Bulrathi, Hard, Small, 4 Opponents
My MOO experience to this point had been "so far, so good" which encouraged me to continue working down through the races towards the weaker ones. And if I wanted to play as a weak race, the Bulrathi would be a fine choice, no doubt about it. I actually like the Bulrathi: giant space bears, what's not to love about that? But their ground combat advantage is a relatively minor part of the game, and being rated Poor in Computers tech is a huge disadvantage. Still, no time like the present to have some fun with Da Bears, right? I rolled a Small map to try something a little different and got started, referring to this game as "Little Bear" due to the map specs.
I start in the southeast corner of the map with two stars in range, a red and a yellow. Because this is a Small map with a yellow star so close by, I pull the unusual step of sending a Scout along with the colony ship:
If there's an AI at the yellow star to the west, I can prevent them from scouting the system by sending a scout along with my colony ship. That's not a big deal on most maps, but every system is critical on these Small ones! It turns out that precaution was unnecessary (no AI races at either of the yellows in that screenshot above), but better safe than sorry. The yellow star held a desert planet of medium size, and I settled there immediately. The red star had a slightly larger jungle planet, also habitable - more good news. Three systems is already enough to be decently competitive on a Small map.
So I build the usual complement of Scout2s, and take a look at the other stars in my neighborhood. The key to this map, at least initially, looked to be taking and controlling the yellow star system to the west:
There was certainly an AI race at the pair of yellows even further west, so if I could take and hold the yellow to the east of that group, I'd be in position to dominate the eastern half of the galaxy. That star was five parsects away, so I could get there as long as I had Range 5 in the tree. The green and white stars to the north were also 5 parsecs away, although the green in the extreme east was a little further at 6 parsecs. The best news of all, however, was that six of the first seven planets I scouted were habitable!
The one downer was that the one white star had a tundra environment, but everything else was pure gravy. Even better, some of these planets were very large. The Terran planet in the northeast was size 100! Now the one piece of bad news: note the blue ship retreating from the Tundra planet. Alkari scout; my cursor is pointing to the only possible location of their homeworld. I expect to end up in combat with them, and sooner rather than later.
My opening was pretty typical, as I built factories and shipped population to the second planet and then back again to Ursa. I built one colony ship for Seidon (the nearby jungle world) and then turned on research for additional range. Range 4 and Range 5 were both available, so I was able to choose the latter one. Yay! With Ursa's research going 100% into Propulsion, it didn't take long to reach the range tech. When I settled Aurora in the west, I was brought into contact with not one, but two new races:
Meklar and Mrrshans, both very close. Now if I can just hold onto this prime piece of real estate! You can see from the panel on the right side of the screen that I have Ursa building some early laser fighters and RELOCating them to Aurora. I churned the ships for about 5 turns until I had about three dozen, then went back to more colony ship construction. If the Meklar came after me anytime soon I would be toast, so I signed the max trade agreement with them and hoped they would have other fish to fry.
When I settled the Arid planet in the northwest, I hoped that it would drop the distance to the Terran in the northeast from 6 parsecs to 5, but no such luck. Argh, must have been just too far to reach with Range 5. Here's the situation I'm talking about:
The cursor is pointing to Escalon, which I still hope to control and beat out the Altari. Once I discover Controlled Tundra, I'll be able to settle the white star and then have the range to reach Escalon. To try and stake my claim there, I had Ursa build several of Sirian's long range (LR) laser ships. It could build two per turn, so I did that for three turns and sent six of them up there. I was confident that that would be enough to chase away armed colony ships and some light escorts, just so long as the Alkari didn't send a major fleet.
Time passes and my colonies continue to build factories/bases while Ursa carries the research load. Eventually, the Alkari develop increased range tech and I spot some ships incoming. Time for the first battle of the game!
Oh this is not good. The Alkari have brought nine medium ships to the fight, and unlike my medium design, they didn't have to skimp on the weapons to fit Reserve Fuel Tanks on the thing. Plus - this is the Alkari, remember. I tried to take out their colony ship, but the Alkari manuever bonus wrecked havoc on my computer-less laser design. In short, they smoked my ships and I managed to limp out of there with two LR Lasers intact. Hardly a glorious day for bear-kind. Alkari were a bad opponent to draw up there in the corner, both due to their early combat bonus and their Excellent rating in Propulsion to pull early range tech.
First point goes to the birds:
I haven't given up on Escalon, however. In fact, given the Bulrathi advantage at ground combat, I intend to load up transports and invade as soon as I pull in the range to do so. If you don't play aggressively with the bears, you're aren't taking advantage of their strengths! Or so was the thinking.
