Thanks to Andy's fine Stellar Crisis server Lugdunum the world is now enjoying a particularly bizarre flavor of SC which is called "Cuckoo Desert Blitz." It is a modification of a game which was on http://stargate.cybernex.net.au/ for a while--a game which was misconfigured so that you could build at any planet because the "minimum build population" was temporarily misconfigured to be zero.
I call it "Gooseberry's Desert Blitz" because it's the only game I've ever suggested to a server admin to implement. Since I generally oppose winning games by the buddy-system, I requested that it be a blood blitz.
One thing which makes the game so bizarre is the starting technologies: science, troopships, and cloakers. The restricted techs are attack, terraformer, minefield, satellite, and engineer. Unrestricted techs are colony, stargate (almost useless!), doomsday, and minesweeper. You are limited to three restricted techs, so you must choose very carefully.
The ramifications are very interesting. With the "build anywhere" rule, "colony" is a dead-obvious choise for the first tech you choose. However, I tried to configure the game so that when choosing the next technology, several very good arguments could be made for the many other choices: engineer, terraformer, attack, minefield, and even satellite.
What is the Game Configuration?
First let's discuss the various game parameters, other than these funny starting techs, and how they effect the strategy.
Tech increase: 0.5 - With such a very low tech increase, you are forced to choose your technologies with great care. The strategy of waiting for BR2 is not only good, it's almost manditory.
Systems per player: 7 - With a large number of planets, players who hang tight and wait for BR2 probably will not encounter an enemy while they wait.
Your homeworld: - Starts with only 55 ag, 70 fuel, and 100 minerals. You start so weak that you can only build one BR1 science ship without overbuilding. Building a single colony will give you a maintenance ratio of about 0.98 (because of the 1 population sacrificed to build the ship.)
Average Ag per planet: extremely low - This makes terraformers a powerful tech to choose.
Average Fuel per planet: extremely low - This means that you cannot afford to have too many fancy ships flying around at any time. It also means that the attack ship is extremely powerful and cheap.
Average Min per planet: extremely high - This means you can build a lot of stuff quickly, but you'll find you don't have the fuel for all those fancy ships.
Max Ag Ratio 1.25 - It's the desert, man! No bursting into bloom ala the pop trick. But you can build anywhere, so what's the difference? You will find, however, that it's crucial to play tricks with your population to squeeze every last drop of fuel out of each of your planets. But just don't try to set all your pops to "1" for a round, duh! (More on this, below.)
Cloakers, cloakers, everywhere...
Because everybody gets cloakers to start, you've got to be very careful. Anybody who has seen your HW can apply the dreadfully simply strategy of moving 2 or 3 BR2 cloakers to your HW and uncloaking when you can't afford to defend. Every use of cloakers you've ever heard of needs to be appled to this game, especially uncloaking over planets that you anticipate an overbuild to occur.
Note: on Andy's server, and many of the 3.0 servers, cloakers are born cloaked. That means that in addition to the normal cloaker tactics, you have one more: you can defend a planet by overbuilding a swarm of cloakers that cannot be killed when the army moved in, then healing on the round they uncloak.
One important strategy is to make your opponents waste tech by flashing cloakers on and off over their planets. This can be accomplished with BR1 cloakers, which will not actually nuke but can force your opponent to build BR2 ships in an effort to defend.
The Race to BR3
If you view this game as a race to BR2, you are dead wrong. It's a race to BR3. Everybody reaches BR2 early in the game, because you are nearly forced to by the rules. But the clever player will reach BR3 before his opponent, even if it means sacrificing a planet or two.
In order to play, you need to have a clear-cut plan that takes you from turn 0 to BR2. Then you need to have a plan to colonize, gain econ, and reach BR3 at a reasonable rate.
Here are some viable strategies to get a game going in this odd variation. First of all, you must decide how and when to get BR2:
How Do You Reach
Earliest Possible BR2: - Just sit and wait for 6 turns solid turns, doing aboslutely nothing, until you're BR2... then build a BR2 science and a BR2 colony and poke around. Or, wait for BR2 and build 2 or 3 BR2 science ships to really do some poking. If you are explored while waiting for BR2, either build 1 BR1 science ship (risky--there might be backup moving in!) or build a minefield.
One-Round Delay: - Wait until your tech level is 2.5 and then build one BR1 science ship. Make it explore one square each turn until you're BR2. (If you started the game with several jumps, you may consider backtracking it to explore another crucial jump from your HW.) You will delay your arrival at BR2 only by 1 turn, and you can overbuild with more confidence of not being explored.
Two-to-Five Round Delay: - On round one build a science ship. One round two build a colony and move the science ship out. Then move the colony out to grab the first planet with decent ag. Keep exploring and don't build anything else until you hit BR2. The extra ag will make your science ship progressively cheaper.
