Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Alkari, Impossible, Medium, 5 Opponents

Since the last game I reported on this website, I played two more games on Impossible, both with the Darloks. In the first one I had a decent corner start and consolidated a nice position, only to lose the vote right when I was moving onto the offensive for the first time. I knew that the vote would be close, but I thought I had enough to block a loss. As it turned out, I lost by a single vote. I really should have won the game, as once I survived that vote I would have been in tremendous shape, but I misread the bar graphs and failed to be aggressive enough in attacking enemy planets (to reduce their population). In other words, that definitely could have been handled better. The other game, also with the Darloks, saw me handed a horrendous start with exactly three habitable planets to my name, tucked into the center of the galaxy with enemies on all sides and nothing but Toxic and Radiated planets surrounding my worlds. I gave a valiant attempt to play it out, even getting up to seven extremely scattered planets eventually, but there simply wasn't enough to work with. When Nazin was obliterated by a huge fleet, I decided it was time to start over with a new game.

While that last game wasn't even close to fair, it still ran my record on Impossible to 3-4 and left me desperate to get back to earlier winning ways. I didn't feel like I had gotten a full chance to experience the Alkari the first time I played them, so I picked the birds for another go-around on a standard map. Here's the start I drew:

Altair is the northern of the two yellow stars. There was only one planet within three parsecs, another yellow, so I sent the colony ship there. That world turned out to be Proteus, a size 35 Minimal; a bit of a disappointment, but at least it was habitable. With three yellow stars extremely close, I was afraid that I might have an AI race on top of me from the start, but as you can guess from the scouts above, there turned out to be no one at any of those locations. The belt of three more yellows just beyond my scout blockade would turn out to have two races, however, the Bulrathi and Klackons. As a result, I would push the initial colony ships south first, leaving a substantial backline area for future expansion.

Even better, most of the worlds around Altair were habitable right from the start!

The other yellow star to my south held a Terran world, Mobas, base size 95! Wow. I wish THAT had been my second colony! (This game probably would have been substantially easier if the positions of those two planets had been switched.) Further south was Tauri, a size 60 Steppe world. I hoped that I would be able to secure it before the AI races in my vicinity could get there. In the west and north you can see an Arid 95 and a Terran 85, but alas the latter was Poor and the former one Ultra Poor. Rounding out the bunch, there was a small Minimal world (30) and a medium Arid (75) in the northeast. The Toxic planet in the west was Rich, which would be good so long as I could prevent someone from poaching it.

In short, this position looks great! Much stronger than my previous game, that's for sure. I have a legitimate chance of getting a dozen worlds by peaceful means, which is more than enough to be competitive (even on Impossible). Once I finished building up Altair, I sent the first colony ship south to Mobas, the excellent Terran 95 world. From there, I was able to leapfrog to Tauri, which put me in contact with my neighbors to the south:

OK, there's good news and bad news here. On the one hand, the Bulrathi have failed to settle any new planets at all, and Klackon expansion has been contained thus far. On the other hand, the Klackons are now threatening planets in the northeast that I've been considering "mine", and the Silicoids have been going freaking nuts down at the bottom of the map. Stupid rocks are already threatening to grab the Hostile worlds on the western edge of the map, in MY region of space, argh.

And wait, it gets better get. While I fortunately don't have to worry about the Psilons in this game, BOTH of the Alkari racial enemies are present (Sakkra and Mrrshans). I suppose I should count my blessings that kitty started on the other side of the map. Still, I'm likely to face diplomatic problems down the road. Oh, and these Klackons are Erratic. That will almost certainly give me some "fun" down the road!

I had to pause to research more range tech after settling Tauri, but fortunately the Alkari are one race for which that's NOT an issue. I wanted Range 5, but it was missing from the tree, so Range 4 it would have to be. (I would have to research Range 6 next to open up some of the worlds nearby.) I knocked out the initial Range tech in about 5 turns, then was able to make a major aquisition:

Nitzer was a size 100 Terran, excellent! Now, as long as I can settle the remaining worlds in the north and consolidate these three planets I just picked up (sizes 95, 60, and 100) I should be in great shape.

