Etmirku! Give Me Back My Space Legions!



Seeing how I had planned on playing countless hours of Creative Assembly's Total War: Rome 2 by now, I knew that any blog posting I managed to squeeze in would probably begin with Emperor Augustus' anguished cry at the loss of his legions in the Teutoburg Forest (actual quote: "Quintili Vare! Legiones redde!" Transaltion: "Quintilius Varus! Give me back my legions!").  Of course, I am not playing Rome 2 because it arrived in CA's habitually buggy and incomplete state (yet further reinforcing my belief that game design has now become so complex that gamers will need to "lay down" their games for a period of time so that they can fully mature, just like wine).  So I needed to find another reason to use the quote (skip it?  Never!).  With that in mind, blogging about Arcen Games' masterful AI War: Fleet Command seemed to fit the bill nicely since it did, in fact, get me to exclaim something similar!

Briefly, AI War is a wonderfully genre-bending game (my review of the base game here) where the elements of traditional 4X Strategy are combined with such disparate elements as Tower Defense, Real Time Strategy, and even a touch of Role Playing (if one includes the Ancient Shadows expansion).   Take this thoroughly original - and daring! - mix, and add in perhaps the best AI opponent this side of the world of Chess, and you have what I believe will go down as one of the all time classic space strategy games of all time (it has already grossed over $1 million dollars).

Now, why the anguish....

Here was the sitrep:



After a four hour campaign, I had finally discovered the home planet of one of the enemy AIs (there are two AIs per game).  It is there at Demvu (red star).  Unfortunately for my forces located at the forward base of "Fort" Pefen, the AI home world was locked behind the formidably defended gate planet of Etmirku.  One way or the other, I would need to capture that planet. 
Now, I wasn't at all worried going into this assault.  Up until now, every AI planet I attacked quickly fell under my control.  Sure, the AI might retaliate with a raid at one of my planets, but I was more than able to fight a two front war since the AI didn't reckon me as a major threat...yet.  It would only throw some harassing forces in my direction out of spite.  No problem.

So, going into this planetary assault did not concern me at all.  With that in mind, I put together a large-ish fleet (what I thought was a "large-ish fleet" at that point, anyway!) of about 250 ships, comprised of Human and Spire designs, and went into the attack:


Upon making transit, we discovered 111 ships defending an AI Command HQ, a space fortress, and two or three inter-galactic warp gates (the AI brings in reinforcements through these).  Into the attack we went....


...and none ever came out alive! Gone!  Finished!  Atomized!

I was astonished by the raw destructive power the enemy AI had unleashed upon my 250 ships!  Hadn't seen anything like it up to now!  The enemy space fortress obliterated large swathes of my fleet with its Mark III weaponry, and what was left was finished off by the AI's fleet of advanced Mark V missile frigates, fighters and bombers (with the exception of my Mark IV missile frigates, unlocked by hacking an AI Manufacturing Base, all my forces were Mark I or II).  We never had a chance, especially after the AI called in 30% of its strategic reserve as reinforcements.  

It was 300, but in space - and the humans were the Spartans...again.

Okay, okay.  Slight misstep with the initial invasion, I thought.  This clearly wasn't going to be just another invasion.  No big deal.  We just needed to make a few changes.  Like more ships.  In fact, more ships should do it all on its own, right?  So, with that in mind....

Meet Task Force Phoenix:


That was what I was talking about!  96 Mark IV missile frigates, 90 Mark III missile frigates, 7 stealth battleships (Mark I & II mix), 96 Mark II bombers, 95 Mark II fighters, and more.  Altogether, 421 vessels poised to unleash photonic death upon the AI!  Nearly double the first fleet! I even delved into the realm of WMDs...oh yeah, I went there.  Two lightning warhead equipped missiles were going along for the ride.

Attack!

>Recording Start:1331 Hours Standard / Planetary Well: Echo 96, designate "Etmirku" /  Voice identified as Admiral Farner, CO Task Force Phoenix<

====================================

1331: "Keep it tight, people.  We have the drop on them this time.  They aren't even reacting to our presence...."  >static<

1334: "Okay, they are reacting now...." >burst of static< "Definitely reacting.  Holy smokes...."
          1340: "Starboard!  I said starboard damn..." >garbled<
1344: "Keep the battleships out of range of that fortress....>garbled<

1353: "What do you mean 'our bombers are all gone'?"     >static<
          1355: "My spleen!  They vaporized my spleen!"

=====================================

>End Recording<

A scout ship was dispatched after Fort Pefen lost contact with Task Force Phoenix.  It managed to take a low resolution scan of the final moments of the battle and beam it back to Pefen before being vaporized by enemy fire:



It is important to note that even the admiral's flagship was destroyed by this point in the battle.  Likewise, it appeared that Task Force Phoenix was reduced to a mere 170-odd ships within minutes of joining battle!  Unbelievable!

We had another complete loss on our hands!

Arghh!!!!

To say that I was now stymied is an understatement.  Task Force Phoenix was the best I had to offer; it literally broke my fledgling anti-AI resistance movement's economy to assemble all that equipment, not to mention completely depleting a bunch of uncommon Reptite and Pysite asteroid fields to produce those Spire-designed battleships. I was now bereft of resources and ideas.

Back to the drawing board....


Another direct assault on Etmirku was out of the equation.  I needed more mineral and crystals to rebuild my forces, not to mention more asteroid fields for the more exotic Spire vessels.  I also had come to believe that I just plain needed a new vessel entirely, a new design not currently in my engineers' repertoire.  So I sent out a bunch of scout ships and soon discovered the ideal candidate for our next attack: Planet Savlea. 

