Imperium Forty Five: Mulligan's Luck

Humans, Impossible, Medium, 5 Opponents

This report details my results from Realms Beyond Orion's Imperium 45. To find out more information about this particular event, please click here to read the official setup for this game. Imperium 45 was a scenario designed by shallow_thought with custom scoring. The scoring goals were as follows:

+10 base starting points
-1 point for each special other than battle scanners, extended range or a colony base that is used in a design
+1 point for never building a design that uses battle scanners
+1 point for never building a design using extended range, other than the initial scout design
+1 point for never building a colony ship that uses Barren, Tundra or Dead
+1 point for never building a colony ship that uses Inferno, Toxic or Radiated
-5 points if the player wins a council vote without oneself already having at least 50% of the votes (cheap early council cheese wins discouraged).

The exception is that you may produce one design during the game, which must be called "THEMULLIGAN", which does not affect the scoring. This design can have any specials that you like on it.

Hmmm, those scoring goals seemed pretty interesting, some decent restrictions without being too crushingly punishing. In short, the player was supposed to avoid using specials in ship designs and to eschew the use of colony ships with the hostile base modules. The last rule was designed to avoid the player taking a Diplomatic victory with a low population total, in other words asking the player to win the game from a position of actual dominance instead of cheesing into it via playing as the Humans. That's pretty easy to do with the game's best race for diplomacy. I didn't play this event when it opened... and apparently no one else did either, as the deadline was repeatedly extended without anyone providing a submission for this game. Shallow_thought's scenario deserved at least one person playing it out to completion, and I decided that I would try my hand at it when I had some free time. The Civ6 PBEM7 game was put on hold over Easter weekend due to several people traveling to see family, and that gave me a chance to experiment with this game and take a short break from Civ6. My goal was to try to win while scoring the maximum amount of points possible, and I thought that I saw a way to use "The Mulligan" ship to bypass some of the challenges posed by the scoring.

The starting map had my Humans placed in the northeast corner of the galaxy. Shallow_thought had helpfully identified the green star further to the northeast as Orion, saving a scout from flying off to certain death. If this game ended up going really long, that would provide another high quality world to conquer eventually. Based on yellow star analysis, I concluded that there was certain to be at least one AI race located in the cluster of yellows down to the south, and possibly two AI races there. If I could colonize the likely-habitable worlds at the northernmost of the two yellows, I would be able to seal off the whole northeast corner of the galaxy. The other big question on the first turn was whether there was another AI race at the yellow star to my west, roughly halfway across the map. If there were an AI starting in that spot, I would have a lot of pressure on the planets immediately to my west. If not, then the next-closest AI could only be at the yellow star east of the nebula, and that would provide a lot more breathing room.

There were two green stars within 3 parsec range (and Orion which I'm ignoring from now on in this report). I blindly sent my colony ship to the western of the two, since the eastern star wouldn't do much in terms of extending range. Even if the western green didn't have a very good planet, it would still be worth colonizing to push towards that cluster of red stars to the southwest. My two starting scouts went directly south, to the two yellow stars that I could reach from the homeworld. When my colony ship arrived, I was pleased to find a habitable world, and it even came up Rich!

Unfortunately Simius had a base size of only 15m, argh. That was a bad piece of luck. The second colony is normally used to grow population for seeding other worlds and helping with early research, and Poor worlds can actually function almost as well as normal ones in this regard. I would rather have had a Poor 100 planet here than a Rich 15 one, maybe even preferring something as small as a Poor 60 world. When my scouts spread out, I discovered that the eastern green star (Crypto) was an Ocean 80 world, a much better location for a colony. Those little Rich planets need a lot of terraforming to become big contributors and Simius wouldn't be able to help that much in the early stages of the game. I would send 9m population from Sol and that would be it. At least the tiny planet did build its factories quickly. Even with Simius being so small, I would still choose this western green star over the eastern one if I had the choice to make over again. This was a game where Long Range Fuel Tanks were forbidden by variant rule on anything other than the starting scouts, and I needed to prioritize access to the center of the map via increased range over picking a better second world for my colony ship.

