RGP151's Sakkra Challenge

Sakkra, Impossible, Medium, 5 Opponents

This game began with a post at the Realms Beyond forums by rgp151. He had a savegame file to share for the original Master of Orion with these comments:

I've got an interesting game. This save is from 2331. I've recently met the Darloks, who just took the planet I was planning to expand into. I can tell you that I played this game for about 100 more turns, to a point that is still winnable but not yet complete. This is my earliest remaining save. Its been an interesting one so far. I don't want to give too much away in case anyone wants to play it. I'd be interested to see how others handle this game.

Given that the starting race is Sakkra, I opted for attacking Darrian and flooding it with ground troops early. I then move on to take Morrig in similar fashion. The game is both challenging and winnable (though I haven't won it yet). Once you meet some of the additional races you find that the Darloks had the highest population at first, then you, so the other races remain manageable, but the Klackons quickly start to develop and you have to really keep on eye on them. I haven't been able to take Rhilus yet. There are a few challenging tech deficiencies that make things tricky, like no Battle Computers until V and also no Anti-Matter bombs, which presents some challenges. But Planetology advantages can be exploited and lack of ground attack technologies can be overcome with huge invasion forces.

Like I said, I haven't even gotten close to wining yet, but I've been able to play aggressively and keep things going so far, although I am falling a little behind technologically, despite maintaining the largest population. Basically, you are kind of boxed in and have to fight your way out early, but its possible to do so.

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Well, I've played this farther and now I'm running into trouble with the Klackons. I get into a decent position fairly early, but the tech trees are a challenge. The Darloks get planetary shields and then its difficult to do much and I kind of stall out without ability to expand much.

I've enjoyed these kind of challenges in the past and have written about several of them here on my website. It had been about a year since I played a game of Master of Orion and this felt like it would be fun to test out over the course of a long weekend. I downloaded the savegame file posted by rgp151 and took a look to see what was going on:

OK, three planets colonized thus far and a colony ship headed to a fourth world in the south. Sssla lacked maxed factories 31 turns into the game, meanwhile the second planet had way too many factories and no research had been done at all. Scouting was really bad for this stage of the game, there were several planets in range that hadn't been visited by a scout and more that will shortly come into range in the deep south once the nearby Terran 115 (!) gets colonized. I dialed up 7 scouts to go explore these planets and dumped everything else into research to start seeding the tech fields and see what options were available. Zero research has been done but for some reason the sliders were heavily prioritizing Construction tech which makes little sense in the early game for the Sakkra. All of the initial techs were already chosen: ECM I, Reduced Waste 80%, Class II Shields, Terraforming +10, Range 5, and Hyper-V missiles. I converted all spending over to Planetology and Propulsion as usual for the early game. One of the keys to this map looked to be getting enough range to reach the southern cluster of planets and Range 5 might be enough to get down there. I had to prioritize reaching those worlds before someone else did!

I also signed the Darloks the maximum trade agreement possible, 75 BC per year. They were Xenophobic Industrialists so it would be tough to improve relations but I had to make the attempt even with the economic penalty. We'll build up and hopefully outscale them before conflict begins. I know that rgp151 chose to fight them early but that's never worked for me; the AI just gets so many massive bonuses on Impossible difficulty that fighting early wars is almost never worth it. Thrawn is the only one who seems to be able to make that work and I'm not him.

On the next turn seven new scouts popped out with three of them going to explore worlds that we left unvisited for some reason while the other four moved south in the hopes of heading further once that Terran world was colonized. Sssla went back over to factory construction to max out at 200 factories while the second colony carried the research load for the moment, the normal pattern for the early game. Given how fast the lizards grow their population, it made no sense not to get up to 200 factories ASAP and make use of all that pop. Teraforming +10 actually hit the percentages on the very first turn (Excellent rating in Planetology, ha!) and I dialed down spending there to concentrate heavily on Propulsion. Range 5 looked to be crucially important to expand further so let's get there quickly.

