I’ve played many different PC games over the last 30 years, including “Master of Orion”, “Civilization”, “X-Com” and others. These were excellent games, but now collect dust on my bookshelf, only to be played every few years out of a sense of nostalgia. Why am I forever hooked on Planets, and what makes it different from the rest?
In my opinion it’s the devoted fan base of HUMAN players that I can compete against. I enjoy poker for the same reason. It’s that effort to get a feel for the opposition that never happens when playing against a computer. To get a “Read on the table”, so to speak, is the key. A wise poker player once said: “If you’re not sure who the fish is at the table… You’re the fish!” That said, your treaties, and who you ally with can be just as important as your economy and how well you manage the battlefield. Gnerphk, in his excellent article in Planets Mag about diplomacy: http://www.planetsmagazine.com/strategy/on-diplomacy-or-make-dale-carnegie-proud-of-you/, detailed many thoughtful points. My hope here is to add some food for thought.
Research your Candidates
Gnerphk mentions the importance of researching your potential allies, and how their history can tell you much. Members can access that information by going to: http://planets.nu/#/account/PLAYER/history as an example; substitute “PLAYER” with any player’s ID or handle and insert a “+” for a space, where needed. Although this is a good start, don’t rely totally on that information, as it can be misleading. Many wins can come with little effort against new players or several droppers, while a 3rd or 4th place finish is quite commendable against top ranked commanders.
One recent example is a player I knew who had a dozen or so drops, and was playing in 11 games at the time. My first impression was: “Well, he likes STARTING games, but once things heat up he’ll probably drop”. I later found out that his many drops were all related to a new baby on the way, and he is one of those rare players that can actually handle a dozen games at once, and play them well. Looking back, my jumping to a conclusion and not asking a few questions probably cost me that game. In most cases, though, you can get a pretty fair idea of your candidate’s habits and skill levels by looking at their history. Talk to your neighbors. Get a feel for their game-play. Do they play to win, or are they into Planets as more of a social exercise?
Take Your Time
As I submit turn 244 for my Helios Sector, I’m reminded that these can be LONG games. There’s no need to rush into things. Watch the scoreboard, and not who leads in number of planets, but also bases. Top players tend to get that 2nd and 3rd base built ahead of the others. Be wary of players that only have a couple freighters. It shows a lack of dedication to the economic part of the game; although one has to factor in race considerations on this point (i.e. Crystal’s huge cargo holds on their warships). I find that there are many skillful Generals here at NU, but less so skilled Economists. I tend to think that has much to do with why people play games. Planning our attacks, sending multiple ships to fight our opponents, and seeing the results on the VCR screen is usually the first thing we look at when our new turns are delivered. We aren’t hurrying to see how well our mineral mines and factories did. It’s just less FUN working on the economic side of things, but in long term, the strong economy usually wins the ‘late game’.
Talk it up! Some of your chit-chat may gain useful information. Try trading intel with willing players. As these early diplomatic sessions get going, resist the temptation to promise things too early. It’s an easy trap to make too many friends, and you really only need one (in Diplomatic Planets, anyway). On the other hand you will need many enemies (whose planets you want to conquer).
Although race abilities aren’t at the top of my list of considerations, they can’t be ignored. Will your ally’s abilities make up for what you lack? As a carrier race, I would prefer a cloaking ally for their intel and towing abilities, as an example. How well does your potential ally communicate? Good communication leads to good teamwork. A long game with a disinterested or semi-silent ally is very frustrating. Different time zones can make things difficult, but not impossible. Accommodations have to be made and that might mean I’m replying late at night or early in the morning.
Step by Step
For this policy I must thank Emork, who was one of my early allies here at NU. I try to use this system whenever possible, although not all players are willing to accept it. Let’s call it the “Step by Step” process. First, discuss a fair border and NAP with your neighbor. I find the maps here at NU tend to have a natural gap between territories. Don’t get greedy, as it sends the wrong message. Set a turn limit. Typically I find these conversations start around turn 20, and I suggest the NAP last for 10 turns or so, at which point we can re-visit the talks. Promise a 3 turn margin to pull ships if the treaty gets cancelled. There should be no surprises. Remember, you will likely see these same players again here at Planets.Nu, so take your reputation seriously. The long term goal of this game is to kill off most of your opponent’s ships and planets, NOT to make treaties. By setting this term limit, you give yourself an honorable way out, if the landscape of the game changes dramatically from turn 20 to 40 or later. Like dating and marriage, you want that “Pre-Nup” agreement to make a parting of the ways less messy, if and when it comes to that.
Think outside the box
Don’t assume your ally must be from the two races on either side of you. That can be nice, but if the best fit of an ally is a bit further away, consider that option. Can he HYP a probe or Falcon with clans to your territories? If so, a base can be given to him and he can start building the ships your navy lacks. Is he a Borg? His Firecloud makes the Echo Cluster a much smaller neighborhood. Do you have a weaker player between you and a strong potential ally? Make a sandwich! Eliminating a weak player between the two of you might give your alliance about a quarter of the map rather quickly.
Players come in all shapes and sizes
People are all so different, aren’t they? Be aware of who you’re playing with. Some just want to build a nice 40 planet empire somewhere and surround it with minefields. Others build no defenses, while racing out to attack their nearest neighbor by turn 20. Still others shy away from all talk, and quietly grow until they’re ready to pounce. Try to get a read on who the lambs are, because if you want to win Planets you need to be the alpha dog. Sounds mean? It’s a war game! The first to go are the weakest, in nature and in Planets.
We all win and lose at times. It’s no fun losing, and in fact I hate it. So remember, it’s always best to talk softly in victory. Rubbing it in while you beat up an opponent can come back to bite you in the Homeworld your next game. Just like poker, we all get dealt good and bad hands in Planets, so try to win and lose with class… we’ve all been there.