A while ago, some games writers were organising a game of Neptune's Pride 2, a real-time 4x space empire game which plays out at an incredibly slow pace, taking weeks to complete. With the game password openly available, I decided to ninja a spot. My plan was to join the game, win, and then reveal to everyone who had beaten them. This is the diary of that plan.
In Neptune's Pride 2, games play out at such a slow pace, you're supposed to be able to log in just a few times a day to manage your empire, investing in Economy, Industry or Science, sending fleets in different directions, and most importantly, engaging in diplomacy. Players quickly discover that as powerful as anyone can become, there's just no substitute for two empires teaming up on one - making diplomacy the key to the game. Like Survivor, in the end there can only be one winner, but the trick here is that in this game, advertised as a "Games Journo Showdown", each person's alias is anonymous.
I've always hated diplomacy, preferring to just plain "win". But it was clear to me that I might have to adapt in this case. There are already (in)famous examples in the circle of people I know of backstabbings and extraordinary betrayals. In a few ways, the game is designed to foster that - but if I could manoeuvre well enough, I'd claim victory as the galaxy's most powerful introvert.
Entry 1 - Breezy Genesis
We spawn. I'm Yellow in the above image. After the first 12-hour cycle, you can look up each player’s profile and see what they’ve built, collecting clues as to their plan for the game, and it seems I couldn’t have been luckier. On one side, I have someone clearly booming in Science, not worrying about rapid expansion or military. On the other side, is someone who appears to be AFK, and further still, is another Science boomer.
This is what RTS players call “spawning in the pocket”. With no early game threats, I’m free to max out on economy before worrying about the inertia involved in converting that economy into a war machine.
It seems that as soon as the game started, Orange maxed out on Industry, and that homeworld is cranking out ships non-stop. As a result, I won’t be able to take the homeworld for a long time without severely weakening my army. But seeing as Red isn’t interested, I flow through Orange’s territory and scoop up every neglected star. I’ve quickly doubled everyone else in stars - hopefully this won’t make me too much of a target.
Entry 2 - Shots Fired
I take one star from Pink in the middle, because it looks nice and I want it. I’m warned by my neighbour Green that Pink is a good player (perhaps they know each other in real life? Something to watch out for...), and the inevitable retaliation from Pink comes. Just enough ships are sent to take out my armada, had my Weapons tech not ticked up while Pink was in hyperspace. Poor Pink. I decisively win the battle, cutting off Pink’s contact to the forward scouts that claimed the galaxy’s centre star, with the best natural resources available.
I tell my neighbour Green it’ll take a while for more of my ships to come, and to go ahead and take that juicy centre star. Green sends enough ships, but Pink quickly builds 5 levels of industry on it. It’s an extremely costly move that now makes up 5 out of 13 of Pink’s total factories, and before Green arrives, enough ships have been produced to defend the star. With 5 factories, Pink’s superstar is now producing 30 ships every 12-hour cycle. Whoever owns that star will be very hard to displace, and I sense that extremely risky move has noticeably altered the game.
Entry 3 - Space Anxiety
See that image above? That caused me a lot of anxiety. On Green’s way towards the centre to deal with Pink, he passes a border star. But in Neptune’s Pride 2, you never just “pass” a star. You stop there, go to the space toilet, shop at the space mall, refuel or something, and then continue. For 20 minutes. That’s 20 minutes of me staring in paralysis at 124 rival ships right next to my “Oh crap” zone. 20 minutes of “Just what the HELL do you think you’re doing there?”, and desperately coming up with a contingency plan, before the game mercifully ticks over and you see the fleet go on its merry way. Perhaps I’m a bit paranoid that people will team up on me due to my early advantage - but if Green and Pink were in cahoots, that could have been the end of me.
At the end of every space cycle, players get new funds, relative to how many instances of Economy they've invested in. Other elements of the game, however, are real-time - such as ship movements. This means that while, yes, you can log in just a few times a day to manage your affairs, in order to properly respond to enemy movements it's necessary to keep an eye on the game. Logging in at the right time could catch a fleet heading towards you with a 7 hour hyperspace jump, and allow you enough time to respond with a defensive fleet.
Combat is quite basic in Neptune's Pride 2 - there aren't any shields, or long-range weapons. It's just tit-for-tat with ships, though researching higher Weapons tech level gives an advantage, and an additional Weapons level is awarded to defenders. If I'm going to defend this wide territory I've claimed right at the start, I'm going to have to up my fleet size quickly.
Stay tuned for the next part of the diary tomorrow!