Oops! And Other Tales from Stellaris
Stellaris is a 4x Game of Unusual Size (4GoUS — F’go-us?) and like a lot of 4x games, no scenario is ever over quickly. I firmly believe that short of treating utter defeat as the first item on your to-do list, a single game will last for several hours whether you like it or not. Considering the point and the attraction of 4x games is the strategy of expansion and neighborly relations, you’d better like it.
Willfulness aside, it is possible to back yourself into a corner where the game becomes painfully difficult to the point where you might wonder if you’re looking down the barrel of an embarrassing defeat. For me, 4x games tend to devolve into an arms race where my neighbors know all the right levers to pull to get ahead, while I’m hanging out in my backyard tossing the football around without a care in the universe. That leads to people showing up on my doorstep with armaments that I can’t hope to defend against, and I inevitably end up losing.
Playing Stellaris last night I found myself behind the 8-ball in terms of resources. My energy budget was at 0 or occasionally in the red. Suddenly, my food supply tanked and we were living off rations. I had more than enough minerals, and while I wasn’t gaining influence, I wasn’t using it either. What all this means is that I had the minerals necessary to expand — to build ships and outposts and such — but I didn’t have the maintenance currency — energy — to keep it all running. That meant I was holding off on doing much of anything. Occasionally I’d get brave and would send construction crews out to other solar systems to construct outposts and mining platforms where I could score some additional energy income, but it was a balancing act: everything I built required upkeep, so I had to do ugh-math to ensure my projects would net more e-credit than they would cost.
About 15 minutes before I knew I had to shut down, lest I find myself unable to wake in the morning (I am immune to the dreaded “one more round” disease), I was looking into my food shortage. In Stellaris, planets are divided into tiles. Each tile is either empty, a natural producer of food, energy, minerals, or other resources, or is blocked. Your people (called “pops”) will be “born” or will migrate into open tiles. You can drag pops around to put them into tiles that you want them to work. My focus was on ensuring that all my food tiles were populated and that the farms in those tiles were sufficiently upgraded to the best produce-enhancer I could build.
Something wasn’t right. I was upgrading hydroponics labs in food tiles, but…there were tiles producing natural food which didn’t have hydroponics labs in them. Placing a machine in a tile with a matching resource type increases the output of that resource type. Here I was, starving and every-deficient because I hadn’t been placing even the most basic producer buildings on my natural resource tiles. I had been spending pretty much the entire game operating a growing empire with no more resource production than what I found laying around on the ground. That’s like operating a government funded only by the loose change found under seat cushions or in the street gutters.
Now, however, I have two other colonies which I need to start upgrading, but I have reached the food storage ceiling despite cranking out more crops. My neighbors have become belligerent and the diplomacy screen shows them as being technologically superior to me. I fear that my remembrance on how to play this game has come too late to save my ass, which wouldn’t be a bad thing necessarily as a looming defeat would allow me to start up a new game where I could do things correctly from the start.