Darloks, Impossible, Medium, 5 Opponents
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This is the short summary of a game that I played on Livestream in June 2022 as part of my ongoing Civ Fridays series. Master of Orion continues to be one of the most popular games for me to Livestream despite its age and as a result I try to run a new game every six months or so because people enjoy watching and I enjoy playing. For this particular outing, I decided to use the Darloks which I hadn't featured on stream previously. The Darloks are my least-favorite race in Master of Orion and also one of the weakest options to choose. They get a truly massive spying bonus (+30 to their spying rolls) and don't suffer any research penalties at all while being rated "Good" in Computers tech, which on paper would seem to make them one of the strongest races. Their crippling weakness is their terrible diplomacy, as no one trusts the shapeshifters and they begin at "Uneasy" relations with everyone else (except the Humans who have good diplomacy with everyone). The Darloks are more likely than anyone else to get pulled into early warfare and suffer early defeats in the Council vote. My hardest games in Master of Orion are always the ones where I wind up in conflict with the AI races early on and the Darloks are the most likely empire to face these situations. They're probably the best choice to try to win the game from a Final War situation after losing the Council vote, for what that's worth, though I've stated a bunch of times that I consider those to be lost games. The Darloks are the only race where I have a losing record on Impossible thanks to too many of those lost votes.
I didn't feel the need to add a variant on top of playing the Darloks and rolled standard settings for a game, Medium galaxy with the normal 5 AI opponents. I drew a corner start in the northwest portion of the map and this was an unusual galaxy for having 15 yellow stars (!), most of them clustered on the eastern side of the map. There was only one star within 3 parsec range which fortunately contained a Jungle 85 planet, an excellent prize to serve as the second world. The opening turns were unusually quiet as I had no contact with any other AI empires for the first 25 turns of the game, not even a meeting of scouts over uninhabited worlds. It turned out that there were six total planets in my corner of the map including the starting two, all of them decent-sized and all of them habitable, and then further expansion beyond that would be more difficult. At a bare minimum, I needed to control the two planets to the east of my homeworld, an Arid size 80 and a Desert size 60, and then I hoped to be able to push further south where there were some hostile planets and a larger Arid Poor world sitting at 6 parsec range. Alternately, I was crossing my fingers for some of those stars to the east past the nebula which I hadn't been able to scout yet for lack of range.
Unfortunately I started running into enemy ships around the time that the homeworld had maxed on factories and began shifting over to colony ship production. The Silicoids popped up in the south and that was bad news since that was the same direction where I'd been encountering hostile worlds. There was little chance that I'd be able to develop Controlled Inferno or Toxic technology soon enough to keep them off those worlds, nor could I afford to invest heavily in ships during the early game to chase them away. The Arid planet down there was a Poor world and it similarly seemed like a bad idea trying to use Long Range ships at 6 parsec range just to fight for it. My unarmed scouts managed to ward off the Silicoids longer than I had expected but eventually they would indeed claim all of these worlds. In fact, no one else started in the southwest corner and the Silicoids would grab everything down there and then push east snapping up all the unclaimed hostile worlds.
As for the east, I was missing Range 4 in my tech tree and had to push to Range 5 to colonize the Arid and Desert planets in that direction. Thankfully I did land both of them without issue, however when I pushed my scouts forward they immediately found that the Klackons were already in control of the three planets past the nebula - ack! Fighting the bugs and their early game production also looked to be nearly impossible which meant that I was stuck on these initial half a dozen planets. They were good planets mind you, none of them Poor and everything aside from the northwestern Desert planet medium in size or better, but six planets isn't really enough to be competitive on Impossible difficulty. I think that I played the opening well and didn't see much of anything that I could have done differently, just one of those games where the player gets stuck with a corner position. For the moment, all that I could do was build up factories on these six worlds and bide my time while waiting for an opportunity to make a move. This was a tough galaxy in terms of opponents, drawing the Silicoids, Klackons, Psilons, and Meklars who are all among the strongest AI races.
