Good, Bad, Interminable: A Neptune's Pride AAR

A couple weeks ago, Dave Perkins and a couple of others organized a game in the Neptune’s Pride beta. The requirements were for casual, but active players. We didn’t want people to abandon halfway through, but we also weren’t going to go all crazy into it. Dave’s stated goal was “to see if this was fun”. In the pursuit of answering that for other people, I thought it might be a good idea to AAR it (whether it was is on open question). Also, I’m not really an on-line strategy games kind of guy, so I figured there was a pretty good chance this was going to be the only time I was going to play this game, so I figured I should document it.

If you aren’t familiar, Neptune’s Pride is a super stripped down 4X game. While there are some bare-bones combat, development, and research mechanics, the focus of the game instead, is on the interactions between the players.

One of the neat wrinkles that Neptune’s Pride introduces is that it can be played in real-time. (It can also be turn based, but our game was real time). But it’s still a big 4X scale game. So, moving ships between your stars takes , e.g. 6 real-time hours. Also, once ships are "in the warp-lanes) (i.e. have left a star for another one), you can’t issue new orders until they arrive (and possibly fight) at the other end. This means that it promotes behaviors like waiting until your opponent is asleep, and then sending ships to attack him when he isn’t able to reinforce his stars. Meaning you wake up at 4AM to send ships. (That’s why “casual” mattered).

Our game took about 7 weeks to complete. That seems roughly average for a real-time game. I made this handy little animated GIF if you want to see the progress of the entire game.

see who wins!

It may take me a while to get all the way through this. Also, you’ll have to excuse if my notes are incomplete. I have 30 pages of notes, but I have no idea if I took note of the actual important things in the early game, and it’s hard to remember what happened.

Oh, the game itself was called “Good Bad Ugly”. Thus the title.

I took leader-board screenshots each day, so I’ll start each entry with those.

Here’s the starting positions!

Since this is my first ever game of Neptune’s Pride (either the first or the second), I have very modest goals. I’m generally terrible at political games, since I tend to be entirely too honest. Since my understanding is that this game inevitably ends in betrayal, my goals are as follows:

  1. Do not be the first one to fall
  2. Betray at least one person.
    Should be easy enough.

I know exactly nothing about the economy / research mechanics. I’m sure it’ll come to me soon enough, right?

Apparently you’re able to view the map and the map layout when you select your character. I’m the lovely purple highlighted in the top right corner there. Right off the bat I think I have some great field position. I have a corner that I can expand into unopposed, but will probably start out immediately putting pressure on the orange and lavender empires to my south and southwest.

I know that there are some kind of limitations on jump distance. The star immediately to the southwest of my empire seems like it will be the key, if I get shut out there, I’ll likely have to turtle internally because it may be a while before I can get the capacity to actually expand. If I can expand that way immediately, my options are much more open.

Let’s look a little closer at my starting position.

Gacrux is the highlighted star in the center. The dotted line is my scanning range, and the solid line is my Hyperspace jump range.

As you can see, Gacrux is the key to my empire. In the short term, I’ll be shuffling all my units from the internal empire there, while sending skeleton crews to scope out the out-ward stars for easy colonization (I hope there aren’t any locals).

My initial strategy is to focus my cash into economy. Money makes the galaxy go round, and my position means that I should be safe from any kind of early attack rush. (I’m too far from the business end of the galaxy to try any kind of early game surprise attack of my own.)

Day 1, Continued:
I realized that there’s an additional entry point to my west that’s reachable with a pretty short warp jump: Alula. So, Gacrux and Alula will be my gates of gibraltar (sic) until hyperspace technology improves.

I also realize now that there aren’t any star titles on these images. Oops.

I could garrison Homam (just to the south), but I prefer to have a couple stars between my gates and my galactic capital.

I begin by spawning (probably too many) fleets, and sending them to capture my immediate surroundings. I don’t really realize how to set multilpe waypoints, so I probably lost some production this first day, by not taking some choice planets. My inner empire has a couple real stinkers, as well as a couple good systems, so hopefully my production will ramp up quickly.

Unsurprisingly, empires across the galaxy (Red, Blue) reached out to me for alliances and tech sharing. I can see no reason not to, so I agree.

