Making the Grade: Strategic Mine Laying

Due to focusing on my studies, it has been months since my last article on Christmas Planets. I have a break between semesters, so I am taking time to write an article which might help players choose which race to embrace — if you are one of those who likes to focus on just one race. This piece examines the capabilities of the eleven Echo Cluster races to control the battlefield with minefields, i.e., strategic mine laying, and it assigns a letter grade to each race based on three skill categories: long term sustainability, countermining potential, and minefield specialisation.

https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Minefield

There is a particular Zhu Rongji quote circulating the internet in which he compares the complexities of Chinese economy to minefields. I assume it became popular as a meme because it suggests the way to take on adversity is to march straight ahead without looking back. If it is true that China’s economic reformist spoke those words, it is unclear — as are many quote attributions on the internet — but it is a nice sentiment — I guess. In the case of minefields and especially those in VGA Planets, I am not sure tenaciously marching forward is the best option… although it might depend on how many supplies your ships are carrying.


On the influence of minefields

TRY THIS ARTICLE

For those of you interested in political and economic history, Rongji is an interesting character. He was born in 1928 and was battling government policy by the time he was 21. His criticisms of the government got him pushed out of the political field and into the countryside to feed pigs and tend goats. In 1988, he acted as mayor of Shanghai’s eight million citizens — wrap your head around doing that job! In the ’90s, he was appointed as deputy prime minister and credited with reducing China’s 25% inflation rate. Now in 2022, he is well into his nineties and still challenging China’s decisions. It is no wonder that people attribute the virtue of tenacity with this man (East & Thomas, 2003; Zhu et al., 2015).

While the memes depict a phrase which may or may not have been said by him, Rongji did speak about minefields when he gave a speech on tackling the economic crisis of the 1990s; his words were as follows:

When I said that a minefield and an abyss lie before this administration, I was not the least bit mistaken, though of course we will avoid such pitfalls. But it’s going to be very tough to do so! Colleagues, from this day on, we are a single entity bound together by fate. You must be determined to jump into the abyss with me! Actually, not to jump in, but to find clever ways to overcome the various obstacles before us, to avoid all the dangers and pitfalls, till we triumphantly reach the other side of the course.

Zhu, R. (2003). The speech delivered at the first plenary meeting of the state council (excerpt) (march 24, 1998). Chinese Law & Government, 36(1).

VGA Planets is just a game and certainly not as intricate as economics, but there is similar murkiness and complexity. Rongji’s speech talks about finding clever ways to overcome obstacles and avoid dangers and pitfalls; this is what connects to our game. Strategically laying mines helps commanders to prevail over racial weaknesses, powerful enemy fleets, and unfortunate economic and diplomatic situations. If circumstances are favourable, a commander can use minefields to demoralize and smother all enemies, essentially controlling all 2000 by 2000 light years.

As mentioned before, strategic mine laying is the ability to control the battlefield with minefields. Such tactics freeze all forward and backward movement, and the commander dictates where and when enemies can and cannot travel. At the same time, strategic mine laying gives more freedom to your own ships and those of your allies. In any game, a Planets player must be able to employ these strategies in an offensive or defensive position, sometimes both at once. This is one of the key abilities which can propel an empire into a winning position.

These are some of the most commonly deployed minefield tactics:

  • Lay and sustain maximum minefields.
  • Lay and re-position smaller minefields.
  • Lay surprise minefields in high traffic zones or critical passages.
  • Lay layers of minefields.

What elements of a race give it the power to control the battlefield through minefields?

An empire gains minefield superiourity, i.e., control of the map, through a combination of the following skills:

  1. LONG TERM SUSTAINABILITY: Races who score high in this sub-category are capable of producing large swathes of money on a continued basis, e.g., 200% tax collection, hiss, assimilation — and to a lesser degree — native education, super spy, pillage, rob, gambling ships. All races have alchemy ships and are able to maintain mineral production, but only a few races are able to maintain a constant influx of megacredits. Some races are able to have bursts of sustainability, but they cannot guarantee money from early through endgame periods of a match.
  2. COUNTERMINING POTENTIAL: Races who score high in this sub-category are able to negate the effects of an opponent’s minefields; for simplicity, both sweeping and traditional countermining are under one heading. The races which excel at this skill have a ship list of hulls which possess a combination of countermining technology: sweepers with eight to ten beams, mine layers with cargo holds of 200 kilotons or higher, cloaking technology, anti-cloaking technology, and smaller support mine layers/tenders.
  3. MINEFIELD SPECIALISATION: Races who score high in this sub-category are blessed with racial and/or ship abilities which enhance mine laying and/or sweeping, e.g., 4x mine laying, fighter mine sweep, web mines, warp chunnel — and in rare circumstances — super spy. These abilities can single-handedly overwhelm an enemy by negating all minefields and/or preventing any movement.