Unfortunately, this game has a way of throwing a monkey wrench in the best-laid plans...

Oh sure, I grabbed the three planets I had the range to settle in the north. Started standing them all up with population, factories - the works. Then the Klackons wake up on the wrong side of the bed and declare war. Stupid Erratic races, argh! Settling in the northeast has also put me into contact with the Mrrshans, who immediately declare war as well within the first five turns:

It's all hitting the fan at once now. The cats are too far away to do much at this point (they started in the extreme east), but the Klackons are the resident superpower of this game in terms of fleet strength, and they're coming for me way, WAY too early. I've found that any genuine AI attack (not brush war skirmish) in the first 100 turns on Impossible is extremely bad news, and we're only at roughly 2370 or so in this game. Not good.

The designs the bugs are using only have lasers, but they have a LOT of them. Still, I have one salvation: if I can build even one base on a planet coming under attack, I can protect myself against an infinite number of Klackon ships sporting lasers and gatling lasers, as they won't be able to get through my shielding. So I have Altair pour its production into the Planetary Reserve, and manage to get a missile base finished on Mobas just in time to meet the first major wave of laser fighters. Yay, the planet will be saved!

Eh? What do you mean they're still damaging the planet with their guns? What do you mean I don't have Class II shields yet?!

Uh, sorry about that, chief. It seems we forgot to prioritize our Force Field spending. I immediately attempt to rectify the situation:

I usually equalize out research after grabbing the first Range tech and the initial Planetology offering, but in this game I continued pushing Propulsion because I needed Range 6 to expand further. That would end up costing me bigtime. I've never engaged in combat before without have Class II Deflectors researched, so I just assumed that bases were impervious to lasers. Well, they aren't if you fail to research the first shield upgrade! I won't make that mistake again, but it's too late to do anything about it now. This fleet is on its way to Mobas:

Those Cutlasses may only be sporting lasers, but 700+ will be more than enough to bomb the crap out of my planet. Mobas is doomed. I won't be able to research Class II Deflectors in time to save it. There goes my size 95 planet, the best in my empire after Altair. This is not a day of glory for the Alkari people.

The good news is that even though the bugs had thoroughly bombed out Mobas, there were still a couple of people alive on the world, and they paused their fleet to conduct a ground invasion. That bought me the time I needed to finish researching Class II shields and deploy at least one base on all my other worlds. It was rather close on Proteus; that world was only size 35, and I literally just managed to get a base constructed with a couple turns to spare. So I managed to protect myself against the current Klackon threat, but it was only a matter of time until their technology improved and they began fielding designs against which a single missile base with 2 points of shielding would prove inadequate.

Meanwhile, the bugs used their colonies in the east to attack, invade, and take over Dunatis, my forward planet in the northeast. Whoops, there goes another one. Dunatis was a new colony, only founded a dozen or so turns earlier, and there was simply nothing I could do to protect it in the face of the massively superior Klackon fleet. Even worse, my need to shift the few ships I DID have to protect my planets allowed the Silicoids to poach the Rich Toxic world in my backlines, argh! Here was the map during this ongoing debacle:

Note that I've now met the Mrrshans and Sakkra, although losing Dunatis (the red Klackon flag in the east at the very top of the map) has knocked me out of contact with the cats. Probably not a bad thing. Meeting the Sakkra wasn't exactly great news, however, because they had an alliance with the Klackons and ALSO declared war on me shortly after making contact. Good grief, what a map! Any earlier dreams of coasting to an easy win on the strength of a dozen strong core worlds are long since gone at this point, as I desperately try to protect the seven scattered planets I do have from further assault.

