A Hostile Galaxy

Sakkra, Average, Medium, 5 Opponents

With one runaway game under my belt with the Humans in a cupcake galaxy, I figured I had to give Average difficulty another shot before trying to move up to Hard. After all, I wasn't going to have free run on 2/3 of the map in every game, right? I decided I'd try my hand at a game with the Sakkra, who looked to be fun with their double population growth ability. Roll a map and let's get started!

I begin at the top of the map, right in the middle of the playing field. There were actually three different stars in immediate range of the start, two yellows and one green. Playing the probabilities, I figured I wanted to send the colony ship to one of the yellows and the starting scouts to the other two. Based on what Sirian and others have written, by sending the colony ship to the western-most of the two yellows, I could get a scouting report on the other yellow first and thus determine which of the two would be better to settle. Ha!

Of course, as it turns out, the green star had a minimal artifacts planet (size 40), the western yellow star my scout went to was a terran planet (size 95), and the northern yellow my colony ship visited was an inferno world (size 20). Whoops. Trying to play the system backfired! In any case, I sent the colony ship over to the Terran 95 (a waste of 3 turns though, blah) and built some Scout2s to fan out to the stars in range. I'd be a little slow getting started, but two of the three worlds in immediate range were great planets.

There's the galaxy; you can see my population transports heading from Sssla to the second colony if you look closely. Nothing to do except build factories for a while now... except that there's a ship incoming to the artifacts world just a turn later - early contact!

Silicoids already? Wow. Glad I built those Scout2s and got them out pronto! My unarmed scout chased away their similarly configured ship. But this is dire news, to say the least. The Silicoids are not a good race to be next to in the early going, since they can steal all those unhabitable planets from under your nose. Judging by the galaxy map and the fact that the Silicoids were coming from the southeast, Cryslon had to be at the yellow star directly SE of Sssla. Draw a line on the galaxy map above and you'll be able to figure out what I mean. I took this as a message to get some ships stood up in the southeast, and fast, before the Silicoids began poaching worlds on my doorstep.

For the next dozen or so turns, I mostly chased Silicoid ships away from the disputed border stars. The key world looked to be Misha; let me show you where that was:

Misha was the next star away from my artifacts world to the southeast. (I should mention that the tech I pulled from the artifacts planet was Hand Lasers, argh! Very little help there.) At size 65 FERTILE, I definitely did not want that going into the hands of the slow-growing rocks! The red star further to the southeast was already one of their worlds, and you can see that they already had a scout over the blue star to the north; if I wasn't careful, I would lose my whole potential core in the early going.

Also note the blue ship incoming from the west; that turned out to be the Alkari. Fortunately, a wide gulf of space between our races kept us from conflicting in the early going, allowing me to focus on the Silicoid threat.

So I build up Sssla for about 20 turns until its population and factories max (and man, the Sakkra fill up their population WAY faster than their industry!) then churn out a colony ship for the artifacts world. After that, I have to pause to research more range tech; no other habitable planets in range. There's no Range 4, but I did have Range 5 and got to that fairly quickly. Now here's the problem: my corner of the galaxy is full of very inhospitable environments!

Wow, this is not a promising sight. I've got my three core planets, and I'll soon grab Misha (the disputed Steppe planet in the southeast) and the desert planet in the northwest. But after that... umm... Lots and lots of red letters starting at me in that screenshot. See my green scout in the extreme east? That world turned out to be Dead, as did the one in the northeast corner. The star to the east of the green Toxic planet in that same area turned out to have no planets at all. So out of the first 18 systems I scout (counting my home planet), only SIX of them turn out to be habitable, and one of them was already taken by the Silicoids! Ouch. This map was looking like a paradise for my Silicoid neighbors, but not so good for me. Fortunately I had Controlled Dead in my tree, and my Sakkra were good at researching Planetology tech, but it was obvious this game was not going to be any cakewalk!

