Flying Into Disaster

Alkari, Impossible, Large, 5 Opponents

After my initial triumph at Impossible (beginner's luck?), I ran into some trouble in my following games. Yes, in the interests of fair disclosure I have to admit that I lost both of the next two games, running my record to 1-2. Let me go through what happened briefly, because I should have won both of those games!

Playing as the Humans on a Large/5 Opponents map, I drew an isolated start in the southeast. That was already good news, but I managed to grab not one, but TWO Artifacts worlds, pulling techs from each one! Unfortunately, the techs I drew were Battle Suits and Death Spores, so somewhat less than useful early on, but together they drastically dropped the cost of colony ship construction. I was able to slap Reserve Fuel Tanks on a colony ship at a VERY early date. In fact, if I hadn't had to research increased range tech to spread out initially, I would have done even better than I did. As it was, I managed to grab a sizable portion of the map:

As the Humans, I'm trading with everyone and reaping tons of profit off of it. In fact, my relations are Relaxed or better with everyone, and I was simply building up my position at this point with increased factories and bases for security against a future Silicoids campaign. Then, out of the blue, I find out that I've LOST the 2400 council vote to the rocks. Say what?! How did that happen???

Unfortunately for me, the rocks had signed multiple early game alliances and cheezed that into an early Diplo win. They had alliances with the Mrrshans, Meklar, and Darloks - and since the Sakkra hadn't met me yet, they wouldn't vote for me. Argh! I simply had not expected EVERYONE to vote against me with such strong relations across the board. Even one abstention would have saved me. Well, live and learn. I took away the very important lesson that you can't take ANY council vote for granted. Won't be making that mistake again, let me tell you.

I went back to an earlier save, gifted the Mrrshans a tech before the vote, and thereby avoided defeat to play on. Within a dozen turns, the Silicoids were at war with half the galaxy, confirming that they had lucked into a win. Heh. I took it to the rocks and replayed my defeat into a 2500 Domination win:

It still counts as a loss, of course, but I felt a lot better.

The other loss was even more frustrating, if possible. Playing as the Sakkra on a Medium map, I drew a fantastic start, in the middle of the map but with a huge amount of backline territory safe from any other race:

There were no AIs at either of the yellow stars to my southwest. That left me free to gobble up the ENTIRE southeast, which contained a number of very strong planets. There was even an Artifacts world, base size 110 (!) down there that I took. Unfortunately, the free tech I pulled was Improved Robotics III, which was actually a BAD thing as I got it too early and slowed down my development. Still, when GNN announced the first one to 6 planets, then the first one to 12 planets, *I* was the one that they were talking about. What a cakewalk!

In fact, the only thing that could have lost me the game was being overrun by a rival AI early on before having a chance to consolidate my incredible position. As a result, I was doing everything possible to suck up to my neighbors, the Meklar, Alkari, and Humans. Fortunately, there was a large gulf of empty space between my territory and the Meklar, so I wasn't too worried about them. Even better, I was able to vote for the Meklar in the first council election (2367), and then the following one a couple turns later in 2375. As a result, the machines LOVED me, and I was able to neglect defenses on their border. Relations were also good with the Humans, less so with the Alkari, so I had most of my ships and bases over by the birds.

Well, I THOUGHT that I was safe against the Meklar...


The Meklar had by far the strongest fleet in the galaxy, and here it comes at full speed. I had paused to build more factories instead of building bases early on, because relations had been SO high, and that would cost me dearly. They brought the nucleus of their fleet against me, and it rolled over my core worlds without breaking a sweat:

The Meklar have already overrun Sssla without pause, and they're about to take over Phantos as well. I had no desire to play this one out further, so I retired at this point and admitted defeat. I'm sure it could have been played better, but drawing that assassination event was a really, REALLY bad break of luck. What a lousy way to lose a game. Even a dozen more turns, and I would have had enough bases to be relatively secure. Blah.

So I caught some bad breaks there, but I think I know what the problem is. Humans, Sakkra... I'm playing races that are too strong! If I want to win, I need to try one of the weaker races, for some extra variant power. Like the Alkari, for example. (Yeah, that'll do it for sure...) Anyway, let's roll a map and see what happens. Large, to try and get some advantage from the birds' Excellent rating in Propulsion.

