Master Class 6: The Ship Limit (Turn 33ish)

Disclaimer: I’m writing this article while motion-sick and insomniac on a cross-country train ride. Amtrak uses cutting-edge 1965 technology to transport people and provides a true example of that lauded American technological superiority in non-military applications that we’ve all grown to know and love. As a corollary, the language and clarity of this article may have suffered somewhat, for which I do most sincerely apologize. After all, one cannot expect any writer to do other than revel in the sybaritic luxury available to those of us that ride Coach.*


By now either you’ve noticed the vastly increasing number of ships relative to the Ship Limit or you’ve read chatter on the subject in the message feed. (In case you haven’t, I’m going to suggest that you start paying closer attention to the Scoreboard.)

These games are played in the “Production Queue” system, which is at the same time more and less forgiving than a Classic game, insofar as the Ship Limit is concerned. On the plus side, if you’ve followed my advice, you’ll have a fairly large number of starbases and, probably, a fair number of Priority Points. If you haven’t, you’re kinda behind the 8-ball — but all is not lost, folks.

For the moment, let’s take a look at what you ought to be doing during the last couple of turns before the Limit hits, and what you should do during the three or four turns following.

Right Now

Right now, your priorities have changed. If you remember the early lessons, you’ll recall that I had you set your goals to be the following:

  1. Explore and develop planets
  2. Build a Merlin
  3. Use the Merlin to build more starbases

My guess is, in between building Merlins and starbases, you’ll have used some of the minerals at your homeworld to build the odd combat ship. A little while ago, I mentioned to you that you might want to plan to fight someone somewhere; that’s still your goal. Right now, you’ve got a few ships and you might be able to build a couple more before the Limit — if you’ve got handy minerals and cash. (If you don’t, try and get them quickly.)

You probably know who your neighbors are, and from that you might have an idea what you’re about to need. An example of this: As Lizards or Federation, if there’s a Privateer around, you’ll want a bunch of Lokis. If you’re a Bird Man facing Fascists, a flock of Swifts is pretty valuable.

For the rest of us, we’ve got some decent ships we can build:

  • Empire can build Gorbies, SSFrigates, and SSDestroyers.
  • Colonies can build Virgoes, Cobols, and support ships.
  • Fascists like Vickies, Ill Winds, Deths, the D7, and Glory Device ships.
  • Birds love Ressies and Dark Wings.

…et cetera.

Some general rules here:

  • You can’t go wrong building the most powerful ship on your list.
  • If you can afford the best engines on warships, they’re worth the money. If you can’t, you can’t.
  • Unless you’re facing Robots, Colonies, or Crystals, you probably don’t need top-end beam weapons on every single ship. If you are, though, you can expect to end up having to do a ton of minesweeping. In that case, the least you’ll want on most vessels is Disruptors; Heavy Disruptors or Heavy Phasers are best, of course, but there’s only so many of those an up-and-coming empire can afford.
  • If you’re a torpedo race and you’re building battleships, Mk7 or Mk8 torpedoes are really worth the money.

At the moment, you still have several turns of free building, meaning that you won’t need to spend Priority Points on vessels. Use this time to build the biggest ships you can, and unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t go pounding out titchy little ships with bad armament and lousy engines just because you want to use your starbases and you’re excited that the Ship Limit is coming. Instead, consider saving up points for use in the near future.

The Near Future

In three or four turns (give or take), you’ll be out of free builds. Hopefully, you’ll have some ships — enough to patrol your borders, at least — and you might have enough points to build some more if you’ve got a saving nature. Unless it’s a dire emergency, you should probably try to resist spending everything all at once; instead, you might wait until you can build the best possible ship that you can for the points you spend.

There are two possibilities for your empire once the Limit has hit:

  1. You’ve got enough ships to drive straight for your selected target’s empire, and you can do some serious damage.
  2. You don’t have a solid fleet.

If you’ve got the ships, go for it. Any attack will likely earn you more Priority Points, and over time you ought to be able to replace your losses (barring bad luck or a genius opponent).

If you don’t, however, you’ve still got a good strategy that you can play. It’s called “Trench Warfare”, with a hint of “Scorched Earth” thrown in for good measure. Let me tell you how that one works.

A starbase with a decent colonist population underneath, 60 fighters, and maximum defense points stands a decent chance of destroying any single enemy ship that comes in to attack it. Any player that attacks you at this stage of the game will have a very limited number of ships that can fight starbases. Your goal, therefore, is to fully defend as many starbases as you can.

The key there is “fully”. If you can’t afford 60 fighters by the time someone hits you, you might do better to pull back your cash and resources to a planet that CAN afford them. Likewise, if you have planets without starbases near a border, it may well be wise to remove every scrap of fuel, money, and minerals before someone else comes in to take them from you.

Try to resist the temptation to fight battles with your freighters, Merlins, and minelayers. Keep them out of harm’s way if you can; you’re going to need them later.

Later

Assuming you survive for a few turns after the Ship Limit hits, you’ll see that some players… well, some players just won’t. We’ve got “Fight-Or-Fail” active in this game, which in our case means that any player who drops below a certain number of planets will be eliminated. The important part of this as far as you’re concerned is that his entire fleet will go away as well. This means that there’s an excellent chance that you’ll be able to build some ships in random bases using standard construction; in addition, it means that you will probably be able to generate some free Priority Points on idle bases.

Even if players don’t actually die on us, we’re likely to see some pretty big battles. Turns where that happens will occasionally permit some random builds.

Stick to your guns and don’t give up; there’s always hope.

Even Later

The time may come where random builds stop being produced because one or more players are hoarding ships. You’ll be able to tell this by taking a quick look at the Scoreboard; anyone with substantially more ships than planets is jamming up the queue. As a rule of thumb, if there’s exactly one player doing this, that player is the enemy of everyone in the cluster.** Gang up on him and hope. If there’s two people doing this, your best bet is to set them against each other. If everyone but you is doing it… well, there’s always next game…


Well, that’s about it for now. Be sure to check back in a few days for the inevitable edits as players point out my more egregious errors, of which I’m sure there are several. Thanks for the help, guys.


NOTES:
* I’m writing this while again riding Amtrak. In my opinion, it’s quite a safe mode of travel despite all the bad press they’ve been getting lately. Oh, sure, someone should put up some cargo nets to cover the luggage racks in case of a sudden stop, and the restrooms are only a small step beyond an open hole over the tracks — but it’s somewhat comfortable, and (compared to modern aircraft) extremely safe.***

** Even though I’ve strongly advised you to kill these people, you should be aware that it’s not only a good strategy for some races, for some it’s the BEST strategy. Crystals and Privateers only win (for the most part) when the rest of the world runs out of ships, Lizards have some fun economic uses for multiple small vessels, and Fascists do well when they’ve got a ton of disposable Poppers lying about. So I’m not saying they’re doing anything wrong here; instead, I’m saying they’re probably doing something right. That means you ought to stop them.

*** Safe in a relative sense, I mean. First thing is, if there’s an accident, it’s still unpleasant, but all things being equal you’ve got less distance to fall. On top of that there’s the extreme unlikelihood of a hijacking — after all, where could they take a train?

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