So You’re Doomed. Now What? (A Guide For The Hopeless)

First things first: We’ve all been there. It’s not just you.

The nature of the game is, one person wins. That generally means nine or ten lose — and don’t fool yourself: Unless you’re in the Victory Countdown, second place is just First Loser. All things being equal, nine games out of ten, you’re going to end up in a completely hopeless position. It sucks, but what are you gonna do about it? Cry a little?

On the other hand, not all things are equal. You’re reading a guide, which means you’ve got an advantage over the dozens of people who never bother. Even so, there’s a decent chance your opponent is reading this too. (That chance increases, I’ve found, when the opponent in question happens to be fighting against the guy who wrote the guide. Oops.)

But the question stands: Here you are, staring down the double barrels of a ten-gauge partnership — Cyborg and Fascists, maybe, or Cyborg and Privateer, or Empire and Birds. One of those nasty combos that’s just plain unkillable, and you’re their chosen prey. Sucks to be you. So what are you gonna do?

What You’re Going To Do

Let’s start at the beginning: You’re about to die. Accept it. Embrace it, even. It helps to say it out loud: You have no hope for the future other than a bus hitting your opponent.

There are those players who believe the proper course is to give up. They resign. And that’s a perfectly valid approach; not everyone has the taste for hopeless battles, and there’s always a more interesting war around the corner. Save some time; just let it wind down — and chances are, nobody will think any less of you.

In some extreme cases, players actually gift their assets to their conqueror. If you are among their number, you can stop reading and go back to your knitting. Just know that, every time you do that, you’re drawing a target on yourself; the next time I’m in a game with you, it’s likely that I’ll spend an inordinate amount of time scheming to get next to you just so I can destroy your morale and absorb your fleet and empire.

The Far Side is Gary Larson’s, and is syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate. It is printed here under Fair Use, as the object of the article is educational — and, hopefully, humor.

Alternately, you could actually surrender and stay alive. As Threepio famously said, it’s a perfectly valid option. I wrote a guide on Vassallage that deals with that exact scenario; it’s worth checking out in case that’s how you want to go.

But since I already wrote that article and this is a different one, let’s assume you’re not going to surrender, or your opponent isn’t interested. Your goal, then, is to delay (in order to maximize the chances of a bus — remember the bus?) and do as much damage as you can. Okay, so you’re not really hoping for a bus — but something can always happen. More to the point: If you can do enough damage, it’s remotely possible you can end your enemy’s offensive power. This is not likely.

(FYI: I have done it before. So it also ain’t nothing.)

So, what constitutes “enough damage”? Or should you set yourself a different goal? That’s the first question you need to answer.

Scorched Earth

This meets the definition of “the least you can do”, so if that’s the limit of your spite, fair enough. A great deal has already been written on methods of undertaking a Scorched Earth defense; I’ll leave the details there and simply touch on some basics.

Your enemy is here to capture your planets. The bad news is, he’s probably going to get them; the good news is, you can make sure what he gains isn’t worth much. Tax your natives down into Civil War. If you can’t send your freighters to your other neighbor, beam up all the minerals you can and Land And Disassemble. Turn every planet into a hellhole with no factories and no mines.

When you can’t expend your Megacredits at all, much less put them to good use, at the least stop taxing. Remember too: Civil War can burn up excess wealth.

It is not enough to wipe out fuel, minerals, and cash. That’s a good start, of course, but if your opponent captures working starbases or ships, they’re even better off. Even the mines and factories you’ve constructed will serve your conqueror after you’re gone, as will any natives you leave behind — but you can’t destroy everything and still hang on to enough starbases to damage your enemy’s fleet when he moves in.

It’s up to you to decide: Will it hurt your conqueror more to get minerals or ships, to fight your starbases (potentially stealing your PBP) or find their ashes? Scorching the earth is an art form, and there are no simple right answers to be found outside the game — so find them inside. Adapt to circumstance; do what damage you can and you won’t go far wrong.

Fighting Back

Remember: Your goal isn’t to win, per se. The purpose of your continued presence in the game is now to cause as much harm to your conqueror as is practicable. If you’re in this situation, your resources will be limited, so you’ll have to budget them carefully in order to ensure they draw as much blood per item as you can manage. To do this efficiently, you have to answer this: “What are your opponent’s weaknesses?” And don’t say “none”; everyone has weaknesses. (Except me, of course… No, I’m kidding. Everyone means everyone.)

Here’s a late-game example: You’re up against an Empire player who has some captured cloakers and a squadron of Super Star Destroyers to fight those battles his Gorbies don’t want to risk. So what’s his weakness?

