Gathering military intelligence in the game of Planets
When it comes to the most important aspects of Planets strategy, most players talk about diplomacy, tactics, and economy. These skills are certainly of great importance, but in this article, I would like to suggest there is a more important talent which underlies them all: gathering information.
Information gathering is something that most people do without thinking, and so, often it becomes neglected or a second thought. We attack a cluster without scouting first because we want to grab the planets quickly. We make a deal with one player and forget to figure out what other deals are in play. We eagerly launch an attack on a weakened player, only to discover our other neighbour was waiting for our fleet to leave. We blindly strike a planet, and we lament as our precious heavy carrier gets totaled by an unanticipated upgraded defenses or a torpedo boat in the midst of a stack of Biocides. These mistakes can seriously set us back, and they could be avoided if we take the time and effort to gather information.
Military intelligence sharpens your other skills; it makes your economy swifter, your diplomacy purposed, and your tactics dominant. Think of military intelligence as the navigator of your entire empire; this guy steers you around rocky shoals and threatening storms, he directs you through thick fog and murky waters, and he enables everyone to do the job for which they have prepared.
I need the SUPERIOR information in your INFERIOR brain to fly this…thing.– Flight of the Navigator
The Disciplines of Military Intelligence
A discipline involves training and study. It is something that must be purposely practiced and implemented; it does not happen by accident, and it is best done when singularly focused. Real world militaries train people to be specialists with specific skill sets. Success arrives when many individuals fulfilling multiple roles cooperate toward one goal. As commanders in the game of Planets, we are required to act as specialists in ALL disciplines (No wonder people burn out!)
By applying the following concepts, a Planets commander can alleviate a great deal of burden and pressure. For the purposes of this guide, we will concern ourselves with the following four disciplines of military intelligence:
- Human (HUMINT)
- Geospatial (GEOINT)
- Measurement and Signature (MASINT)
- Open-Source (OSINT)
Human Intelligence – “Boots on the ground”
This type of intelligence is attained by personnel who are present at the location of the main source of fighting. In Planets, “boots on the ground” means you need to have ships, planets, and allies feeding you information at all times.
Type A HUMINT: Espionage
One of the easiest and most-used techniques of gathering information is talking to other players; whether you think of yourself as the good guy or not, engaging another person in in-game banter makes you a spy. Through diplomacy (*cough*espionage*cough*), you can attain invaluable information from allies, neutral parties, and even enemies. Diplomacy works differently for every person; the key is that you do it.
Type B HUMINT: Diplomats
In this case, a diplomat is a ship or planet which stays in the territory of an ally, neutral party, or enemy. Placing diplomats in other territories extends your vision and is a constant source of information. Your diplomats are ultimately working for you, but be sure they are being helpful to your ally as well. Aside from sending you information, your diplomat’s job also includes earning the favour of other commanders.
It is worth noting that the most valuable diplomat in the game is a ship with hyperdrive engines, which can help you form alliances quickly and all over the map.
Type C HUMINT: Communication traffic analysis
This delicate technique calls for the player to pay attention to all the messages that go flying about. In carefully analyzing what others say, how often they speak, when they speak, and to whom they speak, you can gain insight into the actions of multiple parties. One time-honored method, for example, is to spread gossip to one player and see if another hears it.
Be cautious about making assumptions.
Geospatial Intelligence – “Comics”
This type of intelligence is gathered by studying maps and terrain features. In Planets, a commander has a myriad of tools to meticulously critique the Echo Cluster.
Type A GEOINT: Starmap
The Nu starmap is a treasure trove of information. Every player should get familiar with all its fun little gadgets and doodads. Some add-ons have been incorporated into the map features, and you can quite often find more information than you will ever need. Studying the starmap can help you negotiate borders, quickly expand, plan attack routes, and defend your empire.
Early in the game, the starmap can also help you find enemy homeworlds. Some of these methods are outlined in this recent Planets Magazine article: Shining the Light on Enemy Homeworlds.
Type B GEOINT: Orbital scans
Putting a ship in orbit of a planet is another form of gathering geospatial intelligence. All ships automatically perform the Exploration mission, which gives you all data concerning that one planet: a complete mineral survey, the density of in-ground ore, how much ore is in the ground and on the surface, what type and how many natives are inhabiting the planet, the native government, and the temperature of the planet.
Since orbital scans give so much information, you will find that top players scout planets as soon as possible. No sensor sweep or bioscan can best a scout in orbit of a planet.
Type C GEOINT: Long Range Scouting
A long range scout is a ship which you point in a direction away from your homeworld and send it into deep deep space. The best scout has low mass and a medium sized fuel tank; if you want, these ships can travel across the entire map. Send them with ten to twenty clans, and they can establish listening posts all over the sector. (See Type B HUMINT: Diplomats).
