Before I came to planets.nu I played 7 games; on planets.nu I played 9 before Libra started. But I play usually only one game at a time and each one with high intensity, trying to learn and get better. And by my definition of losing, which means my team is not winning, regardless of my personal outcome, I have only lost one game so far (the planets con PLS). But this lack of experience may explain why I still have so many weaknesses that other top players don't have. I learned about intercept evasion techniques only when SMN wrote about them in his report about Capricorn. How to lay new mine fields inside an existing one I learned in Job Wife Kids play anyway about half a year before Libra started (thanks Frostie!). The chunnel of death is something I used for the first time in Libra itself. I am still forgetting which side gives you an advantage in carrier battles (it is the least aggressive ship that get the advantage, but which side it is I have already forgotten again). I have never played a game that has reached a stage where PP economy becomes important, so I have only theoretical knowledge about playing that game (low crew ships, gaining the correct side, 9 beam carriers).
Now you may be wondering why I could win against so many strong players. My strengths are: I play a strong economy, I am good at logistics, I am good at strategy (which is the reason why I have beaten players who are much stronger at tactics than me), I do rethink my strategy every 10 turns or so and adjust it if necessary. And I believe in speed over firepower. "A general can lose everything but time. Everything else can be recaptured!" is a citation from Napoleon, I think. For example at some points in Libra I spent hours to find a way to chunnel with several stations just to save one turn compared to hub-target-hub-target-hub chunnel.
And, most importantly, I believe in cooperation. Having a good cooperation with at least one other player gives you a huge advantage if you know how to use it. And I believed before the start of Libra that a strong cooperation should be possible even in a highlander game where only one can take the prize. I heard Mentars very good talk on the subject and talked to him at an informal meeting in Duisburg later where he explained why one has to be willing to break his word in such game in order to win. And even though he makes a very strong argument I still believe that the advantage of keeping your word (and obviously others believing in it) is bigger than breaking your word at a suitable moment, even if that means killing one strong competitor. I will come back to that at turn 113, when Greywolf attacked me.
Oh, and as I learned later, one strength was that I sleep only 6 hours a night and am able to go down to 4 if needed. I underestimated the RL-time needed for such a game (see the last paragraphs) and how much RL-time one is willing to devote to planets would impact this game.
So, Libra starts. I do a quick check on the achievement/turn ratio of my fellow players and identify 4 other players whom I believe capable of winning this game (Mkkangas, Greywolf, Maximus, Elvon - Frostie is not on the list because he may have the needed knowledge about planets but he was playing something like 8 games simultaneously at that time, if I remember correctly). I myself am still occupied in another game which will finish shortly; Libra hasn't got my full attention. I might be the only player in the game who hasn't mapped out possible Homeworld locations. And when I did that later, I assumed for some reason that each Homeworld had three connections, which is why I got them all wrong and why I accidentally attacked Mkkangas Homeworld, btw. I thought I was attacking a secondary base at that time 😀. And for the first 11 turns I neglected diplomacy, which is clearly visible if you look into the message logs. Only after that I came around, saying hello to all the players I knew. And talking to my three neighbours (Priv, Fasc, EE). Of these, the Fasc were answering not in name but with "Mkkangas, Admiral of the Klingon High Council" or something similar. As soon as I read that, I thought to myself "Alert. Beware of that one!" But since I was still occupied in my second game I didn't spend the time needed to calculate a possible Klingon attack through in detail. Wham bam, turn 17, my Homeworld is gone and by a lucky coincidence (lucky for Mkkangas, not me), one of my merlins just returning home with a nearly full load of minerals, which did hurt me about as much as losing my HW. But I had 1.8 Million clans away from home and two strong secondary bases up and running. It hurt a lot, but I was not dead. The rest of my thoughts can be read in my messages to Mkkangas.
In turn 21 the same mistake again, underestimating double beams again and losing a Trex with not enough torps. But then things brightened up. In turn 37 my Trexes catch his attacking fleet and in turn 42 my counterattack starts. In turn 52 the Fascist reaches FoF. In turn 43 is a nice example for my playing style of going to calculated risks to gain a tempo or two. One of my precious two meteors towed a Crystal LCC full of torps into an advantageous position, risking a mine hit in Fascist mine fields. In turn 45 the same underestimation of double beams again: now I know that a Gorbie with 250 fighters will lose against five 10-beams fasc ships. Five Sabers are enough. Damn double beams! After that I had switched to using Trexes against Mkkangas.
