Here was the galaxy map in the wake of my setback:
I was reduced now to a mere three worlds, my original triumvirate of Meklon, Tau Cygni, and Incendius. Worse still, the Alkari have pulled in more Planetology tech and now control the Dead planet to the south of Incendius that I had been hoping to get. I did have Controlled Toxic in the tree, so I could theoretically have gotten there first, but only at the expense of delaying waste cleanup techs further, and that did not seem like a wise decision. Fortunately, Enhanced Eco was finally about to pop, and that would help me out enormously.
This still is not a favorable galaxy map, however. The Alkari have a full 10 systems (out of only 24 on the whole map), and when you factor in dead stars and Orion, they have almost as many planets as everyone else combined. The ONLY good thing about losing Zoctan is that it has taken the Mrrshans up to 5 systems themselves. Maybe the cats will be able to serve as a counterweight to the birds. Maybe. That still seemed like a forelorn hope at this point, but frankly I was grasping at straws.
With three worlds to my name and no hope for gaining any others in the forseeable future, I concentrated on building bases and doing research. I had no fleet to speak of, and little reason to build one. Fortunately, my Weapons research into Merculites finally matured, giving my bases more than twice the firepower as before. Why is that significant? Because the Alkari continued to come after me in full-fledged cold war mode:
I was the weakest power in the area, and the birds knew it. With more than a dozen missile bases on Tau Cygni I easily smoked this particular attack, but they had a lot of ships moving around. A lot. My lack of shielding was a major problem; Class III deflectors wasn't going to be able to stop much at all. I didn't have Planetary Shield V in the tree, so I resolved to try and find a way to trade for it or steal it.
The immediate problem, however, was making sure that the Alkari wouldn't win the next council vote outright. With so many planets, they had to be close to 50% of the galactic population all by themselves. With one or two votes from other races, this game could be over real soon. I couldn't even talk to the Sakkra or Darloks, so I concentrated my diplomatic efforts on the cats. Even though they had taken Zoctan away from me, I cozied up to the cats and managed to boost relations into the "Relaxed" zone. And when the inevitable Mrrshan/Alkari war finally broke out shortly thereafter, I was able to heave a sigh of relief. So long as the cats and the birds were occupied with fighting one another, I would have a chance to prolong the game and hopefully make a move later on.
I still had a gaping hole in my defenses due to lacking any Planetary Shield tech. I had done some "see what they've got" spying with everyone earlier, and that revealed that the cats had the coveted Planetary Shield V gem that I so badly wanted. The one place I did have an advantage was in Computer tech, so I gambled and turned my spies loose on the cats. If I were to get caught, I could potentially bring my one ally down on my head and lose this game VERY quickly. But instead luck was on my side this time, and I nabbed the tech I wanted within a dozen turns!
That brought my planets up to 8 points of shielding, enough to be safe against most early game attacks. With the tech I wanted in hand, I shut off espionage against the Mrrshans and shifted it to the Alkari. Those jerks were already targeting me anyway, so there was no reason to stay on good terms with them. Eventually they caught me stealing something and declared war.
During the Mrrshan/Alkari wars, Zoctan had been captured and recaptured several times by each power. One area where I did have an advantage was in gropo tech, so when the Alkari fleet skipped away to attack some other target I snuck in and managed to take over the planet again!
Before you celebrate too much though, I should mention that the Alkari immediately brought one of their giant fleets back and bombed the daylights out of the colony. The main reason I had invaded was to capture tech, not to claim and hold the planet myself. Zoctan became a spud world, constantly changing hands between the Mrrshans and Alkari. I wish I could have held it myself, but I just didn't have the fleet strength. There was no way I could compete with the thousands (yes, thousands) of Small ships the birds were flying around with.
Here's the galaxy map from sometime in the 2400s:
It looks almost identical to the last one that I posted, aside from the fact that I now had researched additional range (or possibly I looted it from the Alkari) and gained contact with the missing two races. Although I tried to stand up Zoctan, the effort was doomed to failure and I was soon back to my old three worlds again.
With little to do but build bases and conduct more research, I spent a lot of time talking to the other races diplomatically. I had to make sure that the Darloks and Sakkra wouldn't vote for the Alkari in the council election, because even their 1 or 2 votes could potentially put the birds over the top. In short, I stoked the flames of hate by keeping everyone else locked into perpetual war against the Alkari. The other races would occasionally make peace, after which I would have to bribe them back into the war with a gift of cash or a tech. It was a painful way to do things, but it was working. The game continued to be prolonged again and again!
Here is just one of many inconclusive votes, this one from either 2450 or 2475. They all tended to run together after a while. I had absolutely no chance of winning, but so long as I could keep anyone from voting for the birds (who had almost 50% of the galactic population) they couldn't win either, and the game would go on. Still with only three worlds to my name, I was simply holding on. The game dragged on and on and on, but the Alkari couldn't beat me (despite massive advantages in every category) because they couldn't crack my defenses!
