Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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Category Archives: Space Empires 4X

Space Empires 4X with Close Encounters and Replicators

This is easily among the shortlist of my all time favorite games. Everything about it is enjoyable.

We had three players last night and here’s how we ran it:

  • Standard 3-player starting positions with the home worlds at maximum distance from each other… but with every empty spot having a deep space terrain chit in them because we like having more stuff to explore even if the map isn’t 100% fair.
  • We played with the “standard” Close Encounters expansion rules… but with Flagships and Nebula Mining from the optional/advanced section. (This gives a jolt to both the exploit and explore portions of the game by giving you an incentive to build a bigger economic engine while also making it easy to explore without having to build CA’s first.)
  • We used the Replicators production sheets and monster sized terrain tiles. Advanced construction was available, but nobody ended up buying it. The new advantage and tech cards were in the deck… and the new terrain was all in the mix as well. (And I gotta say, the pirate ships and space folds are an AWESOMELY fun addition to the game.)

We dealt out two Empire Advantage cards and let everyone pick one. Person to my left chose Powerful Psychics which gave him free exploration-1 plus he could inspect counter stacks next to exploration ships. The guy to my right took House of speed– everything of his was move-7 with an across the board -2 penalty to defense. I took Immortals, which increased the cost of my colony ships by +2 but allowed me to ignore one hit per combat round.

I decided to build Attack-1, Defense-1, Move-3, Fighter-1 carrier groups and sent a couple to attack the House of Speed. I made several mistakes with this attack and it ended in disaster. One, I telegraphed the attack before I needed to by moving into his space just before a turn break. This allowed him to set his production up for defense– a big ol’ stack of defense-2 battle cruisers. Further, I had a chance to fight his fleet piecemeal, but instead moved to where he could concentrate his forces against me. Finally… I forgot to use my empire ability when it might actually have turned the tide.

Okay, so sometimes you have to live and learn in the middle of a six hour game…! Doh!

What to do…? I built more carriers and fighters… possibly for defense at first… but later in order to just have something to throw at someone. It turned into a monster fleet of 21 fighters and 3 destroyers with another carrier group serving as a flimsy backstop.

The terrain ended up placing a Fold in Space and a Warp Point in just the right place that I could attack the Powerful Psychics without exploring the space between us first. (I had no flagship anymore, so that was a great windfall.) I moved into the Warp Point and asked, “okay, who’s with me?” The Psychics waffled and The House of Speed nodded as if he understood. There we go! I move toward the Psychic’s space!

Finishing out the turn, I made yet another critical error in the context of an invasion: I could have moved to destroy his forward ship yards but instead burned down a defenseless colony planet. Stupid! The House of Speed was following me in with his fleets, though, and he chose to go around an irritating base and instead position himself to threaten the Psychics’ fleets. After the turn break, twelve hull units worth of ships appeared at the ship yard.

I’d bid 10 for the turn order and moved away from the defending fleets and toward the home world. My position meant that he could not concentrate both of his fleets on me at once. (Hey, sometimes I learn from my mistakes!) In response to this, the Psychics concentrated their efforts against the House of Speed, and an extremely large battle ensued. By the time the dust had settled, the Psychics were reduce to about 1/3rd of their former number of units… and he had an awesome Elite rated Attack-2 Defense-2 Move-3 Battlecruiser which he was very proud of.

It was of course all for naught because at that point I moved onto his home world and took him out of the game.

Now… was this the correct outcome…?

Well, I had to destroy the Psychics early on or get wiped out myself. The guy was putting everything into first economy and then tech. If he actually made it to Titans my units would be annihilated. I didn’t understand why he didn’t just build twelve point defense equipped scouts to take out my fighters… but thinking it through that would have only eliminated maybe six units on the first round of combat– not that much, really! He thought he had to build a fleet that could potentially stand up against either or both of us… so he went with non-specialist ships in order to have a fighting chance. (Plus, he’d bet on ship size anyway– it’s what he had.)

Now… he really should have turtled up on his home world. Building four mines there would have been enough to keep me from destroying him that turn. (I had no minesweepers.) The consequence of this would have been that our fleets would have simply burned down each of his colony worlds, possible getting into a fight with each other in the process.

I gotta say… fighting the way that he did was way more interesting. It was over quicker, anyway.

