Strategy: So You Wanna Be A Privateer
By: Mark R. Wilmot
Part I: Introduction
So you wanna be a Privateer, eh? Wanna streak across the galaxy – yet like a shadow dancing from star to star? Wanna strike fear into the hearts of your enemies – siphoning their ships and stealing them away without a trace? You wanna curse Loki’s and quiver at the smell of webs? Do ya got what it takes?
If so… Read on!
It’s unlikely that any other race in the galaxy can evoke as an emotional debate as the Privateers. A great deal of discussion has been devoted to their tactics and counter-tactics on The Internet, various BBS’s, and online services such as American Online and CompuServe. Over the past several years, I’ve collected a large amount of Privateer related material in my wandering through Cyberspace, and contributed a few comments myself in these various forums or in private email in response to questions from various players. What follows is a synthesis of this with the experience I’ve gained firsthand over the course of several games as a Privateer. Hopefully this discourse will prove enlightening to beginner and experienced player alike.
Note: I’ve never played using PHOST. There can be some significant differences due to the wider range of options under PHOST. Overall though, I believe the general principles I discuss are equally applicable.
I. Whether or not to play the Privateers.
When contemplating playing the Privateers in a newly forming game there are a number of factors which should be carefully considered. Too many players drop out because they failed to fully perceive their starting situation and get frustrated when things don’t work out as they thought they should. If the host will not provide this information before you make your race selection, look for another game – there are always others forming. While some may think of this as quibbling, think about it for a minute… If you’re going to play a game lasting between 60 -120 turns and invest six months to a year of time to game, you might as well make sure you don’t have the deck stacked against you from the start. Or at least, be fully aware of the disadvantages you face should you decide to go with the Privateers.
1. What are the master settings?
Economic – MC/Minerals
Generally, the Privateers fare better, the weaker the economic starting situation. Privateer ships and bases are considerably cheaper to bring online both in terms of money and minerals. The threat the Privateer poses to others is likewise greater the poorer the starting conditions as the Privateer can cripple enemy economies much faster. Enemy defenses are also correspondingly weaker as Loki’s are a TL7 ship, mines cost valuable MC and minerals, and planetary defenses soak up a bigger part of capital if developed. Naturally, if there’s less neutronium – ROB missions are going to be a lot more painful for the victim and success is more likely. If money is maxed out to start, you will not be able to prevent enemies from maxing out their R&D at their HomeWorld since they’ll have sufficient funds to develop key TL initially.
Normally, the greater the distance between HomeWorld’s, the better the Privateers will do. Their gravitonics and lower fuel costs make rapid expansion easy and you’ll reach your neighbors twice as fast as they will reach you in nearly all cases. Starting at medium range or less, your HomeWorld is very vulnerable to your neighbors. However, you can reach your neighbors HomeWorld within two turns yourself and could potentially knock their economy for a real loop if you take out one or two crucial early ships. Personally, I’d never play them at medium or less.
Less than a 3 million start and you’re vulnerable to getting your HomeWorld knocked off by Lizard – or even Fascist – ground assault. More importantly, the Borg’s assimilation can quickly overwhelm the rest of the galaxy in production capability.
2. What are the HCONFIG settings?
HCONFIG setting can radically change the whole nature of the game. Failing to find these out before hand can be quite fatal. If these are other than default you’ll definitely want to know the differences beforehand. Settings of particular interest include the ROB%, Cloak fail%, Cloak fuel cost, tow-capture, cloaked hit mine%, mine/web hit% and – last but not least – Ion Storms.
- Rob% by default is 1%. Many hosts increase this a bit – I use 5% in the games I host. If this is increased dramatically however, you’re going to be have serious problems as ROB is your bread ‘n butter. I’d think very carefully about playing in any game where this was more than 10% unless the Privateers were compensated in some way by other settings.
- Cloak Failure default is 0%. Many hosts use 1% – anything more should be avoided as you’ll lose a lot more ships over the course of the game at higher settings. Even 1% will result in a trickle of losses if you have a large fleet operating in enemy space. Be prepared.