It had everything I needed: more metal and crystal fields to support my line production, a replacement field of Reptite and Pysite asteroids, and an AI Design Data Center just waiting to be hacked.  Capturing this planet would even allow me to deploy one of my science labs, garnering me some additional research points.  And best of all, it was lightly defended.

I quickly whipped up a raiding force and invaded from Charralnow's warp point:


While my line vessels kept the 30-odd defending AI ships busy, my Hacker outpost deployed its gear and began to hack the local network.  Before long we had breached its firewall and started downloading plans for the AI's "Space Tank".  I loved the sound of it already!


I immediately put the design into production, fully intent on using its shells and armor against the defenders of Etmirku.

Next up, I decided to take a different tack with the WMDs.  I built a single powerful EMP warhead, something that would short out the defenders shields, engines and weapons for a brief few seconds.  Detonating it would provoke the AI - it adds +6 per detonation to the AI's progress  - but I knew I needed all the help I could get.  The EMP would be the perfect way to kick off our return visit to Etmirku.

Last part of the plan: get my factories churning out as many vessels as we could support.  I called in ships from all over friendly space: from my home world of Ijiverae, to the far distant outpost planet of Raelar, and even from the automated starship factory on Charralnow.

The starship factory on Charralnow

We churned out ships until we ran out of resources.  Then we mined some more and started the production chain up again.  And again!  And again!  Before long, we had a massive armada ready to go.  Meet the Grand Fleet:


Over 200 missile frigates of all marks, almost 150 bombers (including 90 new Mark IV bombers, produced at the aforementioned captured AI Manufacturing Base), 90 odd bighters, and almost 90 of the new space tanks.  There were also 5 Spire battleships, and assorted rammers and penetrators, as well as a single shield bearer.  We even took along 40 armor rotters, and two capitals: a Mark II Fleet Flagship, and a bombardment capital.  And more!  All in all, this new Grand Fleet had over 550 ships when fully assembled.  Time to let slip the dogs of war!

I launched the EMP warhead to kick off the attack:

It exited the wormhole and entered Etmirku proper

It cruised towards the enemy outpost.  The AI recognized the danger and quickly opened fire

Detonation!  AI electronics offline!


The EMP warhead did its job, now it was time for the Grand Fleet to make the jump into Etmirku!  "Remember Task Force Phoenix!" cried the men!



The Grand Fleet made its mighty entrance!  I noticed the AI was still suffering the effects of the EMP blast with shields down and engines offline (this is why the enemy icons are flashing red).  I order the attack to commence.


Unlike my previous two engagements, I decided to personally handle the Grand Fleet.  I kept everyone in formation, and under the protection of the Spire Shield Bearer.  No hotdogging allowed!  Let's just steamroll them!


Unfortunately for us, the AI Command Center is of the "Gravitic"pattern, meaning it slowed down our movement.  Because of this enforced delaying tactic, our Shield Bearer succumbed to the overwhelming firepower of the AI while we are still only half way to our target.  Worse, while our shield was down, the AI recovered from the EMP attack and got its shield back online.  Casualties mounted up quickly: the Grand Fleet was down to a shocking 299 vessels at this point - roughly 50% casualties!  But we kept the pressure on and kept firing with everything we had.


After much effort, we got the AI's shield to contract a fair bit, and exposed the enemy fortress.  Pile it on, boys!  Sadly, we were now down to a mere 200 ships!  Ouch! Our Grand Fleet was not so grand anymore....


By this point in the battle, it was largely up to my bombers and Spire battleships (boy am I glad I invested in those Mark IV bombers!).  The rest of the force was almost completely depleted! 

And then it happened...the AI fortress crumbled under the weight of my bombers concentrated attacks and exploded!  The AI Command Center was left defenseless.  Finish them off!


Now the Grand Fleet was down to a fifth of its former size, around 130 odd vessels!  All formation had broken down, so I gave the order to just do what needed to be done (hence, why that Spire ship is so close to the enemy!).  We were almost out of juice...but so were they.  If...we...could...just...hold...on...a...few...more...seconds.....

BOOM!!!!

We did it!  The enemy base's shield suddenly collapsed, and the base exploded under our concentrated firepower!   The Gatekeeper had fallen!  We finally had taken Etmirku, and with it, the keys to the AI home world of Demvu!

But the cost was staggering.  The Grand Fleet was down to a mere 100 vessels.  Wow.  It had barely enough vessels to clean out the last of the scattered defenders, but little else.  Worse, my economy had yet to recover from all the expended resources putting the fleet together, so replacements would be a long time coming.  We wouldn't be assaulting Demvu any time soon. Instead, we went on the defensive:


As you can see here, we built a bunch of defensive turrets, and mined the heck out of the wormhole originating from Demvu!  LOL!  Just in case the AI decided to take the war to us!

I have to be honest:  I now dread the idea of making an assault on the AI home world.  Seeing the horrific casualties we suffered taking the Gatekeeper down,  I shudder to think what horrors awaits us in that gravity well.  Not looking forward to it.

But, for now, I can put that attack out of my mind.  Now it will be a time to rebuild my forces and to make some lateral moves.  I haven't decided just what my next strategy will be, but there are some interesting possibilities. I might free some Spire civilians trapped in Luschr, for example.  or I might do a "deep strike" and take out an AI Database located in the distant gravity well of Lauapeaeo, something that will serve to lower the peeved AI's aggressiveness.  Then there is that deep space signal to investigate.  One of those, probably.  But definitely not Demvu!  Not, at least, until I build a few nukes (and I know I am going to need them!).


I hope you enjoyed this AAR that was just a mere clip of the action in my most recent AI War campaign!

And remember....




* Header artwork from Taitale's Studios' Novus Aeterno
* Spaceship Factory by Andree Wallin
* Closing poster from Ender's Game 

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