The other thing that really ought to have happened was that the House of Speed could have attacked both of us at once. Or he could have feinted against the Psychics and then betray me at the last moment. Would my fleet have been able to stand up to the Psychics’ more advanced units alone…? I think so, especially if I had thought to take out those shipyards when I had the chance!

Would I have been able to stand up against the House of Speed’s betrayal…? I don’t think so. If he had burned my colonies while I was burning down the Psychics’ worlds… he should have come out ahead. Even if I had thought to send minesweepers along with my invasion force, taken down the Psychic’s home world, and then got the 30 CP bonus for eliminating an empire, I don’t think even that should have made a difference. I ought to have been toast!

Yeah, the three player problem is still a significant game design issue.

However… with the Psychics pushing for advanced technology Titans, we had no choice but to join forces against him or die, especially with both of our fleets decimated due to our initial conflict. The gripping hand is… if I had played my initial attack correctly, I don’t think there would have been any conundrum at all. Maybe.

Nevertheless… if you play this one three player, I do suggest you run it under the sudden death short game rules: the first person to destroy an enemy home world automatically wins right there. This creates a dynamic racing game with scads of aggressive action in place of the staleness endemic to most three player direct conflict games. This is a well known problem in gaming and there’s really no need to waste an entire game session on it.

It is 2018, after all!

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The Curveball Strategy in Space Empires Replicators

Okay, I’d played this once, opting to take Destroyers with Attack-2 Defense-2 and Move-2 with my Giant Race empire. Those were some awesome ships… basically cruisers that cost next to nothing. I didn’t like having to stick with just one sort of ship the whole game… and it turned out that the extra tech I bolted onto them was tremendously helpful to the Replicator empire.

So I tried again with an attempt at a solitaire game. I opted for Raiders and Merchant Ship Pipelines… but that turned out to be fairly ineffective against the Replicator fleets. I may have been doing something wrong, but with the rule benders that are granted to the solitaire Replicators, I don’t think I stood a chance.

Fortunately I got another chance to play. I did several things to improve my game:

  • I skipped buying terraforming technology, instead opting to sack deep space alien worlds only for the technology. (I didn’t realize previously that you didn’t have to colonize them to get the stuff!)
  • I built a complete Merchant Ship pipeline which resulted in 18 extra CP a turn thanks to my drawing the Traders empire advantage.
  • I sent my scouts to explore deep space rather than saving them back racking up maintenance costs..
  • I outfitted by flagship with exploration tech and found a space wreck and 10-point minerals… and an alien world right next to my empire.
  • I chose to build fighters and carriers instead of destroyers and raiders. The operated very poorly in their first few battles, basically getting mostly blown away while doing the bare minimum.
  • Because of that… I adjusted by buying up two more levels of fighter technology. Not only did my fighters attack at 7, but the also got a much needed point of defense… without giving research points to the Replicators.
  • When I sacked the alien world, I lucked out and drew afterburners which gave my fighters another +1 bonus to attack. Perfect!
  • I’d also persuaded my opponent to play on the “normal” 2-player map… which gave him a LOT less minerals and space wrecks to harvest. (It’s a default for the solitaire game… which surprised me because we always played with as much deep space as possible before!)
  • Also, the doomsday machine really seemed to go out of its way to make things difficult for the Replicator player. (It even killed the planet for me when the Replicator colonized the barren world in deep space!)
  • Finally, when the Replicator fleet starting sending attack fleets at me, I also purchased some mines. I was able to use the merchant pipelines to position them for maximize their effect. More fighters might have been just as effective or better, but it was danged fun to throw the second curve ball there… especially when mines took down an entire attack force. (Of course, those mines could not be used to attack… and a cunning opponent will tempt you to fight away from them. On the other hand, there’s a limit to the counter mix, so you have diversify at some point!)