The Klackons sent some early probes against my forward planet of Athas while I was still trying to get factories built and then made it official by declaring war. These were only basic Laser fighters but I didn't want them to gain space superiority and start sending marines in an invasion. I had built about 50 of my own Laser popgun fighters and managed to shoot down the first invading stack with minimal losses (killing 41 ships and losing 8) thanks to getting in the first shot on the tactical screen by baiting the AI into shooting at one of my unarmed scouts. With the Klackons going hostile on me, I turned on Espionage with them and began my game-long commitment to stealing techs. I focused on Computers tech first to increase the odds of future spying successes and then targeted whatever key techs looked most useful. This was a perfect example of how the very strength of the Darloks in their spying also accentuates their weakness of everyone else hating and mistrusting them. I was trying to finish research on Class II Shields and get a missile base on Athas which would be sufficient to chase off an infinite number of Klackon Laser-based ships. At least the bugs were ignoring the planet of Iowa up in the north which was essentially undefended and building factories with only scouts for defense.
While I was tangled up with the Klackons, the Silicoids finally managed to chase away one of my scouts over the Inferno planet to the south, bringing us into formal contact for the first time:
Oh this was not good! The Silicoids had completely overrun the southwest corner of the galaxy and now were making use of the AI cheese alliances to extend range further to the east. It was clear that they were going to be the runaway AI empire in this game and there was little that I could do to stop them, not with the Klackons facing me in a hot war and blocking all expansion possibilities. At least the Silicoids are the least-dangerous opponent to face with a huge amount of territory given all of their penalties. I signed the rocks up to the maximum trade agreement and prayed that they wouldn't come after me as well. I absolutely could not afford to face another enemy which meant that spying was out of the question against the Silicoids. They left me alone for the time being, most likely because I had been able to vote for them in the first Council election and gain a huge amount of diplomatic favor in the process. Still, at some point I was going to have to overcome the rocks if I wanted to win the game myself. I continued to bide my time, strengthening the defenses of Athas while stealing technology from the Klackons.
On my forward planet, it was a race to get a missle base built in time before the Klackons could overwhelm me with ships. The bugs managed to shoot down my defending Laser fighters just before I could get the missle base finished, allowing them to scout the planet and send invaders. I was able to shoo them off on the planet's surface (always research those Hand Lasers!) and it helped that Athas was a Fertile planet that regrew population quickly. That solved the immediate danger and I was able to go back to more factory building having barely staved off this threat to one of my planets. I also worried greatly about the Council votes since the Silicoids would always vote for themselves and the Klackons would also vote for them due to our ongoing war. I tried to avoid being nominated by sending a bunch of population transports off-world which didn't work since I was still one of the two candidates (the Klackons were really mismanaging their population for no clear reason). Fortunately the Silicoids didn't pull votes from the other races and I was able to survive, whew. These votes were scary because I wasn't even in contact with anyone other than the Silicoids and Klackons and therefore couldn't influence diplomacy with anyone else. Then again, being in contact with other races might simply cause them to declare war given how everyone feels about the Darloks so I guess it could have been worse.
With no good opportunities for peaceful expansion or offensive warfare, I spent a lot of time defending my planets and focusing on espionage. Darlok spies are extremely good at their craft and I found myself staring at this screen often, trying to figure out what would be the best field of research to steal. When in doubt it was better to pick Computers since that increases the odds of future steals succeeding, even when I was unlucky and this particular theft pulled ECM II over Battle Computers III like I was hoping. Still, I was landing a lot of successful tech steals and over time I was able to lift basically everything from the Klackon tech tree. I had been missing out on all of the early waste cleanup techs and when I finally grabbed Improved Eco Restoration it was a huge help. I did have the good luck to have Improved Robotics III and later Improved Robotics IV in my tech tree which beefed up the production of my own planets. I didn't have many of them but what I did have was highly efficient once those stolen waste cleanup techs started rolling in. This was very much needed since the bugs kept attacking with better ships sporting more advanced Ion Cannon and Neutron Blaster weaponry. I wasn't safe until I managed to research Planetary Shield V and deploy them over all my worlds; this was a game where I needed to spend a lot of time building missile bases throughout the early game.
