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How to avoid "stacks of doom" in 4X?

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In all 4X space empire games I encountered the same annoying characteristic, the best strategy (at least against AI opponent) was to group all/most of your ships and raid through the galaxy with this monster. How to fix it?

 

EDIT: I'm not talking about games like Civilization (where there are actual stacks and they fight on the main map) but about moving fleets on the galaxy map like in Master of Orion (where the combat takes place on another tactical map).

 

I have seen solutions like slow ships and long distances (so you needed to keep fleets in various parts of the map since you were unable to move them quick) and limits to number of ships in a fleet (Endless Space). Both had their serious drawbacks...

Edited by Acharis

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The usual solution seems to be area of effect based weapons.

Ineffective against single targets but can be very effective against larger groups.

Try to come up with a similar mechanism maybe.

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As in life, overwhelming force is an extremely difficult strategy to counter (unless you're good at guerilla tactics and you've got time on your side).  I'd think about the logistics of moving your entire fleet (I'm assuming 4X = space games to you based on your post) and making sure the player has the resources and supplies needed to keep them flying, fed, and armed to the teeth.

 

Then, once the other opponents know the big guys are out killing stuff, have them all attack the home base.

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The usual solution seems to be area of effect based weapons.

Ineffective against single targets but can be very effective against larger groups.

Try to come up with a similar mechanism maybe.

No, no, I meant a map of the galaxy. Like Master of Orion, Endless Space, etc. Moving fleets between planets, not combat (which takes place when 2 fleets meet and it opens a separate tractical map or something similar).

 

I guess I should edit my first post to make it less confusing smile.png

Edited by Acharis

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As in life, overwhelming force is an extremely difficult strategy to counter (unless you're good at guerilla tactics and you've got time on your side).  I'd think about the logistics of moving your entire fleet (I'm assuming 4X = space games to you based on your post) and making sure the player has the resources and supplies needed to keep them flying, fed, and armed to the teeth.

 

Then, once the other opponents know the big guys are out killing stuff, have them all attack the home base.

No, it's not about overwhelming force. It's about making the player to attack 3 enemy fleets/planets at once instead of just 1. To make it not desirable to make just one big fleet that go around and fights. To promote making severl smaller fleets (in short a player that make one big fleet and fly around winning all fights due to numbers should lose (on strategic level) with another player that made 3 much weaker fleets and target separate planets).

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Beyond what GoCatGo said, there's also the march of progress to consider. If you attack only one planet at a time, your enemies on all the other planets have a chance to march up their tech trees and be much tougher when you reach them. Therefore making it an advantage to attack as many planets as you can safely.

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EDIT: I'm not talking about games like Civilization (where there are actual stacks and they fight on the main map) but about moving fleets on the galaxy map like in Master of Orion (where the combat takes place on another tactical map).

 

I've not played those games so my previous comment may be unhelpful, uninformed, and useless.  That has never stopped me before, so I'll continue by adding:

 

Have them eaten by Warp monsters a la 40K!  "We started out strong, but most of our fleet never arrived."

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Most good 4x games I've played used economy as a deterrent to large forces.

If you place 'all of your units' to defeat the enemy's strongest base, you leave yourself opened for them to overtake all of your economic settlements. You do capture one planet, but end up losing 10-20. After a few turns, your opponent has managed to use these planets in such a way that their fleet is now larger than yours.

That's the best way to do it imo.

I'm perfectly fine with concentration of forces to force a victory, because, most times, this is a bad strategy in a good 4X game...

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I've not played those games so my previous comment may be unhelpful, uninformed, and useless. That has never stopped me before, so I'll continue by adding:
That's the spirit! :)

 

Sorry for making my first post so misleading.

 


If you group all your ships into a single army, sure, you can take any planet you want. But in the meantime, your enemy can split their ships into 4 smaller armies and take 4 of your undefended planets. When you move your big army to take one back, they lose one planet, but they also move on and gain 4 more...
But what about the fleets? I mean, the purpose of a big fleet is not to take over planets but to destroy enemy fleets one by one and then, once the "sky" is clear, they can split and grab defenseless planets.

