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Subject: Why I think people are having trouble with this game. rss

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Mike
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I read a lot of posts and there seem to be several common themes.

1) The game takes too long.
2) The game is somehow imbalanced with specialized tech.
3) Large ships are less capable than specialized ships.
4) The game needs alternate victory conditions.
5) The game favors defense.
6) X technology is useless or not economically viable.

To me, these complaints sound similar to new players at real time strategy games like starcraft or brawlers like Street Fighter. This is going to be a long post, but hang on, hear me out. I am by no means an expert at this game, or any brawler or RTS game, but it seems to me there are similarities to people new with the games.

TL;DR - The game is very complex despite the simple rules. There is a learning curve. Experiment over several games and treat it like a real time strategy game or brawler rather than risk. Mind games, strategy, and tactics play a big part in this game so simply using a Civ style "stack of death" is wasting a lot of potential.

1) The game takes too long.

The rules of this game are simple enough. Except for the first play or two the rules should not be a problem. To me this has more to do with the learning curve you have to get over to develop long term strategies rather than using turn by turn thinking. It's like starting a game of starcraft and not having a goal to defeat your opponent. You will flounder around building whatever seems good at the time without ever building synergy in your army.

This also occurs when you don't know how to do damage. For instance in a game like street fighter, rounds last far longer if you don't know how to do combos because you're doing far less damage per hit. In starcraft it's like not knowing how to ramp up production or how to use your units once you have them.

This is meant to be an aggressive game. The fact that you are limited on fleet counters should tell you that once you have a few you should attack with them. You should get up a small fleet and harass your opponent. Just make them react to you being there. As long as you keep your fleet alive your only additional cost is a few turns of maintenance. However, you have forced them to reactively spend money rather than proactively spending it on their own aggression.

2) The game is imbalanced to specialized tech.

This involves a lot of "theory" playing. People go "fighters are too strong", the reply is "get point defense", then the original poster continues "but then they'll do X and counter my scouts", a solution to that is suggested and the response is "but they'll counter that with Z". There is a disconnect here.

Remember, if your opponent spent a bunch of money on point defense and scouts, they probably didn't spend that money on ship attack 2 and cruisers. They cannot have everything at once, part of the learning curve of this game is to keep track of that and counter what they do have with things they do not have the counter to. Even late game they are limited by their production ability and economic strength.

Again, you can bait them by showing a technology to make them invest heavily in the counter when you are actually producing the counter to their counter. There are levels of strategy here that new players tend to miss.

3) Large ships are less capable than specialized ships.

Large ships have a significant advantage over specialized ships. Large ships are good at killing things. Specialized ships are good at countering one particular ship type. Large ships hit everything easy. Large ships are weak against mines, as their increased hull size and improved defense abilities are less important. But against specialized scouts and destroyers they will win out. Properly upgraded they can take on limited amounts of fighters. You have to remember though that capital ships are supposed to be an investment. They require upgrades beyond just ship size to compete with later game developments.

4) The game needs alternate victory conditions.

To me this is tantamount to admitting you are still learning the game. People playing starcraft don't complain that the only way to win is to destroy the opposing player's base and units. That is what the game is. I can understand the desire to change it up some, like having objective based games similar to a first person shooter. Capture the flag, hold this position, control X amount of space, etc. But these alternate victory conditions should still be based around the combination of economy, production, and combat capabilities so that they change the way the game is played but not what game you are playing.

Adding a diplomatic or economic win condition changes the game. The rules were meant to be a wargame not a space opera simulator. Alternate play conditions that fit with a strategic wargame work. Other conditions won't.

5) The game favors defense.

This is again a case of not knowing how to do damage and not considering the advantages of being the aggressor. Using a single stack of death is a very different strategy than baiting your opponent with small fleets to conceal the stack of 6 fully upgraded dreadnoughts. Yes, if you wait for the late game it's more likely everyone will have large stacks of death. If you attack early, 2 DD's is a far stronger fleet than the same 2 DD's later.

Returning to the starcraft analogy, you need to exploit your advantages as soon as you get them. The timing of attacks is important.
Did you just research Attack 2 and Defense 2 last economic phase? Build as many cruisers and battle cruisers as you can and send them to attack.
Is your opponent focusing on teching up rather than building a fleet? Build a lot of small ships and send several small fleets to harass until they can counter.

Be experimental. The game has a lot of depth and underneath the rules there are mind games going on between the players. Is that concealed stack a decoy or 6 CA's? Is that a shipyard at that colony or a stack of mines? Is that a mixed fleet of large and small ships or a carrier group?

6) X technology is useless or not economically viable.

