Here's the situation after the inconclusive 2450 election:
The Darloks are now out to 20 planets, which is distinctly bad news. Furthermore, they finished researching Controlled Radiated and began grabbing some of the Hostile worlds on my borders, including an Ultra Rich! I had just finished researching Controlled Radiated myself, and so we entered into a race to see who would grab those hot commodities first.
Since the Darloks were way ahead in tech, what I really needed to do was invade one of their worlds and capture it intact, pulling some freebies in the invasion. The one problem was that the Darloks had vastly superior gropo equipment compared to me (again, a function of my inferiority in technology). Since Rich and Ultra Rich planets can be stood up so quickly with factories, I therefore kept them locked in hot potato status at this point, bombing them constantly whenever the AI fleets moved away. I was in no position to invade an intact planet, so far better to keep the Darloks from entrenching there through periodic bombing.
It's wasn't too long before I had an opporunity to grab the Ultra Rich planet I wanted, so I loaded up the transports from the nearby worlds and coordinated a major invasion:
83 against 4? Well, this will be a walk in the park, right? Heh, did I mention that the Darloks had a SLIGHT edge in gropo tech?
OMG, those 4 colonists killed 27 of my soldiers! Almost 8:1 casualties, scary stuff. Still, it doesn't take a genius to figure out why that took place: the Darloks have Armored Exoskeltons (+20) as well as Fusion Rifles to my Hand Lasers (+15), plus +5 for being the defender. If one side has a modifier as large as +40, the other side almost might as well not bother. Clearly, I had to upgrade my tech in this area before being able to lead a major invasion. The good news is that Armored Exoskeleton was available in my Construction tree, so I began working on that tech at a decent clip.
I had two crippling tech holes in this game: no access to Robotics Control upgrades and no decent missile techs. I tried to steal Robotics III from the Meklar for the longest time, but (predictably) their spies were quite good and held off my efforts. Yet amazingly they were willing to trade the tech to me in exchange for Repulsor Beams - what a steal for me! Repulsors are an effective early-game special, but I wasn't exactly planning on FIGHTING the Meklar, if you know what I mean. I then sent Repulsors to the Klackons as well for another major tech upgrade: Enhanced Eco Restoration (5/1). Ordinarily I don't like to trade away anything that benefits the AI, but in this case I feel it was more than justified.
I couldn't do much about the missile tech gap, however. I've got Hyper-Xs and no promise of anything else until Pulsons (crossing fingers...) That made researching Bio Toxin Antidote even more pressing, because there was no possible way I could shoot down the Darlok death ships before they closed with my planets and dropped spores everywhere. Thus it was an enormous relief to get this breakthrough a little later:
So much for that particular threat! While the Darloks had been moving their death fleets around a lot, they never sent them into the teeth of my planets. They almost certainly could have rolled me up pretty quickly if they had done so - that was a major break for me!
Now I tried to stand up Toranor (the Ultra Rich we had been struggling over) but the Darloks brought their main fleet and obliterated it with ease. This being the AI, of course, they didn't have the discipline to hold that fleet over the planet until it could build factories and bases, so when the Darlok navy moved on, I swept in behind them and grabbed the planet back. Even though there were a mere 30 or so factories on the world, I pulled a tech in the invasion, and a good one:
Atmospheric Terraforming, very nice indeed. That had been missing from my tree, as well as Soil Enrichment and Advanced Soil Enrichment. (Otherwise my Planetology tree was quite nice, but not in those areas!)
While I was sneaking in behind the Darlok fleet and grabbing Toranor, they were sending the same ships towards my Ultra Poor planet of Helos. I actually had 3 bases there (unlike some of my Succession Game comrades, I usually try to stand up Poor and Ultra Poor worlds with factories/bases!), but this fleet rendered that irrelevant:
Heavy Fusion Beams on every model?! Not good. Even worse, that Death Wyn design has the High Energy Focus special AND Class VII (!) Deflectors. Remember, I still only have Hyper-X missiles; those ships are virtually immune to my bases. Therefore it was no surprise when an invasion force captured the planet:
Just LOOK at that gropo tech! TRITANIUM armor?! That's two levels up from Zortrium, adding another +10 to the Darlok gropo rolls, for a disgusting +50 overall. It's rare anyone but the Bulrathi gets that big of an edge in ground combat, so I'm really up the creek in terms of invasions here. Now when I get Armored Exoskeleton myself, that disadvantage will drop to "only" +30, but until that point there's really no purpose in trying any ground invasions at all. 50 Darlok colonists could kill 300 of my soldiers at this point.
Overall, however, this was a net strategic gain to me. I lost an Ultra Poor world and picked up and Ultra Rich one in turn - not too shabby! That is, if I could hold the dang thing, of course - which might not be the easiest thing in the world:
The Darloks have Advanced Soil and about 60% of the population in this galaxy; that message also means they have 24 systems. If even one of the other AIs votes for them, I'm going to lose this game - but fortunately, I've had them all at war with the Darloks ever since that initial declaration. It wasn't a matter of cheezing the AI, just simple survivial on my part. If the Alkari stayed neutral in this conflict, they would vote for the Darloks and that would be that. You do what you have to in order to contain a runaway AI!
I got a decent amount of time to build up Toranor before the Darloks came calling, but when they did, they didn't fool around:
Thank goodness I had Class V Planetary Shield! Otherwise you could have stuck a fork into me as far as this battle was concerned. I do have 30 bases, but still stuck firing those lousy Hyper-Xs (good thing I went back to research them though, or that Death Wyn design would have been invulnerable to my bases!) I took out the other ships first, then gradually wore down those Wyn designs; I held the planet but only had 13 bases left when the battle ended. QUITE a close call! I pumped Reserve spending here to repair the damage and add even more bases.
After missing out on Robotics III, it turned out that I was missing Robotics IV as well - nasty holes in the tree there. (The one piece of good news there is that the Darloks were also lacking early Robotics upgrades!) My Computer tech had surged ahead of the Two-Planet Empire Meklar by this time, however, and so I was able to lift this important discovery from the machines:
Yay! Another problem solved. When I finished researching Anti-Matter Torpedoes, I got more good news in the Weapons department:
Pulsons are available, thank goodness. The cats are supposedly rated "Excellent" in Weapons tech, after all, but you wouldn't have known it from my missile selection in this game! I shifted a substantial amount of research over to that category, hoping I could ride out my situation a little longer.
The Darloks had no such ideas, however:
This is the largest fleet I've seen so far, although fortunately it came at Toranor and its 60 bases. (I had some other worlds in range with only ~10 bases, so I don't know what the AI was thinking here.) The good news is that I've upgraded to Class VI Deflectors for an additional 2 points of planetary shielding, but that's a LOT of AI ships. Once again I concentrated on knocking out the more weakly-shielded ships first, then began the slow process of wearing down the Death Wyns. The battle lasted a lot of combat rounds, but in the end the Darloks didn't have quite enough weaponry to penetrate my shielding. I lost 11 bases, and they lost the bulk of their fleet:
I've thus managed to defend myself against the kind of threats that the Darloks can currently muster. Now here's the bad news: they've just discovered Class IX Deflectors!
If they put that on a ship, it will be completely safe from attack by my bases. I don't exactly expect the AI to pull off a move that clever, but I'd better get a move on those Pulson Missiles anyway!