So I get out to the 5 planets detailed above, and then I'm stuck. Need more Planetology tech to be able to settle some of the other worlds. Still, I had secured Misha for myself, and that was a huge deal. I even built some of Sirian's long range (LR) Laser ships early on and sent them there to make sure I could hold it; that turned out to be unnecessary on Average, as the Silicoid colony ships were unarmed and didn't bring fighter escorts, but better safe than sorry. Meanwhile, as I'm trying to push my Planetology tech further, the Silicoids are going nuts over on the east side of the map. They pass the first population warning when they hit 6 systems, and continued to surge ahead further:

Of course, if there's one race that is LEAST dangerous when holding many worlds, it's the rocks, but this was hardly a positive development. I was trading with them, but conflict seemed pretty inevitable as we both wanted those worlds in the northeast. At some point around 2360, the Silicoids added guns to their colony ship design and began ploughing through my scout blockades. Uh oh. They even grabbed Keeta, a small Tundra planet only 4 parsecs from my home world!

This wasn't looking good. Fortunately, I had just learned Controlled Dead Environment, so I did what the Sakkra do best: load up population on transports and invade Keeta. My love-happy lizards would replace those marines in no time. Of course, that would mean hot war with the Silicoids, but hey - that was coming anyway. And I couldn't let them have a base that close to my home worlds!

I claimed Keeta successfully, but as a Hostile planet with a max size of 20, it wasn't going to be doing much of anything for a while. The Silicoids declared war, of course, and began assembling a fairly credible fleet threat. I was lacking in the weapons area again (due to my Planetology beeline), so I did the best I could with a HyperV missile boat: medium size, one rack of five missiles. I had a couple dozen of them holding down the border while my eastern planets contructed bases and factories. Fortunately, the rocks weren't interested in pursuing a major invasion at this point. Unfortunately, that's because they were securing their hold on the northeast corner of the map, grabbing the two Dead planets up there. Not good!

This picture is from about 2375; with Controlled Dead tech I was out to 8 planets now, but the rocks had 10 and were about to reach 12 with their newly extended range to the north. I tried performing hit-and-run tactics with my missile boats, but they were only of limited success. I think I needed faster boats (and better tactics from me) to pull that off successfully. The Silicoids were using a ship called the Barracuda as the core of their fleet: medium size, 1 heavy ion cannon. Those things packed a punch!

My HyperVs could do decent damage to them, but couldn't hold in a fight for any length of time. Here you see me having to concede Kakata (one of the northern Dead worlds) to the rocks due to their superior fleet. Or maybe they already had control of the planet and I was trying to harass them; something along those lines.

This being only Average difficulty, I was able to outproduce the rocks and largely contain their ion cannon ships. I continued to emphasize Planetology tech and researched up to Controlled Toxic Environment, which allowed me to grab the remaining planets to the south of my starting position. I even successfully invaded two of the Silicoid border planets, using my fast-growing lizard population to good effect. But then the rocks started showing up with a new ship design, a huge ship packed with more heavy ion cannons and fusion bombs for ground attacks. My missile boats were useless against these behemoths!

What I needed was a better gun, one which would let me go toe-to-toe with the Silicoid huge ship and defeat it in space combat. (Their design was a well-rounded one, which had beam weapons, ground bombs, and some missiles on it. Not designed for pure space superiority.) Lacking any kind of gun whatsoever in my tech tree, however, I finally had to make a disadvantageous trade just to get SOME kind of long range weapon on my ships:

I had to give the Klackons Inertial Stabilizer for that Mass Driver tech (ouch!) but it was the best move I could see to make. I designed a new gunboat to deploy the weapon: large, warp 3, with about 4 or so mass drivers on it. Once I could put a dozen or so of them in the field, I'd be able to stand up to the Silicoid huge design.

Here was the map from roughly 2400:

This map is somewhat misleading because I'm about to lose Whynil, the forward planet in the southeast. The Silicoids have their fleet massing there, and transports incoming. Of course, it's a poor planet, so they won't be able to hold it either, but I would be losing it regardless. The green flag in the northeast would also fall soon, as the Silicoids would wipe out the colony there with one of their huge ships. But in the south I've done quite well, colonizing four more worlds that were previously Inferno or Toxic environments. I've also come into close contact now with the Klackons and Darlocks (bears are tucked in the southeast corner, their expansion stunted by the Silicoids). Even better, several of my new worlds were Rich and putting up factories very quickly. These planets were unsecured gains at the moment, but neither the Klackons or Darlocks had the tech to settle on them, so I hoped I would have the time to improve them and stand up defenses. Most of my ships were in the east dealing with the Silicoid threat.

