Master Class 4: Who To Kill, Who To Preserve (Turn 14)

By this point in the game, if you’ve been expanding steadily and your neighbors have too, you’ve probably got a decent idea who’s where — at least near you. If you’re the diplomatic sort, you may even have concluded peace with one or both neighbors. The more proactive may already have found a “weak sister” and arranged with their far neighbor to help cut off escape.

Before things escalate too much, it’s a good idea to take a look around and see what the strategic “landscape” is like — and I’m not talking terrain. Instead, I’m referring to those alliances and the wars that you need to have happen in order to guarantee your victory.

The answers to these questions are at once general, and also specific to your race and position in the game. We’ll deal first with the general and move to specific later in the article.

Step 1: What’s Already There

You’ve probably spoken to some of the other players, and you may even have determined what they’re up to — more or less, anyway. Some players are natural allies; you’ll see the same two people drift into alliance in game after game. It’s important to notice that, but don’t let it blind you to possibilities; quite often, even the best of friends like to get the chance to attack each other from time to time.

The most important thing to consider is this: Who talks with you? If someone won’t respond to messages, or if someone’s excessively impolite, that means they’re very likely to be your enemy this game. The silent ones in particular make the best targets — chances are they don’t have any friends who’ll have their back, after all.

Right behind that is a second thought: Who can you reach? Most players will find it very difficult to attack anyone who isn’t right next to them, and really, why would you bother to travel if you’ve got a handy prey next door?

And finally: Who is weak? When you look at the scoreboard, does anyone stand out with a small number of planets or a low military score? Always bearing in mind that these numbers can deceive, they do indicate likely targets.

Step 2: Who Do You Need?

This is where race comes into it. I know; I know — prejudice is politically incorrect. However, it’s also what’s gonna win you games, so learn to use it as the powerful tool that it truly is.

Each player race makes for a good friend to some and the worst enemy to others — Kryptonite, if you will. Every race is the favored prey of someone else. Take a look at the list below for some ideas — but remember: This is NOT definitive. Any combination, even the most unlikely, can be potentially deadly.

(1) The Federation
The Super Refit ability makes the Feds an extremely useful friend to any of the large-ship races. Likewise, there’s a “Crew Bonus” that makes Federation heavy carriers the most potent vessels in the game.
On the other hand, a lone Fed without allies is easy prey for the carrier races, and Fed ships provide tons of nice tasty PBP. Crystals and Privateers love stealing their ships; some of them — terraformers, Lokis, bioscanners — are so very useful.
Speaking of the Loki: The Feds, if played well, are a Privateer’s nightmare, and even Fascists have to be leery of them. Lizards and Birds, of course, are Loki-immune.
If you happen to be playing the Federation, you really want to find some good friends. One is good, two are better; carriers are ideal. Trade your ships generously to those you can trust.

(2) The Lizards
The Lizard cloakers, ground-assault power, HISSSSSing economic advantage, and crew combat bonuses make them admirable allies for almost anyone. However, they do build fairly light ships, so they make nice tasty targets the same way the Feds do.
In the early game, the Lizards can ruin almost anyone’s day with ease. Later on, they can be invaluable allies. Be careful with these guys.
An additional note: The Lizards also can produce Lokis, which again makes them powerful against Privateers and Fascists.
If you’re playing Lizards, remember: You can win without friends, but it’s so much easier with them. You really like people with heavy carriers.

(3) The Birds
These guys can build a cloaking battleship which can jump on your homeworld about round 8. Don’t piss them off unless you’re sure you can kill them — and even then, they probably make better friends than enemies. The Bird Men build some of the best utility ships in the game and they are excellent trade partners.
The weakness of the Birds is that they really lack power late in the game, while in the early turns their reliance on technology makes them extremely vulnerable to economic warfare.
If you’re a Bird, your best weapon is the well-placed knife in the back. Because this is fundamental to your existence, many Planets philosophers will grant you the moral right to backstab. That being said, playing a Bird as an honorable warrior will catch a lot of old cynics off guard.

(4) The Fascists
Here we combine some of the lightest and weakest ships in the game with that dread weapon, the Glory Device. Fascists played poorly are your easiest opponent; Fascists played well can take on anyone without help — though, really, why would anyone want to do that?
Glory Devices are the only mobile weapon that works against Lizard and Bird cloakers. If there’s a powerful player in either of those slots, Fascists are your friend. They also come in handy against anyone from Cyborg to Privateer.
On the other hand, if you’re playing any of those races, the Fascists must die; fortunately, their ships are weak.
If you’re a Fascist, you like having powerful friends. Like the Birds, a well-placed backstab is extremely useful to you, but you don’t need to rely on it.

(5) Privateers
Everyone hates these guys. Crystals are really the only people that view them as natural prey, though other races do well enough. On the other hand, it might be nice to trade for some of those lovely fast Meteors; they travel twice as fast as other ships, and they come in very handy towing around your battle fleet.
Cyborg and Privateer ally very well, as do Privateer and Crystal. Heck, Privateers are good friends for almost anyone — but their fleets are so very weak that you can almost count on them to betray, break agreements, or backstab. Trust them only if you’re sharing intel and counting your silverware regularly.
If you’re a Privateer, you want to avoid annoying Crystals, anyone that can build Lokis, Fascists, and people with minefield superiority like Colonies and Robots. On the other hand, if you play too nice, you’ll never win. Trade for Super Star Destroyers if you can, or make friends with the Rebels — you will have a very hard time killing enemy starbases on your own.