While this war was raging there was a side show going on, attacking the privateer together with Greywolf. Because of this my first Loki and Trex were on their way towards the privateer when my Homeworld was struck. Might have been there, might not. But I captured two Meteors which were of great help for speeding things up. But Greywolf got all the Priv territory except 5 planets and he gained 10 MCBRs.
What else happened during this time? EE+Liz defeated Privateers, CoM defeated Rebels, Bird+Bot defeated Crystals.
Diplomacy during these turns:
I had a brilliant idea: Including me I identified 5 major players competing for victory. Usually a strong player takes a weaker one as an ally and they try to win together, usually meaning the stronger one will take first place. In such a scenario I have about 20% chance of winning. But if I ally another top player and we cooperate closely like in a team game, we will win for sure, giving me a 50% chance of winning. That is a fair quota for such a high-profile game. Some of you will laugh at this thought because you instantly spot the loophole in this thought, but I really believed this was a good idea. And, after reviewing the messages exchanged between Elvon, Maximus and Greywolf, I still believe that this could have worked if I had tried to ally Elvon, for example. I was aware of the problem such an alliance has, but I tried to circumvent that by formulating a contract which allows for termination if someone is really, really unhappy with it. My intention was to keep my word, which, btw, would have allowed Greywolf a shot at first place later in the game. I will come back to that later on. He got a base in my area and I got one in his. Each of us built ships with the others resources for him. Netting me a solid 7 Gorbies before the end of slots. Him some Lokis against the privateer in his HW area and some clonable meteors.
Another idea I had: I saw a borg probe and said hello, asking if he would be interested in a trade FCC for whatever he likes, by exchanging bases. He was interested. It seems that I was the only one thinking of that and do the asking 😀. This is a phenomenon I came across several times in this game. Very strong players would not do something and therefore assume that other players will not do that either. In this case, trading away a FCC so early in the game. This is the most important reason why I could recover so quickly after my Homeworld died. Thank you again, Mike, for being a good trade partner in this time.
Diplomacy with Mike was not easy. I guess he puts RL before planets (unbelievable 😉). At times he didn't answer, at times he answered only in part. Especially after he built the first FCC I was very nervous because my Homeworld had just exploded and all resources were tied to defend against fascist cloaker. So I asked him several questions which often went unanswered. Some were indirect questions aiming at "Are you going to attack me?" and no answer usually means a "Yes." If he had chunneled in a biocide, I would have been dead. And due to his on and off communication we still were without a formal NAP. So my reaction should have been to tow away one FCC for capture and attack the base. But I went through these very nerve wrecking turns because I hoped Mike would keep the peace (at first I wrote "keep his word", but I didn't have his word at that time, so I edited it out). Well, he was a helpful ally and me going through these painful turns paid off handsomely, giving me a nice fleet of FCCs for future battles and a million or two extra clans to restart my empire. (Side note: Mike not answering important questions is one of the reasons Max gave for attacking him (see turn 60 messages))
But another diplomatic move was my most important one. After my Homeworld blew up I knew I was in a strategically lost position. Maybe I could defeat Mkkangas, but after a long and bitter war I would surely be too weak to compete with EE, Bird or Robot. Therefor I needed more help to remedy my weakness. I had heard some rumours that Flaabes was under attack by Bird and Robot. I was thinking hard what I could possibly offer to him to get him to help me. And after a while I had an idea. Survival! Maybe he would be interested in that. And he was. Then I needed to act fast, getting a probe over to him, getting him back and giving him enough planets to avoid FoF. The handover had to be done quickly because I would expect Max and Elvon to pick up speed once they realized that Flaabes was getting planets from someone else. But I needed to give him hand-picked planets which would not cripple my economy, so the handover had to be well planed and executed. But I knew that in the long term run this ally could prove very valuable since webs are one nice thing to put all those shiny MCs and minerals a Lizards amounts after the slots are full and all bases are loaded. Battlefield control is just too valuable and restricting your opponent's mobility is similar to upping your own mobility, and I really, really value speed!
Another diplomatic side show was going on. Frostie had share intel with Mkkangas, but without any formal agreement. Therefor he felt free to send me a screenshot of his map 😀. This was surely nice-to-have, but did not have a serious impact on my moves against Mkkangas. Nearly all of my ships would have moved the same without this intel. And I would have defeated him in the same manner as I did. His economy was simply too weak. He simply had bad luck with his natives and he pillaged his only decent money planet. But this service made me call Frostie "M", as he acted as my head of secret service, sort of. I guess his goal was to give me more chances to stand against Mkkangas and in the end have two seriously weakened neighbours whom he could pick off. Had he known how hard and fast I was going to hit Mkkangas I was pretty sure he would not have sent me all this intel. But I was thankful to him, anyway. After Mkkangas was dead Frostie and me made a formal NAP, open ended with 15 turns termination notice. We upped that to 20 turns later on, if I remember correctly. And, since not many free fighters were coming from the EE, I made a small deal with Frostie to build fighter on two geminis in exchange for hiss services on two planets.
