Saturday, August 9, 2014

Distant Worlds: Universe on hard

My empire (the green circles) in Distant Worlds: Universe

In my last post about Distant Worlds: Universe, I mentioned that I found the game a bit too easy, so I'd just started over on higher difficulty settings.

Specifically, I'd set the difficulty to "hard" and the aggression to "restless" - in both cases the next step up from "normal." I'd also set pirates to "many," though I started with an "agreeable" home system, which is slightly better than normal.

Hoo boy! That's certainly made a difference! This has been a real challenge. (Lots of fun, though.)

On the screenshot above (click to embiggen), the green circles indicate my territory. The other colors belong to other empires, except for the smaller, light-gray circles, which indicate the range of my long-range scanners.

I started in the large green circle at the top left. My people were humans living on Akthul 7, the descendants of a space-faring people from long ago. As it turned out, the very next solar system contained a human colony on Sol 2 (which I renamed "Earth"), which joined our young empire just as soon as I could get a colony ship there.

Soon afterwards, I sent a colony ship to Drumond Cass 3, which was close to both planets, and also settled another planet in our original solar system, Akthul 2. So I had human colonies on four planets of three neighboring solar systems - a very nice, compact beginning, I thought.

Of course, I'd been paying off the pirates. Pirates start the game with ships and advanced technology, and there's absolutely no way out but to pay extortion money for awhile. And there are a lot of pirates.

But I was careful not to tax my people too heavily - pirates have their sources, so they can tell when an empire has lots of cash - so this didn't cost more than I could afford. And without enemies, I could save money on defense.

That was never going to last. If nothing else, new pirate factions would keep discovering us, and I couldn't pay them all off. So I started to build a few escorts armed with rail guns. The idea was not necessarily to destroy pirate ships, since every single pirate faction had a larger military than I could afford, but at least to drive them off by damaging their ships (so they'd return to their base for repair).

About this time, one of my exploration ships stumbled upon a capital ship - a much larger ship than I could build, with more advanced technology. It was rather slow, and far from invulnerable, especially alone against a fleet, but I was very glad to have it (and even more glad that the pirates hadn't found it first!).

So when Hidden Star Ventures canceled their protection agreement, I wasn't completely helpless. They sent 12 ships to attack our mining station at Drumond Cass, but I had three escorts defending the system.

My escorts were wiped out, and so was the mining station, but the fleet was badly damaged. Better yet, the battle took long enough for me to get my capital ship and other reinforcements to the system, where we destroyed almost the entire pirate fleet. (A couple of ships limped home for repairs.)

This was the pattern for awhile. My empire was so compact that I could successfully send reinforcements whenever and wherever I was attacked, provided I had a few military ships in place to prolong the battle a bit. (At our low level of technology, my ships weren't very fast.)

My damaged ships could be repaired fairly quickly, too, while the pirates had to travel some distance to get repairs. So I played for time. My empire was getting stronger all the time. So were the pirates, true, but not as quickly - I hoped.

I was still paying off three or four pirate factions, but I'd canceled another protection agreement with the most expensive of them. Fearsome Security was very powerful, but I hadn't seen them around much. I figured it was worth the risk.

Hidden Star Ventures kept attacking my mining stations - successfully, often enough. But each time, my suicidally brave escorts would do enough damage to the fleet to drive it off. I'd still lose the mining station, and all of my escorts (they were ordered to fight to the death), but a fleet three or four times the size of my escort fleet would still have to return for repairs - what was left of it.

Again, I had a real advantage with my compact empire. I could station a few ships at each critical location and get more ships to reinforce them whenever necessary.

I couldn't match any of the pirate factions militarily, not even close. But I could quickly get ships to where they were needed, so my much smaller military could keep the pirates at bay. (My ships, which I design myself, tend to be better than the pirate ships individually, too.)

Then one of my exploration ships, investigating a rumor clear on the other side of the galaxy, stumbled upon an abandoned cruiser and a planet full of Haakonish and Naxxilian settlers (two different reptilian species) which eagerly joined our empire.

Our colony at Sukurru - completely surrounded by Haakonish Industries

Note that I didn't ask them to join us, and I had no option to refuse this honor. There were very few resources on the planet (no fuel, of course), and that lone cruiser wasn't going to be much of a defense by itself. Plus, I soon discovered that the Haakonish Industries empire was right next door!

We weren't at war, but we weren't best friends, either. I would have sold or traded the colony to them, if I'd had that option - I might even have given it to them, as a way to make friends. There was just no way I could defend a planet so far away from the rest of my holdings.

(Indeed, a pirate faction I hadn't encountered previously was very active in the area. Almost immediately, they sent a fleet to raid our new planet. So I started paying them off, too. Luckily, that didn't cost me much.)

