Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Thu Jul 09, 2015 12:23 am

Some people really seem to like the modular unit design in Alpha Centauri, but it was always more of a pain than it was worth. I prefer the Civ method of giving a Swordsman or a Pikeman so that you can remember what that is from game to game. And then if you have a unique Swordsman, you at least have an idea of what it is doing in comparison to the unit is replaced. That is part of the reason I pushed hard for unit classes in 2e, so that you can compare a DD to a DD and know about what to expect.

I think what people remember most from Alpha Centauri is the fully voiced faction leaders and their back histories. That was fairly novel for the time, I think, and something you hadn't seen in a strategy game where the standard was to give players control of a faction that was effectively a tabula rasa and let them fill in the blanks as they saw fit -- or ignore leader/faction personality altogether.

I never really got into Alpha Centauri. I played it a bit, but not enough to get to the end of the tech tree or see any of the really crazy orbital weapons or what not that was there. I played Civ 2 forever, but Alpha Centauri just didn't do it for me.

Star Wars Rebellion I tried and just found it impenetrable. But I didn't have a manual or anything else, and this was in the days of the early internet when you couldn't reliably find walkthroughs or tutorials. Nowadays you can go to YouTube and find Lets Plays or video walkthroughs that do a much better job of introducing you to the basic concepts and functionality of a game. I find them more worthwhile than most in-game tutorials.

I can't think of a modern space 4x that I've really been able to get into. StarDrive was 'meh' without the dev being a colossal jerk, enough so that I probably won't try StarDrive II. I bought Last Federation a few months ago and still need to install and try it. I need to try the new Star Ruler game and see if it is any more approachable than the first.
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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby PaulB » Thu Jul 09, 2015 4:56 am

Incidentally continuing on the subject of Master of Orion, there's an artist/game dev who's done blog posts and artwork for re-imagined old games. I think the guy has also worked on some indie games including Cave Story.

Either way he did do a page on MOO1 which is fairly interesting:

http://androidarts.com/spaceconquest/gamedesign.htm

If only to look at the artwork which is cartoony, but cool.

He's done some other games including xcom if you go to the base page.

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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Thu Jul 09, 2015 3:43 pm

Yeah, that guy's site has been around for awhile. It's too bad that he really hasn't updated much on it over the years. He had a lot of activity a few years ago and then got busy or went off to work on other things. I referred to it several times during 2e's development to look at commentary on MOO and look for any chunks of wisdom that might help me on my own project.

I do agree that designers often make the mistake of making a map bigger just for the sake of having it be bigger. This is exacerbated when you have detailed star systems with multiple planets each. The micromanagement required to update and track all of that is disproportionate to the value it brings to the table. You see the same problem in historical games, too, like later entries in the Hearts of Iron series where they start breaking the map down into such small provinces that it becomes an ugly patchwork that just isn't fun to deal with.

2e has skirted that map issue. I think Jay is still aghast at the size of some of the maps (despite them being used by a slightly modified version of the random galaxy generator from 1e), but since we have a single set of statistics for each system we can get away with having more systems on the map before things break down completely. About a dozen systems per player seems to be a sweet spot for empire management where each system is important enough that the player can about remember what's there and form some sort of an emotional connection with their empire. Beyond that you start getting into pure "spreadsheet gaming" where everything just boils down to a number and a position on a map and you don't even try to remember where everything is because it ultimately doesn't matter.
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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby PaulB » Sun Jul 12, 2015 4:17 am

Incidentally, I found that Arne is uploading Art to his twitter account:
https://twitter.com/AndroidArts

Asked him if he's putting stuff on any new page.

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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby mwaschak » Mon Jul 13, 2015 12:11 pm

Tyrel Lohr wrote:2e has skirted that map issue. I think Jay is still aghast at the size of some of the maps (despite them being used by a slightly modified version of the random galaxy generator from 1e), but since we have a single set of statistics for each system we can get away with having more systems on the map before things break down completely. About a dozen systems per player seems to be a sweet spot for empire management where each system is important enough that the player can about remember what's there and form some sort of an emotional connection with their empire. Beyond that you start getting into pure "spreadsheet gaming" where everything just boils down to a number and a position on a map and you don't even try to remember where everything is because it ultimately doesn't matter.


Meh, I complain but then I went back and looked at my Wing Commander campaign maps. And I mean the complete maps that included all the systems the players didn't know about yet. At least in 2e I can have more order and reasoning to my map structure.