If you said “The Gorbies”, you’re just too hip to be square. No, it’s the captured cloakers. He only owns just so many. The combo works like this: In order to avoid getting killed by your fleet, he sends the SSD (fuelless) with a cloaked ship that carries fuel; your starbase can’t kill the SSD or see the cloaked ship, so it’s going to get captured. BUT. If you can come up with just one Loki, your starbase can kill his D7 pretty easily, and after that the combo is broken. A SSD with no cloaker can be killed by your battleships. A Glory Device is even better; it only works once, but it damages the SSD so it can’t drop on your starbase. Even at the worst, you can lay minefields and damage his cloakers on the way in; a delay is almost as good as a kill.

In his writings, Napoleon referred to these weak points as “joints”, comparing them to the gaps on the field between different regiments or even armies. If you can insert yourself into one of these gaps and expand, even a force that greatly outnumbers your own will likely collapse. The same holds true for a force that relies on any limited resource: Target that resource exclusively, and their drive will eventually narrow or even collapse.

Let us change our example slightly, and presume that the Empire player isn’t using captured cloakers but instead trades for them with a friendly power. They are still a limited resource, but it’s possible that replacing them may only cause a slight delay. In this scenario, you might do better to instead target his support ships — nearby vessels carrying colonists and fuel behind the front lines. Your wisest course of action might even be to strip everything off your own worlds, letting them fall into civil war and utter collapse, destroying your own starbases before your enemy can capture them intact.

In a recent game, I was faced with a similar situation. My solution was to target the vessels that were off to one side sweeping my mines; due to a complacent foe, I was able to tow one to destruction and capture two others. This stopped his entire drive and generated such a collapse in his morale that the situation completely reversed and I negotiated his surrender on reasonable terms.

Here are some examples of weak points intrinsic in some common situations:

You’re a cloaker facing a Fascist who knows how to use his Glory Devices.

In this circumstance, it’s very difficult to maintain an offensive drive even if your fleet outnumbers his. When you move in a scout, his Poppers kill it and he gains PBP at your expense. The weakness here is supply and time: He can only field just so many at a time, and you probably own more scouts than he has Poppers. If you send one to the Warp Well of every world within a moderate radius, and then move them all (cloaked) to the planet on the same turn, he’ll end up with a lot of kills — and a near-total elimination of his anti-cloaker protection. You can then move the survivors in to harass, kill, or capture the remains of his fleet.

You’re a cloaker facing someone who owns Lokis.

Again, it’s tough to keep an attack going when he can see you coming. The key here is to locate and target his Lokis; he can only have just so many of them. When he’s moving, you can Priority Intercept Attack them or drop minefields in his path; when he’s stationary, you can swamp an area with scouts near every Warp Well, and then strike wherever he’s not. It’s not easy; the keys here are having a large number of scouts and coordinating your move as well as possible.

Alternately, you could start as a Bird or Lizard. There is that.

The Cyborg is invading with overwhelming force.

Your fleet is too small to oppose him, and by the time you can pull in enough ships to create a reasonable stack, not only will you wipe out your fuel reserve, chances are he’ll either move in more Cubes or, best case scenario, he’ll Chunnel out and attack somewhere else — and you need to move yet again.

Here, your enemy has two weak points: First, his Fireclouds can be targeted, especially if you have access to ships that can Cloak Intercept. A stranded stack of Cubes has to rely on very limited fuel stockpiles to move around, and you’ll have just pinned down his attack force, freeing you up to hit him everywhere else. Second, you could instead try to draw him away by attacking elsewhere, or even on multiple fronts at once. Admittedly, he’ll be stronger than you at any given point, but your gains in other areas may well be enough to pay for that. Worst case, you’ll at least do some damage while you collapse.

Meanwhile, you can start fortifying your border with 200/60 starbases. Even the toughest Cyborg will take some losses against those. If you can’t put 60 fighters on every base, try putting 60 on one base and 0 on the next — that does infinitely more damage than 50 on each of two bases.

The Cyborg is allied with…

Here, you’ve got a complex problem. The Cyborg alone is a nasty enemy; when he’s got friends he’s ten times worse. However, he’ll still have his weaknesses. As with any Cyborg, reliance on Fireclouds usually means he doesn’t do well without them; they’re a good target. Alternately, you can concentrate your forces against his allies, and leave the Cyborg strictly alone — or vice-versa. By limiting your targets, you can turn an overwhelming challenge into one where damaging the more vulnerable partner can slow or even stall the enemy’s attack.

The Robots/Crystals have covered me with mines.