The events in this game certainly didn't do me any favors either. I had the Nova event hit my homeworld, the worst possible location for it to appear since the events are tailored to the size of the planet where they unfold. My homeworld had just finished maxing out on factories with Improved Robotics III and this was a whopper of an event in terms of cost. I had to set every planet to Reserve spending for the next half a dozen turns simply to keep my best planet from exploding - not what I wanted. At least I was finally able to get a peace treaty with Klackons after stealing about ten techs and fighting off innumerable attacks at Arras. Maybe now they would leave me alone for a while and go bother someone else. This was important for Council vote purposes since the Silicoids were getting close to 18 planets and I needed to avoid having the bugs vote for them at election time. I asked the Klackons if they would declare war on the Silicoids and they asked for Improved Robotics III as a price - pretty savvy for an ancient AI, right? Despite the high price, this was still to my advantage and I handed over the tech in the hopes of driving a wedge between the two major AI races. They would explode into violent conflict thereafter and this development eased my diplomatic situation considerably.
Now that I'd been able to get the bugs off my back, I decided to try some light spying against the Silicoids since they had some useful techs that I wanted. Well this backfired immediately: literally on the very first tech theft the Silicoids caught my spies and declared war. So much for my one ally in this galaxy! Conflict with the Silicoids had likely been inevitable though given their huge population edge in the Council. I needed to work with the Klackons against the runaway AI, not the other way around. This also allowed me to unleash my spies completely against the Silicoids since relations could hardly get any worse. The rocks had some very good Construction tech along with better shields and Terraforming +30 that I wanted to lift from them. It was a weird game in the sense that I was staying competitive on tech with the AI empires thanks to my frequent steals while being far behind in territory. Normally it's the other way around on Impossible difficulty, competitive on planets while far behind in tech (that or you simply get snowballed completely out of the game).
I didn't see too much of the Silicoids for a while as they seemed to be tied up facing the Klackons and Meklars elsewhere on the map. Eventually they did start sending fleets after me though, targeting the homeworld of Nazgul along with the little planet of Mars in my backlines. However, between my own research and the various Darlok tech steals, I had all of the tools necessary for a strong defense at this stage of the game: upgraded scanners to see the attacks coming ahead of time along with Plantary Shield V, Scatter Pack V missiles, and Duralloy armor to beef up my bases. I was also fortunate that the Silicoids never focused on creating ship designs based around Fusion Bombs or Death Spores, instead preferring to use guns like the Hard Beam and a bunch of later missiles. This left them without enough offensive firepower to break through my defenses so I continued to turtle in the corner of the galaxy for long turns on end conducting research and running heavy espionage spending. I needed to push up to Controlled Radiated tech so that I could have any chance of invading the hostile Silicoid planets along with developing better weapons and engines for ship building, and that was a slow process indeed with only six total worlds. The Silicoids also had Armored Exoskeleton and Tritanium Armor techs which would make ground combat virtually unwinnable until I could steal them (which the Darlok spies eventually pulled off). I had the Klackons and Meklars on my side in the Council votes while the unmet Psilons were the patsies of the rocks, each time splitting the vote and ensuring that the game would continue. I was content to maintain this stalemate for the time being, knowing that things increasingly swing to the player's advantage in the later portions of the gameplay.
I was also delayed by a ridiculous bit of bad event luck: the Silicoids pulled the Derelict event! That event hands out a bunch of free technologies and it almost always goes to a trailing AI empire that's far behind in the standings. For some reason it went to the Silicoids in this game, the runaway AI with by far the most planets, and they pulled Scatter Pack VII missiles out of the broken spacecraft - argh! That would mean missile bases firing 7x Merculite missiles at 10 damage per shot, much too strong for my current tech levels to handle. I had been gearing up for an offensive and had to put it on hold because those missiles were simply too strong. When I eventually had Class V deflectors along with stolen Tritanium Armor to put on a Huge hull with the Autorepair special, that combination finally seemed like enough to survive a volley or two of Scatter Pack VIIs and look to capture a Silicoid world. I had researched Antimatter Bomb earlier and that gave me enough punch to get through Silicoid shielding, I simply needed to survive the missile run to close with enemy planets. I targeted Klystron, a tiny little Inferno planet that had originally been base size 10 before terraforming. I could send population transports along with the invasion thanks to scouting the world in the early game and timed everything to arrive together:
Klystron only had 7 missile bases which was enough for my 3 Autorepair Huge ships to bomb out without taking losses. I landed 175 marines to face 45 defenders and survived with 45 attackers left over; worse than 3:1 casualties, ouch! The Silicoids had a humongous edge in ground technology thanks to having Powered Armor to my Armored Exoskeleton and Hand Phasers to my Hand Lasers. Those kind of losses are normal though on Impossible difficulty and would have been much worse without stealing Tritanium Armor and the Exoskeleton earlier. Klystron yielded up only the worthless Range 8 technology upon capture but I didn't really need to capture techs in this game - Darlok spies were already doing amazing work there. What I needed was more worlds under my control and even this little fiery planet was a small step forward in that regard. I managed to steal Hand Phasors shortly afterwards to make the next invasion less painful and targeted Dunatis, a Toxic 75 planet as the next world for an attack. Dunatis was much better defended with 25 Silicoid bases and my fleet suffered heavy losses here, breaking through the shields but losing 3 of my 6 Huge ships including both of the ships from my newest design. This was a costly but successful attack, bringing me an eighth planet along with Scatter Pack VII missiles found as a prize in the invasion. That largely removed any threat of the Silicoids ever cracking my worlds, now that I had the fancy missiles from the Derelict event as well.
