Between a Rock and a Hard Place

At war once more with the Klackons, I found myself adding additional bases all over the place yet again. Fortunately they seemed more interested in wrangling over disputed planets with the Silicoids than charging into the teeth of my defenses at this point. Here's the map from this point in time:

Again, not a huge change from before. I still have the same eight planets; the biggest difference is that the Klackons have made substantial gains, many of the new worlds coming at the expense of the Sakkra. (Their alliance had fallen by the wayside at this point, and the bugs took advantage of that to grab several worlds.) I was actually glad to see the Klackons gain some extra planets at this point; it meant my population would fall back below theirs, and the game would go on as the rocks and bugs split the vote. Of course the prospects for actually WINNING the game, as opposed to simply prolonging it, were looking rather bleak.

I knew I had to make a move at some point, and with the Klackons having declared war, now seemed like as good a time as any to start building an attack fleet. I didn't have any bombs in my tree, but the Sakkra did, and so I traded them something for Fusion Bomb technology (don't remember what, sorry). I had enough miniaturization to fit one of them on a Small ship, so that's what I built. I could build about 120 per turn, so I did that for over a dozen turns until I had more than 2000 ships. Even with that many ships, there was no guarantee that I would be able to do much of anything against the Klackons. They had a lot of bases everywhere, and 13 points of shielding (Class VIII deflectors plus a Class V planetary shield).

Then my spies gave me disastrous news: just as I'm planning on attacking the Klackons, they discover the Class XV Planetary Shield, rendering my Fusion Bombers completely obsolete! Talk about bad news. I thought about attacking the Silicoids, but they had about 18 points of shielding as well, and pissing off my one and only ally did not seem like a wise move. Then something whispered at me to check the galactic map again.

Take a look above. See the one green flag out among the red Klackon ones in the east? That's Imra, an Ultra Rich (!) Sakkra colony. The Klackons and Silicoids had technology so advanced as to render my ships useless but the Sakkra were short of that by quite a bit. Needless to say, I could certainly use an Ultra Rich world for my ninth planet, and since the lizards and bugs were at war, attacking the Sakkra would actually boost relations with the Klackons as well! Got to get peace with them and then shore things up to make sure I don't lose a future vote (which will be against the Silicoids, naturally). Orders are processed, and many transports directed to Imra:

I had scouted the place in the early game, thus the ability to send transports along with the fleet. Taking out the bases was no problem, given my massive number of Fusion ships. The Sakkra had a major advantage in gropo tech, but I sent a LOT of birds. My first wave actually failed to take the planet, but a followup force of 75 landing a turn behind cleaned up the mess, with further losses:

Zortrium Armor, plus Armored Exoskeleton, compared to my Titanium Combat Armor? Yeoch! (That's a 30-point penalty right there, plus the Sakkra get another 5 points for being the defender.) Good thing I had researched that Ion Rifle earlier so that I was "only" at a 25 point disadvantage overall! Now the Sakkra did declare war as a result of this aggressive action, but losing Imra also dropped them out of contact with me, so I didn't see anything else from them for quite some time. I pulled several useful techs in the invasion (although nothing critical), not to mention the very real benefit of a decent-sized Ultra Rich world. Within a couple of turns, I was already up to double digit base counts at Imra and feeling relatively secure.

That meant I could now turn to dealing with the Klackon threat. They continued to rebuff my efforts at peace, although relations had ticked up a bit when I attacked the Sakkra. The major danger at the moment was from the Klackon Lancer design, a Medium ships sporting 2 Pulson (!) missiles. The bugs didn't have too many of them yet, and thankfully they didn't have a 5-rack of missiles onboard, but even two shots was bad enough news. My bases still only had 7 points of shielding - Pulsons do 20 per shot! The bugs sent about 30 of them (along with many other irrelevant designs) after Tauri, and even those small numbers managed to kill 15 of my 25 bases there (with just two shots!) I HAD to upgrade my shielding immediately, or my worlds were going to start getting run over.

Help came from an unlikely source: the Silicoids. They had Planetary Shield X in their tree, and amazingly were willing to trade it to me. The asking price? Soil Enrichment!

That's kind of an insider MOO joke there; the rocks can never use either Soil Enrichment or Atmospheric Terraforming, so the tech I sent them was 100% useless. Yet the AI values Soil Enrichment so highly, it's still willing to trade away really good stuff, not knowing that the tech means nothing to the Silicoids. I probably wouldn't make use of a hole in the programming like that ordinarily, but I had little choice here, especially with my Alkari being so weak at Force Field technology (I still haven't even had a chance to upgrade from Class II Deflectors!)

Increasing my shielding from 7 points to 12 was a major upgrade, but I was still taking too much damage from those Pulson missile boats the Klackons were using. Part of the problem is that my bases still had the default Titanium armor and only 50 hit points! I could cut down on my losses substantially by upgrading my armor, but there had been neither of the first two options (Duralloy and Zortrium) in the tree. To remedy this problem, I took the step of trading for Duralloy Armor tech with (of all races) the Mrrshans. Heh. War makes strange bedfellows. With improved shields and 50% more base hit points, I was able to make an effective response to the current Klackon threat, although a true Pulson SOD still had the possibility of running over my worlds, should one form.