- Cloak Fuel cost default is 5 Kt. per turn. This can really limit the range of operation of your BR4’s and BR5’s with their smaller fuel tanks. I would avoid any games with higher than default settings. Some hosts play with lower costs – this will really help you.
- Tow-Capture is ON by default. If this is OFF, you should forget about playing the Privateers as you’ll have a difficult time benefiting from your ROB mission since you’ll have to tow the enemy ship back to one of your bases to force surrender.
- Cloaked ships hit mines defaults to .5%. If this is raised substantially, it will seriously hamper your ability to threaten other players and you’ll lose a lot more ships to minefields.
- Webs default to 5% and being cloaked DOESN’T reduce the odds of hitting web mines. If this is increased more than 2%, you’ll not want to be anywhere near Crystals at all – regardless of your race.
- Ion Storms default to ON with 5 Storms. Ion Storms are a nightmare for cloakers. Aside from the Resolute and Darkwing in the latest version of Host, no ships can cloak in Ion Storms. Ion Storms are unpredictable and uncontrollable. I generally avoid games with Ion Storms like the plague. If other setting are favorable I can tolerate a 1 or 2 Ion Storm setting, but otherwise – FORGET IT!!!
3. What Add-on’s are in going to be used?
There are many add-on’s for VGAP floating around. All of them bring new twists and challenges to the game. Some of these really can benefit the Privateers others can really make life miserable. The whole analysis of add-on’s could easily fill a full FAQ, so I’ll limit myself to making just a few comments regarding a few of the more common ones.
Sphere/PWRAP: This is a two edged sword. You can now easily expand quickly in any direction – but people can now come at you from all directions. I like these overall, but pay attention to the default seam between edges or you may end up where you weren’t expecting. Explore: You can quickly gain a better view of the galaxy since you can move twice as fast as your neighbors – always good. Tachyon: I hate this one. EVERYONE can de-cloak your ships:( Look VERY carefully at the number of ships, cost and frequency of use before jumping into a game using Tachyon. Normally I pass. JumpGate: You move twice as fast, why would you want others to be able to move around quicker? Not favorable. RacePlus: The Dwarfstar crew repair is nice, but watch out for those Fascist D3’s. If you though you could steal ships, wait till you get hit by one of these! You’ll also want to build some scouts with TL9 drives or Rebel Booby Traps may be a very nasty surprise. Nemesis: While the Cloak Tow looks inviting, the Robot Viral Field is just too nasty – avoid if being run at defaults. FHOST: You can be attacked at a distance by fighters and missiles. This dramatically reduces your ability to snag enemy ships since they don’t need to move into orbit to takeout your worlds. If ships on ROB mission are not immune to attack from fighters, then pass on playing the Privateers. Aliens!: You have some protection the others don’t. Live long and prosper, but watch out for the critters all the same – they are VERY nasty.
4. Is an alternate ship list going to be used?
There are many alternate ships lists in circulation and hosts sometimes create their own. Some of these are really nice, but others really hose the Privateers. The only game I ever dropped out of was because of the ship list. The host refused to divulge the ship spec.’s before the game started so I didn’t find out about them until then. I discovered the MBR had been more than tripled in cost in terms of minerals/MC and it’s fuel capacity had been halved. I was not amused. If the ship list is non-standard and the host won’t provide it before you select your race – go elsewhere.
5. What are the victory conditions?
You’d be surprised at how often people seem to forget about the point of the game. Victory conditions are very important and have a major impact on selecting your race. There are a great many different ways to determining victory though the standard score and REF add-on are probably two of the more common ones.
The Privateers can do very well under the standard scoring system. They can expand quickly and seize many planets. Their ships are cheap so they can build a lot of them. Their bases require less R&D so you can get these up and running faster too.