BAD news a dozen turns later: the Alkari cancel our Non-Aggression pact, and their fleet moves out. Yep, they're coming for me; the pressure on them to expand must have been enormous, stuck with only two planets due to limited range and hostile environments. I tried to stay on good terms with the birds, but I guess they don't like the Sakkra much. Now I'm in a two-front war, and the whole Alkari fleet is heading my way. Uh oh. The only race interested in helping me out is the Klackons, who are also fighting the birds, so I figure I may as well sign them to a full alliance:

You said it, bug-boy. Better to have one friend than no one at all!

So here comes the Alkari fleet. Luckily, it's still crawling in at Warp 1 (AI really doesn't use speed well in this game) and targeting Endoria, one of my strongest planets. I already had about 10 bases there when the invasion fleet was sent, and I manage to accumulate 17 by the time they arrive. Here's what they're packing:

Well, the Alkari have a lot of ships, but fortunately they aren't packing anything too dangerous. If I had a Planetary Shield V I'd be perfectly safe here, but unfortunately that was missing from the tree. My bases will only have the default shielding, which at the time was Class II, I believe. I managed to assemble seven of my gunships in the Endoria system as well, and the battle was on!

I used the gunship stack to draw fire away from the planet, buying time for the missile bases to do their work. I was firing at the Condor stack, but in retrospect I wonder if I shouldn't have gone for some of the small ships instead. Those anti-missiles were cutting a lot of damage off the larger ships. The result of the battle was a draw; I killed most of the Condors and lost no bases, but my gunships were taken out. The battle lasted a long time; I think the max number of rounds was reached. Most importantly, of course, the invasion had failed and I would be holding onto my planet.

Unfortunately, I now had a two-front war going, and when the Darloks declared war a few turns later, a three-front war (although admittedly they had a very weak fleet). I decided to hold in the east for the moment against the rocks (who I would have signed peace with at this time, but they refused to talk) and focus on trying to eliminate the birds. They had an unbeatable fleet, but I could dance around that slow-moving thing and strike at their worlds whenever it was moving. Using a swarm of fusion bombers, I took out the missile bases at Altair while the Alkari SOD was elsewhere, then swept in and captured the planet in a daring raid once the bases were down!

Unfortunately the techs were junk, but that was only a minor point. Now I couldn't hold Altair, as the Alkari SOD immediately bombed the planet into oblivion (their own former home planet!), but while it was moving to Altair, my bomber stack took out the other Alkari world:

And since the birds only had 2 planets, that was it - bye bye! Oooh, look, Artifacts planet: let's get some colony ships over here! I would poach both Alkari systems and a Rich Inferno just to the south, which neither the birds nor the bugs had the tech to settle. Here was the galaxy map after the Alkari departed from this universe:

You can see my colony ship incoming to the Rich Inferno planet (red star) in the far west, about to land next turn. Klackon ships would constantly be flying up to that planet in the northwest corner, causing me quite a few headaches (even though we had an alliance). That wasn't a problem once I got a better scanner tech later and could see where they were going, but that was still some time away. You can be sure that I was still going to stand up bases on those new planets, alliance or no alliance!

It was a good thing that I did poach those planets from the Alkari, because in 2450 I came within one vote of losing the game:

Wow, how did THAT happen? I wasn't expecting anyone to vote for me, but I was shocked - SHOCKED - that everyone voted for the Klackons. The Darloks were engaged in hot war with the bugs, and they still voted for them. I simply don't understand that at ALL! If someone can explain this to me, I'd greatly appreciate it.

In that case, I'd have to make sure that I was in a safer position by the time of the next council election. No more fooling around. With the west side of the map relatively quiet, it was time to take things to the Silicoids in earnest and finish the war that had been going on seemingly forever. I started by rolling up the northern dead planets at the top of the map; the Silicoids had some decent ships (many of them sporting death spores), but I was flying around with stinger missile boats now and ruling the skies. (They weren't even attempting to attack my worlds, with the firepower my bases were packing.) By 2480, it was time to go for the juggular and take the rock homeworld:

My Fusion ship is a huge design loaded with fusion beams; I probably should have slapped some bombs on it as well, something I'll keep in mind for the future. That would have done away with the need for those bombers. Needless to say, my fleet greatly outclassed the rocks by this point, and I won at the cost of only a few bombers. After that, it was time to send in the troops:

Almost 300 factories, excellent. With some massive population immigration from other planets, my lizards had the planet operating again very quickly. From that point, it was simply a matter of growing enough lizards to occupy the Silicoid planets one by one. (Yes, I was doing it the hard way. It was taking a little longer, but I wanted to have secure forward worlds to face down the Bulrathi next.)