Colonizing Exis shortly thereafter brought four more planets into 6 parsec range and a red star into 4 parsec range; I crossed my fingers that there would be a habitable world there. I also opted to spend two turns sending 10m pop apiece from the homeworld of Sssla down to Exis and then invested full Eco spending to grow them right back again. This is expensive to do and somewhat wasteful given the Sakkra's rapid population growth, however I wanted to get the amazing Terran 115 planet up and running ASAP and then avoid having factories sitting around unused on the homeworld afterwards. 20m pop is enough to get a Fertile 115 planet off to a fast start and I believe it's worthwhile to sacrifice two turns of production from the homeworld to speed up the growth curve of this critical new acquisition. Your mileage may vary, I really hate having factories sit around unused though.

Terraforming +10 popped very quickly and I added 10m more population to the homeworld and initial colony. All of the second tier options were available (no Improved Eco Restoration) and I chose Controlled Dead to unlock the first three types of hostile worlds. The scout reports started to trickle in revealing a Poor Steppe 45 world to the northwest and an Ultra Rich Tundra 50 planet to the far north. Wow that second one looked amazing! If I could research Controlled Dead I might be able to grab it with a colony ship packing Reserve Fuel Tanks, or even a Huge colony ship given its great value. Best of all, the red star in the deep south at only 4 parsec range contained the planet of Berel, a Minimal 30 world! With Range 5 tech already in the percentages, I dialed up a fresh colony ship at Sssla and set it on a Relocate order to Exis. The path to the south was open and clearly no AI empire had started down there given the lack of any ships and colonies. Further scouting found a Jungle 100 planet and two small Tundra worlds that both had Rich minerals! Now the race was on to clean up everything that was lurking down there - why fight the Darloks in an early game war when I could go clean up that cluster of the map for free?

The most nerve-wracking part of these early turns was watching the Darloks move a sizable fleet around their border world of Darrian which was only 2 parsecs distance from my planet Herculis, a planet defended by all of one scout. Still, it made more sense to push tech and get up to Class II Shields and Hyper-V missiles so that a missile base could actually push away their ships if they chose to attack. Our trade agreement had boosted relations with the shapeshifters up to Neutral and I kept my fingers crossed that they would continue to stay peaceful. For the moment, they did.

Meanwhile, the south continued to develop beautifully. I was the first to reach Berel and that provided the springboard to leap forward to the real gem, the Jungle 100 planet at Firma. Colonizing that spot initiated the first GNN population message as my Sakkra were apparently the first to reach 6 planets, very nice! Exis was able to supply population with ease to these new colonires and get them off to a roaring start. Further exploration revealed that there was a Barren and an Inferno world down in the deep south along with a tiny Minimal 10 world that no one had claimed in the middle of the galaxy. (The unscouted planet to its northeast was Orion.) Controlled Dead tech therefore had the potential to unlock four more planets as I pushed there with all haste. I had chased away some Klackon scouts with my own scouts but didn't see anything else from them, nor did I even have contact with the bugs, leading me to believe that I would indeed clean up the whole south uncontested.

I didn't have enough miniaturization to fit Reserve Fuel Tanks onto a Large hull along with a Dead colony base; I could fit them onto a Standard colony base but didn't need any of those. Thus I tried to build a Huge colony ship to go grab the Ultra Rich Tundra planet in the north; Sssla was halfway done with that when the Darloks showed up with their main fleet and chased my scout away. I ended up failing to secure that juicy prize but did get everything else, all of the planets in the south along with the Minimal 10 world in the center of the map. Once the border was claimed on both sides, I was able to sign up the Darloks to a Non Aggression Pact and that kept them out of my hair while my worlds were still building up factories. Improved Robotics III was an option at the second tier of Computers tech and I happily snapped that up to keep the peaceful economic train rolling along. Along with Terraforming +30 at the third tier of Planetology, my planets were off and developing at a fantastic rate. The only real hole in terms of economy was waste cleanup thanks to missing Improved/Enhanced Eco Restoration and that was ameliorated somewhat by having Reduced Waste 80% and Improved Industrial 8. (I also had a bit of a nasty discovery when the only option at the third tier of Construction tech was Improved Industrial 7, ouch! Not much help there.)