-Jay

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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby PaulB » Mon Jul 20, 2015 10:53 pm

Yeah another MOO2 rant but tried it again last night and still failed miserably to be at all competitive. Whenever I play I find that due to crap worlds all around, many of my planets always need to invest heavily in food production which means that my production and tech research falls by the wayside and even though focusing on Hydroponic farms and farming I still have starvation all the time.

After many turns, realized that my ally was about a dozen techs ahead of me and when going to war against an aggressor a squadron of four destroyers got completely wreck by a single enemy cruiser. Apparently destroyed friendly ships can severely damage adjacent vessels when exploding. Either way I do the same thing each time more/less and each time I'm apparently so technologically backwards to be easy prey for anyone who bothers.

I also think the city-style Civilization approach is really not my cup of tea. Plus I find the need to devote 70% of my population to farming to be absolutely bizarre for a space-faring society, while apparently 60% of the world's population is involved in farming, in the US/Canada the percentage is only 2%. So why would a space-age race have stone-age food production efficiency. Or do I need to research both hydro farms and soil enrichment first to enable easier food production and quick reallocation to production and tech. Think if I ever created a 4X game set in space, farming would be abstracted or not present at all. While I like the idea of one world supplying another with food, I think the emphasis should be on the transportation of food not on its production. I'm much more interested in managing freighter fleets than how many peons are growing potatoes.

Should just try playing a solo 2e VBAM campaign instead. :)

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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Tue Jul 21, 2015 6:59 am

Working from memory, I think there was a trap option there in that you always wanted to go for Automated Factories first and foremost, and then trade for or steam Hydroponic Farms later on. That's because the Automated Factories give you extra production, freeing up workers for farming and science (or doubling down on extra production). But you do end up using your habitable worlds to produce food, then your more hostile or mineral rich colonies to handle the bulk of your production.

MOO2 punishes players for not choosing certain technologies, AND for engaging in early wars. Most 4x games punish such conflicts because the resources spent on warships are resources that could have been fed back into your economic engine. And, because most 4x games have economic engines that grow at an exponential rate (rather than VBAM's linear rate) you end up with a bad snowball effect that can deal a player out of the game before they even really were in it.

That's not to say that VBAM's linear growth model is necessarily the best option, and it's still possible for a player to end up behind because of an inordinate amount of military spending. However, the net effect is minimized since the output of any given resource center (colonized systems, in this case) never changes during the game. A 10 Productivity colony in a Raw 4 system is always going to generate 40 economic points in VBAM. Compare this to games like MOO 1/2 where techs end up vastly increasing the efficiency/output of planetary industry.

Stars! also had this problem except that, while planetary production was largely fixed, tech costs increased in a near exponential rate and if an empire didn't continue to constantly expand as fast as possible (to maximize population growth) then they would be unable to keep up in tech and fall behind enough to stand absolutely zero chance against their more advanced enemies. Stars! was fairly well balanced up to TL 10 (the max in the demo version), but the TL costs and capabilities beyond that threw balance out the window -- and the first player to get Nubians could easily crush their opponents due to the fact that they were relatively cheap, extremely flexible, and gateable with the stargate tech that everyone got.

I tried to make food production work in VBAM, and it worked up to a point, but eventually it either just became an economic drag on the player's economy or an expansion limiter. Both work, in theory, but it wasn't conducive to a game where you wanted to keep expanding your empire and finding new territories to inhabit. And then you had situations like the Glorious Stars playtest where it became obvious that requiring food meant that one system empires without any Biosphere value were just going to starve to death.

In reworking the rules, I decided to go with the 1e route of just abstracting Biosphere into a system's Carrying Capacity (living space) and Raw Materials (ease of resource extraction) rather than trying to have it be a third stat that did a bit of both but wasn't fun to deal with on its own.

I'd love to see what you'd do with a solo VBAM campaign, Paul! It could be an exciting space adventure, or a situation like Charlie once found himself in where his poor empire was constantly beset by religious zealots that hated him and wanted to see him dead.

One of my most memorable games is one from about 11 years ago now where the Wookiees and Tralarians were standing their ground against the genocidal Ur-Quan Kohr-Ah. That game was exciting because it could have gone either way, and there was a lot of non-player empires running around with their own agendas.
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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby PaulB » Tue Jul 21, 2015 7:51 am

Well for simplicity's sake if I were to run a solo campaign I thought of just grabbing the EW stats and going as the Chouka so when it comes to religious zealots, I think they'd be pretty much assured. EDIT On second thought one of the guys in the main book might be best as they're already set up tech-year wise.

