Psilons, Hard, Large, 5 Opponents
After playing two games on Average with one ridiculously easy start and one especially challenging start, I decided to increase the difficulty to Hard and see how I fared there. To ease my transition, I thought I would experiment by playing as the mighty Psilons, the race that most everyone agrees is far and away the most powerful in Master of Orion. The Psilons research technology significantly faster than everyone else, and that translates over time into a substantial advantage in pretty much every single aspect of the game. To tinker a bit further, I also decided to increase the map size from Medium to Large, now that I was more comfortable with how the land grab proceeded. And with no further ado, it was time to get started.
I began on the south side of the map, right in the middle in terms of the east-west axis. There were two stars within range initially, a white and a red one, so I played the odds and sent my colony ship to the red one. Fortunately it worked pretty much as expected; the red star had an arid planet (size 60) while the white star had a tundra one (size 30). I'd come back to that second planet later, but obviously not for some time. I followed the standard opening, shipping off some of the population from the home world to stand up the second colony, while working on maxing factories. Between my two flags there were 11 planets in scouting range, so I worked on industry for a couple turns and then spent two turns cranking Scout2s to cover them all. Here's what things looked like just as they were about to spread out:
One of my starting scouts is already heading to the red planet in the southeast that looks most exposed to the yellow stars over there. That might seem like paranoia, but as it turns out there WAS an AI over there (right at the yellow star my cursor is pointing to above), so maybe my strategizing is proceeding pretty well! The other major early threat was from the yellow star in the west and cluster in the northwest (almost certainly an AI at one of those places), so my first Scout2s would go west.
Barely a dozen turns into the game, one of my Scout2s finds an Artifacts planet. Jackpot!
Just like that I drew a critical waste cleanup tech, substantially increasing my factory construction rate on Mentar and Ukko (my second world). What a humongous stroke of fortune! Improved Eco Restoration sped up my growth curve by a very substantial rate, making me feel almost Klackon-like in the early going. Note to the other races - you do not want the PSILONS to be pulling freebies like this in 2312!
The scouting reports come in, and here's what my neck of the galaxy looks like:
Unlike my first two games, which saw wild swings in fortune between "extremely hospitable" and "painfully hostile", I drew a pretty typical mixture of planets here. However, the situation was better than it appears in terms of the minerals; take a look at the corresponding report in that area:
The ultra-rich is at a radiated blue star in the north; that will be very useful someday (provided I have Controlled Radiated in my tree), but worthless at the moment. I do have a habitable rich planet at the minimal world in the southwest, although that's somewhat countered by having an ultra poor steppe planet right next door. But the true value of this start lies in the green worlds on the above map: TWO artifacts worlds in immediate range, BOTH habitable right from the start! Enough to make a Psilon ruler drool at the very thought of them.
Neither was in range initially, but with Range 4 I could grab the ocean planet in the west, and by settling the steppe and minimal worlds to the south, I could bring the arid artifacts world in range too. I had both Range 4 and Range 5 available in the tree, so I took the cheaper Range 4 and set to work churning colony ships out of Mentar while Ukko carried the research load. (Doesn't take a whole lot of time to research Range 4 for the Psilons, even on Hard difficulty.) First colony ship went to the ultra poor steppe planet. Second one was RELOCated to Ukko, and by the time it got there I had already pulled in the range tech. That allowed me to settle the jewel of my empire, the most important planet on the map:
See that? The little light bulbs on the technology screen are lighting up even as you read the above message!
Now if you look closely at the above picture, you'll see some green ships on the map. Humans scouting around, although I was able to retreat their unarmed ships at many of the planets nearby. I had seen some white Meklar ships moving around too, but it wasn't until I learned Range 4 tech and settled Exis that I realized just how close my neighbors were:
Meklon is right there - yikes! And the Humans weren't far away either, having started at the closest possible yellow in that western cluster. They had already grabbed most of the border worlds between us too, although I fortunately managed to get the artifacts planet by making it my top priority. The good news is that I look to have a fair number of safe backline planets in the east. The bad news is that not one, but TWO of the planets in the west on the Meklar border are ultra poor. Argh!
