Seeing Purple and Red

OPINION

Curbing the Influence of Minefields

Planets is less a galactic combat simulator and more a space opera; it is an adventure story, flavoured with science fiction and tempered by the rules of a war game. Each sector is a mental filmstrip beaming images of Tie Fighters and X-Wings, Raiders and Vipers, and pointy-eared spies and Qapla’-shouting warriors! These exciting moments are why we toil and “turn,” but, alas, when the game we love becomes mired in purple and red circles, we lose the very soul of what makes Planets fun. Purple and red means webs and minefields, and an overabundance of these leads to long slogs and painfully-slow endings.

The length and pace of games is frequently discussed in the Planets.nu forums; minefields are a major point in the threads. Possibly in response to this discussion, Nu is exploring faster-paced games by adding features like the new Planetary Production Queue (PPQ), Accelerated Fight or Fail (AFoF), and annual League competitions. With AFoF, games end at an exponential rate; with the PPQ, players must fight for planets or fall behind — and with the Nu League, all games are confined to one year and a new Emperor is declared on a yearly basis. The result of a pace increase is that players are required to attack and attack quickly; more so, all empires must adopt the truism of “fight or die.”

With Planets games now moving at a brisk clip, it is a good time to consider the impact of minefields. Minefields generally have a debilitating effect on players. When you are losing, they are the salt in the wound and the nasty aftertaste; when you are winning, they are the thorn in your side and the sickly-sweet aroma of trench warfare. The problem with minefields is that a game can become swamped with “negative” action; we put our energy into avoiding ships, fearing mine hits, and waiting for someone else to make the first move. Avoiding, fearing, and waiting are steps backwards; they dull the adventure and leave us unfulfilled. Even on the winner’s side, minefields numb the glory of success, and victors are drained of their will to play the next game. If we spend months of slogging through these mental trenches, burnout is a real possibility.

The prime example of this negative impact is seen with webs. Webfields bring games to a grinding halt, and it is nothing for a small number of web-layers to defend a territory. A few Crystal torpedo ships can create layer upon layer of sticky webs, until attack is nearly impossible. To break this wall of purple, a player – and often, a groups of players – must wait for a great number of Heavy Phasers to arrive; even after the powerful beams arrive, there will be a prolonged period of non-action as the webs are gradually reduced. This grind is exacerbated when Crystals are in alliances, where Safe Passage allows webs to be dropped without coordination and all economies can feed the ever-growing menace. When your ships become covered with the purple menace, your situation is the epitome of Not Fun.

On top of sucking the fun out a game, a Crystal player, even an almost defeated one, can easily act as kingmaker – whoever gains their powers will most likely win the game. When you are winning, you enjoy the advantage; when you are losing, it feels hopeless and you often ask yourself, “Why am I playing this when I could be out at the pub?”

Bogged Down

The hopelessness minefields cause is most prominent with the torpedo and cloaking races. Commanders of such races find joy in sneaking around, dodging enemy ships, and dive-bombing for the weak points in an enemy’s defense. The heart of torpedo-boat strategy is like a dance; we sidestep the enemy, shuffle into the flanks, and cha-cha-chá into combat. This spring in our step is lost when we are smothered in purple and red circles. On top of becoming disheartened, we are prevented from performing pack and tow-kill tactics, vital maneuvers for fighting enemy carriers. With fleet mobility, we have a fighting chance; without it, we are as a fly on the wall waiting to be swatted.

So, let’s toss out minefields and webs, right?

Contrary to the argument, minefields also give us freedom of movement; they allow our ships to safely move within our empires and strategically fly within enemy space. Minefields enable us to get into position, and, more importantly, they are frequently the only form of protection for some races, especially carriers races. For movement and defense, minefields are a necessity. They are especially needed for the Crystals, who depend on webs; on their own, the Crystalline Confederation is not as dangerous as when they are supported by an ally with a strong economy. This applies to regular minefields as well: The minefields of one race is manageable, but the minefields of many becomes an unsurmountable obstacle. In the end, we’re left with this dilemma: We need minefields, but, under the wrong conditions, they make the game boring.

