Early-game Strategy

By Jurjen Niezink

When you take a look at VGA-Planets, one of the most exciting things in a game is the starting position. Where am I located? Are there any clusters of planets nearby, what is the range to other empires? Of course, a lot of things are dependent on the host-settings, but it is a player's choice whether or not he or she joins a game.

In this article, I would like to focus on the early game strategy, which will enclose the first 15-20 turns in a game. It is my opinion, that there are three crucial things in the beginning of a game: economy, strategy and diplomacy. All of these interesting fields overlap, so I'll try to include all of them. But let's start with the beginning, the host-configuration. Imagine you are joining a game with the following, standard, settings:

Mining settings: Default

Tax settings: Default

Ships visible range (Starcharts): 300 LY

Sensor mission range: 200 LY

Overpopulation eats supplies: No

Isotope rate: 5

Mine detect range: 200 LY

Climate Death rate: 10 %

Planets have gravity wells: Yes

Climate limits population: Yes

Ion-Storms: No

Cloaked ships can attack: Yes

Bioscanners: Yes

Range to other players: Medium

Homeworlds: Classic, in a circle, starting point random.

Add-ons: Pwrap

Explorer

As you can see, these are the default settings of hconfig.exe. So, all other settings not listed here are by default as well, for those of you who want to know that.The Add-ons Pwrap and Explorer make the game more interesting, since you can fly around the map and end up on the other side. Explorer limits your vision to what you have scanned with your ships, so you start at a position where you will only be able to see about 14 planets.

First of all I would like to say that the early-game strategy I'm going to describe here, is one of the many possibilities. It is written from the experience I have in playing VGA-Planets and hosting the game as well. A second thing to mention is the choice of which host program to use. There are differences between Phost and Host, both have their pro's, but also some contra's. This article is based on a Host game, but the strategy given here is also implementable in a Phost game.

In the beginning.... there was void. You start with two ships, engine tech 7, and 15000 MC. You see east and south-east from your homeworld two planets, range about 60 LY. There is a cluster of four planets north-west, range 180 LY to the nearest planet, a cluster of four north-east of you, range 150 LY and several planets west and south of you, with a range > 80 LY. What should you do? A lot of people who will be asked this question will say: "That's race dependent", and they are right about it. Nevertheless it is possible to generalize. Max your factories and don't max your mines. Build a Bioscanner or a Large Deep Space Freighter (LDSF) and send out your two ships.

And here I would like to make the first remark about strategy. Stay invisible as long as possible. What if your opponents, not necessary enemies but still opponents, are located in that beautiful looking cluster north-west of your homeworld. Should you be heading in it's way? I don't think so. Stay out of sight, if you need to fly at a higher warp than your engines are suitable for, so be it. Just remember the gravity wells, which enable you to fly 84 LY with warp 9. As long as you stay out of sight, you'll stay out of trouble. Don't be too greedy and rush for the cluster(s).

Then there is the point of filling your ships. A player I know, once said that if you want to colonize a planet, you'll need at least 100 clans. This would give you 100 factories and 100 mines. Unfortunatly, you don't have enough cargo-room in your SDSF for 100 clans and additional supplies. Therefor keep in mind that on a temperate-warm world 15 clans will reproduce, while on a tropical or cool world 20 clans are needed. So I'll say fill your SDSF with 60 clans and 10 supplies, which will be enough for four warm-worlds or for three tropical-cool worlds. But what if you encounter a desert or arctic world? Here I would like to refer to the article written by Timo Kreike, which was published in Echoes of the Cluster issue #5, September 1996, called 'Push your Economy to the max'. Economy is one of the most critical parts of VGA-Planets and in this article allmost everything is explained. I will give two formula's from this article, which are common knowledge for the experienced players.

1. Max clans on a arctic world = (20100 - CDR% - 200 * (99 - temp)) / CDR%

example:

You encounter a world with a temp of 6, but it has a lot of minerals so you want as many mines as possible on that world. You would be able to drop, with the settings given at the beginning of this article: (20100 - 10 - (200 * 93)) / 10 = 149 clans who will stay alive, so 149 mines.

