Imperium Forty Two: Life, The Universe, and Everything

Mrrshans, Impossible, Medium, 5 Opponents

This report details my results from Realms Beyond Orion's Imperium 42. To find out more information about this particular event, please click here to read the official setup for this game. Imperium 42 used a theme based around The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, very appropriately so given the number used for this event. The only official goal in this game is to defeat the Guardian and claim Orion (renamed to Magrathea in this game to fit the Hitchhiker theme). There were several other optional scoring goals that I wasn't particularly interested in following, especially since one of them could only be achieved by triggering Final War, which has never interested me. I've always considered a lost Council vote to be a lost game, and if you're strong enough to win the Council vote, there's rarely much point in playing further in a game that's already been won. I would focus in this game on conquering Orion and trying to win the game normally.

We knew from the pregame setup that Orion would be one of the two white stars in the north-central nebula, and that due to mapmaker edits, shields would still function normally there. Taking Orion... that fit particularly well as a scenario goal for me. Believe it or not, I've never defeated the Guardian and conquered Orion before. I don't really consider them to be part of the main game, since the AI always ignores Orion and I've usually won or lost by the time that I have the tech levels needed to take the planet. My Livestream viewers who were familiar with this game were flabbergasted when I mentioned that I'd never taken Orion before, and that I didn't have any real interest in doing so. I guess that a lot of players like to sit around and play with the lategame toys; my preference is to wrap up a game once it's reached a winning point and then start a new one. I have no idea what weapons are required to defeat the Guardian or even exactly what its stats are. I'll have to send a ship with a Battle Scanner off to its death at some point to get a picture and then plan from there. This will be new territory for me, and should be fun to explore.

In a very real sense though, Orion was a minor addition that wouldn't matter until the ending stages of this game. Much more importantly, this is an Impossible game with the Mrrshans, the weakest race out of the ten choices in Master of Orion. As a quick refresher, the kitties have a racial ability that gives them four additional attack levels in battle. This means that their shots are much more likely to hit (40% better odds), and as always in Master of Orion, if they reach the auto-hit level of 100%, their shots start doing additional damage. The Mrrshans are also rated Excellent in Weapons research, although this is largely countered by being rated Poor in Construction research. The biggest problem for the cats is that they have nothing whatsoever in the way of economic advantages, and they are saddled with the worst diplomatic situation in the whole game, arguably even worse than the Darloks. And based on the races present in this particular galaxy, I was going to be in for a rough ride here. All three of the Mrrshan racial enemies were present: Alkari, Sakkra, and Klackons. Avoiding warfare in this game will be completely impossible. I had to hope that I could manage to develop my own empire while fending off AI attacks, and avoid a Council loss to one of my rivals in the process. I knew this would be a hard game just from the setup, and I was right.

There were three different planets in 3 parsec range of the homeworld (which was named Betelgeuse in another Hitchhiker reference). All three were red stars, offering no guidance on where to send the starting colony ship. I'll use this opportunity to lodge a minor complaint against thrawn and RefSteel, the designers of this scenario: this is not a good way to do the initial setup. There's no way to know which location to send the colony ship other than guessing, and while I don't care about that for a private game, a competition game like this shouldn't force dice rolls in the dark on the player during the first turn. Of course I could hold the colony ship over the homeworld and wait for scouting reports to come back, but with three planets even the starting two scouts couldn't explore all of them without building another ship, and waiting for the scouts to report wouldn't save any time over simply sending the colony ship out blindly and then moving if I guessed incorrectly. Based on the galaxy map, it was clear that the strategic goal was pushing northwards, and so I sent the colony ship to the northern red star. It turned out to have a Radiated Ultra Rich world; the western red star had an Ocean 55 planet and the southern red star had a Rich Tundra planet, although no one with sense should have sent the colony ship in that direction for strategic reasons. So as it turned out there was only one right choice here, but players essentially had to guess it blindly. I guessed incorrectly, and that meant the colony ship couldn't settle until 2306, wasting several turns moving back down to the south again and slowing the homeworld's development significantly. Blah to that - please try to avoid creating scenario designs like this in the future.