Oh, and we may as well take out the Darlok homeworld while we're at it. Lousy shape-shifters surely had it coming for one theft or another. It was hardly defended at all. Nazin's capture reduced the Darloks down to some One Planet Empire (OPE) action at the bottom of the map.

Yep, that's the ticket. Grow lots and lots of lizards to make sure we have enough votes to win the upcoming (2500) election. I should mention that I had already researched Atmospheric Terraforming, which was a BIG deal considering all the hostile planets that I owned. Now all I had to do was convert them all into Gaia environment paradises.

Then the Klackons decided to make things interesting. They told me in 2490 that they were breaking the alliance because "they needed room to expand" or something like that. Translation: here they come! The bugs demonstrated their new feelings by bombing Nazin out of existence on the same turn, which I had just taken two turns earlier. Incredibly, we remained at peace despite this incident, but for all intents and purposes, they were gunning for my head.

There's the galactic map right after Nazin was detroyed (the yellow star in the middle of the screen with no flag). With the Silicoids and Darloks essentially finished, this was now a three-way race against the Bulrathi and Klackons. Since the bugs were going crazy on me, I made peace with the bears and shifted my focus from wiping out the Bulrathi to squelching the Klackons. Of course, first I had to deal with their SOD - here it comes!

Pretty good fleet for Average, no? The Knights had Stinger missiles, but the dangerous ships were the Pegasus and Horseman designs, both of which carried antimatter bombs. Now the AI was intelligently going past my frontline planets (all with 20+ bases) to strike at Talas, which only had 15 or so bases. Unfortunately for the AI, Talas was a Rich world, which meant I could add bases incredibly fast there. I would have 59 of them on hand by the time the fleet arrived, and my research on Planetary Shield X finished just in time to be deployed as well. In the resulting battle, I had all 59 bases destroyed (those bombers were no joke!) but wiped out about 75% of the Klackon stack. Since I had a greatly superior fleet, the bugs were unable to take control of the system and had to retreat once they dropped their bombs. We both pulled back for the time being to lick our wounds, but I had held onto Talas.

I was building lots of torpedo boats at this time, carrying the first-gen (antimatter) torpedoes. They were owning the skies against the Klackon fleets, but I failed to realize that their damage was cut in half against planetary shields (whoops). And since the Klackons had 18 points of shielding (Planetary Shield X plus Class VIII deflector), I didn't have any weapons able to penetrate their shields! Still waiting for a bomb upgrade from fusion bombs, heh. As a result, I was unable to attack the Klackons and largely had to leave their worlds alone. I did take one of them, Dunatis, at significant cost to my ground forces (getting shot down by bases):

The Klackons were less than happy about that, let me tell you! Look at all the ships incoming from various points. Still, I left the rest of their worlds alone. Instead, I invaded several bear worlds, giving up on the idea of making friends with the Bulrathi and just taking what I wanted. Hey, they would have done the same to me with our positions reversed!

I didn't have enough population to win the vote in 2500 (with no one voting for me, of course), but the map looked a bit better by 2525:

I probably could have pushed even further ahead if desired, but with the game clearly in hand, I was being cautious and methodical at the end. Plus it was fun to invade and capture the Bulrathi worlds intact rather than just bomb them.

Pretty dominant at the end. I like how the Silicoid and Darlok populations don't even register on the graphs.

And so I vote myself the winner in 2525, with 41/58 votes; another Conquest victory according to RB nomenclature. The Silicoids, of all people, voted for me in the last election with their 1 vote. Go figure. I guess they enjoyed watching me bomb all the Bulrathi planets.

This game was certainly a much better test than my first one, and I felt as though I learned a great deal more as well. The outcome was never really in doubt, aside from that one council vote, but I had to work a bit to end up with the win. Now I plan to move up to Hard difficulty and see how I fare there; hopefully, I'll be up to Impossible soon enough where the real action is!