THE GRADES

FEDLIZBIRFASPRICYBCRYEMPROBREBCOL
BBBC or BCAC or ADACB
Summary of Strategic Mine Laying Grades

The Solar Federation

Overall Grade: B
Long Term Sustainability: A
Countermining Potential: B
Minefield Specialisation: D
  • The Federation’s core mine layers have significantly large cargo holds, carrying from 170 to 350 torpedoes.
  • With their tax boost, Fed planets produce excess money. They use this wealth to both increase torpedo tech levels to maximum and to build large numbers of powerful torpedoes.
  • A lower mining rate slows them down a bit, but it is does not hinder battlefield control.
  • Their refitting ability allows them to change out low-tech torpedo launchers and/or beam weapons with those of maximum tech level.
  • Their fleet contains two ships with 6 beams, one with 8, and one with 10.
  • They also possess tachyon devices, which helps to repel cloaked mine layers.
  • Not including main combat ships and primary mine layers, the Fed ship list contains seven smaller ships which can position minefields.

The Solar Federation has a lot of tools at its disposal to employ strategic mine laying. While they have no cloakers, they do have a lot of ships designed for laying and/or sweeping mines. Their hoards of megacredits propel them ahead of many of the other torpedo races, but they receive only a B grade because they have to work quite hard and use a lot of fuel to gain complete battlefield control.


The Lizard Alliance

Overall Grade: B
Long Term Sustainability: A
Countermining Potential: B
Minefield Specialisation: D
  • Like the Fed, the Lizard possesses masses of credits. Because their racial mission produces excess money, they can easily increase torpedo tech levels to maximum and build large numbers of high tech torpedoes.
  • Their cloaking ships allow them to gain the element of surprise when mine laying and enables them to re-position minefields without being detected.
  • The cargo holds on core ships can carry from 190 to 290 torpedoes.
  • Many of their ships have only 4 beams, and they have one ship with 10 beams.
  • They also possess tachyon devices, which helps to repel cloaked mine layers.
  • Not including main combat ships and primary mine layers, the Lizard ship list contains three smaller ships which can position minefields.

Money and cloaking are the main means for a Lizard empire to control the battlefield. They are capable of both sneaky and bold mine laying. Due to the limited amount of beams on the majority of their ships, they receive only a B grade in strategic mine laying.


The Empire of the Birds

Overall Grade: B
Long Term Sustainability: B
Countermining Potential: B
Minefield Specialisation: C
  • Similar to the Lizards, the Bird Men use cloaking vessels to gain the element of surprise when mine laying. Much of their mine laying is done from the shadows and unseen.
  • They possess advanced cloaking technology which uses no fuel, so they are able to wait for long periods of time before springing minefield traps.
  • Their immunity to tachyon devices also helps them to get behind enemy lines and lay minefields where the enemy does not expect it.
  • Birds can educate natives, which improves governments and increases tax revenues.
  • If the situation is favourable, the super spy mission can deliver a powerful blow to enemy mobility; however, this tactic is difficult to sustain and/or repeat.
  • Their mine layers carry 140 to 280 torpedoes.
  • Two ships have 6 beam weapons, one has 7, one has 8, and one other has 10.
  • Not including main combat ships and primary mine layers, the Bird ship list contains four smaller ships which can position minefields.

Since educating natives takes a long time, money for the Birds is scarce in the earlier parts of the game and plentiful later on. For the majority of the war, Bird Men do not possess enough megacredits to both fight and lay mines. This weakness makes battlefield control difficult to attain when they need it most. While they have many tactical options, these abilities do not compare to other specialisations. The Empire of the Birds has all the tools to control the battlefield through laying mines, but it has significant drawbacks which reduces its grade to a B.


The Fascist Empire

Overall Grade: C or B
Long Term Sustainability: C
Countermining Potential: A
Minefield Specialisation: D
  • The fourth of the cloaking races is the least capable of controlling the battle with minefields.
  • The Fascists stay ahead with the element of surprise and one tough mine layer which carries up to 260 torpedoes.
  • They have no means of producing a steady supply of megacredits. Fascists can pillage money and use glory devices to create one-shot stocks of supplies, but neither of these is a long-term solution.
  • On the positive side, glory devices are a strong deterrent for cloaked mine layers.
  • Their uncertain resource production is redeemed by heavy ships which bear lots of beams. Three Fascists ships have 10 beam weapons, one has 6, and two have 7.
  • Not including main combat ships and primary mine layers, the Fascist ship list contains three smaller ships which can position minefields.