I suppose I should count my blessings for one major thing: the Silicoids and the Klackons hate each other's guts in this game. They went to war with no prodding from me and stayed at war for the duration. Thus, the galaxy would be characterized by endless fighting between the rocks and the bug/lizard alliance. The two sides were almost exactly even in strength, which greatly prolonged the affair. That was an enormous help to me, because if the rocks had dogpiled on me as well, it would have sealed my fate.

What I most needed was peace with the Klackons. I had to keep diverting production away from research and factories to add additional bases on pretty much every world. This was especially painful at Proteus (size 35), Maretta (30), and Celtsi (30); that last world was a recent Tundra addition to my empire which brought me up to eight total. The Klackons attacked there many times, and I had to spend heavily from the reserves, nearly losing the planet on multiple occasions. I kept asking the damn bugs for peace, but they rebuffed all offers. This was getting me nowhere!

That is, until we held the next vote and I saw an opportunity:

The rocks and bugs are splitting the vote, which is a huge help to me. And due to the fact that neither is dominant, I can cast my five votes FOR THE KLACKONS, which boosted relations all the way up into the Wary range, after which they were willing to sign peace. The Silicoids gave me some long faces, and asked how could I betray their trust, but I had strong relations with them and they only dropped to Neutral, which was plenty good enough.

Now lest you think this was some magic panacea, the Klackons were still Erratic and still allied with the Sakkra, who remained at war with me. It was only a matter of time before they came back for another round. But I needed peace so desperately, ANY respite from the fighting was in my interest, even if I had to take a relations hit with the rocks (pretty much my one and only friend, aside from the irrelevant Bulrathi). Since the Sakkra were a minor military threat at best, I was able to go back and finish my factory construction, then begin doing some research in earnest for the first time in ages. (Yes, I'm behind technologically. You're always behind in tech on Impossible, but in this game I was BEHIND, if you know what I mean.)

After Class II shields and Personal Deflector (no choice on either), I saw to my immense relief that my one and only choice for the third generation of Force Field technology was the mighty Class V Planetary Shield. I sped to that with all available funding and got to it just in time:

Talk about a relief! My missile bases were still sitting around with only 2 points of shielding, which wasn't going to do much against the improved ships the AIs are using now. Why am I worried about this so much? Because it's only a matter of time before the insane Erratic Klackons declare war on me again, and sure enough, here they come just as I discover the shield tech. I guessed that they were coming for Tauri (I also need a better scanner, just one of the dozens of problems I have right now) and poured reserve money to get the planetary shield done in time. As it turns out, I literally made it by a single turn:

Tauri was reading "2 years" on the Defense slider on the turn the attack hit, meaning it JUST finished the shield by virtue of the fact that production takes place before combat in this game. Whew! And believe me, I was as good as dead on this planet if I didn't get the shield up in time. Those 2136 Cutlasses are still sporting lasers and are utterly useless, but the other designs have much more advanced stuff. The stack of 79 ships was a Medium design sporting Fusion Beams! (Those do 4-16 damage per shot, which gets halved to 2-8 against planetary surfaces.) Needless to say, if I had only possessed two points of shielding for my bases, the battle would not have gone well.

You can also see three other critical tech shortfalls in that above picture. The first problem is that I haven't gotten any missile upgrades in ages! I've got 15 bases at Tauri, but they're stuck using the very-badly obsolete Hyper-Vs, argh. I was researching Ion Rifle at this point (useless until I do some ground pounding), and Stingers would be available on the next rung of the tech ladder (yay!) but for now I had a serious problem. I also haven't gotten any armor upgrades (no Duralloy) so my bases still have the minimum 50 hit points.

The final issue was a lack of Terraforming techs. The first two Planetology techs I had researched were both major assets (Improved Eco, then Controlled Tundra) but the downside was a lack of access to early Terraforming. Since I had two size 30s and a 35, I was really feeling that hole on my mostly smallish planets. I've actually just discovered Terraforming +30 at the time of the above attack (Tauri is size 63) but have delayed terraforming to construct planetary shields everywhere. Once I get them done, I'll be able to add 30 people and 90 factories (I had Robotics III) to every world, literally doubling the production on the smallest ones. That was a major boost to my struggling position.