Now that I’ve played this out, it’s clear how the curveball strategy can really work. The fighters are your teeth. (B7 and B8 for attack is just plain awesome, especially when combined with their probable numbers. (But note you have to have advanced technology at level two before you can unlock Fighter-4 to get that B8 with defense 2.) Mines can take out your opponent’s biggest and most dangerous ships for next to nothing, but are a bit of a waste against the small ones. (More fighters are going to be a better investment than too many mines. However… given that the Replicators get research points for fleet size… mines instead of fighters can be a better buy in some cases!) If you expect your opponent to use point-defense against your fighters, you can use Raiders to counter them. Finally, if your opponent is spending effort planning and building ways to counter all three of these technologies…

You’ve got so many options for what combination of units to get with this and how to position them… it’s just an all around blast to play. Of course, which exact strategy you go with is going to ultimately hinge on what empire advantages and alien technologies are in play. I’ll tell you, though… I was sore afraid when we got to turn ten and it turned out that my opponent had “Green Replicators” and wouldn’t be depleting his planets until turn 13!

Anyway, great game here… so much you can do with it!

Space Empires: Replicators is the Bee’s Knees

This expansion really make Space Empires 4X an order of magnitude more fun.

The super sized terrain tiles…? They’re just flat out gorgeous. And it’s so much easier to read the board. Also, the names of the planets remain visible for the duration of the entire game now. Heck, you’ll go explore deep space now just for the chance to place another one of these onto the game board…!

Now… about those replicators. This is the all-new all-different fifth-player faction, the Cylon/Borg/Terminator faction. I only have a passing familiarity with the rules for these, but I have to say… watching someone else run these things, their in-game behavior really is completely alien compared to the standard player factions.

They can explore their home space in half the time. They have this huge incentive to explore deep space, too. They don’t have much to think about everyone else is shopping for tech and ships. But during the movement and combat phases, they will spend a lot of effort battling against the unknown. They are denied the usual exploration tech, so it’s interesting to watch them get eaten alive by Danger!, Black Holes, and Doomsday Machines. The Minerals and Space Wrecks they collect are well worth the loss in scouts, though.

The big downside to them is that you’ve got all this crazy technology for the standard Empire factions… and then with the Replicators in play, they have this gigantic disincentive for using any of it!

It’s tough!

The game-play here feels more or less like the solitaire games from the original base set. You commit to a fairly narrow production strategy and then wait for the bad guys to come to you. The strategy notes do suggest throwing a series of technological curve balls to keep the Replicators off balance… which sounds more fun. I didn’t do that in my game, though, because I drew Giant Race for my empire advantage, which made Attack-2 Defense-2 Move-2 Destroyer stacks my preferred weapon. (Though springing for that extra move and defense maybe hurt me more than it helped when the toasters turned it into research points.)

The main thing that I’d do differently based on this first experience with the new faction is that I’d probably invest in more space exploration earlier than what I did. The Replicators look intimidating, but they do need to wait a while before they throw a punch. Exploring the edges of the board is tempting. Raids are (unfortunately) less tempting because you need a specially equipped transport to fully burn down a Replicator colony. On the other hand, beating up their ships before they can combine to become dangerous seems like a very good thing. So while you don’t have the option of doing something crazy that seriously dents their production, they does seem to be plenty of good reason to go fight them early on.

Given the number of things I’m puzzling over here, I have to say… the new faction is probably working exactly like it was intended to… and has fewer of the problems than I expected to see. So if you have an opponent that would rather play the robots than a “real” Space Empires empire, don’t fret. You’re still going to get to do each of the four X’s that make up the game.

Besides, turn ten where the Replicators start losing entire worlds due to pure exhaustion is right around the corner!

Carrier Blitzing the Alien Empires in Space Empires: 4X

I played the Alien Empires solitaire scenario from the core Space Empires: 4X set for the second time this weekend. My main goal with these was to get comfortable with all of the advanced rules in the game. So far, I’d really only had one game with them- and my opponent had crushed me with a Merchant Ship pipeline that funneled unstoppable Raider squadrons into my colony areas. (I tried to counter him with my scanner equipped Destroyers, but the were no match for the Raiders!) I bumped the difficulty setting up to the “Harder” level this time– that’s 3 alien players with 10 CP’s per roll.

I really wanted to see carriers and fighters in action this time, so I bought Fighter Tech on my third turn. I skipped completely over getting any levels in ship size, exploration, or terraforming like I normally would. I bought an extra miner and this gave me a noticeable boost in income for turns 3 to 5, but the second miner is maybe not as valuable if you’re not planning on doing a lot of exploring. I experimented this time with leaning on my scouts instead of springing for exploration cruisers because I wanted to make my attack as quickly as possible.