The Galactic Council met for the first time in 2385 where I was nominated against the Darloks. I had 7 out of 26 total votes, already approaching a veto block with lots of room for more population growth yet to come. The Darloks are a great opponent in the Council as everyone else abstained and I was able to cast my vote for them to pick up the huge diplomatic boost. This more or less sealed a peaceful border with the shapeshifters for as long as I wanted. That was the goal for the present as my planets were busy adding on factories thanks to the recent discovery of Improved Robotics III. Terraforming +30 made a big difference as well when it arrived, especially at the Rich Tundra planets that went from a base size of 40 up to a new size of 70. Having 210 factories with that combination of techs was a lot better than the default maximum of 80 factories. Then little Maalor, the size 10 Minimal world in the middle of the map, had the good fortune to draw the Mining event and become a Rich world itself! Suddenly this garbage planet that had barely felt worth colonizing was size 40 and Rich to boot. It just goes to show that it's always worthwhile to settle another planet - better you have it than one of the AI empires.

I went all the way to the 2400 Council vote without meeting anyone other than the Darloks. I was able to vote for them a second time and sat at 9/31 total votes, even closer to having the all-important one-third veto block. Immediately thereafter I came into formal contact with the Klackons who must have picked up Range 6 tech. We had been separated by a series of hostile planets, several "None" stars and a Radiated world, with the bugs camping out in the southwest corner of the galaxy. The Klackons were Aggressive Ecologists (odd for them) and looked to be the primary competition in this galaxy as they had already spread out quite well on their side of the map. I signed them up to the maximum trade agreement and tried to become friends only for them to declare war five turns after making contact. This is the biggest issue for the Sakkra as their Excellent rating in Planetology tech is offset by poor diplomacy with many of the game's races. The Mrrshans, the Alkari, the Meklars, and most definitely the Klackons all start with relations below "Neutral" with the lizards which makes it tough to find allies. The Klackons were allied with the Meklars and the Humans so I was happy not to be in contact with them for the moment to avoid an early dogpile.

The Mrrshans showed up a couple of turns later with a Ruthless personality and literally declared war on the very next turn. Yep, that's Sakkra diplomacy in action again! This was a rough galaxy in the sense that every natural enemy for the lizards was present aside from the Alkari, plus the Darloks who hate everyone were here as well. The cats had been pulled into this war via an alliance with the Klackons and I immediately sought out my friends the Darloks to see if I can do anything. They were willing to decalre war on the Klackons if I tossed them a bribe of 1300 BC which was more than worthwhile to avoid the whole galaxy piling onto me. Thank you Rich planets for feeding the Reserve and giving me extra income to spend! This was one of the most important moments in the game as it plunged the Klackons and Darloks into a lengthy conflict and kept the shapeshifters off my back. I also met the Meklars who were Xenophobic Industrialists but only sitting on two planets. They refused to sign a trade agreement so I wasn't expecting much help from them - good thing I had cultivated the Darloks as a potential ally since everyone else was so hostile. I had only limited contact with the three small empires as they kept gaining and losing some of the contested planets west of Darlok space. This made it hard to build any kind of relationship with them as I kept gaining and losing diplomatic contact on an irregular basis.

The Klackons brought a major fleet towards Firma, one of my best planets in the south at size 100. I managed to build 10 bases before they arrived; I was pushing for Planetary Shield V at all speed but didn't manage to finish it before they attacked. Unfortunately it wouldn't have even mattered as the Klackons had two different Medium designs sporting Fusion Bombs and good tactical speed on everthing thanks to the Inertial Stabilizer. My bases were firing total duds since they were still using Hyper-V missiles with no Battle Computer upgrades at all. BC5 was in the tech tree but still a long distance away. The bugs plowed right through Firma's defenses with my 10 bases killing a single Medium ship - yikes! Total and utter disaster, their fleet was completely untouched. I needed to solve this problem or I was about to be steamrolled right out of the game.

