January 25, 2012

Space Admiral Fleet Command 101

I don't play too many digital games these days because I constantly get the feeling of deja vu. I'm almost 30 and I guess I feel I've played it all. Thankfully, every now and then a game emerges that offers something completely fresh, yet familiar enough to make me all warm inside.

A game I've loved for a few years now is Neptune's Pride, developed by Iron Helmet. Iron Helmet has a focus on web-based strategy games, many of which are free to play and play out slowly over the course of days and even weeks. They also have a board game feel, which should come as no surprise to you is something I love.

I'm going to try to do two things in this post: get your frothing to try Neptune's Pride, but also, give you some tips on how to emerge victorious. It's a nasty universe, mostly because Admirals like me are in it.

What is Neptune's Pride? 
Neptune's Pride is a 4x Sci-Fi strategy game inspired by games like Masters of Orion or recent titles like Sins of a Solar Empire. Unlike those games, Neptune's Pride is insanely streamlined and simplified. On the surface this may turn some off, but these people don't realize the true depth lies in the Machiavellian machinations of the victors. More on that in a moment.

The game is won by the first player to conquer a certain number of stars. Some games play with just a few players, others many, and the number always changes. There are three upgrades you can make on every star in the game: Economy, Industry, and Science. Some stars are better than others, which means it's cheaper to purchase these upgrades. You can buy as many of each upgrade as you can afford, though the cost dramatically increases for each upgrade added. These upgrades do the following things:

  • Economy: Every player is paid once a day at the same time. Your payout is based on your total economy upgrades. You receive $10 for each economy upgrade. 
  • Industry: There is only one type of ship in the game. Ships are automatically built over time based on your Industry number. A star with 0 Industry produces no ships, a star with 5 Industry produces many ships, a star with 1 Industry produces some ships, but very slowly. 
  • Science: You are constantly researching one of four scientific advancements (more on that in a second). For each point of Science combined, your rate of discovery increases.
As I noted, there are four scientific advancement tracks. These are:
  • Speed: Your fleets travel between stars more quickly. At the onset of the game, it may take a day to travel between two relatively distant systems.
  • Scan Range: You are able to see planets at a greater range. You know precisely how many ships, carriers, and what upgrades an opponent's stars have if they are within your range. You can also see in transit fleets, which is quite handy.
  • Jump Range: You can only send fleets between stars within your range. The maps all deliberately setup flanks and distant stars that are difficult to reach at the outset. This is a very expensive track.
  • Weapons: Combat in Neptune's Pride is purely a number's game. There is NO randomness here. Combat is essentially your ships + weapons skill versus enemy ships + their weapons skill. The defender gets 1 bonus point. Regardless of the outcome, casualties are sustained by both sides. This is a very attrition heavy game. If you keep charging into fights, your fleets will be greatly diminished.
One fan made a very handy calculator to determine the outcome of a battle. You can find it here

The final component are carriers. Unless you have a carrier, your ships cannot travel  between stars. Carriers are $25, so they are relatively inexpensive but not free. You must treat them lovingly as they are your key to expansion and conquest. 

Those are your tools. Now, I'm going to tell you how to use them.

Let Others do the Dying: Neptune's Pride is a very attrition heavy game. You will lose ships in every encounter unless you have an insanely overwhelming force (which is unlikely) or the planet is unoccupied. The key is to not initiate a fight first. Make deals with your neighbors. Pit them against each other. Bribe them by offering them planets you don't care about or giving them technology. 

At the beginning of most games I immediately email players and begin brokering deals for tech. I promise them tech that I can only get if another player trades it to me. I play nice and say "You can have planet x" when I have no intention of going there. 

Let them fight and grow weaker, meanwhile, your fleets do nothing but grow. Let the others do the dying. You merely show up to liberate the planets.

Crowd Source Technology: Above I mentioned sharing technology. Do this constantly. The way to leap ahead of all of your opponents is to let them research technology for you. Yes, you'll need to give them something in return, but chances are they aren't bargaining with everyone. 

Doing this saves on needing to spend significant money upgrading your science facilities. 

Seek the flank: Your opponents will often expect a frontal assault. They'll stack their ships and dare you to attack. Don't.

Invest in scanning early on so you can see what your opponents have and where they are. There is a great deal of strategic value in avoiding the big fights while wrecking your opponent's economy. Whenever a star is conquered, all economy is destroyed. Furthermore, by going the long way around and bouncing between stars, your opponent will waste time chasing you down. That's when you knock on the front door.

Remember to keep tabs on your opponent's scan range. You can click on a planet to see what they can see. There are so many times when I've benefited from my enemies jumping blindly into my fortified stars.

The Value of Economy: People rush to upgrade industry (more ships!) and science (better stuff!). However, these two are very expensive, for one, and the game is VERY long. It won't matter if your opponent has 40 more ships after 3 days.

Invest in your economy early. Then, after several pay periods you can catch up to your opponents regarding scientific and industrial output. Keep in mind that each economy only gives you $10 each pay period, so you may not want to spend $40 on an economic upgrade as it'll take 5 days to see profit from that. 

Also, recall my earlier point about destroying an opponent's economy structures when taking a star. Especially in the early and middle game, holding onto the star isn't important. Weakening them such that they cannot stop you when you return is the priority.

I hope this little guide helps! If you're interested in a game, leave me a comment and I'll set one up for us. 

Be nimble! Be patient! Be cunning!

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