Currently, minefield domination is a reasonable and correct tactic to employ, but the longer a game goes on, the more likely it is that mines cover the map and the game stultifies. Think about it: Would we rather be stranded in a corner and unable to use our fleet, or instead go down fighting? Would we prefer to have our fleet slowly sapped of power and wait dozens of turns for the enemy to finally crush us, or would we choose to go out in a blaze of glorious combat?

A Solution?

One possible solution is to integrate Crew Experience Level with the minesweeping mission. As a ship gains experience, its crew masters both ion storm and minefield navigation. The result would be a gradual increase in a ship’s capability to sweep mines.

In the current version of Planets, crews gain Experience by traveling through space, surviving battles, performing alchemy duties, and flying through ion storms. The benefits are reductions in ion storm damage and crew loss. This tells us that Crew Experience is a very underused feature — one which could be harnessed to rein in minefields.

If used to curb the influence of space mines, crew experience would also be earned by using the minesweep mission, moving through minefields, and surviving a mine hit. The new benefit would then be small decreases in the chance to hit mines and small increases in the amount of swept mines.

On Turn 10, a ship with Disruptors is built. For 75 turns, it travels around the starmap, sweeps mines, and navigates ion storms and enemy minefields. As the ship engages in these activities, it gathers Crew Experience; they learn to move through minefields with a smaller chance of taking damage, and they become more efficient at removing mines. By Turn 85, this experienced ship may even become a stronger minesweeper than the brand new ship with Heavy Phasers and 0 experience.

As a game lengthens, the power of minesweeping rises. Across the sector, minefields have less effect, and players are forced to use other means of protection. Novices are not overwhelmed, veterans are free to fight, and players are less likely to encounter burnout, betrayals, and the other negative experiences which come with stalemated situations. Combined with PPQ, AFoF, and League, this new application of crew experience results in a positive step toward a more exciting and gratifying Planets experience.


Thanks for reading. Enjoy the journey! – TS

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7 thoughts on “Seeing Purple and Red

  1. Talespin

    Well written synopsis. While I absolutely agree with respect to the Crystal Webs, I am not as much troubled by standard minefields. Webs and standard mine fields are really polar opposites. There are many tactics available for standard minefields. To name a few of the many; laying other minefields destroy mines, beams destroy mines, ships can still travel full distance through them, the odds or striking a mine are significantly lower, ships can fight after a mine strike and ships can be towed in the field. Therefore, the well prepared invading commander has many tactics from which to choose for success.

    Without rehashing all of the attributes of webs, the only viable tactic is bring fuel, heavy beams and move like a turtle. Still, keeping game balance in mind, it is the ONLY real attribute open to the Crystal player. In addition, in standard format games without FoF the Crystal is not always the Kingmaker. While still difficult, he can still be fought effectively. Team games where a team of three can guarantee their race selection is a fundamentally flaw approach and provides the Crystal team with an unfair advantage. Obviously, this is my opinion.

    How to achieve more balance is always a debate. Without any doubt in my mind, non sweeping of webs in Ion Storms is simply wrong. There is no reason to allow such a large advantage to one race for a purely random event.

    While there may be some merit to considering enhancements for crew experience, there are also other possible means to help counter webs. For instance, torp techs are also under utilized. There are no valid reasons to build Mk5 or Mk6 torps. Perhaps a “new” Mk5 torp could be developed which when laid, destroys web mines. It has built in negatives for player selection since it lays fewer mines than a Mk7 or Mk8 and the ship fighting with it is also less effective. However, allowing it to destroy web mines may make it useful. The same concept could be applied to beams. Maybe some lower tech beams could sweep webs or even regular fields from longer distance.

    And finally, maybe one or two races could be gifted ships with special ability in webs to counter Kingmaker status to Crystal in games. Maybe a ship which encounters no fuel burn when in a field or when striking a web or a ship which can sweep from 10 LY or a ship which can navigate field with 1/2% chance of striking a mine. A pop ship which could navigate through webs without a strike would be very useful for the Fascist. Maybe even a missile ship with a longer range attack to hit ships sitting in the middle of fields. The options are unlimited.