There was a whole discussion about terraforming in particular but this also applies to the specialized ship techs or attack/defense upgrades etc. This game is not an economic simulator. You don't win by having the most money. You win by destroying an opponent's homeworld. To this effect, any technology that can help you do so is of benefit.

Terraforming - Yes, it costs 33 to get the tech and a colony ship. This takes 8 turns for the colony to repay. You are guaranteed a barren world in your home system, so that return is essentially guaranteed if the game lasts long enough. However, get 2 colonies on barren worlds and it only takes 6 turns of each colony to pay back. On top of that, you pay now for an economic advantage later. In later turns you will be bringing in more money, regardless of past expenditure. This means you can build expensive fleets faster, research that critical defensive tech this turn rather than next turn. Put more mines in critical positions. It is a short term disadvantage for a future advantage. And that is totally neglecting the strategic and tactical advantages posed by a forward position.

It has been argued that countermeasures are cheaper than specialized tech (point defense vs fighters, scanners vs cloaking). This does not lessen the value of any technology. The surprise factor is still there. Further, any countermeasures are wasted money if they cannot attack the ships they counter. Point defense scouts are wasted money if they are killed by cruisers. Scanning destroyers are worthless if blown up by a fighter group. Minesweepers do a whole lot of nothing if that stack you thought were mines was in fact a large group of DD's. Be more creative with fleet composition and baiting your opponent and you'll get more out of that specialized tech.
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Ocean Druen
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No need to post another long response here, but I agree with all of your points. I was playing this last night at our local game shop and had quite a few people come over and check it out and ask questions touching on most of these and I gave the same answers as you.

After discussing the game with my opponent and some others it was agreed that alternate victory conditions were not needed because they would just lead to turtling - although an economic condition that forces you to colonize enough deep space planets fully could also be feasible but by the time someone build up that much economic power it is likely that person would win the game.
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David Jackman
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Great points - I just had a couple things I wanted to mention:

goblinmarine wrote:
It has been argued that countermeasures are cheaper than specialized tech (point defense vs fighters, scanners vs cloaking). This does not lessen the value of any technology. The surprise factor is still there. Further, any countermeasures are wasted money if they cannot attack the ships they counter. Point defense scouts are wasted money if they are killed by cruisers. Scanning destroyers are worthless if blown up by a fighter group. Minesweepers do a whole lot of nothing if that stack you thought were mines was in fact a large group of DD's. Be more creative with fleet composition and baiting your opponent and you'll get more out of that specialized tech.


This is really important. The reason that countermeasures are cheaper is because they are much harder to use aggressively. They are reactionary by design, and this tends them towards the defensive. Being on the defensive does not win you this game. If you are scrambling to deal with a threat, you are already at a disadvantage.



The comparisons to starcraft are valid. Get ships, move out, sit outside their borders.

This:
-Will force opponents to spend on defense instead of economy
-will give you time to react to anything that occurs, as the battle line is closer to your opponent than to yourself.
-In this timeframe, when you opponent is probably putting together a defense, will give you time to build a couple extra colony ships.

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David Debien
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Very well done response to the concerns expressed so far. Agree with everything said.
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Chris Berger
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DarkTori wrote:
although an economic condition that forces you to colonize enough deep space planets fully could also be feasible but by the time someone build up that much economic power it is likely that person would win the game.


I dunno, that actually sounds like a great idea. You might even want to specifically place a few "objective" planets in deep space in a symmetrical way, and then anyone who can, say, colonize 3 of them up to 5CP status (I'd say it should be 5CP at the beginning of the econ phase) wins. As much as I was thinking the game doesn't "need" alternate victory conditions, that might be a brilliant one.

The reason I wanted to quit in the game you and I played last night was that we had just gotten to the point of the game where it looked like a pretty long haul - we were fairly evenly matched in terms of building capacity and tech, and neither one of us had a large fleet that could invade the other's space. So it looked like it was going to be a lot of back-and-forth for a while and I really didn't want to spend another 2+ hours in an evenly matched game, thinking harder than I wanted to after a long day and not enough sleep, when there were lots of other people around playing other games that I wanted to try.

I think that having a "king of the hill", "hold these objective points" type of victory condition could be really fun and could head off some of that feeling of, "I don't have nearly enough strength to mount a foray against your core worlds, so what's the point?". I mean, in a way it'd be similar to the standard game in that you have to defend your homeworld, but it would force you to defend a forward base, which can be more interesting and more difficult.
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Though I don`t own it, I have been reading all the stuff here about the game.Is it maybe not the case that this game is trying to be like an old S.P.I monster game, with all the complexities, but trying to make it fit to 45-60 mins.To my mind doomed to failure right away.
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Chris Berger
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moxyoron wrote:
Though I don`t own it, I have been reading all the stuff here about the game.Is it maybe not the case that this game is trying to be like an old S.P.I monster game, with all the complexities, but trying to make it fit to 45-60 mins.To my mind doomed to failure right away.


