The Cognitium War: Troika Table

The Cognitium War is in its final turns, with players beginning to succumb to Accelerated Fight Or Fail and the final results of the game approaching certainty. Not long ago, I sat down with the three primary members of the surviving soon-to-be victorious alliance, and we spoke a bit about the game. The substance of that discussion follows.

(Editor’s Note: As always, we’ve edited this. The substance of what was said is unchanged, but some context is always, regrettably, removed for length and readability.)

Zacha, Morgens, and Fexer, welcome to the Forum. Thanks for joining me.

I suppose I should start by offering you congratulations on your upcoming victory. Or is that premature?

Fexer: I think congratulations are still a bit premature. I’ve seen some of the craziest things in the cluster, and until the last move is made, I wouldn’t accept congratulations just yet. Let’s put it this way: It looks very good for the alliance.

Zacha: It looks quite certain, but it ain’t over until it’s over.

So how do you think it’ll play out from here?

Fexer: There are still many conceivable scenarios that could still turn the game at the last minute. The Accelerated FOF – a double-edged sword in my eyes – is a major contributor to this.

People will resist, then?

Morgens: Resistance will ultimately be futile.

Fexer: I think the alliance will have to conquer a lot more planets to make sure that the victory stays in the alliance. I don’t see relaxed gameplay for the last 20 turns.

On to League, and the first League War. This one’s different from anything else we’ve done. All else aside, there was a lot of confusion at the beginning, with some players in races they’d never played, and so on. What are your thoughts on how League has influenced the game?

Fexer: Players who would hardly have a chance to qualify through regular play get to play in a Champ Game, which is good for motivation for League play. On the other hand, I think the quality of the Champ Game suffers. There is nothing more frustrating than to see when your closest competitors have weak neighbors – the impact on gameplay is immense when several people don’t play up to the level of the others. In addition, the game is short, so the influence of weak players on the outcome of the game becomes even greater. The argument that the team can support the weak player doesn’t help; usually the interest of the team members lasts only a few moves and the player is on his own again. Maybe there should also be some selection criteria within the team, so that not just anyone can participate. I know this may sound a bit disrespectful but it would be good for the game.

I’ve said worse. Zacha?

Zacha: Fexer is right. The idea is good, but the league teams are not there yet and hard to say when, if ever, they will be.

Maybe the Devs thought the top players would split up more evenly, forming teams of different quality players. But it seems that, in the top 11, there were some teams lacking motivated high quality players. Add to that the limited race selection for the lower ranked teams, causing them to be forced to take races which they may not perform best, which led in my opinion to a wide range of quality. This leads to luck having more impact than is good; after all we all know how big an advantage you have if you are next to an early game dropper in a normal game.

For me, I started with Borg next to Privateer. Pretty bad luck, I think, but that’s the game. Now, it was not possible to establish any communication with the Privateer – I can only speculate on the reason – but maybe with a high quality player it would have been possible to come to an agreement at some high price… or not, and be pretty much completely helpless against the Priv. This way, I had some luck hidden within the bad luck of positioning and lack of any communication, that Privs attack was not effective and I could ultimately repel him. A VERY unlikely scenario if he would have been, let’s say Nuuk for example.

That was going to be one of my followup questions: How do you think League influenced the quality of opposition?

Zacha: Likely there were some players which would be below the quality of any player in the old championship format. However, as the old format favored quantity over quality, it was also far from sure to have only the best players included (though a minimum of experience was guaranteed). I myself would likely have needed some more time here on Planets Nu to be invited to any race’s championship slot, much less the Borg, which I never played before, neither here nor anywhere.

Fexer: I would like to take this opportunity to say a few words about the League in general. My perception is that the league season is too short for the number of possible formats that you should ideally play. This season I had a double load and would have been better off not playing any league games at all and concentrating 100% on the Champ Game.

But many players have the same opinion: the season is too short, you are forced to play the league games for your team and have hardly any time for other formats. I personally find this very unfortunate as it actually leads to players turning away from League. I can absolutely understand that it was Joshua’s intention to get as many players as possible in League and to be able to choose a new Emperor at the turn of the year to generate more momentum on Nu. But…

As already mentioned, I think the defined end of the champ game also does no favors to the gameplay and the diplomatic possibilities. If you bet on the wrong horse diplomatically, you hardly have a chance to straighten it out in the course of the game. The outcome of the War is also significantly influenced by the turn limit. Our alliance could have easily disbanded after reaching its stated goal and everyone could have searched for their own way to the throne if the game didn’t have a turn limit. But this way, the alliance is practically forced to hold out until the end in order to secure what it has achieved with a victory.

