The Solar Federation

By Conrad Lesnewski

clesnew@tribeca.ios.com

There exists a rather vocal group of players in the VGAP community who swear that the Feds are THE race to play. Let me make it clear from the start, that I am not one of these players. I'll take the Lizards over the Feds any day of the week and twice on Sundays, but that's a story for another time. Today we're here to discuss getting the most out of The Solar Federation who, while not my favorite race, do have a number of advantages to be exploited for fun and profit.

The first advantage the Feds have is money, lots of it. They make twice the money from taxes than any other race. This is the good news. The bad news is mining. They mine at a 70% rate, which means to really have a thriving empire, the Feds have to find a good sized Bovinoid planet early in the game and make building a Merlin Class Alchemy ship a priority. Likewise, finding a Reptilian planet with decent minerals at decent densities, is a godsend for the Feds.

The second advantage the Feds have is the Super Refit mission. This becomes apparent when you don't find that Bovinoid or Reptilian early in the game. When faced with a mineral shortage, other races must either wait to build, build a different ship, or put lesser components on a ship and make do with it. The Feds, on the other hand, need only ensure that they have enough minerals on hand to build the hull with stardrive 1 engines. The stripped down ships then remain in orbit biding their time until a sufficient supply of minerals can be procured. Once the minerals arrive at the base, the ships are refit with the best engines and weapons money can buy and then leave orbit to reign terror on their enemies. This means the Feds should be striving to build a ship every turn on every base. When the 500 ship limit hits, a decent Fed player should own 200 or more of those ships. Once the queue has started and few ships are being built, the Fed player can go back and refit his mothballed fleet into a power to be feared.

This strategy works best when in a "last-man-standing" game, where you know the 500 ship limit will be reached. Two caveats with this strategy: 1) A level 4 or 5 Ion storm can destroy half your fleet, so either play in games without Ion Storms or refit the fleet as early as possible and start moving it around, and 2) Guard your ships waiting to be refit with one Loki, and at least two or three fully outfitted battleships loaded for bear (Missouris/ Diplomacys/ Kittyhawks/ etc.) or you will find, much to your dismay, that one Resolute Class Battlecruiser can easily destroy 20 empty hulls.

The Feds strategy is slightly different in an invasion game. Many invasion games are over before the queue hits so the Feds can't afford to sit back and wait. However, their advantage in money means they can usually afford to raise their tech levels before any one else can. This means the Feds can usually get out two or three warships, with H. Blasters and Mark VII torpedoes very early in the game, with which they can launch an early blitz attack against their neighbor's ships and homeworld. This makes the Feds very dangerous in the first 20 turns of an Invasion game, but time is against them. Kill your enemies early.

Super Refit also gives the Feds an advantage in cloning. Let's assume The Feds and The Fascists both desire a Darkwing with Transwarps, H. Phasers and Mark VII Torps. Furthermore, let's say, for arguments sake, that The Birds are willing to sell them one Darkwing each at cost, outfitted any way they want, but they'll have to clone it to get more. The Fascists will have to order the ship with the desired equipment in place at a cost of $2,550, then clone it at a cost of $5,100. The Feds, on the other hand, will order the Darkwing with Stardrive 1's and no weapons at a cost of $452, clone it for $904, then refit the weapons and engines for $2,100. Bottom Line: Each cloned Darkwing cost the Fascists $5,100, but the Feds only pay $3,004 for the same cloned ship.

Of course, most ships being cloned are captured booty, rather than ships that were traded or bought. In many cases, the Feds can still clone these ships more cheaply than the other races. To do so, the player needs to understand how Super Refit works. In Host 3.2x, ships must be refit with a full complement of weapons (e.g., a Darkwing must be refit with 10 beams and 8 tubes). If the ship is set to refit and there is less than a full complement of weapons available (e.g. attempting to refit a Darkwing while only having 6 Beams and 5 tubes in stock on the base), then the current weapons will be stripped off and NO weapons will be added to the hull. The astute Fed player rapidly comes to the realization that this restriction can be used to his/her advantage when cloning a captured ship. Let's see how.

The Feds and Fascists both capture a Resolute with Transwarps, H. Blasters, and Mk VII Torps, and they wish to clone the ship. The Fascists simply clone it at a cost of $3,176. The Feds first build a single H. Phaser and a single Mk VIII torpedo tube on the base and set the Resolute to Super Refit. The following turn they will have a Resolute with Transwarps and no beams or Torps. They clone this stripped down ship at a cost of $1,960 and then pay an additional $608 to refit the clone with the 8 H. Blasters and 3 Mk VII Tubes for a total cost of $2,568. Each Resolute the Feds clone, and refit, is $608 cheaper than the same ship cloned by the Fascists (or anybody else). The restrictions on this technique are as follows: 1) It only works for weapons, not engines, 2) the beams have to be H. Disruptors or lower tech and the Torps have to be Mk VIIs or lower in order for them to be stripped off during the first refit. It should be noted that this technique can also be used to "downward" refit a ship (e.g. strip the H. Blasters and Mk VIIs off of a Missouri and replace them with Disruptors and Gamma Bombs). Using this technique the Feds can pretty much reconfigure their own or captured ships at will.