A final note to reading the in game messages after the game: Mkkangas wrote that he discovered in my past games that one of my weaknesses was not putting up mine fields. I disagree 😀. In my eyes every unnecessary mine field before the slots are full is a waste of resources which would have become another good ship. If I move an LCC against someone and my opponent is putting up mine fields to keep that LCC away, it has already done considerably damage. He wasted resources, lost time with ships laying these mine fields, and got fewer good ships. And if I really, really want to get somewhere inside these mine fields, I will explode them preferably using resources I captured from his freighters/planets. Mine fields are useful, of course. But they are only so if your opponent moves through them. But no one forces me to do that if I don't want to 😀.
Starting in the end phase of my war against Mkkangas I looked out for a continuation. Whom to attack after he was gone. Like I said before, losing time is not something I like. The only logical way to continue was, in my eyes, to form a superior alliance against one of the leading players, Maximus (Bird) in this case. As it happened, he went for an attack on the Borg (Mike). Greywolf and I were chunneled by Mike into the rear area of the Bird empire. I went to take on the Bird attacking fleet in the Borg area, Greywolf went south into the Bird home area. Flaabes supported us both with webs. After I had taken out the Bird fleet or forced it to retreat I intended to attack into the Bird core area from the center, executing a pincer attack with Greywolf. But he preferred to take the Bird alone, so we decided on a border and I stayed south of that. I harassed the Bird fleet somewhat, he had his Golems for his chunnel of death down there for some time. And I went south to attack the Robot (Elvon), leader in military score, who was still occupied with pushing the Feds towards FoF. I could attack him while his fleet was still relatively distributed, which made him vulnerable to webs. He defended himself skilfully, but his main fleet was immobilized and lots of separated ships were caught in webs. And I was gaining the upper hand in normal mine fields, enabling me to move around his main fleet for further attack. Eventually he quit and a replacement came in, who tried to change the diplomatic situation, failed to do that, and stopped moving his ships. All within 4 turns. He dropped after a few more turns and Gnerphk came in to take over, but the damage was done already. Not moving against a Lizard/Crystal means losing your ships fast. Actually, had Sudakan neglected moving his ships just one more turn, the main fleet would have been completely gone. But even so the situation was lost strategically already when Elvon dropped, but after the Sudakan intermezzo all resistance was hopeless and even delaying me was nearly impossible. Every major Robot area was webbed, no coherence was left. There were centers of resistance, but I could shift resources as needed with FCCs.
And as I was still grateful to Mike for helping me with FCCs and Clans, I convinced Greywolf to start a joint action to help him. Greywolf's first intentions were to let Maximus take out the Borg and only then go into the attack. But I am still convinced that it made sense to attack earlier, since Maximus would not lose many resources against Mike and he would be much stronger afterwards since he would surely capture even more FCCs and would have his fleet sorted out afterwards very fast. Attacking earlier meant catching him off balance. This worked out just fine.
What I did not know during that time and only read after the game were the talks going on between Greywolf, Elvon and Maximus about joining in an attack on me. Gives you a strange feeling, reading a conversation basically about killing you. At that time I was still of the opinion that Greywolf and I had an alliance. I was again and again surprised why he went so slowly in his attack since I am really a strong believer in speed and willing to risk ships for gaining a tempo. But Greywolf never used his Meteors and kept his FCCs always at a safe distance. Then I thought that he is a very (over-)cautious player, but with the knowledge of his talks with Max and Elvon, maybe he was just buying time for finding terms on which they would join forces against me.
