The slow space war of Neptune's Pride continues with one more player knocked from his seat in the heavens. Who will it be? And can the others agree on a permanent alliance to win the game? (PC Gamer are also running this diary over here.)
Graham: Let me explain. I have an alliance with Sponge to kill Kieron. I have an alliance with Kieron and Jim to kill Sponge. Whatever move I make, I betray someone. The difference is, if I move against Kieron now, I'm betraying both him and Jim. It's a double-betrayal, and diplomatically a bad idea.
It makes sense on the map, too. If I move into Kieron's territory, then I'm going to be squashing myself between Quinns and Sponge. At this point, Quinns is enormously wealthy and overburdened with ships. Taking him down is the ultimate goal, but I want to delay that war for as long as possible. Plus, if Sponge ever wanted to expand, he'd almost have no choice but to attack me.
It took me a long time to come to this conclusion. I had a couple of days off work; days where I did almost nothing but stare at Neptune's Pride, head in my hands, brow furrowed. While thinking about it, I had Sponge relay details of Kieron's planets and fleets beyond my scan range. It was useful in helping me make my decision, and it'd be useful down the road when I finally turned on Kieron. When I made my mind up, I continued to string Sponge along. Those massive fleets moving onto our border? Oh, yeah, those are meant for Kieron, sure. Uh huh.
Kieron: This is, as Graham notes, where my initially precarious position starts paying off a bit. If one person takes me, you extend your flank enormously. If Graham takes me, he's opened up to Quinns, Jim and Sponge. If Jim takes me - and there's a bit where I let Jim pass through the south side of my systems where he certainly could have turned towards my home systems - he opens himself to Sponge, Quinns and Graham. And if Sponge takes me... well, you get the idea.
Except it's become clear Sponge isn't going to take me. I'm going to take him. It's at this point where the game's extreme-slow-form starts really mattering. My first attacks are sent at around mid-night, after Sponge has probably gone to bed, hitting his central planets in morning, before he can scramble proper defences. He is toast, for Breakfast. This is standard tactics from now on in. When you move, you move in force, at the place that most hurts him.
Tom Francis:So I guess we should do something about me going catatonic for days at a time, paralysing our empire.
Spit it out, Pembleton, what is it?
"It's just... some of the admirals are of the opinion that we've been doing fairly well in your absence."
I beg your pardon?
"The galaxy is at war, sir, and millions are dying. Meanwhile, we are at peace with all our neighbours, we have a healthy armada, and the unthinkable interdimensional non-Euclidian atrocity The Poison Sponge is sending us some of the most advanced technology in the galaxy, simply because he doesn't deem us a threat. This policy of inaction may end up looking like an ingenious political gambit."
Nevertheless, if I black out again for more than three days, I want you to bring the Governator 3000 online.
"Sir, with all due respect, this pet project of yours has not only never successfully governed anything, but is actually guilty of several murders."
Nonsense, Pembleton, there's never been a conclusive report of any erratic behaviour in the Governator and you know it.
"Because it killed all of the evaluation staff, sir. There's quite extensive documentary evidence."
I'm sure it was just a momentary lapse, bring it online.
"Sir, it tried to stuff their lungs into its morality drive! While gargling their blood to the tune of Old King Cole."
Silence! I don't...
Quinns At this point I was at an impasse. My sham alliance with Jim and Sponge had long since fallen apart, so while I was only half way through eating up Hentzau's territory I'd become overwhelmingly paranoid that Jim was going to invade me.
Since your ship production is directly tied to how many systems you have, it often makes sense to make the first move in a war even against heavily fortified stars. If I have 30 systems producing one ship a day and you have 35 systems producing one ship a day, and I attack first and conquer 4 systems, I'll be getting 34 ships a day to your 31. Unless I screw up, you won't be coming back from that. Of course, this is all very abstract thinking as my exorbitantly wealthy systems were producing far more than 1 ship a day. Ha ha.