Here's what my scouts found about a dozen turns into the game after they had all fanned out:

This immediate neighborhood was on the friendly side, with 9 of the 12 planets scouted thus far coming back habitable, and even the hostile planets having the lower grade Barren and Tundra ratings that would be pretty easy to pick up via research. If I could colonize all or even most of these planets, I would already be in a fantastic position. Having an Ultra Poor planet (Aquilae) nearby to the west was a bit of a downer, but that was countered by the presence of a good sized Baren Rich world off to the east, with a starting size of 40! That might be worth building a Barren colony ship to claim such a great prize. All of the other habitable planets in the area were decent sized or better, everything size 50 or larger. Both Ocean planets were immediately colonizable with Range 3 technology, and the Arid planet directly to the south (Iranha) was only four parsecs away from Simius. I decided that I would grab the Ocean planet to the southwest first while researching Range 4 or Range 5 tech, and then go for the two yellow star worlds directly to the south after that.

There was just one problem: I wasn't alone in this galaxy, and the neighbors were closer than I would have liked. That cursor above is pointing to the star that had to hold the Mrrshan homeworld, and one of my scouts was chasing away one of their white-colored ships at the tundra planet in the northwest. The kitties had to be at that yellow star, there was nowhere else that they could have begun to have a ship in range of my scouts this early. And with a gulf of empty space to their south combined with few worlds off to their west, it seemed inevitable that the Mrrshans would be coming after me. The cats tend to do poorly in the long game, but conversely they can make bad opponents early on with their extra levels of Battle Computers. Worse yet, I had chased away a yellow scout from the southernmost Jungle world as well. The Bulrathi had to have begun at one of the yellow stars in that region. This was bad news: was I about to get pinched from two sides at once? I couldn't fight the Mrrshans in early space combat, nor could I fight the Bulrathi in early ground combat. At least I was the Humans here, that would give me some chance of being able to live in peace. It could be a lot worse, I could be playing the Darloks and get attacked on sight by both races.

Sol built up factories for about 20 turns and then I opened research with a full turn's worth of income into Planetology and Propulsion. I was highly pleased to find all three of the initial Planetology offerings available, allowing me to take Terraforming +10 and then follow it up with Improved Eco Restoration. I rarely research two techs in the same rung but that's an exception. I'll always take the two of them in Planetology's first rung if I have the option. Propulsion wasn't quite so friendly to me, with Range 4 as the only option. That was probably for the best as it would unlock the Arid and Jungle planets to the south, however it would leave the Arid planet in the extreme northeast (at 5 parsecs distance) out of range for some time to come. I quickly burned through Terraforming +10, and then went back for Improved Eco Restoration:

Ugh, look at that non-choice in the second rung of the Planetology tree: Death Spores with no other options. That was the worst possible result, with no Controlled Tundra, no Terraforming +20, and no Controlled Dead techs. I was hoping for Controlled Tundra here, which would have been worth three more planets if I were willing to take a scoring penalty. Oh well, I would have to look to the next rung of the tech ladder to find a higher environmental tech and colonize those hostile worlds a bit later.

Once Terraforming +10 research completed, I shifted spending over to emphasize Range 4 tech in Propulsion. I wouldn't be able to get a move on those southern planets until it finished. In the meantime, Sol built my first colony ship and sent it to Vega, the Ocean planet to the southwest which was only three parsecs away from Simius. Unfortunately, before it even arrived the AI races were challenging my scout blockades with their own armed ships. The Bulrathi chased away my scout at the southern Jungle world and founded a colony at the planet there, Rha. That was annoying but I knew it had been a bit of a reach. Then the Mrrshans brought a fighter escort to the Ultra Poor Steppe planet to my west. I was again content to let them have that, but I'd hoped to have more time before they showed up. It must have been only 5 parsecs away from Fierias, argh. Then the Bulrathi showed up a second time, taking over the northern of the two yellow stars and founding a colony at Iranha:

Oh this was not good, not good at all! Sol had only just finished its second colony ship and completed research into Range 4 tech. It's about 2334 on the calendar and I have two different AI races with colonies 5 parsecs distance from my homeworld. There was nothing I could do about this either, not with Long Range laser gunships outlawed by variant rule and Range 4 tech only just having finished. My second colony was all of size 15, it certainly wasn't going to be able to do much of anything this early in the game. I was now praying that I could get this newest colony ship over to the Arid planet west of Vega and then build another colony ship for the Ocean planet at the eastern green star. If I lost those two planets, that might be the end of the game; three planets is not enough to be competitive on Impossible. Making matters worse, should either of these two AI leaders choose to get aggressive, that would also likely spell the end of my game. Having AI empires on top of you like this in the early game is always a bad sign.