 


After a few turns, your opponent has managed to use these planets in such a way that their fleet is now larger than yours.
Unlikely, at least for MoO2 style pace, it takes too long to build ships, just taking over a planet for 10 turns (most of which it will rebel and not produce) has marginal economic meaning. It could work only if the war dragged for a very long time.

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Personally, I think the root of all/most of the problem is deadly space combat. When two fleets meet the smaller is 100% annihilated while the bigger suffers minimal loses. It makes cowardly tactics an imperative. It makes taking a risk (sending a smaller fleet against a big one) a foolish tactic.

 

But what it the weaker fleet would auto retreat after like 3 rounds of a battle suffering 10% ships annihilated, 40% damaged (which makes them unusable for X turns) and 50% intact? Hit & run, risk taking operations inside enemy territory and the like would make sense then...

 

 

The second biggest problem I see are meaningless planets. After the war starts they become useless (not enough time to build ships) while ships became the only variable that counts.

This brings me to Paradox's games, which have various interesting mechanics. Like a province can have only half soldiers drafted into an army and the other half is obligued to stay as garnison. Also, conquering a province takes a lot of time even if the attacker have a big advantage in numbers. In short, a province can defend itself effecively for a significant time *without the player investing anything* in defence. I don't think these really fit the space 4X theme but still as a mechanic it works.

Edited by Acharis

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In Master of Orion II (one of my favourite games btw), battles take place completely within one "galactic" turn. Also there are always option to destroy a small ship without it ever being able to do anything.

 

I always wondered if it was possible to change the rules in such a way, that battles are not concluded within a single galactic turn (with either one fleet completely destroyed or retreated), but instead have battles last for several galactic turns (stopping after a number of battle turns and continueing in the next galactic turn). Also switching the active player after a number of unit-turns instead of after he has used up all his units' turns could make battles more balanced. That way, it would be possible for either player to bring new ships into a battle, smaller ships could destroy bigger enemies even if the enemy has the advantage of the first turn.

 

Also, stronger area of effect weapons that can be placed on smaller ships could help. There's for example the Pulsar in MoO, or the Spatial Compressor. Having some of those be actually more powerfull (not only more efficient) against larger fleets could counter the huge-fleet-syndrome. The strength of those weapons could also be an effective measure to balance the game towards a certain maximum sensible fleet size.

 

I like the other suggestions about fleet being more stealthy if they are smaller very much. Small fleets could even be made to pass through planetary defences more easily and probably even start their combat between the defending fleet and the planet if they are very small (sneaked through the defending fleet), thus allowing them to drop ground troops faster and so winning the battle without actually defeating the defending fleet.

Edited by rnlf

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What if ships had an upkeep system similar to Kohan?  All ships take X resources PER TURN, as opposed to a one time cost.  Each planet produces some X per turn, so losing a planet immediately hurts, and you can go quickly negative.  If you go negative in X, ships lose health, go slower, or what have you.  It allows for a counter against a super stack by splitting ones forces and conducting small raids, especially if one can get behind enemy lines to planets that might produce a lot, but not be well defended.

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ferrous: Master of Orion has something similar and it didn't stop players from stacking up. In MoO, you have command points (not sure if that's what they're actually called), which are produced by certain buildings of which you could only have one per colony. Bigger ships require more command points. If use up more command points than you create, the maintenance costs of your fleets are increased quite a lot actually. But with just a few economically strong colonies you can counter the effect by producing trade goods.

 

I guess Microprose had the same idea about limiting the usable number of ships, but it didn't work. At least not in the way they intended. In the early stages of the game this is sometimes a limiting factor to the speed of fleet growth but in the long run, new technologies and economic tactics make it a useless trick. Maybe that was actually done intentionally as some fort of positive feedback mechanism to make games end in a reasonable time (even single player games can take up a whole day though).

Edited by rnlf

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ferrous: Master of Orion has something similar and it didn't stop players from stacking up. In MoO, you have command points (not sure if that's what they're actually called), which are produced by certain buildings of which you could only have one per colony. Bigger ships require more command points. If use up more command points than you create, the maintenance costs of your fleets are increased quite a lot actually. But with just a few economically strong colonies you can counter the effect by producing trade goods.