I began in the southeast corner of the map, with four different stars within three parsecs, two yellows and two reds. I opted to send the colony ship to the northern yellow, towards the galactic core, and it turned out to have a size 70 Steppe world. More than good enough. Here was the start:

With all those yellow stars nearby, I feared that I would be crowded by AI races right on top of me. As it turned out, there were in fact several races with close starts, but they expanded in different directions out of the gate and gave me some early breathing room. Here was the local neighborhood:

There were quite a few planets to grab in my backlines, four of which I could actually get without researching increased range, but opportunities to move coreward were less promising. The Terran world in the northeast I made a major priority, but I would need Range 5 to get there, so it would have to wait a little while. The two Terran worlds in the northwest were both Poor, so despite being fairly large they became a secondary goal. (Unfortunately, they were also both six parsecs away.) With Mrrshan scouts already buzzing around over there, I would be content to let the cats expand there if they moved quickly enough.

The Barren planet immediately to the south of those two was size 50, Rich! That would be a very nice prize, believe me. I hoped for once that I would have Controlled Barren in the tree, to open up the way west, but I only had Improved Eco Restoration as an initial option. In fact, Controlled Tundra wasn't available either, and I would have to go all the way to Controlled Dead to open up those planets. That was distinctly not a good thing, but what could I do about it? Not much.

So I expanded to grab the worlds I could reach in the south, building colony ships out of Altair, while the second colony pursued minimal research into increased range. As the Alkari, of course, that didn't take too long. When I settled Toranor, the Terran world in the northeast, I was brought into contact with the Meklar. I had also just met the Mrrshans, so here's what the map now looked like:

Meklon is the blue flag directly to the south of the cursor, while Fieras is the yellow star to the west. While it was good to see the bird-hating cats at a small size, I couldn't help but worry about just how much of the galaxy remained to be carved up between the other three races. The Darloks usually don't expand too well either... so that probably means 2/3 of the map will be divided between the Psilons and Silicoids. Hopefully the rocks will get the majority of that! I'd much rather face runaway Silicoids than Psilons, if you know what I mean.

I quickly got out to eight worlds, but I was unable to expand further due to the total lack of access to hostile environments. I could even fit Reserve Fuel Tanks onto colony ships, but I had nowhere to send them because all the nearby worlds were Barren or worse! That tech shortfall was really crimping my growth curve. What I did do was to build several dozen laser fighters to ensure that poachers wouldn't grab the Rich Barren world I wanted, while waiting on Controlled Dead to finish. That turned out to be a prudent move:

Here I am chasing away some Psilon ships. I certainly didn't want them in striking distance of my core worlds with a Rich planet! Within a few turns, the Psilons either pulled in some additional range tech or settled another world near my borders, because I was finally brought in contact with them. This was what the map looked like:

Uh oh.

The Psilons began at the yellow star directly to the west of Mrrshan space, and due to a lack of ANY races beginning on the western side of the map, they have settled a huge stretch of territory over there. The Psilons are the largest and most populous empire on the map! Danger off the charts here. Ordinarily, I could have cut them off in the south and made headway down there, but the inability to settle any worlds over there had kept me pinned in the corner and allowed them to run wild.

This doesn't look good, folks. I'll do the best I can to develop my position and look for an opening to attack and steal techs, but frankly I need a lot more experience at this game to be ready for this kind of threat. For the moment, the most important thing I can do is set up trade with each race, making sure that no one attacks me and snuffs out my Alkari in the cradle:

Fortunately managing to do rather well on the diplomatic front, all things considered. The Psilons were quite happy with me, as I had voted for them in the first council election, and even the Mrrshans had warmed up enough to sign a Non-Aggression Pact. I was worried about an outright early Diplo loss, as the Psilons were signing a bunch of early game alliances. They even had one with the Silicoids briefly, which would have been a disaster had that occured right before a vote. (Rocks are the only other power with enough worlds to challenge the brains, although the Meklar also had - as always - a dangerous fleet for their small size.)

I worked the other races quite a bit diplomatically, trying wherever possible to improve my own relations and organize an anti-Psilon coalition. It wasn't hard to get the Silicoids to go to war against them, given their huge frontier, for example. I wasn't sure that the rocks would do much of anything, but I needed to rule out the possibility of losing an early vote, and more importantly I needed some more time to build up before attacking myself! The Mrrshans were so aggressive, they eventually declared war on the Psilons themselves (who didn't see that coming?) The Meklar continued to hold an alliance with the brains, so I couldn't do anything there, but kept an eye on things for future developments.