Fortunately, I had an ace in the hole for this game: I was playing as the Humans. The apes are the preeminent diplomatic race in Master of Orion, which I'm not sure is deserved given humanity's history, but it's true nonetheless for this game. The Humans start at "Relaxed" relations with every other race and they find it much easier to sign deals than anyone else. Human trade agreements start out profitable and rapidly climb from there, unlike everyone else who has to take an initial loss on productivity. I signed up the Mrrshans and the Bulrathi to the biggest trade deals that I could get as soon as we were in contact, and then prayed for my innate racial bonuses and trade agreements to keep them happy and smiling at me.

My scout blockade had one more nervous moment chasing away a Mrrshan colony ship at Yarrow, the Arid planet off to the west, before my colony ship could arrive. It did make it there without further incident, and when that planet was colonized along with Crypto, the Ocean world to the east, it brought me up to five planets total. That would be enough to hold in this game at least as a minor power, as opposed to getting snowballed out of the game immediately. Here was the map:

Settling Yarrow had also brought me into contact with the Meklars, flying the purple banners off beyond that gulf of empty space to the south. The thumb of the mouse cursor is pointing to their homeworld, while the Bulrathi starting world was located at the southernmost of their three yellow stars. The Mrrshans had started at the only eligible planet that they possessed, the yellow star to my west. For all of those friendly-looking green worlds staring back at me from the initial scouting reports, this part of the galaxy had filled up in a real hurry. It was barely 40 turns into the game and I was already nearly out of room to expand. I had the Barren planet at the blue star to the southeast of Sol, an Arid planet 5 parsecs away at the red star in the extreme northeast, and then a couple of Tundra worlds up to the north in Mrrshan space. Even in a best-case scenario where I landed all of them, they would only take me up to 9 planets, not exactly stellar for a Medium sized map. Anything beyond that was likely going to require going through one of these AI races. With the Mrrshans and Bulrathi both expanding directly towards me from the start of the game and having worlds in my literal backyard, that wasn't going to be easy.

My answer to this dangerous situation was to lean heavily on the Human racial abilities. With most races, I would need to fortify all of my planets heavily with lots of missile bases, and it would be a tough call as to how long I could get away with building factories before I needed to start emphasizing missile bases and ships. With the Humans as my race in this game, I basically played the game like a complete and total noob. Defenses? Who needs them! I signed the max trade agreement possible with each race, signed Non Aggression Pacts with everyone once I had claimed all of the available planets, and then crossed my fingers and hoped for the best while going full factories and research at every planet. This would be insanely stupid with most of the other races - I was leaving myself wide open for an attack here! I had unarmed scouts over my three developing planets, and a single missile base defending Sol and Simius. Any of the three AI leaders could have swatted away those feeble defenses with ease. However, I was confident that I could get away with this due to my racial bonuses, and turn after turn passed with relations climbing up from "Relaxed" to "Amiable" and then all the way to "Calm". It was reminiscent of playing out a Civ3 early game in a lot of respects, knowing that if you kept your head down and gave into demands, the AI civs would normally leave you alone to develop in peace even as they walked huge armies around (and through) your territory.

This span of peaceful development was a godsend for my empire, giving the three new colonies time to build their factories and become contributors in their own right. This period lasted for quite some time, long enough for all three of them to max out on population and factories without issue. I sweated a bit watching the ships of the other races move around, especially the Mrrshan ones near that Ultra Poor world in the middle of my territory, however the peace continued to hold for many decades on end. I built a single missile base on each planet and then converted them all over to research, even the little Rich planet after I built up a modest Reserve for emergencies. What else was there to do? I wasn't ready to go on the offensive and there were plenty of things that I wanted on the tech tree.

