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The Ten Commandments of UItraCorps
By River, with commentary by UC_Rommel and SJ
1. Conquest is Job One!The first, last, and most important rule of UltraCorps is . . . expand or die. This is a game of conquest, and anyone who forgets that, even for a turn, is in serious trouble. Even a player who is being conquered by a more powerful opponent is almost always better served by expanding in another direction than defending from the invader. Any turn where you do not expand your empire should be a source of frustration.
Worlds are economic strength, and the only factor that means anything when it comes to the final game ranking. This is so simple, so basic, so obvious a rule . . . but in every game there are a significant number of players who stop expanding. For whatever reason, they switch into a defensive mindset. They never win and are almost always eliminated by neighbors who grow far larger and more powerful then them.
SJ comments: This, of course, refers to the classic victory condition: "most worlds." In games with other victory conditions, grabbing worlds may not be as important, but the point remains: know what your objective is and don't get distracted. Unless, of course, the distraction is more fun . . .
Remember that UltraCorps is a war game, a game of conquest. If you aren't expanding your empire then you aren't playing the game. Failure in almost any other commandment is forgivable, but those who are not constantly building up their positions, one way or another, are doomed.
UC_Rommel comments: There are often turns where I choose not to expand immediately. I may be waiting to build up a more powerful fleet. I may be waiting to see what my neighbors do, so that I can take advantage of any weakness. Or I may be reaching farther out to expand more efficiently.
Spending time to build up an overkill fleet is a necessary evil (see the following rule). . . and once overkill has been achieved it is foolish not to use it. A fleet spending a turn or two in transit IS expanding. It is not necessary that a world be taken every turn, but it is necessary that all energy be devoted to expansion every turn.
2. If it's worth killing, it's worth overkilling.No experienced player will ever intentionally launch an attack that will do anything other then massively overwhelm the target. The reason is simple. Close battles are close because the outcome is in question! And even if the attacker wins, he is likely to take serious losses.
Fleets that overkill end battles quickly . . . the defending forces don't survive long enough to inflict serious harm. Overkill fleets stay strong and continue to be overkill fleets when they move on to their next target without stopping. Units are saved, and more importantly time is saved. Players who fight close battles in which they take serious losses may expand faster in the short run, but will quickly be eclipsed by the steady advance of their neighbors who took the extra turn or two in order to build a truly powerful fleet.
SJ comments: The ideal battle is one that you win in one round. Each enemy unit gets to fire only once, and your losses are minimized.
Take this example. Player A and Player B are both producing fleets at the same rate. To create a fleet that has a 66% chance of defeating the average local neutral takes 3 turns; to reach 99% takes 5 turns.
If player A attacks with the 66% fleets (assuming he doesn't lose) his attacking fleet will be greatly diminished. He will probably require another few turns to rebuild his fleet to take the next neutral.
Player B who builds up the 99.5 fleet will steamroller his first neutral, allowing him to continue conquering the turn after that, and after that, and so on. By the time Player A has taken his second world, Player B will have taken several, and be well on the way to building a second conquest fleet.
UC_Rommel comments: The flip side of this is that if you are going to lose a battle . . . lose as little as possible. If you're about to lose a world and your defenses can't severely weaken your opponent's fleet, move your forces out of the way so that they can fight at better odds somewhere else.
Itís the same principle applied defensively . . . never defend in a battle you know you will lose.
3. Time is money.The successful UltraCorps commander seeks to be as fast as possible in every facet of the game; to build effective fleets as quickly as possible, to expand quickly, to defeat his rivals before they can react.
Expanding early is important. There are only so many neutrals within close proximity to every player, and competition can be fierce. Arriving at these neutrals before your neighbors, so that you can use the accumulated resources, is important. This need to do things quickly conflicts with the rules about economic efficiency and overkill. This contradiction must be dealt with . . . a balance must be struck.
Captured and accumulated resources must be converted into military strength as quickly as possible. Any turn where the resources of "feeder planets" are not on their way to your factory world is a turn where you are robbed of the use of the unita those resources will eventually produce. Most experienced commanders do not hesitate to purchase the Cargo Booster license on every planet, seeing the cost as a tiny price for increased efficiency.
This being true, it is only a small jump to see that population is time. Population can often be the limiting factor on what can be done, particularly on a captured world. Arachnon players quickly realize that in eliminating the populations of planets with their Incinerator fleets they cost themselves valuable turns while building up population to expend their Ultranium. That is the cost of pop damage . . time which can be priceless.
Units, particularly reinforcements for existing fleets, should be produced in such a way as to keep the fleet in action as much as possible. Forcing a combat fleet to stand idle while reinforcements are produced locally or shipped in from a distance is wasted time. Arranging for reinforcements to rendezvous with combat fleets and anticipating losses before they happen can dramatically increase the effectiveness of offensive fleets.