As always, the Fascists wield a lot of useful tools which can make them quite dominant. If circumstances are difficult and they are forced into a defensive position, the Fascists have a hard time keeping up with minefields. They could receive a B grade; however, they receive only a C grade because they are a resource-hungry race which experiences difficulties controlling the battlefield.


The Privateer Bands

Overall Grade: C
Long Term Sustainability: C
Countermining Potential: C
Minefield Specialisation: C
  • Gravitonic accelerators create a unique scenario with the Privateers; however, these ships are a double-edged sword, much like the Super Star Destroyer for the Evil Empire. Their fast ships enable a Priv commander to race enemies to strategic locations, but they are also at high risk of hitting enemy minefields and/or succumbing to anti-cloaking technologies.
  • Cheap ships and the ability to steal provide short-term economic bursts, but the Privateer Bands have no reliable means of sustaining income.
  • Thankfully, their blockade runners can cloak, or they would have very little means to lay minefields.
  • Their one true mine layer carries up to 250 torpedoes, but its inability to cloak works against the race’s strengths.
  • The Bands also lack sweeping power, because their fleet contains two ships with 6 beams and one with 7.
  • Not including main combat ships and primary mine layers, the Privateer ship list contains three smaller ships which can position minefields.

The Privateer Bands control the battlefield with fear, but they have great difficulty pinning enemies down and using minefields to dictate where ships travel. Their lack of sweeping power and sustainability hurts their overall grade; however, the combination of cloaking and speed specialisations keeps them at a C grade.


The Cyborg

Overall Grade: A
Long Term Sustainability: A
Countermining Potential: B
Minefield Specialisation: A
  • The Cyborg have a knack for consolidating resources and minefield power. This is done through large cargo holds and warp chunnel mobility.
  • Assimilation quickly produces piles of cash, because they are the first race to fill their empire with populations of ten million colonists and the only race whose colonies sometimes grow above the maximum number of clans.
  • Their mine layers can transport 250 to 320 torpedoes.
  • They have two ships with 10 beams, one with 7, and one with 6.
  • Moreover, they can easily transport resources to boost tech levels and produce large stockpiles of torpedoes.
  • Not including main combat ships and primary mine layers, the Cyborg ship list contains one smaller ship which can position minefields.

If allowed to spread, they can control the entire map. While they do not have a true minefield specialisation, warp chunnel and assimilation more than make up for it. The Cyborg receive an A in strategic mine laying.


The Crystal Confederation

Overall Grade: C or A
Long Term Sustainability: D
Countermining Potential: B
Minefield Specialisation: A
  • The Crystal Confederation is a curious beast. They lack any type of economic boost, except if you count their love of deserts.
  • Additionally, their ships are very mineral heavy and expensive. For these reasons, they score poorly in the sustainability category.
  • One Crystal ship has 6 beams, one has 7, two have 8, and one has 10, so they have significant sweeping potential.
  • Since they rely on minefields to survive, many of their ships have large cargo holds.
  • Crystals can build the best mine layer in the game, which carries a whopping 510 torpedoes.
  • Not including main combat ships and primary mine layers, the Crystal ship list contains three smaller ships which can position minefields.

Due to their hideous economics, the Crystal Confederation could be assigned a C grade, but their defining and redeeming feature is web mines. This is a specialisation like no other and propels their grade to the top of the class. By design, webs halt all movement and can easily control the entire map. You can ignore Crystalline downfalls and give these rock people an A in strategic mine laying.


The Evil Empire

Overall Grade: D
Long Term Sustainability: D
Countermining Potential: D
Minefield Specialisation: D
  • The Evil Empire is by far the worst race when it comes to mine laying strategies.
  • Their one mine layer carries a miniscule 80 torpedoes.
  • While they have several sweepers with 6, 8, or 10 beams, these warships are expensive.
  • The EE has no economic boosts to help build or upgrade vessels.
  • Furthermore, countermining is made difficult because their ships are massive and consume vast amounts of fuel.
  • Not including main combat ships and primary mine layers, the Imperial ship list contains zero smaller ships which can position minefields.

No long term sustainability, weak countermining potential, and zero specialisation leaves the Evil Empire with a grade of D. — They deserve an F, but I’m fond of them for some foolish reason.