With that in mind, what do you think of the proposal to allow the War to count for next year’s League score?

Fexer: To be honest, I don’t think much of it. It makes the strong teams even stronger and who can want that?

Zacha: I also thought about making such a suggestion. However, it should not give a major edge to the teams already participating. So getting points for the Champ game should cost points at another area, like taking away the HS normal game. It’s a question of details, how to implement it exactly. Devil’s in the details of course, but that general direction seems right to me.

Morgens, you’re awfully quiet. Do you have anything to add?

Morgens: Resistance will ultimately be futile. That’s all I have to say.

Fexer: Morgens, you forget Qapla’!

Heh. So what should we do differently next time?

Fexer: I unfortunately don’t have a magic formula on how to make the league and champ game quality system better, but I would like to bring up the following points for discussion:

  • The league players should get more breathing space, which means make the season longer.
  • Introduction of quality control for the participation in the Champ Game. The participants should have a minimum of experience. Vice Admiral, maybe?
  • No turn limit for the Champ Game (does not have to apply to the Grand Marshal Game), or maybe AFoF only after a two year period.

Zacha: I don’t think the season’s length should be tied to the Champ game. That’s a different story. About Quality Control, the limit of Vice Admiral seems rather high. And Ranks are given more on experience than skill. Maybe the performance in the previous season’s long format league game should play a factor. But still leaves the question open: What if a team has no willing qualified candidate? Just skip that team?

I would not commit to a game that could last for 5 years. 1.5 to 2 years should be a fixed limit. AFoF start and increase needs some revision though; I think it needs to start much sooner and let the acceleration rate not get as extreme as it is now.

Morgens: League teams are too big. The community is too small for 11-player teams. Naturally, ambitious players search similar minded people and thus concentrate in a handful of teams — ultimately leading to a drastic decrease in the quality of the champ game, since there are not 11 teams willing to put in the effort. I think smaller teams (maybe 6?) would allow for a more competitive scene, where people have to really fight for their spot in the champ game.

The 1-year limit of League is too short. Especially the ending of Cognitum is very much influenced by the time limit. I am satisfied with the game in the sense that Zacha and I fought against the odds together and later beat the overwhelming Fed with Fexer joining the team, but at the end I would have wished for more intrigue and action. Given the hard time-limit, it was just not a realistic option. Major changes and big moves, like dissolving the coalition and everyone going back to do their own thing, is just not an option with AFOF breathing down our necks. I feel like this takes away drastically from the spirit of the emperor game. There is no time for unexpected twists and bitter surprises.

I think we’re all pretty much in agreement on that point. One last question: How did the early Ship Limit combined with the permanently locked Queue influence your play? Is that something we should change going forward? Or was it just an artifact of the game style — inactivity, a massive alliance, and so forth?

Morgens: Not much – in high level play this is pretty much always the case, is it not? The queue is locked until people start dying. Just in this case, only one person died the whole game. The other surrendered the ships, so the queue never moved. This is again a time thing. If the game would be longer, we would have reached a point where the queue starts to unlock.

Zacha: As I have no standard strategy for playing Borg, I can’t say how much it “impacted” my way – it was just the environment I had to live with and make best out of it. For me, the locked queue never mattered that much anyway. On the one hand, a moving queue for Borg yields strong ships, actually strongest after EE was out of the game. On the other hand, I already had a strong fleet, and it would have benefited the others as well. So for me, moving queue or not, it would not really have changed the power balance between me and the others.

That’s all the questions I have; I presume it’s quite late for each of you as well. So I’ll end with: Thank you, and I hope you enjoy seeing your names in print. :o)

Zacha: Thanks as well, and will see you anyway. 🙂

Fexer: Thanks Gnerphk, I appreciate your time and effort.

Morgens: [quietly snoring]

Editor’s Note: In the turns since this interview was conducted, two more mid-level players have fallen to AFoF, and the eventual victory of the Alliance seems ever more certain. The game will likely end with Top 3 Advance due to AFoF.

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