It is also important to remember that the "Time is money" principle can be used against aggressors. Every turn an aggressor spends in transit or stuck on captured worlds reinforcing his fleets is a turn your own worlds can take to bulk up their garrisons. One of the few times where it can be acceptable to enter a combat you know you will lose is when it will cost the enemy time, allowing you time to prepare.
UC_Rommel comments: Actually, I rarely buy that many Cargo Booster licenses. However, I seem to have fewer factory worlds than many commanders who gather larger relative firepower than I do. It seems that each Cargo Booster carrying Ultranium is that much Ultranium delayed from production. If it is in flight for one turn, it delays the use of that Ultranium by one turn. It had better be well worth the wait and cost. Do not automatically buy Cargo Booster licenses, but do not hesitate too long if you find that you are in need of them.
If you can attack an opponent's heartland you may force him to distract a significant portion of his strength to defend against your raids. Defending against a moderately strong, mobile attack fleet can be very difficult and time consuming.
And see the discussion of piracy, below. Fast mobile attack fleets in your enemyís interior are often lethal.
4. Strategists win battles. Economists win games.It takes a great deal of strategic skill to get the right units to the right place at the right time. People with that kind of skill can make meager forces go a long way. However, no amount of strategic skill can save a player with a poor command of the UltraCorps economy. Prices in UltraCorps fluctuate wildly. The most cost-effective unit in the game can become an economic joke in a few short turns. Players who carefully watch the economy, shift to cost effective licenses, and successfully predict what units will be cheap down the line will have an incredible advantage. There is a reason price histories are shown for units; use that resource and plan accordingly.
Take this example: Suppose you have a neighbor of equal size, a strategic genius, who for whatever reason is building Thirus Saucers at a cost of 800 each. He may be able to take some worlds away from you, but if you are building Xiron Medium Cruisers at 350 each, it doesn't matter if he's the living reincarnation of Alexander the Great . . . you're going to crush him like a bug.
By the same token, if you're building TK Bikes for 650 because you like being fast, don't be shocked when your neighbor building Giganto Planet Attackers for a cost of 400 simply rolls over you.
One of the secrets of good economists is centralized production.. Centralized producers generally purchase the Cargo Booster license on every planet, and build sufficient auto-fleets to carry off the current stockpiles of ultranium and population, and to keep carrying them off as they replenish. This ultranium and population are then sent to a factory world, usually within 150 distances, almost always within 200. These factory worlds develop vast stockpiles of resources. Centralized production allows the clever economist to afford multiple licenses and to switch production as the economy dictates; it also makes the production of high complexity units feasible. The fact that an R-Class wrecker has a complexity of 1800 doesn't mean much when your factory has 5000 population.
It is no coincidence that top players often have high rankings in Net Worth. "Buy low, sell high" is very appropriate to the economics in UltraCorps. Get the best value for your ultranium and you should have more forces to help you succeed.
SJ comments: In a game with no economy, you still have the opportunity to make good and bad decisions. If you're short of population, build those units that have a lower complexity. If you are long on population and short on Ultranium, change to the cheap, high-CPX units. Late in the game, you can worry less about population damage, because you have all the people you need already . . .
5. Thou shalt covet neutrals.Understanding the power of neutrals is extremely important. Until someone takes them, neutral worlds build up a constant stream of ultranium and population. It is always shocking to see players who attack neighbors rather then attack ultranium-laden neutrals just as far away and only slightly harder to take.
Examine the combination of this and Rule 1.
Player A and player B each have 20 worlds on Turn 15. Player A takes 1 world a turn from player B, while Player B takes 1 neutral per turn. After 10 turns Player A will be 50% larger, but Player B will have vastly more ultranium, and the population to use it. Player A is probably doomed when B turns around and counterattacks.
There is a very important reason to attack your neighbor, however. His worlds may have more production capability than the neutrals you covet, especially in the early game. If you can capture his homeworld, you may also capture a locked-in price that is otherwise unachievable and extra resources to boot. Also, if you attack your neighbor, you may be able to slow his expansion to neutrals . . . leaving more for you.
A homeworld grab is handy if you can pull it off, and forcing an enemy to defend rather then expand is useful. But even in games of champions, I have seen players consistently leave poorly defended, highly valuable, neutrals fallow while they diverted energy into attacking each other. Such behavior is foolish.
6. Enemies don't have planets; they have fleets and production.A mistake made by many new players is to assume they have gained something meaningful when they capture a poorly defended enemy world. This is generally false. Until the very last turn of the game, taking a planet from the enemy is, by itself, almost meaningless. All it gets you is a bit of population and ultranium for every turn you can keep it. Unless you can destroy the enemy fleet, he will simply take the world back when your force leaves. Of course, if you have the opportunity to steal the population and ultranium, you should. Nothing says "I love you" like sending the entire population of a captured enemy production world on a journey to your own homeworld . . . even if you then lose the world again.