2. Max clans on a desert world = (20100 - CDR% - 200 * temp) / CDR %

example:

A world with a temp of 98 could have: (20090 - 19600) / 10 = 49 clans

Now the game continues, it is turn two, you have found the two planets mentioned above and your LDSF is ready for takeoff. Where should it be heading too? There was this cluster northwest and one northeast, but to fly there would make you visible to other players. As mentioned before, avoid that as long as possible, so send it out planet hopping to the onces west and south. I usually fill my LDSF's with 1080 clans and 120 supplies and 100 MC. This enables me to drop 90 clans and 10 supplies on every planet I find, assuming that the climate is good enough to support 90 clans. The 100 MC is for the planet which has a lot of natives, so I'll be able to build up an economy fast. However, if this is such a great planet, I would like to defend it against enemy sensor-sweeps or Bioscans. 15 defense posts will block a sensor-sweep while 20 block a Bioscan. A side effect of this is that my opponents might think that there is no habitation if they scan the planet. If they'll visit the planet, I'll be able to destroy the freighter, of even a light ship when I build more defense posts. In general: stay out of sight as long as possible, build 14 factories on your new planets, then build 15 or 20 defense posts and then max your factories and build as many mines as you like.

Imagine that this colonizing continues for a few more turns and it is now turn 6. You have build two transwarp LDSF's and some destroyers. Should you be heading towards the clusters by now and probably show yourself to other players? If you have planets within hopping range, no, but if you can't expand further without traveling in open space you'll have to, since it is necessary to enlarge your empire as soon as possible. A good tactic is to fly to one of the planets next to your homeworld and depart from there to the cluster. If you are spotted, most players will assume that that's your homeworld.

A whole different thing is diplomacy at this moment. Mostly, in this stage of the game, diplomacy is just writing universal messages that you will assimilate others, or wish them good luck (in that order :-). I enjoy this part of the early-game as much as the other parts in the game. It gives you an impression of what your opponents are alike. But when you have set course towards that cluster, 2 months away, diplomacy gains potential. What if you sensor-sweep other worlds and find colonist on them? Or even better, what if you see a Romulan LDSF pass by? Should you build an attack-force and head towards his empire? Should you drop minefields and waste precious money and minerals? Or should you try to negotiate a border and perhaps cooperate? The latter would be my choice, since you can both benifit from cooperation. In the long run you could exchange ships, minerals, money, colonist or whatever. I would try to get a non-aggresion agreement between myself and the spotted opponent. Later in the game this could evolve to a alliance, but I think it's too early to form one now.

In the meantime, your colonists grow and you are starting to get real low on minerals on your homeworld. I would set up transporter-routes, to supply my starbase. A transporter-route is nothing more then a fixed schedule of waypoints for one or more of your freighters. It is also wise to determine where the best suitable place is for a second starbase. Often the best choice is the planet which will give you the most money and which has a reasonable amount of minerals, but the choice could also be a strategic point in your empire. Just make sure that you can support it with enough minerals and money. A bovinoid world is also a good choice, since this world will be able to supply itself if a Merlin is stationed above it. The problem is that a Merlin costs a lot of minerals, and one shouldn't build a Merlin this early in the game.

The game continues and you are transporting more and more clans to your rich worlds and bringing back the minerals to your starbase and now the time has come to build up your forces. You have probably build some medium-ships, but now, about turn 12-15, your first heavy baseship should be rolling out of your base. Depending on the situation with your neighbours, its task should be defensive or, if you are being attacked, even offensive. It will have major influence in the balance of power in your region of the starmap. If you are forced in a defensive frame of mind, try to build up battlegroups and start attacking yourself, since it is true that the best defense is offense. For a good description of a battlegroup for a certain race, read the 'Dreadlord Battle Manual'.

Then there is the issue of minefields. Mostly players cannot afford minefields early in the games, but if you are being harrased by a cloaking race, you will need to drop them. A good tactic for dropping minefields is to create lots of overlapping, medium, minefields. A medium minefield has a range of about 50 lightyears, which is about 70 mark 4's (910 mc). Remember that the mark 4 is the best torp for the buck (read the h-files or the infolist for more info). If you drop three of these fields around your crucial worlds, you'll have a decent defense. Andrew Sterian wrote an excellent article about mine-hit probabilities in Echoes of the Cluster issue 2 and 3.

I would like to end with the remark that there is no one right way to play VGA-Planets, and that is what makes it such an exciting game. All of the above is written from my experience as a player and as a host. Mostly it worked out well, at least I never got beaten in the first 20 turns of a game.