I had enough population to avoid a loss in the 2400 election, but had to abstain from voting for the Psilons. In the last 25 years, the brains had strengthened their position further by settling additional worlds that had previously been hostile:

I've finally gotten some additional worlds to get out to 12, but the Psilons are already out to 16 and still growing. Even worse, they will shortly come by and wipe out my reach colony in the west, grabbing yet another planet for themselves. The bar graphs tell the same story:

Look at that Technology bar, heh. The Psilons lead in Tech, Population, Planets, and Total Power, while sitting just behind the leader in Fleet Strength and Production. With their teching and that many planets, it's just a matter of time until they take the lead in ALL categories and run away with the game. I wouldn't say that it's too late to do something, but time is rapidly running out. I'm going to have to attack the brains soon, or their technology will escalate to the point that I won't even be able to scratch their bases.

Here's a sign of where I stand. Note that the Psilons have drawn an Honorable personality instead of their usual Pacifist bent, which has resulted in a much larger military than you'd expect to see from the brains (great). I'm equal to the Psilons in Planetology (just learned Controlled Toxic myself), but they have a major advantage elsewhere, especially in Construction. My birds have just discovered the Automated Repair Special, so that means that the Psilons are up FOUR techs in Construction tech. They're even ahead of me in Propulsion tech - Ion Drives?! Geeze. My backwardness is painfully obvious during the movement phase of each turn, as I have to sit and wait for warp 6 Psilon ships to speed across the map.

Something tells me this is not going to end well.

Still, I have to do something, right? I design some ships using the best weapons I have available, which isn't all that much. I focus most of my production on building bombers, Small size, Alkari-style swarms of them. Unfortunately I didn't have Fusion Bombs in my tree (and I couldn't get anyone to trade them to me), so Nuke bombers it would have to be. I also designed an Ion gunship, Large, making use of the Auto Repair special, but mostly I'd be going with the bombers. When I had close to 300 of them, I went on the attack:

Here it comes, at Omicron. I have lots of transports on the way for a ground invasion, so this is going to have to go well.

The Psilons had 19 bases at Omicron, with six points of shielding. Their Merculite missile bases managed to kill almost 100 of my bombers before they could even close with the planet, much to my dismay. When the first load of bombs hit and only killed one base, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to take out the planetary bases. I would end up killing about 10 bases before having to retreat, meaning I would have to build some more bombers and come back for a second try, hopefully before the Psilons could research and deploy a Planetary Shield.

Of course, you know what that means for my transports...

While I retreated to rebuild and hopefully return at a later date, the Psilons were meanwhile going about raping the small Mrrshan empire. First they invaded and took over the Poor world closest to my borders, then proceeded on to the other one:

I'm not TOO concerned about that fleet, since I've been able to see what's on that Seeker design (one laser and one Fusion Bomb). I have Class V Planetary Shields everywhere and 25 bases with Scatter Pack V at Nyarl, so hopefully I could survive a strike there. If the Psilons were to head into my back lines though, things could be dicey.

When the Psilons finish conquering Willow, contact was broken with the Mrrshans:

Poor kitties are down to just three extremely scattered planets. Meanwhile, the Psilons have rolled back their frontier with the rocks and are now out to 21 planets. I still haven't even met the Darloks, though I'm guessing they're up in the northeast corner. My best hope is still to invade a Psilon world intact and capture some of their secrets, hopefully while keeping my own planets safe in the process. However, it's only a matter of time until the brains discover Robotic Controls V and solve their one tech hole (lack of factory upgrades) then blow past us all with superior production. Looking a bit grim here.

In fact, I was concentrating so much on finding some way to attack the Psilons that I didn't even pay attention to the upcoming 2425 election. When the Psilons voted for themselves with their 16 votes (out of 49 total), I saw that they would not have enough population to block a council vote. I pulled votes from the Silicoids, Mrrshans, even the Meklar (who I had bribed into the Psilon war with a 1000BC payment once their alliance wore off). It all depended on the Darloks, who I hadn't even met yet - score!

I guess the shapeshifters didn't like the Psilons either. Wow, the brains DID step on a lot of toes in running over so much of the galaxy! And so I jubilantly took a Diplo victory and escaped from this disastrous map. What a ride!

Maybe a Sirian or a Zed could have played that one out into a win, but I wasn't going to press my luck. I guess all that time spent working over the other races on the diplomatic screen wasn't a waste after all. The funny thing is that I didn't draw a Psilon opponent in any of my first eight games (what are the odds of that?) only to get a very bad scenario here against the brains. Here's hoping they don't show up for a while again!

Impossible record now 2-2. Go Alkari!