By: M. L. Maurer
INTRODUCTION: Many guides exist on the Net for the various races of VGA Planets (created by Tim Wisseman- Thanks, Tim!), but I've found that the Crystals are often overlooked, or even worse, ignored. This is an overview of strategies and tips that I've collected from as many sources as I could find, with some personal experiences and experiments thrown in.
IS THE CRYSTALS THE RACE FOR YOU? Who plays the Crystals? Well, for one, those players who like to use strategy instead of brute force. You will have to be careful, and efficient. You will be the Spider, spinning your webs, and enticing flies into your proverbial parlor! If you like a style of play which allows you to mount offensive forays early on in the game, or prefer a very aggressive strategy involving fleets of Carriers, then the Crystals probably won't be the race for you. If, however, you enjoy carefully laying traps and out-thinking and out-maneuvering your opponents, then you may well enjoy what the Crystals have to offer. The Crystals are a thinking man's race: you have to be twice the forethought as the other players, and the satisfaction of outwitting your enemies is twice as sweet. There's nothing quite like sending a strike force against an enemy made up of ships that were previously theirs!
WEB MINES: The Crystals are justifiably famous for one thing: Web Mines. They are the blessing and curse of the Crystals, for not only do they provide their major defensive and offensive weapons, their creation will drain from the Crystals a huge portion of their money and resources. The key to using the Crystals is to set up a healthy economy, and use that economy to create sufficient Web Mine fields. The fields must be placed and used carefully, or you will be wasting precious resources that will be needed elsewhere. As you can see, the effective Crystal player must be a master strategist and economist at the same time! When you place your web mines, your best tactic is to create small overlapping fields instead of one massive one. The reason for this is straight-forward: many small fields are much more difficult to detect and sweep, and enemy ships caught in overlapping fields will lose 25 kt of fuel for EACH field that they are in. Web mines are in some ways more effective than the regular version, because they have a better chance of hitting an enemy ship (the Host default is 5% per light year travelled). A ship hit by them only takes 10% of normal mine damage, but the ship hitting them loses 50 kt or 1/6th of their fuel (whichever is greater), and will set the ship's speed to zero, so that they lose another 25 kt of fuel at the beginning of the next turn for simply being in the field. Cloakers will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage, since they run the same risk of hitting a web mine cloaked as uncloaked. The damage that they sustain from a web mine hit will usually damage the ship enough to prevent re-cloaking anyway. As an added bonus, web mine fields will drain the fuel from a ship even though that ship is in orbit around a planet! Enemy ships trying to sweep your web mines must be within the web mine field, if the Host leaves the default setting.
WEB MINE PLACEMENT: Now, where to put your web mine fields? Around planets to stop sneaky cloakers from waiting there in ambush. In main trade routes to protect your ships, or in an enemy's trade route to disrupt their shipping. The disrupting power of a well placed web mine field plopped in the middle of an enemy's territory can be frightening (hence the need for a good cloaking ship or two!) To lay them in your territory, place the web mine field, wait a few turns, scoop them up again, and move the field somewhere else. Keep your opponents guessing where your web mine fields are located. You will need to have a couple of web-tending ships to keep your webs in good shape and to capture fuelless ships, especially if fuelless ships are configured by the Host to be able to move.