 

I guess Microprose had the same idea about limiting the usable number of ships, but it didn't work. At least not in the way they intended. In the early stages of the game this is sometimes a limiting factor to the speed of fleet growth but in the long run, new technologies and economic tactics make it a useless trick. Maybe that was actually done intentionally as some fort of positive feedback mechanism to make games end in a reasonable time (even single player games can take up a whole day though).

 

That's just poor implementation, in Kohan, if you lost your major economic cities, you were truly horked, unable to build, and unable to repair your troops, and they would take repeated damage if they left your supply zones.

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ferrous: Master of Orion has something similar and it didn't stop players from stacking up. In MoO, you have command points (not sure if that's what they're actually called), which are produced by certain buildings of which you could only have one per colony. Bigger ships require more command points. If use up more command points than you create, the maintenance costs of your fleets are increased quite a lot actually. But with just a few economically strong colonies you can counter the effect by producing trade goods.

 

I guess Microprose had the same idea about limiting the usable number of ships, but it didn't work. At least not in the way they intended. In the early stages of the game this is sometimes a limiting factor to the speed of fleet growth but in the long run, new technologies and economic tactics make it a useless trick. Maybe that was actually done intentionally as some fort of positive feedback mechanism to make games end in a reasonable time (even single player games can take up a whole day though).

 

That's just poor implementation, in Kohan, if you lost your major economic cities, you were truly horked, unable to build, and unable to repair your troops, and they would take repeated damage if they left your supply zones.

 

 

Its a difference in scale I think. in most 4x games individual planets become less important the longer you play. In MOO2 and other 4x you could have a powerful empire with half a dozen planets but by mid game and later you might have anywhere between 20-50 planets.  By then generally the micromangement burden exceeds the usefulness of optimizing a given planet which is why newly conquered planets after the first half dozen or so just tend left to governs or prebuilt building queues becoming research outposts or cash generators.

 

That's my experience anyway.

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By then generally the micromangement burden exceeds the usefulness of optimizing a given planet which is why newly conquered planets after the first half dozen or so just tend left to governs or prebuilt building queues becoming research outposts or cash generators.

 

 

Exactly my experience. Once the empire is strong enough, I just build cash (or sometimes food) generating and defensive buildings in a fixed order. That's another problem with 4X games in general and a reason to only ever play on small maps...

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I agree large 4x maps tend to be less fun. Large maps are slower, turns take longer, you have to destroy more planets and fleets and if you're stronger then your opponent this isn't challenging just time consuming. 

 

I wonder how you could make a 4x game that was fun to play on bigger maps? Competiting with half a dozen races of 18 planets is fundimentaly going to be more exciting and challanging then half a dozen races fighting over 60 planets.

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Sure, the larger the game world/universe, the larger the number of small raiding groups are required to do damage.  Also the longer it will take a super stack to traverse around the map and win the game.  It's a balancing act to get that all right and fun.

 

(Though I generally agree that larger maps aren't really 'more' fun.)

 

 

Another option is to have to keep a supply line open to the super stack, which prevents it from just marching willy nilly, it will have to try to hold territory if it penetrates too far, or get cut off and lose health/supply/morale/widgits.

Edited by ferrous

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Even the supply line idea is present in MoO, but by the time it would be needed to balance the game, it doesn't matter anymore.

 

In MoO, ships have a limited range, based on their fuel cell technology. If a ship is stranded too far away, it will automatically return to the closest colony (which doesn't make any sense, considering that it was limited by the fuel cells, but whatever). So if you the closest colony to your currently targetted system, your attack will be cancelled. Too bad, after a while you can research better and better fuel cells, resulting in Thorium Fuel Cells which provide infinite range. So while this again limits the expansion in the early game, it is useless in the end game.

 

I really wonder if all these things were added in that fashion to make for more challenging middle games and quick end games or if it was actually just a balancing error.

 

Maybe they decided it was not desirable to have a more balanced end game because the game would get too slow paced then. That's a really interesting question for me, as I never thought about similar game design issues yet...

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Important note: the topic is not about limiting the total number of ships the player has but about making it not desirable to keep all these ships in one fleet. It's about how to make it desirable to have 3 smaller fleets at once instead of one big fleet.

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