If you haven’t heard the term “Nerf Crystal” by now, you haven’t been listening.
The recent change in Standard and League games that has resulted from the removal of friendly codes and Safe Passage options from web fields has created a race without diplomatic options. Their ship list is inconducive to trading, being composed largely of overpriced minelayers and understrength warships — plus one 5-point terraformer. Now that they can’t trade their webs as currency, the Crystals have gone from one of the dominant races to something just slightly too sad to be considered a joke.
There are some who disagree, particularly among those who haven’t played as Nerf Crystal. That’s fine; every debate needs disagreement, even a hopelessly one-sided one like this. Their right to disagree, however, doesn’t make them any less wrong.
And yet, it can be argued that the previous position of the Crystal could, through diplomatic means, be made extremely powerful, if not quite unbeatable. The initial Crystal weakness is economic; they must, then, find an ally willing to solve this difficulty for them. (The same can be said of the Birds, incidentally.) But who would willingly help a rival that’s so weak? What’s in it for them?
In both Classic and Standard games, the result, as we’ve all seen, is a situation that often leads to a subservient Crystal that loyally propels their savior into a dominant position, and a web of purple crossing the map for the benefit of another player. This is far from ideal.
The target of the present nerf, however, is, logically, incorrect: It’s not the webs that are too powerful, but rather the Crystalline trading position that’s too weak. Were they not absolutely compelled to rely either on a generous early ally or extremely good luck, the Crystal would be in a position to resist external domination. At present, and unlike any other race, they simply have nothing to trade apart from their webs. Even the Privateer has Meteors, useful to anyone; the Crystals have nothing.
Logically, then — and whether or not the Crystal Nerf is permitted to stand — it makes sense to give the Crystals something they can build that’s worth trading, something apart from their Webs.
A similar movement among players has begun targeting the Cyborg Chunnel as an overpowered ability, which of course it is. And yet without it, the Cyborg rapidly becomes too weak to perform; the fuel penalty of the over-massive Cubes is too large, and they lack any reasonable mid-sized warships. Elimination or even weakening of the Chunnel turns the Cyborg into an inflexible analogue of the Evil Empire that devours its natives and kills their tech advantage but lacks the Super Star Destroyer.
Instead, let’s look at the influence of the B200 on early-game cooperation. We might instead weaken that somehow — forcing it to repair after some HYP transits on a random chance, perhaps. That would greatly limit the present Cyborg ability to race to any point on the map, find a willing co-conspirator, and add their technological distinctiveness to the Collective.
I mentioned the Birds as another too-weak race. Powerful in the mid-game, at the end they have no way to capture starbases without heavy loss, and in the beginning they lack the resources to develop well before the Ship Limit. There’s a simple fix for this: Start them off with bonus cash.
The Empire can’t seem to win consistently, and it’s my own considered belief that it’s their tendency to trade the Super Star Destroyer that costs them games. However, without trade, they lack effective minelayers — again, the trouble with them is that they’re too weak but with a single overpowered advantage.
Here, then, are some proposed solutions:
- Crystals: Reduce the PBP cost of some of their light vessels, such as the Sky Garnet, the Onyx (by 2), possibly the Topez, and a few of its other minelayers — or, simpler, remove the 1-PBP per hull cost on every ship. This would give them something to trade even without their webs. Additionally, provide them with a small cash bonus at the beginning, and grant them the Improved Desert Habitat advantage.
- Birds: Grant them an initial cash bonus of 5000, plus improved mastery of their Enlighten over their own planets. Consider reducing the PBP cost of the Skyfire so it can be used as a disposable lead ship.
- Cyborg: Nerf the B200 by creating a random chance of 50% damage after a successful HYP transit. This reduces their reach in the early game.
- Empire: Rather than eliminate the SSD, give them an expensive and massive Tech 9 4-engined 1-tube battlecruiser that can be used as a late-game minelayer. It would also be incredibly valuable to give them a Friendly Code option that permits them to turn off automatic fighter construction on selected starbases.
- Robots: Minelaying is an early-game dominance tool; late-game they can’t profitably capture bases. Provide them with colonist construction in space, some degree of climate immunity, plus a ground combat bonus, however, and they would become fully playable without trade.
Obviously, none of these are guaranteed to bring perfect balance to the game. They are suggestions, not directions, and they would need testing. Nevertheless, the reasoning seems sound, and the facts behind it self-evident. So… let’s give it a try.
At this point, what do we have to lose? Game balance?!
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The Crystals would also be stronger if damaged ships had limited mine sweeping ability, and besides that it would make sense.