Picture an enemy empire with one production center, the homeworld, surrounded by six "feeder" worlds. The homeworld fleet is somewhat weaker then his attacker, and his feeder planets are weakly defended. A greedy player, fearing to risk his units against a fleet that could seriously harm them, will do one of two thing . . . either split his fleet among several feeder worlds, or send his entire fleet against one feeder.
If the attacker splits his fleets, the defender can send his forces in larger fleets to crush the enemy who has so foolishly divided himself (remember "Overkill"?). If the greedy attacker takes one world, the defender will ignore the attack and use the time to build up his fleet so that he is superior to his attacker (Remember "Time is Money"?). The attacker is doomed to failure either way.
A clever attacker immediately throws his fleet at the defender's production world and at his fleet. He will likely win, and even though his fleet will be diminished, the feeder worlds that have been sending their population and ultranium to the captured production world will be easy to mop up. Beyond that, the attacker gains whatever supply shipments were already enroute.
Of course, in the closing turns, particularly on the last turn, all that matters is who has what at the end of the game . . . all you need to do is take, not hold.
If you fear you cannot take the production world, attacking the feeder planets may convince your foe to spend resources to defend them more strongly. Watch for the opportunity to attack a production world when it is weakened.
Nevertheless, if you can capture a feeder world or three without significant losses, do so. You are still reducing your opponents' resources. Send any captured Cargo Boosters filled with population and/or ultranium out of his reach.
Feeder world do have some value, but the real targets should always be fleets and production centers.
7. Know thy enemy and know thyself.Sun Tzu said, "Know your enemy and know yourself and victory will follow." This is as true in UltraCorps as in the real world. UltraCorps provides a wealth of military information for commanders willing to do a little investigation. Look at your neighbors, examine their battle histories, and watch what they do with the neutrals they capture. Do your enemies miss ticks? Are they fighting with their neighbors? Do they have any holes in their defense? Are there unexploited resources? What units are your neighbors building? When will your local Entradishar have his next Giganto ready?
Nothing is funnier then watching a player remain oblivious to conditions around him. I once saw a player ignore a far weaker neighbor who had massive stockpiles of unused ultranium because "We have a treaty." The player in question had not logged in for over 14 turns. (News flash: a player who does not log in for more then four turns has virtually always abandoned the game, and will not complain when you mow him down.) It turned out that this oblivious player never thought to check to see if his "ally" was still playing.
A good UltraCorps commander can get a good feel for his neighbors' strategy and usually predict enemy movements. Good strategists are far more concerned where their neighbors will be than with where they are now.
Chatter is also part of knowing thy enemy. Nothing is ever lost by chatting with your neighbors, as long as no binding agreements are involved. Learn what kind of neighbors you have . . . belligerent jerks, peaceniks, newbies? Not only do you gather valuable insight, but it makes the game more fun and social. Also there are occasional benefits, like the player who was being conquered from the other side of his empire who sent me his remaining forces as gift fleets entitled "gifts of friendship." My entire diplomatic history with him had been "Howdy, neighbor, how's the game going for you?"
Watch an opponent's expenditure for capital licenses. If you see a major expenditure, try to determine which license(s) were purchased. Based on the population, determine when capital ships will be produced and try to "capture" production. If your allies are making foolish choices, consider offering advice.
When un-allied neighbors make foolish economic choices, my "advice" usually arrives in the form of a fleet named "Colonial Expeditionary Force."
8. Bow your head to no man.No man, no woman, no gangly green thing with tentacles, and certainly not to belligerent neighbors. The correct answer to a threat or ultimatum is ALWAYS "Come get some!" Now say it with me, class: "C-O-M-E G-E-T S-O-M-E!" This is without a doubt the single most important rule of diplomacy. Certainly you can make deals with your neighbors, work out trades, agreements, even surrender territory, but ALWAYS as an equal.
Nothing says "Oh mighty one, take my planets and eliminate me from the game" like a person taking a subservient posture. If a stronger player approaches, let him know that what is yours is yours and you'll go down fighting. If they say "Do X or Die!" the correct answer is "Hmmmm, how about DIE (and the obligatory "Come get some!") The fact is that most players, particularly top 10 types, will avoid a fighter, even a weakened fighter, like the plague. There are two reasons for this.
First, top players are generally experienced, and they know how dangerous a small but unrelenting foe can be.
Second, top players are thinking about rank, and to keep or improve their rank they are looking for easy and efficient conquests.