Here was the new galactic map after fighting off another series of attacks from the Klackons:

It looks... almost exactly the same as the previous map, heh. I had to make hay with these eight worlds for a very long time, let me tell you. And... these were not exactly planets of the finest quality. I've got two strong worlds (Altair and Nitzer, both base size 100), one medium planet (Tauri, base 60), three smallish worlds and then a Poor/Ultra Poor pair in the northwest corner. Those two were both nice and large, but that advantage of course went up in smoke due to their extreme slowness in producing factories. Thank goodness the AI races left them almost completely alone. I put one base and a shield on each, and otherwise left them to fend for themselves. They would be able to contribute on the research front eventually, but standing up factories was a slow and torturous ordeal. No Rich or Ultra Rich planets, no Artifacts worlds, and two Poor planets. Lovely.

After about a dozen different Klackon attacks failed (they came after Tauri, Celtsi, and Proteus in serious fashion) I was surprisingly able to get them to sign peace with me, with no electoral shenanigans or bribes needed. And the Sakkra had actually come to me and asked for peace earlier, so for the first time in ages I managed to achieve peace with all races:

Well, maybe the Mrrshans were still "at war" with me, but I wasn't counting them. You can see that I've signed both the bugs and lizards to major trade agreements; my hope is that I can convince them to ally with me against the Silicoids. In terms of population, the rocks are #1 by a fairly large margin, the bugs are #2, and I'm #3. So long as the Silicoids and Klackons are both nominated in the election, they will split the vote and the game will go on. Of course, I also can't win as long as I sit in spot #3, so I'm going to have to pass one of them in population WITHOUT swinging their vote to my electoral opponent. That is, it's pointless to declare war on the Klackons and pass them in population by taking worlds, only to have them vote for the Silicoids and then lose the game.

That's what I like about the Galactic Council: it's at once both very simple and very complex. I spent quite a few hours thinking about how to manage this situation so I wouldn't wind up losing the vote. The best plan I could see was to ally with the Klackons/Sakkra against the Silicoids, which would allow me to take worlds from the rocks without fear of losing the vote. Of course, in order to do that the damn bugs have to stop attacking me every 10 years first!

My fleet wasn't nearly strong enough to take on the rocks yet though, so I scanned the map for other opportunities to gain planets. Attacking the pathetic, One Planet Empire Bulrathi seemed like it would be readily doable, and if I could invade Ursa I would pick up some badly needed techs as well. I built a large enough fleet to gain orbital superiority over Ursa, then sent in the troops. Almost 200 of them (this is the Bulrathi we're talking about), from all over my empire, coordinated to land on the same turn:

There's just one problem: see that red Klackon ship just above Ursa? By dint of a total coindicence, the bugs will move a gigantic fleet into orbit over the bear homeworld on the same turn that my transports are due to land. You know what that means...

My own (much smaller) fleet had been orbiting over Ursa for the last 5 turns, and the Klackons would move to a new destination on the following turn. It was simply colossal bad luck that they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to shoot down all my transports. And with the bases at Ursa bombed out by me, one of the other races would swoop in and destroy the bears mere turns later. There goes my one chance to invade and pick up techs. Goddammit.

I briefly managed to pass the Klackons in population, and with the bugs and lizards still at war with the Silicoids, I hoped that I would be able to line up a coalition against the rocks for a rapid diplomatic win:

I've abstained with my nine votes; I would have had 24/39 overall, for a total of 61.5% - close, but no cigar. Still, it looked like I might be able to get out of this troublesome galaxy at the next vote with a win if I could pull the Mrrshans to my side (they also were at war with the Silicoids, so it was theoretically possible). However, it was not to be. The Erratic bugs lost another sanity check and once again declared war on me shortly after the vote. And then the game decided to give me the finger by having the Mineral Depletion event hit Altair, turning into a mineral Poor world. Argh!

Seriously, can I catch a freaking break in this game?!