I bought my first fully loaded carrier on turn four. The only tech on it was Attack-1. You don’t need to worry about getting extra Tactics because fighters shoot before everything except bases and point-defense equipped scouts– that’s one more thing facilitating the fighter blitz strategy.  The red empire launched a fleet at me at this point and I had a dilemma. Should I reveal my carriers to him and wipe out his harassing fleet for “free?” Or should I risk losing my scouts to him and keep it s secret? I decided that he’d be dead before he could really counter my fighters… and that I needed to hold onto my scouts so I could explore the deep spaces between him and me. I wiped out his pitiful fleet at the cost of tipping my hand!

On turn five I created another fully loaded carrier and an extra scout just in case there was a lot of trouble in the hidden terrain. These emerged from the shipyards with Attack-1 and Defense-1. Very shiny! I rolled over this detachment and then ran into Danger! and Black Holes with my scout ships. Exploring deep space without an exploration cruiser is expensive! Every single one of my four scouts were destroyed. This was especially agonizing because I was hoping to use them to take out any mines that were protecting the alien home world….

Within the next couple of turns or so I finally had the two fully loaded carriers two hexes away from the red alien’s home world. Lucky for me, he did not invest in extra Defense during the econ phase or else the invasion would have been postponed. He actually sent out another attack “fleet”, but due to the logic of the ship construction routines, he ended up building a destroyer instead of the much more useful scout. (He only had ten CP’s to spend… and the rules say he always builds the biggest thing possible first!)

There was still room for things to go very badly for this crazy blitz. I moved onto his home world hex and I ended up facing a base and another destroyer. I attacked with my first set of fighters and only needed 5 or less on D10 to hit the base. (He had defense of 2, but I had Attack-1 tech and the fleet bonus to cancel that out.) I missed with everything… and maybe got only one hit on that first round. The aliens took out two of my fighters– I was starting to panic! But the dice started falling my way again the next turn and I managed to wipe everything out for the cost of one more fighter.

The naval battle was not the end of it, though. If I didn’t score four hits on it before the end of the next round, the alien could conceivably get a “defense” result and build enough mines to wipe me out. I needed 6 or less with each of the three fighters and 4 or less with the two carriers in order to score a damage the colony. The first round of bombardment, I think I only got one measly hit. My fighters got a single hit on the next round… and then miraculously, my carriers scored the final two hits.

That was too close for comfort! The remaining enemy players began sending more dinky fleets to harass me. I built bases as a front-stop so that I could focus more on killing. The second alien empire ended up having three minesweepers, three carriers, six fighters, four scouts and four destroyers blundering into him several turns later. His 20 points in defense and forty points of fleet were no match for that, so I called the game.

This was some pretty good fun even though the last couple of turns were a bit tedious. For the first eight turns or so, I was “on the horns of a dilemma” almost every turn. It is very difficult not to try to fix this game while playing it. And yet, cranking the difficulty level up all the way would again help make the aliens send out slightly more interesting fleets. And I see that other stuff that I’m tempted to fiddle with has already been addressed in the expansion. But the aliens strike me as being somewhat vulnerable to carrier blitzes as they currently stand in the “strictly as written” core game scenario. I think they should all build mines the moment they know a carrier group is anywhere near striking distance. That would buy them a turn or two of protection for very little investment.

The rules are certainly set up to respond to this strategy, however. The artificial intelligence that runs the alien player makes Point Defense tech the top priority once fighters are revealed. Also, tech is spent and applied only when a fleet enters combat, so if you reveal your fighter tech at the wrong time, the aliens will be able to react far faster than a human could. (Cheaters!) The “largest ship first” rule for their ship construction works against them when they only have enough money for one ship, but if the alien has seen fighters and has Point Defense tech, the chance of him going for the “largest fleet” strategy goes up from 30% to 50%. If he still fails to get the result that will help counter fighters, then there is actually an exception to the usual procedure here: he will spend the first 12 CP of his fleet budget on scouts before doing anything else!

So you see… it was careless to reveal my fighter tech so early. To be on the safe side, I also needed more than the five scouts that I sent for exploration. And I should have made a point to protect my home system with something other than carrier units. Carriers loaded with a full set of fighters and augmented with Attack-1 and Defense-1 can be devastating, sure– they can easily wipe out a cruiser group of the same value at no cost. But a more patient player would have colonized two barren worlds in deep space right up against the alien empires. These would have become a magnet for the alien fleets coming out from the respective alien home worlds, making it much simpler to coordinate colony defense. When a sufficiently large fleet could be mustered on each side… they could both wait to build their carrier and fighter units until just before the invasion!