USEFUL SHIPS: The ships available to the Crystal player range from the tremendously effective to the dismally useless. The main bonus of the Crystal ships is the comparatively massive cargo space- ideal for all of those torpedoes that you will be shuttling about. The backbone of your fleet should be the Emerald and the Ruby, along with accompanying Opals. If these ships are your backbone, then the Diamond Flame and the Crystal Thunder will be your fists. In a Shareware game, the Emerald is one of the most powerful ships available, as well as being one seriously armed freighter. The Ruby can lay one heck of a mine field, and with its two engines, can be used for tow-capturing as well (explained in greater detail later). Many ignorant players have ignored the disruptive capability of a single Ruby, to their later sorrow. To be effectively offensive, you will need to beg, borrow, or steal a good cloaking ship. The Privateer's Meteor Class Blockade Runner is ideal, due to the Gravatronic engines, followed by the Lizard Class Cruiser and many of the Bird's cloaking ships. The threat of a cloaking web mine layer will make most players sweat! Opals make good scouts, especially in the Early turns- use them to drop 1 clan per planet until you find a really rich planet to colonize properly. The planets with single clans on them will additionally extend your radar range, and let you know if anyone is sneaking through your territory. As well, Opals can drop small and effective web mine fields, as long as they have at least Mark 4 torpedo tubes. The Diamond Flame is a fairly good ship, but is deadly when coupled with a Crystal Thunder. In such a combination, with the Diamond Flame attacking first, you can take out most other ships, such as a Virgo. The Diamond Flame will take down the enemy ship's shields, and the Crystal Thunder will mop it up. Be careful with your Crystal Thunders- you don't get to make free fighters, and a full carrier is a huge investment of resources. Don't be reluctant to try some battle sims, using the WinPlan VCR Sim, or any of the other available sim programs. You will find that your two Big Ships are nothing to sneeze at. When you create your battle groups, don't forget to set the friendly codes properly on your ships to set up the appropriate battle order. When building your ships, don't bother putting beams other than X-ray lasers on your ships. You will be using the beams mainly to capture enemy freighters, or to knock out enemy fighters, for which an X-ray laser is just as effective as a Tech 10 beam. If you feel that you need a little extra power in your beams, use Blasters. Don't forget or ignore the Onyx. Your race loves hot planets, the hotter the better. 100 degrees is ideal. Don't use the Onyx singally, or it will take forever to raise the tempature of a planet. Use them in groups of at least five, with an Emerald and a web mine field or three to guard them as they do their work. If you find useful Natives on a planet stocked with tons of minerals, just cook it. Not only will it be better for your own colonists, but if you lose the planets, other races will find the planet almost useless.
BATTLE GROUPS: If you follow the wise strategy of having standardized Battle Groups, a good choice is 3 or 4 Opals with a Ruby or an Emerald. The Opals will have a Mark 4 torpedo tube, while the Ruby or Emerald should have Mark 4 or Mark 8 tubes. The idea is this: the Emerald or Ruby will be able to carry a pile of torpedoes, which it transfers to the Opals as needed. The Opals take short runs away from the main ship to lay their small, overlapping web mine fields, afterwards returning to the main ship for more torpedoes and fuel. If the main ship has Mark 8 torpedoes, so much the better- it can lay a large mine field, which can be scooped up by the Opals to be laid elsewhere- the Mark 8 torpedoes will thus be converted to a much larger amount of Mark 4's. Naturally, the latter tactic is useless for the Shareware player; another good reason to Register! When the Opals of your web-mining group drop their mines, make sure that they are at different locations to achieve the overlapping web effect. You may want to throw the occasional normal mine field in the middle of your web fields for that extra punch.
CAPTURING SHIPS: The Crystals (as well as the Privateers) have the wonderful ability to board a fuelless ship by towing it (note that you will probably need a ship with two engines to do this, depending on the Host configuration). This will allow you to take immediate possession of any ship caught fuelless (in your web mine fields or not), so that you do not have to tow it back to the nearest Starbase to force a capture. If your web mines take the last of a ship's fuel, you will receive a message that the ship is now harmless and out of fuel. If you tow-capture repeatedly with the same ship, watch your crew numbers. When you tow-capture, the crew of your towing ship will be divided to provide the crew for the new ship. Some races will have a percentage of their crew turn traitor and join you: 100% of Privateers, 90% of Feds, 70% of Colonials, and 40% of Empire crew members will stay on the captured ship. If you let your crew numbers of your ships drop too low, you run the risk of being easily captured in the event of a battle. Replenish your crews at starbases, using the Fix Ship function. As the game hits the ship limit, being able to capture enemy ships gives you a distinct advantage!
HINTS TO THE WISE: One tactic that will lose you the game quickly is to be too aggressive early in the game. The Crystals need to be patient, in order to develop their economy before tackling other races. Don't reveal the location of your homeworld or location for as long as you can- hop from planet to planet in one turn jumps, avoiding being caught in open space. When your location becomes general knowledge, the weaker cloaking races will generally tend to steer clear of your territory, as they will have much easier prey elsewhere. You will probably not want to play the Crystals in games where regular mines are able to destroy web mines, if players can mine-sweep your fields at a distance, where your homeworld does not start at 100 degrees, or in games where the Colonies are allowed to fighter-sweep them away. Playing the Crystals effectively is challenging enough without these handicaps.