My plan was to push forward through more Silicoid planets with a slow but steady advance. The rocks were far out in front of the rest of the galaxy in population and would therefore remain my opponent in the Council for the immediate future; attacking them was simultaneously the best way to gain territory and improve relations with everyone else. The Silicoids were also beginning to dwindle in terms of actual strength as we progressed towards the lategame where their various early game bonuses started to disappear. I had been blowing up large numbers of their ships and stolen virtually their entire tech tree which could't be helping matters either. I had taken almost a dozen techs from the Klackons earlier followed by close to two dozen more from the rocks - I wish that I had done a counter on the Livestream tracking just how many techs were stolen, it was a crazy amount. My relations were "Peaceful" with the Klackons thanks to my recent assaults on the Silicoids and I looked to be in excellent shape from a diplomatic perspective. That's when I was hit with the Assassination event which plunged me into an instant war with the bugs. This is the one event in Master of Orion that I truly despise because it can invalidate all of your hard work to build relations and outright cause lost games. I went ahead and reloaded to undo this event and then turned them off for the rest of the Livestreaming session. I didn't feel bad about this in the slighest: the events had been absolutely brutal to me in this game and I wasn't going to stand for ridiculous RNG nonsense throwing away my only ally and very likely losing me the game at the next Council election. The Assassination event is one thing that I would strip out of Master of Orion if I had the option.
It took a little time to recover and build up my fleet again after the earlier slaugher at Dunatis. I had switched over to a new ship design sporting Megabolt Cannons as the featured weapon and warp 6 engines for 4 movement on the tactical combat screen. However, it took a little while to construct those new designs since I lacked any truly strong shipbuilding planets aside from the original homeworld. The additional speed from better engine tech certainly was helpful once I had a chance to start deploying the new designs. There was a pair of Rich worlds held by the rocks to the southeast of Dunatis that I targeted next and would become my first real fleet yards once they were conquered. The first one of those planets yielded up Powered Armor upon capture and finally let me fight ground combat at equal odds. Meanwhile I was still looting the tech trees of every race that sided with the Silicoids in this galactic conflict, like the Alkari who attacked me for no clear reason. With my growing fleet grinding its way through the Silicoid core worlds, this game looked like it was heading to a smooth and easy conclusion.
And then this happened: the Klackons suddenly decided that they wanted to renew our conflict from the early stages of the game by declaring war. The bugs were not Erratic in this game and we had been sitting way up at "Peaceful" relations a turn earlier so I have no clue what they were thinking. Perhaps one of the other races asked them to declare war on the diplomatic screen, I don't know. This represented a dire peril for me since I was still short of a 1/3 veto block in the Council vote and the Silicoids plus Klackons voting against me would put the rocks very close to a victory margin. The Meklars and Alkari were also both at war with me for the moment and the Psilons had consistently voted with the Silicoids for most of the game. Then the brains went ahead and declared war too shortly thereafter - danger, danger, danger! It was 2535 on the calendar which gave me 15 turns to change the diplomatic situation or I was definitely going to lose the game.
