Great evening for Space Empires 4X. Several players owned this game but with the standard time constraints and habits it had not yet made it to the table for many. Roger was able to arrange play at his church, which meant we had several tables available in a large area, which is always nice. Seven people showed up for the evening gaming and we divided into two groups. The first, led by Roger, decided to play the basic game and use the Instant Technology Upgrade optional rule. Lincoln, a master at learning and understanding conflict games and having spent the last few weeks learning and playing somewhat complex vintage Hex and Counter wargames (Imperium Romanum II and Strategy I) felt he could handle the 16 page rulebook and wanted to include all advanced rules, the black hole sling and the Research Funding Limits optional rules. Scott had played 5 or 6 games of SE4X before and agreed. Hating, as always, to be outdone by Lincoln, with glassy eyes and my standard confused look I fell in line with this plan.
If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?
Discovering a barren planet in the hex next to my homeworld I opted to pursue Terraforming research early. The optional rules about research require a player to spend 5 CPs per dice. They then roll the purchased dice and record the results. Once the total of all the dice rolled meets or exceeds the cost of the technology, the technology becomes available to the player. Also, you cannot spend more than 10 CPs than you have spent the previous Production Phase.
I gave 1 research grant (a die) for 5 CPs on Production Phase 1 and applied this toward terraforming. I rolled 3 and recorded that as my advance towards this technology. On turn 2 I applied 2 more research grants (dice for 5CP each)towards terraforming, rolling an 8 and a 5. I know had 15 credits towards terraforming. On turn 3 I needed 10 more credits to get terraforming and considered whether I should purchase 2 or 3 dice towards this goal. Not needing it immediately, I decided to go with the averages and purchased 2 dice for 10CP, rolling a 7 and a 4. My total towards the technology was now 26 and since it required 25 I now purchased a Colony ship to colonize that barren planet.
I really enjoy the research grant method of technology upgrades. In general the averages win out and most research costs the same. One technology I tried for ended up costing me 50 to get the 40 points required and I think Lincoln had a technology complete with less than the standard required expense, but overall, it adds tenseness without impacting balance.
On the plains of hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions who, at the dawn of decision, sat down to wait, and waiting died.
Three player games have a natural tendency to be slow to action as each awaits an opening that won't, in turn, leave them open to the third. With two people also playing for the first time I anticipated a slow buildup and a longer period of economic development than might be normal. The first few turns of this game revealed the truth of that.
My worlds reached out like two arms towards my opponents and I began building shipyards at the end of each arm. I saw that Scott had developed Exploration and was methodically expanding into Deep Space, but without threatening either position. Lincoln, like myself, had colonized and applied Merchant Pipelines to maximize his income and threatening looking stacks were beginning to appear at his worlds. But he was content to build up and watch.
I was using my time to build the "perfect" combination of technologies but was pushing scouts into deep space to get an idea which direction, towards Scott or towards Lincoln held the most promise once I began building fleets. Time passed and the stars moved along.
Fear of the Unknown
A child's fear is a world whose dark corners are quite unknown to grownup people; it has its sky and its abysses, a sky without stars, abysses into which no light can ever penetrate.
I quickly appreciated Scott's desire to explore safely through deep space. My first four scouts were lost to Danger and the second fleet of 4 that followed were lost after exploring 5 hexes. In total during the game I lost 12 scouts to Danger tokens while exploring 16 hexes. But I had found a path towards both Scott and Lincoln.
The path to Lincoln was through Nebulas and Asteroids, slowing travel considerably while I saw that Scott had most of his fleet on the far side of his empire and I could quickly move into his area. I began to prepare for the great invasion.
I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.
As I have said, with Scott leisurely exploring deep space and Lincoln building stack of units that caused the players in the basic game to walk over and take notice I happily built up my technologies. My plan was to bring Attack and Defense to 1 and Fighters to 3 and then build a carrier fleets. The isolation allowed this plan to develop and was finally building large fleets on Lincoln's border so I would not alert Scott to my true intent and, because of the terrain of deep space, would only require 1 more turn to Scott's homeworld than it would to Lincoln's.
I could build 2 complete carriers (2 carriers with 6 fighers, 54 CP) each turn. When maintenance finally became expensive enough I had to drop to building 1 carrier per Production Phase I decided it was time to attack. But wait, Lincoln had seen Scott's slow expansion towards his side of the board and, in typical Lincoln fashion, rushed out to crush it. This he did very effectively. Lincoln had also gone for a carrier based strategy but was opting for Raiders to augment that strength. Scott had been developing large ships but while his research was up to building Battleships he had not yet had enough time to get any into his exploration fleet. Lincoln made short work of Scott's fleet and I saw that Scott's Homeworld might now be in real danger. Scott confirmed this when he said "I think that is the game for me, that was my major fleet".
My opportunity to get to Scott's homeworld had passed. Lincoln would beat me there. But I now knew Lincoln only had fighter 1's, attack 1 and tactics 1. I felt confident that my 7 carriers loaded with fighter 3's and supported by att 1 and def 1 technology (which had conveniently been built upon Lincoln's border) could handle his fleet. The issue was the full turn it would take to move slowly through deep space terrain between Lincoln and I.
The best weapon against an enemy is another enemy.
Lincoln had the fateful decisions to make. He knew Scott had just built up some new ships at his homeworld. Lincoln had not sent his full fleet against Scott (about a third had stayed behind to watch his border with me) and I was definitely moving towards his space with everything I had. Given the limited intelligence in the game he decided to move to combine is fleets and stop my progress.
Through deft use of decoys he was able to channel my movement towards the world that had his combined fleet. I opted to have a titanic battle because I knew he could reach his homeworld before I could and another production phase would pass, allowing him to build new, top technology ships, while my attack fleet went unsupported.
7 carriers stocked with fighter 3s went in and we arrayed our fleets. He had a base and raiders which quickly eliminated 3 fighters, then followed it up with his tactics allowing his fighters to fire upon my fighters first.
Here is where the difference in tech began to appear. With fighter 3's and Def 1 he had a -2 when rolling to hit my fighters. He had Att 1 so his final amount needed was Base 5+1-2=4. He had 10 fighters, each needing a 4 to hit and managed only 2 hits.
I then took my fighter 3's (base 7) plus 1 for Attack Tech and I rolled 16 dice. His base (5 needed) fell with four shots, his raiders followed, I took out his shipyards and scouts that had not yet fired (8's needed on all of those) and then thinned his fighters by a couple. I still had 7 carriers and 16 fighters to his 4 carriers and 9 fighters. He realized it was over.
We adjudicated the game as a win for me and wondered how to address the super carrier strategy I had employed. I pointed out that it was 8 turns before I began even building a navy (other than my unlucky scouting corps) so simply not allowing forever to grow would be a good one. Zerging early to keep players from sitting back and building things in the perfect order might help. Dreadnaughts with the appropriate techs would make short work of even Fighter 3's.
There are probably other strategies to keep someone from reaching the overwhelming force point that I was able to reach only because I had planned on having 10 uninterrupted turns to build up everything I wanted.
12 Production Phases
First major combat on Production Phase 11
Surrender on Turn 3 of Production Phase 13