Things were bad enough that I traded for Battle Computer IV with the Darloks (giving up Soil Enrichment, ouch!) just so that I'd have some kind of attack level on my bases. No one seemed to have upgraded missiles though which meant I was stuck with those horrid Hyper-Vs for the moment. Planetary Shield V was all the way up to 90% odds for discovery without popping - horrid RNG luck there - and meanwhile the Rich little planet of Maalor was also coming under Klackon attack. For some unknown reason, the Klackon death fleet left Firma without holding position to defend an invasion which allowed me to start rebuilding its factories and bases. Their fleet just wandered off 7 turns to the north to fight for a Mrrshan spud world instead. That made no sense but I'd take it since I was grasping at straws here. Maalor fell to a Klackon invasion as the planetary shield finally popped and I started building them everywhere. The shields wouldn't stop Fusion Bombs but 8 points of shielding would render the Fusion Beam weapons of the Klackons harmless. I was pushing next for Zortrium Armor to double the health of the bases; if I lacked offense for them, at least I could give them more protection against Klackon bombs via more total HP.

The most dangerous ships in the Klackon fleet were their Ranger designs, a Large hull with 250 HP thanks to Andrium Armor with 4 points of shielding to render Hyper-Vs almost useless and Heavy Blast Cannons plus Fusion Bombs for offense. At least they only had a single Fusion Bomb on the design, it could have been much worse. The Klackons kept attacking at Firma and narrowly missed capturing the planet; there was one battle where I started the turn with 8 bases and survived with 2 of them remaining, the combat timing out from hitting the max number of rounds as my bases and their Ranger stack both exhausted one another. The good news was that the Klackons seemed to be switching their production over to their most recent design, the Medium Horseman which had a single Fusion Beam and couldn't scratch my base defenses. Slowly the situation stabilized to the point where I appeared to have enough defenses to be safe for the moment; Firma made it up to 20 bases which was enough to go back to factory building again. With Zortium Armor in the percentages and Stinger missiles halfway finished, I was starting to feel safer about my position.

I was nominated against the Klackons in the 2425 Council election and managed to survive in relative comfort thanks to having the Darloks on my side. I had 9 votes to the 13 votes of the Klackons with the Darloks tied with me at 9 votes themselves, the other races all being small fry with only a couple of votes each. It was a shame that the shapeshifters hadn't passed me in population as I would have been able to vote for them and score major diplo points in the process. The Darloks were starting to get a bit antsy since the earlier diplo boost from voting for them was wearing off; I could only hope they would remain quiet a while longer.

Zortrium Armor and Stinger Missiles popped together in 2432 and I finally had enough technology to be safe against the current Klackon threats. I had been sitting on Soil Enrichment tech for ages without terraforming my non-Hostile planets because the need to push tech for safety was that great. I can't remember another game where I sat on Soil Enrichment tech for 15 turns without doing the terraforming, that's how dire my need for improved armor and missile weaponry had been. Now I could belatedly get the terraforming done and actually look to go on the offensive against the bugs. They had no planetary shields and Nuclear Missiles (!) giving them completely feeble bases. I designed a Stinger missile boat, Medium size with only 2 shots but my best Battle Computer, designed to hit-and-run against their fleets and their bases. I'd start by blowing up the two Inferno planets near me that unfortunately I lacked the tech to colonize (nothing better than Controlled Dead sadly) and then see what I could do from there.

The game stalled out here for a while with the Klackons unable to crack my bases. I was able to establish space superiority over their nearby Inferno world and hit it with some light bombing but couldn't do enough damage to destroy the colony completely; missile boats don't do that much damage to planetary surfaces. Eventually the Klackons came asking for peace and I granted it to them, hoping to use this time to recolonize Maalor which had become a spud world. I then turned around and traded Soil Enrichment to the bugs for Controlled Toxic; a major giveaway to be sure, but I really needed to be able to invade planets of higher hostility levels. Now I could actually invade their nearby Inferno worlds the next time that we came to blows which surely would be coming sooner or later. I had some bad luck with events here, having the Industrial Accident event hit Sssla (though I was able to clean it up shortly thereafter when Atmosphere Terraforming research finished) followed by a truly nasty Computer Virus that hit Battle Computer V when it was 95% finished. This basically wiped out an entire technology and slowed my progress in the field enormously. Berel even had the Rebellion event occur as well though fortunately it was a small planet easily recaptured with pop transfers.