The REF scenarios are generally much more challenging for the Privateers. The Invasion and Ashes scenarios are especially difficult as you initially lack the ships necessary to take out a well-developed HW. Given time, you can amass the required fleet through captures and trades, but usually not as quickly as the other races. The Hull Scenario isn’t much better since your effective ships are small, you won’t get as many points as other races per ship. The Election Scenario – votes received from natives/colonists is best avoided as the Borg should be able to win that one via assimilation very easily – you might be able to take second though as you expand faster so should find more natives earlier than the others. You can do very well in the Holy Moly Scenario as your ships aren’t very expensive in terms of minerals. In the Tantalus scenario, your superior speed should prove useful in finding the secret weapon.
Some games are scored based on ships destroyed, as the Privateers generally capture rather than destroy, you won’t do well in these.
Quite a few games use an alternative score which rewards players for maximizing their resources through building ships and bases. As the Privateers are one of the best races at moving/redistributing resources, you can do well here too, but will have to get more points through building bases as your ships simply aren’t very expensive and you’ll have a lot of resources unused.
6. Is there a time limit?
The Privateers usually do better in a shorter scenario due to their faster speed and lower ship/base development cost. The longer the game is set to last, The more likely enemy fleets will be able to rollback your early land grab and hunt down and eradicate your bases. On the other hand, once the 500 ship limit kicks in, your fleet is usually the only one which will continue to grow at a constant rate<g>!
Part II: Starting Out As the Privateers
II. Whether or not to play the Privateers.
So, you’re playing the Privateers and the first RST is open before you. Now what do you do? Your opening moves are probably the most important moves you’ll make during the game. Mess-up things initially, and you’ll have a very long game ahead of you. A great deal of electronic ink has been spilled on general starting strategies – though very little specifically for the Privateers. I will present a couple of these, and then what I myself generally use and why.
1. “Noah’s Ark” – The LDSF gambit.
Build a big boat (LDSF), and load all the animals – er, convicts – no colonists (Just what kind of people do you think live on a Privateer HW anyway?), save some room for supplies – maybe 100 or 200, and -if feeling really generous – add some MC’s and boldly set out for the nearest sizeable cluster. En-route, drop off a few colonist and supplies and any world you stop in at. If you find a really nice world, then unload a enough colonist to insure healthy development and press on to the next one. The idea is to jump-start your empire via an early massive economic expansion. There are those hosts who swear they can predict the winner of the game by simply seeing which player does this the quickest.
What you need: Hulls upgraded to TL6 and Drives to at least TL9 – and TL10 is better yet, as “speed is life”. You’ll also need plenty of colonists so this isn’t an option really if you’re playing in a “normal” population game. As the TL’s required are fairly high, you’ll also need a Rich or Very Rich start to upgrade your starbase and still have funds left to develop some kind of fleet for other activities.
Pro’s: Nearby clusters with good natives/minerals can be brought online very quickly. Early presence may deter other players from advancing that direction. Hyperjumping colonizers – particularly the Borg can be foiled too if defense posts are built up and planet FC set to NUK/ATT. The LDSF can collect existing and mined minerals to greatly speed up the building of new bases in the more distant cluster.
Con’s: If there are no decent worlds, you’ve wasted a lot of time and fuel – plus potential population growth at your HomeWorld. Your cloaking neighbor – or one who planet hops/hyperjumps, may have the great joy of confiscating and converting your LDSF to their cause. This can be very fatal in a game with restricted resources. I once had the great pleasure of nailing two such LDSF’s another player was trying to expand into what he imagined was safe empty space. Guess who built the first new starbase in that region. Also, if playing in a game with the Explore add-on, you won’t be able see much of the map so you may not know where the best clusters for expansion are initially.
Suggestions: Pass on this as an opening strategy. For the Privateers, it’s little better than a crap shoot. A couple of variations on this will be discussed later which are much safer and more economical. About the only time I’d consider this would be if playing in a medium range start – something I normally don’t do, and there was a cluster I could reach via planet hopping so as not to reveal my HW or my destination. In any case – this should be used to expand AWAY from known enemy territory, NOT towards it or you’ll risk the disaster mentioned above.
2. “The Grey Wolves” – The MBR strike.
