RefSteel's Meklar Challenge

Meklar, Impossible, Medium, 5 Opponents

I was going through the Master of Orion forum at CivFanatics one day, when I noticed a post from RefSteel posing a challenge to anyone interested. He said that he had a Meklar game on Impossible that was posing real difficulties, and posted a starting savefile to see if anyone would be able to beat it. Well that was a challenge that I simply had to take up for myself! Go here to see the initial thread and some of the responses in more detail.

That's the start position for the game. Our Meklar seem to be tucked into the southwest corner of the galaxy, with a strange zone of dead space directly to the east. North looks like the only direction for expansion. Given the large number of blue and purple stars near the start, I could already see that this was shaping up to be a tough start. Little did I know...

There were two stars in range at the opening, both blue (ugh!). The one to the north was two parsecs away, the one to the south three. With even odds on guessing the better spot, I sent the colony ship north; it was closer, and always better to settle towards the galactic center, if possible. Fortunately I guessed correctly and the star I picked was habitable, if not a particularly great planet:

Aquilae: Minimal, size 30. The other planet in range initially (Tau Cygni) turned out to be a Tundra size 35. Slim pickings, it seems, but I've actually played from worse starts before. One good thing about having such a small second world was the small number of colonists needed to be sent from the homeworld. I would send 8m in one batch, and that was it. Meklon focused on factory growth in the early going, as usual for me.

I built the usual assortment of Scout2s and had them fan out to investigate the local neighborhood. Here's what they found:

Aha! Now we're starting to see why the map was a difficult one. There were only seven additional stars within 6 parsecs of my two planets. Two of them were Terran and decent size (we'll get back to them in a minute...) and aside from that, we have one Tundra world, and no less than FOUR Radiated planets! That's unbelievable; I've never seen anything like that. Now, as far as the mineral situation goes...

BOTH of the Terran planets are Poor. Ugh. That's a seriously bad break, having only two habitable worlds in range, only to see both of them turn up mineral Poor. On the plus side, the two Terrans were both on the large size (100 and 85), as Poor planets usually are. Even better, two of those Radiated planets are Ultra Rich! The northern one was tiny at size 15, but the one in the south was a very nice size 45. Mmm, tasty.

From the very beginnning, therefore, we have a clear dilemma here. *IF* I can manage to settle these Radiated worlds, I should be OK. Maybe. I have no way of knowing if Controlled Radiated is in the tech tree; I'll just have to assume that it is, and play on towards that end. I'm going to have to survive for about ~100 turns with very few tools on hand, and just hope that I can maintain peace with my AI neighbors. And the best news of all? We're the Meklar, the one race in the game rated "Poor" in researching Planetology tech! What a cruel joke this game was shaping up to be.

Anyway, first things first. No point in worrying about the future until we get there. The northern Poor world was only 3 parsecs away from Aquilae, so when Meklon reached approximately 200 factories, I had it build a colony ship. I settled my third planet shortly after 2330:

Even though Romulas was size 100, I only sent 10m from Aquilae to get it started. One of the few things that Poor planets are good at doing is growing population, so I largely left it to fend for itself. Since Romulas was going to be building factories for literally ages on end, I was looking at dealing with essentially two planets for quite a while here. I didn't start research until after building the colony ship for Romulas, and then only at Aquilae, using these turns to take Meklon up to its full complement of 400 factories. After Meklon maxed, I swapped it over to research and had Aquilae max as well.

As far as early research goes, I usually emphasize Planetology and Propulsion fields out of the gate. The Meklar and all their factories are a little different, however, so when playing them I typically open up Construction as well. To my delight, I had both initial offerings, Improved Industrial 9 and Reduced Waste 80%. I would eventually research both, but I started with the uber-cheap II9, cutting my (huge!) factory costs by a nice 10%. In Planetology, I had the option of Terraforming +10 or Improved Eco Restoration, so I followed my usual course of action there by researching first +10, followed by Improved Eco. (One thing that often gets ignored is that the Meklar not only build a lot of factories, they produce a tremendous amount of waste as well. Waste reduction techs are especially important for them!) In Propulsion, I had the option of both Range 4 or Range 5; the former was useless to me, so I concentrated on the latter.

While I was researching, I was introduced to my first neighbor, the Humans:

Uh oh, the Humans are already out to six systems. Settling Romulas brought the green star directly to its northeast into range, but to my dismay I found that they Humans had already settled there! So much for expanding in that direction. I was even more troubled to see that the Humans had alliances with two other races already (the Klackons and Psilons), no doubt leapfrogging about with their extended alliance range. That's one of the few advantages of the AIs that I truly do begrudge, their early game cheeze alliances allowing them to expand and grab planets that they otherwise couldn't reach.

Oh, and these Humans are Erratic. Great, just what I needed...

So Range 5 techs pops, and I can now settle the other Poor planet in my backlines, taking me to four worlds overall. More importantly though, the additional range allows my scouts to fan out further. I hoped to find a new area for expansion, some way to get out of this box in the corner and grab some more planets. I was researching Controlled Tundra and Duralloy Armor, which together would allow me to build colony ships with reserve fuel tanks. Barring that, as the Meklar I could even build colony ships on Huge hulls, since I had so much production. I just needed to FIND some worlds to colonize!