Frostie and I still had a sideshow going on. We had a NAP with 15 turns notification if someone wanted to end it, eventually upgraded to 20 turns. He was again head of secret service, feeding me some details on the Robot-Fed war and, later-on (turn 80ish), agreeing to join me in my attack on the Robot, starting in turn 105, since he had deal with Elvon which he wanted to honor. In return for his mine sweeping services he asked for an area containing about 25 planets. I though for a while and agreed since it would speed up my war against Elvon considerably. It would put me a bit further away from the needed 250 planets, but it would ensure me a friend on my southern border, at least for the time till the Robot was out of the game. And even though Elvon resigned before turn 105 and Sudakan made my job a lot easier, I still honored my contract with Frostie since I still believe in the value of keeping your word. Basically he got his share of the Robot empire for two turns of mine sweeping, and of course he had to take it himself, but with the Robot fleet taken out it was only a matter of doing so and accepting the occasional losses against bases. I could have tried to renegotiate after Elvon resigned but decided against it because it would seem cheap on my behalf and could upset Frostie. I had enough to do at that time without opening another 1000Ly front.
During that time Frostie did a lot of manoeuvering next to our border, especially next to the area where I had found planets for Flaabes. So, it seemed that he was looking for a way to take my trustworthy ally Flaabes out of the game. And once I thought more about it I realized that Flaabes was not protected by my NAP with Frostie. Once we realized this, we put up defensive webs and I found more planets for Flaabes in the Robot area, putting him a good deal ahead of FoF and giving him a wide distribution, preventing any hope of success for a surprise attack on him. All of this time Frostie and I had an open exchange of diplomatic messages, me telling him my intentions in the Robot area and how I thought about his idea of going for Flaabes. The most critical point was when he asked me how I would continue after the Robot was dead, because it was clear that I would not get over 250 planets, not even including Flaabes worlds. It was clear to me and Frostie that this question means: "Will you attack me?". I decided to go for the truth and told him that, right now, I would rather attack him than Greywolf. We both knew that a lot can happen in the remaining turns till the Robot was dead and kept on working together. I believe that situations like these are the ones where it is decided if you stay trustworthy for your partner. It would have been easy for me to lie to Frostie in this situation and it would have been even possible to lie convincingly to him. So telling the truth gave me a unnecessary disadvantage, but in the long run it would ensure Frostie that I really intended to keep my word in this game. He could be sure that I would not backstab him and keep true to our NAP. If he would be forced to decide for or against me, maybe this would keep him from attacking me.
In turn 113, Greywolf switches off share intel and attacks instantly without any notification. In that turn he destroys all my hiss ships which were doing hissing services for him, hoping to free some ship slots and get some Gorbies in the starbase lottery. His attack on my area staged in 4 places, one sideshow (one Gorbie vs some lonely planets and one LCC), one main attack (chunneling a fleet of 12 Gorbies and support ships next to my Homeworld) and two serious thrusts against economic centers. After a few turns he resigns (turn 116). Talespin comes in for the EE and has a hard time to take over in such a complex situation, deciding to chunnel back his main fleet, giving the initiative to me. A battle follows with huge amounts of webs, a few chunnel of deaths and some moving fleets around to attack and block. He tried to use his fleet to go for Flaabes worlds via a meteor towed FCC, but I was able mirror his moves on the inside lane and always be there with my fleet to prevent him from entering my territory. Oh, and punishing ever little mistake. Webs are brutal! After taking out some Gorbies I took the initiative on a broad front and advanced fast against him and Mike till 250 planets were reached.
Quite a short paragraph on the action during this time, but the strategy, diplomacy and metagaming going on between turn 112 and 116 was immense.
Strategy and small-scale tactics: Greywolf decided to attack me. Frostie gave me a notification of this in turn 112 when Greywolf asked for him to join in the attack. I didn't understand the meaning of that message as in "right now" and decide to let my shock wear off and try to talk to Greywolf the next weekend. But Greywolf strikes immediately, making any diplomacy on that front void. His attack on one major economic center of mine (east side) can be fought off. His attack towards the center of the universe gets going, my reaction comes too late. The main attack into my Homeworld region is unforeseen since he needed Borg support for that and I thought the Borg would be more cautious of someone who breaks a contract just like that. But after the Borg had chunneled his big fleet in, I knew I had some hard work ahead of me to break up that attack. My tactics would have been to use masses of cloaked ships to tow-kill some Gorbies and, more importantly, to hunt down his FCCs. Only by taking away his FCCs support I would be able to kill (or preferably empty) that fleet without crippling losses. I had the firepower to kill 12 Gorbies, but I would not regrow carriers whereas Greywolf would get new ones. (My main source of fresh carriers, the Robots, was drying up). While this was happening I would reduce his mobility with webs and buy the time needed to get lucky with my cloaked ships guessing his waypoints. Look into the turns around 116 to see these tactics. Due to Frosties warning I had one crucial crystal LCC in position to defend the easternmost part of my empire. What a difference a turn makes. His attack there was stopped with one Gorbie lost in webs before he could take an important fuel planet. Another effect of the one turn warning: He had a SSD accompanying my fleet in the Robot region, taking a few bases for me. I sent a cloaked ship along with his SSD and I set it to gs7 , so it would go unnoticed by him (we had share intel) because I expected him to keep peace a while longer, but didn't want to risk anything. That was why Flaabes was able to tow away that SSD one turn later when Greywolf opened hostilities. He was quite upset because he knew how valuable this ship could prove to me if I would regain the initiative and go against his core area. He actually wanted me to give it back, which I still find a funny idea after he attacked me. And, even funnier, it was in Robot hands the turn it was towed away by Flaabes 😀. Obviously he and Gnerphk had planed to recycle it at Gnerphks base. I have to admit that, when I opened turn 113 and saw all these VCRs, I was afraid that he had simply smashed his SSD into my fleet or into Gnerphks base. But he didn't and then his SSD (the robot's, by that time) was towed into webs.
