Psilons, Impossible, Medium, 5 Opponents
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This is the short summary of a game that I played on Livestream at the beginning of 2021 as part of my ongoing Civ Fridays series. There had been a number of requests to run a new Master of Orion game and I thought it would be fun to step away from Civ4 for a few weeks by trying something a bit different. I wanted to showcase a variant of some kind and eventually found one that I liked amongst the old Realms Beyond Imperia games. This was the "Inflexible" variant: the player must equalize all research spending on the first turn and can never adjust the sliders between the six tech fields. In addition, the player must research the first tech listed and proceed down the list in order without ever being able to skip ahead. This is a serious restriction that makes the gameplay notably harder as it robs the player of the ability to leapfrog ahead on the tech tree. If you don't want to research Death Spores or a gazillion range techs, well tough luck buster, you don't have a choice under these restrictions.
I thought that the Psilons would be the perfect choice to pair together with this variant. On the positive side, the Psilons get +50% research points (RP) at all planets for the whole game, and this benefit is further compounded by being rated "Good" in all six fields which decreases the cost of every tech by 20%. The Psilons effectively research about 80% faster than everyone else which is why they are generally considered to be the strongest race in Master of Orion. On top of those advantages, the Psilons also have higher odds for each tech to appear in their tech tree as compared to the other races; the base odds are 50% for each tech to appear but they're 75% for the Psilons. Thus the Psilons not only research faster than everyone else, they also get more options in their tech tree as well so that they can pick the best stuff while skipping over the useless junk. However, that would *NOT* be the case in this game - having more techs appear in the Psilon tree would actually be a huge penalty under this variant! The Weapons field in particular has so many techs that it would take forever to advance into the lategame firepower options. Thus the very strength of the Psilons would also be a fatal weakness under this ruleset. I thought that this would make for a fun and memorable game as the big brains of the Psilons struggled to overcome the variant's obsession with researching every single tech that appeared.
The Psilon homeworld popped up in the southeastern corner of the galaxy with a decent amount of safe backline worlds to claim down the road. There was an unusually large amount of other yellow stars in this galaxy, 16 of them in all, making it harder to know where the AI races were starting out. I caught a big break when the yellow star to the south (the only one within range) held a gigantic Terran planet with max size 115. Holy cow, that was a better spot than the homeworld! We christened this world Acheron and I set to work manufacturing some scout ships to explore the region followed by building up factories at the homeworld. This bit of good news was quickly offset by the discovery of a Silicoid colony only six parsecs away to the west. Argh, not the race that I wanted to see nearly on top of me in the early game! There ended up being a lot of Hostile planets in the neighborhood and I knew I'd have a devil of a time trying to keep the rocks off them, not helped by the Inflexible variant delaying access to the higher habitability techs. I mean, look at this immediate area:
Not a good sign when the Silicoids are your closest neighbor! Cryslon itself was the yellow star directly to the southwest of the Silicoid colony and there wasn't a lot of room to operate. Fortunately the Psilons do research very quickly with their racial bonuses and for once the Controlled Barren tech that I was compelled to research would actually be useful. I shooed away Silicoid colony ships from the nearby Hostile worlds first with unarmed scouts and then with some basic Laser fighters. I researched additional range tech and stretched out to grab the Terran 95 planet in the southwest that the rocks had unbelievably failed to prioritize, then picked up the Barren planet in the northeast and the two backline worlds in the southeast. The Steppe planet had rolled as Artifacts and that would be a big help once it was built up. My other hope was that I could get enough range to reach the planets in the north where I knew there was no AI homeworld but that wasn't in the cards for this game either. The stars up there either had no planet present or were deeply Hostile and would be claimed before I had enough tech to settle them. I was going to be stuck on half a dozen planets for some time.
Colonizing the Terran 95 planet in the southwest brought me into formal contact with the Silicoids who unfortunately rolled the Erratic trait for this game. That would be a real problem as I had no guarantee that they wouldn't declare war for no reason at the drop of a pin. I signed the rocks up to a trade agreement and crossed my fingers. But my luck wasn't holding this time as the Silicoids declared war shortly thereafter a little after the first Council vote. This was not what I needed at all, not with many of my fledgling colonies just getting started and still well short of maximum factories. At least it allowed me to train some Nuclear Bomb fighters to blow up the little Silicoid colony on the Toxic world next to Acheron, no need to avoid angering the rocks while we were at war. Eventually I met the Klackons up to the north... only to find that they were also Erratic, and have them also declare war within half a dozen turns of meeting them. Sheesh! What a game this was for diplomacy. Together the Silicoids and the Klackons blocked access to any of the other races and the pair of them absolutely refused to sign peace. I would be stuck in war with the two of them for long turns on end.
