Early game strategic diversity

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alleryn
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Early game strategic diversity

#1 Post by alleryn » Sat Sep 21, 2019 6:29 am

This thread is for the discussion of strategic diversity in the early phase of the game. Some questions that could be addressed: how much strategic diversity should there be, how can we create more if desired, and so on.

My main reason for starting the thread is to address concerns over balancing natives (see viewtopic.php?f=15&t=11355&sid=cf4c4fe9 ... 9d905eca2b) and how some solutions may inadvertently impact early game strategic diversity.

Specifically, i'm concerned that any changes that make invasion more difficult (or less lucrative) may leave only one real early game strategy. It's quite possible i'm all wet on this (i haven't poked my nose into multiplayer yet), but i'd like to share my thoughts on the subject anyhow. I'm pretty sure it's interesting subject matter even if it's not necessarily reflective of the current "metagame".

To structure what i have to say, i will proceed to first imagine playing a one player version of the game, then a two player version, and then a multi- (>2) player game.

If a player were to play with no opponents, of course she would be free to do as she likes, but i think most players would find it natural to expand and colonize the extent of the galaxy. Industry would be focused almost entirely on colonization (and probably terraforming). Research would be directed towards techs that improve population, industry, and research, with little or no regard towards defense or improvements in military technology. There isn't much hope for strategic diversity here. If we agree that the goal is to colonize the galaxy as quickly as possible, after enough practice, some optimal strategy will likely be found and deviations from that strategy will only slow the inevitable.

Contrast this with a 2 player game. Now survival is of the utmost importance. Likely whichever player develops the dominant military will have free reign to colonize where he likes and confine the other player's expansionary hopes. Here again there probably isn't too much hope to create a thriving variety of "best" strategies. The game is zero sum: what is good for me is bad for my opponent and vice versa. Perhaps the assymetry of starting species and some random elements can make one strategy better in one situation vs another, but generally some balance between colonization and militarization will probably evolve as "optimal" with little variation possible if one desires to maximize his winning chances.

As we move to an arena with more players, things become more interesting. The game is no longer zero-sum: conflict with one's neighbor is likely to weaken both of you, offering an advantage to all the other players at your own expense and the expense of your neighbor. Unlike in the two-player game, conflict has a huge intrinsic downside, strategically speaking. But unlike the one-player game, simply expanding without any thought to defense is probably not a good strategy either (or is it?). If one expands without any regard to safety, surely some opportunistic neighbor will find the potential reward for abandoning conventional expansion in favor of military conquest too great (cost-benefit analysis-wise) to resist.

Thus (it is my imagination) arise three basic strategies in the early game. First, the player can embark on what i will call "Reckless Expansion". This is essentially the strategy in the one-player scenario. Don't build any military ships, don't research any military tech, just expand as fast as possible. As long as the player tempers herself from expanding too far (how much is too much is a difficult question to answer), this strategy offers the advantage of controlling the most territory the fastest. Any advantage a more cautious opponent gains militarily can be quickly overcome with a greater industrial/research base once conflict breaks out.

The second strategy could be considered the default strategy. It's the strategy the AI always uses. I will call it "Cautious Expansion". Really this isn't a single strategy so much as a spectrum. Expansion is still the focus, but some basic military/defense tech is researched and probably some military ships are built to make one's empire a less appealing target for any opponents with less-than-entirely-peaceful intentions.

If these two strategies were the only strategies around, it's my contention that the Reckless Expansion strategy would "always" (subject perhaps to some considerations of random starting positions, starting species, and diplomatic dynamics outside the scope of pure strategy) be the dominant/better strategy. As long as the Reckless player doesn't overexpand, the inherent advantage of "front loading" expansion and putting military build up off as long as possible will result in an advantage when conflict occurs.

Thus (again i imagine) some intrepid player trots out a Rush strategy. Why colonize when i can just start building my military from the start, find someone playing a Reckless Expansion strategy, and colonize that player's worlds by force at smaller cost (troop ships < colony ships (or outpost ship + colony building) PP-wise) and greater reward (more population when obtained).

Of course, being a non-zero sum game this Rush strategy is extremely risky, but it's my contention that it's necessary to keep it at least somewhat viable, if it's desirable to maintain this particular sort of strategic diversity (which i admit may not exist at all... it's pretty much just how i imagine things might go).

