Twitch Livestream Playthrough: Big Scaredy Cat

MOO AGA45-46
Mrrshans, Impossible, Large, 5 Opponents

Watch this game on YouTube (Playlist Link)

This is the short summary of a game that I played on Livestream in early 2024 as part of my ongoing Civ Fridays series. I always get a lot of requests for more Master of Orion and in particular there had been some requests to feature the Mrrshans on stream. The cats are generally regarded as the weakest race in Master of Orion and that's certainly been my experience across dozens of games, both when playing them myself and when seeing the AI faceplant with the kitties. The Mrrshans have the racial bonus of gaining +4 to their targeting computers in combat along with being rated Excellent in the Weapons tech field. This racial bonus itself is actually quite strong and makes a huge difference in combat, especially early skirmishes where the cats are running around with an attack level of 5 when everyone else has a rating of 1 or 2. However, these advantages are more than counterbalanced by the complete lack of any economic abilities (Weapons is the least-important tech field and the cats are rated Poor in Construction tech which wastes most of this edge) combined with a truly absymal diplomatic situation that rivals that of the Darloks. The Mrrshans start the game "Uneasy" with the Klackons, Bulrathi, and of course the Darloks while also being "Wary" with the Sakkra and having the single worst relationship in the whole game by being "Restless" with the Alkari. It's a good thing that the cats are strong at early fighting because it's nearly impossible to avoid conflict with their many racial enemies.

The small twist that I decided to do for this game was running it on a Large map instead of my normal Medium setup. Large maps have 50% more total stars, 72 instead of 48, and this results in the expansion phase lasting longer and tech moving faster. All of this tends to make the game easier and my experience has been that Large/Huge maps are noticeably more friendly to the player than the smaller map sizes. They also come with considerably more micromanagement work, however, which is why I rarely play on Large maps and I've never run a game on a Huge one. We selected a bunch of cat puns for naming rights in this game, with a homeworld of Catnip ruled by Emperor Mittens, and the game was afoot.

Unfortunately everything seemed to go wrong right from the start for these poor Mrrshans. The closest planet in range for the colony ship was an Arid 60 world... which was Ultra Poor, ugh. We named it Litterbox and planned to use it for research and population transfers since factory construction would be non-existent. Mrrshan scout ships expanded outwards from the south-central portion of the galaxy only to find one of the bleakest settings that I can recall experiencing. In addition to the second world being Ultra Poor, four of the next nine planets encountered were Poor or Ultra Poor as well! Some of them were relatively large planets but still, come on! Every key direction of expansion would force me to travel through Poor or Ultra Poor worlds which would be unable to defend themselves for ages on end. The one bit of good news was finding an Artifacts planet in the south... which handed over Improved Terraforming +10, tied for the cheapest tech in the whole game. Geez, thanks a lot.

Making matters worse was the diplomatic environment of this galaxy. While the Alkari were thankfully absent, I had drawn the Sakkra, Klackons, Bulrathi, and the Darkloks who are all racial enemies of the cats. The Sakkra turned out to have spawned at the minimum possible distance off to the west and expanded directly towards my planets. We came into contact around 2325 and the Erratic lizards declared war two turns after the first meeting. This is not unusual for the Mrrshans, meeting the Sakkra or Alkari and plunging directly into war on the next turn, but it was a terrible result nonetheless to have violent conflict at such an early date. The Sakkra left me alone for about a dozen turns but then started showing up with a series of Large ships shortly after 2340. I had nothing but my homeworld and a couple of fledgling Poor/Ultra Poor colonies while somehow having to fend off max aggression from an Impossible AI at way, way too early of a date. Meanwhile, I was getting GNN messages that the Silicoids were running around unopposed on the northern side of the galaxy and snapping up everything in sight. This was about the worst possible situation that I could find myself in and I ended up abandoning the game as a loss just before 2350.

By the way, this game was a classic example of why the races with poor diplomacy like the Darkloks and Mrrshans are some of the hardest to play despite having racial abilities that are pretty good. They are by far the most likely empires to get pulled into early warfare where the player is at their weakest and the AI is at its strongest. If I were playing the Humans from this position, I probably could have kept the Sakkra peaceful and maybe had time to expand over to the southeast where there were some unclaimed worlds that hopefully were not Ultra Poor. That was never a possibility with the cats though. This is also the reason why I still rate the Psilons as better than the Klackons: the increased production of the bugs is probably a little bit better than the extra research from the brains, however the Psilons have no racial enemies while a whole bunch of aliens hate the Klackons. That matters a lot in terms of overall game difficulty.

There was nothing to do other than roll a new Large map and start over again. This time I found myself at the opposite end of map RNG factors as the revived Mrrshans were apparently placed in the Garden of Eden. I had a defensible corner start in the southwest with no AI races in the immediate vicinity; I would avoid making contact with anyone for some time and could run the preferred farmer's gambit opening. The planets in this part of the map were the real story though, with one after another rolling not only as habitatable but with colossal sizes to boot. This time around the second world was a Terran 95 planet and the nearly stars held Terran 90, Jungle 105, and Terran 110 planets (!) along with still very solid Arid 65 and Ocean 75 worlds in the south. None of these planets were in dispute: my Mrrshans would easily colonize all of them and have an outstanding core for pushing into the rest of the galaxy. Was Master of Orion's map generation somehow trying to pay me back for the horrific start in the previous game? If so, I certainly wasn't complaining.