This was early enough in the game that the AI races lacked the range to target most of my planets and I didn't see anything too bad in terms of enemy fleets, at least not right away. Most of the fighting took place over the unclaimed Hostile planets in the vicinity, the Radiated/Tundra/Toxic worlds that ran in a line to the west of Psilon territory. Eventually the Silicoids would claim the Radiated world and the Klackons the Tundra world but I delayed them for a long period of time by shooting down their colony ships and performing hit-and-run raids with my nuke bombers. Anything to keep these opponents from focusing on my own worlds. I did in fact keep anyone from controlling the Toxic planet which was a surprise to me. The Silicoids also inexplicably made no move to colonize a large Ocean world to the south and I was able to claim it with a Long Range colony ship eventually, building up the planet while it was undefended despite being at war with the rocks. Then I found another unclaimed planet even further to the west and did the same thing again! It pays to scout since you never know when the AI will ignore planets for no clear reason.
As for the Klackons, they initially attacked at the homeworld of Mentat but predictably lacked enough fleet strength to get through my defenses. After driving them away they shifted tactics and went after Lavos, the much smaller Barren 50 planet in the northeast. They brought a stack of 384 of their popgun fighters and I was able to assemble 6 missile bases to meet them:
Those enemy ships were sporting Ion Cannons, the second tier laser weapon that deals 2-8 damage per shot and only 1-4 damage when halved against missile bases. But I only had three points of shielding since the Inflexible variant prevented me from leaping forward to the Class V Planetary Shield and that meant at least some of those shots were going to roll 4 damage and get through to the bases. Was there enough to hold here? This would end up being one of the closest battles that I can remember fighting over a planet. My base count slowly dropped turn after turn along with the stack of enemy ion ships. The fight eventually hit the maximum number of rounds and timed out with 52 fighters left alongside 2 bases. The Klackons would have to retreat and try again, giving me more time to stack up additional defenses. This was exceedingly close and I would have lost if I'd only had 5 bases at the start of the battle instead of 6. I also would have lost if Duralloy Armor and Hyper-X missiles hadn't completed their research just before the fighting began. Thank goodness for Reserve spending to squeeze out those bases despite factories being well short of completion.
Long turns of fighting had made it clear that the AI races didn't have enough fleet strength to punch through and capture my planets. The real danger was therefore in the Galactic Council where I was hated by the Silicoids and Klackons while being unable to communicate with anyone else. Those two Erratic dunderheads could sign alliances with the other three races while I couldn't even speak with them. I've been in situations like this before and the threat of losing the game in the Council was dire. The only solution was not to be nominated at all, as then the rocks and the bugs would face off against one another and split the vote to ensure that the game would continue. As the 2400 election approached, I arranged for some big population transfers between my core worlds which would artificially drop my population count. You send 100 or 200 million population off in transports right before the Council meets and the offworld population doesn't count for Council voting purposes. This worked as planned and the Silicoids and Klackons were nominated against one another. Perfect, now they would split the vote and we would move on with the danger dodged. Err, wait, what was that vote count again?
What do you mean that the Silicoids had enough votes to win the game?! It turned out that every single neutral race decided to cast their ballot for the rocks and that was enough to put them over the top. These were races that did not have alliances with the Silicoids and simply voted for them anyway. I've played more games of Master of Orion than I can remember and this has literally never happened before. When two AI races are nominated against each other, the vote always gets split with no result. Maybe not in extreme lategame if you have a runaway AI empire but here in the early game, with an evenly divided galaxy? I couldn't believe that my own vote plus the Klackons didn't add up to a third of the total population. Maybe if I could have actually talked to someone else in this galaxy who wasn't Erratic I could have done something about this ending. The rocks won by a single vote - what a rotten bit of bad luck this was!
Just to test things further, I reloaded from the start of the 2399 save and decided to see what would happen if I didn't send my population off in transports. This time I was nominated in the Council against the Silicoids (as expected - the player will always be nominated if they tie an AI race in number of votes) and while the Klackons voted for the Silicoids instead of casting a vote for themselves, both the Bulrathi and the Darloks abstained rather than voting for the rocks. This was enough to leave the Silicoids short of a majority with only 20/36 votes this time around. The outcome made no sense at all - why did the bears and the shapeshifters change their vote even though nothing different had taken place? Unfortunately this is one of the weaknesses in Master of Orion's gameplay. We learned from the Realms Beyond Imperia that there's a fair degree of randomness in terms of how the AI races vote in the Council. While the system generally works well since AI races will vote for their allies and vote against whoever they're at war, it doesn't work properly for empires in a neutral state. They tend to abstain in that situation but sometimes will cast a vote instead for no reason other than RNG. Again, I could have controlled this and worked around it if I had been in contact with these other races but the isolated corner of this map left me with few options. I took the appropriate countermeasure to avoid being nominated in the Council and was hit was some terrible RNG in the Council vote itself.