I don't know what an SPI monster game is, but it's not really trying to fit in 45-60 minutes. It seems like more or less 1 hour per player, but longer for new players like me.

And also, it doesn't fail. IMHO, it's a very good game. It's just that it's a wargame in space. It's not any other kind of game - euro, ameritrash, empire building, not even economic really. It's a wargame. In space. But a good one.
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Bob
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I think some people online are trying to make this game into something its not. It's a great space war game like you said. A "gate way drug" kind of war game at that as none of the people I've played with (myself included) consider ourselves to be war gamers.

The elimination objective is great and the entire game is focused on it. I'd be awesome to play CTF/King of the Hill too, but it would be really hard to imagine some political/economic track generating VP's. I talked to Jim on another thread and King of the Hill scenarios are in the works.

Regarding time, here's what my games have run thus far.

1) New player (wife) vs Me on small map- 3h (excluding taking breaks occasionally)

2) New player (brother) vs Me on small map- 2.5h

3) Brother vs Me on normal map- 2h

4) Wife vs me on small map - 2.5h

We do, as the rulebook suggests, resign from the game if it looks like someone (usually NOT me) is going to run away with the win. People do the same thing in starcraft online, plus it gives us the chance to start a new game.

All of us used completely different strategies each game and found them to work really well. We liked that you can't 'have it all' with the tech tree and you really have to be strategic with choices.

Great game.

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Jef Addley
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casualgod wrote:
Very well done response to the concerns expressed so far. Agree with everything said.


so do I
 
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Mark Buetow
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chrono280 wrote:
I think some people online are trying to make this game into something its not.



Oh, come on! Like anyone would ever do that! shake
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Bob
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lol
 
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Wendell
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moxyoron wrote:
Though I don`t own it, I have been reading all the stuff here about the game.Is it maybe not the case that this game is trying to be like an old S.P.I monster game, with all the complexities, but trying to make it fit to 45-60 mins.To my mind doomed to failure right away.


Space Empires 4X is not REMOTELY a monster game, of the SPI or any other variety. Completely different.

The rules are simple and not too long, especially by wargame standards. A manageable number of counters. I think the playing time listed is realistic though learning games and the dynamics of any particular group of gamers can of course alter that.
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James Fung
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moxyoron wrote:
Though I don`t own it, I have been reading all the stuff here about the game.Is it maybe not the case that this game is trying to be like an old S.P.I monster game, with all the complexities, but trying to make it fit to 45-60 mins.To my mind doomed to failure right away.

There is currently a game on The Hotness right now called The Campaign for North Africa (not sure why it's there). It's not quite the usual SPI monster (to make up for lack of counter density, players have to painstakingly track logistics and organizational charts for each unit), but play time is listed at 1000 hours.

Typical traits for monster games:
- Number of counters in the tens of thousands.
- Maps that require players to push tables together to fit everything
- Gameplay that, even if people play a full-day session once a week, full campaign scenarios take more than a year; "short" scenarios may only take a couple months.

A lot of wargame design since that era (the area-impulse games, card driven games) has been in reaction to this design philosophy of more-is-better. The designer has repeatedly stated that, even if the game was once a chrome-fest, his aim has been to streamline it down to its essentials.
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Jim Krohn
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You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
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James is right. However, I just want to add one little tweak to what he said.

My goal was not to remove chrome from SE, it was to include only the chrome that could be done simply. Space Wreck, Doomsday Machine, etc. are all chrome, but they come at a very small cost (in terms of complexity and time).

Even something like fighters or cloaked raiders could be considered chrome, but I was able to fit them into the system in a way where it does not add excessive complication. They are cool and the add quite a bit to the tech decisions so their inclusion was worth it.

The counter mix was another consideration. In order to hit the game's price point, I was limited to 4 counter sheets.

I have a bunch of stuff that I am sorting through right now. I would love to see the best of it make it into an expansion.
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mateenyweeny
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A C3i mini-expansion would be nice!
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slinkydink wrote:
A C3i mini-expansion would be nice!

Yeah, I'm looking for more good scenarios (including solo) and perhaps some unique new counters. Also, please have additional 1/2 unit counters in C3i...we run short by a considerable margin.
 