(6) The Cyborg
Most high-end games begin with the war-cry: “Hunt the Cyborg!” If these guys last into the middle game, they’re nearly impossible to exterminate, and their Firecloud and Cubes are rightfully feared. These are the ones for whom the phrase “Kill them with fire!” was coined.
The Cyborg make deadly enemies and very powerful allies. They enjoy allying with almost everyone, and they especially like the Feds, any cloaking race, minefield players, and… well, actually, they like allying with anyone.
They’re naturally weak against cloakers.
Only the most confident of Cyborg players should ever trade their Firecloud technology.

(7) The Crystals
Massive web fields drain the fuel out of the cluster. Once these guys get too big, there’s no stopping them. On the other hand, the Crystal fleet is one of the weakest available, and enough Heavy Phasers can sweep any field.
The Federation is invaluable to any anti-Crystal faction due to their Super Refit ability. For this reason, Crystals often make friends with Feds at an early point.
Cyborg, Rebels, and Birds are especially useful against the Crystals, but most races have trouble with them.

(8) The Evil Empire
“Evil” is kind of a misnomer; these guys really love being straightforward and honest with their friends. They build the Gorbie, a truly glorious battlecarrier; they also can construct the Super Star Destroyer. Unfortunately for them, apart from these, a hyperspace probe, and a single torpedo ship, the Imperial fleet is pretty weak tea.
The Empire moves very slowly in battle and eats up tons of fuel, so it’s pretty easy to beat them if you’re good at maneuver. However, their “free fighter” ability makes their starbases nigh invulnerable. If they’re played by a weak player, they make a nice target for cloaking races, but there’s the disadvantage that they don’t have much that’s safe to hit.
If you’re the Empire, remember this rule: NEVER trade a Super Star Destroyer to anyone you can’t trust to hold your wallet.

(9) The Robots
These guys are a very powerful fighter race, and their minefield superiority protects them against most cloakers; at the same time, it’s also an excellent economic weapon. The main Robot weakness is their inability to capture starbases without loss, so they make good friends for the Empire, the Rebels, the Fascists, and really anyone who can trade profitably with them.
This is a good all-around solid race, but they’re weak on fuel, so they’re not terribly maneuverable unless well-played.

(10) The Rebels
Kill them fast or make them your friends. The Rebels are excellent at the long game; their RGA ability combines with planetary immunity to make them fearsome, and their Rush carriers can go toe to toe with any other vessel in the game. To round them off, they’ve got the Falcon for logistics and early expansion.
Rebels are good friends for almost anyone, and they can gain benefit from almost anyone. Especially powerful is the counter-intuitive intel combo of Rebel and Empire. They are vulnerable to cloakers but Rebel Falcon squadrons can almost ignore minefields.

(11) The Colonies
These guys can build both the Virgo Class Battlestar and the fuel-generating Cobol. Likewise, their fighter minesweeping ability gives them minefield dominance against anyone but the Crystals (and possibly the Robots). They make excellent trading partners.
Colonies are weak against cloakers unless they use tons of tiny or surprise minefields, and they’re incapable of capturing well-defended starbases without loss. As such, the Colonies really need friends. Plus side there? Anyone who can build Cobols will never lack for friends.
Only the most confident of Colonials should ever trade the Aries, or even build one. These ships are extremely powerful.

Step 3: How To Win Friends And Influence Kill People

If there’s someone you have determined you’ll need on your side in order to win, be nice to them. Be polite, and if necessary, make yourself invaluable to them. If you need their help, find a way to get it or find a different way to win.

If there’s someone you really need to have die for whatever reason (maybe they’re your Kryptonite race; maybe they backstabbed you and you just can’t forgive them or are afraid to present them with a shot at your second kidney), don’t take chances or be at all weak. Cut off their head and keep chopping until they stop twitching. Use any means necessary.

Having said that, I want to remind you of the first and most powerful rule of diplomacy, which is the first and most powerful tool in the game: Always keep your word. Do what you say you’re going to do, abide by any deal you’ve made, and never ever cheat on a bargain. If people discover you can’t be trusted, you’ll become their main target; if they can rely on you, you may well become their best friend.

Step 4: Vassals

One key to winning this is to have the ability to get people to come work for you once they have no hope to win on their own. Of course, if you’re the guy who killed them in the first place, they’re likely to hold a grudge, but if you helped them in good faith and they still collapsed, maybe they’ll be decent enough to come over and build ships, Dark Sense, sweep mines, or what have you on your behalf.

If you’re fortunate enough to have someone come work for you, be good to them. Be generous with planets, ships, and above all with trust. Be worthy of their loyalty and they will repay you.

And then you’ll win.

NOTE: During this game, I don’t believe there will be many players who are better off dead. We’re here to learn in this scenario, so stick around if you can find a decent patron, even after you’re wiped out — and be sure to be vindictive if that’s your nature. If you’re killing someone… well, once your victory is assured, it might be time to offer terms of surrender in exchange for their loyalty. And, if someone refuses your reasonable offer, kill them with fire. Leave them nothing and you will have nothing to regret.

Caveat:

So now you’ve read this guide and you know how to win the game. You’re invulnerable, right?

Never forget these two things:
(1) Other people also read this guide.
(2) No matter how subtle the wizard, a knife in the back will seriously cramp his style.

Good hunting, gentlemen — and don’t get cocky. The life you save may not be your own, but at least it won’t be your enemy’s.

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