That was a poor ending to the game and we decided to play on further using the second Council vote where I had rolled abstentions from the Bulrathi and the Darloks. I still counted this game as a loss on my permanent record but we wanted to play this thing out in full and see what happened. The following turns finally introduced me to more AI empires: first the Darloks who declared war almost immediately after contact, followed by the Sakkra who... also declared war immediately after contact. This game was so bad from a diplomatic standpoint that I was literally banging my head against my desk on stream:
Could I get just one ally in this game? One AI race that wasn't trying to kill me constantly? It was understandable from a gameplay standpoint, of course, with the initial war declarations from the Erratic races causing a cascade effect as they signed alliances with the Darloks and Sakkra who were then pulled into those wars as soon as they made contact with me. I needed to break up their old boys network and somehow crack the wall of hostility that everyone else was directing against me. I spent long turns huddling behind my missle bases fighting off Silicoid and Klackon fleets and otherwise doing research to crawl up the tech tree. There were plenty of goodies in my Psilon tech tree, it just took forever to grab everything due to the inability to skip techs. I spent a great deal of time on the diplomatic screen looking for an opportunity to break out of this terrible position and finally found a lifeline: the Silicoids offered to sign peace if I gave them Improved Robotics III. Ouch, that was a steep asking price, especially for an Erratic leader who I had no guarantee wouldn't turn around and attack me again. But it was a chance to get myself out of this diplomatic box and I leaped at the opporunity. Finally peace at last with the rocks after innumerable decades at war.
This was the big diplomatic breakthrough for my game. Now that I could interact peacefully with the Silicoids, I pushed for them to declare war on the Klackons and managed to get them to agree. This was a critical swing in the game's diplomatic landscape: instead of the rocks and bugs working together against me, the rocks and bugs would be plunged into mutual bloodletting which lasted for the rest of the game. With the AI fleets diverted off to Silicoid space, I wouldn't see much activity from the Klackons for a long time. After I moved population offworld a second time to dodge nomination in the 2425 Council vote, I was able to get peace with the Klackons (by handing them Inertial Stabilizer, yikes!) and then sign a treaty with the Sakkra as well. The lizards had their homeworld in the far off northwest corner of the galaxy and we signed a big trade agreement to improve relations. They were Pacifists and I would go on to make a series of successful tech trades with them since I had no interest in attacking their colonies. After untold ages, I was finally at peace and could concentrate on pushing tech.
By the start of my third session, I was back at war with the Silicoids again but the overall situation was looking significantly improved. All of my planets were mature by this point and able to pump out large amounts of RP whenever they didn't need to build additional bases for defense. The Silicoids were largely leaving me alone as they clashed with the Klackons and the Sakkra and the Darloks; the rocks had wound up making enemies of basically everyone after I was able to pull them into war with the bugs. Their tech was stagnating while mine continued to advance. I was able to leverage an advantage in Computers tech into several tech thefts from the Silicoids, not caring if I was caught since we were at war, and continued to make advantageous tech trades with the Sakkra. There was nothing about the Inflexible variant that stopped me from trading or stealing technology more advanced than I could research, and this was particularly helpful in the Weapons field where there were just so many low level techs to research. I was able to trade for Stinger Missiles and the Megabolt Cannon and Omega-V Bombs which gave me enough tools to put a warship together. Once I researched up to Controlled Radiated tech and could land marines on the Hostile Silicoid planets, it was time to shift over to the offensive.
