Vassallage: The Alternative To Dying In A Painful Nasty Messy Bloody And Above All Thorough Fashion

There are eleven players and one winner (maybe two).  Mathematically speaking, this means that sometimes you’re just plain gonna lose, no matter how good or skilled or lucky you happen to be.  Sometimes you die; sometimes you survive; sometimes… you change sides.  This is technically called “Becoming a Vassal”, though your former teammates may refer to it in other less salubrious terms.

So here’s what happens:  Someone has managed to get an overwhelming force next to your homeworld.  Your navy is shattered; your escape is cut off.  And your planets are falling, one by one.  Your future has been reduced to these options:

  1. Die, doing as much damage as possible.  Remember, if this is your choice, your opponent will earn PBPs from killing your ships but not from killing your starbases.
  2. Surrender to your conqueror.  You’re going to work for the person that just killed you; at the least, you’re about to learn some things, so pay attention.
  3. Fall back and go to work for your friends.  If you have any left after they just failed to save your homeworld, that is.

Some people prefer option 1.  The more stubborn (and well-prepared) will go with option 3; the more flexibly-minded may prefer option 2.  I won’t tell you which is the right choice; that’s your call.

If you opt to survive, your future has changed a bit.  You’re no longer aiming so much for the grand prize that is total victory; instead, you might, if you’re very very lucky, end up as the ally of the person that does win.  For this to even be possible, you’re going to need to hang on to as much territory and as many ships as you can.  And, if it’s not practicable, you’re going to have to learn to be content with mere survival.

In either case, you’ve got two choices: Honest Servitude or Treachery.  Since successful treachery looks just like honest servitude up to the vital moment, I’ll cover the honest option first.

One note:  If you’re a would-be vassal employer, paranoia is a two-edged sword; it cuts both ways.  A paranoid overlord will not excite loyalty among his followers; on the other hand, one that is too trusting may lose the respect of his vassals, which will be followed by a sudden but inevitable betrayal*.  Instead, I advise generosity coupled with natural caution; more on this later.

Honest Servitude:

You thought running an empire was hard, but it’s got nothing on being an employee.  Back then, yours was yours and woe betide any that doubted it.  Now, though, you have to continually justify your existence or it’s back to the chopping block.

By this point in the game, it’s likely that you’ll have reached the Ship Limit, and at present you’re unlikely to be on the front lines generating PBPs.  This means that (1) your only builds will come from the queue and therefore (2) you’d better have a ton of starbases.  Every planet you own will have to work for a living; every colonist will need to justify his continued survival.  Every native gets exploited; every factory works three shifts.  Your turns will take longer than before and your reward will be less.  That’s what you get for letting yourself be put into this position.

On the other hand, every bit of work you do needs to be compensated for.  Your new master should receive a solid benefit from your continued survival, but in exchange you should be earning hulls or planets — once you’ve paid off your present bases, that is.  Don’t ask too much, though; remember: chopping block.  Plus, the honest protection granted by a powerful neighbor is legitimately worth a fair amount; give honest work for honest pay.

If you’re one of the free-fighter races, you’re worth a ton.  Colonies are worth the most due to their sweeping ability, of course, but the Bots and Rebs can pound out the fighters like nobody’s business, and even the Empire can be of use in this way.  Just remember to get something tangible in exchange for every shipload of fighters you hand off.

For the rest of you, it’s likely ships or intel that you’re providing.  Again, you need to make a profit on each transaction; there can be only just so many ship hulls in existence, and if you’re asked to part with one you need a tangible reward.  Likewise, if you are providing services (cloaked scouting, Hisssssing, Dark Sense, fighter-sweeping, Firecloud bus service) you should get some form of payment; at the very least, all of your losses ought to be subsidized by your employer.  After all, you’re now rebuilding at a disadvantage.

It’s possible, of course, that your new master will be unable or unwilling to give you a just and equitable return on your investment.  Alternately; you might dislike the way he ties his necktie or parts his hair — or maybe you just hold a grudge for the methods by which your cooperation was first gained.  You’ll be considering


There are a couple of things that people tend to forget here, so I’ll spell them out for you just so there’s no mistakes.  First, you were beat for a reason; your new master is stronger, faster or just plain better than you are.  Second, nobody trusts a traitor so if you’re going to backstab you’re unlikely to be given a second chance.  As such, it is essential that, if you’re going to do this, you must do it perfectly on the first try; there’s no second chances.

Now, bearing in mind that your goal is to utterly defeat the person who previously showed you mercy, you’re looking at long odds that anything you can do will actually accomplish this; your navy was likely eliminated, after all.  More likely, the form your treachery will take will be assisting one of your master’s enemies, whether by transmitting intelligence or through more direct means (such as providing fuel, ships, or safe passage through your minefields).  It is extremely difficult to manage much of this, so unless you can trust your new secret ally to act effectively, decisively, and above all with stealth, it’s often better not to bother.

