Another long text; first some intro, then some strategy discussion, then a description of the climactic action, minor post-battle analysis, followed by some fiction…
Yes!! I finally got a chance to play a 3-player session! This time it was me, my much-abused brother (see my previous session reports #1 http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1142136/first-two-sessio..., #2 http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1147662/the-doom-that-ca... and #3 http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1155018/the-tempe-line-h... ) and our buddy Henrik. It was Henrik’s first time trying out SE4X but he had heard a lot about it and I had tutored him on some basic tactics and strategy (basically the points I made in my last session report thread) including advice on the use of Raiders and the other advanced rules units from the basic set. From the Close Encounters supplement we used the modified costs and the higher levels of Minesweeping and Terraforming and not much else, since it was basically a learning game for Henrik in particular and me and my brother in regard to sessions with more than just two players. We used the basic 3-player map, with me (again) as Vasyr/Yellow, my brother (again) as Chulak/Green and Henrik taking Altair/Red. First to destroy another player’s homeworld would win.
As anyone who has read my other SE4X reports know I am a fan of Move tech (always going for Move 4 if possible before hostilities begin whereupon I stop researching speed) and trying to do the unexpected. I had already tried out heavy ships (ideally Dreadnoughts with full Attack/Defense tech which requires some single-minded and determined research), deep penetration Raiders and fooling around with Decoys. This time I really wanted to try out Fighters, never having used them before!
I decided that I’d only go for basic Fighter 1 tech, combined with Attack and Defense 1. The higher levels of Fighter tech didn’t strike me as worth the steep cost. Fighters have plenty of weaknesses that I had to keep in mind:
1) – Attrition is a killer since Fighters can only take a single hit each. Then the carriers have to return to a friendly shipyard to stock up again after suffering casualties. Hopefully my Move tech would make this less crippling, and at need I could build extra Fighters at my forward shipyards that any returning carriers could pick up without having to wait for the next Economic Phase.
2) – Once your opponent has developed heavy capital ships (Class A) he fires before your Fighters (Class B) and will likely have enough Defense tech to force you to roll 1s or 2s to hurt them, making it unlikely you’ll ever actually kill a heavy ship, since they can usually retreat before you’ve managed to put three hits on him. Fighters thus tend to have a “best before” date and work best early in a game or on a small map.
3) – Point Defense tech is also a killer. It can be countered by sending in other ships to kill off some Scouts before your carrier strike force arrives but this will delay you somewhat and can be costly. If you’re investing in Fighters you’re unlikely to have anything heavier than cruisers to do the clearing and not very many of them, but they could probably retreat before taking heavy losses after taking a whack at any Scouts. Of course it’s a pretty obvious trick and you opponent will now have an extra turn to rush replacements forward if he has any.
4) – The longer you take to amass enough full carriers to do serious harm the more likely it becomes your opponent will grow too tough for them. On the other hand, throwing single carriers at him in early raids is unlikely to cause decisive damage before he manages to research/build a defense against Fighters. You’ll have to pick the right moment to commit!
I was pretty certain my brother would go for heavy ships again, not making any forays anywhere. A Fighter-based attack against him would thus be risky. I was also pretty certain that going for my brother would entice Henrik into attacking me while my back was turned. Thus our newbie buddy became my priority target!
I was indeed correct about my brother’s plans! He was never involved in any fighting at all and actually used some Decoys to make it look like he had some ships prepared for action in case anyone jumped him. Apart from Colony Ships and an extra Miner and Scout or two he didn’t build any units until late in the game when he added a few extra shipyards (having already added Shipyard tech) in order to be able to build the Attack 3 Defense 3 Dreadnoughts he had researched. On the very last turn he also added Scanners and Mine Sweeper tech just to be safe. He had neglected Move tech completely however, making me suspect he had Mines since all his units seemed to move so slowly.
Henrik is a player who knows the importance of a good economy, regardless of the game. He is the kind of player who will take the time to micromanage everything in a Hearts of Iron 3 PC game session just to be able to maximize everything, leaving nothing for the AI to handle. We joked about the Altairians obviously being a race of accountants! With that mindset he expected me in turn to try to mess with his economy using Raiders and thus researched Scanners and even developed his own Raiders (but failed to use them against me, revealing their existence when they jumped some hostile aliens at a Barren Planet). During the latter half of the game he developed both levels of Terraforming tech and built Merchant Pipelines, putting Colonies on both the Barren Planet in his own backyard as well as the one his Raiders had cleared, but I doubt he got enough return on that investment and he also didn’t manage to get any shipyards built at these forward outposts. He should have either invested earlier or at least not at that late a stage when things were heating up along his border with my empire.
Me, I really lucked out regarding the location of my planets, with all of them conveniently close to Vasyr, enabling me to connect all of them with a minimum of MS Pipelines. This was somewhat made up for by all my Minerals ending up at the extreme periphery, so it still took me three Economic Phases to build the extra five Colony Ships due to lack of funds. Most but not all of Henrik’s planets and Minerals were close and easily reached, my brother’s slightly less so. I didn’t realize before how well balanced the random placement system is, with nearby planets giving a better economy in the longer run while a predominance of nearby Minerals gives you an early but temporary economic boost.
