RefSteel's Meklar Challenge

Romulas, my point position world with the Humans, was just wiped out by their unstoppable Battleship Huge design. They quickly bombed out all of the factories, rendering the world all but useless to me. From here, the Humans could march uncontested to any of my other planets and wipe them out without breaking a sweat. What in the world should I do now?

I paused the game for a couple of minutes to think things over. The real problem was that Huge design sporting Antimatter Bombs. There really wasn't a whole lot I could do in terms of stopping that ship. For example, deploying a Class V Planetary Shield (which I did have in the tree) wouldn't make much of a difference. That would only take me from 2 points of shielding to 7, not enough to stop the 20-40 damage that those bombs do. What I really would have needed here was a better missile tech, to shoot down the ship before it could close with my bases and drop bombs all over them. Sadly, that was not an option; the missiles in the tree for this game were few and far between. Therefore, it didn't make much sense to swap research over from Planetology to Force Field or Weapons tech.

I really did not have an answer to this particular threat. Building more bases was a waste of time, and there was no technological solution anywhere on the horizon. After thinking it over, I ultimately decided to keep researching towards Controlled Radiated exactly as before. Yes, that represented a HUGE gamble, but it was made after a full consideration of the odds involved. I've played this game enough to get a pretty good sense of how the AI operates. And one of it's biggest flaws is that it lacks a killer instinct; it is not good at moving in and finishing off its prey. So even though the Humans could walk all over my undefended core worlds, I'm just going to cross my fingers and hope that that doesn't happen. It was the best move I could see to make!

The Humans bombed out the factories at Romulas, then paused to conduct a ground invasion to take over the planet. I focused on growing more colonists through eco spending, using some leftover reserve funds, and managed to outgrow the incoming attackers. The first invasion failed, forcing the Humans to pause and wait for another batch of attackers to limp in at warp 1 speed. That second force succeeded in taking Romulas, but altogether I had bought almost a dozen turns for myself. During that span, the Klackons or Psilons had "pulled the strings" (to use a Civ3 term) of the Humans, causing them to move their SOD fleet off to the east, obviously responding to some other unseen threat. And that bought me the time I needed to get back into the game!

Controlled Radiated finally popped, allowing me to even out my tech spending and end the ridiculous beeline down the Planetology branch. I still kept some decent funding going in that category, since my next option was Atmosphic Terraforming! With the golden Radiated tech in hand, I immediately began work on four colony ships to fill out my nearby neighborhood of hostile worlds.

While I was doing that, I caught another break as the Galactic Council met for the first time (actually rather late for Impossible) in the 2390s:

Obviously my backwards civ wasn't even nominated. Humans versus Psilons in the vote. This gave me the opportunity to score major brownie points by voting for the HUMANS, even though they were still at war with me. Then, since this first election took place around 2395, we had another vote just a couple of turns later, at which time I was able to vote for the Humans again. We still remained at war, with the important distinction that relations had now climed all the way up into the "Troubled" range, the highest they can go without peace being declared. At the very least, I had put myself into position to mediate an end to the war.

Radiated colony ships were constructed, then processed to their destinations. After crawling along at warp 1 speed, Quayal became the first new colony:

Radiated 40, that's not a bad world at all. If you look closely, you can see tiny green ships moving towards the purple star in the extreme south, the purple star in the northwest, and heading for the green star just to the northeast of it. Those three additional Radiated planets will take me up to eight total worlds. And remember, two of those Radiated planets were Ultra Rich! If I could just secure some time to build them all up, I would be in business.

A few turns later, finally the Humans were willing to sign peace with me:

They still weren't too pleased with me, but whatever. I had no false illusions about this deal with the Humans; they were Erratic, and they for sure would be coming back eventually. Any respite was to my advantage though, so I made the most of it. I did sign them to a minimum trade deal once they were willing to talk to me, just for relations purposes. No point in upgrading the trade deal, since I lacked faith in them staying peaceful.