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Re: Early game strategic diversity

#2 Post by Ophiuchus » Sat Sep 21, 2019 8:16 pm

alleryn wrote:
Sat Sep 21, 2019 6:29 am
Thus (it is my imagination) arise three basic strategies in the early game. First, the player can embark on what i will call "Reckless Expansion". This is essentially the strategy in the one-player scenario. Don't build any military ships, don't research any military tech, just expand as fast as possible. As long as the player tempers herself from expanding too far (how much is too much is a difficult question to answer), this strategy offers the advantage of controlling the most territory the fastest. Any advantage a more cautious opponent gains militarily can be quickly overcome with a greater industrial/research base once conflict breaks out.
Even against AI you have to be careful not to colonize places your opponents will invade.

This "one" strategy is actually many different strategies. The thing which unifies these strategies is that your expansion is limited by research and colonization PP cost.

As exploration usually is faster than expansion there are many tradeoffs. Are you going further for juicier targets. How much are you using outposts? Are you invading natives to improve you capabilites, especially environmentally. Are you going into hiding so you do not have to care about your enemy invading.
Any code or patches in anything posted here is released under the CC and GPL licences in use for the FO project.

Furthermore, I propse... we should default to four combat rounds instead of three ...for the good of playerkind.

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alleryn
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Re: Early game strategic diversity

#3 Post by alleryn » Sun Sep 22, 2019 5:44 am

Ophiuchus wrote:
Sat Sep 21, 2019 8:16 pm
Even against AI you have to be careful not to colonize places your opponents will invade.
This is true to some extent, but it's pretty easy to beat the AI never researching a defense tech or military tech beyond MD4 (at least until late game when you have more colonies, PP, and RP than all other empires combined) and just out expanding and outproducing it. (of course just about anything works). This is, at least in part, because there is no danger of getting "rush"ed by the AI, so a full-expansion strategy basically will always work. (An extremely bad start or player greed can interfere though ;P)
This "one" strategy is actually many different strategies. The thing which unifies these strategies is that your expansion is limited by research and colonization PP cost.

As exploration usually is faster than expansion there are many tradeoffs. Are you going further for juicier targets. How much are you using outposts? Are you invading natives to improve you capabilites, especially environmentally. Are you going into hiding so you do not have to care about your enemy invading.
Maybe it's semantics, but i'd call this one strategy with adapting to circumstances (how many colonizable worlds are there... do you need colony ship instead of an outpost ship b/c out of supply, an outpost ship to extend supply, are there natives to 'colonize', etc).

By different strategies (and again probably semantics), i mean are you playing differently starting on the first turn. Does your strategy inform what you build, what you put in your tech tree, which focus you choose on turn one? (Stuff like 'oh there's a gas giant in the next system over with two worlds i can colonize i'll go straight for Orbital Generation instead of Adaptive Automation' doesn't count -- that's still just adapting to circumstance).

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Re: Early game strategic diversity

#4 Post by Ophiuchus » Mon Sep 23, 2019 1:04 pm

alleryn wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 5:44 am
By different strategies (and again probably semantics), i mean are you playing differently starting on the first turn. Does your strategy inform what you build, what you put in your tech tree, which focus you choose on turn one?
For me - of course you have a general starting strategy. But it is fuzzy because if you stick to it no matter what you will play suboptimal. So you adapt or switch depending on your discoveries.
alleryn wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 5:44 am
Stuff like 'oh there's a gas giant in the next system over with two worlds i can colonize i'll go straight for Orbital Generation instead of Adaptive Automation' doesn't count -- that's still just adapting to circumstance).
I would call that a (small) change of research strategy - and if you need exobots for your grand strategy you maybe will stick with your original research strategy.
But if you discover an easy to grab ancient ruins maybe your whole empire needs to behave differently (research, production, outpost and fleet placement, foreign affairs) - that is certainly a change of strategy to me.

The further you move up the abstraction chain the fewer the strategies you get. So basically there are only two strategies: you want to win or you want to loose (So actually there is only one strategy ;)
Any code or patches in anything posted here is released under the CC and GPL licences in use for the FO project.

Furthermore, I propse... we should default to four combat rounds instead of three ...for the good of playerkind.

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Oberlus
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Re: Early game strategic diversity

#5 Post by Oberlus » Mon Sep 23, 2019 2:23 pm

I agree with Alleryn that small changes in the order of the techs you have already on your priority queue does not count as a "real" strategy change. I would call it "research tactics" more than "research strategy".

Big, broad, long term (research) early strategies that I or others seem to use:
- Distributed with stockpile and stealth <-> Connected with supply and military
- Research focused <-> Industry focused
Distributed tends to go well with Research, and Connected with Industry, but the other two combinations also work.

If we can expand this pool of early strategies it would be nice. Certainly, reducing it would be terrible, so any modification to the current balance of colonisation/invasion costs and benefits needs to consider this carefully.
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