What's so dangerous about a player far smaller then you? A small player with nothing to lose can go pirate . . . and there are few things more dangerous then a pirate. A pirate is any player, who on seeing that his goose is cooked and that his defending fleets are about to be crushed, uses his cargo boosters to send his population somewhere across the galaxy (denying it to the foe). Then he takes his remaining forces into enemy territory. A pirate will jump from planet to planet, moving randomly, sometimes pausing, sometimes backtracking. His goal is not to conquer, but to disrupt production . . . to force his enemy to defend feeder worlds . . . to make him shift his conquest fleets to an internal police force, retaking worlds the pirate has conquered and trying to hunt down the pirate fleets.
As a pirate, you will never make the top 50, and you may not even make it to the end of the game, but vengeance is sweet. Pirates by definition have nothing to lose, and must constantly out-think their foe. A good pirate can have a glorious career. There have been pirates that, through their feats of brazen derring-do, have taken top 10 players all the way out of the top 50!
When faced with overwhelming force, the threat of piracy is the great equalizer. So keep your head held high and your knee unbent.
And if a pirate attacks you and starts bragging, always point out that for every world that the pirate takes, you are still taking 3 or 5 or 10 others to offset it. The best commanders will not give undue attention to a small pirate. Remember: "Time is money."
If you face a potential pirate, take the extra turn or two up front to make a better battle plan. Try not to leave him anything to work with! Crushing most of an opponent's forces and production facilities in one or two turns can be a very rewarding experience . . . on many levels. But my heart is still with those scurvy underdogs of the space lanes who do their best to make their attackers pay for their conquests.
9. Walk softly.Walking softly is the mirror image of the previous rule. While not bowing your head, don't expect others to bow theirs. That's not to say that you shouldn't suck the marrow from their bones and grind their cities to dust . . . but you should do it in a polite way. Conquest is the point of the game, but arrogance and hostility are not. Itís sad that this must be included in the 10 Commandments, but some people don't understand "Don't be a belligerent jerk," unless it is explained to them.
Avoid ultimatums and threats. If your defiant neighbor is so dense as not to notice your dazzling military superiority, don't say: "Unless you surrender Planet-X to me I will destroy your last four remaining worlds with the 97 Gigantos I have on Planet-Z. Do what I say or die!"
Instead, say: "I don't want to fight with you, but I need Planet-X so I can move my Gigantos on Planet-Z forward, can we make an agreement?" You've said the same thing but in a nice diplomatic way. You may get the same response: "Come get some!" But you're far less likely to alarm the defending player into going pirate on you.
Generally far more is accomplished by not stating the obvious, "If you are unreasonable, I could always unleash those Gigantos against you."
Remember that the player you destroy today could be your bigger neighbor in the next game. That shouldn't stop you from conquering him, but there's no reason to give him a personal grudge against you.
In other words . . . "Be nice. If you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all." I've actually had former opponents become later allies.
SJ comments: And vice versa. If you enjoy playing WITH somebody, you'll probably enjoy playing AGAINST him too. I learned some useful things the last time Rommel beat up on me!
But while you walk softly, remember to carry a big stick. Don't overextend yourself so much that a neighbor will see you as a pushover.
10. Avoid entangling alliances.Alliances, like many things in life, are fine in moderation, but having too many friends can be lethal.
Nobody, not even MACs (Multi Account Cheaters), is persecuted more then players who earn a reputation for back-stabbing allies. This is so basic to the psychology of experienced UltraCorps players that it seldom comes up. Few are foolish enough to permanently trash their reputation just to win temporary advantage in a single game. It's such a short-sighted and generally stupid decision that it rarely happens. The person you betray WILL let your neighbors in later games know. Hence, it is absolutely vital to keep any agreements you make.
That being understood, it is easy to see what having too many allies gets you. If you ally with players on all sides, you will soon be boxed in with no avenue of expansion. Remember . . . players who can't expand, die.
SJ comments: In games where economic expansion is what matters, of course, the ideal situation might be to be surrounded by peaceful allies and trading partners . . . but only if you have first carved out a large enough empire to give you the resources you need to build up!
Similarly, large multi-game alliances are also generally a bad idea. While such associations can add to the social experience of the game, they usually wind up being no help at all because your "allies" are simply too far away to matter. Alternatively, association players can find themselves surrounded by too many friends and not enough legitimate targets!
Ideally there are two kinds of allies: nearby players who you have decided you will never wish to fight, and far-away players you wish to join you in some joint venture such as the destruction of a common enemy. Even in a game as short as 30 turns, no reasonable player should definitively rule out a neighbor as a possible target before Turn 10. In longer games, it is generally wise to avoid any binding agreements with neighbors before Turn 15.
Large alliances do have a few benefits:
Now: go out and conquer the galaxy!