe down in the south, I had New Iconia go back to constructor production. My current design had two constructor modules on board and 11 moves per turn. I was testing out an influence push strategy against the weak Yor / Thalan border to see how effective it would be at pushing back their own influence. One of the Iconian racial abilities grants them a free module on each starbase, so with the initial module + free module + second module on the double constructor ship, I could get a new starbase with three cultural rings from each one of my Double Constructor designs. Remember, the only restriction on starbase placement is that they must be 5 tiles apart from one another. I was packing them along the border, filling out the cultural modules, and waiting to see what happened. Based on my experience thus far, cultural starbases will grab tiles quickly in empty parts of the map where there's little accumulated influence. However, they make much less headway within the cores of the AI empires. Flipping established planets is extremely difficult to do, even if they're deep inside your influence. In other words, this wasn't nearly as easy as it had been during my initial Influence game on Normal difficulty! I had the spare production for the time being though, so I continued to have fun with this diversion.

Oh, and the Yor had been at war with the Thalans for some time now. The galaxy's small fries didn't seem to like one another. The Yor planet to the northwest of the Thalan homeworld had been captured away from the bugs a little while earlier. So it appears that the AI can indeed conduct an invasion successfully in this game. Would the Yor eliminate the Thalans entirely? It seemed possible, they had few planets remaining. I watched this sideshow with interest.

This was the last major battle against the Drengin fleet. I took the picture to demonstrate the pre-battle screen and how our ships would typically stack up in a major engagement. The Drengin went with all that point defense to counter my Stinger design, only to run into ships that didn't field missiles at all. What a shame for them. They had one new ship packing lasers and shields but it was too little, too late. I continued to roll over world after world without much opposition. This game reminds me of Starcraft in that regard; the armies will clash in the field, and if one side wins decisively and can sit on top of the production buildings of the other, the game is over because every new unit gets killed immediately after being produced. There's no opportunity to group forces together once you reach that point, and individual units/ships are sitting ducks. I was camping the Drengin shipyards and hitting everything as it spawned, leaving them little chance to respond.

Now this didn't make any sense at all. When conducting the ground invasions of each planet, I came across this situation at Mong Wen. The Drengin had built planetary defenses at this world, and that turned my invasion percentage into a negative modifier. They also had an extremely high resistance modifier of 86%, much greater than anything I'd ever seen before. In fact, even with 6 pop on the transport ship, I had a sigificant disadvantage in this battle, 5.1 against 7.4 rating. That meant that I'd have to come back with more population and try again later, right? Apparently not: Likelihood of Success = 100%. WTF?! How does that make any sense at all? The Drengin actually built planetary defenses here, and their attack rating was higher than mine. Why in the world did they lose this battle? Someone please tell me this is a bug or something!

This second war continued to show the cracks in the invasion gameplay mechanic. Another major problem is that there doesn't appear to be any way to tell how strongly the planet is defended until a transport ship actually arrives. You can see the population of each enemy world, and that's it. Given the vast swings in invasion resistance (anywhere from 35% to 85%) and the presence or lack of defensive buildings, you could be attacking against 10 enemy pop and have a massive overkill force or be completely overwhelmed. And there's no way to know ahead of time. In Master of Orion, you know from your tech situation whether you have an advantage or not in ground combat, and that along with the population on the target planet gives you an idea of how many marines to send. Here in GC3, I'm just guessing blindly at what I'll need to take each world. It doesn't help that the necessary number seems to vary by such a huge degree either. Why does one world have 30% resistance when another world has 80% resistance? Where are these numbers coming from, and how can I see them ahead of time? I can't plan appropriately without knowing what kind of defending force I'll be facing.

Another issue is the complete inability of your fleet to affect enemy planets. They can escort transport ships to the target but that's it, nothing else. I could be facing an AI navy that massively outnumbers me, and they won't be able to lay a finger on my planets without transports. (Fortunately the AI is programmed to build lots of transports, but you get the idea.) To go back to Master of Orion once again, the game would benefit from having an ability to bombard worlds from orbit, completely destroying the colony that way if there are no defenses present. Right now, to take a world away from someone else, you must invade it. There are no other options, the ground invasion has to take place every time. MOO gives the player the chance to invade with population or destroy from orbit. (Invading is much harder but also more valuable.) The necessity of invading every world is tedious, to say the least. The game actually does provide an option to destroy colonies completely, but that can only be done from the colony management screen, AFTER a successful invasion. Good grief! Sometimes I just want to blow up their colony and move on to the next target. Guess we had to do this the hard way though.

