Crystals Young and Old

The Spirit of a New Confederation

The spirit of a thing is that which survives changes in circumstance. The spirit of the Crystal is that of The Snare. The Crystals have a unique technology around which their entire fleet and all strategies must be constructed. Web mines drain fuel, paralyze enemy operations, force them to waste valuable time sweeping, and allow the Crystal to harvest the survivors for their own fleet. However, the opponents of the Crystal are not likely to just march their ships into Crystal space. They must rather be goaded into it, smothered, or caught unawares. Crystal success hinges on the effective implementation of ensnarement tactics.

There are two ways to play the Crystal. The first is to hold off your neighbours long enough to build a massive stockhold of web mines and then begin an encroaching offense made of overlapping defensive positions. It’s like siege warfare but less fun. You deploy your web mines over areas you intend to advance to. Having advanced to those areas under cover of web mines, you extract resources, fortify your position, then do so again. Like I said: Fun.

Now, anyone who has slipped on the suds of Crystal hegemony is likely to want to prevent its happening again. The cagey Crystal player of the first kind learns to employ ambush techniques reminiscent of trapping for furs. Positions are marked through which prey must pass. Enemy vanguard forces may thus be trapped even as they attempt to clear the way for the rest of the fleet.

Note that the trapper’s strategy works even if it only paralyzes an enemy for a turn or two: enemies will either be caught completely off guard while on transit a full 81ly or more, meaning that they lose all fuel set aside for that journey in addition to taking a mine hit, or they will lose fuel and time chewing their own legs off to get out of the trap. And of course, in the meantime, you’re just setting more traps.

The second way of playing the Crystals is riskier but more rewarding in terms of both resources and accomplishment. Much has been said against the new changes to Crystal web mines. Those changes include that they can no longer be laid in the friendly code of another player, nor can Crystal allies move freely through them. Rather, Crystals are the only ones that may travel safely through web mine fields and allies need to be towed. What, then, is the Crystal player intended to do when allied with another race?

The answer is as simple as it is entertaining: Scoop mines. The new rules are not intended to compel Crystals into being solitary nutcases doomed to croon over their now worthless collection of glittering fun-destroying bath beads… *ahem*. The new rules rather encourage constant communication between Crystals and allied forces. Assuming that Crystals need allies the same way that everyone else does, and further assuming that the Crystals will be responsible for using web mines on behalf of their allies, we see that the new rules are intended to make Crystals act more offensively then defensively.

Where the first kind of Crystal was akin to a trapper, this second kind is analogous to a fisher — specifically, a fisher that casts a net, hauls in their bounty, then recasts the net again. And again.  And however many times it takes to reach the tipping point. The second kind of Crystal is more dynamic, more predictive, and in many ways a better ally than the first kind. The first kind, under the old rules, poured a bunch of depression over the map, clapped their hands, and asked for a share in the final victory. The second kind has to keep up, has to sometimes run ahead, and must coordinate their actions with their allies in a way that they never had to before.

Some people will complain at having to coordinate these kinds of actions, but such complaints will dissipate the first time that their new Crystal ally paralyzes a fleet out of the blue. The Tow Capture advantage of the Crystal is likely to become incidental in the face of their ability to delay the enemy by turns through solely psychological operations. Consider the following from the prey’s perspective: you just had four LCCs, two T-Rexes, and a Madonzilla stuck in place for two turns because of ships you can’t even see on another planet 50ly away. Then those webmines vanish and the fish are subjected to targeted strikes by the Crystal or their allies. And the next turn? Redeployment of the webmines that were scooped from the previous turn. Such a strategy is psychologically devastating the first time it happens, never mind when it happens again.

I expect that Crystal players who are comfortable with the same old trapper’s game, reheated and served again, will find themselves switching to Robots; it is even possible that some swashbucklers from more reflexive races may find themselves willing to cast a line.

The antithesis of the Crystal is forewarning. The sooner an opponent knows that they are dealing with Crystals, the sooner that they can arm their ships with the finest beam weapons that ever sported chrome. The sooner you know that you are facing Crystal, the sooner you can arm escorts, establish emergency fuel reserves, lay your own mines to buy time, start circumventing likely bottlenecks, etc.

Recall that the Crystals need their web mines. Their entire economy and all of their army is predicated on the production and deployment of that single weapon. Conventional defenses and attacks are little good against such overspecialization, but that same specialization renders the Crystal susceptible to counter-specialist tactics. It is always good to find out who your enemies are as soon as possible, but against the Crystal it is an imperative.

The preceding has been excerpted from a longer work-in-progress on the philosophies of the Eleven Races. If the concept interests you and you would like to read more of Shoomesh’s thoughts on the subject, why not drop us a line and let us know? Even better, attach your comments to a donation and you can be absolutely certain we’ll pay attention. You can make a PayPal donation, or click the button below to Buy Us A Coffee — and don’t forget to leave the note!

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