When it comes to geospatial intelligence, having a ship in orbit of a planet is one of the most reliable forms of gathering information. If you do not possess the means to do this without endangering a ship, you need to trade for a cloaker or connect with a Rebel, Birdman, or Fascist commander, who all – to some degree – have the ability of being immune to planetary attacks (i.e. ATT and NUK friendly codes).
Measurement and Signature Intelligence – “Got your six”
This type of intelligence is gathered by watching and scanning for distinct signatures. In the game of Planets, there are scans that can be done by everyone and there are scans which can be done only by specific ships.
Type A MASINT: Ship scan range
This is a game feature which is pre-determined in the Host Settings. Every ship and planet completes this scan every turn, and it happens late in the Host. Generally, this is set to 300 LY around every ship and planet. If an enemy ship comes within 300 LY, it is detected. If you have Shared Intel with another player, you see what they see as well.
Here is a tip: Early in the game, make sure your ships are 300 LY away from suspected enemy planets. This way, you can mask your movements.
Type B MASINT: Planet scan range
This game feature is also pre-determined in the Host Settings; it is similar to the “ship scan”. The “planet scan” happens every turn and late in the Host. It detects any planets out to 10000 LY. That usually means you can see every planet in the game, unless it is hidden in a nebula.
Some maps at Nu have this feature set very low, and so you can only see a small section of your starting area. This is called a “fog of war” feature, and it makes you blind to the locations of other planets. This makes your information gathering much more difficult and extremely urgent.
Type C MASINT: Sensor sweep
This ship mission must be activated by the player. When engaged, the ship scans out 200 LY in search of colonist activity on planets. Do not ignore this mission; if your ship has nothing better to do, then set it to sensor sweep. This mission allows you to detect enemy planets, and it can often be an early warning system.
Sensor sweeping lets you know the industry level on a detected colony. A planet is more likely to be picked up by a sensor sweep if the planet has a lot of factories and mines. If you detect a new enemy colony, be sure to check your messages to see the level of industry. If there is heavy industry, then you can be assured that this planet has a large amount of minerals. Be aware that defense posts can reduce the percentage of detecting colonies.
Finally, if your game has wormholes, the sensor sweep mission will detect them out to 100 LY.
Type D MASINT: Bioscan
Bioscan is an enhanced version of the sensor sweep mission, but only a few ships can use it. It also scans out to 200 LY, and it includes a chance to detect native life. Bioscanners bring in information which can guide your freighters directly to money planets and away from planets with no natives. It can help guide your expansion, and it can also reveal which of your enemy’s planets are essential targets.
Type E MASINT: Nebula scan
This ship ability is always active, but it is limited to a few ships. This scan allows you to pick up all planets within a nebula, regardless of the density. Its range is 100 LY of the ship. Having ships which can nebula scan is advantageous, but it is a very situational ability. In most games, you will not care if do not have one, but if you end up fighting in those big turquoise clouds, you will wish you had a nebula scanner.
Type F MASINT: Minesweep
This is an activated ship mission, which is extremely vital to staying alive. It is wise to keep many ships with their mission set to minesweep, because you learn when minefields are laid, how they change each turn, where enemy ships are hiding, where there are no enemy ships, and which enemy planets are important to them.
Open-Source Intelligence – “Chest Candy and the Red Team”
This type of intelligence is gathered from researching public material. Many Planets commanders will tell you that it does not matter which race you fight, because your true opponent is the player behind the race, not the race itself. For this reason, it is a crucial task to gather information about your opponents.
Type A OSINT: Player Profile
At the beginning of the game, study who you are playing by visiting their player profile. Each profile includes the following pieces of information: their rank and badges with each race, currently active games, groups to which they belong, and personal information they have shared. This public profile can give you clues to who might offer them help, how experienced they are, how busy they are, and even how well they speak your language.
Type B OSINT: Player History
It is also important to study your opponents’ game history, which is also found in the player profiles. Each game’s history includes the following pieces of information: in what place they finished each war, how long each war took, how often they resigned or dropped, their overall tenacity rating, and the type of game they played. This history of public performance can give you clues to how often they play each race, their ability to fight through opposition, their general skill level, and their experience with different types of games.
Type C OSINT: Player CHAT
On rare occasion, your opponents will spill vital information in the public chat – or you will. This is as it should be. A good player must interact with his rivals, and it is near-impossible to stay always on your guard.
Of course, intel gained in public chat rooms can as easily be disinformation, spread by a competent foe. It is useful, but it cuts both ways.
Information gathering is a vital skill to Planets commanders. It directs and informs all aspects of the game. It needs to be trained and allowed to guide diplomatic, tactical, and economic gameplay. Ignore it, and you fight a battle against the wind and through the fog. Embrace it, and your journey will have the wind at your back and be smathered in the hydraulic fluid of your enemies’ shattered ships.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the journey! – TS
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