I targeted Crius first, a small Ultra Rich Radiated Silicoid colony to the northwest of my homeworld. It fell extremely easily to my new fleet and even though the only tech looted was a total dud (Range 4), this was another powerful new addition to the Psilon empire. Crius quickly built up enough bases to defend itself, then I moved on to the planet of Incendius, then headed for Cryslon itself. The Silicoids were increasingly revealed as a paper tiger, their early game strength now falling by the wayside as they were surrounded by enemies on all sides. They were so detested by the rest of the galaxy that I was improving relations with everyone else by running over the Silicoid worlds. It was a tough fight to seize control of the Silicoid home planet thanks to their Tritanium Armor but a series of invasions left the world under Psilon control:
A single surviving marine, heh. There was another 100 million invaders about to land on the next turn but it was still fun to see this victory achieved by a whisker. The successful invasion delivered up Tritanium Armor (far beyond what Psilon scientists were currently able to research) and allowed me to design a new Autorepair gunship with significantly more health and weapon capacity. From that point on the Silicoid empire completely collapsed and it became a routine conquest of the sort that I've done a hundred times previously in Master of Orion. I hit a new planet every three or four turns and steadily gobbled up their holdings one after another, standing up each new capture with population transports and Reserve spending to max out factories and pile up missile bases. The Silicoids had once been the largest empire in the galaxy and annexing their holdings effectively doubled the size of Psilon territory, from 9 planets to 18 planets. They were left with a single world off in the north to avoid getting the genocide diplomatic penalty. I quickly hit the point where relations were tanking with everyone else, only keeping the AI races happy by bombing the Silicoids somewhere on the map every few turns. There was little danger of losing the game at this point and it was more a matter of thinking about how I wanted to finish things.
My initial plan at this point had been to follow the path of least resistance and take over the Bulrathi or Darlok worlds off to the north. The Klackons were by far the strongest AI race remaining and I thought I would avoid them for the time being if I didn't have to fight them. However, they decided to force the issue by declaring way against me in an Erratic fit of pique. That settled matters and I switched over to taking the fight to the bugs rather than crushing the various small fry empires. The Klackons had excellent shielding (23 points between Class VIII Deflectors and Class XV Planetary Shields) along with Scatter Pack VII missiles for some nasty defenses. However, I had Omega-V Bombs and enough tech to fit one of them on a Small hull along with four points of in-combat movement and even a Cloaking Device! I built hundreds of these Small bombers and combined them together with my Autorepair Huge designs. This was enough to reclaim Licky, a planet which had briefly been colonized by the Psilons in the early game only to be wrestled away and held by the Klackons for more than a hundred turns. It felt much better having that planet back in the fold once again.
Rather than fight over the spud world of Xengara, I sent the fleet north towards the Klackon core worlds. I bypassed Ryoun since it looked too well defended with its 85 missile bases, instead opting to hit the more weakly held Tau Cygni and Yarrow further to the northeast. The Klackons didn't seem to be expecting me to target these planets as they fell quickly and delivered up a treasure trove of high level techs. I pulled Terraforming +100 along with Plasma Torpedos (the top tech in the Weapons field) which essentially blew the lid off this game from a technological perspective. I had stolen Atmospheric Terraforming from the Sakkra and researched Advanced Soil Enrichment in my own tech tree; when combined with that looted Terraforming +100 tech, all of my planets were simply enormous. There were long turns on end where I was terraforming my worlds into bigger and bigger sizes as I kept discovering or looting more terraforming tech, and then I discovered Improved Robotics V and had to stack more factories on top of all that extra population to boot. The game was ending before I could fully leverage all of these massive economic improvements but the Psilon empire was stacking up a frightening amount of production. Seemingly every world had 200 million population and 1000 factories to play around with and there was zero chance that the AI empires could have kept pace.
Even the Negative Fleet Bug popping up couldn't stop me from overrunning the defenses of Ryoun and blowing it up:
If the Klackons couldn't defeat me with a near-infinite amount of ships, this game was well and truly over. True to form, Master of Orion allowed me to cash out with a victory at the next Council vote in 2550. I had 44/67 votes which was just barely short of voting myself the winner and with 13 other votes from my allies it was easily enough to take home the victory. This was a Domination victory by Realms Beyond nomenclature that missed being a Conquest victory by a single vote.
This was a fun game and a challenging variant to take on. I sometimes wonder if the game would have been easier if I had been playing someone other than the Psilons just because there wouldn't have been so many dud techs to research through; I'm honestly not sure. This game was notable for having such wretched diplomacy for the first 150 turns and I'm pleased that I eventually managed to find a path through it. The Council vote loss in 2400 was extremely unlucky and it's a bit of a shame that the Bulrathi and Darlok AI leaders decide to cast both of their votes in the wrong way at a time when I hadn't even met them. This is one of the rare places where the holes in the Master of Orion gameplay popped up and caused an undeserved outcome. But the rest of the game worked perfectly and this ended up being a great Livestream experience. Master of Orion does a great job of minimizing lategame tedium and even a game that lasted until 2550 only needed four Livestream sessions to be completed. Unlike some of the Civ4 games that I've done, this one was short enough that it's pretty watchable.
I hope that you enjoyed this summary, thanks as always for reading along.