Here's a typical battle at Incendius, my Rich planet. (Hmm, size 65? That means it was size 45 before terraforming. Looking like my estimate of size 40 was pretty close!) This attack was not insignificant, but with 30 bases sporting Merculites, I was able to beat it off. I would have been in DIRE shape without the Planetary Shield V that I stole, let me tell you!
This stalemate persisted throughout the 2400s, but it was not an equilibrium that could be maintained forever. The Alkari were researching faster than anyone else, and as they continued to field more advanced designs, they slowly began to gain military superiority over the AI races. Most troubling of all, they raced out to a gigantic lead in Planetology tech, allowing them to grow their worlds to humongous sizes. You can see that reflected in the population bar graphs:
The Alkari have Terraforming +40, Atmospheric Terraforming, and Advanced Soil Enrichment. They're out of control on every bar graph, but the population one is really disturbing. If even ONE race votes for them, I'm going to lose this game, and frankly we're getting close to the point where they'll simply be able to vote themselves the winner. The Mrrshans in particular had really been taking a pounding, and prospects for their survival were beginning to look grim. I had to do something!
Fortunately, with the birds occupied at tearing the cats a new one, I had an opportunity to go after Hyboria, their most exposed planet in the west. I designed a Medium ship packing Merculite missiles and an Antimatter Bomb, then managed to swoop in and capture the planet! And in the north, I briefly occupied the spud world of Zoctan again, only to see it get hit by the Nova event while I was controlling it, turning it into a Radiated husk. What did all that mean? Let's take a look at the galaxy map first:
Note that the destruction of the Mrrshans is well under way by this point, and that the Sakkra have been completely destroyed by the Alkari. They never managed to get a second planet, and a monster avian fleet took out Sssla (which has now become another spud world). I wasn't sorry to see the lizards go, because in one of the recent election they actually voted for the Alkari and brought them to within ONE vote of victory! (Birds had 12 votes, plus 1 from the Sakkra, for 13/20 overall = 65%.)
The good news is that although the cats are beginning to falter, and the Darloks remain weak and unimportant, my own Meklar are on the rise. Out to five worlds now, with the VERY big "if" I can manage to hold onto Hyboria. That planet, the former Dead one I had hoped to get in the early going, had been heavily terraformed by the Alkari, taking it to size 165!
You can see the Gaia environment in the shot above. I'm... still quite some distance away from Advanced Soil, heh. I had Incendius sending a quarter of its population to Hyboria every turn, desperately trying to stand it up fast enough to hold it. A major, major help was the fact that the Darloks had a large fleet in orbit over the world as well (they had been hoping to colonize the planet themselves) and due to our alliance, that meant that they were helping protect my planet! A bit of a lucky break there. So even though Alkari fleets continued to fly about with impunity elsewhere, I gained a temporary reprieve here, getting enough time to build factories and then add enough bases for security. With a size 165 planet added to my empire, I was in drastically better shape than before.
Meanwhile, at Zoctan the Nova event had made the planet Radiated - a huge stroke of good fortune!
No one in the galaxy had Controlled Radiated in their trees. (The red star at the bottom of that picture was a Radiated world, which may as well not have existed in this game.) As a result, even though the planet size dropped further, down to size 20, Zoctan became completely invisible to the AIs. That allowed me to build up the planet - oh so slowly! - over dozens and dozens of turns until it too was secure. While Zoctan remained a rather small and weak planet, having five worlds instead of three was a dramatic step forward for me.
Look again at the above picture. See the green ships beelining throughout my territory? I continued to be attacked by the Alkari continuously, fleet after fleet, turn after turn. Tau Cygni and Incendius came under constant assault, and the birds had enough range to target Meklon as well. As a result, I had to spend on the bases heavily at every single world:
Why yes, the Alkari have brought over 5000 ships to attack me at Meklon. The good news is that their designs in the 1600 and 2600 stacks are both packing Graviton Beams, which are useless against my bases. (Graviton Beam does 1-15 damage, which gets cut in half against planets. I had 10 points of shielding.) Now if I had NOT stolen the Mrrshan Planetary Shield V, those ships WOULD have been able to punch through my shields, and I would have been dead a hundred times over. That tech steal was probably the single most important move I made in the entire game.
The 987 ship stack was employing the upgrade from the Graviton Beam, the Tachyon Beam, which does 1-25 points of damage. That was enough to get through my shielding, so I focused on taking them out. I would repeat battles like this over and over again for literally more than a hundred turns. I killed THOUSANDS of Alkari ships. They were invicible in fleet to fleet combat, but couldn't muster the strength to punch through my defenses. And so the game continued, as I just kept holding on and holding on...