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James Fung
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Just to add one little tweak to what Jim said, I did say the designer aimed to streamlined the game down to its essentials and, honestly, can you have this sort of game without fighters and cloaked ships?
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Jim Krohn
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You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
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Well, said. They are essential!
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Jim Dauphinais
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Mike -- Excellent post.

One aside, I'd be cautious about conceding too early in a game. I have seen some wild battles where 3 scouts were taken out by a single scout of equal technology. Also, I have seen gambit where a player goes quickly and heavily into Destroyer production in a small map two player game. The player who did this broke through into the enemy's home system, but fell one shipyard short of being able to bombard the enemy home world. Because the attacking player ignored all but one of the enemy colonies, the enemy player was able to build a Base, another shipyard and a destroyer of his own in that home world hex, which pretty much shutdown any further hope of directly taking out the enemy home world with just Destroyers.
 
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Tom Grant
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While you made some excellent points in the rest of this post, I have to take issue with this statement.

goblinmarine wrote:
4) The game needs alternate victory conditions.

To me this is tantamount to admitting you are still learning the game. People playing starcraft don't complain that the only way to win is to destroy the opposing player's base and units. That is what the game is. I can understand the desire to change it up some, like having objective based games similar to a first person shooter. Capture the flag, hold this position, control X amount of space, etc. But these alternate victory conditions should still be based around the combination of economy, production, and combat capabilities so that they change the way the game is played but not what game you are playing.

Adding a diplomatic or economic win condition changes the game. The rules were meant to be a wargame not a space opera simulator. Alternate play conditions that fit with a strategic wargame work. Other conditions won't.


Most wars don't with the real-world of player elimination, unconditional surrender. (WWII skews our perception here.) Therefore, to be a wargame, you don't need to make player elimination the only legitimate victory condition.

A very large percentage of wargames, not surprisingly, have different victory conditions than player elimination. In We The People, you're trying to achieve greater relative influence in the colonies before the "Lord North's Government Falls" card appears. In For The People, you're trying to drive down the national will of your opponent to the breaking point. In the vast majority of Advanced Squad Leader scenarios, you're trying to do something other than wiping the enemy off the map (hold this building, exit off the mapboard, etc.)

As I said in another thread about Space Empires 4X, Twilight Imperium does a great job here. Winning depends on victory points earned through a variety of activities. Some of them such as occupying Mecatol Rex, are straightforwardly military. Others might require some military action to achieve, such as controlling a certain number of planets or a specific amount of resources...Or they might not. Ditto for countering these strategies. SE4X could have similar victory conditions in alternate scenarios than the "core game."

While I like the solitaire "planet killer" scenario, and the "alien empires" solitaire scenario looks promising, it might be helpful to have a small scenario for two or more players.
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Mark Buetow
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Kingdaddy wrote:




As I said in another thread about Space Empires 4X, Twilight Imperium does a great job here.


And that's why Twilight Imperium is BORING and WEAK and DOOMED. The designer has said it best: "Burn their colonies before they burn yours!" devil

You can have your wimpy economic or alternate victory conditions but don't be surprised if your opponents have to go to the real world to slake their thirst for blood. I don't think you want to be responsible for that. cry
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Jim Krohn
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You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
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Quote:
it might be helpful to have a small scenario for two or more players.


There is a very small 2 player scenario.
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Tom Grant
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Jim Krohn wrote:
Quote:
it might be helpful to have a small scenario for two or more players.


There is a very small 2 player scenario.


Whoops, missed that. My apologies.
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Quote:
5) The game favors defense.

The game does favor defense. All things being equal the defender shoots first. That's a huge benefit. Asteroids and Nebula only exacerbate this problem.

Your response to the fact that the game favors defense seems to be to use superior tactics to overcome the benefit in defending. That may be possible but that doesn't change the fact that the game is inherently designed to favor defense in combat.

The tactical benefit for defending conflicts with the long term goal of conquering your opponents. This natrually leads to "turtling" and long play times.

My question is, why wasn't the rule to have the attacker shoot first?
 
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Jim Krohn
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You are right in that individual combat favors defense, but the overall game favors offense. There are two major reasons for this:

1. Technology can be devastating. If someone shows up in another player's backyard with a tech surprise, the defense has little chance.

2. It is very difficult for the defense to effectively guard so many colonies. If everything was concentrated in one hex, it would be easy to defend, but its not. Because of this, it is not uncommon for someone on the strategic defense to be forced to attack a fleet in their space. Had I made it so that the attacker fired first with ties, I would have actually been helping out the person that sat back on the defense.

This is a deeper game than it appears at first glance or based on the size of the rule book. Try it and you will see what I mean.
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