Whoops! Well, looks like we won't be expanding to the east. The first planet I scouted in that direction was Kholdan, the Klackon homeworld. Typical for Impossible, they've already got a major fleet and 20+ bases. I'm pointing out the location on the map below:

The Klackons completely block expansion to the east; the only world I was able to visit successfully over there was the dead star with no planet. Maybe it would have been possible to get that Arid world in the extreme scout, but the Psilons beat me to it by just a turn or two. Would have been extremely tough to hold with long range gunships until a colony ship could be prepared, but maybe it would have been possible.

Klackons to the east, Humans to the northeast. But wait, it gets better yet! Look in the northwest, beyond the two Radiated planets. The eastern-most of those two gray dot planets you see is Sssla. All expansion is therefore cut off to the north as well by the Sakkra. There's no way out of this corner except through one of the AI races!

There wasn't much I could do besides research more tech and hope for the best. I checked diplomacy frequently (as I usually do), and so I had a pretty good picture of how things were going, even though I only had contact with the Humans. Those diplomongers were clearly becoming friends with everyone, and signing alliances left and right, argh! Eventually the Klackons discovered more Range tech, and I was introduced to them as well. I took advantage of my good relations with the Humans to stir up some trouble:

I generally try to avoid spectator wars unless I have no choice; this was certainly a game where it seemed appropriate. I needed to do something to slow down these AIs, and stop their "old boys club" of easy alliances with one another. This, my one and only use of the spectator wars concept in the whole game, triggered a long-standing conflict of Klackons and Psilons versus Humans. All I could do is hope that it would reign in these AI juggernaut powers.

I did little more than research for a long time. The best strategy seemed to be a beeline to Controlled Radiated, so that's what I did:

Aside from a trickle in the other fields, everything is going towards Planetology tech. Here you see both the blessing and the curse of the Meklar; all those factories give me a great research total, but that's offset by being rated Poor in Planetology! Anyway, look at how nice this field shaped up for my borgs. We've got +10 terraforming, Improved Eco, Controlled Tundra (taking me out to five planets), and now working on +30 terraforming. If Controlled Radiated is present, I'll be in very nice shape.

Still, this game can bring the most interesting times...

The joy of living next to an Erratic civ. I can only hope that they'll be more interested in disputing systems with the Klackons and Psilons than roughing up a minor power on the edge of the galaxy. The good news is that I've managed to put more than 200 factories on Romulas, my exposed point position planet. The bad news is that it's still a Poor world, so bases won't be appearing with much speed. As long as I can avoid a true stack of doom (SOD), I should have a chance to hold out there.

While Romulas starts adding some defensive bases, my other worlds continue to research. That's a gamble, but it's one I have to take - five planets is NOT enough to win this game! Fortunately, when I discover +30 terraforming, I discover to my pleasure that I do in fact have Controlled Radiated in my tree!

That's great news, because without the ability to settle those other Radiated worlds around my starting position, I probably wouldn't have much of a chance. Meklar scientists are ordered to begin work on this breakthrough immediately. (Ouchie on that cost!)

I asked the Humans for peace several times, but they weren't interested in talking to me. That's one thing the AI does well in this game; when it's got the superior fleet, it won't let you off the hook easy. It's coming to get you, and it won't stop until it gets what it wants. (Unlike, say, the Civ3 AI, which will ALWAYS sign peace with the player after a preset number of turns. This is extremely easy to manipulate.) The Humans have decided they're coming for me:

I've been pouring reserve money into Romulas for several turns now, having Meklon channel its production each turn into the treasury. Obviously that's more inefficient than doing research, but if it saves an entire planet, it's more than worth it. I'll manage to have five bases ready to meet this first attack. The Humans are bringing two Large ships; let's see what designs they're sporting:

I'm confident that I can handle that, and indeed I shot the two ships down without losing a base. However, there's still considerable cause for concern. My tech levels are very low in every field other than Planetology, due to that beeline towards Controlled Radiated. I do have Hyper V missiles, which is good considering that I've only researched a single Weapons tech, yet I'm lacking in a lot of other areas. Only two points of shielding for my bases, for example. I was hoping the Humans would be swarming thousands of laser fighters (which a single shielded base can defend against); instead, looks like they're packing Large designs. Not a good sign.

With the first attack beaten off, the Humans are coming back for more. This time, they're bringing three of those Cruiser designs with the Heavy Ion Cannon, plus two new designs that I haven't seen yet. Worse, one of those ships is a Huge hull! Not good. I ask again for peace, but no dice. To meet this attack, I'll manage to stand up 10 bases on Romulas, a fairly decent amount for this early in the game. Doubly so, given that Romulas is Poor (I could have 30+ easily if that was a normal planet!) Now let's see what's on those designs:

Jaw hanging open...

EIGHTEEN Antimatter Bombs on the Huge design?! Dear Lord! That thing is a monster. As if to add insult to injury, the ship has heavy shielding (Class III) and Anti-Missiles as well. There's nothing I can do to stop that design. The AI so rarely fields effective ship designs, when it lucks into one by accident, you're in for a heap of trouble. I could easily fight off the four Large ships here, but that Battleship design... Even if I had those 30 missile bases I mentioned above, it still wouldn't save me here!

Romulas is toast:

My most-heavily defended planet was taken out without even scratching the enemy fleet. Uhh... what's the plan now, chief?