Mrrshans, Impossible, Medium, 4 Opponents
I've been having a fair amount of success lately with Impossible difficulty, so it was time to kick things up a notch. Time to finally play as the Mrrshans, indisputably the weakest race in the game, and lead the kitties to victory on the hardest setting. Don't worry, this will be a walk in the park, right? Let's find out. Here was the first map I rolled:
There was a green and a white star in range initially, both 3 parsecs away. The green world had significantly better odds to have a habitable planet, so that's where I sent the colony ship. Playing the percentages worked out, and I found an average planet there (Desert 55). The white star held a small Inferno world.
If you've read the other reports on my site or played Master of Orion yourself, you should be able to tell that I've already got a good draw here. Unless there's another race at the yellow in the extreme southeast corner (unlikely), I've got a sizable amount of relatively safe worlds on the eastern side of the map. Note too that I've removed one AI from the normal 5 opponents, just to shake things up. We should figure on having one AI at the pair of yellows in the center of the map, 2 AIs in the yellow pairs to the west, and then the final AI at one of the yellows in the extreme north of the map. Depending on how close the AIs in the north turn out to be, I could be looking at getting 10-12 systems uncontested here, which is a fantastic amount for a Medium map on Impossible. Even better, there are no Psilons or Silicoids in this galaxy, so I'll have some time before all the loose planets are snapped up. The presence of the Alkari is a bit of a bad break, but I'll just have to show those feline-hating bigots what they deserve!
I follow my standard opening for anything but Small maps, sending 12 million in 3 million chunks to the second world (Fierias growing from 50 mil to 53 mil each turn, sitting right in the fattest part of the growth curve) to stand it up, then returning some of those colonists to the homeworld 3 turns before factories max. We've been having some interesting discussions about this in my Orion Succession Game, but I still feel you come out behind by doing anything other than maxing factories at the homeworld ASAP in most situations. Depends on the map, of course.
Here's what the local neighborhood looked like when the scouts reported back:
The worlds just to my north were all hostile, which was a bit of bad luck, but I had four safe worlds to the east, several of which were quite large. There was a Jungle 100 and an Arid 90 over there! Even better, the worlds to the west were only five parsecs away, so if I got a move on fast enough, I might be able to get some planets over there too.
Yet that still doesn't even tell the full story. Look at the mineral situation of this corner of the galaxy:
That Steppe planet in the west is an Artifacts world! Only size 45, but a hot commodity nonetheless. I didn't get a tech there (already scouted by the Meklar, too bad!) but this would still be my first settling target. The Rich and two Ultra Rich planets are on a Toxic world and two Radiated ones, but I should be able to grab them eventually too. Plus no Poor or Ultra Poor planets! What a nice area to expand into.
Now, the one thing that put real danger into this whole plan: see the thumb of the cursor hand above? That's pointing to Meklon, from which my scout is retreating. The machines will have to research Range 4 to expand, so MAYBE if they focus on factory construction I'll be able to claim the worlds I want. Going to be some interesting first couple of turns regardless!
Dathon's been arguing for sacrificing factory construction at the homeworld and second planet to do research faster and get the first colony ship finished at a quicker date. This would be a classic case for such a strategy, but I opted to go with my more conservative usual plan, focusing instead on the overall growth curve of my kitties. Fortunately Range 5 was available (along with Terraforming +10, yay!) so I focused early research on those two and knocked them out pretty quickly. For whatever reason the Meklar failed to push early expansion, and so I was able to have my cake and eat it too:
Excellent. Even better, Simius gave me the range to reach another planet to the southwest (see the yellow star there?) which turned out to be a Terran 90! The white star just to the west of Simius had no planet, so I was able to clean up this entire corner of the map, grabbing FOUR planets in total (although one was an Ultra Poor at the red star in the extreme south). What a cakewalk this game was going to be!
Fierias was building colony ships every 4 turns, and occasionally every 3 when I had enough overrun on construction. The only thing holding me back from colonizing worlds even faster was a lack of engines better than warp 1 (some slow transit times getting to all these planets). The only race I had met so far was the Meklar, who had but a single world to their name (and a scary, SCARY fleet!) Thus when I got this message early on from GNN, it was highly significant:
OK, what's not surprising is that I'm second, although it's perhaps slightly disturbing that the Darloks are ahead of me (given the fact that I already have five planets pretty early on). The key info relates to the Klackons and Alkari: they're EVEN SMALLER than the Meklar!!! Uh oh. The one danger of removing races from the map is that you can be more prone to having a runaway AI, if 2 or 3 of the other AIs get shafted on the starting location. I am soon introduced to the Darloks and get to see their colonization efforts thus far:
Oh this is not good. NO ONE has started at the two yellows in the center of the map; my cursor is pointing to Nazin, and the Darloks already have both of them so clearly they were initially unoccupied. Similarly, unless the surrounding planets are just awful, there's no one at the yellow in the extreme northeast either; I would have run into their scouts by now, this being Impossible. The ONLY possible conclusion is therefore that the Alkari and Klackons must be at two of the three yellows to the west of the Meklar. The Darloks have free run on MORE THAN HALF the galaxy!
In fact, this is so not good that the Darloks come calling for me a mere dozen turns after first contact, determined to eliminate feline-kind from this universe:
I don't have a single ship with weapons on it. Help!