Eventually the Klackons came back again for another round of warring, no surprise there, but this time they left me alone for some time while they clashed with other empires elsewhere on the map. I had used the peace interval to secure Maalor again and the bugs turned up with Advanced Soil Enrichment anyway, thus the Soil Enrichment trade didn't wind up helping them much. By the time that they came calling at Maalor, I had 30 bases assembled and that was enough to shoo the bugs away. Meanwhile, I had researched up to Terraforming +50 and grown all my planets correspondingly, with Omega-V Bombs arriving to give me an offensive weapon with real punch against bases, if not other ships. I had traded for the Autorepair special with one of the small fries in the galaxy at some point and that was enough to open up the usual Huge design with heavy defenses to serve as a lumbering bomber. The Klackons still had no planetary shield and no weapons better than nukes which meant their defenses were pretty awful if I could stay out of reach of their massive fleet.

When my first Huge bombers showed up over the Klackon planet of Antares, I was proven correct: the 28 defending bases couldn't deal enough damage to get through the Autorepair healing on my ships. With only 2 attacking ships it was going to take multiple turns to eliminate all the bases but I had the time to spare so long as enemy fleets didn't show up. Now the bad news: I thought that Maalor was nice and safe once it reached 55 bases. That's when the Klackons showed up with 150 Large ships in one monster stack with designs featuring the heavy version of the Fusion Beam. I had 10 points of shielding which wasn't enough to block all of the 4-30 damage from their weapon design. They could still deal 1-5 damage per shot against planetary defenses, and with that many guns on that many Large ships, some of the damage was guaranteed to get through. Maalor shot down 120 of those 150 Large designs before the combat timed out, with 15 of the 55 bases surviving to the finish. I breathed a sigh of relief... then saw that 305 more Large ships were incoming on the very next turn (!!!) Holy cow, Klackons! Their production had to be absolutely insane to churn out that many ships. I was shooting down dozens of Large ships every turn and they just kept cranking out more of them. The Klackons destroyed the remaining bases and obliterated Maalor from orbit without even bothering to invade. Talk about a stack of doom, that was a completely invincible fleet.

Maalor fell back into spud status for the moment as I frantically built more bases at my frontline worlds in the south. But even while this deadly struggle went on along the main Klackon border, I was successfully invading Antares up in the north. My ground invasion technology wasn't even that far behind thanks to having Armored Exoskeleton and Personal Absorption Shield and I was able to take the planet across two turns of invasion. I pulled the full six techs: Improved Robotics IV, Ion Drives (warp 6), Fusion Beam, Warp 8, Class VII Shields, and ECM VIII - wow! That last one was a gigantic leap in Computers tech and also in missile defense. ECM VIII is tech level 37 on the Computers tree and this was the top Klackon tech in that area; I had previously been sitting at Battle Computer V all the way back at tech level 20. The Class VII shields were also highly useful as I had recently started research on that exact tech and could now leapfrog ahead to Planetary Shield XV for another 10 points of shielding. If I could reach that tech and deploy the shields, my worlds would be safe against every weapon the Klackons could currently field.

There was still that death fleet incoming to my Rich world Stalaz with more than 300 Larges in tow. Therefore this seemed like a good time to ask for peace with the bugs; I had put enough of a hurting on them that they agreed to a white peace with no further strings attached. Hopefully this had saved an entire planet plus gave me time to build Robotics IV factories and tech up to Planetary Shield XV. I'd also take my best shot at reestablishing Maalor while I was temporarily protected from the Klackon navy. The peace interval was indeed enough to replant my flag on this spud world and I chased off several AI fleets who tried to poach the central location. I rushed the planet full of population and used Reserve spending to rebuild factories which didn't take too long given Maalor's Rich status.