With the discovery of Warp 5 engines a little later, I was able to design two new ships, both Medium-sized: a Stinger missile boat and an Omega-V Bomber. I wish I could have put the Omega-V bomb on a Small hull, but it was nowhere close to fitting, so I went with the Medium size and loaded it up with max possible speed, Computers, Inertial Stabilizer, and whatever ECM would fit. Combat speed 4 would be enough to close to an enemy planet's surface in just two combat rounds, which is often enough to be decisive. Once I had about 100 of each design (didn't take too long now that I had an Ultra Rich planet helping out), I was ready to go on the offensive:

Against the MRRSHANS! Yes, the kitties have drawn the short stick in this galaxy and I'm gonna take 'em out. In short, I desperately needed to invade someone to pick up tech, to deal with my crippling technological backwardness. The rocks and bugs were way too strong, and my attack on the Bulrathi had unfortunately failed earlier. But the Mrrshans were weak, and they had quite a few techs I could use, including a whopping assortment of Computer tech. In the invasion of Rhilus, I also managed to pick up this:

Class II Deflectors to Class VII, just like that. Now I actually have a decent chance of stopping those Klackon missile boats! Even better, as their usual Ruthless selves, the cats had made enemies with EVERYONE, somehow managing to become the hated foe of both the Klackons AND the Silicoids. My attack at Rhilus must have captured the attention of the bugs, because they came calling and asking for peace. Finally! Maybe they realized that I finally had enough planetary shielding to safeguard myself from their ships, heh.

Just to give you an idea of where I stand technologically, here's the current spying report with the bugs:

I've got Warp 5 engines, so I'm essentially even with the Klackons in Propulsion. Of course, I'm rated "Excellent" in that field while they're rated "Poor", and the disparity elsewhere is telling. My top Computer tech at this point is Battle Computer Mark V; what the Klackons have over me is just obscene. Robotic Controls VII?! That's tech level 48; I'm in the low 20s somewhere. Needless to say, spying against the bugs was worse than a waste of time.

Here's the new galactic map as I head after the Mrrshans in earnest. Rhilus is the yellow flag below the cursor's finger:

Now you can finally see how I needed Imra (the other yellow flag by itself, surrounded by red Klackon worlds) to have enough range to reach the Mrrshans. Yes, the clock is running out for the cats, as their overly-aggressive personality is leading them to get dogpiled for the umpteen-millionth time. It's a race at this point to see how many of their planets I'll manage to get before the other AIs finish them off.

Here are my own planets:

I've just discovered Advanced Soil Enrichment and all my planets are piling on additional population and factories. You can also see that I've got three different Poor or Ultra Poor planets (argh) as well as my substantial base count numbers, although base spending is now nicely under control thanks to Robotics IV and higher overall planet sizes from terraforming. That number was a lot higher than 6.6% for most of the game, let me assure you!

Here's the latest Klackon SOD I saw cruising around near my worlds:

Good thing that 32,000 ship stack is on a hopelessly obsolete Small design! (I think it had either Ion Cannons or Neutron Blasters on it.) You can also see the Lancer design that was giving me so many headaches before, with its Pulson missile racks. Let me tell you, if they had sent 363 of them at me before I upgraded my shield technology, this game would have ended REAL fast. Good to know I was at peace with the bugs - for now, at least. (That red planet above was a Dead world spud that changed hands incessantly throughout the game. No one was ever able to hold it for long.)

Anyway, once Rhilus was secured I moved right on to the Mrrshan homeworld:

Where I looted several important Computer techs, including this gem:

Mark VII, fantastic. That was a generation higher than my current research into Mark VI. I also picked up several other lower-level Computer techs that had been missing from my tree, including a scanner upgrade (been waiting for one of those for ages).

Attacking the Mrrshans pleased everyone, since they were at war with all races. I was able to pass the Klackons in population without having to worry about a thing. When the 2575 election rolled around, I was nearly able to escape with a Diplo victory:

Just a bit short at 29/45 = 64.4%. The Klackons and Sakkra (who had reformed their alliance and were now back to being friends again) both supported me, and further population growth would tip me over the line and ensure a win (so long as I retained their support, that is). This important tech discovery helped guarantee that I would live long enough to make sure that day would come:

Scatter Pack VII, NASTY tech if you're on the receiving end of it. Don't even bother trying to attack with swarms of Small ships (these missile are very non-Alkari friendly!) The Klackons and Silicoids were both mostly using larger ship sizes, but the Sakkra were running around with packs of antimatter bomb Small ships. Their main stack had over 1000 of them! Not that I was exactly afraid of the lizards, but this all but rendered that threat a nonissue.

Capturing Imra was the turning point. Invading and looting the Mrrshan core worlds, as well as trading/capturing additional shield technology, looks like the winning move. There will be no more opportunity to lose this game.