Space Empires: 4x — The Alien Empire Scenario

“Destroy them!!!”

My one big regret with PrezCon was not getting in a game of Space Empires:4x. It’s not like there weren’t people there that would play it. I have the expansion for this thing, but I haven’t finished getting the hang of the core set, yet. There’s plenty of other things I could be doing with a free evening, but I refuse to let this game gather dust. It’s an order of magnitude better than its predecessors and it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a space game.

The first thing about the Alien Empire scenario… it was my breaking point for figuring out how to sort all of my counters. With the other ones, I only ever needed to pick out units for just my one faction. I could usually get away with having my guests do their own sorting while I was explaining the rules, but Alien Empires requires all four factions to be in play at once even though it’s a solitaire game.

The thing I was most looking forward in this was seeing each three contrasting approaches to tech spending and fleet composition. I was keen on reaping new tactical insights after watching starships collide in titanic battles, but this didn’t play out quite like I hoped. The aliens hung back and only sent out a couple of uber-wimpy single ship “fleets.” They were sitting ducks waiting for me to come mop them up. Yeah, I think I’ll be bumping up the difficulty factor next time….

It took me about three hours to play through the game. I had several things going in my favor. One, none of the alien empires rolled the “extra econ roll” result. (That could have had a significant impact on the game.) I had a warp point connecting each side of the board, giving me a huge savings in transit time. I also forgot that bases have three hit points. I neglected to check that my fleet could indeed reduce an alien home world in a single turn. I even forgot that defenders go first when there are ties in ship class and tactics levels. (Oops.) In spite of all of these advantages, I still blame the resource multipliers being set at x5 as being way too trivial for a good contest.

Nevertheless, I have to say that the game was still pretty exciting. Before I’d completely realized that it was shaping up to be a cakewalk, I was really engaged as I began to close in on my first kill. I can’t recall a solitaire game being this intense. I was consumed with bloodlust!

Building up my home empire had several non-trivial decisions. I could not, for instance, build all of the colony ships and I wanted along with all of the MS Pipelines I could use on a single round. Also, I made a blunder when I sent my fleet to take out the second alien empire. I lost several cruisers to their mines. If I had thought it through, I wouldn’t have bothered to build them without minesweeper support. Even then… if I wasn’t going to send minesweepers, I would have been far better off sending in more destroyers and scouts! (The mines of course just eliminated my brand new cruisers while ignoring my battered destroyers….) I guess I could have sent in a few scouts to eat the mines for me and done about as well….

Another thing I failed to do was to go ahead and get a second miner. I don’t think you need them in the Doomsday Machine game and I tend to not bother with it in multi-player scenarios. The deep space hexes are wide open for the looting here. I was surprised to see that the Alien Empire rules specifically exclude the “alien” garrisons that are normally guarding the barren worlds out there. I see that the expansion has rules for getting new tech and special abilities from them– that will be a welcome addition when I finally break out the next box.

I sort the ships by class… and figured out it’s easier to manage things if all the colors are together.

The game will certainly change when the output of the aliens is increased. I might be so hard pressed that I don’t have time to build up the perfect economy. Still, swamping them with scouts and destroyers doesn’t seem particularly sporting– and I know that with human opponents that tends not to work out. I think that next time I might try taking out each empire with a different kind of fleet. Maybe… kill one with carriers, another with raiders, and another with big ships. It will take extra time to get the tech for all of that, but the alien AI’s will spend time countering them as well– maybe it’ll net out.

This is a much better solitaire scenario than the more simplistic Doomsday Machine game. I heard someone describe Space Empires: 4X as being a big toy box… and the Alien Empires game is the perfect excuse to drag everything out of it. After getting smashed in my first Doomsday Machine session, I was surprised at how easy this one turned out to be. (Maybe there’s something else I’m doing wrong…?) At any rate, the main thing I want to get out of this is to keep the game “warm” until I can face off against human players again. I do not want to ruin a 3 to 4 hour game session by not knowing the game inside out when the time comes…!