Pictured above is my little empire of five planets cruising along sometime around 2370 or so. We still hadn't had a Council meeting yet, and I was wondering what the rest of the galaxy looked like. There must have been some kind of monkeying around with the habitability rating of the other planets to delay the first election for such a long time. Anyway, I took this picture because it demonstrated something extremely rare in Master of Orion: the effective production on my homeworld (320) was actually higher than the theoretical max production (294). It's exceedingly rare to see this in action, normally your effective production is always lower than your theoretical production due to spending on ships, missile bases, spying, and so on. You might even wonder how it's possible to have more effective production than the theoretical max on an individual world, and the difference comes from foreign trade. I had zero costs to speak of, only one base on each planet and a dozen scouts, while I had huge amounts of trade coming in from the other leaders. At times my trade climbed as high as 25% of my total income from planets, resulting in a sizable boost to spending at each world. I was effectively punching above my weight here, having more money to spend than I should have had available. It was a perfect use of the Human racial abilities, free riding on military spending while cashing in enormously on trade.

Another strength of the Humans in Master of Orion comes in the form of their research bonuses. The Humans are "Excellent" in Force Field technology as well as "Good" in both Planetology and Propulsion, while having no "Poor" fields as weaknesses. Since Planetology and Propulsion are the key fields to research in the early game, they can get out to a surprisingly fast start sometimes, especially in a game like this one where both Terraforming +10 and Improved Eco Restoration were both available at discounted costs. I researched the two of them, then the useless Dead Spores to advance up the ladder, only to find that I had Enhanced Eco Restoration as the only option in the third rung, no choice. That was really annoying; with Improved Eco Restoration already in hand, I didn't have much need for the next waste cleanup tech, and I really could have used Terraforming +30 or Controlled Inferno/Toxic. I was hoping that Controlled Radiated would be available at the fourth rung so that I could lay claim to those nearby Tundra planets. The Bulrathi had already chased away my scouts from the Rich Barren world to the south by this point, and I didn't want to lose the Tundra worlds as well.

The variant rules also made for some odd choices in the other tech fields. In Construction, I had started by researching Improved Industrial 9 followed by Duralloy Armor in the second rung. Here in the third rung, the natural choice would have been the Autorepair special... but that was banned by variant rule unless I wanted to use my Mulligan design on it. As a result, I went for even more waste cleanup tech in Reduced Industrial Waste 60%. Apparently this was a very "green" Human empire, heh. Total research was humming along nicely with five planets maxed out on factories and pulling in bountiful trade income:

Almost 1000 BC per turn in research, an excellent total for an empire with only five planets at this relatively early stage of the game. In the Computers field, I was pleased to see that I had Improved Robotic Controls III available in the second rung, and at the time of this screenshot, it was just about to pop and increase my income significantly. Force Fields was on the disappointing side, offering no choices on Class II shields, then Class III shields, then Class IV shields. No Personal Deflector Shield, no Planetary Shield V. Too bad that being rated "Excellent" in a field doesn't cause more techs to be available for research; everyone other than the Psilons had the standard 50/50 chance for any tech to be available in each field. In Propulsion, I took Range 4 with no choice initially, then Warp 2 engines at the second rung, and then realized that I needed more range to grab that Arid planet at 5 parsec range in the northeast. I went ahead and researched Range 6 third, which didn't advance me up the tech ladder but did eventually get me that planet to take the empire up to six worlds total. I had been worried that someone else would slip up there, but nope, my scout never saw any other ships. The AI really does struggle with its pathfinding in the corners of the map. And in Weapons tech, I was taking mostly defensive options with Hyper-V and Merculite missiles... along with Fusion Bombs and later Antimatter Bombs. I didn't need guns for the moment, but I figured that bombs are always useful to have and hold a very long shelf life.

I spent a good bit of time checking what the other leaders had and seeing if there were any trades available. Once I realized that I lacked any kind of planetary shield, I swung this deal:

Trading is an extremely useful tool for working around gaps in your tech tree, like my Force Fields tree in this game. For all of their excellence in research, my scientists apparently couldn't figure out how to make anything other than more advanced models of deflector shields. I went ahead and built a planetary shield on each world, taking me up to 9 points of shielding and enough to be safe against most gun types, if not bombs or missiles. Trading techs is so effective that a lot of our variants either ban it or limit it in some respect. Not in this game though, and as the freewhelming Humans, I was keeping a close eye out for more opportunities like this one.

