Da Bears: Big Bear

Bulrathi, Hard, Large, 5 Opponents

After that less-than stellar performance, I decided to go in the opposite direction and play with the Bulrathi on a Large map, in the sequel game that I would call "Big Bear". On the whole I do feel that the larger galaxies are a bit easier to play than the smaller ones, just because the human player tends to be better at colonizing worlds than the AI. It's also very true in this game (same as in the Civ games) that the AI on higher difficulties is strongest in the earliest stages of the game, and anything that extends/prolongs the outcome is generally to the advantage of the player.

I drew a start in the southwest corner of the map:

There was only one star within initial range, but fortunately it turned out to contain a very good Terran 95 planet. I was a bit worried by the yellow star just to my southeast, but fortunately there was no AI there and I had a sizable corner of the galaxy all to myself. Kind of a strange map, however: look at that huge cluster of yellow stars in the north-central part of the galaxy! Six yellows there, so probably 3 of the 5 AI races in that cluster. I hoped that the Alkari and Mrrshans would both start there and collectively tear each other apart.

The picture above was obviously taken after my Scout2s had fanned out and given me some information about the local neighborhood. To my delight, I found that I began in a highly fertile area, with tons of habitable environments:

Nine of the eleven planets I could reach with my starting scouts were shining back at me with happy green lights. And even better, I still had yet to run into any AI ships at all to this point in time! Eventually, however, I did begin to encounter purple ships, Sakkra, from the north. As a result, my initial colony ships would beeline in that direction.

I had both Range 4 and Range 5 in the tree, but only needed Range 4 to expand outwards. As a result, I went with the cheaper tech and then piggybacked onto Range 6 after that (a little bit later). The three planets in the northeast looked to be most in jeopardy, so I sent my first colony ship to the Ocean planet (Exis) you can see above. When I settled there, I was brought into contact with the lizards:

The cursor above is pointing to Sssla, one of the yellows in that large central cluster. The Sakkra were already out to five planets, so I knew I had to scramble to claim what was mine on our disputed border! Fortunately, these were very unusual lizards: the Sakkra had draw the strange combo of Pacifistic Technologists. That boded well for holding off early aggression, although not so great if the Sakkra started going wild with the Planetology research. I signed them to the max trade agreement possible and went back to colonizing.

The Jungle planet next in line (Aurora) was critical to grab, since it was size 100! I settled there with my next colony ship, for my fourth planet overall. Then I managed to squeeze into the Arid planet before the Sakkra got there. That was Jinga, size 50, and important for strategic reasons to limit Sakkra penetration to the south. I got there first, but the lizards obviously wanted the world for themselves, because they soon sent a colony ship of their own with three large ships for escort!

I had built a couple dozen laser popgun fighters earlier, and they were up on the Sakkra border to defend against exactly such a move. We clashed over Jinga, and I was able to kill two of the three larges at the cost of my fleet. That meant that the Sakkra did not have enough fleet strength to conduct orbital bombardment (allowing my colony to continue to grow and stand up new factories unimpeded), but it DID give them leeway to send population transports. They were obviously sending from Sssla, because 50 transports were on my way within a turn after gaining space superiority over Jinga. Could get interesting!

Now here's the good news: I'm the Bulrathi. Planetary invasions in the early game just aren't going to cut it without an overwhelming edge in numbers:

I killed the Sakkra at about a 5:1 ratio, losing about 10 bears to take out their 50-lizard invasion. They immediately sent another invasion force, but Sssla had not recovered completely from the previous decimating of population, and this time only some 33 transports were on their way. Naturally, I stopped that with ease too. In fact, we repeated this dance several times over the next two dozen or so turns, because I decided to have Ursa build colony ships to fill out my back lines rather than attempt to break the siege at Jinga. Hey, why not? The Sakkra were raping their home planet in these futile invasions, while Jinga's growth curve was only suffering some minor setbacks. That seemed like a good trade to me.

At this point (sometime around 2350 or 2360, I believe), I've finished filling out my backlines with colony ships and I'm finally prepared to do something about Jinga. Yes, there is yet ANOTHER invasion incoming on the map above, if you look closely. I designed a slightly improved laser popgun model (since the original ones had all been destroyed), built about 50 of them, and then chased away the Sakkra early-model large ship. Jinga was thus finally secured. Frankly, the system was never really in significant danger, but it had been an interesting struggle nonetheless. With nine core worlds, and the promise of more to come once I reseached additional Planetology tech, I could settle in for the moment and focus on building up my systems with additional factories and bases.