It took me slightly longer than expected to build my invasion armada. As usual, I quickly researched Move tech 4. I also researched Attack and Defense tech up to 2 each, to enable me the best use of the cruisers I planned to accompany my carriers. Buying Fighter tech 1 was almost the last thing I did before sinking most of my CPs into a mass of carriers and fighters, adding Scanners 1 at the last minute because I knew about Henrik’s Raiders. I also built enough forward Shipyards at the Colony closest to Altair to enable me to build an entire fully stocked carrier in a single phase for quick reinforcement of my offensive. Other carriers built at Vasyr were moved slowly (so as not to reveal my Move tech) toward Altair as well, making Henrik grumble about his utter lack of intentions to attack me and his desire to peacefully improve his economy instead. I started to suspect he actually had very little combat power, having invested so much in his economy and seemingly continuing to do so even with my counters approaching! It was now or never; delaying any more wasn’t an option! I had to knock out any forces he had and then race for Altair before my brother launched the heavies I assumed he was just about to start building (actually he was just then adding the shipyards necessary to build DNs in numbers larger than one per Economy Phase, producing his first two DNs on the tenth phase).
Altairian groups had been gradually moving my way, forming some sort of shield while my remaining Scouts pushed their way between various Black Holes to penetrate the last barrier of unexplored space between us, a force of four (!) Carriers loaded with twelve (!) Fighters behind my Scouts. A single Cruiser and two Scanners-equipped Destroyers were also racing in from Vasyr to join the fun. Some minor hesitation occurred as Henrik stayed put and I pushed a sacrificial Scout forward to make sure he didn’t have any Mines, allowing time for my rearguard to join the carriers. In the last Economy Phase before battle commenced I had added a single Battlecruiser and a couple of extra Scouts to the ranks, preparing to either throw them at my brother’s forces as speedbumps or explore an alternate path through as yet unexplored hexes into Altair space to raid and generally make nuisances of themselves away from the main clash between our fleets.
I had been correct in my suspicion that Henrik didn’t really have much combat power. He had a few battlecruisers but no more than Attack 1 and Defense 1, with the rest of the fleet a mix of Raiders (uncloaked due to my Scanners tech) and Destroyers (with sadly useless Scanners tech of their own) with too few Point Defense-equipped Scouts among them. My carriers and Destroyers stayed screened while twelve Fighters and my single Cruiser took on his outnumbered fleet of two Battlecruisers, one Cruiser, one Destroyer, one PD-equipped Scout and one Raider. Both the BCs and the Scout missed while my dice were hot, inflicting eight out of a possible thirteen hits, leaving only the Raider alive.
At this point Henrik declared that he surrendered. I argued that we should still give my brother a chance to go for my territory to see if he managed to pick off Vasyr before I crushed Altair, but it was getting late so we agreed to quit. Henrik’s remaining forces consisted of a single Battlecruiser and one Raider and Destroyer each, with Shipyards scattered all over the place and no Move tech, so it really was unlikely he’d be able to hold me off for very long. My brother turned out to have just begun producing Dreadnoughts on that very turn, with no Move tech at all, so it’d have taken him quite a while to even reach my territory, let alone Vasyr itself.
Henrik felt he should have used his Raiders more aggressively against me but to my way of thinking the overly enthusiastic spending on his economy (MS Pipelines and Terraforming) so late in the game was a more serious mistake. He could have had a much larger force to face me by the time I arrived. Plus he bought Point Defense tech but hardly any units so equipped! My brother, as usual, was trying to play it safe and delayed for too long before committing to offensive action. Aggression really pays off in this game and he should have realized I was focusing very heavily on Henrik. And I still can’t understand why I am the only one investing in serious levels of Move tech!
Despite one player never going into battle at all a great time was had by all! Hoping to add the buddy I played my very first session against for a 4-player session sometime! I’d love to add Unique Ships to the game next time! Recon drones! Escort carriers! Flak cruisers! Mobile shipyards! Whee!
Grand Admiral Thoddard of the Vasyrian Colonial Navy kneaded his aching head…
“So tell me again why we should ignore these Mycelian fungus people from the Chulak quadrant and go heck for bantha leather on the Altairian Corporate Federation, Master Xenologist?”
“Well…” the gangly scientist said, “first of all, they’re frickin’ fungus people, right? Sentient somewhat mobile mushrooms basically. They’re not likely to have a penchant for speed in anything they do; from what we’ve been able to gather their ancestors hunted by simply growing their mycelium threads over even slower barely mobile prey lifeforms which were themselves somewhat less evolved versions of the weird animal/fungus hybrids dominating the Chulak biosphere.”
“So what you have here, Admiral, is a chance to defeat two enemies in detail! Sure, we’ll continue to send hyperspace radio messages at them in the hope of a peaceful solution but the last transmission from the Chulak area consisted of an invitation to pollinate their decomposing fruiting bodies… which I believe was intended as an insult, by the way.”
“And the Altairians..?”
“Dude… I’m sorry, I meant Admiral! The Corporate Federation has shown a remarkable reluctance to give sufficient grants to their Naval sector! We have reports that the fleet they sent to clear out the Abydos Hive intelligence was actually outnumbered by the bugs and was very lucky indeed to get the job done without serious casualties! The terraforming project the Feds seem to have planned for Abydos has several times the budget of the poor corporate marines who had to clear those asteroid belt tunnels from xenophobic bug creatures! And with us a mere warpjump away they are building merchant hulls rather than ships of the wall! Those people have a serious case of wishful thinking if they believe peace will last long enough for them to get that sort of investment back!”
Several months and many parsecs later…
“So, Master Xenologist? You really think we can count on the sincerity of those shambling mushrooms from Chulak?”
“They’ve had word of the surrender of the Altairian Corporate Federation… it’s possible they’ve decided we simply seem too powerful and bad-ass!”
“I don’t know about that; the reports indicate they were moving some pretty freakin’ large vessels out of their shipyards… and the reports regarding their advanced shield and attack systems are pretty scary! But we’ll deal with that problem later. For now we have a conquered empire to digest… are you really sure about your conclusion?”
“Dude… I mean Admiral! A whole race of accountants and lawyers! Can you imagine the cultural contamination?!”
“Still, mass sterilization seems a bit harsh…”
Love your recounts - well done and thanks!