    Many races have natural enemies. The Privateer certainly fears the Fed, Lizard and Fascist. There are probably some races which could use a little bump. Introducing a ship with unique abilities against the Crystal Webs could enhance they desirability and also provide a ship or two with trade value to other races. After all, the Colonies were given a very nice bump when the Cobol was introduced and enhances their overall game play dramatically.

    The real key is to consider all of the unintended consequences before acting. Whatever changes need solid play testing and likely further tweaking.

    Soryu

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As I posted in the thread on at Nu, I think there is a premise here that the slowdown that minefields bring to the game is a BAD thing. I disagree with that wholeheartedly. I think the minefields do exactly what they should do and nothing in their effectiveness in general should be changed.

    But for a second lets put that aside:

    1) No matter what format the league uses, some races will have advantages over others. There is not much you can do to fix that without changing the game significantly.

    2) 100% agree the crystals have an advantage in league format games. But no more than Lizards in Blitz and specific races in Dogfights. I would think you more than anyone would appreciate that.

    3) Even in non league games the crystals (and to a lesser extent the bots) have a solid defensive advantage. Agree 100% on that.

    If we stick to your premise that defense is a bad thing and that the 3 points above are true, how should we fix the (non) issue.

    IMO crew experience is not the best answer. The reason for this is that both the bots and the crystals will become less viable the longer a game goes on. Which would relegate both to the trash heap of races for any game that lasted more than 100 turns. It also indirectly makes the colonies less powerful by making their fighter sweeping less powerful. The colonies are already crappy past mid game.

    What can you do then?

    1) For crystals, bump the sweeping for webs to match normal mines. This is a flat nerf that does not change the behavior late in the game. I personally don’t think it is needed but if any changes were to occur this one would not be horrible. Changing the behavior in ion storms might be another option. I still think they should be unsweepable, but maybe stay visible? Or maybe in an extreme case just make webs completely ignore IS’s.

    2) Don’t play standard games. There are plenty of options for campaign games for mitigating minefields.

    3) If that is still not enough, just customize your games. No need to involve the rest of us if you don’t want players to play defense.

    Sprout

    Like

    • Oh, and in regards to the league team games, there is a really easy way to beat a team with crystals. Be the other team with crystals (or allied with them). xfer ships to the crystal player and have him float right through the webs without issue.

      In the 2 league team games I am familiar with, you had 1 where the crystal team(3v3 team) was eliminated quite early. In the other (2v2) no one else picked crystals so I was the only crystal player in the game. The game would have been VERY different if one of the other teams had chosen crystals.

      Sprout

      Like

    • Sprout

      I agree completely that minefields are important to the game, no doubt and no issue.

      I also totally disagree with respect to how webs current behave in Ion Storms. Ion Storms are random and relatively unpredictable events. These random “events” should not be a 1000% advantage for one single race to the demise of the 10 other races. Ion storms are an over powered advantage for a Crystal which “potentially” can change the entire outcome of a game. This is supposed to be a strategy game and not a roll of the dice game.

      I also think the Robot minefields are in fact currently devalued as the game progresses. Basically, Robot minefields later in the game are the de facto Robot Mine Sweep.

      I also do not see the harm in evaluating a potential counter in the game to web mines. Pop ships can be used successfully against the Lizard, Bird and Fed even though they are immune to Lokis, so they provide a counter to cloaking races. Cobol boost the value of a relatively weak Virgo carrier by making it mobile. Colony mines prevents standard minefield area deniability and they are the alter ego of the Robot. Currently, there is no real counter strategy to webs other than to avoid them. Implementing “something” does make some sense.

      One possible reason the Crystal do not dominate is the required play style. It requires someone who is defensive minded and willing to spend more time preparing a turn than other races. Proper Crystal play requires precise planning for web fields and hence a high level of play to achieve the best effect of webs. For many it is simply more fun blowing something up than plotting minefields every turn.

      Besides Ion Storm, my only real objection to the Crystal is the League Game format where they benefit in two or three important ways.

      Soryu

      Like

      • “This is supposed to be a strategy game and not a roll of the dice game.”