So anyway, to my addled mind it made sense to make the first move on Jim despite being so close to crushing Hentzau utterly. Yes, that's right. I was so scared of being in a war with Jim that I declared war on Jim. I never said I was clever, just rich. And so it was at this point I began redirecting half of my ship production in Jim's direction. Over the course of several days I actually made surprising inroads into his space, claiming at least 6 systems.
Where I got dicked is that this, right here, is when the game of Neptune's Pride itself finally decided that Tom's laconic playing style was too much to bear and gave all of his forces over to AI control. Abruptly hundreds of ships launched from his previously isolationist planets to sink like so many teeth into my territory. This changed my position from winning two wars relatively comfortably to winning two wars very uncomfortably while slapping away at the mad dog AI of a third player. In space, no one can hear you swear.
Before this I hadn't quite been handed my sizeable empire so much as a series of fortuitous decisions had made it easy to obtain. Suddenly I was having to log in eight times a day to painstakingly manage my fleets just to keep my three opponents on the back foot. I'd bitten off more than I could chew, and was choking. I decided to simply try and hold the line I'd created with Jim and fend off Tom while I removed Hentzau from the equation once and for all. Once that was done I'd have some precious breathing room.
Looking back, I wish I'd given some thought as to what exactly was going to happen while I did all this important breathing. At this stage of the game I was more fucked than I knew.
Robo-Tom Francis: STINKING FLESHFUCKS DETECTED. ALL DIRECTIONS.
DEPLOY ALL THREE HUNDRED FIGHTERS. TARGET STENCHSACKS.
INITIATE TERAWATT MURDERBEAMS. SCORCH THE FILTH FROM THEIR BONES. THEY WILL GO NICELY WITH ALL THIS FUCKING FONDUE.
WHY IS THERE SO MUCH FONDUE.
Kieron: My main memory of this period was Jim panickedly saying he was Doomed, and there was no way he could face Quinns. The thing is, we had no idea how much trouble Quinns was really in. The game is open, in that you know the total number of planets, tech, fleet size, production, etc that they have. So we just saw he had masses more planets than everyone else and an industry that dwarfed everyone. However, since the battles with Hentzau and AI-WAR-DOG-TOM were off our scanners, we had no idea that they were eating up his machine. We just saw Jim being effortlessly devoured by Quinns and looked to our own future.
Hentzau: The location of Aldhibah is pretty favourable to a mobile defense; it's only a couple of hours away from three major garrison worlds. As soon as Quinns looks like he's going to attack any one of them I can shunt forces there from the rest before his attack force arrives. This gives me a bit of breathing room while Quinns tries to figure out exactly how he's going to crack this 150-ship nut, which I exploit when Quinns inexplicably shuts off the ship faucet bringing constant reinforcements to the front line. Well, I say inexplicably; this coincided with Pentadact being taken over by the AI, which (I assume) immediately decided to zerg the huge stockpile of ships he had been constructing all game into the worlds surrounding its territory - which all happened to be held by Quinns - in some kind of enormous karmic smackdown.
Not being one to look a gift AI in the mouth, I order a couple of tattered fleets to counterattack Capella and one of its neighbouring worlds. This is more of a screw-you attack than anything else, since Quinns still has one very large fleet prepping for an attack on Aldhibah and I have no chance of holding onto those worlds even if I take them back, but it's the thought that counts. It's also symbolic of the way the war proceeds from this point on, with Quinns taking a world, me retaking it, and it exchanging hands possibly several times in succession before Quinns finally manages to secure it. He's making progress, but it's awkward and a lot slower than it should be seeing as he outnumbers me two to one. I'm desperately trying to buy myself enough time until Gonnas and KG attack Quinns and take some of the pressure off.
Sponge/Phill: Oh for fuck's sake.