I built factories at the homeworld while waiting for the initial scout reports to come in. This was the picture that I spotted once the initial scouts had fanned out after about a dozen or so turns. I knew that there were no AI races nearby; there was only one yellow star to the north in the immediate vicinity, and that was located 6 parsecs away. (The AI can only spawn at least 7 parsecs away from the player, and all races always start at yellow stars.) There was probably an AI located at one of the two yellow stars in the far north, and the rest of them had to be clustered somewhere off to the east where there were a bunch of yellow stars. In my immediate neighborhood, there were no habitable planets within 3 parsec range. The Desert planet to the west and the Minimal planet to the east were both 4 parsecs away, and both small worlds, I think with base sizes of 40 and 30 respectively, something like that. The south held a bunch of Hostile worlds and a large Terran Ultra Poor planet at 5 parsec range, so nothing of much interest down there initially. The north was clearly the important area, with a pair of medium-sized Ocean and Steppe planets, and a gem of a world: a Desert Rich planet. The size was relatively small at only 45, but I immediately identified that location as the linchpin to this map. If I could claim the Desert world, I would cut off access to the Ocean and Steppe planets behind it and along with the Hostile worlds to the south, that would be enough to make me competitive in this galaxy. If I lost that spot, I would probably lose the other worlds behind it as well, and that would put me in a dicey position indeed. I had to get to that spot before my AI rivals.

Since I needed a range tech in order to expand, I spent one turn around 2315 putting all my production into research to seed the initial effort, opening up the Planetology and Propulsion fields. There was no choice in Planetology, with only +10 Terraforming available, and I was reasonably happy with that. Propulsion was more interesting with both Range 4 and Range 5 available. This was a tough call, as I thought that Range 4 was enough to reach that Desert Rich planet, after colonizing the Minimal world in the east, but I wasn't completely sure. I went so far as to turn on the parsec grid for the galaxy map and measure the distance with a ruler; it still looked like 4 parsecs to me. If I wasn't sure, then why not just research Range 5 tech to be safe? Well, there's a gigantic difference between the two techs in terms of research cost. Range 4 costs about 350 RP, while Range 5 costs 1000 RP, roughly three times as much. If I stopped to research Range 5 tech, the delay could very easily cause another race to get up there before me and plant their flag on that planet first. This being the Mrrshans, I could build some Medium long range laser ships and send them up there with some hope of success, but that wasn't exactly a good option either. I decided to trust my instincts and research Range 4 tech here. If I was wrong about the distances, then I would have some serious egg on my face and I would be in real trouble.

After seeding the initial research, I had the homeworld continue to build factories while my second planet carried the research load, minimal though it was. I made sure that I was contributing enough income to get the full bonus research, indicated by a little red dot on the Tech screen in kyrub's patch. I will only micromanage the research allocation like this for the first techs at the start of the game; after that, I think it's more effort than it's worth, and steady state research works just fine. It's what the designers of this game intended, after all. Both techs popped at around the same time, roughly 2330, and I was able to take Controlled Dead as my next tech in Planetology, which would open up several Tundra planets. No Controlled Tundra tech available as an option here. In Propulsion, I had these choices:

This was quite a fruitful Propulsion tree, with all five of the initial techs available for research. I happily took Nuclear (warp 2) Engines and continued to emphasize Propulsion research without opening up more of the tech fields. Getting access to warp 2 engines early in the game is a huge deal, and essentially can be thought of as an economic tech as well as a military tech. Doubling the speed of your colony ships gets them to their destinations much faster, and reduces the costly ship maintenance of having Large ships flying around with colony bases on them. Obviously the tech also has significant military value as well, making it easier to respond to threats, to reinforce colonies that are coming under attack, and to open up tactical movement of 2 within combat. You can win a lot of battles that you really shouldn't be able to win by having ships that move faster than your opponents on the tactical combat screen.

