Holding On

Meklar, Impossible, Small, 4 Opponents

My first attempt at a Small map didn't go so well (my only non-Impossible loss thus far), so I wanted to take another shot at it. The dynamics of the crowded little maps are completely different from other galaxy sizes, and I figured it would be fun to undertake epic struggles over small numbers of highly disputed worlds. To ease my way into this scenario, I decided to go with the mighty Meklar, whose extra factories seemed likely to be a disproportionately large advantage on a map with so few worlds.

I drew a corner start in the northwest. And by that, I mean a true CORNER start - everything to the south and east of my position. There was only one star within 3 parsecs, so I crossed my fingers and sent the colony ship there. The good news is that the world was habitable! The bad news is that it was a rather small world, Minimal size 30. Well, you play the hand you're dealt. Here was what the map looked like:

The one upside was that I didn't have to send very many colonists to the second world. I believe I sent 8 in one batch, and that would be it. Settling Tau Cygni (my new colony) brought five more worlds within 6 parsec range of my scouts, so I spent one turn cranking Scout2s out of Meklon (taking advantage of the fact that I could RELOCate them to Tau Cygni), then went back to working on factories whole hog. Once the scouts fanned out, I was able to have a better look at my immediate neighborhood.

Unfortunately, three of the next five worlds I scouted were hostile, but one of them was only Barren and so a potential early target. The key planet looked to be the other Minimal world south of Tau Cygni, Incendius. That was a Rich planet, although unfortunately also of a rather small size (I believe it was size 40, but not 100% positive). I would love to get the Ocean world as well, Argus, but I would have to settle the Barren world (Zoctan) first to have enough range to reach it, and that seemed unlikely on a Small map with Impossible rivals! Still, if I could land the Barren and Minimal planets above, plus get the Dead planet further south, that would put me in decent position, especially as the Meklar.

Take a look back at the first map of the galaxy above. There are only 6 yellow stars in the entire galaxy to be split among 5 races, so all but one of the yellows above will have a race starting there! I expected there would be one race in the north, one race in the southwest, one race in the east, and one race at the central yellow. As it turned out, that would NOT be the case, with drastic consequences for my game...

So I build up my home planet in the usual way, although the Small map had my scouts chasing away rival ships from all four enemy races at an early date. I was most worried about losing that Minimal Rich planet to an AI colony ship, so I paused early on to crank out two batches of laser fighters:

Since both the worlds I wanted were only 3 parsecs away, I could dispense with Reserve Fuel Tanks and protect my future investments with these popgun fighters. That turned out not to be necessary, but better safe than sorry.

So I built up Meklon to roughly 200 factories, then began working on colony ships. First I settled Incendius, then began researching additional tech in the hopes of being able to grab Zoctan. To my delight, the game gave my Planetology-challenged machines both Terraforming +10 and Controlled Barren! Usually that would be a no-brainer for +10, but in this case I went with Controlled Barren. I split early research on that tech along with Range 5 and Improved Industrial 9 (that last one being a very big deal for the Meklar!)

All of those techs popped at about the same time, after which I divided research fairly evenly between the six fields. When I made it to Zoctan and planted my flag first on the disputed world (having chased away some AI colony ships with my laser fighters), I was brought into contact with both the Mrrshans and the Alkari:

The Mrrshans are not a problem. They obviously started at the northern yellow, and are doing about as expected with three systems. The Alkari, on the other hand...

The cursor above is pointing to Altair. The birds drew a start at the central yellow, and apparently NO ONE started in the entire eastern half of the galaxy. As a result, while everyone else has been crammed onto the left side of the board, the Alkari have gotten free run on half the galaxy. Uh oh. And as bad as it is for my own empire and that of the cats, the Sakkra and Darloks are in even worse shape. They MUST both be jammed into the southwest corner of the map, competing with one another for a grand total of 3 systems. (The red star down there is Orion.)

This is not good. In fact, this is so much not a good thing, the Alkari are passing the THIRD population warning just a couple turns later:

They already have 3/8 of the galaxy under their control! And we're still only in 2360 or so! This does not look good.

