AI War:Rate Of Expansion
How Fast Should I Be Taking Planets?
Q: I was reading that you take a planet on average every 45 minutes. Does this apply early game too? Do you really focus on taking one planet and shoring it up to where you don't have to watch it every few seconds? Maybe I'm trying a little too much, I usually send a smash force of capped fighter 2s/3s and wipe all command centers adjacent to me and try to build up 2 bases at the same time. I was thinking like fast expanding really helps the economy, but maybe it's just not feasible on all types of maps.
A: Well, that was really an average, and that doesn't apply to every play style or every map. If the AI is really defensive, you might take fewer planets overall and take them more slowly, for example. And you're right, generally speaking at the start of the game it's best to take out all the planets you can as fast as possible. I think I typically take my first planet at around 10 to 15 minutes in, and a second at 30 minutes maybe, and a third by the end of the first hour. Of course, that also varies, but that is true.
By the middle game, things slow down a bit because I'm having to consolidate my borders and I'm putting resources and time into scouting, knowledge raiding, gate raiding, and other such pursuits. But even then, it's probably a planet every two hours at absolute worst, and often that longer period only comes when a real tough nut that we have to take comes up.
Then once that is done, there's typically a spree of taking easier planets because in order to take that big one the strength of my empire has had to increase to match it, making me then over-matched for a few things on the other side, which is a nice change. Then the next hardened target or deep-raid target comes up, and so on and so forth.
So it tends to be really uneven for me, but if I play an 80 planet game and it lasts for about 13 hours, I'll be taking a planet every 30-45 minutes or so on unweighted average throughout the life of that game (as in, 20-30 planets divided by 13 hours).
Expanding In The Early Game
How Do I Protect Myself While Expanding In The Early Game? (Whipping Boys)
Q: How would you specifically expand your economy right at the start? I really have trouble getting off the floor, I can't decide how best to spend the energy or design an offensive fleet while balancing defense while not squandering away all the metal/crystal income. You start on a planet with 4 wormholes. Each wormhole goes to a different direction, and each one of those planets has 2 or 3 additional connections (really 3-4 wormholes per adjacent planet, but one is simply going back to your home planet obviously). Off the bat you probably say build at least 1 tractor per wormhole + 10 or so turrets per wormhole. This will soon be woefully inadequate and you will need at least 2 tractors + 15-20 per wormhole, but probably not quite yet.
Answer from Chris Park, AI War's lead designer:
Basically, the early game for me looks like this (I emphasize me, because not everybody plays even remotely like this):
- Game Starts.
- Start docks building scouts, followed by a mix of fighters/bombers/cruisers
- Build another 1 or possibly 2 engineers, depending.
- Start sending out those scouts in groups along the various wormholes that connect in.
Up to this point, it's pretty much formulaic for me. Also, this covers the first 20ish seconds of the game only. Wink From this point on, things start changing up a bit depending on the situation. Mostly I spend the next 2-3 minutes analyzing the scout data, and looking at the AI planet formations, as well as peeking at what sort of fleets ships they are using, so that I can decide what sort of technologies I might want to invest in. The line of decision making that triggers off is immensely huge and varied, and not something I can really summarize without writing a full-blown strategy guide to the game. The main thing is that I am looking at their planets, deciding which seem like targets and which seem like things to gate-raid and then wall off.
- Next up I unlock some technologies based on what I decided.
- I also build more scouts and send them out, since probably my first batches are dead now.
- I may even unlock tech II scouts at this early juncture to send out those as well, if scouting is really tough at the moment.
- I probably need a Mark I energy reactor, but no more than that if there is a nearby planet I can just go take.
- If the AI is particularly aggressive, I might build turrets and tractors at a given wormhole, but otherwise I'll just leave myself hanging open for attack. No worries, usually.
- Now I'll probably attack a planet and take it. I go for the most resource-rich of all the planets that are low-level and can easily be taken.
Personally, I tend to go straight for a mkII command station on that planet. Highest-tier ships and starships and better turrets, etc, can wait, as far as I am concerned. I want the cash now -- and having so much cash, I can make do with just mark I ships and maybe 2 mark II classes or on II/III combo. But I find mark IIIs not really worth it until later, unless I need to break a planet with an ion cannon early on in. Again, so my strategy there really varies heavily, and if I need that mark III muscle then I'll wait until later for my command station upgrades.
- At this point, I might take a second and/or a third easy early planet. The idea being to capture them quickly before they have a chance to get too strong, and then worrying about actually fully capturing and exploiting them once that is done. With just low-level ships, my economy is doing just fine, and I'm a powerhouse against these little planets (for now).
- Alternatively, in rare circumstances if there is a high level planet nearby that I just know I will need to take for some reason, I might invest more in higher mark ships and try to take that out. That involves a lot of advanced strategies such as potentially popping their command station early and then playing defense, or things of that nature. Depends on their position, my position, etc.
Regarding the planets that I capture, when I do get around to building on them each of those might get a force field around their command station, but probably not. Most likely I'll just put some turrets near the command station to keep the AI from destroying that. The AI ships that trickle in mostly will leave my resources alone if they think they can take out my command station.