As for MOO2 I may just have to chalk it up as something I don't understand. At work I've been listening through the archives of the Three Moves Ahead podcast and time after time the reviewers will reference MOO2 as the pinnacal of 4X starship combat games and I just don't see it.

I even find the mundane aspects of the game to be extremely boring.

In Civilization for example, in the early game while you have only a single city the player is still doing things. Either the player has a warrior or some other unit walking around the continent, hunting down ruins and other civilizations and maybe getting stomped by some barbarians OR the player also has a worker around improving the surroundings of their town. Meanwhile the town itself is building different improvements, units, etcetera. So basically every turn you have 2-3 things going on even if those things are very simple.

In MOO2 none of this is present at all. The map is 100% visible from the outset, only systems need be explored. Your ships can move to systems within range but in the early game getting to all nearby systems takes about 10 turns or so tops. You can't improve your planets beyond building things and you can't build things without researching new technologies. And in terms of ships your fleet is limited to only a handful of units.

So basically, I found myself not doing anything except hitting Next turn, sometimes dozens of times in a row while I waited for things to get built. Basically doing nothing really except waiting. Not my cup of tea.

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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Tue Jul 21, 2015 4:46 pm

I think you could still use the EW stats with a few updates for 2e. I am going to be working on that over my vacation, seeing what needs to be done to restructure Empire Rising and get things ready for the subsequent source books. Chouka would make an interesting protagonist power in a solo campaign, thanks in no small part to their missile-heavy war barges.

I've said it before, but I was extremely disappointed in MOO2 when it came out and to this day I still don't see what people thought was so great about it. MOO1 is a better space strategy game, and the elements that they took from MOM and dropped into MOO2 seem out of place. City management and heroes just don't gel like they really should in this case, although both have become staples of the space 4X genre and I just don't understand why.

Civilization has an interesting setup where it is Player vs. Environment for the first stage of the game as you explore and deal with barbarians, and then it becomes Player vs. Player once each civilization has become entrenched and pushed back the fog of war. But even there the improvement development cycle isn't particularly compelling, and I think a game like Europa Universalis does it better by just stating that "this is what the province does" and things don't change much over time. That works in that game because it is representing a slice of about 300-400 years of history rather than something like 10,000 years, but for a space game you really don't want to be mired in too much colony (micro) management because most players want to keep expanding and building ever geographically larger empires. In that case having each system have a finite maximum value and an easy means by which to measure infrastructure advancement is the way to go.

I do agree that the map being apparent at the start of the game steal a lot of the "wonder" and thrill of discovery from the game. You know the color of the stars, you know about what to expect, you just have to wander around until you find something worth colonizing or someone worth shooting. Games like Stars! got around this by not having star types, so you wouldn't know the planetary conditions until you visited the system. That way you might know where systems are at the start of the game, but you had absolutely no idea how good or bad they were for you.

I really enjoy the exploration component of 4X games, which is why I prefer the early game phase where you are exploring and finding out what is happening around you. It's also why most of my VBAM output has traditionally been focused on solo exploration campaign play.

I have found there is more "next turn" syndrome in VBAM 2e compared to 1e as a consequence of ships taking longer to build. However, your starting economy is typically large enough to always leave you with an interesting decision each turn as to what to spend the money on, or save up for larger purchases/upgrades in the future. In 1e you could just build things immediately, but now you have to plan out your purchases a bit more and think about what you might need 4-6 turns down the road. Changes to colonization and population growth also encourage expansion more directly, and even colonizing poor systems can be worth it for that 10% shot at a population increase at the end of each year.
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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby PaulB » Tue Jul 21, 2015 8:18 pm

Yeah from an exploration point of view, I think node-based movement probably works best. Like VBAM or like Babylon 5 or like the Freespace video games. Systems are connected by jump lanes or subspace nodes which don't necessarily correspond to real space and which the player cannot know until they'll actually gone through them.

From a colony management perspective, some part of me would almost want more management. On the one hand you have MOO1 where one system is one entity. And in MOO2 and other games you have star systems with multiple planets, but realistically each planet is just its own "city". There's the question of how many cities each star can hold but from an exploration or colonization perspective there's not a whole lot of choice.

