Empires have risen, and now they are falling. The fifth part of our battle for Neptune's Pride sees the final contenders struggling for ultimate victory in a long, drawn-out attrition that would tax their very souls... (PCG's version of this diary is over here.)
Tom Francis: Pembleton, you're on fire. Why is the roof made of stars?
"The Governator, sir, it... the palace... the empire... my fourth and ninth ribs..."
Guards, extinguish Pembleton! He's annoying when he's immolated.
"Tha- splh- thank you sir. That is a help."
Now, what's this you're gibbering about?
"Sir, the galaxy has been ripped apart. Hentzau, Sponge, Crispy - their entire civilisations have been obliterated, and the Governator wasted all of our fleets attacking our only allies. Now we're at war with everyone, defenceless, and much of the fondue is ruined."
Interesting. What happened to the Governator?
"After I kicked him into the ranch dressing jacuzzi, sir, I really couldn't say. Though as I recall you commissioned him to be invulnerable to buttermilk, so we haven't got long."
Very well. This is our last chance: I want you to order all of our remaining ships to attack... Kieron Gillen.
"Sir, I don't know who that is."
Silence! I want a precision assault, target his weakest stars and move on the moment we've seized control. Prioritise the takeover of industry and the plunder of economic assets. Leapfrog through his territory faster than his ships can pursue, and with any luck we can make it out the other side with a tidy profit and all the whores we can smear with Raclette.
"Again, sir, I simply don't-"
Fine! I will orchestrate the procedure myself. I'm sure I won't have another lapse of-
"SEAL YOUR SHITFLAPS, BLOOD SACKS."
The Governator! Quickly, Pembleton, he's arming his Violator Beam! Remind me why I fitted a managerial robot with a Violator Beam?
"Alcorian nanopheasants, sir."
Nevermind! If I don't make it out of here, send the fleets! Then invent an incompetent butler named Pembleton, and alter the transcript to blame this all on him.
"But sir that's..."
Kieron: Tom is a right fucker.
Jim: It's fair to say that I had no choice at this point. Kieron's advances into Quinns' territories might have saved me from the horrible arm of Q, but they also give my growing fleets nowhere to go. I think I had vaguely hoped I might come in second if Kieron's fleets have over-stretched themselves, or perhaps the struggle for victory among the remaining few would give me a break... It seemed unlikely, given the stats. I was miles behind anyone else in both industry and economy, and my science faculties have never really been able to keep up. The tech levels of the other nations was zooming ahead of me, leaving me without the weapon skill I would need to do any significant damage, particularly against Kieron. That said, his vast, exposed flank was literally the only option for attack, and so we engaged. It was quite the long-game, with both of us trying to outwit the other with clever movements of fleets. Logging on early in the morning often gave rise to orders, cancelled orders, and counter-orders, as we spotted each other making moves. With both sides pumping out hundreds of ships per day, we were locked into slow attrition that I was only ever going to lose, thanks to my tiny handful of star systems, and my limited grip on space. I would not end the game without any stars, but I would never have been a contender for victory.
The victory conditions for NP are somewhat curious, in that there's only really recognition for the winner. Towards the end I felt my personal achievement would be holding onto my capital system. But as Kieron's world pumped out countless hundreds of ships, even that looked like a crazy dream.
Kieron: Jim is a right Fucker.
Quinns Graham is finished. He is crumbling like the crackers of his namesake.
Just as I was crushed by him and Kieron attacking together, he can't possibly stand up to Kieron and myself attacking together. At this point I've got two vast fleets on a course that takes them past Graham's frontline to the poorly defended and very juicy industrial planets beyond. If he doesn't pull his fleets back, I wreck his ship production. If he does, Kieron launches a full scale invasion.
Graham sends me a curiously begging-free message pointing out that if I go ahead with this Kieron will win, so I should halt my fleets. I reply saying two things: One, he's in no position to be telling me to do anything. Two, if he does what I tell him we can erase Kieron from the game.