It should be noted that the downward refit only occurs if the ship has less than it's full complement of weapons. So a Darkwing with 9 H. Blasters and 7 Mk VIIs can indeed strip those weapons off by setting the ship to refit at a base that has but 1 Phaser and 1 Mk VIII launcher in stock. If, on the other hand, you try this on a Darkwing with 10 beams and 8 launchers, the ship will be left in it's original configuration.

Now that we've seen how the Feds can reconfigure their ships, the question remains, "Which ships should the Feds be building in the first place?" The Feds have a number of useful ships. Early on in the Game, the Nebula makes an excellent armed freighter. It carries 350 kts of cargo and when properly equipped can blow most mid-level ships into space dust. Later on in the game, it can be used as an effective mine layer. The work-horse of the fleet is the Missouri. The Feds are better off building 2 Missouris than 1 Nova. The cost is about the same and the Missouris are more versatile. The Diplomacy makes a decent small battleship for dealing with pesky Resolutes, Emeralds, etc. These three ships comprise the bulk of the Fed fleet, however, with the right Hconfig setting, the Feds have two more devastating weapons at their disposal.

Shield Tech: The Feds want it on and at 50%. Without this setting, the Feds will have a very hard time keeping the carrier races at bay. If the Shield Tech is on at 50%, the Feds have a very effective anti-carrier ship, The Thor. Four Thors with Transwarps, X-ray, and 32 Mk VIIs Torps, will kill any carrier in the game including Gorbies and Biocides with the last Thor surviving (often undamaged). Compare this to the 5 T-Rex's or 4 Victoriouses needed by the Lizards and Fascists to do the same. If Torp ships are the problem, The Kittyhawk with a 50% Shield Tech setting will destroy any Torp ship in the game except the Annihilation (and it takes a big bite out of that). Obviously, Shield Tech is of major importance to the Feds. If it's on and 50% (below 40% is the same as being off as far as the Feds are concerned), the Fed fleet should have quite a few Thors and Kittyhawks.

The Feds have four specialty ships; The Brynhild, The Bohemian, The Eros, and The Loki. The Brynhild is useful early in the game for quickly finding native races to exploit. The terraformers (Bohemian and Eros) are useful throughout the game for creating maximized planets (e.g. get the planet temp to 50, turn the taxes off, and watch a 6 million Bovinoid become a 15 million Bovinoid in 20 turns or less). If "Climate Kill" is on in the game, the terraformers move from useful to absolutely necessary and give the Feds a big advantage in expanding an empire. The Loki will protect the Feds from the Birds, Fascists, and Privateers with devastating effectiveness. If the Feds pair one (A LOKI) up with a Nebula on each important planet and send them as escorts with their fleets, the Privateer theft will be a rare occurrence. The Loki is also the Feds most valuable trading commodity. Other races will pay top dollar for this ship and since it cannot decloak Fed ships (assuming the Feds get a cloaker from someone else), there is little risk of it ever being used against them. The terraformers are also good trading material, again, even more so if "Climate Kill" is active.

One Hconfig setting benefits all Fed ships, namely the "Fed Crew Bonus." The default setting is on. If the host turns it off, quit the game. Playing the Feds with it off is equivalent to playing the Crystals without the ability to lay webs. The Fed Crew Bonus does four things for the Feds: 1) All Fed ships will always fight with their full complement of weapons regardless of their damage (e.g. If a Missouri has 90% damage, it will still fight with 8 beams and 6 tubes); 2) All Fed ships will regenerate 25% shields between battles so the Feds will always begin each fight with at least 25% shields; 3) All Fed ships will have an extra 50kts of mass during ship battles, and 4) All Fed carriers will gain three extra bays in battle.

This means that many so-called useless ships are actually a threat in the hands of the Feds. One example would be the Redwind carrier built by the Birds and Privateers. In the hands of the Birds (or anyone else), this ship gets captured by a Robotic Catspaw before it can bring the Catspaw's shields down. Give it to the Feds and it can reduce the Catspaw to debris without losing its own shields. "Fed Crew Bonus" makes any ship controlled by the Feds more dangerous in battle than it would be when controlled by any other race, with the possible exception of the Lizards.

By using the above advantages of money, Super Refit, Fed Crew Bonus, and ship selection well, the Feds should be a formidable opponent to just about every race in the game. They do have, what I consider, one natural enemy, The Lizards. The Lizards can match the Feds' money through Hissing, they can out produce them in minerals almost 3 : 1, they can safely ignore the Feds' Loki and use their Lizard Cruisers to ground attack Fed planets and bases, and their 150% damage ability can often match the Fed Crew Bonus. If the Feds find themselves near the Lizards early in the game, they have two choices: make peace or start an all-out, no-holds barred war. If the Lizards get an established foothold near the Feds, they can often overwhelm them far more quickly than any other race can. On the other hand, a Fed and Lizard Alliance is something that should send fear into the hearts of every other race in the cluster. The Feds are considered an economic race. Their advantages are used to build strong empires with a very high number of ships. If the Feds are not growing and building at twice or more the rate of the carrier races, they will lose the game. If played to their strengths, they can often be the rulers of the Echo Cluster.