When Enhanced Eco finally finished research, I had a chance to view the next rung of the Planetology tech ladder. I had three of the four choices available: Soil Enrichment, Bio Toxin Antidote, and Terraforming +40, and I chose the last option. However, the one tech that I really wanted was lacking: no Controlled Radiated bases. I saw a clear sign of the scenario design at work here, with the player having Controlled Barren available but then none of the other hostile environment techs. The other AI races also seemed to be lacking these techs, and that explained why the Council still hadn't met yet as we passed the 2400 mark on the calendar. Everyone must have been suffering equally in this galaxy, lacking the techs to settle any of these hostile worlds. Good thing there were no Silicoids in this game, they would have had a field day here. Finally I did spot an environmental tech:

It was in the hands of the lowly Mrrshans, who had become stuck on only four planets, and with two of those four having Poor and Ultra Poor ratings. Slim pickings for kitty in this game. I was actually ahead of them in tech, and that should tell you something about how bad their situation was. A player with only six planets should not be ahead of an Impossible empire 100 turns into the game. With the poor Computers tech of the Mrrshans, I had an excellent chance to steal their Controlled Tundra tech and then use it to expand out to several more planets. That would be worth doing even if I never got any further use out of the colony ships afterward. Even better, kitty had Scatter Pack V missiles as well! Wow, they did have some good Weapons tech on those backwards planets. The Mrrshans had been good friends with me throughout the whole game, and there was a risk of making an enemy of them if I started spying in force. Still, the surest path forward in this game looked to be running over the cats at some point. As always, they were not well liked by the other races, and the chance to take over four planets from an AI rival right on my doorstep was an opportunity that I couldn't overlook. I sent out the spies to see what they could discover, while doing my best to maintain good relations for the moment.

Great, just great. At least Sol already had maxed out on Improved Robotics III factories with 330 total. So long as I was still in research mode this didn't even matter, as Poor worlds can contribute fully on that front. It was going to make it harder to get into shipbuilding later on though, and that day would be certain to arrive eventually.

The peace held for a very long time in my corner of the galaxy, ever since the early stages of the game. Eventually though I received this message shortly after the 2400 date had come and gone with no Council election:

Aha, the Bulrathi were the first ones who wanted to try their hand at an attack. This is another reason why signing Non Aggression Pacts can be a useful tool diplomatically, as the AI races will let you know when they plan to break them by moving aggressively against your empire. The Bulrathi were telling me that they were entering Cold War mode. For all intents and purposes this would be no different than a true hot war, as they would be sending their navy and seeking to conquer my planets. However, unlike an official war, our trade agreement would remain in force, and for the Humans that's always a good thing to have in place. If I could fend them off, our trade might be able to patch things up and get back to a peaceful state again. Of course, I would have to fend them off first.

Making matters worse, the Meklars dialed me up a few turns later and declared war, officially this time. If there's one thing that doesn't play well with the diplomatic abilities of the Humans, it's AI races with the Erratic trait like the Meklars had in this game. Fortunately for me, they had already managed to get themselves into wars with the Bulrathi and Psilons (who I still hadn't met), and the large gap in space between our empires kept their ships from attack me. I never saw a single ship of theirs during this conflict. The Mrrshans remained on good terms, although I was trying to steal tech from them and that had the potential to blow up in my face as well. I was playing a bit of a dangerous game here, all things considered. The fact that the Council still hadn't convened was helping, as I didn't have to worry about a looming election at the moment. Now what did the Bulrathi have in store for me?

They chose to go after Yarrow with their main fleet, limping in at warp 1 speed because they hadn't discovered any engine techs. (The AI used to do that all the time, but here in kyrub's patch they are so much better about making sure all their ships have the most advanced warp engines.) I had plenty of time to see this attack coming ahead of time and stack up missile bases on Yarrow using Reserve spending from my little Rich planet. On the other hand, I had absolutely no idea what was on those Bulrathi ships, and the combination of 3 Huges and 13 Larges could be holding a lot of dangerous toys. There had been no chance to run a ship with Battle Scanners down to Bulrathi territory to see what they were packing ahead of time, not with specials banned by variant rule. I was researching Merculite missiles at the time, and even though they were up to something like 30% on the tech screen, they stubbornly refused to pop in time for this battle.