My best hope was to swing the Klackons back to my side by continuing to hit the Silicoids since they remained tied up in their own war. Since I couldn't talk to the bugs at the moment, I focused on pressing forwards with my ships as fast as could be achieved safely. My own planets were in no danger thanks to heavy shielding, Adamantium Armor, and those Scatter Pack VII missiles that I'd stolen. It was the upcoming Council vote that I had to find some way to survive, not military conquest. I managed to steal Class XI Shields from one of the smaller fry empires in the galaxy (I think it was the Psilons) and my Huge Autorepair gunships were now rolling off the assembly line with enough shielding to be immune to the Silicoid Scatter Pack VII missiles, making planetary capture much easier. I took a couple more worlds from the Silicoids as I kept pressing southwards into their core which was enough to boost the Klackons up to "Wary" relations, the highest they will go during an active state of war. During the 2544 turn, I tried giving them Hyperspace Communications tech as tribute and then asked for a peace treaty which they decided to grant. This is a bit of a gray area in terms of balance, as something the player can get disproportionate benefits by giving away techs as tribute, but I was about to lose the game in five turns if I didn't take some kind of action and I was giving away a fairly powerful tech to my rivals. The bribe was enough to get the Klackons off my back and make it through the 2550 Council vote and yes, I would have lost the game if the Klackons had cast their vote for the Silicoids instead of giving it to me. I was one vote shy of my own veto block and I knew that this was the last chance to lose the game. Given another 25 turns, I would have enough population on hand to block any potential loss in the voting.
It was all downhill from there and the final Livestreaming session was relaxing for the most part. The Silicoids still remained the most populous AI empire thanks to taking over more worlds in the southeast corner of the map and therefore it made the most sense to stay at war with them and continue to wrestle away their planets. This is the portion of the gameplay that longtime veterans of Master of Orion are familiar with, hitting a new enemy planet every few turns and flooding it with population while using Reserve spending to flip it around into a defensive stronghold with planetary shields and missile bases, then doing the same thing over and over again. I spent the 2550-2575 turns cleaning up the southwest corner of the map until everything there was flying the Darlok banners before pushing forward to the next Rich planet in the deep south. At some point I attacked the final Alkari planet and wiped them out to stop them from pulling the Klackons back into war via their alliance. Everyone hated me for destroying another race but I had enough population by now that it didn't really matter, plus I patched things up soon enough by bombing out some more Silicoid worlds.
I came just short of winning at the 2575 Council vote largely because I had been dealing with a pitiful Planetology tech tree. Atmosphere Terraforming was present which was nice but I was missing Soil Enrichment, Advanced Soil Enrichment, Terraforming +50, and Terraforming +60! I kept getting Advanced Eco Restoration and Doom Virus as my only research options. Soil Enrichment was picked up via a steal from the Psilons but only after the vote took place which therefore dragged the game out for an additional 25 turns. Once I saw Terraforming +80 at the next tier of Planetology tech, I raced there with heavy research spending and jumped straight from +40 to +80 terraforming in one go. Adding another 40m population on all of my 20+ planets, plus Soil Enrichment, was more than enough to put this game to rest. I had some fun playing around with Disruptors and the High Energy Focus but otherwise the last few dozen turns didn't have much in the way of drama. I voted myself the winner of the 2600 election with 44/62 votes:
This was a tough game being stuck on limited territory and a crummy diplomatic situation for such a long time. There were quite a few comments in the Livestream chat and on the YouTube recordings where viewers didn't see how to find a way out of that initial corner and were impressed that this turned into an eventual win. It speaks to the importance of perseverance in Master of Orion: remember, the AI doesn't have a killer instinct in this game and if the player can keep dragging things out then they always have a shot to turn the situation around. This was also a perfect Darloks game that highlighted their strengths and weaknesses. I leveraged their innate espionage advantage to massive benefit throughout this game with a truly absurd number of tech steals. On the other hand, the other AI empires basically hated me the whole game and I never had anything resembling a true ally from start to finish. I was warring with someone else starting around 2350 and continuing for the next 250 turns until the game ended. Even though I don't enjoy playing them, the Darloks are a masterfully designed race that still holds up decades later.
Thanks for watching and reading along! I hope this game was fun to experience.