Ananab Tilps (Red) requests scanning or weapons for Terraforming. I think I might be getting played: if he develops terraforming early, he’ll have a long term econ advantage. But that’s so far away, I don’t know what he could gain by trying to scam me.

I develop scanning, as well as “experimentation”, since experimentation is an hourly bonus to a random tech, it has effects that compound over time, much like terraforming. Weapons and Scanning aren’t important until hot wars start, but I still prioritize scanning since hopefully, I can get a two-fer from this without any cost to myself.

Surprisingly, my nearest Neighbor, Josemas (Pink) also appeals for an alliance. He’s my natural rival, since he’s my only neighbor, but he has 2 others to contend with. Since I have a pretty secure gate setup, I agree. Since the only victory condition is # of stars, my worst case scenario is that he boxes me in entirely. I could turtle for some time to avoid losing, but I’d have no chance at winning. So, I agree, and we agree to extend our force westward towards the orange empire. I’m worried that they have too much space to themselves, and will grow unchecked. In this way, I also secure myself egress from my corner.

In the meantime, I’ve made clear that the stars in my immediate vicinity are not to be occupied. While he could engage in a surprise attack on me, I do have a significant garrison in Gacrux that can be re-routed defensively as needed.

While preparing for combat locally, I’m also interested in stirring up some shit amongst the players on the southern edge. Red seems boxed in , and may not have adequate space for expansion, so he seems like he’ll likely be engaging in combat soon. I’ve sent him a missive that his neighbors are developing weapons tech, and so may be more formidable than expected. Hopefully, this will ingratiate myself into his good graces, and strengthen our alliance. And whenever their hot war begins, I don’t really care who wins.

The interesting stuff should start tomorrow as my outer scouts begin to reach the orange empire, and as the battles in the galactic center begin as space is exhausted. I’m fairly lucky, I think, in that I am able to spend some time learning the game before being overwhelmed with multiple fronts.

Generally speaking, my entries will get less verbose as time passes, and as my note taking got lazy. But yeah, a lot of text.

Also, I should note that I don’t have a lot of AAR experience, so I apologize if there are things I don’t explain or don’t make sense. Feel free to ask if there’s anything confusing!

Wow, seven weeks of real-time playing? That’s kind of crazy to think about. A game of Dominions 3 might take months, but at least it’s in turns.

It’s like a Facebook game. Only instead of worrying about harvesting watermelons, you worry about planetary annihilation! Muahaha! In practice there are huge downtimes, since a lot of the game is social - real social - based on negotiations and back-stabbing, so there’s a lot of time that you don’t do anything. But you’re still obsessively checking your phone.

Seriously though, I should probably review some of the basic timing mechanics. There are “cycles” and “ticks”. Econ is generated at each cycle, and research and new ships are generated each tick. In our game, a tick was 1 hour, and a cycle was 24 hours, but I think they’re variable. (In turn based games, no time passes until everybody hits “submit turn”. At which point a pre-set number of ticks passes.)

Day 2: At a certain point, I figured out that I should show the leaderboard, so you can see who’s who…

Usually, my tendency in this kind of game is to sit back and watch, but I’m trying to take a much more active role, and sending out communications to various other players for little or even no reason. I’m actively trying to engage in the social aspect that makes up a substantial part of this game.

I’ve taken the corridor between myself and Pink. I hope he doesn’t see it as aggressive. I’ve only sent a token crew (2 ships) to do so. I feel it make be useful for keeping up appearances before others suspect that we are alies. They seem like mostly useless systems, so I’m fine leaving them undeveloped as barrier islands.

On the other hand, Scheat and Tseen Kee (to the southwest, with 32 and the one above it) are rich with resources. I may need to expand my “core” empire to include them.

The southern galaxy appears to have broken out in combat. I sent a note suggesting that Pastose (Turquoise) put pressure on Ananab (Red) before he is allowed to further develop his science capabilities. He replied that he, in fact, is already engaging with Omsion (Yellow)and likely with White Chocolate (Blue). Is he lying? I have no way of knowing, since I’m trapped up here.