To that end I wonder about a game wherein systems had planets but each planet was its own hex grid. A grid which varied based on how big it was. So in this case you'd land a colony ship on a specific part of the planet and you'd maybe need to actually explore the planet, looking for minerals and other resources. And later you'd improve the planet as well, with terraforming actually done with ground workers and with population centres expanding into neighbouring hexes.

Then when you invade or when you bomb maybe you target specific parts of the planet, you deploy troops to the ground, fight and siege on a hexmap ala Civ5, etcetera.

Cool thing I think about is Civilization 4, a game where when you zoom the map all the way out it actually presents the map as the world, and wraps it around a sphere. That's great. So what if every world was that way and what if as a ship commander you have interact with a world like that. Not the same in scope of course, much smaller, but still with variety in land masses and so forth.

I also think about a game like Star Control 2 where the map is known but there's so much exploration, not only what systems hold but what each planet has. And though each planet is just a rectangle with resourcse and aliens and environmental hazards it still offers more exploration than a game like MOO2.

Either way I feel there needs to be something to engage the player at all aspects of the game.

- - - - -

I like the prospect in 2e of needing to plan out builds. Gives more emphasis on planning and so on. I don't know enough of the rules to do any sort of campaign, solo or otherwise, but am finally getting a chance to look at a few things here and there.

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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Tue Jul 21, 2015 9:08 pm

The colony management system you're describing, minus the planetary fog of war element, existed in the 90s era 4x Ascendancy. Each planet had a square grid that varied in size based on the size of the planet. Some planet types had more useful squares that gave bonuses to science, food, or production, others were neutral, and then some were just not usable. You could terraform the null squares to turn them into usable ones later on. Here's an example:

AscendancyPlanetSquares.png
AscendancyPlanetSquares.png (67.18 KiB) Viewed 1643 times


The problem with all of this was that it added a ton of micromanagement to the game, and ended up being another case of there being false choice. You will always put a production facility on a production bonus square, and you'll always upgrade those as time goes on. The only exceptions is when the make up of the planet forced you to build a different building on that square because you needed more of a certain resource and had nowhere else to expand.

I really liked Ascendancy, but the micromanagement was severe without much in the way of options for automation.

Stars! had similar problems with micromanagement in larger games, but that was minimized by a queue-based building system where you could load automated building queue orders that let you auto build up to X of a specific type of infrastructure each turn. That made it so that you only had to worry about modifying system build queues when you needed to build ships or hurry a specific infrastructure type.

Star Control 2 is an excellent adventure game, and in many ways it would be interesting to see a lite 4X that had a minimal strategic layer and then pushed most of the action to being more exploration/event driven ala Star Control 2. The biggest problem in that case is trying to come up with a procedural method to vary the story from game to game -- but, then again, that might not be necessary if just varying the tempo of the game creates enough interesting situations to achieve re-playability, as you see in a lot of modern roguelikes (or even in games like XCOM). You could almost do something like Jay has done in With a Purpose, where it is a solo "choose your own adventure" sort of game where you keep rolling for and performing missions as the tension escalates until you reach the end game.
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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby PaulB » Tue Jul 21, 2015 11:21 pm

Looks pretty cool.
As a general rule though, I would suggest that if a game bogs down in micro-management then the problem is the scope. The opposite is true as well, if the player isn't doing enough things then its a problem of scope as well.

So if ascendancy it gets to be too much micromanagement then I would suggest that the player has too many planets to attend to. Maybe a world with planetary maps really needs to be confined to a single star system for example. Or a player should only have a few worlds to contend with.

Harping a little bit more on MOO2 again, one of the biggest problems with the scope is how small the fleets are at least to start. An entire planet or multiple planets can only support a half dozen ships? Doesn't make much sense. Wheras in MOO1 you'd field fleets with hundreds of destroyers and dozens of super dreadnoughts or thousands upon thousands of small fighter craft. They'd all be in big stacks but the numbers would seem like they fit the scope of a planetary conquest.

Or when you'd invade a planet, you'd send millions of troops over in transports.

"My planet is building 13 destroyers every turn? Sound about right."

Whereas in MOO2 it's instead, "I need to build a starbase over this worthless planet so I can field a handful more ships?"