So the ultra poor steppe planet (Gion) had been my third world, and the artifacts world (Exis) my fourth. My fifth colony ship took the minimal rich planet down by the Meklars (which I planned to use to defend the ultra poors), and I sent my sixth ship far off to the west, hoping to grab the unclaimed planet to the west of Exis on the Human border. As a result, I actually settled some of the worlds in the southeast first, but I did manage to plant my flag on Crypto in the western corner:
JUST beat a Human colony ship there too! Ha! (And they were already packing weapons on their ships, so he could have retreated my scout. Nice to see a bold plan come together!)
You can see in that above shot how close Meklon and three different Human planets were to my core worlds. I was definitely worried over here, especially by the machines (who had a NASTY fleet moving around their home planet), but fortunately they seemed more interested in building up their endless array of factories in the early game. I was helped vis a vis the Humans by the fact that they drew a Pacifist personality (along with Diplomat gameplan), and because both Phyco and Cygni were ultra poor. With their border planets being so weak, the apes didn't seem interested in early aggression, which was fine with me. Time is on the side of no race as much as the Psilons!
In other news, I retreated several colony ships from a blue race in the east; the galaxy map said that it was the Sakkra. Nevertheless, it was a shock to have one of my scouts run into Sssla itself a mere four parsecs from my colonies!
Scout waves buh-bye and high tails it out of there. By the time that the initial landgrab was over, my corner of the galaxy was sporting a very unusual look:
By dint of luck or skill, I managed to get every habitable planet in my vicinity. At this point, I need either greater range or access to more environments to expand further. But what in the world are the Meklar and Sakkra doing? TWO One Planet Empires?! Sheesh. In their defense, the Meklar did not have any habitable planets within range, but the Sakkra clearly did. They must have needed only Range 4 to expand, but lacked it and needed to go all the way to Range 5, thus allowing me to sweep in and grab the exposed worlds on their western border. What a coup!
Now if I can just defend all this territory, I'll be set. But I have three AI homeworlds very close to my borders, and the Sakkra are Erratic. Could get interesting! Once my top industrial planets maxed out (Mentar and the rich planet in the southwest), I designed the best ship I could field to have at least some naval strength on hand.
I had Ion Cannon tech in the tree and researched it with a substantial amount of funds, then threw this design together. I would probably have held off on doing much fleet building here, relying on base construction, except that I had two Ultra Poor planets exposed to the Meklar, and I felt it was necessary to throw SOMETHING together to discourage aggression. This Ion2 was the best I could field at the time. With a Class II shield and 13 ion cannons, it would be strong enough to chew up pretty much anything sporting first-generation weapons. The large size is designed to minimize attrition as much as possible; I didn't need big numbers of small ships, just a concentrated force on point able to cover the two weak spots in my defense. Or so was the thinking anyway; maybe it would have been better to build lots of small ships packing one ion cannon (?) I love the way this game makes me think!
Here's why it's unfair to play as the Psilons:
This is something like 2370, still very early in the game. Yet even with no Robotic Control upgrades and only minimal terraforming (+20), I'm already getting more than SIX HUNDRED research points from a single artifacts planet. That's just wrong! That oughta be illegal. I would pause from time to time to add additional bases, but the Humans didn't have anything that worried me up there, so I felt safe to keep pouring on the research for now.
One of the things you really notice when playing the Psilons after some of the other races is the greater availability of tech choices they have. It's not just that the Psilons research faster than other races; because they are rated "Good" in every field, the brains also get more CHOICES everywhere, allowing the player to grab whatever is most useful while piggybacking up the tree. For example, I was able to follow "Zed's Computer Hop" by going Initial Tech - Robotic Controls III - Battle Computer IV and picking between many different options. The amount of weapons I had to pick from was almost disgusting. Nothing like the critical tech gaps I experienced in some of my past games at all! Thus their tech windfall is really a double-whammy, helping boost them clearly above and beyond the other races in the game. If you don't believe me, just look at the graphs:
85 turns into the game on Hard, and I've already taken over the lead in Technology, Production, and Total Power. This is not going to end well for the AI empires.