It Ain't Easy Being Green

(reflections on life as a Lizard)

by Conrad Lesnewski

clesnew@tribeca.ios.com

While the Lizards and Feds share many racial characteristics, I greatly prefer to play the Lizards. They can produce almost as much cash as the Feds, they mine at 200% (almost 3 times the Fed rate), they cloak themselves, they decloak others, they terraform, they have an awe-inspiring ground attack, they have an unassailable ground defense, they take 150% damage in battle, and their ships are dirt cheap in terms of both cash and minerals. That's the good news. The bad news is that they have the weakest fleet in the game (even with the 150% bonus) so to succeed in bringing about the reign of the dinosaurs in the Echo Cluster, you're going to need all the previously mentioned advantages and know how to use them well.

First and foremost, the hatchling Lizard ruler must realize that his is an economic race. The Lizards should be the first race to build a 2nd StarBase and the first to build a battleship. The Lizards not only can outproduce any other race in the game, they must outproduce them to have any chance of winning. Much as the Feds, if the game hits the 500 ship limit, the Lizards should have around 150-200 of those ships. Unlike the Feds, who will reach the queue with the bulk of their fleet being empty hulls, all of the Lizard ships will be fully operational and should already be dispersed doing what they were built to do.

The second doctrine of the Lizards is speed. Time is not kind to our scaly friends, so they must strike first and they must strike hard. The Lizards are quite capable of destroying their two closest neighbors by turn 20. They should almost always do so. A peaceful Lizard race, or one playing a defensive strategy, usually ends the game as footwear and ladies' accessories for their neighbors. Your T-Rexes should be mopping up your neighbor's homeworld before they've built their 1st or, worst case, 2nd Battleship or Heavy Carrier. Let them get 5 or 6 Rushes or Golems out and you've got some serious problems. Getting into a position to destroy your enemies before they can get to you requires you to get your economy cranking right away. Fortunately, the Lizards are the race best suited to do this.

The Lizards' money comes from the judicious use of the Hiss mission. Each hissing ship will raise the happiness of the planet by the number of points stated in the Hconfig (default is 5). This allows you to overtax your planets without suffering from unhappy populations. So while the Robots can't tax that 5 million Ghipsodal Monarchy more than 5% ($300) without annoying them, the Lizards can place a Serpent Escort in orbit and tax them at 11% ($660) or put two of them there and tax at 17% ($1,020) without any ill effects. At a certain point (I believe it's 75% taxes) the natives will start dying from overwork if they're being hissed. I'm not sure what the cutoff is because I never tax that high. I prefer to spread my hissers around putting 3 to 4 on each producing planet rather than concentrating them on the best planets in my realm. It should be noted that Hissing occurs before both movement and production. Your planets should NOT be at 100 happiness. If they are, you're wasting the hiss ships because hiss can't raise happiness higher than 100. If the planet is capable of growth, I'll leave the happiness at around 70 and tax enough to keep it there (e.g. you have 6 ships in orbit and you tax at 40% - The hiss will raise the happiness 30 points to 100, then the taxing will drop the happiness 30 points back to 70, you will never see the happiness change from 70). By putting a hiss ship or two in orbit, the Lizards can match the Feds income; by putting 3 or 4 in orbit, they can double it. The Feds, nor anybody else for that matter, can never match the Lizards mineral production.

Quite simply, the Lizards can produce more minerals than they know what to do with. They have the option to either double the rate at which they extract minerals (by putting 200 mines on a planet and mining twice as fast as anybody else) or they can get the minerals at half the investment (by putting 100 mines on the planet and mining at the same rate as everybody else's 200 mines). The only race that can come close to the Lizard's mining is the Borg, and that's only when they assimilate enough natives to support 400 mines. Lizard planets with reptilian natives mine at 400%. I use 200 mines as the cutoff because above that requires exponential amount of colonists (e.g. 200 mines = 200 clans, 250 mines = 2700 clans, 300 mines = 10,200 clans). Because of the high volume of minerals produced by Lizard mining, Medium Deep Space Freighters rapidly outlive their usefulness. The Lizards should concentrate on Large Deep Space Freighters with a few Super Transports thrown in for hauling home minerals from those treasure trove planets. A planet with over 50% density in all 3 minerals can produce 1200 kts of cargo in 2 turns for the Lizards.

While building those mines, don't neglect the Defense posts. The bonus for defenses (20 defenses = +1 defense factor) gets multiplied by the Lizards' default Ground Defense Factor (10). This means putting just 20 defense posts on a planet makes even the Fascists fight you at a disadvantage (3:4). When you put the 62 defenses on a rock with 200 clans, an enemy who drops a 2600 clans from a Super Transport will find that he's only killed about 65 of your clans. Needless to say, your enemies will quickly grow tired of this tactic. On the other hand, you'll never grow tired of dropping in on your enemies. Unless you have the Birds superspying for you, always assume maximum defense posts for the planet and plan your clan drops accordingly. Rule of thumb is that a full Lizard Cruiser (290 clans) can take out an enemy planet with up to 1740 clans while a Reptile with 50 Lizard commandos will take a planet with up to 375 clans. Obviously, this assumes your enemy is not the Fascists. They're a bit tougher (Cruiser = 435 clans, Reptile = 131 clans). Clan drops should be used to disrupt your enemies' economies and capture their StarBases intact. It doesn't matter if you can hold the base, you'll make him use his ships to attack his own base. Either he destroys his ships or he destroys his base, in either case, you come out ahead at the cost of a handful of clans. It's even more fun to tow your enemies freighters off his planets with cloakers, capture them, transfer any clans that may be aboard to your ships, then ground attack him with his own people. Speaking of cloakers, make sure you have a Loki protecting your important planets from those meddling Birds, Fascists, and Privateers. For maximum return on your dollar, have the Loki Hiss while it's waiting around for a cloaker to call.