Looking at VBAM for example, in your Federation solo campaign you're a single homeworld but when you started the campaign you had 31 ships. It's not a crazy amount of ships and any campaign would really be limited somewhat by the book keeping but it is an amount that can certainly feels right and like it fits the scope of the game.

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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Wed Jul 22, 2015 12:56 am

I'd agree with you about scope. A good example of that is Alien Legacy, which was a PC adventure game put out by Sierra. In that game you play as a colony ship that arrives in the Beta Caeli star system about 20 years after another colony expedition and are left trying to find out what happened to the previous colonies and unravel a mystery. The planets each have surface maps which are represented as Mercator projections with a grid system. You then do a resource and exploration mini game in each grid square that is similar to Star Control 2, just in a faux 3D view rather than top down. It was a really good game, and had just the right scope for letting the player manage colonies on these different planets without being too overwhelming (barring the occasional resource breakdown that would bring everything to a screeching halt).

Ascendancy's "SimCity" style colony management mini game would have been fine if it would have scaled better against the number of planets that you controlled. As it was, it seemed like you spent about 30 minutes per turn just managing all of your colonies by the end of the game.

I'm somewhat of the mind at this point that if you want that level of detail (multi-planet systems) you're almost better just measuring infrastructure (Colony Level) and/or population and assigning them some sort of production specialization. Maybe combine it with an Endless Space/Legend resource system where you just say each Population point produces W Income, X Production, Y Food, and Z Science and then allow the specializations modify from there. It isn't terribly exciting, but it's functional.

A lot of 4X games have a problem (relating to their exponential production issues) of saddling players with very small military forces at the start of the game and eventually scaling up to the point that you're flying dozens of dreadnoughts in a single fleet (and typically nothing else is viable by that point in the game!). Again, one thing I like about VBAM is that you *can* give players access to battleships et. al. at the start of the game and they're always going to be built at the same rate, but more advanced units just become more efficient in combat. That lets you set up scenario like the Earth/Minbari War from Babylon 5 where the EA has their Nova battleship and the Minbari have their Sharlin battleship. Both are the same size hull, but the Minbari are clearly more powerful. With enough production the EA might be able to hold out for awhile, but given equal economies the Minbari will eventually win out based on their technological advantage.

It's pretty easy to end up with big fleets in VBAM, although major battles usually only happen at pivotal turning points in a campaign. Like the time that I had a Tholian/Klingon battle that had something like 120+ ships duking it out. The Tholians lost that battle (and later the war) thanks to the Klingon's Komo Val BB and B'rel FF which were better than most of what the Tholians had themselves.
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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby PaulB » Wed Jul 22, 2015 3:14 am

As I've been reading some historical books regarding the Russo-Japanese War, WW1 + WW2 I tend to find that a lot of the stuff that happens in these books isn't necessarily translated to gameplay. I haven't seen a lot of 4X games in depth for example, but seeing some people play Civ 5 and games of that ilk it doesn't seem that diplomacy has really advanced all that far.

That and it doesn't also seem like industry or economy is all that represented either.

Economy in most games seems to come down to:
1. Are people starving
2. Does your maintenance costs outweigh your income?

Those two factors seem to be the main issues which can cause a faction to regress but it seems like from a historical perspective, those two factors are pretty barebones.

One thing I've yet to see in a game, maybe it exists, but haven't seen it myself is the idea of disarmament treaties. WW1 for example had a huge military build up for Naval vessels, but immediately following in 1922 the powers met in Washington and agreed on restrictions on building vessels.

These restrictions subsequently meant less constructions, which meant industry went idle and subsequently meant that skilled labour went elsewhere. Then ramping up to WW2, the Royal Navy for example ended up fronting the bill or loaning cash to get necessary factories but up and running so they could refit and build new vessels. And a lot of that funding was dependent largely on public opinion.

But in your average 4X game. You can have a planet or city building granaries or soil enrichment or other colony improvements for turns and turns and then simply switch over to military units with no problem at all. But in a computer game, I think it would be possible to not only value the industry of a planet but also value its preponderance to different industries and to have switching over from one to another to involve a lot of cost.

It would help to I think differentiate economies and places more so. A city or planet might not just be a "production centre" but specifically a military production centre. Maybe another city/planet is building civilian housing or infrastructure which is shipped out to different planets. Like maybe a planet builds atmospheric processors and these are moved to different planets to terraform them.

Overall I like the idea of a game where the player is not in control of a world, but simply its government. The world has a civilian side of its own which tries to you know, better itself but harnessing the industries or people of that planet are not as easy as simply flipping a switch.

