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?”
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?
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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