I had seen some yellow ships moving around in the east, far outside the range of where my non-scouts could travel. Eventually, an armed escort chased my scouts away from one juicy habitable world (one which I had no realistic chance to grab) and I was brought into contact with the Mrrshans:

The cursor is pointing to Fieras, the kitty homeworld. Now can you believe this: the Mrrshans drew a fantastic start, and were the #1 power in the galaxy! In a game where BOTH of their racial enemies (the Alkari and Sakkra) were present! Hard to believe, but true. When GNN popped up annoucing the first expansion message, it was the cats they were talking about. The Mrrshans drew an amazing corner start, with the Silicoids as the only nearby race. As a result, the cats were able to spread out without destroying themselves (even though they drew their usual Ruthless Militarist personality). Just goes to show that trends are not certainties in Master of Orion!

As my planets developed, I was able to switch more and more of them over to research and catch up to the AIs. I had no fleet to speak of, just a couple of scouts and warp 1 laser fighters, relying instead on a sizable complement of bases for protection. Eventually, I pulled in additional hostile environment technology and was able to settle more planets; first Controlled Tundra (which gave me two more planets), and then Controlled Toxic. There were 3 different Inferno or Toxic planets in the east between my space and the Mrrshans, all of which I was able to land!

Settling the planet in the northeast has also brought me into contact with the Alkari, whose homeworld I've indicated in the picture above. With 14 planets to this point (and about to add a 15th at the white star in the far west), I was definitely liking my position. Diplomatically speaking, I enjoyed good relations with the Sakkra due to our continued trade and their Pacifist bent. I had even better relations with the Mrrshans, due to voting for them twice in indecisive council elections! (Poor kitties couldn't get support from anyone else, and I didn't have enough votes to win myself.)

However, in the years after 2400, a number of things began to change the diplomatic landscape. First of all, I settled another previously-hostile system in the center of the galaxy and gained contact with the other two races. Secondly, I saw that the Silicoids (by virtue of signing alliances with pretty much every AI race) had passed the Mrrshans in planets and would soon pass them in population. Finally, the Sakkra appeared to be building up a fleet on their southern border and I didn't like the looks of that very much. Here were the stats from this point in time:

At this point, I had to start thinking about how I should proceed with this game. It was clear that the Silicoids were going to take over the #2 spot in population relatively soon, so I had a limited window of opportunity to organize an anti-Mrrshan coalition and try to grab a win that way. Of course, this being the Mrrshans, that wasn't the most difficult thing to do! I dialed up kitty and asked her to declare war on the Alkari, which was happily accepted. The Alkari had an alliance with the Sakkra and Meklar, and the Meklar had an alliance with the Silicoids, so within a half-dozen turns the cats were at war with everyone other than myself.

Game, set, and match to my bears:

Of course, winning a Diplomatic victory against the Mrrshans is just a little TOO easy when the Alkari and Sakkra are present, so I abstained and the game continued. I just didn't feel like I had really done enough to win, if that makes sense. Just for the record though, if something were to go horribly wrong, please note that I had a Diplo win for the taking in 2425!

Now, where do I go next from here? My anti-cat strategy had worked out (I was mostly testing it to see how well I understood the MOO diplomacy system), but now I would need to shift tactics if I were to pursue a greater victory. Basically, the question came down to this: should I focus on attacking the Mrrshans next, or the Sakkra? They were both on my borders and formed the most obvious foes to target. Let's look at this from a couple of different angles.

The Mrrshans were diplomatically isolated and appeared to make the most obvious choice for an attack. But after I thought things over a bit more, I realized that the dynamics of the galactic council would make attacking them less appealing. Even though I had the largest population, I was far from holding a veto block of 1/3 votes in the council. By attacking the Mrrshans, I would only cement the Silicoids as my next opponent in 2450, and as good as my relations were with the Sakkra, there was no guarantee that they wouldn't vote for their rock buddies over me. Furthermore, attacking the cats would ensure that they would vote against me, very possibly creating a nightmare situation in which everyone was casting their votes against me. That would be very bad indeed!

Now contrast that to a possible anti-Sakkra campaign instead. If I were to side with the Mrrshans instead, the Silicoids would still be my election opponent, but I could count on getting votes from kitty, guaranteeing that the game would go on for the forseeable future. There was no chance of my "allies" liking another one of my allies more and voting for them instead of me, as in the first scenario. However, as I continued to wrangle with this decision, it fortunately resolved itself: the Sakkra dissolved our Non-Aggression Pact, basically issuing a declaration of cold war. Guess I'll be going after the lizards and courting the cats as my friends!

One nice thing that also supported this decision was the fact that the Sakkra had tons of high-level Planetology tech that I could steal and make use of. This was the first significant one that I managed to lift from them:

Soil Enrichment, excellent. Of course the lizards caught me and declared war, but hey, that's life!

I was hoping to fight just the Sakkra, but their tangled network of alliances soon pulled in the Alkari, then the Meklar, and finally the Silicoids against me. Argh, dogpile at its finest! (Although I had expected something along those lines, to be honest.) At war with four of the five races in the galaxy, I dialed up my one friend and signed them to a full alliance:

You said it. Together, kitty and I are gonna take 'em all out.