Or what about the idea of military export? So many of today's countries seem to thrive on selling guns and equipment to other governments. i know in multiplayer Civ you can gift units to another player and they could gift money back but where is the option to negotiate a deal with an AI opponent to sell them military units so that your industries do not run dormant and you bring in a good deal of money?

Or why is it so easy to simply relocate people? To take 40 million people off a rock an throw them somewhere else. Most people would I think not take kindly to forced relocation. Alternatively look at a game like Pirates, wherein the amount of pirates you can hire from a town often depends highly on how wealthy the town is. If the town is poor, you'll get more people. If it's a financial hub, you'll get fewer.

Or even the simple idea of war. Do many 4X games have system opinion? Do your people care if you commit genocide against an entire species? Do they care that 30 million troops just died on an alien world?


VBAM seems to have a few options for wartime economies, and crash production and so forth which may help to simulate some of these ideas, need to read up on them. Some of what I'm saying is I think outside the scope of a pen and pencil game but on a video game where the computer does all they seem more appropriate. Similarly, a disarmament treaty or miltiary restriction treaty could be easily negotiated between two players in a VBAM game.


Overall I'm finding that the underlying backstory behind history is more interesting than the historical events themselves. The question of why something happened, rather than what happened.

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Re: Three Moves Ahead: Lost in Space

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Wed Jul 22, 2015 3:59 am

Disarmament treaties aren't codified in the VBAM rules, but it is something that often comes up in games especially when there has been a large military build up and now the major players simply can't afford to continue maintaining the number of units that they currently have active. In such cases, you could very well have a Washington Treaty analog where players agree to scale back the number of larger warships they have, or otherwise limit the number of ships that they are each fielding in order to mutually disarm while maintaining the detente.

VBAM of course has a single resource stat (the economic point), but in most cases the flow of the game is such that during peacetime a player uses most of his income to fund expansion efforts. This might be building more exploration ships, purchasing convoys, or improving infrastructure -- things that are more akin to civilian infrastructure spending versus military infrastructure spending. As tensions increase, however, the player feels compelled to spend an ever increasing percentage of his empire's income on war materiel. This increases its maintenance expense, reducing the amount of money it has to actually do things on future turns.

A lot of 4X games have this rhythm, except that as you remarked they have such barebones diplomatic elements that the easiest way to reach an endgame victory condition is through military conquest, so you just keep building more and more units and conquering more territory until you eventually win the game.

I haven't found that to be a very viable strategy in a lot of my VBAM campaigns, if only because there tends to be enough parity between certain powers that a war is going to be costly for both sides and if a coalition forms against you (whether deliberately or coincidentally) then you can find yourself quickly overwhelmed. This is partially because alien homeworlds are more economically powerful than most colonies, and even a one-system power with a decent homeworld can field enough military assets to make it difficult for another larger power to take them down without a significant expenditure of resources.

Relocating people is almost always a game mechanic, as the designer wants players to be able to relocate their population points in order to concentrate and speed up play. It's also why you have games like MOO where your planets can repopulate so quick. There were several points in 2e where we weren't allowing Census to move from system to system, but I acquiesced on that point for the sake of playability and making it easier on the players. Still, VBAM makes population growth slow enough that Census ends up being one of the most valuable resources in the game just because it takes so long to replace them.

My solo campaigns often are all about diplomatic angling, and it is one of the more interesting elements of the game for me. Even using the Companion's NPE rules where many diplomatic events are the result of random die rolls, you still end up with situations where several empires are all working together or against each other to achieve their own particular goals. You'll often have a major power that on paper should be able to slap everyone else around, but the other powers are just powerful enough to give them pause and force a change in policy. Or you have the empire that is so overextended from a previous conflict that they are tied up trying to deactivate their military and get back to a peacetime economy that they are forced to withdraw and take a less active role until they can fully recover. The Narn Regime in one of my B5 games had this happen to them. They won their defensive war against the Centauri, but in so doing their economy was battered and it took about 12-15 turns before they really got back on their feet.

I guess that's why I like games with lots of minor powers. It just seems to make things more dynamic and interesting as you have to juggle your relations with all of these different powers and try to keep yourself out of unnecessary wars or cultivate a circle of friendly nations that you can count on to come to you defense should the need arise.
"Touch not the pylons, for they are the messengers!"


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