Nuclear Engines would still have to wait a little bit before I could research them, of course. The homeworld first build a colony ship and sent it off to Morrig, the Desert 30 world to the east. Once it colonized the planet, it was time to see if I had estimated the distance to the north correctly:

Fortunately I had: the Desert Rich world of Tyr was indeed 4 parsecs away. Whew. Now I would have a good chance of claiming this planet for myself. I took the screenshot with the grid turned on (Alt-M) to highlight the distance between Morrig and Tyr - those boxes are 5 parsecs in length on each side. This pretty clearly looked to be a parsec shorter in distance, but I've been wrong before on estimating these things, and I was very glad that Tyr was in range. I think this is one area where some of our players might get themselves in trouble on this map; if anyone goes for Range 5 and finds themselves cut off in the north by the time it's done researching, they could be in for a world of trouble. Similarly, not researching warp 2 engines for the second choice in the field will make defending this territory significantly more difficult. This is a setup where making the proper tech choices can make or break the outcome of an entire game.

With Tyr in range, the homeworld built another colony ship and routed it up there, then went back to research for a few turns. It would actually be faster to finish researching warp 2 engines and then send colony ships up to the Ocean and Steppe planets with the new engines in place, as opposed to building the slower warp 1 variety and then taking six or seven turns to lumber up there. Warp 2 engines popped around the time that Tyr was established, and I took a moment to churn out three dozen Small laser fighters with the upgraded engines and a tactical combat speed of 2. The extra maneuverability isn't just for tactical movement, as it also helps ships dodge shots too; each extra point of manueverability means 10% additional chance to dodge, like attack level in reverse. That's literally how the to-hit calculation works, comparing attack level against maneuverability, with a 50% chance to hit if they have the same value, and +/- an additional 10% for each point in favor of the attacker/defender. If your attack level is 5 points higher than the defending ship's maneuverability range, your shots will start auto-hitting every time. (Missiles are slightly more complicated due to ECM techs and the ability to dodge the missiles themselves on the tactical screen, but otherwise work the same way.) With the Mrrshan racial ability granting 4 additional attack levels, taking my base to-hit chance from 50% to 90%, a couple dozen laser fighters would be enough to chase away any casual interlopers, if not against a full AI frontline fleet.

My scouts were also able to use the extended range to push further afield. I had this amusing little incident take place off to the east:

Those are two Alkari Medium designs, likely sporting lasers or some similar beam weapon. You should never run immediately on the tactical screen, even with unarmed scouts, as sometimes the AI is packing missiles on its ships and will retreat after firing them. I have actually stopped armed AI colony ships from claiming planets using nothing but scouts when the colony ship fired its missiles, failed to hit my scout, and then retreated. In this case, there was no such good fortune: these Alkari ships had a beam weapon, not missiles. However, I was able to tie up the AI pathfinding by moving back and forth between the two indicated white tiles next to the asteroids, which caused the AI ships to move back and forth endlessly as indicated. There is a maximum number of rounds for combat, and eventually the battle ended with no resolution. I held position in the system and the AI retreated home, allowing me to scout the world. Success! Now this only revealed a Toxic size 10 planet, but you never know. I might have been able to hold another AI race from scouting a planet and eventually colonizing it. That was worth two minutes of dancing back and forth in place on the tactical combat screen.

When I settled Tyr, I was brought into contact with the Alkari:

The finger is pointing to their homeworld of Altair, far off to the east. It was a bit surprising that they had managed to get so far west so quickly, making contact with me before anyone else. You might notice the Terran world where I had scouted them; that was a large planet of size 110 but it was sadly Ultra Poor, and as I result I was content to let the birds have it. I could never defend something like that against the AI races, and it would give me a place to strike at the Alkari when we went to war. The AI tends not to sign peace unless you inflict some damage on them, and so having a place where you can hurt your rivals can be very useful indeed. Oh, and there was no question that we would be going to war eventually. Mrrshan/Alkari relations are the single worst pairing in the entire game. It's virtually impossible for the two of them to avoid conflict, only occuring when there's a larger enemy that both of their races hate even worse than each other. Sure enough, I signed the birds to the maximum trade agreement on first meeting, and they declared war on me three turns later. As Sirian has written, you can set your watch by how reliably awful the Mrrshan/Alkari relationship always proves to be.

One AI empire met so far and immediately at war? Yep, this is a Mrrshan game all right.