Now the Klackons, on the other hand, were my one true ally in this game. I signed them to the minimal trade deal you see here, and later upgraded that to a whopping 800BC agreement. As enemies of the Humans, they were a natural ally, and we had essentially no border to dispute with one another. I happily maintained a Non-Aggression pact with them for most of the rest of this game.

The Sakkra, on the other hand... when I settled the northern Radiated worlds, I came into contact with them for the first time. I got this message from them literally on the turn after we met:

Great, just what I need. Fortunately, this was largely a phony war. The only planets of mine that were in their range were the new Radiated colonies, which the Sakkra lacked the tech to colonize. (Yes, for once the Meklar had better Planetology tech than the Sakkra!) The AI tends to ignore worlds it can't colonize in this game, so my developing worlds were essentially "invisible" to the Sakkra pathfinding. They were basically a non-threat, but I would not forget this insult later on.

Here's the galaxy map from approximately 2425, in light of my new colonies:

My position actually looks a bit better than it really is, since so many of these worlds are new and immature holdings. Still, overall things are definitely on the rise. I've actually got the same number of planets as the Humans (8), and eclipsed the Klackons in number of worlds. The Sakkra are clearly small fry in this galaxy, along with the Darloks. I am still not in contact with the Psilons, and can't see how they're doing, but it's pretty obvious that they're in the southeast, and a major power.

Looking at the map above, check out the blue stars directly to the east of the Sakkra and north of my topmost green flag. Those two worlds were both Rich! The one on the left was a Radiated Ultra Rich (Vox), and the one on the right a Toxic Rich world. I had scouted them early in the game, just lacked the environmental techs to settle there. Now I could build Radiated colony ships with Reserve Fuel tanks, so I happily grabbed the exposed planets:

Unfortunately, the Humans must have also discovered Controlled Radiated, because they settled the Toxic planet and bombed out my fledgling settlement here on Vox. When they moved their fleet away, I tried again to stand up a colony, only to fail repeatedly. We repeated this dance several times; I felt it was worth it, because even if I failed to grab Vox, at the least I was preventing the Humans from getting this hot piece of real estate. Besides, colony ships are cheap anyway. For an Ultra Rich planet, it was worth trying to convert a spud world into part of my empire.

Even leaving aside Vox, two of my new Radiated worlds were Ultra Rich. Ryoun, in the deep south, stood up factories at a sickening rate. Here it is about 15 turns after colonization, having already maxed factories, population, and built a planetary shield:

All I had to do was pour in the population from Tau Cygni and (Poor) Rigel. Those Ultra Riches build factories like no one's business. Thanks to terraforming +30, Ryoun has also gone from base size 40 to 70, a huge difference. I'll be able to add another 30 pop here from Atmospheric Terraforming eventually as well. It made an even bigger difference at some of my tiny Radiated worlds in the north, with base sizes of 15 (Crius) and 10 (Xendalla) respectively!

Quayal was my most exposed world, jutting out into the endless Human/Klackon warring zone. Fortunately the Klackons lacked Controlled Radiated tech (the world was thus invisible to them) and the Humans were, at least temporarily, at peace with me. Once Ryoun maxed out, I had it plowing all its production into the reserve fund, every single turn. That allowed me to stand up other worlds like Quayal in record time, even with the need to build additional Meklar factories. I had Improved Robotics III, so that meant factory counts of 5 times the population on every world! But if you can build 52 factories/turn, even 350 total factories can get knocked out pretty fast. After Quayal and Xendalla maxed, I would use reserve funding to have them add bases rapidly as well, not stopping until I had 25-30 on each world. Crius, being Ultra Rich, could take care of itself.

Here were the bar graphs in 2451, after several peaceful decades of developing my new colonies:

I still trail in virtually all categories, including the laughable state of the fleet strength bar. (Aside from my Scout2s, I lacked any ships at all!) Obviously I am not competitive on Technology or Total Power either. But what I have done is largely equaled the major players in Production (yay Meklar factories!) and gotten close to the leaders in Population. If I remember correctly, I had 6 votes in this council election to 7 for the Humans and 8 for the Psilons. My position remained dangerous, yet my Meklar were on the rise overall.