Thus the rest of the early game proceeded without issue at a blistering economic pace. I maxed out the homeworld with factories and population, researched the initial Range 4 tech since Range 5 wasn't needed to expand, then began cranking out colony ships while the second colony of Nyarl easily supplied everything with population due to its large size. The Bulrathi eventually popped up with a colony at the red star in the northeast corner of the above screenshot, placing the nearby Jungle 105 world at risk. I had to take a roundabout route there due to range concerns and was worried that the bears might snap it up for themselves. Fortunately they were content to sign a max trade agreement and turned out to be an ideal neighbor despite drawing an Erratic personality. They left me alone and I was happy to leave them alone while colonizing everything else I could reach.

A lengthy period of factory building followed as I was allowed to develop my gigantic planets in peace during the second half of the 2300s. The Jungle 105 planet (Whiskers) was my point world in the northeast which was happily ignored by the AI races and therefore able to max factories before building missile bases, then afterwards used as a springboard to a series of hostile worlds further east. The AI races were apparently hurting for hostile environment techs and these planets were left unclaimed for ages (good thing there were no Silicoids in this galaxy). I was also missing these techs in my tree and had to go all the way to Controlled Inferno before the first one showed up, which then allowed my cats to start grabbing all of the hostile planets pictured above. Elsewhere, I had streched out my neck along the western edge of the map to colonize another large Terran planet up there which we called Deep Cat 9, only getting the spot by putting Long Range Fuel Tanks on a Huge colony ship. (The unscouted world to its south was Orion.) Deep Cat 9 was defended by some Laser fighters and never came under serious attack, perhaps because it was off on the side of the map which the AI's pathfinding tends to ignore. I would use this spot to continue pushing further north where there were some more hostile planets unclaimed by the AI races.

The Council took a long time before it finally met around 2400, due to the larger map size and lack of hostile environment technology on everyone's part. I was delighted to find that there was no runaway AI empire to worry about, with the Darloks and the Meklars as the strongest AI entities but each of them only marginally ahead of the rest of the pack. The Alkari and the Psilons were both stunted on this map and didn't look like they would present much of a threat - excellent. The Darloks were my initial opponent in the Council and I actually could have cashed out with a fast Diplomatic victory in 2425 if I had wanted. Sometimes the player can cheese their way into these victories when the Darlok is their opponent since the shapeshifters are so disliked by everyone else. I passed on the opportunity and continued playing onwards since this game had only just begun.

Unsurprisingly, the first border clashes took place in the chaotic central portion of the map. My Mrrshans claimed the Barren and Inferno planets to the northeast, with Food Bowl and Nermal seeing a lot of action over the following turns as I was forced to chase away AI pochers repeatedly. Little Nermal was only base size 10 and completely dependent on the rest of the empire for protection. I had researched Stinger missiles at an early date and some Medium Stinger missile boats proved to be an effective deterrant for holding these worlds. At one point the Darloks invaded and captured Food Bowl, which resulted in my population transfer heading to the same world being treated as an invasion. This plunged the Darloks into war with me and I responded by tossing the Meklars a tech to join the conflict on my side. The cyborgs and the shapeshifters would remain at war for decades and decades afterwards which kept the heat off me. The Darloks wound up picking too many fights and stalled out here in the midgame which was another great sign following their strong early game.

More relevant for me were the Bulrathi who finally lived up to their Erratic personality by declaring war sometime around 2450. I lacked Planetary Shield V in my tech tree but was able to trade for it with one of the AI races. I'd been skipping out on missle bases throughout the whole early game and now belatedly had to crash-build them on all of my border worlds as the bears began testing for potential weak spots. They were unable to crack the big planets in my core but had more success at Norwegian, originally a Tundra 20 planet in the north close to their homeworld of Ursa. This was the fleet they sent against it:

Fusion Bombs are never something fun to see in the hands of the AI since they can punch through early planetary shielding without much trouble. It was actually the Hard Beams that caused the most issues here, however, with the Punisher design fielding 21 of them and my bases having only 9 points of shielding which wasn't enough to stop the 8-12 damage on those beams. The four bases weren't enough to hold and the Bulrathi would eventually capture the planet in a successful invasion. I vowed to reclaim Norwegian in the future and the bears had no luck making it through the defenses of my frontline worlds elsewhere. They also managed to get caught up in warring with the Meklars and that seemed to divert their attention after taking the one planet from me. I was building up for a counter invasion of my own, knowing that it was going to be painful to do the ground invasions of the Bulrathi planets but still wanting to capture their stuff anyway. At least I wasn't playing the Silicoids this time around to make regrowing population with Eco spending easier.