        By this token, there should BE no Ion Storms, though. Likewise, every race should have an identical starting point on an 11 degree symmetric map with the same planet resource distributions and the same natives (number and development) and same temperatures. That is, there should be 11 exact copies of an 11 sided “pizza slice” map arranged in a circle so that every last race has the same exact starting and game advantage.

        …oh, and everyone should play the same race. After all, if different races are allowed, you can run into situations where someone has an advantage – e.g. start with Empire on one side of you and Cyborg on the other vs starting with Birds on one side of you and Privateers on the other.

        Anything else and we run into a “roll of the dice game”.

        Moving through regular minefields is a roll of the dice. Yes, your probability to hit is half of Web mines, but it’s still a chance based event. I had a ship move 1 ly in a warp well at Warp 1 and hit a mine. It can and does happen.

        Part of what makes Planets fun is it ISN’T chess.

        It has a lot more pieces that do a lot more things, and not every piece that each team has is equivalent to a piece that a rival – or ally – team has, and you don’t all start in equal position on the map.

        This makes it more like a real life war/battle, which makes the outcomes far more interesting.

        Like

      • Sprout

        You forgot RNG for torps and fighters.

        Unfortunately, you totally missed the point. Yes, starting positions, natives, planet minerals are random within certain defined parameters. And game play is certainly affected by neighbors and position. And this is what influences your tactics and strategies. It is why no two games are alike. It is also what makes the game fun.

        However, you miss the point. All the factors you pointed out are equal and random for EVERY RACE equally. No race receives any kind of randomized benefit. However, Ion Storms only significantly benefit ONE race. And if you are a Crystal player, you completely comprehend the potential magnitude of the benefit. If you are in a large web field in a large Ion Storm, you are not getting out until the storm passes.

        I was in one game where a low level Ion Storm which was hardly moving and was ~250 LY radius sitting in one area for 7 to 9 turns. In addition, it is a REPEATING random event. One Ion Storm can pass through an area only to be followed by a second ion storm within very few turns. It happens all of time as the storms crisscross the map.

        Why should the Crystal gain such a huge benefit from re-occurring random events? Really makes no sense and is totally unfair, IN MY OPINION.

        In addition, your math for Mine Hit chance per LY traveled example is also flawed. Ships have a 1% chance to hit a stand mine per LY of travel but a 5% chance to hit a web. That is a 500% increased chance of mine strike per LY of travel. And a 1000% increased chance for a cloaking ship to strike a web mine versus standard mine per LY traveled.

        Finally, utilizing math and probability to develop tactics and make decisions is strategy. A 90% chance of a ship victory still means you may lose the battle one out of ten times, but understanding that and positioning yourself for advantageous battles will lead to more victories than defeats.

        Soryu

        Like

  3. II get the sentiment. And I think crew bonus could add a fun element as long as it is done carefully and kept to a smallish effect.

    I get the frustration with minefields and especially with webs.

    As a primary crystal player I obviously would not want to change how they play, if I wanted to clubber my opponents I would choose a different race to play.

    Also I am not sure what the desire in shorter and quicker games is, I hate the first 40 turns of a game, far too much stress to race to build your empire.

    Dogfights and Blitz are different games to me with their own appeal but in a regular 11 man game I absolutely don’t want the dogfight experience.

    This is to say that as much as a lot of people seam to hate the long drawn out games I love them, happily play a 200-300 turn game.

    So in some ways the argument is more about different game style preference than game mechanics.

    It seems to me there is a lot of discussion about how can we change the game to suit my play style there is discussions all the time how race X needs a boost and race Y needs a nerf.

    And the required changes differ from game type to game type. With all the variants (standard, campaign, PLS etc) of game types any change made will have more or lesser effects in each setting. So any change needs to be small.

    Without effective webs the crystals are nothing.
    As was mentioned on the feed discussion, if you nerf the webs too much you kill the crystals as a race, even if you would give them something in return you no longer have the crystals, you have just another torp race.

    With regards to Ion storms, why have Ion storms in a game at all what is the purpose of a random element? And if you want a little bit of random element, maybe limit size of ion storms, or balance nebula, star cluster distribution so ion storms on stay around for very short time.

    Cheers
    Qinic

    Liked by 1 person

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