I’ve tried to convince Josemas (Pink) to harass Omsion’s borders, but I think that we both agree that absent a threat from Omision, ShaZaamboni (Orange) is likely to have even more freedom, so we’ve made tentative plans to attack him. I’ve drawn down my garrison in Gacrux temporarily until my shuttle fleet (currently scouting my outer reaches) is available to bring troops from Dnoces to re-stock. I trust Josemas enough for the time being, and there are several stars between his nearest troops and Gacrux. I can spawn a new fleet if he does attack

This is my first potential failure point. I’ve informed Josemas of my intent and ETA to get troops to Shazaamboni’s borders. If he wanted to, he could betray me, but I have enough held back that I don’t think it would be significant.

I’m going to forego the galaxy level shot today, since there isn’t that much change. On the other hand, I did find a shot to explain the immediate area of interest. You can see Tseen Kee, Scheat, and the much less useful Nihal, Chow, and Alula.

I have discovered that Josemas (Pink) has had open communications with ShaZaamboni previously, and may have been communicating with regards to the occupation of Sargas. As this came in a joint missive to myself and ShaZaamboni, I am worried what this reveals about Josemas’s transparency with ShaZaamboni with regards to our alliance. Josemas informed us both that this star would be contested, and the the Orange forces were likewise already en route, Josemas apparently having ceded this star to Orange.

A forward division of my troops was already headed to Sargas in order to begin amassing my troops for the expedition into the Orange empire. Fortunately, this was only a small detachment, and does not necessarily tip my hand as to my pre-determined plans to invade. However, I can use this as a pretext to bring my forces against the Orange empire, which pleases me. Of course, I already had a significant force on the way there. I’ve redirected the remainder of my garrison at Dnoces in a new fleet to Nihal, which is serving as a staging area.

I may be rushing this, Josemas has already requested 30+ additional hours to begin staging his assault. However, I don’t see any reason to give Shazaam a chance to amass forces in this direction. Once we have greater intel, I may regret this. However, I’m okay with the decision for the time being. I’m trying to get something started, regardless of how. [I didn’t realize at the time that the game would take 50 days - Ed].

Shazam has asked me to remove my troops from Sargas, with the understanding that if I do so, we will unite against Josemas. So, I have a significant decision point. I still don’t understand the exact nature of Josemas and ShaZaamboni’s relationship, so I don’t know if i’m being manipulated here. I’ve chosen to withdraw from Sargas for the time being, so that I have a little more time to consider what it is I want to do.

I need to consider this carefully. My instinct is still to take out ShaZaamboni . He’s in a much more comfortable position in his corner of the world, and Josemas has other borders to attend to, so in the long run, taking our Josemas will be easier. However, my frontage against Josemas is significantly greater.

Oh man, this is alot of writing if you’re doing every single day.

I think there will probably be ballpark 35-40 entries. A lot happened to me right in the beginning, and towards the end there were stretches of stalemate where not a lot happened.

Like I mentioned, most of the writing was done during the game. Now it’s mostly just cleanup and some minimal editing.

After substantial back and forth with ShaZaamboni (Orange), I ceded him Sargas, and he has convinced me to team up with him in invading Josemas (Pink). It seems to fit my interests better. Also, Shazam has better weapons than either I or Josemas do. With more time, I can make up the armament deficit, but for now, it seems too difficult.

I am attempting to convince ShaZaamboni to attack first, to let Josemas retaliate, and then to sweep into his undefended regions. Josemas is probably not so stupid as to leave his flank entirely unprotected, but the brunt of his forces should be focused south of our border. I think that I have enough leverage on Shazam to make him do the heavy lifting here. After all, I’m under virtually no danger at all, sharing only my border with Jose. He is in danger from a double attack by the two of us. Shazam says to delay attacking Josemas in order to deal with some stuff in his southern regions.

This gives me the opportunity to continue my original plan with Josemas of attacking ShaZaamboni. That is, I don’t need to decide what to do right now: I can put off the decisions until later.

I loaned some money to Pastose in exchange for some weapons tech. At least we’re all on the same level now. The tech distribution suggests that there’s a lot of friendliness in the southern hemisphere. I think that Dave might have convinced his neighbors to let him be a kind of research-pet (he got terraforming and general research first), in exchange for letting him alone. Smart move, if so, but it makes it harder to break into his little inner circle from way up here, so it’s hard for me to know what’s happening.

Day 4:

A full day has passed, and I haven’t been able to convince anybody to actually invade anybody yet. What a pain. It’s stressful, too, since I’m constantly worrying about who I’m better off siding with.

