Any player that’s new to this game will start getting paranoid about being attacked. This is perfectly natural, reasonable and sane. It is, in point of fact, the appropriate reaction; after all, you’ve just voluntarily entered into a contest with ten other people that want you to lose.
On the other hand, the paranoia itself can cripple you. Rather than let that happen, I propose we take some time and analyze the topic in greater depth. That way, you’ll at least know in advance what you should properly fear and take the appropriate steps.
The Early Attack
Four of the ten races that could be your neighbors are gifted at the early sneak attack. These are the Lizards, the Birds, the Privateers, and the Fascists; any of them could sweep in and strike your ships in order to cripple you at the beginning. Alternately, a particularly aggressive Robot or Crystal player may sneak as close as possible and then lay a massive minefield. Rebels may send a Falcon through hyperjump to raid your homeworld — this is possible; your planets, after all, cannot attack them — and either the Cyborg or the Empire could send a hyperspace probe to strike your early colonies. Against the rest, all you have to worry about in the early game is a direct and obvious military strike.
On the plus side, unless you lose your homeworld before the fifteenth turn or so, you can probably recover from any early raids. So let’s concentrate on things you’ll need to defend your homeworld, eh?
Any enemy homeworld is going to be at least 300 LY from your own base at the start of the game. This means that, even if your enemy is psychic (or really really smart) and can pinpoint your origin first thing, it’s going to take a few turns to get there. In the mean while, you start off with a starbase, 20 Defense points, and 20 fighters, plus a civilian population of 2.5 million (or 25.000 clans).
Take one example: There’s a 20% chance that one of your neighbors is a Bird Man. Assume his first build is a Dark Wing with Mk8 torpedoes; assume further that he knows precisely where your homeworld is and strikes at it. This means that, at the start of Turn 6, one enemy Dark Wing is at your homeworld.
Open up Planets and go to the Simulator. (This is found under the menu link for VCRs, on the right side of the game’s “Dashboard”.) Pick Ship vs. Planet, put in the Dark Wing on the left and a starbase with 100 Defense and 20 fighters on the right. Now run that puppy and see what happens — it’s pretty grim (unless you’re a Bird). Now run it again, adding a handful of defense points and fighters each time until you can defeat your attacker.
Alternately, a Fascist might send in a squadron of Deth Speculas, which could arrive as early as Turn 9; run the simulator and you’ll see how deadly this could be. A Lizard might well load up four Lizard Class Cruisers with colonists and plan to drop them on you; if you maintain the original 20 Defense, his troops will slaughter almost 2 million of your colonists, which would seriously cripple you. Six enemy LCCs full of clans will actually capture a first-turn homeworld.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
As you’ve just seen, your homeworld needs a fair amount of defense to survive an early surprise attack. For any race, this is an expensive proposition; the Evil Empire will build several fighters for free, which helps a bit, but most races lack that advantage. As such, I strongly advise the construction of multiple planetary defense posts underneath your homeworld starbase; if possible, you might also consider building some fighters.
Anything you spend on defense will weaken your fleet, but a small expense will certainly be worth your while.
Don’t Reveal Your Homeworld
An enemy can see your ships move from 300 LY away. His homeworld won’t be much further than that, and you’ll have another neighbor on the other side. The easiest way to show your enemy his target is to let him see your ships moving to and from your homeworld. A Warp 9 ship travels up to 81 LY in a turn, and if someone can see a ship exactly 81 LY from a planet, it’s no great stretch to guess where it might have come from — and anyone with a straightedge can easily see where it might be going.
The simple solution? Move from one planet to another without stopping in deep space between turns. Do this until your home defenses are finished and you’ll be a lot better off — certainly a lot safer. If you can’t (and eventually you won’t be able to), try moving to a different planet to start with. Additionally, since enemy sensor sweeps can see populous yet underdefended planets, you’ll find it useful to purchase a number of planetary defense points on many of your new colonies; fifteen or more will keep you invisible from a distance.
Those of you who can fly hyperspace probes should also take notice. If you ever jump directly from your homeworld to a planet 350 LY away and colonize it, the first player to get there and see that it’s a (for instance) Rebel planet will see how simple it is to back-track you. If you jump straight into a neighbor’s home cluster, you’re even more vulnerable.
Build A Backup
One of the best things you can do early in the game is move a sizable number of colonists to a nearby congenial world and use that as a second homeworld in the event someone does successfully attack. I know of people that habitually build a Super Transport Freighter on the first turn and send it off fully loaded. This may seem excessive; however, it’s a tremendous advantage if the worst should happen.
