Once upon a time, the Eleven Races were severely unbalanced. Then, hyperspace and Chunnels were invented; races gained special abilities, fighter production could happen on ships, the Super Spy mission was introduced, and so on — and we were all still unbalanced, but not by as much.
Oh, sure, it was always disadvantageous to play Evil Empire or Robots, but you still got to have massive fleet carrier battles. Privateers could waltz freely through three quarters of the map and Cyborgs could stomp around wherever they damn well pleased, and everyone else adapted. Diplomacy became king, and game balance was almost irrelevant.
But now, that’s changed.
There was a time once when a skilled Privateer could win the game. Strike a neighbor early and steal the good stuff, spread along the Rim and through the center, and soon your fleet’s as big as anyone’s. You could win for the simple reason that everyone else would eventually run out of Lokis and Poppers, and you ruled the Queue.
But it wasn’t fun for anyone else, so a new Queue was introduced. And the Privateer stopped winning so much — except in low-level games, of course.
The Crystal likewise once had its season, when well-timed webs could dominate two adversaries at the same time. Fleets would be stolen and players stifled, and eventually inertia would win it for them because nobody could build enough beam weapons fast enough to stop the Webs from covering half the cluster.
Again, when the Crystal was winning there were ten other players who were no longer having fun, so the new Queue came along and the Crystal began to fade.
The Fascists build one of the weakest battleships in the game. Their only saving grace was the Glory Device, which not only protects against all cloakers, it also creates guided missiles that can wipe out even the largest enemy fleet in a single blow. The Fascist path to victory likewise followed a stalled build queue… and again was made impossible by the introduction of the new Queue. Oh, now they have Fast Beams, which does give them the chance to strike enemy strongholds, but the Priority Point penalty is so horrific that the price of their guided Glories now outweighs the gain.
Other tweaks are made here and there to the game balance; the Tow-drop Chunnel is removed, the Birds are empowered, Merlin queue domination is ineffectively nerfed and then made the only hope of torpedo races… and so on. Diplomacy is restricted, alliances prohibited, and hard work devalued. There’s a pattern: People complain and the game gets tweaked to answer their complaint, over and over — and nobody watches the balance.
Well, now I’m complaining — and with no great hope of being heard, I might add. The newest Queue variant, combined with rapidly advancing FoF in top-level games, will make it impossible for Privateers to win and impracticable for Crystals to do more than stand. The cloaking races are given positional power but no strength; the carrier races are presented with infinite builds and no defense. Rather than an improvement of the balance, instead we have increasing imbalance — and the eventual results become plain to see.
In the new age, Colonies rule, with Rebels and Cyborg close behind. Lizards and Birds have tactical advantages but lose logistically; Fascists are proof against anyone but useless alone. Robots and Empire fail for want of fuel; Privateer and Crystal fail for want of a path to victory; the Federation is as always only useful to other players. The only balance is observable in its absence, and the only certainty is that player drops will decide the fate of the game.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
There is a very old tale — one of the oldest; and over eons it has changed much in the telling. Read on and I shall try to do it justice.
From time to time, Odin the Wanderer would choose to sojourn among mortal men, testing their quality, rewarding the truly hospitable, and as always seeking heroes for his war band, to stand against the time of the Ending.
On this journey of which I speak, he chose as his companions Balder the well-beloved and Loki the clever. They arrived in Midgard and wandered as the roads led them, disguised as mortals. One day as evening drew in, they came to a crossing of two tracks; and here stood a shanty that would befoul the word of “inn” or “tavern”. It was but a shed with half a barrel of sour beer. The room was low and smoky, and it stank of piss and worse.
“Faugh! Surely you can’t want to go in there!” said Balder, for once not cheerful. “They’ve never washed the cups, and unless I’m very much mistaken, a rat drowned in that beer weeks ago. There’s nothing for us here but poison and rot.”
“Nevertheless,” said Odin, and turned to go in.
As they neared the door, the clicking of bone reached their ears, and the clink of coin. There was a dice game in the back, as there often is in such places — but what a game! One man alone held the dice, which danced to his whim; and his guards watched his back. Those who played him did so from fear, and they always lost.
Loki spoke up now: “That man plays with loaded dice, and cheats. Go in to him and you will lose — and when you do, and complain, his armed followers will come from the shadows. There is no gain for you here.”
Odin nodded. “Nevertheless,” he said, and would have gone on had not Loki withheld him.
“All-Father, there is nothing for us in here but foul beer and a fixed game! Why do you wish to continue?”
Odin turned back and grinned, his one eye glinting from under his broad-brimmed hat. “Look around and you’ll see: It’s the only game in town.“
Which brings this all around back to where we began: Hopelessly unbalanced, even broken. But, much like the real life of which this is but a microcosm, we do have some options; we can refuse to abide by the untenable.
No, I’m not advocating for bloody revolution — at least, not at Planets Nu. Even if we were to win, what would be the prize — Joshua’s head?! That would hardly advance game balance; besides, I’m sure he can use it himself, and removing it would be impolite. Instead, I suggest we who are not content return to the Classic game to find our next champions.
We have a list of our top players still: the Mercenaries. Let us begin at the top and work our way down it, inviting each active player in turn to choose a race and join — first come, first choose. The game will be Classic, and the prize commensurate with the difficulty. The win condition is Solo, 250, or the agreement by vote of the holders of two thirds of the planets.
NOTE: It’s either that or somehow give some love to the Privateer, the Crystal, the Robot, and the Empire — without breaking things even worse. I’d thought that went without saying until I tried not saying it; hence the edit. -G
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