Fortunately, not even the AI on Impossible can push this far away from their homeworld this quickly in the game. I added some more Small laser fighters, enough to have about 50 on hand, and made sure that Tyr had plenty of population imported from my second planet to stand it up quickly. Rich worlds can do that very quickly indeed. My homeworld was concentrating on churning out more colony ships for the remaining planets in my neighborhood, the Steppe and Ocean planets to the west of Tyr in the north and then the Desert world off to the west that I'd been ignoring thus far in favor of the more threatened planets along the front lines. That occupied the homeworld for most of the next 20 turns, and the rest of my empire was preoccupied with building factories. Because I'd been using the second planet for research and population transfers, I had no industry to speak of at this point aside from my homeworld, and that was something that I would need to rectify before advancing any further. This is very typical for a game of Master of Orion; there's always this period of about three dozen turns where your worlds are building up their factories and it's best to avoid combat as much as possible. Because I was so far away from the Alkari core, I didn't see any major fleets from them, only a handful of their Small ships that I could easily brush aside.

In due time, I managed to colonize all of the Habitable planets within 4 parsec range. Just to be safe, I then built another three dozen of my Small laser fighters and sent them off to the Tundra planet in the southeast. With the Minimal world (Morrig) already in my hands, and an empty star at the bottom of the galaxy, that Tundra world was occupying another critical position. I wanted a military force there strong enough to chase away AI colony ships and even small fleets from that spot. If I could hold that Tundra location, everything behind it would easily be mine down the road. If an AI race set up shop there, however, I'd have to stack up missile bases throughout the southwest corner and I wouldn't have much in the way of "safe" planets that could devote themselves to pure research.

A little bit later, I met the Darloks when they settled in the nebula to the north of me:

The thumb of the hand is pointing to their homeworld of Nazin. I had scouted that Barren planet in the nebula earlier, and it was actually an Ultra Rich planet of decent size. However, I lacked Controlled Barren or Controlled Tundra techs, and I still lacked the ability to settle there when the Darloks claimed it. Now as the Mrrshans I was in a position to fight for this planet if desired, but one of the important lessons to learn in Master of Orion is knowing the limits of your empire's current standing, and where and when to seek conflict. While I could produce additional laser fighters and go up there to fight the shapeshifters, I was already at war with the Alkari, and it did not seem wise to provoke another AI race at the same time. My homeworld was the only planet that had maxed out in factories and population at this time; everything else was still slowly developing and not ready to contribute militarily or in research yet. Furthermore, I had already picked up some important information from a GNN report listing the relative population count of the races. The Alkari were in first and the Darloks were in second - and that meant the Sakkra, Meklars, and Klackons must all be stunted in size. If they were all smaller than the Darloks, then the Alkari were almost certainly going to be my opponent in the first Council election, and given the horrible diplomatic status of the Mrrshans, this could very easily snowball against me into a lost vote and a lost game.

I decided instead that I would try to cultivate the Darloks as an ally; I wanted at least one part of the map that I wouldn't have to defend to the gills. I signed them to the maximum trade agreement and hoped that would be enough to stay on friendly terms. They had one of those early game cheese alliances with the Alkari that the AI will often sign, and I kept crossing my fingers that the alliance wouldn't trigger, while asking the shapeshifters every few turns to see if they would be willing to dissolve the thing. Elsewhere, there were two more small-sized planets in the north, a Steppe world and a Tundra world, with the Steppe planet unfortunately rolling Ultra Poor. Yuck. In the south, that large Terran Ultra Poor planet was still down there, along with a small Minimal world at the bottom edge of the map. Both Ultra Poor worlds were 5 parsecs away, and as a result after finishing warp 2 research and seeing that the only option to move the Propulsion tree forward was warp 3 engines, I backtracked for Range 5 tech. Although that was highly inefficient from a pure beakers standpoint, I think it was the best option from a strategic point of view. The early Range 4 tech allowed me to claim the critical three non-Hostile planets in the north, warp 2 tech gave my ships the extra speed they needed to reach their destinations more quickly, and now backtracking for Range 5 tech would open up four additional planets for colonization that I couldn't reach otherwise. I would pick the same techs in the same order to research even looking back with the benefit of hindsight.