As mentioned before, the Lizard fleet is pretty pathetic. Most mid size ships can splatter a Cruiser and the T-Rex is the weakest Battleship in the game. The trick to overcoming this deficit is to have a LOT of them. The Lizard fleet should be comprised of hissers (Serpent Escorts will do, but I usually have Eroses and or Lokis performing double duty); Reptile Destroyers for transporting cash and attacking enemy freighters (If you attack capital ships with a Reptile you will invariably be donating it to your enemy as Reptiles tend to be captured rather than destroyed); Lizard Cruisers for ground attacking, mine laying, and taking out small capital ships;, T-Rexes for taking out Homeworlds and enemy battleships (fly them in fleets of 3 or 4); and a handful of Madonnzilas for use against Heavy Carriers (Hit a Gorbie with 3 T-Rexes followed by a Madonnzila - you'll lose the T-Rexes and he'll lose the Gorbie). You don't need very many Madonnzilas in your fleet because, if you order your battles correctly, you should rarely lose one. The bulk of your fleet should be Cruisers and T-Rexes. The Lizards should build a ship at every base, every turn. If you can't afford anything else or it's a brand-new base without Tech Levels, you can always build a Serpent Escort with a StarDrive One engine to be towed somewhere for hissing.

Another way to overcome the deficit is to use other races' ships. Get them through trade or capture (harder to do, but possible - e.g. capturing a StarBase with an unfueled ship in orbit). The Lizards' economic production makes cloning less of a burden for them than other races and there's nothing like enforcing your will with Instrumentalities or Biocides that can take 150% damage. Good ships to trade to other races are Eroses, Lokis (since they can't decloak you), and occasionally cloakers (since you can decloak them after you've traded them). If your allies are particularly trusting, you can offer to hiss their planets for them. Hiss will work on any owned planet, you cannot hiss an unowned planet. You will also be in a position to buy ships outright with freighters full of minerals and cash.

The Lizards have no real natural enemies in the early part of the game. No one can match their rate of development or expansion. This make the Lizards ideally suited to playing Invasion games. They stand an excellent chance of taking out one and possibly two enemy Homeworlds before anyone else can get moving. If your neighbors are fellow torpedo races, you can often destroy their Homeworlds with 3 or 4 Lizard Cruisers because they'll rarely buy the 40 fighters to fill their StarBases early. If it's a fighter race that shares your border, use T-Rexes to nail his Homeworld before they can get a heavy carrier out. If RacePlus is in the game, don't underestimate the usefulness of the chameleon device. I know of one Rebel leader that was awfully surprised to lose his Homeworld to two Large DSFs being escorted by an uncloaked Lizard Cruiser (named appropriately enough Colonial Escort). The three disguised T-Rexes toasted his Homeworld before he had built his first Rush. The Lizards can also defend their Homeworld from early enemy attacks.

Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there. As the game progresses and your opponents can start producing their big ships, life becomes increasingly difficult for the Lizards. It will take a minimum of 3 T-Rexes to destroy each enemy Heavy Carrier. Once the queue is reached, this can be a difficult ratio to keep up. Another major problem for the Lizards is Ion Storms. Hissing ships get no ion experience for hissing, so one mid level storm can destroy your entire hissing fleet in one shot.

So, to recap, the keys to being a successful Lizard are the three "E"s: Economic Production - of both minerals and cash; Expansion - of both number of planets and number of ships; and Elimination - of both of your neighbors and anyone else you can reach quickly (e.g. through Sphere, wormholes, etc.). Creating a booming economy and hitting your opponents fast and hard is good advice for any race, but the Lizards are the race best suited to doing so as well as the race that has the most to lose if they fail to do so early.

A Bird in the Hand Is Worth

By Conrad Lesnewski

clesnew@tribeca.ios.com

In this, the third installment of "The Races of VGAP," we'll examine those masters of cloaking, The Birdmen. If you're hoping to find playing tips that will turn the Birds into a powerhouse race capable of running roughshod over your opponents, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. The Birdmen, in my humble opinion, have a firm hold on the title, "Weakest Race in VGAP." That's not to say that you can't have fun with the Birds and perhaps even annihilate an opponent or two with them. However, in a contest of competent rulers for ultimate control of the Echo Cluster, the Birdman leader will usually find that he's playing at a disadvantage throughout the game.

The problem with the Birds, is that they have neither the military power of the fighter races nor the economic power of the other torpedo races. In addition, their primary native advantage, stealth through cloaking, is now easily defeated by a number of methods (e.g., Lokis, Glory Devices, Ion Storms, and Web Mines). Once their cloaking is negated, their other race specialty, Superspying, goes with it. This leaves the Birds as a torp race with no significant special advantages to offset the inherent weakness of their fleet as a whole.