Unfortunately the ink was barely dry on my treaty with the Klackons before the Darloks broke our game-long friendship by declaring war. Tensions had been growing for a long time given the huge population of my Sakkra empire but I'd been hoping my clashes with the bugs would be enough to butter up the shapeshifters. Apparently not. They were using Phasors as their main weapon design which at 5-20 damage was just barely not enough to crack my 12 points of planetary shielding (after factoring in the half damage penalty of laser weapons against missile bases). The Darloks had 17 points of shielding themselves thanks to Planetary Shield X but only Merculites as their top missile tech. I thought that I had a decent chance of breaking through their defenses if I could get a fleet built - as long as I could avoid losing the next Council vote, that is! I had been counting on the Darlok vote to keep this game from being thrown to the Klackons and that diplomatic setback was a real danger. Fortunately Maalor gave me enough range to contact the Humans and I was able to sign peace with them, then flip them Stinger missiles to declare war on the Klackons. Hopefully their minimal votes would be enough to avoid diplomatic defeat; I knew I was getting close to a 1/3 veto block myself but thought I was barely short.

And that's exactly what ended up happening in the 2500 Council election; I had 15/46 votes which was one short of a veto block. Everyone voted against me except for the Humans who cast their 3 votes in my favor - good thing I took the time to flip them from an enemy into an ally, right? I was expecting the Mrrshans to cast a vote for me too; apparently they signed peace with the Klackons on the turn before the election and I couldn't do anything about it because I was out of contact with the cats. Never count on the Mrrshans to do anything right! Now I had 25 more turns to increase my population or decrease that of my rivals which should be enough time to put something together.

The Darloks had a Poor world with no missile bases for defense located at Morrig. I orchestrated a daring plan to swoop in there with population transports and capture the place in the hopes of securing a tech or two, then scuttle away and let it revert back to spud status. Well I took Morrig just fine but with only 10 factories present there was no chance to steal tech on this Poor world, argh. It was terminated by the Darloks with extreme prejudice, however they'd have to refound it as a new colony and start rebuilding it from scratch. I was slowly building up my navy while researching Planetary Shield XV during these turns. I also picked up a major boost to my economy when Complete Eco Restoration tech finished. I had missed out on Improved/Enhanced Eco Restoration and never had a chance to trade for either one. The new tech cut my waste costs enormously, boosting research from 3300 to 5500 RP without touching any of the sliders (!) This further boosted my fleet-building efforts as I started assembling a force to crack the Darlok core worlds. The Klackons were holding at peace for now so I was happy to leave them alone too.

Then just as I was gearing up to invade the Darloks, barely fighting off an invasion at Antares, they popped up asking for a peace treaty which I was again happy to grant them. This turned around my whole fleet which I pointed at the Klackons, who had already been probing my defenses in the south. They had finally solved their missile issue by researching Hercular tech while still lacking any planetary shields (though they did have Class XI shields). The planet of Kulthos in the extreme south was my target, an isolated Inferno world that was only moderately defended. I paused to construct Planetary Shield XV on every planet when the tech arrived, popping at a beautiful moment because the Klackons declared war yet again on the turn after the new shield arrived. With 22 points of shielding, I should be safe against their Heavy Fusion Beams and Hellfire Torpedoes, if just barely on the new enemy torpedoes. The Klackons even had the Negative Fleet Bug strike one of their stacks and thankfully it didn't matter because their weapons couldn't make it past my new shields.

I remained at the identical 15/46 votes in the next 2525 Council election. This time, however, the Darloks supported me and I picked up minor votes from the Humans and Meklars too, taking me to 29/46 total with the 14 votes from my allies. With Terraforming +80 tech about halfway finished, there shouldn't be any more opportunities to lose in the Council from this point forward. The Negative Fleet Bug stack delayed my attack on Kulthos when the 32,000 ships retreated there; I waited them out and then swept in after the planet once they moved away. Kulthos yielded up the full six techs thanks to having 500+ factories on hand: Adamantium Armor, Powered Armor, Inertial Stabilizer, Ion Rifle, Improved Industrial 3, and Class VI Shields. Unsurprisingly most of the prizes were from the Klackon stash of Construction tech, ballooning me all the way up to tech level 43 in that field. About the one thing that I wished for was a better weapon since my only guns of the whole game were the incredibly antiquated Mass Drivers and Fusion Beams. That's what I had available though so that's what my Huge gunships were using for now.