For the immediate future, I worked on factory and base construction. I built a fair amount of my Ion2 gunships to hold down the poor worlds on my western border and also to keep the Sakkra honest in the east, but mostly the years leading up to 2400 were spent working on infrastructure. Eventually I pulled additional Planetology tech and researched up to Controlled Tundra environment. That allowed me to fill out some of the missing planets around my start, but more importantly opened up the north to further expansion:
The cursor above points to a rich tundra world that I needed to have in order to open up other planets to the north. All of the planets up there had been either too far away or had been hostile previously. With my extended range, I now entered into a race to settle as much of the north as possible against the Humans (who had pulled in new range tech of their own) and the Bulrathi. The Humans looked to have an inside track at most of the west side of the map, but I intended to make them work for it and grab any place they failed to stake their claim!
With my planets in the southeast on the Sakkra border finally maturing and assembling base counts in the double digits, I felt secure enough to move my fleet in that area up to the north, where I was still fighting brush wars against various AI races. I finally had a chance to test my Ion2s against some enemy fleets over one of my new colonies:
Here I am chasing away some Bulrathi troublemakers. In their first field test, my Ion2s were a resounding success! Here you can see that just one volley (out of three) has done 44 damage, almost half the amount needed to kill one of these early large ships. I easily killed all of the Bulrathi ships while suffering no losses (and indeed, barely dropped below 90hp!) With the ability to concentrate 5 Ion2s whenever a significant AI fleet gathered, I was more than able to hold my own in these skirmishes. That allowed me to have the developing colonies focus on maxing factories instead of pausing to build bases.
A few turns later, this particular news report from GNN was significant:
I'm leading in population followed by the Humans and Bulrathi; no surprises there. But look at the Alkari, the missing empire thus far: they have EVEN FEWER people (err, birds) than the Meklar, who are running some 2-Planet Empire action in the southwest corner! Based on that info, I guessed that the Alkari were located in the southeast corner:
It turned out that I was wrong, but the birds were stunted and a total non-factor nonetheless. As far as the map above is concerned, you can see that I've grabbed two more worlds and continue to try and push further north. Unfortunately, there was a huge region of open space in the north-central part of the map, but I would just have to work around that as best as possible.
With my new holdings getting further and further away from my core, it was time to put the tech that I had pulled in to good use by designing an improved ship for fleet to fleet combat:
Here's the new and improved Ion Gunship I whipped up, this one sporting more firepower, better armor, and greatly improved computers and shields. I probably should have added at least a couple of heavy ion cannons for increased versatility, but I just went with the maximum number of guns instead. My rich planet could build two of these about every three turns, which allowed me to stand up a decent-sized fleet in a hurry.
Of course, I had pretty good relations with just about everyone, but it never hurts to be prepared just in case. Trade had especially warmed up things with the Humans, and the big deal I had with the bears was getting them to come around eventually too, albeit more slowly. I should mention here that the Psilons also get a free pass on the diplomatic side of the game; one way to balance out their strong abilities would be to give them poor relations with one or more other races (as the Sakkra do, for example). But that's simply not the case; the Psilons have no natural enemies, so it's as easy to win diplomatically as it is militarily. Yet another reason why they stand so far above the other races in terms of overall strength!
There was yet another Artifacts world in the extreme north, Gienah, so I planted a colony ship there as soon as I had the range to do so. Unfortunately, it was right next to several Human planets, and no sooner had I marked my flag than they landed with an invasion force of 50 or so marines and took over the planet. I could have invaded back, but frankly I was overextending in that region, and decided I didn't want to burn my bridges with the Humans over a single planet, no matter how good it had been. Unfortunately, I had already sent transports to Gienah when it had been my world, which was now interpreted as an invasion:
The Humans got angry and gave me some long faces, but they did not declare war. Good thing that they had drawn the Pacifist personality instead of their usual Honorable bent! I made no further aggressive moves and our trade patched things up in time.
After pulling in Controlled Toxic technology and settling a few more worlds, here's what the galatic map looked like:
See the purple flag at the extreme northeast corner of my territory? Settling that toxic planet brought me into contact with the Alkari finally, who remained stuck with three systems. They weren't really worth mentioning. Now let's look at things on a galactic scale. The Humans have done rather well in the north themselves, adding three more planets, but I have planted my flag on six more worlds in the center of the map, and am planning further expansion into the northwest corner. I already have an inferno base deep in Bulrathi territory, and will be adding another one shortly at a toxic planet south of the Alkari. I'm researching Controlled Radiated at this point, which will allow me to settle the two empty blue stars you see deep in my territory.