In the long run, I realize that if this game is going to go on for weeks, there’s actually no real danger of anybody getting critical mass anytime soon. I’m safe up here, regardless of Josemas’s intentions, and if I need to, I can ignore both of them, and plow my money into research and economy, and let my already substantial fleet and low frontage take care of my defense. In another week, I’ll have significantly upgraded my standing in the tech race, and I’ll be able to emerge and see what’s going on.

On the plus side, I’m well on my way to both my goals. I’m on schedule to betray ShaZaamboni, and Pastose (Turquoise) looks to be taken out before I am.

ShaZaamboni decides to go through with attacking Josemas after all, with 2 fleets. I think Aldebaran might destroy both with it’s first-strike defensive bonus. Since I’ve decided to attack ShaZaamboni (Orange) after all, I can leaving a garrison in all surrounding stars, and re-take Sargas. I pulled troops out of Nilhas in order to give the appearance of pulling out. Then, at the same time, I sent troops there so that any assault on Nilhas would be met with resistance.

Unfortunately, I’m de-railed by treachery! Josemas was planning to attack me all along! I suppose I should have committed to just turtling up and building tech. (I didn’t only because territory snowballs into manufacturing / research). He withdrew troops from Aldebaran to trade it to Orange in exchange for teaming up against me.

In any case, I don’t know that there’s much Josemas can do to me, I can always turtle up and preserve my inner empire. Fortunately, Nilhas is a shithole. If anybody wants it, I can retreat back to Tseen Kee and give it to them, and keep Sargas as a scouting outpost. There’s no real benefit to contiguity of territory. Scheat is much more valuable, and I can’t lose it to an overnight assault.

I informed Dave Perkins (Green) and omsion (Yellow) of the unprotected flanks of ShaZaamboni and Josemas. I’ve also announced it publicly, which is as close as anything comes to being above board in this kind of game, I’m assuming that people acknowledge that. Public announce got a decent reaction: a promise to flank Josemas from Dave Perkins, and an offer of tech for cash from Ananab Tilps (Red), which I likely can’t make good on until I get a little more money.

My current calculations indicate that with equal weapons rankings, 65 ships can hold off 99 ships on defense. So, they’ll throw away quite a lot of ships to make any substantial progress. In the meantime, I can scoot around the orange territory from Sargas.

My fleet en route to Sargas was destroyed overnight, it looks like Orange had a backup fleet incoming from early on. I was looking forward to some wacky Voyager style planet hopping.

Now is the time that I try to entrench, and wait for the vagaries of other nations to see what happens. I can invest ever more money into tech research to make sure I don’t fall behind in the weapons race. Also, I’ve acquired Manufacturing from White Chocolate (Blue) and Terraforming from Ananab Tilps (Red). Since I was behind in the early tech race, this has cascaded. I had to pay cash instead of just trading tech 1:1. These techs will allow me to reinforce my border planets, and present a hopefully impenetrable wall.

It occurs to me that although Ananab Tilps claimed he was cutting off trade with my enemies, ShaZaamboni somehow acquired Terraforming 3, which only Ananab Tilps has.

Josemas feints at Sadachbia, to my south. I thought I’d be a lot safer, but the increases in hyperspace tech closed the gap much faster than I expected. It takes essentially all my reserve cash, but I built a fleet to shuttle between Sadachbia and Toliman, and also upgraded my industry there. by the time he arrives, there should be 12+ ships to defend against his 8. Small potatoes, but I’ll keep this entry point to my empire intact.

To be honest, I was really afraid that you and orange would attack me, because it seemed like nothing else made much sense for either of you. For one of you to work with me against the other, you would have to leave this narrow corridor and long border with me, why go through all that when you can just work together and take me out?

Because of that I overpromised to both of you, and was willing to give up stars for any other outcome. I was surprised that it seemed like both of you were willing to work with me, and had to make a choice. I felt like taking you out would give me a more defensible border than taking out orange, and I felt like if I waited too long to commit myself, you would team against me. So I held my breath, trusted orange, but it didn’t really work out. And I did feel bad about it!

So there was treachery, but it was less premeditated than that!

Excellent job, CL. Thanks for doing this. Having been one of the warring parties, its fun to now read this from an opponent’s perspective.

Good read so far… thanks for doing this!