After taking Kulthos, I planned to keep pushing west into the heart of Klackon space. However, the Darloks pulled a serious "Chosen Unwisely" moment by declaring war again just as I was about to fight the bugs. Given that the Klackons had Hercular missiles while the Darloks still didn't have anything better than Merculites, this was an easy decision to make. I used the Star Gates that I had recently built to move my whole stack up north while designing a new Huge ship with better weaponry and defenses making use of the Construction tech pulled from the recent Klackon loot. My target was the Artifacts planet of Rhilus which had fewer bases than the immediate border world of Darrian. The 44 bases defending the shapeshifter world indeed proved unable to overcome the Autorepair healing on my new Huge ship, dealing about 400 damage per round only to see 300 of that healed away instantly. I actually had the ground combat advantage thanks to looting all that tech from the Klackons and easily captured the world. It also had the full six tech prizes, with Range 9 and Battle Computer VII and Advanced Cloning being the main pickups.

This looked to be the decisive moment that tipped the gameplay unstoppably in my favor. It was immediately apparent that the Darloks couldn't stop my main fleet from plowing through their core systems at will. I paused only a few turns to get a Planetary Shield XV over Rhilus before moving on to Darrian. The 60 missile bases there were little more than toilet paper and I landed 200 marines on the same turn since I'd already scouted the system (err, rgp151 had done so!) back in the initial turns of the game. This time I finally picked up some weapons in the form of Phasor and Particle Beam techs which would give my ships some real punch in fleet vs fleet combat. Terraforming +80 tech arrived the same turn and by the time that I had finished adding another 30m population and 120 factories on every planet this game was pretty much a wrap. It's always fun when your Planets screen looks like this:

Just a few more pop points to play around with, heh. I ripped through the remaining Darlok worlds over the next dozen or so turns, cleaning out every single tech in their tree that I was still lacking. The shapeshifters had a rather impressive fleet and at first I had to dance around the location of their ships, hitting planets that were unprotected and racing to build a planetary shield and single missile base before they could come back. For all of their naval power, the Darloks couldn't break through my shielding and any captured planets were invincible once they had that first base built. Over time, I continued to build more Huge ships and slowly wrestled control of the skies away from them as well. By the time of the 2550 Council vote, the Darloks were down to only 3 votes remaining, equal to the pathetic Humans, while the Klackons still had 18 votes and therefore enough to block me. I had 26/52 votes, half of the galactic total, and another 25 turns would be plenty to seal this game up for good. I kept pushing until I had captured all of the Darlok core worlds, leaving them with two spud planets and then signing a peace deal. I expected them to linger with their pair of remaining worlds, however they were still fighting the Klackons and it didn't seem to be going well. They were eliminated a little bit later by... themselves?! What in the world was this GNN message: "The Darlok empire has been completely destroyed by the Darloks"?!? I have absolutely no idea what this meant and I've never seen this before in all my past games. I guess everyone hates the shapeshifters, even the shapeshifters themselves!

Anyway, the Klackons were now the only thing standing between my Sakkra and total galactic domination. I moved the fleet through convenient stargates over to Maalor, site of so many past battles, and then directed them into the heart of Klackon space. The first target was the planet of Arietis where the 50+ Hercular missile bases put up a good showing by destroying several of my Huge gunships. They weren't enough to stop me though as the bases were removed and the way cleared for the marines. I had only a modest disadvantage in ground combat against the bugs and managed to take the planet on the first invasion attempt, scoring Hercular Missiles, Battle Computer X, the Advanced Space Scanner (handy to speed up invasions), and Class XI Shields for my troubles. I had also recently researched the High Energy Focus and previously traded Universal Antidote tech to the bugs for Advanced Damage Control, the big daddy brother of the Autorepair special. I also discovered Complete Terraforming the same turn that Arietis fell and that meant another 40m population on every world. If the game wasn't over already at this point, it certainly was afterwards.

