How To Lose


(Part of this was presented in Planets Con 2022.)

It’s long surprised me that nobody has yet written the authoritative Guide on how to lose a Planets game. Considering all the writing devoted to sure-fire paths to victory, this should be a shoo-in, an automatic next-best-thing for the ne’er-do-well writer just itching for something new to write about. And yet, nobody seems to have done so — until now.

Let’s remedy that lapse, shall we?

Sit back until you’re resting comfortably, have your flight attendant bring you a relaxing beverage, and brace for impact, people. You’re about to learn How To Lose.


Usually, when I’m talking to people, there’s some kind of feedback, something to tell me I’m not alone out there, not shouting into the void. Here, I am. I’m all alone, and I’m talking out loud to an inanimate object that may or may not be recording. And if we’re very lucky, someone out there might hear me.

Which is fine for you, but me, I need more; I need another voice to provide some context; to make a sort of fabric, if you will; a warp to my woof. Or whatever. So from time to time, I’m going to channel my Inner Joe Pesci. Somewhere between “My Cousin Vinny” and Nicky Santoro from Casino. (“Holes in the desert? Don’t tell me about no holes in the desert! What I don’t know about holes in the desert…”)


A Quick Note For The Slow Of Wit:

Some of you are saying to yourselves, “But I lose all the time! This doesn’t need a manual; I’m an expert at it already!” That’s fair enough; I won’t argue with you. Still, this might be of interest to you as a checklist for all the things you presently do that can cost you the game; you can tick them off as you do them. Top on the list is being a patronizing jerk; that one, I’ve checked off for myself. You’ll know if you’re one too; you’ll be the sort of person who writes “A Quick Note For The Slow Of Wit” and hopes people think you’re joking. That’s a dead giveaway.

People sometimes look to me as a kind of authority on the game of Planets. Let me tell you something, though: Just because I write half the articles out at the Planets Magazine, have composed guides on every race in the game from Feds clear out to Colonies (except the Horwasp — EUGH!), am on the official Documentation Team, spent hundreds of hours researching corner-case contingencies and far-fetched tactics, and, most important of all, I’m gatekeeper to that single most important document on Planets here at Nu, the Annotated Host Order…

Yes. Yes I am an authority on the game. Someone has a question, who do they ask? They ask ME. They may not know it; they write in the Feed and any of you schmucks out there might answer, but to get a definitive response, just look to see what I say on the subject.

And that demonstrates the greatest rule on How To Lose:

Rule 1: Be Arrogant. Be full of yourself. People just love that, and they demonstrate that love by jumping all over you and giving you the curb-stomping you so richly deserve.

Seriously. Perfect example: Look at my win/loss record. Sure, I’ve got my share of first place finishes, but there’s an awful lot of Dead in there too. I really am not the greatest player in the world; not even close.

I’m not an expert on everything to do with Planets; what I am is a writer. I’m not bad at it. I’m no Hemingway; I’m sure as hell no Stephen King or Aaron Sorkin, but I’m not bad. What I do is, I research, and I ask experts, and I write. Some of what I write is how-to-play guides. And when I write something that’s wrong, another player tells me and usually I’ll fix it, because that’s what a writer does, is have conversations with other people. In… text. Slowly. Sometimes typing the words on bits of dead trees. …Anyway.

This brings us, naturally, to…

Rule 2: (of How To Lose) Never Talk To Anybody

The hell’s all this message shit about? I get enough of that at work! Memos, emails — and now this Cyborg player thinks he rates a fuckin’ Zoom call?! Someone invades your space, just kill them; someone looks weak, they’re your rightful prey! (or, channeling my Inner Martok:) Send in the fleet and conquer. Let your ships do the talking, because diplomacy is unworthy of a warrior! q’Pla!

…except what this really means is, if you’re not plotting with someone, odds are they’re plotting against you. Refusing to communicate with one player can automatically put them on guard against you; keeping silence with everyone is the next best thing to pinning this huge target on your back — walkin’ down the street wearin’ a bullseye, capisce? Even short messages (Hi! How are ya? Fuhgeddaboudit!) will demonstrate you’re paying attention — so if you want to lose the game, don’t type a single word.

