A new approach to Combat and Espionage

When thinking about strategy games and how war in them works, we realized that we couldn’t just use old formulas. We aren’t trying to create a different game for the sake of change or innovation, we have issues with the old ways and want to try something new. First we need to identify some of the problems with the current type of classic 4x games.

Movement in other games

  • In most games of this genre, moving doesn’t require fuel.
  • In some games we can move to any star provided we have a certain technology telling us how far we can travel from one of our colonies to the destination.
  • Some games create star lanes you travel along that limit the movement of your ships, allow choke points, and create routes to get from one point to another.
  • Most games initiate tactical, or automatic combat, when one ship reaches a star where an enemy ship and/or planetary defense resides.

Since moving costs you “turns” to arrive at the destination, you can move as much as you want as long as you are in the (fuel/tech?) range, or go along those imaginary lanes. Positioning and moving your ships around becomes really important since it means being able to attack or defend successfully.

The problem with this approach is that you lose a lot of “turns” when moving your ship to one place, just to find out it is needed in another place. You then have to keep your ships moving (patrolling) your border and main colonies to prevent surprise attacks. When attacking, the enemy is also able to evade you easily with just one order.

It becomes unmanageable as you grow your empire. You end up spending more time moving your ships, than actually playing!

Too much freedom

It’s nice to have some freedom, to be able to do a lot of different things in a game. The problem arises when you have too much freedom, and an action has no consequence, a very long-term consequence, or a minimal consequence that doesn’t really matter. For example let’s say that you can move your ships anywhere. You can even go to black holes, but if you do you will lose your ships. When there is no reason in the entire game to allow players to go there, why would you even allow it?

How about an option that lets you praise another player in diplomacy but has no real consequence, or the consequence is so minimal that you don’t even notice it? It just ends up wasting the players’ time and makes them confused. They won’t know if the game is behaving correctly or if there is a bug.

We feel it would be preferable to have fewer options, where each one has a large impact and is easier for the player to notice, than a lot of options that don’t really matter and won’t be used.

The solution

What we have come up is quite simple, we split our ships into one of four categories. There are games with no ship categories at all. This forces the player to experiment a lot trying to find a good balance for their ships. We find this wastes a lot of time. In our game, each ship has a specific goal to fulfill. By limiting the number of options we can be sure that they will really matter.

Military ships

One of these four ship types is the military ship. These have limited movement; moving only between your own regions, or those owned by your allies. They will assume a defensive position, so where you put them means that they are automatically patrolling that area and nearby regions.

Attacking plans

When you want to attack, you set an attack plan and the game carries it out for you. Let’s say you have three ships, two in one region and one in another. The first part of the plan is getting your ships together so you don’t need to coordinate the movement of your fleets. Then you choose a target. This may be a colony, emeny fleet, specific ship, or a specific mission. Missions could include: harass another player or humiliate them, capture a ship, and so on. The possibilities here are great. By limiting the movement of ships and creating plans, now we have a lot more strategic options to play with and they are easy to use.

Defensive plans and espionage

In this type of fleet management we can make good strategic decisions by moving ships to defensive positions. We can also use espionage in a more intelligent manner to discover opponents’ plans before they are executed. When you attack a colony for example, you have a chance to be discovered before you get there. The plan will tell you how many turns it will take to attack, and then return.

By having ships on the targeted colony, you will be able to automatically use them for defense by discovering the attack before it gets there. The game will give you an option to reinforce that position. It is now really important to discover your opponent’s plan before it’s too late to get help. Technologies that help your fleet go undetected become important. Attacks using small fleets will also help you to get to your target without being noticed.

The result

By changing how ships move, how attack and defense plays out, and how espionage can play a crucial part of it, we have changed the pace of the game completely. You no longer need to frantically move your ships around the map, and attacking means a lot more now than just destroying ships or capturing worlds.

By limiting the freedom of the player he will have less options, but the ones he is given will be more meaningful and will actually help him to set up new strategies.

Everything else

Military ships won’t be used to explore the map. We will use another class for that which is the science vessel. There will be no need to locate anything, as your long range scanners and observatories have already done that. Your science vessels will explore a region a little each turn, requiring several turns before it is completly explored. This means there is no need to rush exploring the map anymore.

Another type are the Scout Ships. These are used to monitor borders, reinforce defenses, or spy on other players. They can’t attack, but are great at detecting attack plans along with your spies.

The last type is the transport which you use to link your regions together. This will make less developed ones improve faster by distributing resources to where they are needed most.