Very soon afterwards, the same thing happened. Another explorer found a planet of humans and Naxxilians some distance to our south - not nearly as far away as Sukkuru, but not at all close, either. They, too, eagerly joined our empire.

That whole system was infested with pirates, but luckily, our two biggest enemies were fighting each other there. Thus, they left our new colony alone long enough for me to get a fleet to it - not as strong a fleet as I needed, but better than nothing.

And there were actually two inhabited planets in that system. Calipsa 2 joined us immediately, while Calipsa 1 - a volcanic planet inhabited by Shandar (a third reptilian species) - joined us after I sent a colony ship to the planet. (If I was going to have to defend one planet in the system, I might as well defend two.)

To the west - far southwest of our home system - a third explorer discovered a planet with Korabbian Spice, an extremely rare - and extremely valuable - substance which we needed to mine (and defend, naturally). Nearby was an abandoned fleet of derelicts, including a massive planet-destroyer.

Unfortunately, pirates had already discovered that enormously powerful derelict ship, and the Kennegar Mercenaries had sent a construction ship to repair it.

This faction was friendly, since we'd been paying them off from the beginning, but we certainly couldn't let them get a ship like that. On the other hand, we couldn't really afford to take them on, either - not clear out there.

Two of my construction ships repairing a fleet - but a pirate vessel is repairing the planet-buster

Suddenly, we were spread out all over the place. My nice compact empire was now scattered from one side of the galaxy to the other. We were overextended badly, but I was still managing to keep things under control. I'd increased taxes on my homeworld far more than I wanted, and I was still short of ships, but it looked doable - if barely.

Then disaster struck. A colossal quake struck my homeworld, killing billions of people, destroying the infrastructure, and opening rifts in the surface of the planet which badly damaged the environment. Tax receipts plummeted.

Keep in mind that this was the only planet I'd been taxing at all! Most of my other colonies were much too small to bother taxing. Even Earth was far, far smaller than our home planet of Akthul 7. I cranked up the taxes there, even so, but it couldn't even come close to making up the shortfall. (It did, however, stop the colony from growing as fast as it had been.)

I'd been overextended. Now, I was massively overextended. I hadn't had enough ships to defend myself against pirates. Now, I couldn't afford the ships I had. Fun, huh?

I'd been doing OK when this happened. I'd been overextended, thanks to an empire which had suddenly - and mostly without me having anything to say about it - spread out across the galaxy. But I'd had some money in the treasury.

Now, though, I was hemorrhaging red ink. I raised taxes as much as I could everywhere - pretty well putting a stop to the growth of my colonies - and I tried to cut expenses. But there wasn't much I could do, since I'd been watching my expenses very closely, anyway. (Mostly, I started disbanding army regiments.)

It's been two or three years now, and I'm still hanging in there. I've been saved mostly because of massive ship purchases by my civilian sector. I've got lots of planets now - more than any other empire - and although most of them are very small colonies, that's apparently been good for business.

So I've been making enough money at my construction yards to get by,.. so far. I'm still losing money, but not as much as I was. My homeworld is starting to recover, but very slowly. And none of my colonies are growing very fast, since taxes are so high. But I'm surviving.

I'm still hugely overextended and desperately short of money,* and every single pirate faction has been growing in power. Despite constant fighting among themselves, they've been increasing in military power faster than I have. All of them. Yeah, this game hasn't been so easy. :)

It's been lots of fun, though. Unfortunately, the game slows down when you're past the very early years. I mean, I'm still very much in the early game, but there's already so much going on that I've got the game paused most of the time. Every few seconds, something happens that I need to deal with.

Of course, I could automate more of the game, and that would help. But I'm just barely getting by as it is. In most cases, the AI simply isn't as good as a human player, so I don't like to automate very much. At lower difficulty settings, I can let the AI handle more things, but not in this game.

As I say, it's been fun. That colossal quake on my homeworld was just one of the random things that happen sometimes, but it came at a bad time for my empire. Then again, there probably wouldn't have been a good time, huh?

I'm still in the lead when it comes to other empires. It's just the pirates which are the big danger, still. (Empires start off very weak, while pirate factions start off strong. That usually changes during the game, since empires can research new technologies faster than pirates.)

If I can survive in the short-term, the long-term looks bright for the Terran Federation. But we'll just have to see...

*PS. Note that I've got technology trading turned off in this game, since it's way too easy to take advantage of the AI that way. Normally, if I got this short of money, I'd just sell some relatively- useless technology to another empire. But that option isn't available to me, now.

Note: You can find more posts about the games I play here.

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