On rare occasions, however, the opportunity will be too great to miss.  If his navy has been routed and his enemies are running rampant over the remains of his scattered empire, one might even argue that it is in fact your duty as an ally to deprive those enemies of further loot.**  Alternately, if you cut a deal somewhat sooner, you may be the actual cause of the defeat of his forces and thereby arrange a deal which permits you to gain and hold a large amount of his territory.

When attempting this last, remember:  You’re a traitor; your new friends will likely mistrust you.  Also, some people won’t honor a deal made with a proven traitor; despite the innate hypocrisy, this is fairly common, so be sure to armor yourself against further treachery on their part.  Finally, you should never overestimate the combat prowess of your new friends; if you fail, you have likely sealed your own doom.

At present, there is no detailed guide to “Treachery For Fun And Profit”.  Until there is, the one thing you must remember is this: Be thorough.

On Being A Good Feudal Lord (or, How Best To Avoid Treachery)

So you’ve read through the last two sections.  You can see the ways in which you can be betrayed; you can also figure out much of what your new vassal(s) require to keep them content.  The most vital factor, though, hasn’t been explicitly mentioned; it is this:  Hope.

Every player is here for something.  Most of the good players will be actively trying to win even after you’ve subdued them for as long as it’s possible.  Much of the time, this is to be encouraged; after all, if you can win the game with their help, why begrudge the best of your vassals the second-place title?

Some vassals, however, were defeated because they just don’t understand how to play.  Their education is now, in part, in your hands; they deserve something for their service, and showing them a better way to play is the least you can do.  (Besides, it’s cheaper than paying them in planets or ships.)

One important element to controlling a less-skilled vassal is keeping them too poor to harm you while yet rich enough to aid you.  The same is true of the more skilful; these, however, are more apt to perceive just how difficult it would be to truly harm you, so in general you can allow them more power.  You will need to learn when you can trust them and when not, and give them all the support that their trustworthiness (and their native abilities) can allow.

The most effective method of control is to inspire genuine loyalty and respect.  This is begun through diplomacy, aided through granting trust, and finally earned through magnanimity or even generosity.  There are a very few of you that are incapable of this; if you’re not among them, you must needs rely on the more primitive methods shown above.  For the fortunate few, however, this is the best course to pursue except where there is evident ill-will.  You may see your vassals actually volunteer genuine self-sacrifice to further your cause, and more you could not ask.  When you find this, all you can do is try to be worthy of it.

Efficient Vassalage:

Whether you are master or minion, your goal is the same:  Improve the effectiveness of the vassal by the most expedient and reliable method.  If they’re fighter-builders, get them fighter-carriers.  If they exist to build ships, get them PBPs, cash and minerals.  Both sides of the bargain should acknowledge that this aid costs and that there is a debt incurred; both sides should also recognize that this debt should not be repaid immediately but rather in reasonable stages.

One of the most forgotten aspects of this new relationship is that now, both ship lists are available to both parties.  If either is a Colonial, for instance, the Cobol (and maybe the Aries) can make its appearance in both fleets.  The Lady Royale is equally powerful; Gravitonics and Fireclouds are excellent logistical tools.  Even HYP probes and the Neut Carrier are wonderful items for transporting cash over any distance.

While care should be taken that neither party benefits more than the other, it is also true that excessive attention paid to fairness and equality will only cause friction.  It is far better to be generous with one another (within the bounds reason and safety) and risk unfairness than to measure every ounce of material.


* Such as, “Ahhahhaaahhh!  (Mine is an evil laugh!)  Now, die!”

**  Whatever helps you sleep nights, mate.


5 thoughts on “Vassallage: The Alternative To Dying In A Painful Nasty Messy Bloody And Above All Thorough Fashion

  1. Great article and veery helpful gnerphk, you framed the issues well as usual. I’m currently trying to get someone in a game of mine to do this. It is a hard sell, but i think they want to as he has a dogged determination to continue. The main resistance point is former allegiances, and “saving face” (or not giving in too easily). Both mentioned above. I will keep trying as i believe in this option strongly. Keep up the good work, and good luck in the championship. I hear they thought they had your homeworld, ha.


  2. I recently finished a game as the Crystal in which an expert Bird player hit me early and forced me into defensive mode too soon and crippled my economy. I had enough strength to win an only slightly bad territorial agreement with my other neighbor the Rebel. Ultimately my lamed economy resulted in the Rebel attacking me and the Bird swiftly encroaching through even the webs.

    The Rebel betrayed our agreement without warning and while I don’t blame them for the choice, I certainly wasn’t going to vassalize myself to them, meanwhile the Bird was doing ok, but had at least simply offered an honest fight, so I approached that player.

    He brought me peace, some extra web layers and an opportunity to continue to exist. In exchange I tied up the Rebel and captured some Rushes to add to his fleet. While I certainly didn’t win the game or even perform particularly well in the final standings, I learned some and had a blast.

    Don’t be afraid or ashamed to vassalize yourself… its a great chance to see how “better” players do things and also to continue to manage your empire and refine your own strategies.



  3. I had missed your comment, Soop. An excellent example, if I may say so, and well-stated.

    I’m certain there must be people out there that disagree with this practice, and I’d like to see some counter-arguments, if they’re out there.


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