I soon found myself at war with the Humans again. Not by my choice, trust me. I had been sending population to Vox, the unsecured Ultra Rich in the far north, when the Humans bombed out my colony and planted their own. Thus, when my population arrived (after 5 turns of slow transit at warp 1 speed) they were interpreted by the game as invaders rather than colonists. I took over control of Vox, and the Humans responded by declaring war. Sigh. Sometimes this game can be really stupid in that regard. It might even have been worth it if I had secured Vox through this move, but it was just bombed back into oblivion again. I'm at war with the Humans with nothing to show for it!

Anyway, I'm not the sort of player who would reload just to fix that kind of mistake, so I'll just have to do the best I can. Here comes the first Human fleet, right on cue:

Sure enough, they're striking at Xendalla, my weakest position on the front lines. This ancient AI is pretty good at sniffing out the spot where the defenses are thin. Xendalla was a former size 10 (!) Radiated world, about as sad as you'll ever see initially. Fortunately, with +30 terraforming it's up to a decent size, and my Meklar bonus allowed me to stack 200 factories onto that little planet. I poured reserve spending into the world and managed to get the 19 bases you see above.

As far as the actual attack, the 17 Larges you see above were sporting Heavy Blasters, so they could shoot through my shielding and do some damage. I mostly focused on taking them down. The 464 stack of Smalls had Ion Cannons and were irrelevant, but the 14 stack was a new design called the Fighter. This one was carrying Antimatter Bombs! That was a real threat. I could easily kill this particular group, but I worried greatly that the Humans would bring a stack in the thousands to one of my worlds.

I fended off a number of probing attacks like the one above over the next dozen turns. Finally the Humans got serious and sent a large fleet to Meklon itself:

67 Large ships! All I have to say is thank goodness for those Meklar factories. With my Ultra Rich planets feeding money into the reserves, Meklon could churn out 10 bases per turn with no problem. That was necessary because (lacking a scanner upgrade) I couldn't tell where this fleet was going until it was almost too late. I ended up losing about 5 bases, while destroying the whole Human navy. The fact that I was still working with Merculites, well over 150 turns into the game, was another major problem!

Here is the map after the 2475 vote:

I've finally been introduced to the Psilons, after they took a turn controlling the spud world of Romulas. I even have enough range tech now to stay in contact with them on a permanent basis, which was good so that I could keep tabs on them in terms of watching the council vote. I also met the Darloks briefly, when they took over a disputed planet in the north, although at this point I had fallen out of contact with them again. My flag is planted on Vox at the moment, but it will be wiped out again for about the fourth time by another Human fleet soon. Argh!

Time to think about the strategy moving forward from here. I have eight real worlds to my name at this point, and relatively few prospects for expansion. The Humans and Psilons are the resident AI giants, and while I'd love to capture some tech from them, charging into the teeth of their fleets does not seem like a good idea. The Klackons are my one real friend, probably not a good idea to go cutting that off. (Besides, I need them as another counterweight to the Human/Psilon pair.) Darloks are too far away to do much. That leaves the Sakkra, who happen to hate my guts and have just declared war on me again. Perfect!

Even though I had the production base to attack a bit sooner, I simply lacked the technology to go on the offensive until now. There were two critical holes in the Meklar tech tree that ruled out an early attack. First of all, the lack of improved engines for faster transit times. Warp 2 and warp 3 engines were both missing; I actually traded something to the Klackons eventually for warp 2, but even that didn't help my transport speed. Trying to invade anything with warp 1 marines is an unbelievable headache - avoid if at all possible! Secondly, I lacked a decent gun upgrade for fleet to fleet combat. We had a nice early choice between Neutron Pellet Gun or Ion Cannon (I chose the former because it was cheaper), but very few options after that. I jumped from there to Merculite missiles, and then to Antimatter Bombs. After discovering the Antimatter bombs, my ONLY choice to move the tree forward was... Omega-V Bombs! Ouch. Not quite what I wanted! Since I had been at war with the Sakkra and possessed Computer tech, I had focused on trying to steal some of their weapons. I eventually stole their two lowest options (Ion Cannon and Neutron Blaster), and then used one of our few intervals of peace to trade for their next best gun, the Fusion Beam. Had to give up Inertial Stabilizer to do it, but it was worth it. I needed a real gun!