For the moment, however, there's nothing I can do. There's no way I can even think about taking on the fleets of any of the AI races anytime soon (much less that of a race with a space combat bonus, like the cats or the birds). Especially as the Meklar, the best thing I can do is work on lots and lots of factories, while standing up defenses. Even with only four planets, I can probably be competitive here if I'm given enough time to stand up defenses.

The AI, however, refused to play along. First the Mrrshans decide to target my Zoctan, my newest and weakest planet:

I easily defeated their probe, but they would be back with more ships later. The LAST thing I need is for the cats to be coming after me right now, especially with a runaway Alkari next door. Aren't bird/cat relations the worst in the game? Anyway, I was sure that they would declare war on each other soon enough, but right now I probably was just the easiest-looking target for Mrrshan expansion. The AI in this game seems to be relatively fair about that.

I was SERIOUSLY hindered here in the early going by three major problems. First of all, I had none of the early waste cleanup techs in my tree. Missing Improved Eco was probably to be expected as the Meklar, but the lack of Controlled Waste 80% really hurt. I had massive amounts of factories, but almost all of my production edge was going up in smoke, argh! When I finished researching Terraforming +20, I proceeded onto Enhanced Eco at all available speed:

OUCH on the cost for a level 13 Planetology tech though. Man, it stinks to be rated Poor in Planetology. You have to admit though that the game designers knew what they were doing in balancing most of these races (otherwise the Meklar would be way overpowered).

Secondly, all of my planets were on the small size. Tau Cygni was size 30, Incendius was size 40, and Zoctan was size 30 (hostile). Thus for all of my extra factories, I'm only breaking even with a non-Meklar race with larger planets of size 70+, argh! Granted, that Terraforming +20 tech worked wonders, but this was still a rather poor draw. Finally, I lacked any early upgrades to my missiles. No Hyper-Vs, no Hyper-Xs. Not in the tree. So here I am trying to defend Zoctan, my point planet, with a limited amount of production and bases still firing nukes at the enemies. D'oh!

Here comes the latest Mrrshan fleet:

Because I had a single point position to defend here, I opted to go with a Large design sporting lasers in the early going. You won't often see me do that, except if I'm planning on creating essentially immobile defense platforms and want to minimize attrition. I also expected to be facing the Alkari, and so putting a Battle Scanner on a Large design seemed like a better idea than not. I had 3 of my Laser gunships in position to meet the Mrrshan attack, plus 3 bases and some assorted older ships:

The colony ship and Panther designs were both sporting Ion Cannons; not irrelevant by any means, but not a threat to the planet in such small numbers. The stack of Griffin ships, on the other hand, are each carrying a Fusion Bomb. I focused my fire on that stack. Fortunately all the ships were limping in at warp 1, and I had plenty of time to attrit a decent amount of the Griffins before they could even get close to the planet. I wouldn't have been able to kill them all in time, but after taking out the other Mrrshan ships, I was able to form a blockade between the Griffin stack and my own planet:

Since the Mrrshan ships only move at combat speed 1, they are unable to move around my shifting blockade and close with the planet. Thus I was able to whittle them down over a series of turns and destroy the entire stack! That went about as well as could be hoped.

I continued to add more bases to Zoctan, even though it was well short of max factories. Not long after I chased away the Mrrshan effort, here come the Alkari with their own significant fleet:

Fortunately the Falcon stack was useless, as their lasers couldn't touch my bases, but the other ships represented a threat. Neutron Pellet gun halves shield strength, so that largely cancels out the halving effect of firing guns at planetary defenses. I only had Class II shields at this point, so they could definitely do some damage. I concentrated on taking out the Foxbat stack. Unlike the Mrrshans though, these Alkari ships move at double the speed. Darn the birds and their Inertial Stabilizer!

I held onto Zoctan, but not before losing three missile bases (I started with 11). I deperately needed to get some kind of missile upgrade, because nukes simply weren't cutting it against the AI races as they continued to field larger and stronger navies. Fortunately Merculite missiles were in the pipeline, but as a level 14 tech they were taking a while to research, especially here on a Small map with so few worlds.

Worst of all, here come the Mrrshans with a GIGANTIC fleet, hundreds upon hundreds of their small ships packing Fusion Bombs. No, you stupid cats! Attack the Alkari! The ALKARI! Can't you see that they're the runaway AI?!