While the Birds have a great number of cloakers, most are not very combat worthy. A Lizard Cruiser or Fed Nebula, for example, can handle the bulk of the Bird cloakers, up to and including the Resolute. The Swiftheart is an effective long-range scout but its tiny cargo capacity limits its effectiveness as a colonizer. The White Falcon is used mainly as a cloaking fuel carrier. The Fearless can be used to capture freighters and non-Borg planets as well as serve as a cloaking Medium Deep Space Freighter, but it will get toasted by most mid-level ships if it engages them. The Redwind is fairly useless to the Birds but may have some value as a trading ship to the Colonies and/or Feds. The Brightheart is also usually not worth building unless the RacePlus add-on is being used and even then, the Egg mission is among the weakest of the RacePlus abilities.

This leaves the Deth Specula and Resolute to serve as the mid-level combat ships of the Birds. The Deth Specula packs a nice punch against planets and mid-level ships but don't expect to recloak it after combat. Its light weight means it will usually take some significant damage in the battle. The Deth Specula also suffers from limited fuel and cargo capacities so it's usually only good for a couple of strikes before needing to be resupplied by a supporting cloaker (e.g., a White Falcon or Fearless). Given the choice (i.e., a base with tech level 7 hulls), the Resolute is a better choice than the Deth Specula.

The Resolute costs just slightly more than the Deth Specula in terms of cash and minerals, but gets rid of the Deth Specula's limitations. With the largest fuel capacity in the Bird's cloaking fleet, ample cargo room, and the ability to remained cloaked without burning fuel, the Resolute is a well-rounded ship that can handle a variety of roles in the Bird empire. It can fight planets and mid-level ships, resupply and refuel other ships, colonize, lay large mine fields in enemy territory, take a mine hit itself, stay cloaked in Ion Storms, and spy. The Resolute is also desired by every other race, so if you're willing to trade one, they usually command a premium price. About the only thing it can't do is handle large ships and/or bases. For that you need the ultimate cloaker, The Darkwing.

While the Darkwing is the ultimate in cloaking technology, it has one major flaw which keeps it from reaching its full potential. It, along with the Victorious, has the smallest fuel tank of any heavy warship. This seriously hampers the Darkwing's ability to launch surprise attacks deep in enemy territory. While the Darkwing no longer burns fuel to cloak (previously, cloaking a Darkwing was the equivalent to sitting one in a web field), it still burns enough fuel while moving to limit its range to 4-5 turns before needing to be refueled. Against an inexperienced opponent, this may be enough to strike at the heart of his territory, but a competent player will usually have the borders of his territory extending 5 or more turns from his homeworld. This means that either the Darkwings have to strike outlying planets in the hopes of refueling, thereby warning the prey of Bird presence, or a large support fleet (White Falcons or Resolutes) has to accompany the strike force to refuel the Darkwings in transit. If the strike force fails in its mission, the support fleet is often also sacrificed because it doesn't have enough fuel left (having fed the Darkwings) to successfully retreat from the area. Not only do fuel logistics hurt the Birds stealth potential, but often they find that their "stealthy" mission, Superspy, also works against them by revealing their presence to a potential target race.

The Superspy mission comes in two parts, one that gives detailed information about an enemy planet and one that attempts to change the planet's friendly code. The difficulty for the Birds lies with the second part, namely, that there is no way to turn it off. Each Superspying ship over a planet has a 20% chance of changing the planet's friendly code to match that of the ship. Unfortunately, if the change is successful, it generates a message to the enemy announcing the Bird's arrival in the area. To make matters worse, if the planet has 10 or more defense posts there is a subsequent 20% chance that an ion burst will occur and all ships orbiting the planet will decloak. This means that a ship set to Superspy has a 4% chance of decloaking every time it passes over an enemy planet with more than 10 defenses. This is in addition to the normal cloak fail rate set in the Hconfig (default = 1%). Since most experienced players will have at least 20 defenses on the bulk of their planets, to avoid sensor sweep/bioscanning as well as adding a point to their ground defense ratio, this gives the Birds an almost 5% cloak fail rate when planet hopping with a mission of Superspy. The result is that while a Lizard Cruiser sneaking in for a cloaked ground attack has a 1% chance of decloaking and alerting the enemy prematurely, a Superspying ship is twenty times more likely to alert the enemy and five times more likely to decloak. This is hardly conducive to a "stealthy" race. A special friendly code (e.g., nfc) that would prevent the ship from attempting to change the friendly code of the planet below would go a long way to restoring the Bird's sneakiness.

The other reason for a "No Friendly Change" code is that there really aren't that many situations in which the Birds actually want to change an enemy's friendly code. The most popular changes to make are "bum" -- to have the enemy planet beam up it's cash to the Birds as well as any other foreign ship in orbit and "dmp" -- to cause an enemy Starbase to recycle its stored components thereby wasting the enemy's money and a percentage of the minerals used to build the components. This is always good for laughs against new players, but against real competition it's usually a one-trick pony. After being burned once (if at all) the enemy will simply start storing his cash on ships (preferably his own cloakers or heavy warships) where "bum" can't reach it and stop building components in advance rather than simply waiting and building the entire ship at once. "bum" can work once or twice for some quick cash, but when compared to the Fed's taxing, Lizard's Hiss, or Fascist's Pillage it's way down on the list of economic advantages.

