In Planets, like chess, there’s that hectic opening period where we rush out these patchwork abomination hulls any old how and just have to cope with for the rest of the game. There’s the serious middle game, which is all about optimizing logistics and supplying manufacturing hubs. Eventually, somehow, we arrive at the endgame, where one ragtag fleet end is battling the barrel-scrapings of another through exhaustion and out the other side.
It’s that ‘somehow’ on which I’d like to focus for just a moment: that poorly-defined transition point between the middle and the beginning of the end.
For some of us the middle game is the entire payoff, that “banging ships together” phase that we love so much. For others, it’s just a continuation of logistics by other means, as we work out intricate puzzles of fuel supply and reinforcements. Only rarely do we reflect on the way game timing impacts, for example, our optimum build strategies.
Imagine you’re playing as Federation. Your queued (or random) builds have been Novas, and you’ve spent PBP on Kittyhawks, Novas, and Lokis. But now an enemy race is about to die off, the queue will jump twenty slots at once, and five of those new ships will be yours. Do you truly want five more Novas, or would you be happier with the occasional Diplomacy or Kittyhawk instead? Bear in mind, if a stack of Gorbies is flying at you, you’ll do more damage with a stack of interleaved Kittys and Novas than a stack of pure Novas — and your opponent will harvest far fewer PBP, which is a vital consideration.
Or let’s say you’re playing as a late-game Rebel: Early on, you might have constructed a Mk7 Tranquility as your go-to minelayer, but when the enemy is closing in and you’re cash-rich, might you not do better laying Mk8s? And, given that, when is the 60-torpedo hold of an Iron Lady not enough? Similarly, as Colonies, when would you transition from the ubiquitous early-game Cobol to another platform — one that’s useful in line of battle instead of a PBP gift to your enemies?
There are those among us who spend hours every turn preparing adaptations, who overthink every move and construct complex prediction models for our adversaries. Perhaps for some that is indeed the ideal; but to me, that way madness lies. The time to consider the corner-case play is well in advance, when one has the time for leisurely contemplation — and, what is more, the ability to adapt production well in advance of need.
Here is a list of some questions for you to answer for yourselves when you have spare time. Consider them; spend some time with them.
- At what point in the game is a Mk8 minelayer superior to a Mk7?
- Under which circumstances should you construct your top-end ship with PBP, instead of using the points for smaller vessels?
- When should you queue a light ship in your random (or upcoming) builds rather than using PBP?
- Against which enemies is your go-to build actually a liability? (I’m thinking of the Cygnus and Cobol, the Super Star Destroyer, the Firecloud, the Instrumentality, and so on.)
- Is there ever a time when it’s worth maintaining a reserve fleet in your rear areas, or is it wiser to send all reserves to the front line as early as is practicable?
- When do you recycle your own Merlin? How about your war fleet? At which point is your best move to Land And Disassemble?
- When does a Rebel build a Sage, a Cyborg build a Quietus, or anyone at all build an Outrider?
I want to be quite clear: It is in the asking of these questions, and in experimenting with new answers, that we as players are able to improve in the game. Anyone can take a list of rote instructions and follow them perfectly, but if they do so without full understanding, they’ll never do very well with it.
That’s why, at this point, I’m not remotely interested in your answers to these questions. Besides, I’ve thought them all through before and will do so again. It is in the process of finding new answers for them that their entire value lies. Thus, my objective here is to get you to think about them, and maybe to answer them for yourselves. After that, think about any other questions of this sort you might come up with.
Between us, I figure we can make quite a list of new things to wonder about going forward, and in discussing them, improve our mutual game play to no end.
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