Next up, I generally look at the other surrounding planets and see if there are more targets that would make sense, and which would cut down on the number of ingress points into my most resource-rich planets. Generally speaking I like to have a "whipping boy" planet that just gets slammed with waves and incoming ships, and which I reinforce heavily with turrets, etc. Even if this planet is resource-rich, I don't really worry about trying to keep those resource harvesters non-destroyed. As long as this planet is protecting my other planets, I'm good.
As I get more wealthy and more powerful in general, I push my borders outward, mainly in an attempt to close off more wormholes while at the same time getting more resource-producing planets. Ideally there are only one or two whipping boys at a time, and which planets are the whipping boy might change as I go depending on how this is all set up. Then end result of this process is generally that I have secured 4-8 planets that are very well defended, and I have one or two whipping boys that are under constant threat and which I have extensive defenses on.
The focus of the whipping boys is not to protect themselves, but to protect the other planets behind them. Usually this just means strong wormhole defense on the whipping boy itself, but it could also involve force fields over the wormholes leading to my more important planets. I should also note that I tend to lose the command stations on whipping boys periodically, and I tend to have a colony ship standing by to rebuild. This is okay, as long as you don't have just a single point of wave entry into your systems (since you don't want waves coming at you from way out).
I also build some turret/tractor defenses on my inner planets to protect against those ships that might slip past from the whipping boys. How many I build, and where, depends on what types of ships the AI is using, primarily. If they are bomber-heavy, I need heavy defenses. If it's something that gets caught in tractors and easily killed by turrets, then lighter defenses are better. Generally speaking even at the lightest wormhole defenses I build 5 tractor beam Is, maybe 10-15 basic/mlrs/laser turrets (some mix of those). A "heavily defended wormhole," commonly found on a whipping boy bottleneck, usually for me has more like 15-25 tractors, and maybe 50-200 turrets of various sorts. The goal is that when the AI warps in a wave, the entire thing gets caught and killed in under 10 seconds.
That sort of defense won't hold forever, but it makes a great fly trap for the AI early in the game. And even then, you have to be prepared for what happens if they suddenly and unexpectedly break through that trap, which they will do every so often. That's usually when I lose a whipping boy command station, and if I'm really unlucky another string of command stations that were resource producing behind it. That's frustrating, but it happens, and you can simply rebuild and make sure your defenses are better next time.
In short, I guess, you have to concede the fact that you are going to get beat up somewhere. Where do you want that to be? You want it to be a planet that you consider noncritical to your income, and which provides a sufficient shield to your other planets. Then getting beat up there isn't a tragedy, it's all part of your plan. It's, to some degree, a decoy or at least a diversionary tactic. The challenge is that, as you (necessarily) grow, the AI has more and more potential choices of target, and it is harder to protect all your planets. As long as you have a really strong core of planets by the mid-game, you can weather the inevitable occasional losses (or strings of losses) without worry.
Generally the reason for a loss of that magnitude is that you were busy taking something from the AI at the time. That's a great trade-off, usually, because the AI can't take back it's planets, while you can. I have literally been in multiplayer games where I had 6 planets out of the total of 14 that our team of four had, and I lost all 6 of my planets (including my home) in one big sweep. Whoops. But then it's a matter of rebuilding (in multiplayer you don't lose until all your teams homes are lost), and then pressing onwards. Those same games where those sort of sweeps have happened have also been victories for my team (sometimes -- some of those were also losses). But anyway, taking a sweeping loss is not the end of the game usually, and if you are playing a risky situation where you keep just enough defenses to hold off the average waves while you use more of your income in an offensive rush, then you'll have to expect to weather some losses of your own. Really comes down to how aggressive you are, what you consider acceptable losses, and your play style in general.
I know some players capture a corner of the galaxy with maybe 6-10 planets in it, simply for the security of having 1 ingress point into that whole section if they are lucky. Then they can go raiding with impunity, for instance. All depends on your play style, what feels most comfortable and fun to you.
Keeping Ingress Points Low
How Do I Keep The Number Of Ingress Points Into My Territory Low?
Q: Typically early on all the planets surrounding your home planet, they each increase your ingress points. And very typically, each one of the paths further branching out from the immediately adjacent planets further increase your ingress points. You may close one or if you're lucky two ingress points, but it opens up 2-3 more usually.
I noticed you said you look for planets which reduce your total ingress points which is brilliant, but with the above in mind, how do you close your ingress points?
To read in between the lines - I didn't see you explicitly list this as one of your early game considerations, but am I assuming correctly? - that you conduct gate raids extremely early in the game to create your whipping boy(s)? I don't see it as possible when you start with 4 ingress points, and then while you do close the ones going into your homeworld, you create 7+ more adjacencies to your frontline.
Answer from Chris Park, AI War's lead designer:
it always depends on the map, but you need to look further afield than just the directly adjacent planets. Often there are "pockets" of planets that are all connected heavily to each other, but only are connected out into the wider galaxy via 1-2 bottlenecks. My early goal is looking for those bottlenecks, and on Realistic maps those tend to be there. On hubs/grid maps, you're going to have to do a lot more gate-raiding, no question, and CPAs are going to hurt more.
