Crushing the Expert Players

(written by Fruchtquake)

Every Planets player has had these moments in which you are playing a game with or against someone who can be considered an expert. Every tactic you are planning to use seems to be useless because he already has the perfect counter. If you want to beat those guys, you have to do more than just doing your turn.

This is not a common tactical guide teaching you how to counteract certain strategies, but an advanced concept to help you beat those guys in general. This article is going to be about psychology and has several philosophical aspects. Even if that is not your thing, you may want to read on and see how you can become one of these experts yourself. But for now, let’s have a look at our enemy.

Analysis of an expert player

The expert player probably…

  • is very familiar with the host order
  • has played several races and knows their strengths and weaknesses
  • knows the most common strategies (economy, diplomacy and military)
  • has a lot of experience because he has played several games
  • is ranked high on the leaderboard or in your game
  • has a high reputation among other top players
  • is aware that he is one of the best players in the current game

These are the assumptions that I personally make when facing these guys. These assumptions all may be completely wrong, or all of them may fit very well. The truth is different for every enemy player.

What do we learn from our assumptions? // The power of reputation

Our opponent is a very good player in terms of Planets. He knows a lot about the gaming part, but what about his attitude? Having a high reputation among the experts may give him a great deal of self-confidence – maybe even overconfidence, since he knows that people are afraid of opposing him. This player will somehow manage to make territorial agreements that favor him without having to actually fear that someone will attack him. We all know what this leads to: he will have the most starbases and ships because he does not have to care about early attacks and can play Planets like an economical simulation without having to waste resources early on for building expensive combat ships. When you show weakness, the opposing player feels superior to you. This can be a very good weapon but most players who act weak are actually weak. His awareness of being very good and knowing nearly everything about the game is where you can wound him.

How to play and win against expert players

Of course experience in playing Planets is one of the best ways to beat the expert players. But apart from playing games yourself, you can analyze expert players’ games and learn from their strategies. Since on Planets.Nu one can look up the history of turns played from almost any player, looking at your opponent’s finished games will give you an idea how he lays out and plays his game.  If you want to understand how he operates, first you should research the racial abilities and to look up ship specifications, the host order and combat mechanics if you are not certain of them.  This is an important step in becoming an expert yourself. Being an advanced player however still does not make you a big bully. I’ve seen several very good players being defeated by others. If you read along, I can hopefully give you an idea how to become the annihilator and not the one being defeated.

Back to a concrete game

  • Clearly, you do not want to show weakness, since this can be the first step to losing the game. First, you may lose territory without having lost a single ship. Secondly, you may notice that you have fewer planets to develop than others, resulting in your having fewer starbases and thus the ability to build fewer ships yourself. In the long run, you will see an expert running over all the other players.  Maybe the expert will even start with you because you failed to build a strong fleet early in the game.
  • Show strength yourself. Do not give in too early during territorial negotiations unless you are sure they are fair. Show the expert that you are a force to be reckoned with in your words and your military strength. Earn his respect, you may even threaten to start a war or even do so. Most of the people that are high on the leaderboard told me that they are rarely being attacked very early on.
  • Team up! There is no evidence that Planets was designed to be a free-for-all game in which no cooperation was allowed. Surely teaming up and turning ten players against one should kill the expert but this is not what you really want. Instead, you could find out who his other neighbour is and start cooperating and attacking together. If your opponent is very strong already, you might even want to get a third, fourth or fifth player on your side.

These tactics are not very special, are they? No, but they can be very efficient. If you apply
pressure on those top guys, they show similar reactions to the average player.

Something about psychology

If you apply pressure to a person, this person will react. Let us step away from Planets for a moment and see what we can learn from real life experience. Science tells us that the first reaction of the person that is under pressure will be physical. This is an evolutionary relic that we have in our genes. Our ancestors were exposed to several deadly threats such as wild animals that were hunting humans for dinner. Blood is drained from bodily organs and concentrated into the hands (for climbing) and feet (for running). Adrenaline is set free and we all know that under the effect of stress we are less likely to make optimal decisions. These reactions also apply to Planets in a way, perhaps with less intensity, but the effect remains the same. Players who are put under pressure will make mistakes – even the experts.


You also have to keep in mind that every enemy player has a social life so there may be turns your opponent cannot invest much time. Psychological studies show that most people follow routines. This means, that we are performing very similar actions when we are put into familiar situations or situations that are a lot like the situations we have encountered before. This automatism in our behaviour benefits us a lot in our daily life. Imagine you would have to think about every single action when you are driving in your car. You would spend several hours a day for things that you are doing while doing other things simultaneously. Even under stress, people typically can use pen and paper and take notes while talking on the phone, drinking water, and breathing, all at the same time. Everyone’s eyes see things while performing numerous other actions and everyone’s brain filters important from unimportant and old from new information. Especially after being stressed you sometimes cannot recall what you have done exactly in the time you were under pressure. This automatism surely helps but it also makes your behaviour very predictable if someone knows you well.

