Stars!-R-Us Article

Devising a Strategy
by: Bruce Poon

The following discussion is intended as a guide to the strategic planning process in Stars! The example strategies have been omitted due to them being posted in the *masters* guide (hushed silence). If you find this useful, great. If you think it's crap, equally cool.

The Strategic Planning process for success in Stars!

I have seen more wargames and/or strategic games lost due to lack of a Strategic Concept than any other cause (although blatant stupidity runs a close second). Working to a well understood strategy will almost always separate the Human player from the weak AIs commonly found in games. In order of importance for winning a game of this type are:

  • Politics
  • Strategy
  • Tactics

    Note that we have highly trained specialists at the tactical and strategic level of our defence establishment. At the level making the most important decisions, we have people who are popular (!?). While most of the ‘tips of the masters’ for Stars! have concentrated on tactics and finesse, it is important for successful play that appropriate overall strategies are selected. Tips about politics will have to wait for another discussion.

    The following discussion is based on a simple model of Strategic Planning as might be used in many businesses or other organisations. It is equally applicable to a complex game system like Stars! The hints provided certainly do not guarantee a win and are to be used as guidance only. I take no responsibility for you losing to the next bunch of space faring anarchists who come roaring out of nowhere at Warp 10 and create mayhem without any rhyme or reason behind their play. Some of the suggested strategies may or may not work against competent human players.

    The Mission

    The Mission in Stars! is simple. You need to win! There are no draws, agreed placings or other compromises generally allowed. In order to analyse how to do this, we need to go 1 level down, to the...

    Overall Objectives

    These are set fairly clearly in Stars! by the Victory Conditions. The potential choices are:

  • Owns (20-100)% of all planets
  • Obtains Tech Level (8-26) in (2-6) Fields
  • Score Exceeds (1000-20,000)
  • Exceeds nearest competitor by (20-300) %
  • Production Exceeds (10,000-500,000)
  • Owns (10-300) Large ships
  • Has the highest score after (30-300) years

    There also can be up to three of these conditions in effect ie: You must meet all three conditions in order to win. In all games, a sensible number of turns must pass before a winner can be declared. Careful examination of the Overall Objectives is necessary in order to determine a winning strategy.

    Certain Victory Conditions are conducive to a ‘defensive’ posture (Tech, Production, # of ships). For example, if the sole condition was to achieve Tech Level 22 in 4 fields, serious consideration should be given to a defensive posture in the game, selecting a race that can research 4 fields 25% faster, avoiding destructive wars etc.

    Other Victory Conditions tend to promote more aggressive stances (Own Planets, Score, Score exceeds others, highest score after x years). For example, if the sole Victory Condition was to own 25% of planets (in a 6-10 player game) then a silicanoid type race should be seriously considered that can colonise everything.

    IMHO, game hosts could do more with the combinations of Victory Conditions to give a distinctive flavour to each game of Stars!

    Key Result Areas (KRAs)

    OK, we know what we have to achieve. But how do we go about it?

    The idea of KRAs is that they are the actual areas of competence that are needed to get to the overall objectives.

    (If this were a football game, the overall objectives might be to win by a certain margin. To a coach or player, this is not very useful. However, by considering the Key areas that must be mastered in order to achieve this (perhaps Throwing, Catching, Blocking, Running) a sensible training plan can be constructed.)

    In Stars!, potential Key Result Areas might be Number of large productive Planets, Overall Production Capability, Defence of Key Planets, BattleFleet Strength, Space Fleet Mobility, Mining Capability including mineral ownership, Ownership of particular scarce minerals, Research progress, Destructive Capacity (bombing strength) etc.

    Some of the KRAs may need to be clarified as the game unfolds and your strategy develops and changes. The important thing is to understand these areas of importance before moving fleets around and building things willy-nilly. Try to arrive at a clear understanding yourself of which areas are going to be important to win the game. Vision OK. You know you have to win. You have analysed the Victory Conditions to get a flavour for Grand Strategy. You have a feeling for which KRAs are going to be important in this game. You have to be able to see a way to win the game.

    Vision is about constructing a scenario in your mind of how you can win. What must you achieve? What planets will you have to take? What must you not allow? What are the critical phases?

    In each of your KRAs, what must you do? (The point of having KRAs is to give form to your Vision; Your Vision should be thought of in terms of the KRAs. Eg: I envision me holding my portion of the Galaxy. I will have 99% defence over 4-5 Key Planets. I will have a small but advanced and mobile BattleFleet. All spare resources after the first phase will go into research, creating a technological break. Nobombers needed.) Having a Vision gives you something to work towards.

    Situation Analysis and Strategy Formulation

    Throughout the game, starting at Turn 1, information becomes available that can be analysed and incorporated into your understanding of the Situation. Guesses can be made about the things you don’t know. Where are you in relation to the Vision? The KRAs? Therefore, what strategies must be enacted?

    Having this perspective allows you to Respond appropriately to threats and opportunities, rather than reacting to each new piece of information randomly. Respond don’t React. (If one of your outlying planets is taken, don’t just rush in there and contest it, you have options. Is it important to the plan or not? Perhaps it can be sacrificed. Perhaps you can threaten your adversary on other areas? Perhaps the dispute can be escalated to a political issue for negotiation or compromise? How does this affect your KRAs? What is the value to your foe? Perhaps you should after all rush in and commit to a major space battle!?)

    The process of situation analysis and strategy formulation should be revisited regularly throughout the game, using the overall objectives, KRAs and Vision as guidance (which I actually like to write down). This process should be used to guide Research. Planning ahead will tell you which technologies are of particular importance to support the strategy and therefore which areas to apply research to.Action Once you know what you must do in concept, it is up to you to manage the mechanics and tactics via the program. This is the realm oftactics. Keep informed of the latest stuff via the Stars! Strategy Guide. Disclaimer Having a Strategy doesn’t guarantee you winning, but it certainly puts you ahead of those who don’t have a plan of how they are going to win!

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