OTHER RACES: What will help your game immensely is your choice of allies. Yes, you need allies: a game where you have 11 enemies will be a very short one. Your major drawbacks can be offset with a good ally, whether they can provide you with cloaking ships, free fighters, cloning ships for you, etc. You can offer your ally the service of having web-mine fields laid for them. Web mines laid in another race's ID will not drain 25 kt of fuel per turn, but they will take fuel if someone else blunders into their mine field. Best of all, should an alliance go sour, you cannot be hurt by web mines that you have put down for someone else- you are always immune to them and their effects! The Feds make a good ally for you, as they can clone your ships, and take those ships, Super- refit them, and then return them to you. The Feds are also usually grateful for web-mine protection against cloaked ships, especially Lizard ships, which are immune to the effects of their anti-cloaking Loki ship. The Lizards can make good allies, as they can provide you with cloaking ships, can back up your offensive efforts with their high ground-attack ratio, and can use their Hiss mission to help you squeeze the last few tax credits out of your colonies. The Birds can offer you cloaking ships, as well as providing the much-needed stealthy Information you sorely lack. The Crystals can always use a few good cloaking battleships, whether they trade for them, or capture them. The Birds will prefer to trade them for protection against more powerful races. They can clone for you as well. The Fascists have cloaking ships to offer you, as well as the famed Glory Device ships, which may come in handy in case any enemy cloakers get past your webs. They can clone for you, and get rid of some pesky Amorphous natives for you. All in all, not a stellar ally. The Privateers have good reason to respect you- next to the Lizards, you are probably their most feared enemy. A few of your web mines can put a serious wrench into their plans- heck, most races that you ally with will be looking at your web mines to protect them from the Privateers! They can't hover long around planets in a web mine field, and they run a good chance of hitting a mine field every time they enter one. However, as allies, they are very useful. Best of all, their Meteor Class Blockade Runner is second to none in the covert mine-laying department. Together, the two of you could strip every other race of any ship you want! Just think- a fully-loaded Virgo is chasing your Ruby; you drop small mine fields, robbing him of precious fuel. The Virgo finally catches up, thinking that he has lots of fuel left... too bad there's a couple of cloaked Privateer ships at the waypoint waiting to take the rest of his precious fuel away... The Cyborgs have their HYP ship, which can zip right past your mines to whatever planet they have in their range. Note that this is one more good reason to have those rotating small web mine fields around your planets. The Cyborgs can offer you cloning, and that's about it, unless you can talk him out of a chunneling Firecloud or two (fat chance). Not a great ally for you. The Evil Empire can help you. Yes, they can clone, but better still, they can provide you with free fighters for those Crystal Thunder carriers. As well, their Dark Sense can give you vital information, as well as having HYP ships, should you need to expand your empire more quickly. The Robots make very good allies. Building fighters in space has obvious benefits for you, and they can clone ships for you. Best of all are their Mine-laying abilities. Picture this- they lay mines for you, you scoop them up, and lay web mines for them. Lots of free mines floating around out there... cloakers, beware! Together you can make the Echo cluster a very, very hazardous place. If the host is configured allowing regular mines to destroy web mines, this is an added incentive for you to stay on the Robot's good side. The Rebels are a good ally as well, thanks to their ability to build fighters cheaply. They can clone for you, as well as using their Rebel Ground Attack to soften up enemies for you. They have a HYP ship too. The Colonies are good allies with their fighter-building capability, as well as their cloning ability. If your host is configured to let them fighter-sweep web mines, being on their good side is an obvious plus.
SUMMARY: As a summary, remember these important points: Stay hidden as long as possible at the beginning of the game. Establish an excellent economy. Build effective battle groups, laying small, overlapping web mine fields. Don't be too aggressive too early on. Get a good ally or two. Be sure to read the guides for the other races to know your enemies; forewarned is forearmed. The DreadLord Battle Manual is a good place to start. Most of all, have fun playing the thinking man's race, and be sure to thank your gracious and generous opponents for all of those free ships!!
This compilation was assembled by M. L. Maurer, in February, 1998. For comments, suggestions, questions, or outright flattery please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org Please feel free to distribute freely, but do not make any changes to the text. Thank-you.