Some Birds use the code change ability in an attempt to control their enemy's mine fields and grant safe passage to their ships. This is easier said than done. To ensure that the ships will not hit a mine, the Birds have to dedicate 5 ships to each controlling planet. Once that is done and the Bird strike fleet starts navigating the field, an ion burst decloaking the Superspying ships (with subsequent attack by orbiting enemy ships) has the potential to strand the fleet in the field. It's usually far more efficient to simply sweep the fields (possible exception Robots and/or Crystals). The Birds could instead attempt to control all enemy fields through the use of the "mf*" code. For this to work, however, the Birds must find and change the codes on the enemy planet with the highest ID number. If they enemy later takes a planet with a higher ID, the Birds lose their control and must start the search for the new controlling planet.

Another use of friendly code changes is to steal minerals and/or supplies from an enemy planet. Five Superspying ships change the code while the 6th matches and set's its mission to beam up the desired item. Again, it sounds better than it works. No bird ship has a big enough cargo capacity to make this worth while as either a source of minerals for the Birds or as more than a mere annoyance to the enemy. If you bring more ships to do it with, it begs the question of, "Why not just shoot the planet and take it all, rather than tie up so many ships stealing small quantities?" If the answer is, "Because it's a fortified Starbase," the Birds are faced with a new problem. While a ship set to Superspy will not surrender to a base by matching friendly codes, a Bird ship with any other mission will. If you attempt to rob minerals from an enemy base and that base has its Primary Objective set to "Force Surrender," The Bird ships set to beam up minerals will be owned by the enemy on the following turn.

Finally, there is a Bird tactic that is still being bandied about in the newsgroups and on BBSes. This is offered as a devastating attack on a well-guarded and fortified enemy Starbase. The tactic is to have five Superspying ships set the Base's code to "NUK" while two Darkwings arrive without fuel (either through careful planning or being towed in by sacrifice ships). The Base will then attack the Darkwings and be destroyed while the enemy ships guarding the base ignore the Darkwings because they're out of fuel. The problem with this tactic is that it doesn't work. Any Bird capital ship that is out of fuel is immune to the "NUK" code and therefore will not be attacked by the planet/base. What will work, however, is giving the two Darkwings to an ally (other than Fascists or Rebels) and having them arrive empty. Note that the Darkwings, or any other heavy warships being used, have to arrive at the base empty the same turn that the five Superspying ships change the code to "NUK." If instead, the Darkwings arrive early and drop their fuel, and the enemy has the Base set to "Force Surrender," the enemy will take control of the empty ships before they can attack the base.

The difficulties faced by the Bird commander can either be lesser or greater than detailed here, depending on who the immediate enemy is. The Birds are in for a nightmare ride when faced with the Feds, Lizards, or Fascists. All three of those races have the ability to decloak Bird ships as well as economic advantages that will let them build fleets both more numerous and more powerful than the Birds. The Crystals and Empire are probably the next level of difficulty faced by the Birds. Crystal webs can shut down the birds as easily as they do any other race, so Bird cloaking is of no particular advantage when dealing with them. The Empire has a better fleet than the Birds and can use Darksense to locate the Birds territory and bring the fight to them. Robots, Rebels, and Colonies are fairly neutral, The Birds have no more significant advantages or disadvantages when confronting them than do any other torp race. Surprisingly, the two best targets for Bird aggression are the two races with the most fearsome reputation in the cluster: The Privateers and The Borg.

The first Hconfig setting to check when considering leading the Birds is "Cloaked Ships may be Robbed." If it's set to yes, don't play the Birds. Should you ignore this advice, don't be surprised when your ships enter orbit with a Lady Royal and never come back out. If, however, it's set to no (which is default), the Birds have the opportunity to reign destruction on the Privateers. The Birds are probably the race best suited to going on the offensive and taking the fight to the Privateers. While Lokis and Glory Devices are good defensive weapons against the Privateers, they're much harder to use on the offensive. The Privateers can use feints, mines, cloaked intercepts, etc. to destroy an invading Loki/Saber and then steal the Missouri/Nova/Victorious it was protecting. The Privateers should find it almost impossible to steal a Bird combat ship. If "Cloaked Ships can Attack" is set to yes, the Birds can take out most Privateer ships without decloaking. The Birds can decloak, hit a planet, and recloak before the Privateers have an opportunity to rob them. The Darkwing/Resolute team can strike and vanish and there's little the Privateers can do to stop them because cloaking now occurs before robbing.

The Borg are a slightly different story. The Birds, like most other races, have to wipe out a nearby Borg infestation quickly and ruthlessly. Once the Borg get a toehold in an area, the Birds are in trouble. One of the main advantages of the Birds is the ability to turn a Borg advantage against them. Since the Darkwing and Resolute no longer burn fuel to cloak, they can afford to sit quietly in orbit with a Firecloud and wait for it to chunnel home. When it does, the Birds will go for the ride and the Borg will have no knowledge of it until the Bird ships decloak and start destroying Borg holdings deep behind his front lines. Once the Cubes arrive on the scene, the Birds simply recloak and wait for them to go away.