Once my Rich planet had maxed out and stacked up enough bases to feel secure, it began feeding the Reserve each turn, which I used to stand up my other planets more quickly, in particular the planets along the front lines. This was more than just an economic growth curve exercise though, because the Alkari picked out Morrig for an attack and sent a significant fleet after it. I managed to combine all of my laser fighters together over the planet and get two missile bases finished, even though Morrig was still a good bit short of max factories. This could be an important early battle:

With a Class II shield, I could retreat all my ships and Morrig's bases would be invulnerable. Unfortunately I didn't have it finished yet (although it was about to enter the percentages), and that meant I needed to kill these ships before they could kill the planet. I was also firing nukes from those bases, which meant they didn't have much punch. The laser fighers were going to have to do much of the work here. My first missile volleys took out the Falcon design, since that was an easy way to remove two Gatling lasers from the fight. After that, I concentrated on the colony ship stack, which was actually the most dangerous threat here. Eight combined Gatling lasers packed about as much punch as all of the Sparrowhawks combined, and the colony ships had two less points of manueverability by virtue of being Large designs. I was also able to use the extra movement points of my laser fighters to good effect, never fighting the Alkari colony ships and Sparrowhawks together at the same time. Mrrshan accuracy on my guns served to counter the Alkari racial defensive bonus, and in the end I destroyed all of the incoming ships while losing about 30 of my laser fighters. This was the best fleet that the birds had in the area, and by the time that they could put another one together, I had managed to finish Class II shields, rendering any planet with a single missile base invulnerable against their current laser and Gatling laser designs. The birds actually came asking me for peace in 2385, probably because I had just smacked down a good portion of their fleet, and I was happy to accept. The Alkari threat was over... for the moment.

I had the usual poor luck when it came to events. The Virus event hit early on and knocked out my Computers research into BCII tech. While this wasn't terribly consequential, it did delay my ability to initiate any kind of espionage with the other races, and my Computers field lagged behind the others for a long time as a result. More annoying was having the Nova event target Ryoun, the medium-sized Steppe planet in the north immediately west of Tyr. That ate up more than 1000 BC in Reserve spending that could have been spent more profitably elsewhere. At least I had a Rich planet on hand to soften the blow.

Right around the time that research was about to complete on Controlled Dead tech, I chased an interloper away from Endoria, the Tundra planet in the southeast:

The Sakkra were the culprit, a race that I hadn't met yet. Still, I knew that this was the key world to control in the south, just as Tyr had been the cornerstone of my position in the north. These colony ships were armed, which meant that a scout blockade wouldn't have been enough. I know that we have some newer players in the process of learning Master of Orion's gameplay right now, and this is a good example of the importance of reading the map and planning ahead of time. You need to be able to see where to position forces ahead of time, and even a small force in the right location at the right time can make a major difference. If Endoria was a planet that other races were claiming in your game, these are the kind of objectives that you can be shooting for.

I used Range 5 tech to settle the pair of Ultra Poor planets on the western edge of the map, then used the additional range to reach the Minimal world in the deep south. When I colonized the planet in 2390 it triggered the first Council election, with my Mrrshans against the Alkari. Council elections should never come as a surprise to the player, and you should go into them knowing how each AI race is going to vote with high accuracy. I can determine how each AI will vote correctly about 90% of the time by now, and that's the key to avoiding unexpected diplomatic losses. The first Council vote can be tricky since you don't know exactly when two thirds of the stars will be colonized, although we were late enough in the game that I was expecting it with each new colony at this point. Anyway, I knew that the Alkari were nowhere close to winning the game, and as a result I was able to vote for them in the first Council vote without penalty. Then we held another election a mere ten turns later, and I was able to vote for them a second time. This boosted results all the way up to the "Calm" region; I even signed a Non Aggression Pact with them. Yes, with the Alkari! When I settled Endoria, I was introduced to the Sakkra and the Meklars; this was the diplomatic screen:

Only one of the four races currently angry with me? Trade deals initiated with three other races, and an NAP with the hated birds? Is actually this a Mrrshan game - is this real life?! Well, reality reared its ugly head soon enough, as the Sakkra declared war on the very next turn. Seriously, we met one another, signed a trade agreement, and then on the following interturn they attacked. Now that's a Mrrshan game, heh. At least the Sakkra looked to be a weak empire in this galaxy, with the Alkari and the Darloks being the main powers. In bigger picture terms, the starting neighborhood in this game is reasonably friendly to the player, but the diplomatic situation is simply abysmal. We have all three of the Mrrshan racial enemies in the Alkari, Sakkra, and Klackons, plus the Darloks who hate everyone. Oh, and the Meklars, who drew an Erratic personality this game. Great, just great. There was no one here who I could rely on as an ally, and the only safety in this game would come from reaching a one third population veto block in the Council as quickly as possible.

This was the overview galactic map just after the 2400 election:

At this point in time, I had just settled the three Tundra planets to take me out to 13 worlds in total. This was one of those rare pleasant games where my empire had been the one to trigger the 12 planet GNN message, instead of some terrifying runaway AI powerhouse. If I could hold all of these planets and colonize the remaining three Toxic/Radiated planets in my core (two of which were Rich!), I'd be in great shape. The Tundra planet immediately south of the homeworld was also Rich, albeit on the small size at a base size of only 20. For the moment, I didn't need to worry about capturing more territory. This was enough to give me a veto block all on its own with additional technology. The issue was whether I could hold what I did have, as placating the Alkari by voting for them in the Council was only going to last for so long, and the Erratic Meklars would surely cause problems at some point.

I'm pointing to the Meklar homeworld in the above picture. They were following the typical Meklar strategy with a small number of worlds packed full of factories. The Sakkra were up to four planets, and I couldn't find Sssla on the map. I later realized that their homeworld had been renamed to Vogsphere; it was the western-most of the four yellow flags. Despite being at war with the Sakkra, I didn't see much of anything from them for the moment, and generally ignored them.

This was a nice quiet period of peaceful development for my empire. I was able to max out my planets in factories/population and get down to doing some research for the first time in earnest. Fortunately none of the AI races seemed to be running away with the game, and I wasn't as far behind as I had feared. I was limited by having mostly medium to small planets on hand for this game, lots of worlds with a base size in the 30-50 range that couldn't contribute all that much. Terraforming +10 helped these places a lot, and +30 terraforming was on the way at the next rung of Planetology tech. Still, my research rate wasn't as great as I might have liked. I was also missing Robotic Controls III, although since I was also missing any Improved Industrial techs, that might have been for the best. II8 was in the tree, but I had passed it up in favor of Duralloy armor. I did manage to trade something outdated for II9 around this time (I think the Neutron Pellet gun), and that helped a good bit, as did trading for Improved Space Scanner to get a little more visibility of incoming threats. I wanted to trade for Improved Eco Restoration with the Meklars in the worst way, however they weren't even offering it. Not yet at least.

This interlude was broken when the Meklars decided to show their Erratic-ness by declaring war on me around roughly 2415. I had previously built a few dozen NPG fighters to defend Endoria, and would also manage to get a missile base up there before their fleet could arrive. Hmmm, this fleet looks pretty big. Let's see what they're packing:

29 Large ships and 2 Huge ships. That's... a lot more than I had to defend Endoria. Fortunately this fleet was mostly sporting Hyper-V missiles, as the Meklar had lacked any other weapons until I traded them the Neutron Pellet gun. I was actually able to dodge most of these missiles with my laser and NPG fighters. Unfortunately, I still only had 2 points of shielding for my bases and didn't have a missile better than nukes. I did manage to kill off three of those Large ships (don't underestimate Mrrshan firepower), but it wasn't enough and Endoria was taken. Orbital bombardment killed half the population and all of the factories. My border world in the south was just decisively crushed.