Rule 3: Break Your Deals

Yeah, I know I promised. You know what else? Fuck you; that’s what else. I’m taking your planets, stealing your freighter, and you’ll never see this ship again unless it’s driving straight down your throat. This is an internet game! What are you gonna do — come over here and beat me up? You some kinda ex Navy SEAL or something? HA!

So… yeah. This one’s complicated. Truth is, there’s nobody out there keeping you honest except yourself — but this is a small player community, and people talk. Like a bunch if little old ladies in a small town. It’s real easy to get a reputation in that kind of environment.

When it comes to people breaking deals and getting punished for it, OK, I confess I’m pretty extreme. When I trade you a ship – say, a cloaker, or a Super Star Destroyer (which I’ll probably never do, but let’s just say) and I make the condition that you never trade it to another player — if you break that deal, I’ll do my best to make sure you lose the game, I’ll do it in a way you’re gonna remember, and depending on who you are I may never trust you again.

But what’s more important is, I’ll probably gripe about you to my friends. Casually, sorta thing. I won’t go so far as to drop names on a Planets Con presentation…

On the other hand, I’m not gonna pay you a visit, just me an’ my Louisville Slugger, knowhaddimean? Because that’s just crazy. I might not buy you a beer next Planets Con, but on the other hand I might.

Rule 4: Don’t Do Your Homework

What, you want me to read a guide? Ask for advice on how to play? Listen, buddy — I been playin’ this game since Tim. Ain’t nobody got nothin’ to teach me! Besides — it’s a game! Hell do I wanna do all that work for?

So, yeah, sure, it’s just a game. And it’s up to you whether you’re here to play — or to play well. It’s your call.

But if you think about it, sometimes you’re gonna spend an hour a turn, and a game is at least eighty turns. That’s two weeks at a full-time job right there, and if you’re not gonna make any effort to do it well… To me, it just seems like a waste of all that time.

Same goes for other kinds of homework, like: You sign up for a game, and that guy over there that screwed you over last time? He’s playing. Or maybe there’s someone with a history of multi-accounting, or six people all on the same League team that joined within five minutes of each other. I’m not saying they’re cheating; just — be aware. Word to the wise, ya know?

There’s other things too, like: Is this a Standard game or a Classic? Is it the old Standard, the new Standard, the new revised Standard? What’s this AFOF thing anyway? Take some time; read up on whatever it is — and learn. All else fails, ask in the Feed and someone will answer.

Rule 5: Play Too Many Games / Miss Turns

So what? Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes you’re a Privateer between the Feds and the Fascists, and you’re gonna get your ass kicked. Big deal; luck of the game. If you’re gonna lose anyway, just keep playing on autopilot and start the next game.

All of that is true. And my response? So what! Start off next to your natural predator, make a deal! Between two predators — make two deals! Play every game like it’s life or death, play every turn like it’s the only important thing you do… and you know what? You might still lose. Or you might not.

And one thing’s for damned sure: Anyone who makes the mistake of assuming you’re dead just because “Privateer can’t beat Federation”, bloody their nose well enough, they’ll think twice before invading you again.

Rule 6: There is NOOOOOO! Rule 6.

Rule 7: It’s Just A Game. Real Life Comes First.

It’s your daughter’s birthday, and you’ve got an important meeting at work tomorrow. You’re going on vacation to the Catskills and there’s no WiFi. You’re having an emergency haemmorhoid-ectomy and you’ll be high on anaesthetic for the next three days and sitting gingerly for some time thereafter.

So… yeah. This one’s the real killer. Because, you know what? Real Life -does- come first.

Now, shit happens, right? And, maybe, you know someone well enough that you can ask him to take your spot for a week or two in an emergency. Or maybe not. You do what you can, but in the end, this game is a game.

It’s also true of your other hobbies, or of your job, or anything really.

Bottom Line: If it gets in the way of what’s really important in your life, why exactly are you doing it?

So. That’s how to lose. Any questions?

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