I lost track in my notes where one day ended and the other started. This was a stressful couple of days…

Leaderboard:

Lots of interesting stuff happening overnight.
Josemas (Pink) took some eastern planets that I thought would be out of range of early hyperspace techs. This was the aforementioned Sadachbia and Toliman, he sent additional waves, wiping out my skeleton crew.

Trying to weasel way into survival, I sent ShaZaamboni (Orange) a note pointing out that Josemas has become the premier power in the galaxy, and it’s only a matter of time until he turns his eyes in his direction instead of at me. His response was to send over 300 units at me, taking Nihal, which I don’t really care about because it’s very resource-poor, but still.

Perhaps seeing that they are distracted, Dave Perkins (Green) committed to attack Josemas, and Omsion (Yellow) committed to attack ShaZaamboni. I have no way of knowing when they start, if at all, but I’ve noted that Josemas has withdrawn some forces southward out of my sight. They may simply be re-grouping to attack me in the east.

I’m starting to make worst case scenario plans, including withdrawing all my troops to my central 3 stars (Homam, Fawaris, Dnoces). Also, I’ve completely stopped investing in infrastructure in border planets, as assuming they are taken, it will simply be gifting spoils or infrastructure to my enemies. If things turn really bad, I plan to draw all my troops in to my capital (or 3 core stars) where they can be most concentrated, and to try to hold that for as long as possible. Before I go, I’ll also gift away as much cash and tech as possible to my allies on the far side of the galaxy. (I don’t know who my allies are…but I’ll figure something out.)

I just had a horrible realization: I’m one of the premier military powers on the map. Since we all have equal weaponry, looking at total ship counts, I actually still have the third larger fleet. And that’s not just due to recent casualties, or Josemas’s successful attacks: I was on trend to have a decent fleet size from the very beginning.

This means two things:

  1. I wasn’t doing that badly in the beginning. Maybe I’m not terrible at this game!
  2. Nobody is coming to save me.

So, I decide to make a gamble (although it might already be too late). I’m going to send a fleet to attack Josemas at Toliman. I think he’s probably reinforcing it already, by maybe I’ll get lucky and arrive first. I should have done it 8 hours ago, but real life interfered.

I’m also going to attack and hopefully take Aldebaran. To do this, I’ll abandon Scheat entirely, which is a plus for me, since I’m trading 2 industry to get 3. Again, there isn’t any reason that my stars have to be contiguous, so it’s not a bad plan. Also, I think I might have the element of surprise. There’s some fencing thing, where you’re supposed to lean into your opponent’s attacks, I think. So it’s like that. Like that fencing thing I might have made up.

Let’s see how it goes.

Oops.

So, it’s now time to go into full retreat mode. Pulling everything back to Dnoces: Abandoning Scheat, Tseen Kee, Gacrux. I’m also developing some really marginal planets in the northern reaches, to build a small auxiliary force, maybe I can survive a while there if necessary.

In my notes, this day’s entry is simply titled “Doom!”

Pastose (Turquoise) dropped out, but that’s probably just because he was doomed anyways. If I count that as him being the first one out, I’ve achieved both my goals!

I’ve pulled everything back to Dnoces. A token force at Gacrux is still there, maybe they’ll fight over it.

Josemas is attacking Zug, a star of little value whose only real important is that it opens up my northern reaches, where I have some significant econ, and the remnants of my industry. It’s also very poorly defended. So, seeing Josemas attempting to reach those areas is a little upsetting. Fortunately, the small force that I’ve been squirreling up there completely out of sight is very marginally larger than the force that Josemas is sending against me. So, this gives me a chance to piss him off marginally, and to retain my hinterlands for a few more turns.

In the meantime, I’ve also plowed all my available money into industry on the farthest away star in the corner of the galaxy (Capella). I figure that when everything else fails (as it, now inevitably, will), it may take him a while to work his way up to the top of the map. Hopefully I’ll have an annoying surprise.

It’s funny the extent to which my goals have shifted from “win” to “annoy”.

I do have a decision here: I can try to hold Dnoces (my capital) as long as possible, to keep it out of enemy hands, or I can take my biggest fleet to the farthest corner and camp. The former is better for my allies, since it keeps my juicy stars out of their reach for a while. Fortunately, I don’t know that I have any allies at this point.

I’m kind of looking forward to seeing them “duck season-rabbit season” over my corpse though.