Still, there's no need to panic. The Darloks are among the least dangerous military races in the game, and they usually concentrate on Computer tech to the detriment of Weapons advances. These particular Darloks are Xenophobic Industrialists (very unusual combo for them), but it still doesn't change their outlook completely. Furthermore, even on Impossible the AI can't push this far from their homeworld this early. The Darloks aren't likely to send anything too dangerous for a while, so I should have time to respond to their threat. And finally, I'm the Mrrshans. Only the Alkari are better suited to skirmish over planets in the early game; those 4 bonus levels of Battle Computers make a HUGE difference when both sides are running around with lasers. If I can respond effectively, I should be OK.
The first thing I do is design a laser fighter; I had enough miniaturization to fit a Mark I computer on it. Along with the cats' built-in racial ability, that would be equivalent to 5 levels (!) of Computer tech. I cranked them for four turns from Fierias, giving me about 60 total, which I then dispatched up to the disputed zone in the north. After that, I went back to finishing the last couple colony ships. Aside from minimal research, all my planets were building factories still. That meant I wouldn't be able to make any inroads on the Darlok holdings - but that wasn't exactly the point. I'd be better served by building up my own position than trying to burn down theirs; at best, my feeble military efforts would be able to harass them and prevent them from standing up new colonies.
Now laser fighters are pretty much useless in terms of bombing enemy worlds; even 50 of my lasers couldn't kill more than 1 or 2 million Darloks each turn. In the hopes of doing some more damage, I actually designed some bombers carrying Nukes and sent them up to the front as well:
Herculis was a Barren world that was rightly mine; I had no environment techs until Controlled Dead (Planetology tree went +10, Improved Eco) so the Darloks were able to slip in and grab it. But they had reached too far, and so I paid them back by blasting their immature colony into oblivion:
Minor payback, but still significant - I hardly wanted them digging in there and having a base that close to my core worlds. If you look back at that screen above, you can see two other Darlok colonies: Helos and Cygni. Helos was an Ultra Poor 65; relatively worthless, but a spot where I could keep bombing the shapeshifters and raise relations with the other races (yeah, I signed the Meklar into an alliance against the Darloks. This game was looking challenging enough without having them come down on my head!) Cygni was a Terran 100, a very strong world. I wanted that one for myself, but had no chance to get it. I kept bombing it with my paltry fleet, but eventually the Darloks chased me away with a real fleet of their own. Nevertheless, my extremely minimal investment in ships was buying me time for my actual worlds to develop - which was the whole point of the exercise.
For once, I wasn't the one getting shafted with the Mineral Depletion event:
NAZIN became a Poor world?! Couldn't happen in a better spot!
By bombing Helos over and over again (the Darlok Ultra Poor world), I was able to keep its population low and factories nonexistent. There was little point in capturing it, but I still figured it was better for me to have the planet than vice versa. Since the Darloks were now ready to sue for peace, I coordinated a minor invasion and grabbed the world before coming to terms:
Look at that difference in gropo weaponry though - Ion Rifle, ouch! Along with +5 for being the defender, they had a total advantage of +15 on me. I landed 20 cats and lost 15 of them in taking out a mere 5 defenders! Now some of that was due to bad dice rolls, but I still clearly was in no position to do any kind of invading on a large scale until I managed to upgrade my equipment further.
After grabbing Helos, I signed the aforementioned peace with the Darloks. Here was what the map looked like after that:
The battle lines are clearly drawn now, with me having 12 worlds to my name against the Darloks' 17. You can also see I've met the Klackons, who have 2 planets in the west. Unfortunately, the flag I've planted over there is about to be taken over by the bugs; it was a reach location, and one I didn't have nearly the forces to hold it. The bugs made a serious play for the world, and so I let them have it. Elsewhere I'm in relatively good shape, although the sheer size of the Darloks is a cause for concern. If I can settle the Hostile planets around my start, however, I should be ok. (Unfortunately I LOST my second planet to the Comet event! It happened way too early, and I didn't have enough ships to shoot it down in time. Tough break, but at least I had enough worlds on hand for it to be palatable.)
What followed was a long period of inactivity, about 30-40 turns of peace from roughly 2400 up until just before the 2450 election. I built factories until my planets maxed out, then concentrated on research (while adding a lot of bases as well, naturally). There was no point in building ships until I was planning to go on the offensive, which I clearly wasn't ready for yet. It made the most sense therefore to keep hitting "Next Turn" over and over again, so that's what I did. Not the most heroic part of this game, so I'll just gloss over the details.
I did keep an eye on the Darlok ships moving around, and I noticed they were building large numbers of ships sporting Death Spores. They had a Medium design packing three of them, and they built hundreds upon hundreds of them. One major incursion from those fleets would be able to wipe out any of my planets (I had some critical missile tech gaps; more on that in a minute though). After researching up to Controlled Radiated, I therefore went back and pursued Bio Toxin Antidote tech, which looked to be critical for this map. And no sooner had I begun research than the Darloks declared war again, argh. That necessitated a major funding increase:
Weapons research has gone back for Hyper-Xs; I initially grabbed Hyper-Vs, but was unable to find an upgrade from that (no Scatter Pack Vs, no Merculites, no Stingers) so now I've GOT to get any kind of an improvement available. At least Hyper-X was a cheap tech, but it still had me in a fairly vulnerable position overall. I just hope I can hold off the Darlok fleets long enough to finish researching the Toxin Antidote!