Unfortunately, this is NOT what I need to be dealing with:
Nova event, on my home planet, very early in the game. Argh! These events are tailored to the production of each world, meaning that you can deal with the event for mere pennies if it hits a new colony... or it can cost you an arm and a leg if it hits your best planet. As a result, I had to spend the next 10 turns researching a solution at Ursa, AND stick Seidon, my #2 planet, onto reserve spending for the same amount of time in order to prevent a total disaster. 10 turns of production from my best two planets, completely up in smoke; I could have built a significant fleet in that time, or put roughly 3000BC into research. I did manage to save Ursa (if barely; I only reached the solution on the final turn) but this event put a major crimp into my growth curve. What a huge setback!
As a result, I was about a full dozen turns slower than I planned to start putting a fleet together to combat the birds at Escalon. Here's the design I came up with:
Ordinarily the Gatling Laser isn't a particularly useful weapon, but against the swarms of small ships that the Alkari like to use, it would be just the right thing. This large ship effectively has 37 lasers on it! It also has the best attack level I can manage, to deal with the speedy bird pilots, and Class II shields to minimize attrition as much as possible. As far as early game designs go, I think this one was pretty solid.
I built a couple of these ships while waiting for Controlled Tundra to come in; by the time the research finished and I had a colony established in the north, I had three Gatlings at hand. I would have had more than twice that without the stupid Nova event, but you just have to play the hand you're dealt. With the range to reach Escalon, I organize a major multiplanet invasion, sending almost 100 million colonists into space. All we have to do is touch down and the birds are toast!
However, I got a bit unlucky again here, and the whole Alkari fleet happened to be in orbit above Escalon by the time my slow transports got there. Uh oh!
I shot down dozens of their fighters but there was simply too much firepower for my 3 Gatlings to overcome. After the first Gatling was killed and the second one was getting low on hit points, I retreated to salvage two of my ships. Unfortunately, I knew this was going to happen:
Yeoch. Lot of bears were shot down in space there. And if I don't have enough problems on my hands, the Mrrshans have a ship in orbit over Aurora and continue to harass me there, argh! I would chase them away in short order, but that was not what I needed to be dealing with.
So now the Alkari and I are in a hot war; they bypassed my Tundra colony (obviously not having the tech to settle there) in favor of striking at Gorra, my original second world. I was standing up bases there as quickly as possible, but there were times when the birds were able to establish orbital supremacy, and that allowed them to send transports. In other words, fighting deep in my back lines now, not something that I wanted to do!
You can see on this galaxy map from 2400 that the Alkari continue to send ships down to Gorra. I wouldn't say I was ever in danger of losing the planet outright, but it was still a precarious situation nonetheless. In fact, I was so worried about my bases not having enough punch, that I made a trade with the Meklar for some better missiles:
This deal was really a steal for me; the Meklar already had Controlled Dead tech, and I got Hyper-Vs from them for Controlled Tundra Environment. No missiles in my own tree early on. Too bad I didn't have Scatter Pack, I really could have used that one in this game!
I was slowly turning the tide against the Alkari, as my Gatlings were clearly superior to their fleets of small ships, but it was so slow, so slow. Once Gorra got up to about 10 bases, they switched tactics and started targeting Ursa instead, which I didn't think was in their range. They must have had Range 6 at the very least to reach that far, argh! Of course I could stand up bases pretty fast at my homeworld, but all these delays were not what I wanted to be dealing with. Stupid Alkari are crimping my growth curve further with all this warring! But I was getting closer and closer to taking Escalon; all I needed was a few more turns to build some more Gatlings, and then get some Fusion bombers into play to destroy their missile bases there...
Unfortunately, I ran out of time. I knew that I wasn't likely to get any votes in the Galactic Council, but I had hoped that I had enough population to block an election. Too bad I came up just short!
I had 6 votes out of 18, but that's not enough to get it done. Mrrshans supported the Meklar, Humans (who I hadn't even met yet) did the same, and the Alkari voted for them despite lacking contact with the Meklar because they were at war with me. Escalon indeed proved to be the difference, as possessing that planet would have given me an additional vote and the Alkari one fewer. Diplomatic loss in 2425; it took everyone else voting against me to lose, but that's still no excuse. I just didn't handle the diplomacy well enough in this game!
Aside from that, I erred on both the tactical and strategic levels. When the Alkari established their claim to Escalon, I should have let them have it. I was in no position to fight in the early game (especially once that silly event hit), and would have been better served building up my own colonies first. I think the small map threw me off too; six planets is a LOT on a small map! Easily enough to be in a dominant position. I just got too greedy. Tactically, I probably could have swooped in behind the Alkari fleet and overrun Escalon with a Bulrathi population swarm. Even though they did have one missile base there, it wouldn't have taken too many transports getting through to take the planet (I was the Bulrathi, after all) and that would have destroyed any attacking fleets due to fuel considerations. The timing would have been tricky, but I think it could have been pulled off.
Well, the important thing is that I learned from my mistakes. But I'm not one to take a loss lightly, so it was time to roll a new map and try the Bulrathi again!