With the Darlok core planets doubling the size of my territory and everything terraformed to gigantic sizes, it didn't take long to cut right through the heart of Klackon space either. The bugs had a massive navy that I couldn't defeat yet, however it was running around on the northern side of the galaxy fighting over spud worlds while leaving the southwest corner undefended. I had so much production that multiple Huge ships were rolling off the assembly lines every turn, then immediately routed through stargates up to the front lines. All of the Klackon planets had been terraformed into Gaia environments and were packing 50-70 Hercular missile bases apiece. I lost a few ships at each world but kept right on going, hitting a new planet every 2-3 turns while standing up the new conquests with Reserve spending and population transports as usual. It was INSANELY cheap to grow population with Advanced Cloning and the Sakkra innate fertility bonus, only a couple of clicks on the slider to get the maximum 25% of total pop grown on each planet. In only a dozen turns, I had conquered the whole southwest corner and taken every tech owned by the bugs. Robotic Controls VI plus Complete Terraforming plus the looted Advanced Soil Enrichment left every planet in an absolutely disgusting state for economy purposes.

The graphs all made it clear that the Sakkra were the masters of this universe by the time of the 2575 Council vote. This was definitely a tricky game for Impossible difficulty, largely because the two strongest AI empires on the map were both flanking the player's empire. Typically one of the best options for catching up involves hitting a weaker opponent since they won't have as much of a tech lead. That wasn't really an option in this galaxy since the Darloks and Klackons were both flanking the Sakkra starting position with everyone else clustered in the northwest corner, far out of easy reach. It also tends to be pretty bad to have one or two runaway AI empires; much better when the other races are relatively even in strength. It was unfortunate that the bugs and the shapeshifters were both able to get so strong and race out to such massive tech leads. You're always behind in tech on Impossible difficulty (and I've played out of worse situations) but it was definitely rough lacking battle computers and planetary shielding and improved armor and decent missiles, all at the same time!

I had enough votes to win the game without help from anyone else for a Conquest victory under the old RB Imperia nomenclature. It was definitely a Sakkra game in the sense that I was unable to get much in the way of diplomacy going with anyone else outside of the first 100 turns with the Darloks. This is one place where I strongly disagree with rgp151's recent assessment that races like the Sakkra and the Darloks are just as good as the Psilons. I don't agree in the first place that their racial abilities are as strong as the immense research bonuses granted to the brains, but even beyond that, the Psilons also get a massive advantage from having no racial enemies at all. The Sakkra have four different racial enemies (five if you count the Darloks) while the shapeshifters are just hated by everyone across the board. Both of these races are vastly more likely to find themselves stuck in unproductive wars or suffer from early AI aggression while the Psilons and Humans can often skate by uncontested. Yes, this makes a very big difference indeed! I almost never seek out conflict when playing a race like the Sakkra because conflicts have a way of seeking you out themselves. I think it was the better path to try and befriend the Darloks as opposed to invading them at an early date because there were so many other racial enemies of the lizards present in this galaxy. The early aggression thing has never worked for me and I think this game would have been lost if I'd been squabbling with the Darloks when the Klackons came calling for the first time.

Thanks to rpg151 for posting the savegame file and setting up this challenge. I'd be curious to know how that initial game ended when it ran into trouble with the bugs - were you able to play it out into an eventual victory as well? Would be fun to find out! EDIT: after posting this report, rgp151 responded with a postscript included below:

Interesting, thanks for playing it out. No, I stalled and abandoned the game. I guess I got too fixated on taking Darrian. I figured that with the Sakkra advantage I could take it, which I did, but the resulting war in the end wasn't worth it. It almost never is, but I thought this might be an exception. I also had my eye on that Artifact planet, but then they got PSV I should have just given up. It was just that Darrian was such a good planet and right on top of my territory. But clearly remaining peaceful with them was the better option.