I had picked up the Autorepair special earlier and therefore designed one of those standard Huge gunship setups to use in fleet-to-fleet combat against the bears. It had Mass Drivers and Fusion Bombs for weapons along with the best armor plating and shielding I could field (Zortrium and Class IV shields), then the Mrrshan innate racial bonus took its attack level from 4 to 8 for some real punch in battle. I had to delay going over to the offensive for a while since I was still building up my planets with Terraforming +40 and Improved Robotics IV which made for an awful lot of factories. I had also managed to steal Controlled Radiated tech from the bears and colonized a number of Radiated planets in oddball corners of the map, eventually leaving me with multiple Ultra Rich planets under my control. This is why it's so important to keep scouting the map: I gained four or five more planets this way at little to no investment, plus several of them were the aforementioned Ultra Rich! All of this made for a tremendous amount of industrial power and when I started hitting the Bulrathi in earnest, there wasn't much they could do to hit back:

Gienah was the first Bulrathi planet to fall and then I kept rolling northwards through the center of their territory, with Ultra Rich Selia a very nice second prize. I hadn't even known that the planet was Ultra Rich until bombing out its missile bases, then made sure to stack up 200 of my own bases after capture since the planet was located inside a nebula. Invading the bears meant pulling in lots of population from my nearby worlds, and the conveniently located Food Bowl and Nermal were generous donators of marines despite their small sizes. I kept hoping to pull Fusion Rifle tech from the Bulrathi in each invasion and kept failing to get it since their planets had so few factories on hand. Thank goodness that I spotted an invasion of the bears was likely and took the time to research Battle Suits earlier or this would have been even more painful. The whole process took some time but the outcome was never in doubt, not with me having no fear of losing a Council vote thanks to the Darloks/Meklars splitting their votes and then my Mrrshans eventually gaining a 1/3 veto block. This was a textbook example of running over an inferior AI which concluded with the elimination of the Bulrathi just after the 2525 Council vote:

Relations plunged into the toilet with everyone else in the galaxy thanks to eliminating the bears though by now it didn't really matter due to my own strength. I had absorbed the entire Bulrathi empire and a few isolated Darlok planets along with colonizing every Toxic/Radiated planet that the other AIs had ignored for lack of corresponding hostile environment tech, leading to a runaway Mrrshan empire in earnest. The only AI empire of any consequence by this point was the Meklars who had oodles of high level Computers tech and the dangerous Neutronium Bombs as their top weapon. I decided to stay clear of them even though their blue flags were intertwined with my own Mrrshan territory and it made for a confusing border situation much like the historical Holy Roman Empire. Instead, I devoted the ending turns of this game to trampling all over the Alkari and the Psilons who were too weak to put up any resistance. I might have felt worse about beating up on the small fries if they didn't both declare war on me first - hey, you guys asked for it!

Well, those conflicts went exactly as you would expect. I ran over planet after planet, invading each one to capture as many factories as possible while sweeping up any techs that I might have been missing. The birds only had outdated junk but the Psilons delivered up some genuinely useful new toys, especially in the realm of Computers tech where they gave me Battle Computer IX. This allowed me to flip the new tech around into improved gunships that were firing at some ungodly high attack level; my main fleet encountered the Space Amoeba at one point and killed it in a single volley. I could have taken out the Guardian over Orion with equal ease if my warships hadn't been on the complete opposite end of the map. Long story short, I crushed both empires and left them each with a single planet remaining in anticipation of the 2550 Council vote.

The last remaining bit of drama was whether I could vote myself the winner of the game or would have to rely on support from others. It turned out that I was one vote short:

Not of winning the game, which was easily managed thanks to support from the Darloks, but of voting myself the galactic emperor which required 49/73 instead of 48/73 votes. The culprit here was a lack of terraforming tech since I was still operating on Terraforming +40 after having missed Terraforming +50 and +60 in the tech tree. Terraforming +80 was a bit over halfway finished and certainly would have put my Mrrshans over the top. On the other hand, I did have Atmospheric Terraforming and Advanced Soil Enrichment on hand so those big planets in my core were all enormous by now with populations over 200. This game was obviously finished at this point and I was glad that the Darloks allowed me to avoid having to run out the clock with another 25 turns. I never did face the Meklars outside of some minor border squabbles, however they had poor shielding for their ships (only Class III deflectors) and I was almost done researching Scatter Pack X missiles so I doubt their warships would have fared well if they ever did try to attack. This game was a rout from start to finish.

Overall, it certainly was a tale of two starting positions, about as bad and then as good as I've ever seen. The Mrrshans are one of the best possible races to have in the lategame where their superior targeting computers makes them a deadly foe in combat. The problem is that they are less likely to reach the lategame than any other race aside from possibly the Darloks, and that initial abortive start demonstrated how beginning near the Alkari or Sakkra can torpedo a game before it even gets underway. You'd better believe that this second game would have been vastly harder if it had been the birds starting nearby instead of the mostly peaceful bears! In any case, thanks as always for watching and reading along - I hope this setup was fun.