Of course, that didn't mean that the planet itself was taken away from me. Powerful as it was, the Meklar fleet wasn't able to destroy the colony completely in one round of bombing, and they opted to sit in place over Endoria and send population transports rather than bombard it further. The AI is methodical and predictable in this regard, as it almost never moves on to the next planet before securing its hold on its current target. It's actually not a bad idea either from a strategic standpoint. Here's the good news though: because the Meklars only bombarded the planet one time, that meant there was still a decent number of cats hiding out on Endoria. I booted Eco spending using the Reserve to grow as many Mrrshans as possible before the Meklar invasion could arrive. And finally, I had Hand Lasers plus the defender's edge:

That added up to a total ground combat advantage of +10, and my 33 kitties held off the 37 invaders. "Why yes, yes it is good to research those Hand Lasers. Cheapest opportunity to save an entire planet that you will ever be afforded." Now the bad news: the Meklars sent another 35m pop in a followup invasion, and there was no chance that I could save the planet a second time. Endoria would fall to the cyborgs. However, the need to invade a second time had bought me the critical resource that I needed most, which was time. My research was very close to coming up with an answer to this current Meklar threat based around Hyper-V missiles, and in the turns while the Meklar fleet held position over Endoria, I managed to finish researching a collection of crucial techs: Duralloy armor, Merculite missiles, and the Class V Planetary Shield:

On the exact same turn that I finished the planetary shield, I also had the chance to steal a tech from the Sakkra, and managed to take Class III Deflectors. Then I lost contact with the Sakkra on the next turn when Endoria fell - good timing there, spies. Just nabbed something useful before radio contact was broken. I immediately began building the planetary shields on every planet, and by the time that the Meklars were ready to move on from Endoria, I had gone from 2 points of shielding up to 8 points, increased the health of my missile bases from 50 HP to 75 HP, and replaced those laughable nukes with Merculites. There was still danger here since the cybogs had Fusion Bombs, but I was in a much better position to fight back.

Seeing a big fleet like the one the Meklars had moving around can be unnerving, and the first reaction is often to start building missile bases everywhere. And sometimes that is indeed the correct response. In this case though, I was close to picking up a bunch of key techs, and it was more important to keep pushing research over pausing to build missile bases that had little defense and no damage. It can be nervewracking to sit there with a bunch of planets on research while a huge AI death fleet is within range. Stuff like this is not for the faint of heart, and sometimes it can blow up in your face in the worst way. This time though, I read the situation correctly and came up with the proper countermeasures in time to avoid further losses.

Speaking of losses, my biggest fear in these turns was losing the Council vote. The Alkari were going to be my opponent in 2425, which meant that they would vote for themselves. I was at war with the Meklar and Sakkra, so even though the lizards were also at war with the birds, they would both vote for the Alkari as well. For long stretches during these turns, the Darloks and Klackons were also in an alliance with the Alkari, which would pull their votes to the birds as well. I was frantically trying to break that Darlok/Alkari alliance or I would lose the game for sure at the next vote. Finally, the Darloks agreed to end the alliance around 2420, and that was enough to get me through this election:

The Darloks cast their 6 votes for me and the Klackons abstained with their 3 votes. I had to abstain this time and couldn't cast a relations-boosting vote for the Alkari without them winning the game. If everyone else had voted against me, I would have lost here, and the Darloks were close to voting for the avians. For that matter, diplomacy with the Klackons was almost impossible to influence because I had no contact with them. When the Council vote is close like this, it's a good idea to keep checking diplomacy constantly. You need to be aware of what alliances the AIs are signing between one another, and who happens to be at war with whom at any one given moment. With careful attention to detail, it's almost always possible to prevent a loss in the Council, but if you ignore diplomacy and suddenly find an election happening unexpectedly, there's a good chance something will go disastrously wrong.

It was too bad that I couldn't get peace with the Meklar during these turns. If I had been able to sign a treaty with them, they would have abstained or voted for me in the Council, as they were also at war with the Alkari. That would have then allowed me to cast my 8 votes in favor of the Alkari without them winning the game, keeping relations in the friendly region. Our unnaturally good diplomacy only existed because I had voted for them twice in the Council, and it would quickly fall apart if I couldn't keep that butt-kissing ongoing. Sure enough, the Alkari came back after the 2425 vote to announce that they were dissolving our Non Aggression Pact, and then a short time later it was back to full war:

Ah well, it was nice while it lasted. The Mrrshans and the Alkari just can't live in peace together. Tactically, I wasn't too worried about the birds since I could see their weapons and they were mostly using lasers and ion cannons, which were easily stopped by my shielding. I was more concerned about the diplomatic fallout of being at war with yet another race, three of them now and counting. At least the Darloks remained friendly, as much as the shapeshifters can ever be trusted. Can you see why I didn't want to antagonize them too? I had enough enemies on my hands as it was. I hoped that +30 Terraforming would be ready by the time of the next Council vote, and that would deliver me enough population to block any potential Council shenanigans.