With this many planets in the hands of the Psilons, the game is a foregone conclusion. Even on Impossible it would be pretty hard to lose from this position, and here on Hard I've got the thing all but sealed up. True to form, the game allows me to cash in my position with a Diplomatic victory at the next vote in 2425:
The bears and lizards both supported me in the election. Since it was still early in the evening, I opted to play on a little further to see what would happen next. Yes, I'm turning down a sure victory here, but if you can't have a little fun, what's the point of playing?
Oooh, birds decided to go crazy on me here. No clue what they're thinking. I decided I would have a little fun with the Alkari and see how things stood at the next election. In order to invade their worlds, I designed a new ship: medium size, warp three, carrying one stinger missile and one antimatter bomb. I had to sacrifice the shield and most of the computers to fit it all on there, but I could build more than a dozen every turn, and with that kind of firepower, it wouldn't take too many ships to start burning down planets. Just give me a dozen or so turns to amass a SoD, and then we'll see who's laughing!
Unfortunately, this was not what I needed to be dealing with:
Artifacts world hit with a rebellion, argh! Fortunately at this stage of the game I could regrow enough population to make a multi-planet invasion relatively painless, but I still lost almost 100 million of my own people. And Exis was producing well over 1000 research points every turn, so it hurt to lose that even for a short while.
Heh, look at this:
Ultra poor Gion finally maxes its factories, after some 120 or so turns of constant production. Remember, this was my third planet, settled after Mentar and Ukko. In the above picture, I have spent very heavily on bases at Crypto (now a rich planet, after drawing the Mining event), Exis (my artifacts world), Rha, Morrig, and Regulus (my original rich world). The green star off the bottom of the above shot is another ultra poor planet still trying to stack up more factories. Gion could finally begin adding some bases of its own, but I wouldn't feel safe until I had at least two dozen there - which would take quite some time!
By 2440 my SoD was ready to go, and Psilon targeting computers set their sights on Altair:
Only 17 bases?! The stinger missile volley alone from my 88 bombers was enough to knock them out (Alkaris didn't have very good shields). Meanwhile, my Ion3s chewed up the Alkari fleet in just one or two volleys, suffering no losses. Total steamroller of a battle. Aside from the 25 or so bombers taken out by the initial missile volley from Altair, my fleet wasn't even scratched in taking out the bird homeworld.
I didn't have any planets nearby to send population for a ground invasion, so I unleased hell from orbit instead:
Oops, I guess that WAS the bird homeworld!
I could have genocided the Alkari with ease, but with another vote coming up in a few turns, I didn't want to take the reputation hit associated with it. So I bombed the crap out of them and left them with a single, heavily damaged planet. By attacking the Alkari, I was further able to improve my relations with several of the other races, most notably the Humans and Bulrathi (looks like the birds had stepped on quite a few toes in this galaxy). That all but ensured I would be able to win the council election on the next vote, even though I was far short of possessing a majority myself. But hey, with the galaxy map looking like this:
Did I really need to play on further? I was already out-researching everyone else, with Atmospheric Terraforming and Advanced Soil Enrichment just about to come online, as well as technologically superior fleets that would soon be able to outfight anything the AIs could design. There's no need to play this out; let's put this puppy to bed.
The birds didn't like me very much, but everyone else sure did!
And with support from my friends the Humans, Meklar, and Sakkra, I became the Galactic Emperor in 2450. A Diplomatic victory by Realms Beyond nomenclature, but one that I think was rather dominant nonetheless. None of the AIs even made an attempt at cracking my frontline defenses, which were packing high-level computers, Class X planetary shields, and pulson missiles by the end of the game.
The moral of this story: don't give the Psilons TWO artifact planets at the start of the game! Leaving them alone (as I was here) is all but asking for defeat. It will be a LONG time before I play as the Psilons again, let me tell you! Too much candy is a bad thing, methinks.