By now, you're probably wondering "Why would I want to play the Birds?" Well, that's a good question. One suggestion is to use them as a handicap for a good player in a game with weaker or less-experienced players. The Birds have problems, but they are by no means an unplayable race. A good player who can manage his economy well would be on an even footing with a weaker player playing a stronger race. They can also be an asset in team games when their weaknesses can be overcome by other members of the team. Finally, there is one situation that changes everything for the Birds. If the game contains an add-on with the "GPn" code, the Birds become a fearsome threat! "GPn" stands for Give Planet to race n. It is the equivalent of the Host code "GSn" (Give Ship). With this code in the game, five Swiftheart Scouts can capture an enemy homeworld intact simply by showing up there and changing the code to GP3. This one code alone changes the Birds from one the weakest of the VGAP Races to a threat to be feared by all.

The Care and Feeding of Planets

by Conrad Lesnewski

clesnew@tribeca.ios.com

While much has been written on the military aspects of VGAP, the less glamorous endeavor of developing a thriving economy has received far less attention. This is unfortunate for, without a thriving economy, a player soon finds himself unable to produce ships for those exciting and inevitable conflicts in space. An empire's economy is comprised of many elements: the production of goods on the empire's planets; the logistic fleets of freighters and other ships involved in moving money and materials throughout the empire; the trade and support agreements arranged with allies; and the ability to appropriate enemy resources through ship captures, robbing, pillaging, superspying, etc. to name but a few. Of these elements, the basic and key element to a thriving economy is planet production. While maximizing the efficiency of a planet's production does not ensure a thriving economy (after all, what good is a planet producing 6,000 mc/turn if there's no ship to bring that money to a base), mishandling planet development is an almost surefire way to guarantee a lackluster economy. This article will concentrate on the concerns and issues with which a player must deal while trying to develop a planet to its maximum potential.

The first concern of planet development must be colonization. Many players are familiar with the problem of having too few clans on a planet to maximize their gain, but it can be argued that having too many clans on the planet is just as inefficient as it wastes time, fuel. and precious cargo space to get these extra clans to a planet for no additional gain. Unless there is a decisive reason why a given planet should receive an abundance of clans (e.g. Lizard/Fascist ground attacks are imminent, growth for future colonization, etc.) the player is better off only dropping off the number of clans necessary to maximize that planet's potential. How is that determined? Well, it depends on the planet.

1) Weak Rocks (planets with no native race and low amounts/densities of minerals) - 100 clans as this will allow 100 mines & factories. These planets should be of lowest development priority and once the structures are developed, they don't need to be revisited until there's at least 1000 supplies ready for transport to a Merlin or conversion into cash.

2) Strong Rocks (planets with no native race but high amounts/densities of minerals) - 200 clans. With 200 clans, 200 mines can be built to grab the minerals and 110 factories for supplies. Over this is inefficient as the number of clans necessary to support additional mines is a parabolic relationship (e.g. 200 mines needs 200 clans, 250 needs 2,700 clans). Note the need to check the density of the minerals as well as the amount. A planet with 11,000 kts of Neutronium may seem like a great find, but if the density of that Neutronium is 10%, the 200 mines will only produce 20 kts a turn which is not worth the effort or resources. That planet would be considered a weak rock, put 100 clans on it and take the 10 kts/turn.

3) Native Race Planets: The optimum amount of clans is the number that will allow you to receive the taxes generated while taxing at the highest sustainable rate (with a few exceptions noted below). As Taxes, Structures, and Native Population increases, the native happiness decreases. The Maximum Sustainable Tax Rate (MSTR) is that rate at which happiness neither increases nor decreases. Assuming bare minimum structures (20 mines, 15 factories - which will not show up on a sensor sweep)and an average (7,000,000) population, the MSTRs are as follows: Anarchy & PreTribal = 3%, Early Tribal & Tribal = 4%, Feudal = 5%, Monarchy & Representative = 6%, and Participatory & Unity = 7%. Therefore, the optimum # of clans would be enough to receive the money generated by the following formula: Native Population * .001 * Government Modifier (.2 - 1.8) * MSTR (e.g. A 7,000,000 Ghipsodal Monarchy would need: 7,000,000 * .001 * 1.2 * .06 = 504 mc. 504 Clans are necessary to get the 504 mc from this planet). Putting more clans than this on the planet will allow a player to "overtax" the natives, but eventually (or quickly depending on the degree of overtaxing), native happiness will drop too far and the planet will have to sit idle while they recoup. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule:

a) Amorphous - Unless playing the Fascists, treat as rocks

b) Avians - Add 11 or 12% to the MSTRs above

c) Bovinoids - Divide the population by 10,000 to find the maximum supplies generated. Bring clans equal to the greater of the max. supplies or max. credits (e.g. A 7,000,000 Bovinoid Tribal will generate 224 mcs and 700 supplies. Bring 700 Clans.)