Build several MBR’s and strike out in the direction of one, or more, neighbor(s). The goal is to cripple your opponent’s fleet before he’s had a real opportunity to expand or develop his economy or his fleet. Unleashing mayhem and terror early capitalizes on your major abilities from the start. The psychological impact of such a campaign is particularly effective vs. beginning players.
What you need: Hulls TL5, Drives TL9-10, Optionally Torp’s and Beams TL5. The optional weapons will allow you to easily destroy or capture small escorts and lay minefields to further disrupt his economy and expansion. If you go with the heavy weapons option, this will be more expensive in R&D than the others.
Pro’s: If you can capture his freighters and rob and tow-capture one or more initial warships, he may well never recover and you’ll have a free hand in expanding his direction. If you get really lucky, he may even go inactive and drop out. In such cases, the race might be killed off or turned over to one of the computer players – none good at handling Privateers – if the host is unable to get a replacement.
Con’s: As you’ll need to have 2-3 ships minimum working together, your own expansion in other directions will be slower. The cost of this task force will be a major drain unless in a very rich start. Conversely, the opening is less damaging in very rich starts as the opponent will have ample resources to develop his HW initially and can survive the loss a few ships as well if he’s maintained a reserve of MC and minerals. The more experienced the opponent, the less likely you’ll be able to do much more than slow him down some. As your own expansion is curtailed you’ll have to balance cost vs. the benefits of this opening.
Suggestion: In a game with minimal resources, this can be a very nasty opening. If you’re playing in game with a lot of beginners, it could also prove devastating. In a very rich game or with experienced players, this is much dicier course to follow initially. Better to send in the fleet later when your own economic stability is secured. Also – while you may send ships out in different directions searching for victims at the start of the game, NEVER actually initiate two such campaigns simultaneously or you’ll likely find yourself the victim of an multi-national Privateer eradication campaign!
3. “Lewis & Clark” – BR4 Survey
Build several BR4’s load them up with colonists and a couple of Kt.’s of supplies and send them out in all directions to scout the lay of the land at all surrounding worlds in an ever-widening circle from your HW. Drop a colonist at each non-amorphous world and 2 colonists and a supply at any world with natives. Once you’ve emptied the ship, you can either head back for more or press on in search other players freighters. Based on the results of your survey, you’ll know exactly which worlds and clusters are worth developing and which can be ignored, initially at least.
What you need: As the BR4’s a TL1 hull, you only need to upgrade drives to TL9-10 and you’re in business. You can optionally upgrade beams to TL3 if you want to be able to kill other races scouts instead of trying to rob/capture them – that’s time consuming and risky sometimes. I got a shock once when one of my BR4’s armed with x-rays got nailed by a puny Falcon armed with a heavy disrupter!
Pro’s: You don’t waste time and fuel sending a freighter full of stuff where it won’t prove profitable. The BR4 is the best surveyor in the game due to it’s low price, high-speed and low fuel consumption. You can maintain a cash/mineral reserve with which you can react to the discovery of good worlds or new neighbors. Should you lose a BR4 to an enemy, it’s not going to come back to haunt you nearly as badly as if you lost a BR5 or MBR – both having torp’s – the MBR having much greater towing capacity.
Con’s: Due to the low cargo capacity, you’ll have to return or rendezvous with another ship to restock. With a considerably smaller fuel capacity than an MBR, you won’t be able to Rob enemy ships you may encounter as effectively. In the long run, MBR’s are more versatile for use in the Privateer fleet. Economic development is a little slower initially while the surveying ships are being built and sent out. You must be careful to save sufficient resources to exploit the survey results.
Suggestions: This is generally the opening strategy I use. If it’s a very rich start, I upgrade some of the BR4’s scouts to MBR’s instead. I also build many of the BR4’s with TL9 drives as they’re significantly cheaper (also in games with RacePlus, you won’t get toasted by Rebel booby-traps as they only affect TL10 drive equipped ships). I normally put 16 clans and 4 supplies aboard so I can hit 12-16 worlds before I need to re-supply.