In turn 112 my diplomatic situation was as follows. I had an open ended pact with Greywolf and with Flaabes. I did not want to attack Mike because I was still thankful for his help. I had a NAP with Frostie with a 20 turn notification before cancelling. I was in a situation where I could not get to 250 planets easily after taking the remaining robotic planets! My only chance was to attack Frostie after I had defeated the Robots. But there would have to be a 20 turn time gap, obviously. I am not sure if Greywolf was aware of that, but since I was intending to keep my word this was his chance at winning. If he picked up speed, took the birds quick enough, took Mike down quickly and then use my FCC network to get to Frostie, he would have a head start. And, of course, he would have to take care of Frosties carriers, but since Frostie had no FCCs he would not have to fight them all.
Why didn't Frostie join Greywolf to attack me? First of all, we had a NAP and I believe he would have kept his word, giving me 20 turns to fortify my border with him. Second, I believe that it was pretty obvious to him that if he broke our NAP and attacked me, he would not win this game. Basically he had to decide if he wanted to make Greywolf emperor or me. In addition to that I believe that Greywolf had made it clear that he would not let Frostie win in case that Frostie would come out ahead in this hypothetical war against me. That is part of the cost you have to pay if you break your word. And even if Frostie didn't know the exact wording of my contract with Greywolf I had made it clear to him that I was not willing to attack Greywolf right now, so he could savely assume that we had a standing contract.
I was surprised that Mike did join forces with Greywolf since he had been willing let Mike get killed by the birds and had planed to kill Mike himself till a few turns ago. But such things happen, I never had a formal agreement with Mike. As I said before, communication with him was not easy for me with so many questions in my mails staying unanswered and so I worked with him without a formal NAP. The mails Greywolf and me exchanged during these turns in a semi-public way (not public, but to all six remaining players) felt to me like two cartoon characters, a little devil and a little angel, battling for Mikes soul. Greywolf had started this by justifying his action in this semi-public way, which made me angrier than I was anyway because if he wanted to justify himself he could have written to me. I would have sent a sarcastic comment and that would have been that. This way I felt forced to spend a lot of RL-time answering his justification. See our messages around turn 113. The main one is copied to the end of this text, just in case. And all these messages were (IMO) meant for Mike, since Flaabes was firmly at my side, Gnerphk was nearly dead and Frostie too experienced a player to fall for Greywolf's talk.
This game was finally decided by several meta issues.
Final analysis: would I play a champ game again? Probably not, at least not before my children are a bit older and I have more RL-time at my hands. Or the setup is changed. Three turns a week without any possibility to skip turns once in a while (Christmas, anybody?) is just too brutal. Even though it is planets, it is just a game! Or, of course, my own approach would change to playing in a less perfectionistic way. But then I would probably not qualify for a champ game.
In my opinion Frostie had the best ratio of chance-for-success to RL-time-invested. Had Greywolf continued or someone of Emorks strength stepped in after Greywolf resigned, I would have changed my playstile, switched to purely defend my northern border and left my southern border undefended and end my NAP with Frostie, basically enabling Frostie to make himself emperor.
I would still say that playing a game in my way by keeping true to your word and using the advantage of working closely together is superior to the style where you are willing to backstab to gain an advantage. At least within the game mechanics. If you factor in the RL-time needed for my play stile, I am not that sure.
A final thank you goes to Flaabes, who has been a very good ally and even supported me morally when I was down and angry. Kept reminding me that this is just a game.
Thanks for reading, your benevolent Emperor Hiko.
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