So instead of relying on luck, I went ahead and created my own luck. I spotted that the Mrrshans had discovered a more advanced weapons, and took this opportunity to trade them Enchanced Eco Restoration for their Scatter Pack V missiles. The AI won't trade you their most advanced tech in each field, but they'll almost always trade the second-most advanced tech. Instantly my missile bases jumped from Hyper-Vs to Scatter Pack Vs with five times the firepower. Come get some, bear boys!

This was what the enemy fleet was packing when I was able to scan them with the bases on Yarrow. Ion Cannons and Graviton Beams were too weak to make it through my shields, but the Heavy Blast Cannon was powerful enough to deal damage even against 9 points of shielding. I focused on killing the Claw design first, and then managed to get a good volley in against the Grizzly stack as well before it could retreat. All of the Large ships were destroyed without having any effect on Yarrow. The Bulrathi would make another attack at Sol, only to find that I had even more bases stacked up there and fare no better. It was clear that they weren't going to be able to punch through and achieve a breakthrough with their current level of technology. They would have to tech up to better designs and try again. While I had been lucky here that the Bulrathi were sporting nothing but guns on their ships instead of missiles or bombs, I would have been in quite the pickle without my earlier tech trades. Planetary Shield V and Scatter Pack V missiles had turned this from a deadly situation into a routine one. (Then the turn after this battle took place, Merculite missiles belatedly finished researching. Oh sure, now you show up!)

I tried talking to the Bulrathi but their diplomat was gone for the moment and they weren't interested in signing any new deals. Fine, suit yourselves. We were still trading and not technically at war, and I guess it didn't matter too much. Then finally, after more than two dozen turns of trying, my spies managed to swipe the tech that I wanted from the Mrrshans:

They had gotten a spying breakthrough about 15 turns earlier where I had 50/50 odds to steal Controlled Tundra, only to lose the coinflip and get the useless Controlled Barren instead. This time the spying worked out (as indeed it had to - there were no other techs to steal in the Mrrshan Planetology field) and I walked away with the prize that I wanted. While the Mrrshans hadn't detected my initial spying attempt, this time they caught me and complained with their ambassador. I promised to stop spying on them, and I would keep that promise. I had what I needed now. With Controlled Tundra in hand, I could finally unveil the design that I'd been planning for some time, my version of "The Mulligan":

What, did you think that I was going to use my Mulligan design slot on some kind of warship? Of course not! I could always build bigger and better ships for battle. What I needed was access to critical utility features that I wouldn't be able to use otherwise. The Controlled Tundra base would allow me to colonize four additional planets that I had identified through scouting, three of them in the north and another one in the deep south near Bulrathi space. That would be huge, as I only had six worlds in total at the moment. This one tech would nearly double the size of my empire! The other crucial addition to this design was the Battle Scanner, allowing me to spy on what ship designs the AI races were packing and make informed decisions in fleet to fleet combat. I would bring along one Mulligan ship design with all of my future fleets for the rest of the game, working around the warp 3 speed after it became outdated. This humble ship would be the difference-maker in my quest to dominate the galazy.

I had three different planets pop out three copies of The Mulligan to settle the tundra worlds off to my north along the edges of Mrrshan space. When they arrived at their destinations a few turns later, we held the first Council vote of the game:

My Humans were nominated against the Bulrathi, as expected. While I hadn't known when the Council would meet for the first time, I did know that the Bulrathi would almost certainly by my opponent. I was pleased to see that I already had the most votes of any race, even if I was still a good distance away from a veto block (7/30 = 23%). Better yet, I was able to vote for the Bulrathi and reap the major brownie points that the AI always grants for doing so. This was enough to get the Bulrathi to back off for the moment, ending their cold war and returning to "Relaxed" relations. My only two votes came from the Mrrshans, who had been my closest ally throughout the game. They were still marked as my first target, even as I felt bad about doing so. The Psilons and the Alkari both Abstained, wherever they were on the map. Somewhere off the west I supposed. For this early in the game, I was in a pretty solid position.