d) Insectoids - You only need half the clans to collect the taxes (e.g. A 7,000,000 Insectoid Tribal will generate 448 mcs - Only 224 Clans are needed to collect it.)

e) Lizards - Hissing Ships will greatly increase the MSTR

f) Defense Posts have no effect on MSTR, structures refer only to mines and factories

Note: that as you increase structures or the native population increases, the MSTR will drop. The Player will have to determine the best mix of resources and adjust the clans accordingly (e.g. on a 10,000,000 Humanoid Unity with 75 structures, The MSTR is 7% which will generate 1260 mcs. 1260 clans will allow a player to build 232 Mines and 134 Factories, however if the player does so, the MSTR will drop to 5% and the planet will now generate only 900 mcs/turn - leaving it at 7% will cause the native happiness to drop 2 pts/turn.) One rule of thumb is to maximize the structures on low-paying worlds while maximizing the tax rate (and leaving 0 or few structures) on high paying worlds.

Now, if that seemed simple, it's only because we haven't explored the next issue of planet development, Growth.

As well as managing planets for current income, a player has to be aware of the potential for growth. While on many planets growth is incidental or even harmful (e.g. A 8,000,000 Humanoid Anarchy with 0 structures has an MSTR of 3% and will generate 48 mcs, at 9,000,000 the MSTR drops to 2% generating 36 mcs ), on certain planets growth is highly desirable and should be encouraged (e.g. Growing any Bovinoid to 15,000,000 is a feat usually well worth the effort). Native Growth rates are affected by two main factors, Native Tax Rate and Planet Temperature and the subsidiary factor of native happiness. Preventing Growth is incredibly easy. Simply overtax the natives until the native happiness drops below 70 then drop the tax rate to the MSTR. Encouraging growth is a bit trickier. The maximum Growth rate for any native race is 4%. This rate will only be achieved on a 50 degree planet with a 0% native tax rate. As you raise taxes or move the temp away from 50 degrees, the growth rate drops quickly (e.g. a 5% tax rate or an 83 degree planet cuts the growth rate to 2%. Taxing the natives at 5% on an 83 degree planet will drop the growth rate to 1%). Obviously the only way to ensure maximum growth is to not tax the natives at all and get the planet terraformed to 50 degrees. On a low-government Bovinoid this is always worth while since they don't generate much cash anyway so not much is lost and the growth results in an increase in supplies. On a high paying Insectoid it's a bit harder to decide whether to keep the taxes at the MSTR and get lower growth or lower the taxes a bit and speed up the growth rate. One thing is certain, it ALWAYS pays to terraform a planet out of Desert or Arctic and better planets should be brought to 50 degrees if possible. Non Fed/Lizard Players should make it a point to beg, borrow, or steal a Bohemian and/or Eros whenever possible then clone some more. In general , low-paying warm planets should have the taxes turned off and maximize growth while high paying planets and those on Arctic/Desert planets should run the taxes at MSTR and not worry about growth. As always, there are a couple of exceptions:

a) Bovinoids - Low government Bovinoids should definitely have the taxes turned off (as long as they're not on Arctic/desert worlds) and many would argue that even high government Bovinoids should be allowed to grow at the maximum rate.

b) Siliconoids - Grow best on Desert planets

c) Amorphous - cannot slow down growth by taxing

Finally, a few observations concerning specific races and planet development,

a) Lizards - Forget the Serpent Escorts, use Eroses. Building the Eroses with low-tech engines means they don't cost much more than Serpents and have the advantage of being able to terraform while they HISS, an extremely valuable combination.

b) Fascists/Amorphous - don't rush right over with that Glory Device to wipe out the Amorphous population. Take a minute to look at the size of the population and the temperature of the planet. It may be more beneficial to "farm" the amorphous creatures than to kill them off in one shot. (e.g. a 10,000,000 Amorphous on a 60 degree world. Pop a Glory Device and 10,000 supplies are generated but the Amorphous worms are gone. Pillage them and 2,000 supplies/cash are generated and 2,000,000 Amorphous are gone. Wait 7 turns and the planet is back to 10,000,000 Amorphous. Repeat 5 times and the same 10,000 supplies/cash have been generated but the population hasn't decreased. In a long game (75-100 turns) the planet will yield 3 to 4 times the amount of cash through pillaging than it would by using a Glory Device.

c) Cyborg - The Cyborg should do anything they can to get possession of some terraformers. While native MSTR is not affected by Temperature, colonist MSTR is. (e.g. An 8,000,000 Borg planet with 200 mines and 270 factories. If the planet is at 50 degrees, the Borg have an MSTR of 7%. If , however, the planet is at 84 or 16 degrees, the Borg MSTR drops to 5%.) For maximum efficiency of their assimilated planets, the Borg have to bring them to 50 degrees.

It is to be hoped that these few tips will help some players gain a better insight into maximizing planet efficiency. Once the player understands which forces are acting to affect the planet's production, they should be better able to plot the course they want the planet's development to take. As mentioned at the start of this article, planet production is but one part, albeit a crucial part, of developing a thriving economy. After the production of the empire's planets is maximized, the player must still handle the logistics of transporting the produced goods to starbases. An analysis of those logistical issues will, alas, have to await a future discussion.