This situation truly sucks. Suddenly, you can’t move safely from one world to the next; your economy is stifled, and your fleet has no mobility to speak of. Some of your ships are stuck in space, alone and vulnerable; others may be trapped without fuel and are easily captured.

Here, you have three options, and your best bet is to use a mix:
1. Concentrate on sweeping, using every vessel. Spend any extra PBP you can scrape up to build any hull you can, so long as it’s got some guns you can sweep with. Since you’re stuck anyway, you might as well recycle anything that’s not helping you — like all those freighters he’s otherwise going to capture.
2. Countermine. In combination with sweeping, this can even help against a Robot. Worst case, you can burn up resources your enemy will otherwise capture. Best case, an enemy that spends all his money building space mines and upgrading torpedoes probably doesn’t have many decent beam weapons.
3. Move in pairs, with one ship towing and the second sweeping. Only the towing ship will get damaged (and badly drained) by the mines. You might not be able to move far, but at least you can move. Against Crystals, the best use of those massive alchemy ships might just be to tow with them at Warp 3.

The Fascist Fast Beams / Fed Quantum Torpedoes / Rebel RGA are killing my starbases.

You relied on 200/60 starbases, and it turns out that fast-beam Fascists can wipe them out while only taking a little damage. Sucks to be you, right? Well, yes; yes it does.

If you don’t have a massive battle fleet handy, the only reliable defense against either Fast Beams or Quantum Torpedoes is to put millions of Colonists on every planet. That’s usually a tough proposition even for the most logistically gifted of players. Against Fascists, you can interpose a disposable destroyer between his Vickie and your base, but Quantums fire at such a distant range that this might not be effective. And Rebels, of course, can wipe you out with only a couple of turns of RGA.

One of the most effective ways to oppose this sort of attack is to detour around behind it, refusing to engage directly, but instead recapturing his conquests and forcing him to backtrack. If you can remove any fuel stocks from his path, you can trade space for time for quite a while — perhaps even for long enough to build up some massive population centers in his path.

One alternative — one that doesn’t work all that often, but can inflict some serious casualties when it does — is to run your attacker out of torpedoes before he gets to the starbase. If you’ve got a large number of light ships, whether armed scouts or light freighters, a stack of five or six can wipe out thirty to fifty torpedoes off an enemy Nova. If your enemy habitually attacks with just enough to kill a starbase, interposing some freighters is a cheap way to help kill an expensive Nova.

You’re just plain outnumbered everywhere.

He’s got three fleets invading, and you’ve only got one to defend with. It happens a lot, especially when you’re attacked by multiple enemies at once. Usually, your only hope is to concentrate against either the greatest threat (the fleet with RGA or Super Star Destroyers) or the weakest opponent and hope to win a major battle while delaying the other fleets with whatever you can scratch together.

If you can manage a fleet engagement on equal terms, that’s the ideal. If your stack of ships can strike his, you can earn PBP, building replacement ships elsewhere to assemble into another fleet and then another. This is unlikely to happen against a careful (and non-egotistical) opponent. Instead, he’ll rely on his allies to defeat you without engaging.

In this last circumstance, your fleet is useful primarily for three purposes:
(1) To maintain a fleet-in-being, which is a threat to enemy operations and pins down some of his ships — basically, it helps keep your enemies honest.
(2) Bait, to draw in an overconfident opponent to attack something that appears weaker than it is. It helps to be able to lay surprise mine (or even web) fields at the moment he attacks.
(3) To preserve long enough to hand off to someone else. The best way to spite your enemy is sometimes to bequeath your forces to his enemy.

You get the idea.

I’ve listed several common tactics and counters, but the common element here isn’t to refer to a guide that offers clever suggestions but instead to give you enough examples that you can start coming up with the proper direction yourself.

Final Note

Some will disagree with the following statement, and that’s fine — but in Planets, I hold fast to it: There is no such thing as dying with dignity. You’re just gone, and the game continues without you. It’s sometimes important to accomplish a couple of things with what opportunities you have before you go, and your job is to pick the most important.

This might be inflicting the worst wounds you can on the fellow who just attacked you, in order that he’ll remember you next time around. Alternately, you can opt to hand your fleet to someone else in as good a condition as you can manage, so they can take revenge on your behalf. Or maybe you just want to make a good account of yourself so you can look in the mirror tomorrow morning and not see a loser. Whatever you choose is fine, so long as it’s a goal that gives your last few turns purpose. Even if — much as it hurts me to admit this — your only goal is to go gracefully.

And then, when you’re gone, you’re gone. It will be a tremendous relief; trust me. You can finally stop worrying about those Fed Biocides and move on to the next game. We’ll be there waiting for you.

See you in space!

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