Any early attack will either be by cloaked ships or easily visible. If you can see it coming you’ll have some time to prepare; the thing to fear is what you can’t see. A cowardly player may want to hide on his homeworld with a massive fleet and a huge minefield… except if you look at it on the map, you’ll see that a huge minefield looks exactly like a big bullseye. It’s a perfect way to invite an attack on the planet at the center. Oh, and it’s got your name on it.
If you’re worried enough about your cloaking neighbors to lay a minefield or two in the early game, you’ll want to do it properly. Try not to put your best stuff in the very center of the target. To avoid that, lay several minefields rather than one or two, and make sure they’re not in an exact circle surrounding your homeworld. You’ll want to lay multiple minefields that overlap each other for the best effect.
Robot and Crystal players will find their minefield advantages to be a great comfort. Indeed, there are those who swear by them as the best possible defense, and I find it hard to argue — if one can afford them, that is.
To paraphrase Sun Tzu: “If you try to be strong everywhere, all you’ll manage to do is make yourself weak everywhere.” You simply cannot afford to leave a ship in orbit around every planet you own just on the off chance a weak and foolish enemy happens to blunder in and kill himself.
What you can do, especially in the early game, is make sure you’ve got a few well-armed ships at or near your best planets at all times. Personally, I’m a great fan of arming my first Merlin or Neutronic Refinery fairly well; if you’ve never seen one of these battle a Deth Specula, you’re in for a treat. At the very least, your cloaking foe will be forced to send a ship to tow it away while the rest of his fleet hits your planet.
For those races which build additional support ships — Geminis or Q-Tankers for fighter production, perhaps a Lady Royale for that extra bit of cash, Lizard Hisssssers, Terraformers — you’ll find that they absorb a bit of damage from an enemy sneak attack. It’s perhaps wiser not to rely too heavily on a stack of Q-Tankers to drive off a squadron of enemy Dark Wings, but each one will cost your opponent a volley of torpedoes, and that’s something. Better would be to own enough heavy carriers to securely defend your homeworld, but that’s not always practicable.
One of the most devastating enemy weapons is the “Rebel Ground Assault” mission, followed closely by the Fascist “Pillage”; as you may recall, both of these races are immune to planetary attacks. Against the RGA, at least, you might find it worth your while to post small torpedo ships as garrisons around important worlds. Against the Fascists, minefields remain your best defense, but you’ll also find that keeping a solid defensive ship in every vulnerable cluster can be worthwhile.
The Best Defense
It is a military maxim: “The best defense is a good offense.” Sometimes, you may find that the best way to protect yourself is to eliminate all of your enemies as rapidly as possible.
Sounds easy when you say it like that, doesn’t it? Well, quite often it really IS that simple. You’ll find that a large number of your opponents have never read this article; rather fewer — but still a fair percentage — will seriously neglect their own home defense. And so, if you happen to find yourself the proud owner of, for instance, a pair of Dark Wings, you might consider going on a short field trip to your neighbor’s homeworld. Early in the game, a surgical homeworld strike can often force a rapid loss; you’d be amazed how much pressure this can take off your frontier.
If you don’t happen to own any Dark Wings, you might consider this alternative: Sometimes, when you have a fair-sized fleet near the enemy navy, it’s wisest to ignore the ships and move past them to strike his planets. This is an especially powerful maneuver in the early or mid-game.
If you’re going to attack, though, be sure to strike with enough strength to kill — or at least cripple — your opponent. By attacking, you’ll usually expend strength; make sure that the damage you do your enemy is worth the damage you cause yourself. As well, it’s important to be prepared to face a counterattack.
But remember — attacking is necessary if you ever plan to win a war. You’re going to have to do it sooner or later.
The Even Better Defense
The Empire and the Borg build the biggest baddest ships. The Rebels, Robots, and Colonies are no slouches in that department. So how is it possible that any other player ever wins?
The answer is simple enough: Diplomacy. Any player can be defeated if enough other power can be coordinated against him. In the early game, it’s often the course of wisdom to make friends with one neighbor and make war on the other; if you have someone you can trust to watch your back, that makes you twice as strong in battle. Later in the game, you’ll find that an appropriate trading partner can make you nearly invincible.
Trust is a double-edged sword, remember. To trust a neighbor fully is to present him a target he might find hard to resist striking. On the other hand, if you trust no one, you will always be at a disadvantage when facing those that do.
This is only a very basic guide, and I’ve deliberately left out such topics as unpredictability, moving minefields, random patrols and the like. Be creative; be inventive; be tenacious — and realize that, every now and then, you’re simply going to lose and there’s nothing at all to be done about it. So the best advice is this: Remember that it’s a game; don’t take it too seriously.