Greatly Delayed BR2: - Build 2 science ships on round one and start to explore. Move them as a single unit; do not split them up. If you are lucky enough to chance upon an enemy homeworld you can either nuke him or force him to choose minefields. In this game, a minefield going off in your homeworld is a big problem with the ag ratio only 1.25.
Now decide how to manage your overall campaign with regards to the techs you choose:
What Are Your First Two Techs?
Colony & Terraformer - The "standard" strategy for this game. And a tough one to beat. Your econ will flourish if you use your terraformers wisely, and with the "build anywhere" rule your dominion will spread like a virus throughout the galaxy.
Colony & Attack - Who needs the econ that terrformers give, when you can pump out cheap attack ships? Builds lots of attacks and hassle your foes. While they try to colonize their planets, you show them a real show of force by threatening with attacks, troopships, and the occasional cloaker. With luck, you'll even reach BR3 before they do. Bonus points for letting your opponent terraform a nice planet then moving in with a troopship and taking it away.
Attack & Terraformer - If you find lots of players around colonize the stuff which is rightfully yours, try this: first get terraformers and get your homeworld up to 95 ag, then build a bunch of attack ships and one troopship and go reclaim one of your sweet planets. Even when fighting an opponent who's begun terraforming, they won't be able to whip up an army that can stop yours. (If they manage to match you in ships they will discover a dreadful fuel problem!) Since the enemy planet probably has only 5 or 6 people on it, you can try to set your troopship to invade and not do a nuke/invade. Once you get a planet from somebody, terraform it up to size and do it again.
Minefields & Colonies - A very powerful combo. When you hit BR2, or just prior, start to colonize planets. Take one of your colonies and drive it to your front, and claim that planet. If your enemy should make any sort of threat against it, defend it with the tech-saving minefield. If you have more planets in your interior than he does, you're looking good for later when you reach BR3 (probably first) and can terraform a wide area. Meanwhile he'll come at you full force with minesweepers. This is a great strategy when you find yourself in the middle of several ornery people (or geese) who are all threatening to get your nuke. By choosing minefields you force them to make the big concession to get minesweepers; usually the enemies hang back when they see a minefield. Finally, when one of them does go for your throat, you are at least fighting only one person and not both of them. For this reason, Cuckoo Desert Blitz is one of the few blood games that can be won by the middle-man in a 3 player fight.
Colony & Engineer - Get an engineer early and simply close the door to your problems. A reasonable strategy if you find yourself on the outskirts of an ornery crowd, or right smack dab in the middle. Once you've earned your solitude relax for a turn or two and, slowly colonize, and wait for BR3 when you can go terraformer crazy. Try to get the other player to use a tech with engineer to come for you, otherwise you'll be fighting at a one-tech deficit (e.g., attack ships) and will have problems. While you are waiting for BR3, a good distraction policy is to open a jump and send a few cloakers to the planets you can see. When they can't nuke, let them re-cloak to appear somewhere else later: it's crucial you force him to build lots of stuff to cover the cloaker threat. (Weasle tactic: in a two player game, seal yourself off, dismantle everything, then broadcast "Neener neener! You'll never get me alive!," and leave the game so that your empire starts to go into ruins. This way your enemy will probably get engineer almost immediately in an effort to prevent you from ruining. Then you pop back into the game, almost BR3, and rarin' to go, and you don't need to worry about him getting attack ships or something useful like that :)
Engineer & Attack - If you enjoy the "hide and wait" strategies, this one's for you. The idea is simple: a 'neer protected by a squadron of attacks can bully its way into enemy territory and seal off. The goal is to try to seal yourself off with more than your fair share of seven planet. As soon as you are sealed off, dismantle and wait until you can colonize. Then you have the choice of either bursting out at BR3 (probably the only one) or waiting for BR4, when you can terraform.
Engineer & Terraformer - A very odd combination, but occasionally useful in this scenario: (1) you have joined a game first, (2) you have one jump, and (3) a new jump in the opposite direction of your first jump opens. You may want to explore his territory, terraform your HW up to shape, close the jump to your enemy, and then wait for BR3 before you terraform/colonize you interior. Your opponent will have to spend lots of time exploring before he concludes that you are sealed off; therefore you should have a huge tech edge. If he decides to go for colony/terraformers, you can drive him out of his ever-lovin' mind by opening jumps into his interior and injecting science/cloaker swarms.
Minefield & Engineer - The ultimate defensive posture. If your opponent wastes two of his restricted techs (e.g., on terraformers and attack ships) then he'll only be able to beat you by spending his third restricted tech on engineers, then waiting for another tech level (BR5?) to get minesweepers. Any player who chooses minefields for themselves will probably not ever be able to beat you, simply because they will run out of restricted techs. And of course, ruins is always easy to obtain, if you like to deny your opponent the nuke. Chances for winning with this combination seem bleak, however. (This is a viable strategy if you find yourself in the middle, although I prefer Colony & Minefield in that situation.)