Now here were the designs I came up with:

I once remarked in a thread in the MOO forums that the Fusion Beam is one of my favorite weapons in the game. It arrives right about the time I'm getting ready to go on the offensive, and the option to use the normal (1-space) or heavy (2-space) version allows for great flexibility. I've won more games using this type of Autorepair Huge model than I can even count. Meanwhile, because Antimatter Bombs are still too bulky to fit on Small ships, I've gone with a Medium hull and tricked it out with max Computers and speed. Inertial Stabilizer gives me combat speed of 4, fast enough to outrun old missiles completely! I only had just enough room to squeeze in the second bomb, actually having to use default Titanium armor rather than Duralloy (note the 18 hit points). If anything actually hits this bomber, it's going to die instantly. Pure speed on this design!

Although Sssla was right on my border, I opted to hit a weaker target first. Imra was also nearby, and since I had recently discovered Advanced Space Scanner tech, I could coordinate my attack to send transports along with the fleet:

It's always best to have them hit at the same time, if possible. Of course, sometimes you'll be missing the top scanner tech, and that's just life. Note that I only have a single Fusion gunship ready, yet I ordered the attack anyway. I was not impressed by the Sakkra fleet; by the time they could organize a real defense, I would have more Fusions produced and ready to go.

My bombers perform beautifully, completely outrunning the slow Hyper Vs fired by the Sakkra bases. The marines then land and do their job:

Our first conquest of the game! I didn't capture anything too useful at Imra, but as they say, even outdated junk helps with miniaturization. I paused here for a couple of turns, pouring additional colonists and reserve funds into Imra to stand it up faster. When it was close to maxing factories after about five turns, I moved next door to Sssla. The first invasion saw 170 attackers FAIL to take out the 130 defenders! We had exactly the same gropo equipment, so that was a bit of a bad break. Nevertheless, the second wave got the job done:

Excellent. I wonder what the Sakkra were thinking now about trading me those Fusion Beams, hmm? And look, a decent-sized planet that is not Radiated! Amazing. I pulled the full six techs from Sssla, including this gem:

That would allow me to add a hundred or more factories on almost every planet. I also pulled the top Sakkra gun tech, the Megabolt Cannon (another one of my absolute favorite weapons). When I redesigned my gunships later on with improved technology, I would replace the Fusion Beams with this updated weapon.

Things seem to be going my way now. If only I could get the Humans off my back so that I could concentrate solely on the lizards!

This was the most serious threat to my territory in quite some time. The Frigate and Couriers are uselessly outdated, but the other two pose a major danger. Both of the other ships are packing Antimatter Bombs - that's almost 600 bombs on the Small stack! The good news is that my current scanner now gives me plenty of warning of any incoming attack. (Check F8 EVERY turn!) I've been able to use - you guessed it - tons of reserve spending to pile up the bases high and dry at Aquilae. I would end up going into the battle with an even 50, and surviving successfully with 35 remaining, after shooting down every last bomber. Whew!

The 2500 Galactic Council marked another milestone: the first time that I was nominated for the vote:

As always, that brings a significant amount of danger. When it's an AI vs. AI vote, the races tend to split on the outcome. Here, I knew that I would be in trouble; the Humans and Sakkra both voted against me, as expected since we were at war. The Klackons signed an alliance with the Psilons just two turns before the vote, which I was frantically trying to break. They ended up asking for Antimatter Bomb tech to break their alliance with the Psilons, which I gave them. That turned out not to be needed, as the Darloks voted for me, but I couldn't talk to the Darloks and had no way of knowing how they would have voted. If the Darloks (3 votes) and Klackons (4 votes) had both voted against me, I WOULD have lost the game. You've really got to keep an eye on the diplomacy and population graphs in this game if you want to avoid a Diplomatic defeat!