The Robotic Imperium

Overall Grade: A
Long Term Sustainability: B
Countermining Potential: B
Minefield Specialisation: A
  • Let’s move on from the ugliness of the Evil Empire and focus on a thing of beauty: Robotic 4x mine laying. While the EE fleet is sufficient, it is highly inefficient; in contrast, the Robot fleet is insufficient and highly efficient.
  • They have no means to boost their economy and rely on whatever they find, but their mineral use is balanced. Ships require mostly duranium, fighter building requires the other two minerals, and they do not require Heavy Phasers.
  • Additionally, Bots save loads of money due to fighter building and torpedoes which lay four times the number of mines.
  • Their ship list contains one mine layer which can hold 300 torpedoes.
  • Because they have one ship with 6 beams, their countermining potential is limited; however, 4x mine laying easily destroys regular minefields.
  • Not including main combat ships and primary mine layers, the Robot ship list contains one smaller ship which can position minefields.

Under some circumstances, the Robots deserve A’s in all categories, but they do have some limitations which are difficult to overcome. With solid logistics, they can very quickly monopolize the entire map. Because they have no true economic boosts, can be countered, and are unwieldy, they receive Bs in some categories, but overall, 4x mine laying earns them an A.


The Rebel Confederation

Overall Grade: C
Long Term Sustainability: C
Countermining Potential: B
Minefield Specialisation: D
  • Like the Robots and Colonies, the Rebels have fighter building which helps with funds, but they also have no true economic boosts.
  • Most of their torpedo boats have small cargo holds, but their main mine layer can hold up to 380 torpedoes, which makes it the second best mine layer in the game.
  • Their heavy carrier is cheaper than others, but to be effective, it also requires large amounts of fighters; therefore, there are less minerals left over for torpedoes.
  • The Rebel commander’s greatest challenge is countermining with only one ship with 8 beams.
  • Not including main combat ships and primary mine layers, the Rebel ship list contains four smaller ships which can position minefields.

The Rebel Confederation has short bursts of sustainability, but it is nothing significant. They can lay large minefields to countermine and control, but they have trouble maintaining them and sweeping enemy minefields. With their limitations and lack of specialisations, the Rebels receive only a C grade in strategic mine laying.


The Missing Colonies of Man

Overall Grade: B
Long Term Sustainability: C
Countermining Potential: A
Minefield Specialisation: B
  • The fighter mine sweep specialisation belongs to the Colonies. It is very powerful, but it serves to only remove mines and does not help with producing mines.
  • Like the Rebels and Robots, they have fighter building to help with money costs.
  • They are often starved for tritanium and molybdenum, but some hope is found in that their ships do not require heavy phasers.
  • Their mine layers can carry from 160 to 380 torpedoes; like the Rebels, they also have access to the second best mine layer in the game.
  • Ramscoop technology allows unique maneuverability for mine layers and for mine sweepers; racing enemy ships to strategic locations is a means to control the battlefield.
  • Due to the addition of the ramscoop, they possess two strong mine layers.
  • One Colonial ship has 6 beams, one has 8, and one has 10, but this is less important because fighters do most of the sweeping.
  • Not including main combat ships and primary mine layers, the Colonial ship list contains three smaller ships which can position minefields

The Missing Colonies of Man possess a powerful countermining specialisation. This makes up for other deficiencies, but it is not enough to give them a top grade. Fighter mine sweeping is just not as powerful as other specialisations. Their overall grade stays at a B.


Final Thoughts

Strategic mine laying is arguably the most crucial combat skill a Planets player can learn. In high level play, minefield superiourity is often the deciding factor.

If you hear players talking about minefield superiourity, strategic mine laying is what they are referring to. If you are unsure which race to choose, this article might help you decide on the basis of battlefield control. If you see your favourite race with a low grade, fear not, because diplomacy and alliances tend to win these days. Synergy with other races opens a whole breadth of mine laying possibilities, but delving into that would require another extensive article which grades racial combinations and their potential for dual-race mine laying.

Many things combine to determine the winner of a Planets game. For your own sanity, I suggest taking a less competitive approach; in my experience, random circumstances tend to dictate a lot, so it’s best to avoid focusing on getting the victory. If you are serious about winning at a high level, you need to take a close look at strategic mine laying, and it may be worth choosing a race with a better grade.

For your convenience, the table summarizing the grades is repeated here:

FEDLIZBIRFASPRICYBCRYEMPROBREBCOL
BBBC or BCAC or ADACB
Summary of Strategic Mine Laying Grades

References

East, R., and Thomas, R. (2003). Profiles of People in Power: The World’s Government Leaders. Europa. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315759517.

Zhu, R., Schmidt, H., and Kissinger, H. (2015). Zhu rongji on the record. (J. Y. Mei, Trans.) Brookings Institution Press (Vol., the road to reform, 1998-2003).


If my ‘against the grain’ writing brings you joy, pain, or even just a slight jarring, please join my Patreon.

Thanks for reading. – TS

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1 thought on “Making the Grade: Strategic Mine Laying

  1. Pingback: The Balboa Quality — PART ONE | Planets Magazine

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