Because fuel is very limited, and because most planets have much more minerals than fuel, it's very important to adjust your populations wisely. There's no point in having 100 people on your homeworld (100 minerals, 70 fuel) if you have a giant 40/40 fuel depot planet that is almost devoid of people. Therefore, set excess population down to cover only the fuel resource on most planets--but do this at times when you can afford the subsequent drop in econ. For example, if you have 50 minerals on a planet but only 10 fuel, set the max pop to 10. The people you do not gain on that planet will appear on other planets that need the people more, in the interest of gaining fuel.
For this reason, early in the game, set your homeworld max-population to 70.
However, if you plan on building soon, minerals are good to have. That's why I modify my HW population frequently in this game. For example, I know I will be overbuilding next round, so I set my HW pop to 100. Then I overbuild, and set it down to 90. Next round, I drop it to 80. Finally it hits 70 (that's how much fuel is on my HW) and I leave it there, at least until I want to overbuild again. I don't drop it from 100 to 70 on one turn, since that would be overkill--I only need to boost my ag ratio to 1.25 so attempts to do it all at once will not work.
If your ag ratio is very high (1.25) then lowering your populations in this manner will not help you; in fact it can only hurt you; so only do it when your ag ratio needs some help.
Watch that fuel! When your fuel ratio falls below 1.0 you're whole army suffers dearly. Don't let this happen. Of course, you always want the planets with the most ag, but next in importance is the fuel.
Often the winner of the game is the one who can terraform most efficiently! By efficiently, I mean to do it in such a way that you reach BR3 before your opponent with lots of econ to boot. There are different methods.
My favorite way to terraform is this: first, overbuild a terraformer on each planet that needs one. Then, let them drop. Then, I wait a round and just soak up tech. The reason why I wait a round in-between terraformer drops is simple: although your ag just shot up, you haven't gotten any benefit of your terraformers yet since the ag ratio won't be multiplied until next turn. So if you wait, you might find that you can build them much easier next round, and that saves you tech two ways--one, by waiting, and two, by a less costly overbuild. Remember, you're going to build them sooner or later anyhow, and you'll econ will be good sooner or later anyhow, but you want to amass technology every turn you can, not just worry about it when you start to approach 9.0.
Other players like to simply build an extra terraformer when they can afford it, and let it drop the next round, always careful to never let their maintenance go below 1.0. This is a good method when your enemy is "in your face" and you cannot afford to take time out, as above.
Finally, it's worth mentioning that you can wait until BR3 for terraformers and instead attack him with attack ships, or defend with minefields. Once you are BR3 (hopefully a round or two ahead of him) you can get your economy up to par a lot easier than your enemies did it at BR2.
A word to the wise... in case you haven't heard, satellites are dirt cheap. In Cuckoo Blitz, they're even cheaper! Well, not literally cheaper, but because there isn't much fuel lying around they are a heck of a lot easier to have than attack ships and they are almost free compared to a science ship or troopship.
I'm not saying that satellites is a good choice of technology to pick. Obviously it's not the kind of tech to choose if you're trying to win, but even if ruins/draw is your goal it makes sense to go for minefields and engineers before sats.
However, experimentation has indicated that you can hold off an enemy of an econ four times greater than yours with satellites in Cuckoo Blitz. Impressive!!
And furthermore, Satellites is a restricted tech. Therefore, the combination of Sats+Minefield+Terraformer might beat Attack+Sweeper+Terraformer even in situations of great econ difference.
As with most blood games, it's advantageous to join last, however joining first can be a reasonable thing to do if you stubbornly log in and out of the game until you find the perfect starting position. In my opinion, the perfect starting position for this game is a planet with only one jump. This way you can start to explore in a fixed direction by only building one science ship. Planets with two jumps make you want to build two science ships, but doing that all at once can be a real sock in your tech-level. However, if your tastes lean towards two jump starting positions, try to find one where the two jumps are in opposite directions--this way, you'll have a clearly defined battlefront (assuming people don't jump in and connect all around you.)
As always, another advantage of a one-jump homeworld is that you maximize your chances to see a jump open up off your homeworld.
Of course, if a jump opens, you might want to put all of these "wait for BR2" ideas aside, and explore it right off the bat. If you're really feeling lucky, you might want to send an extra-fat squadron. In this game, two lowly science ships can deliver the nuke quite handedly, especially if he's already chosen colonies! Or, if you can get a BR1 cloaker to his HW early, you might find an easy nuke that way also.
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