The trick is to look out about 3 connections away from your home planet and see what sort of bottlenecks you might be able to create based on how the planets are set up. Some planets are dead ends (which is great for your purposes), others are connected only or primarily to other planets you control, and others are places where it is easy to create your own bottleneck.
Generally I wind up with maybe a pocket of 10-12 planets in "my" area, with a bottleneck or three leading out. I gate-raid any of those planets in my area that I can't / don't want to take (maybe half of them, depending), and then possibly even neuter those planets a bit (certainly taking out all train stations and special forces guard posts as I do the gate raids). Then that's secure enough that I can just maintain light defenses against those "captive" AI planets in my area, and otherwise they pose little threat except possibly in the even of a CPA. I don't cherry pick maps for defensibility in any way, and I can pretty much always do that except on the hubs and grid maps. Those usually require that you simply give in to having the AI raiding you all over the place, which is a different style of strategy in general, but still possible.
In short, I guess, either you are on a really unlucky seed, playing hubs/grid maps (not a good place to start as a beginner if you are defensive-minded), or you're not looking quite far enough afield in your current setup there to identify bottleneck points. Or, quite potentially, you're wanting to be too completionist about kicking the AI 100% out of "your" area that would be behind the bottleneck.
Sometimes you'll get lucky and you can have that region all to yourself, but more often than not there's a Mark IV or Mark III planet that is too hard to take at first, and then way too entrenched to take later on. But those can be made almost entirely harmless, and if they get huge that can actually be to your benefit in the middle game as it is sucking up AI reinforcement points for little purpose. Assuming you don't go sky-high with the AI Progress over time, then it doesn't even pose a CPA risk. I rarely get to the point where the AI is even Mark III for waves and CPA, and I'm less conservative with AI Progress increases than some here.
Regarding the gate raiding timing, here's a theoretical, but fairly typical scenario for me:
Starting planet: 4 hostile wormholes, two easy to take, two high-level.
- 1. Take the two that are easy to take. Home planet hostile wormholes now down to 2.
- 2. Gate-raid the two high-level home-adjacent planets next, and kill special forces and (ideally) train stations at that same time.
- 3. Leave permanent moderate defenses on those wormholes, let's say 40ish turrets and maybe 15ish tractors on each. Consider the home planet completely safe from direct assault, but will add more turrets if needed (and more force fields) to protect against later indirect assault.
Now we're down to our two front-line planets, lets say those each also had 4 wormholes to start, and that we were unlucky and that they did not connect to one another. That means that we now have 6 hostile wormholes facing us in total. Between our mobile fleet being able to move between these planets (and come home from offense when you are threatened), and some light-to-moderate turret defenses on all three hostile wormholes at those two planets, you should be pretty well insulated and not losing any harvesters at all.
Then you've got yourself a little nugget that is pretty well protected, basically. The next decisions depend on the map, and how it grows outward. Such as:
- Is there a planet that is adjacent to both of those two secondary planets you captured? Take it! Unless it is really high level, in which case gate-raid it.
- Is there a planet that is adjacent to one of those planets that is a dead end? Take that! Again, unless it is too overpowered, in which case maybe gate raid it, or leave that as an ingress point, depending.
- Is there a planet that is really highly connected, and borders everything? Either gate raid it, neuter it, or completely take it from the AI but don't build on it if you need to travel through it. The high number of inbound connections can make it not worthwhile to capture, but very worthwhile to take from the AI.
And so on. This is the general decision pattern I typically go through, and believe it or not you can generally scale this outwards without having exponential growth in your surface area -- and without gate-raiding every planet on the map. Gate raids are early and ongoing for me, but I would guess that I don't do more than... I don't know... maybe 15-20 total in an 80 planet map throughout the entire game?
Thus the breakdown of planets at the end of a successful game for me might be:
- 80 planets total
- 20-30 planets belonging to my team
- 0-3 planets that were taken from the AI, but that we did not capture for whatever reason (nice to have buffers sometimes)
- 15-20 planets that were gate raided, and had their special forces guard posts and train stations killed
- 27-45 planets that I never touched, except to perhaps pass through with transports or a convoy, or possibly to knowledge raid or kill data centers on.
Out of my 20-30 planets, usually it is good if somewhere between 8-14 of those are reasonably secure from attack by the end of the game. Those are producing resources and not really at a whole lot of risk except when the AI slips past me on the front lines. If I lose some, I rebuild, and if a planet it just too hotly contested I might let it go fallow and just stay neutral.
The remainder of those planets are ones that I captured further out into the galaxy usually for advanced research stations or factories, and I mostly ignore the resources on there, and concentrate defenses in such a way to protect the valuables without having to try to defend all the wormholes individually (which is impossible on those planets, usually). And some of the remainder of those planets were ones that I captured specifically to create staging areas for attacking AI targets. Those sorts of planets also tend to be really isolated, and I protect the stuff on it all in a cluster of turrets and force fields near the command station, but I leave the harvesters to their fate. I guess those planets would be an obvious case for harvester exo-forcefields, but I don't tend to think of that for some reason.