I inform Graham of my plan in its entirety. Once those two vast fleets arrive in the rear of his territory (outside Kieron's scanning range) I won't move them to take any more systems. Instead I'll turn them around and send them straight back at Kieron's territory. Graham's ships and my own can destroy Kieron's forces on that front, meanwhile I'll be launching a retaliatory attack over in my own territory. In 48 hours Kieron will be a nobody, ripe for the taking by Jim, Graham and myself.
Graham agrees and I am happy. Over the bumpy course of a few days I've turned a combined attack that should have taken me out of the game into defeating the bigger of the two original aggressors. This, right here, is a computer game.
Kieron: Things are going well. Things are going terribly.
I'm leading the game now. It's a clear win. People are congratulating me, saying I deserve it after being almost wiped out early on. I feel good, even though I know they're lying. Jim's attack is an annoyance, which grows all the more with every passing hour. I simply can't crush him, as the vast majority of my forces are tied up in defensive positions facing Graham. Quinns and my attack plan was that I hold a front against the majority of Graham's forces, whilst he jumps in deep behind. So either Graham retreats his forces to defend his heartland, allowing me to advance the front, or he holds the front and Quinns runs rampage in the backfield. It's a great plan. Problem being, I can see that after the initial strikes, Quinns is claiming no more territory. Part of me thinks he's just not logged in again. Part of me knows that something fishy's going on.
Problem being, despite this knowledge, there's nothing I can do. I manouvere my forces to keep my northern front, keeping it par on what Graham has there... but that doesn't leave enough forces to fight Jim with any seriousness. I can flirt with him - and the fencing is openly hilarious. When you give the order to jump, all the other players can see what the destination is. You then have half an hour to cancel. Thing being, that means you can see any immediate counter moves - like ships moving to reinforce where the enemy strike is arriving. At which point, you see you're doomed and cancels the order... and they cancel theirs too. I'm primarily playing defensive, just stopping Jim's inching, slow-crawl creeping offensives - always planet-for-planet, a slow-front encroaching - while occasionally retaliating with a deep strike into his central territories. Out of scanner range to start with. I'm trying to find his heartlands. I equally don't hold anything, but the aim's really to make Jim spend a half day clearing up my fleets in his backfield to give me a chance to strengthen my empire.
But this is pointless. This doesn't matter. All this does is divert my strength from the real battle. Jim stops responding to serious diplomacy at this point, which is a shame, as I suspect we could have come to an understanding and lead to a very different end-game... but it wasn't to be.
I was sat there, paralysed, shooing Jim's Fleets away and waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm at a gig in London on Saturday night, and thoughts of Graham's fleets advancing cut through the synth-pop. I can't wait to get home to check the fleets, just to... well, I dunno. Minimise its effects? 3 hours is about all I can spend away from a computer and still have a chance to fight back. Sleeping is hell. It doesn't matter. I'm just stuck in a reactive corner (i.e. A losing one). Unless I can find a way to develop my empire enormously, I'm screwed. I consider stabbing Quinns in the far west, but I can't afford to fight a third war and don't really have the fleets there. There is a chance that he's just being slow rather than treacherous.
The one move I have proves too abhorrent even for me. I need to stop Jim from attacking me. The only possible way I can think of to do that is to forward a mail Quinns wrote saying disparaging things about Jim's defence of his empire, compared to the much more challenging Hentzau. In other words, if Jim doesn't actually back off from me, you're handing the game to the person who has been slagging you off behind your back. Do you really want to do that?
I don't do it. That I was even considering showed how far I'd crawled into the moral murk.
I sit. I wait. I fret.
And I have a Doomsday plan... but I keep that quiet for now. Jim's annoyed me as much as Sponge did with his play. You may be aware of what I did to Sponge. Frankly, if I'm going down, there's no way I'm leaving him alive.
C'mon, shoe. Drop! Drop!