The most interesting thing about this session report is probably what I did to get out of a stalled economy. Maybe I'll try to mark that section somehow.
At today's GASP monthly get-together, one of the other gamers (sorry, I'm *horrible* with names) had brought his copy of Eclipse, plus Eclipse: Ship Pack One. At one point when discussing the next game to play, it became obvious we both really wanted to play it. We could only shanghai one other fellow to join us, but at least three players makes for a balanced start position.
The owner and I had each played the game a few times, but not in the last couple of years. The third player had only played it once, but just a few months ago; his memory for things was at least as good as ours.
We ended up playing essentially the base game, with only one addition from the Ship Pack: the different GCDs. There was also a bit of a tacit agreement that we weren't going to exploit Plasma Missiles too much, and we used the rule for pass order => next turn order.
I had never seen the different GCDs before, and at first assumed that they ramped up in difficulty (yellow < orange < red). We agreed to play with something "harder" than the base game one. Then I noticed that the orange GCD had only four hull stars, and realized it wasn't necessarily harder than the base game one. (I'd be interested to hear what people think about that, or get a link to an existing discussion.) The red GCD still seemed clearly the hardest with the biggest guns, four hull stars, and the -2 shield. We agreed to use it.
This turned out to be a mistake. I was so rusty I'd forgotten how easy it can be to place your explore tiles in a way that isolates you -- with the exception of access through the GCD's hex! -- from your neighbors. I expected that by making the GCD so hard, it would push each player to go bother his neighbors equally. Totally wrong on every level.
We each randomly took a couple of player boards and then chose one of the races on them. I chose Orion; the game owner chose Planta; the third player chose Mechanima. Orion is a race that I feel I have a basic idea how to play: doing combat with Ancients early is key, to gain access to their juicier systems and to get as many early reputation tile draws as you can. Meanwhile, build up your ships to be badass (whether through tech, through numbers, or both) and then go make trouble for whoever seems to need bothering. Your reputation tiles should be a meaningful chunk of your VP, although you'll obviously need other sources too. My thinking was that you won't necessarily be the best military in the game, but if you're not at least in the running, then you're kind of missing the point of the Orions. And in this particular game, Orion seemed like it should be the perfect Planta-exterminator.
Well, about that...
As we spent the first several turns mostly exploring, the fellow playing Mechanima kept oohing and aahing at my tile draws, exclaiming how good they were. I wasn't feeling the love, myself; it eventually turned out that his main criterion for "good" was "doesn't have Ancients". For most races that is indeed a good thing or at least a mixed blessing, but for the Orion it meant I had NO TARGETS. And while every one of my tiles had at least one planet and a couple of cube-boxes, and a couple of the planets were grey, they kept falling into the category I think of as "trap systems": They may look nice, but they cost an influence disc to hang onto and only give you a single usable cube space in return, until you are able to research the Advanced Mining/Econ/Sci techs.
And even worse, such systems hardly ever come with a discovery tile, a pattern made worse by my decision to focus on exploring rings 1 and 2 early. (As my rusty brain remembered too late, at least ring 3 has several systems you occupy JUST for the discovery tile and can then abandon.) By the time I had half a dozen systems, I had only gotten a single exploration tile, which was the alien power source. Wonderful in late game, but so utterly redundant for early game Orion that I arguably should have just kept it for the 2 VP!
Meanwhile, in those same turns Mechanima had already found the Shard Hull, which went straight into his cruiser schematic, and an extra cruiser. He had also found just enough room to expand comfortably before running into Ancients. Before I even had any techs to upgrade with (note: no Improved Hull had showed up, as far as I remember) he was already easily blowing away single Ancients. Just as he got done with them, he started drawing double-Ancient systems, which by then he could handle just fine with paired cruisers. And of course, every successful combat was another reputation tile for him also.
As that was going on, Planta had managed to explore at least 8-10 systems while only turning up a single Ancient, in a location that wasn't blocking him at all. He'd also gotten several discovery tiles, and despite not having played Planta before, had cottoned to how easily he could manipulate his borders to be completely blocked off from us. Soon he controlled his entire third of the galaxy and it seemed clear to Mechanima and I that if we fought each other, it was just going to allow Planta to win the game.
By the end of turn three my empire was already DOA. Half a dozen systems but all but one were trap systems; my economy was stalled. But at least this was familiar territory; I've stalled out plenty of times before. Ordinarily I'd use deliberate bankruptcy to prune my empire back, getting rid of the junk systems and keeping the best. My problem now was that there weren't any "best"! Even the Orion home system is, relatively speaking, a trap system. Or I would buy the Advanced Economy tech... but it hadn't showed up yet in this game.