When the Drengin were down to their final few planets, I was in for a rude shock:

Wait, what just happened here? Suddenly all of the Drengin ships and planets had become part of the Iridium Corporation. Don't tell me that ridiculous "surrender" mechanic is still in GC3 - I thought they took that out from the previous Galactic Civ games! Apparently when an empire is losing a war, they will sometimes opt to surrender everything that they have to another AI (or to the player). This is seriously one of the dumbest mechanics in a strategy game that I can recall. Let us count the ways. For one thing, it's heavily based on luck. Sometimes the AI surrenders, sometimes they don't (like the Krynn). When they make the decision to surrender seems to be random. Who they surrender to seems to be random as well. If the Drengin wanted to surrender, shouldn't it have been to me anyway? I was the one beating them to a bloody pulp! That brings me to my second point. In addition to being unpredictable, this mechanic is also extremely unfair. Iridium magically received three planets on the other side of the map, plus the entire remaining Drengin navy. On the bar graphs, their military power and production and research all shot up by a huge amount. How in the world was that fair? And this surrender also threw the diplomatic side of the game into chaos as well. I had transports about to hit all three remaining Drengin worlds, and now they were suddenly the property of another race entirely. If I wanted to obtain them, I'd have to go to war with the Iridium Corporation, who had been one of my best allies the whole game. Conversely, two AI empires could be at war and one of them could surrender to me, granting me colonies and ships that I did nothing to deserve. That's just as silly from a gameplay perspective.

Everything about this mechanic is dumb. Yes, it makes the game more challenging, but it does so in a profoundly stupid way. If you want to make the game harder, them do more to boost the AI performance, or remove the stupid sensor stacking, or remove the silly 5000 credit treasury so that players actually have to balance the economy in the early game, or a hundred other things that provide real difficulty and not this Fake Difficulty (TM). There are so many ways to make the game harder without resorting to this trash. Entire empires should not magically be changing hands on dice rolls. I mean, we are playing a strategy game here and not Mario Party, right? Right?


Weirdly, the Drengin still appeared on the diplomatic screen with this new graphic. What in the world did that little ship icon mean (?) Oh, and you'll notice here that the Drengin were ALSO AT WAR with Iridium. Yeah, they gave all of their remaining planets and ships over to one of their enemies. I can't wait to hear someone explain to me how this is a sign of brilliant AI strategy and not a random "screw over the player" dice roll. It's the same crap from Civ4 vassal states all over again, but at least Civ4 gave me the option to turn those things off. No such luck here.

Anyway, the Civilization Power ranking in the top corner demonstrated how the game was now a two-way race between my empire and the Drengin-boosted Iridium. No one else was even close. Interestingly enough, I found that I could still talk to the Drengin diplomatically:

Uh, so were these guys dead or what? I was pretty confused. They had absolutely nothing on the trade screen except their treasury. I thought about seeing how much money I could get for a peace treaty, except that I was worried that I might still need to do more fighting against the Drengin. Were they alive, dead, undead, vassal of the Iridium - what was the deal here? It looks like I could have signed peace for their treasury because the Drengin died on the following turn:

Well if that's the case, then they should have disappeared on the previous turn! I don't understand having the Drengin sit there in that weird "dead but not dead" state for one turn. It practically seems like an invitation to abuse the AI on the trade screen in some way. In fact, I worry that it exists for exactly that reason. The GC developers have stated in the past that they will sometimes deliberately leave holes in the game for players to exploit, that they like that kind of thing. The whole minor races essentially exist for the player to abuse, one reason why I turn them off in my games. I'll just say that it's not a design decision that I support and leave it at that. Apparently I could have bilked the Drengin out of 3000 credits here, not that I really needed the money.

Now there were four AI empires remaining. While I was again hoping for a peaceful respite to work on infrastructure and explore the later parts of the tech tree in more detail, it increasingly seemed like the Iridium weren't going to play along. The Drengin surrender had completely upended the diplomacy in this game, and I had more troubles ahead before this game could be put to a conclusion.