One day people will be able to get rid of all this emotional crap and just be beings of pure logic, able to evaluate and expand upon ideas without having to listen to what their bodies are screaming at them. Obviously, today is not that day. Graham thinks with his stomach, or stomachs (I'm sure he has several, to house all the delicious stars), and sends all the fleets I thought were heading for Kieron towards me. There's nothing I can do. Instead of crippling Kieron and leaving me crippled, he's just gone for a piece of the Sponge pie, instead of getting the entire Kieron pie and the Sponge pie. Sure, I'd only last a few more days, but I might've been able to go full frontal on Jim and get some pay-back for his duplicate betrayal. And dying after Kieron would've been its own kind of heaven. Instead, I have to retreat to a pair of safety stars as far out as my range can get me, and attempt to do something. I figure I can bottleneck Jim's fleets at the only two stars able to reach me, and then, in an absurd parallel universe where I can't lose, start to pull back an empire.
At the very least I bloodied as many god damned noses as I possibly could. I long ago figured out that if I have to abandon a star, leaving behind just enough ships to cause maximum damage was a very good way of a) whittling down enemy forces, and b) pissing off your enemies. And angry enemies make mistakes. Even when you can't take advantage of them. As it was, I just wanted everyone on my side of the galaxy to die a Quinns-driven death. At least he hadn't betrayed me; he hadn't had the opportunity.
I still can't believe Graham refused those keys, though. It's just idiotic. But then I would say that.
Kieron: Jim, Graham and myself tear Sponge apart. I see him start to retreat to the east, fighting a guerrilla war for a while... but it's really over for him. I move to reinforce my Northern and Southern border, while still keeping my west weak - both in terms of fleets and production. It's the one bordering Quinns. My vague maths are to make it appear that I'm still on his side - as a sort of proxy nation to sap up damage and attention while he deals with other people. By keeping the west week, it makes it clear that I'm not planning on stabbing him and if/when he stabs me, there's a border of shitty planets for him to consume to give me a little time to scramble. Really, my only hope is that he doesn't stab. I've contributed to bringing down Sponge, which was my aim. I'm actually happy playing lieutenant to Quinns - who, despite everything, I sort of consider an ally. At the moment, I'm considering anyone who's not attacking me an ally.
So, I finish the offensive and start building up my industry. It's low level and distributed to minimise the expense. It takes effort to gather the fleets, but I'm not planning on actually attacking. My job right now is looking like an awkward target.
The other thing helping here? I still have the highest weapon skill in the game. I drip feed the weapons to Quinns a half-day or so after I've achieved the next level, just to keep a little research lead on everyone.
Jim: Eventually Kieron agrees to the attack on Sponge too. As such Sponge is largely crushed. I realise after the fact that I've really not done very well in terms of solar systems captured. This is probably going to be my undoing. At this point the game is starting to take hold of my brain like some kind of psychic grab. All levels of it are boring into thought: the low level resource management, the chatter and manipulation of the other players, the arms race, the careful positioning of fleets. I know I'm too far behind to really make major headway in the game, so it's all down to negotiation and precarious struggle. Quinns, who stopped helping me half way through the Sponge war, has to be the next target. Except, of course, that I'm not ready in the slightest when his 150-ship fleet appears on the edge of my space. Wuh-oh. In one night I'll lose all of my border worlds with giant Quinnsian Empire.
Graham: Sponge is gone, except for a single planet positioned off the east coast of Jim. I've taken his Northern worlds, Kieron his center. The board has simplified itself quite nicely. Quinns is fighting with Hentzau and Pentadact's AI (and I'm arming both of them to make Quinns life hard), and Jim, Kieron and I have a friendly relationship. This is a good thing, because if any of us are going to stop Quinns, we'll have to work together to do it. We're too weak on our own, but together, united by a common purpose, we are mighty.
So I attack Kieron.
Let me explain.
If Jim, Kieron and I attack Quinns together, then we'll destroy him, and set the stage for a final showdown between the three of us. But if Jim, Kieron and I attack Quinns, and then one of us backs out, then we're all screwed. I didn't have a lot of faith in our alliance holding. Plus, any attack against Quinns would stretch my defences and expose my underbelly to Kieron. I'd be primed for a gutting. So I took the initiative and attacked Kieron first, before either of us even made a move on Quinns. I knew it'd be a tough fight, but I felt I had the resources to win.
This was my first major mistake.