How does this help me in my desire to defeat my opponent?

If you analyze your opponents turns with this in mind, you will see more. We all have routines and if someone finds them out, he might find a way to use them against us. As a good player you now should know about these fundamentals and be aware of it. You will notice, that even if you are aware of these things there are times and situations where you just have to react like you always did because you know no other way. This leads us to another theory.

Thinking outside the box

Many top players have played a lot of games. They have played all races and know what to do and when to do. They have many years of experience, but most of them are limited. They do not know about the things you do know now but is your knowledge about routines and behaviour enough to beat them? Most likely not. There are times when it seems like there hardly is a way to defeat an opponent. In one of my recent games I was playing the Privateers.  My ally and I together controlled a large portion of the map. We almost won against five other players, but the Rebel commander was a beast. He is a championship player and has won a lot of games for his race. While he is a true master of his race, I must admit that I am not a master of any race in particular. There are races that I enjoy playing more than others, but I have a good deal of experience.  The Rebel has layed countless minefields and supported them very well so i barely had a chance of breaking through at any time. See the screenshot :

Turn 84 Thinking outside the boxThis was a bad position for me. I barely saw a way of passing the minefields with my ships. I eventually found a way in by minesweeping and countermining for countless turns. I most likely would have cleared a passage somehow that would have allowed me to attack one or two planets. No doubt this excellent commander would have had moved his ships to that position. As this game declares winners for those who capture a certain amount of planets it would have taken my ally and me a lot of turns to actually win this game. Most people like me tend to try to get the maximum benefit for the lowest possible input. (there are several psychological studies on this topic also, usually in terms of “leading people” or “being led”). So I decided to find a way out of this misery because i simply did not want to play another 50 turns.

There is a riddle that i want to share with you.

I am going to introduce a riddle to you that is somewhat related to VGA Planets and the specific problem described above.

The 9 dots2task is simple. Grab a pen and a piece of paper and copy the picture. Now connect all of the dots without picking up your pen. You may not stop the line at any point and start again on another point. All dots have to be connected in the line and you may only change the direction of your line 4 times.

Before you read on, try this exercise at least five times. Write down what your problem is (“this does not work” does not count) and describe your task in your own words and think this problem over again. I have done this with some of my friends and some found the solution quickly, while some would maybe never do. So take your time.

Solution to the problem

The reason that you cannot solve this riddle at once is what I described already. Our system of processing information in our head is highly automated. So when you see the 9 dots your brain automatically associates these dots to be in a square, like a cube. But this is not the case. I never told you they were ordered in a square. They simply are 9 dots without any restrictions (like a cube who has physical limitations in terms of width and height). Try to free your mind.There are no limits of space in this particular riddle; the described limits just exist in your head.

If you still do not know what I am talking about you should click on the next picture and re-read what I have written. Then you will most likely understand what I am talking about and maybe you will find a solution to my problem in this game I mentioned above. I advise you to think about the situation (even with — or because of — limited information you may find a solution to the problem and you may even come up with a tactic that I did not use).

Anyway, click on the picture to see what I did in that particular game. My enemy — as good as he was — did not think of this possibility which happened to end the game very fast. My solution may be less spectacular as you imagined but it worked. Like in the riddle above, you literally have to “think outside the box”.


Beating the experts surely is a difficult task. You have to try to become an expert yourself and find out ways of countering a strategy that your enemy is using frequently. Also you should be thinking and playing a few turns ahead. You should anticipate and counteract your opponent’s responses to your actions before he sees what you are planning. If you are in critical situation and don’t know how to proceed, you may want to ask other players/friends for advice. Maybe you also can become creative, free your mind and come up with a totally new strategy.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this article. Feel free to comment/discuss and of course like.

(you can find the solution for the 9-Dots-Problem on wikipedia)

Special thanks to the Makers of “Matrix”

Resources : Wikipedia (9-Dots)

8 thoughts on “Crushing the Expert Players

  1. Hehe, Anaconda – it’s a puzzle, just like the 9 dots. I figured it out 🙂 Think “outside the box” and you’ll see it.

    I think the single most valuable piece of advice in this fantastic article is in the “routines” section. If somebody is in the habit of doing something every day (like playing Planets) and they always do something the same way, that’s a feature of an opponent’s playing style that you can exploit.

    Way to go, Frucht!!


  2. I got it in three strokes of the pen, not curved, all straight, all connected.

    On paper, I can do it in one, but the paper has holes in it.


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