Once I had enough defenses everywhere to remain secure, I put most of my planets on research. My Rich worlds and my homeworld had a better project though: striking back at the Meklars, who still wouldn't sign peace with me. I put together a Medium missile boat packing Merculite missiles, my best weapon at present, with a single missile launcher of the 2 shot variety. I could build about of dozen of these per turn, and with warp 3 engines they had enough speed to hit and run at Endoria while I slowly built up a larger stack. Once I had about 50 of these ships, I was killing a Large ship with every volley before turning and fleeing; by the time I reached 100 of these ships, the Meklars began running from me immediately at the start of combat. They had scrapped their Hyper-V designs and created new ships using the NPGs that I had traded them earlier (heh), which fortunately meant that they had to stand up a new fleet from scratch. I kept hitting and running back to my worlds, never letting them accumulate a big stack over Endoria again.

After 15 or so turns of doing this, I had won space superiority over Endoria. Now I had a real question: should I try to invade with population transports? Invading planets and capturing the factories intact offers huge rewards, both the ability to stand up defenses quickly at new conquests and the chance to capture techs. The Meklars are particularly good targets for invasions since they build so many factories, and that's what determines the chance to find new techs. Unfortunately the Meklars had researched Armored Exoskeleton tech since we last clashed on the ground, and this would make an invasion difficult to pull off. I decided that I had to go for this opportunity, even though it would mean a heavy investment of population from across my empire. How heavy?

That heavy. I expected that I would suffer at least 2:1 casualties in taking Endoria, and to be safe I sent double again above that, ending up with almost five times as many invaders as the Meklars had defenders. This required heavy Eco spending across my empire, and on little Morrig to the north, I was using the Reserve to double its production so that I could grow 15m population per year and throw it at Endoria, then regrow them all back again the same turn. Perhaps this seems like overkill, but on Impossible difficulty I've learned not to mess around with invasions. Better to overspend and have more than needed than come up just short of taking a key planet. Indeed, I had a rotten piece of luck here as the Meklars finally did show up with a larger fleet over Endoria on the very turn that my invasion landed. After four turns of repeatedly fleeing from me, this turn when my invasion hit they randomly had six Larges appear over the planet, and I could only shoot down four of them before running out of missiles. That left the other two ships to attack my transports, and I only managed to get 110 of my transports through to Endoria's surface. Out of those 110m attackers, I lost 80m of them to take out the 40m defenders. But thanks to the small remnant that survived, the planet and its technological secrets were ours:

Three techs discovered, all of them useful. There was no bomb available in the early rungs of the Mrrshan tech tree, and having Fusion Bombs would let me prosecute future wars against some of the other races. Battle Computer IV was my current Computers research target, and finding it saved about half of the tech's cost, allowing me to skip ahead to Improved Robotics IV at the next rung. This also boosted my spying efforts considerably. The real prize was Armored Exoskeleton though, enormously improving my ground combat rolls and giving me a massive boost to Construction tech. At the time, I was researching Reduced Industrial Waste 60%, the only option available in the third rung of the Construction field. That's tech level 15; my most advanced Construction tech was Durally armor at this point, which is tech level 10. Armored Exoskeleton has a tech level of 24 - two full generations ahead of my research and three generations ahead of my current tech level! Suddenly Construction tech was my *BEST* field of the six, simply amazing for the kitties and their Poor research in that area. This was the top Meklar tech in Construction, and it would make my ship designs enormously cheaper and more efficient to build. What a haul.

This looked like a potential major turning point in the game. I would have a better sense of where I stood following the next Council election.