In desperation, I came up with a new tactic (for me, at least). I deliberately bankrupted the two systems that only had a grey planet in them, and though I had pulled the cubes originally from the Econ track, I put them back on the Materials track. Then the next turn I Influenced those systems and recolonized them from the Econ track again. At my worst I was down to 2 Materials production in the upkeep phase, but at least my economy was stumbling forward.
Meanwhile I had to make another hard choice. I'd also had to bankrupt a research planet, but I had several planet boxes available for Advanced Research. Combined with an earlier mistaken decision to take Nanotech when I should have skipped it, it suddenly became obvious that I needed to invest all my research into the Research techs track until I could afford Advanced Research, at which point I'd finally make up for the earlier deficit. There was an added incentive because by this time it was obvious that I was only going to get to the Planta territory by acquiring the partial-wormhole tech.
In the end I went straight from having three research a turn on turn 4 or so, to having 12 research a turn by turn 6-7, buying out my last space on the Research techs track that same turn with the acquisition of the partial-wormholes tech. In later turns I was able to add the Advanced Econ and Mining techs and my economy finally worked right.
Sadly, of course, it took me so much effort to get there that while I was doing it, the other two players were getting the same results the normal way -- and unlike me, they were actually building ships and upgrading ships and all that other stuff at the same time. By the time Mechanima was done butchering Ancients he was ready to move on to butchering the GCD. Planta was set back by a disastrously unlucky attack on his one Ancient, which lost him two dreadnoughts (not much upgraded) in return for a single hit scored! But he really could just turtle and wait for someone to be able to bother him.
As we entered the endgame, I had a total of two cruisers, one interceptor, and one reputation tile (though at least it was a 4), and the sum total of my ship upgrades was Fusion Drive in both of them! I never bothered Mechanima because he could crush me; he was happy to leave me alone and hope I bothered the Planta instead, and then he slapped down four starbases in one turn before he went for the GCD. And Planta also slapped down starbases as soon as my partial-wormhole tech became a threat. I did build a bunch of interceptors and try to slip past his starbases into his backfield, but he was able to build to counter them, and swat them down like flies. By then I was happy just to lose the battles and become eligible to draw the single reputation tile for participating! I even managed to fill out my five reputation slots that way, though all but one were 1s.
What really won Mechanima the game, in the end, was being able to build SIX monoliths in the last two turns -- one round of three with his accumulated materials, and another round after buying the Artifact Key tech with four keys and taking them all as mats. He was only a couple mats short of building four on the second run -- and as the Mechanima with Nanotech, he could have done it in one action, too. He ended with 57 points.
Planta came much closer than expected, though, because neither I nor Mechanima had realized that the Planta get +1 VP per hex; he ended with 12 hexes, and 53 points.
My lowly Orion, meanwhile, managed to eke out about 35-36 points.
And yet, despite the many frustrations I encountered, it was still Eclipse, and therefore fun. I pretty much knew I was playing the spoiler, but with the hidden VP it was impossible to be sure, and there's always something unexpected happening to take away that kingmaker feeling.
Nice write up! Couple of thoughts. The biggest trick I've found with the "trap" hexes is recognizing fate is giving you a run of them and you need to adjust course. When you recognize its happening you actually do want to influence a few with basic research to convert your money to research for a few turns to turn on the advanced. Alternatively, if you're getting a run of basic material planets knowing to keep them and build orbitals is important. Particularly if your opponents are delayed from contact a few turns. If I can get 6 materials per turn I'll definitely consider it hard. Less than that is not worth it.
Next, in a three player game it's good to know the possible Tier I hexes. There are 4 ancient hexes and 4 non-ancient hexes. Since in a three player you "get" 2 Tier I hexes running into non-ancient hex on the first draw is usually keep. Then even if both opponents get ancients directly in front of them, you have a 2/5 chance of the next Tier I being ancient. If you whiff there the other Tier I hex (the one your opponent "should" get as their 2nd but couldn't imediately explore due to their ancient can be snagged by you. ). You have a 2/4 chance here. If you're still unlucky you have the option of discarding knowing a maximum of two discards before you have to draw an ancient. I use this strategy with the Eridani to great effect.
Nice session report! The Orions are a bit vulnerable to tile draws....sometimes discarding is the best option. Learning games are a bit less fun....but still, it's Eclipse!