Civ3 is more balanced than MOO1.
You're joking, right?
No, I don't guess that you are. Well then, let's talk. Perhaps I can disabuse you of this notion.
One HUGE source of early-game randomness in MOO1 comes from artifact planets. There's a whole heck of a lot of difference between getting Hand Lasers, and Nuclear Engines or Deuterium Fuel Cells!
Indeed. The biggest boon, without doubt, is to pull Controlled Dead Environment off an artifact world. You instantly gain not only access to half the hostile planets, but the leap in planetology dramatically reduces standard colony ship construction costs.
However, let's LOOK at Civ3 and compare. Does the best-case MOO1 lucky break at an artifacts planet actually give you any free planets? No. You still have to build up enough factories to build colony ships, and you still need range tech to cross small gaps in the star map. Compare to Civ3.
What happens when you pull a settler out of a hut in 3500BC? That adds a full third or more to your growth curve. The effect of a single free settler outstrips the impact of the best-case rarity for MOO1. How often will you even have an artifacts planet close to you? Rarely. How often will it churn out the best-case tech for you? If you play for years and years, maybe a couple of times, ever. How often do you pull a settler out of a hut in Civ?
Civ pulls techs out of huts all the time. One is as likely to run into a hut a little bit later, and be able to pull a stronger tech (like Writing or Iron Working) as one is to pull a strong tech off an artifacts planet. There is even MORE randomnity to civ, though, with many huts scattered around, and each of them randomized to spew barbarians, free cities, free units, free tech, or free money. Maybe maps, maybe nothing. Figure one artifacts planet in range every four games, vs four to six huts in range every game. And you think MOO is more randomized than Civ3? Are you sure you've thought that position all the way through?
Then there's what can actually be done with the given advantage. In MOO1, can you translate a free tech into an ability to steamroll and completely wipe out your closest neighbor? No. You cannot send a couple of units on a fishing expedition to win the lottery. No warrior gambits, no archer gambits, no suicide curraghs for early contacts, no waltzing into cities with lucky dice rolls to defeat one or two defenders. In MOO, you need a sizeable fleet to dent a planet from orbit, so no easy razing, no luck-based shortcuts to wiping out a rival. You need to send entire planetary populations to win on the ground. No freebies for you in MOO.
In MOO, you do your own research, and on higher difficulties it COSTS A LOT MORE. You pay way more than the AI does for techs, and anything you get in trade, you pay extra for, because they will only trade you techs that are worth less than you trade away for them. Compare to Civ, where even at the highest levels player can pay a fraction of what rivals do for techs by riding coattails, being the last or nearly last to the party and enjoying MASSIVE deflationary cost reductions. There's almost (almost) no such thing as a hole too deep to climb out of in Civ3. Try that on MOO and enjoy your exile when the victor ships your nonperforming rear end out of the galaxy on a freighter, if you're lucky enough to survive at all.
"Game Balance" and "Civ3" aren't quite oxymorons. Civ3 is a good game and it takes a lot of skill to perform well at it. But let's be frank here. It's not in the same class as MOO1. It's not even close.
"Erratic" MOO1 AI's will declare war COMPLETELY at random, on a roll of the dice. Alan Emrich says in the Master of Magic strategy guide (where "Chaotic" AI's behave exactly the same way) that some people absolutely hate it, while others think it's realistic.
With all due respect to Alan, who wrote some of the best strategy guides ever published, he's correct on the fact but not the conclusion.
The MOO1 AI is coded to play to win. The game has a Machiavellian bent. Might makes right. Possession is nine tenths of the law. There are no niceties, no safety hatches, no political correctness, and no pulled punches.
The AI in MOO is coded to seek technology, acquire territory, and look out for its own interests. If any AI reaches a position of strength, it will turn aggressive. The different personalities available to the AI behave differently, with different priorities, but each has a potentially valid way of acquiring both territory and technology.
Every personality has pressure to expand territory. If planets are still up for grabs, they will seek to claim them. If all systems have been settled, they will seek to take territory away from a rival. Not to have this urge would be tantamount to being programmed to lose by design, allowing anybody who plants a flag on a plot of land to hold it unchallenged. The game would then diminish to one of planting the most flags, then it would be over. Instead, the MOO AI will fight for territory, and it will try to do so according to its own particular weightings. Some will spend more resources into technology, hoping to be able to attack later from a stronger position. Some will spend more resources into fleets and try to attack sooner. Some will emphasize fleet building, some emphasize perfecting planets (economy), some emphasize spending on espionage and gathering allies. But all of these varied strategies disappear if a significant lead is earned, giving way to a universal strategy of conquest from a position of great strength. And in MOO, if you earn you way (as player or as AI) to a position of strength, you can run away with the game.
Compare to Civ3. Civ3 is purposely designed to prevent runaway civilizations. The tech leader is saddled with higher research costs than others. Two tech leaders climbing different parts of the tree can trade with each other, but ALL the AI's are coded to sell any advantage they pull to the highest bidder as soon as possible, to keep all civs bunched in a pack and prevent anyone from pulling away. This keeps player in the game no matter what, even with a single city. Thus it is almost unheard of for a runaway to emerge with a commanding position. Instead, leading civs will run out of things to build in the industrial age and bog down into wars, which pull them out of the best governments and trigger all manner of alliances and MPPs that usually plunge the entire planet into warfare, with no "real alliances", only a bunch of glass-jawed yahoos who are ready to sue for peace if they take a few licks or if enough time passes. That is, they are coded with a pressure to oscillate their wars, to enter and exit from a state of war without any regard to obtaining objectives. Player can often stay out of these wars entirely, and can buy allies at the drop of a hat. The degree of predictability to these elements is staggering.
Since Civ3 is designed to keep all civs bunched, it requires MASSIVE bonuses and HUGELY DEEP HOLES for a skilled player to be challenged. And even then, the AI has no ruthless streak. It's coded to pursue resources, mainly. And you can often fend them off by trading them the resources they want. They have no hunger for territory, only pressures to enter and exit a "state of war".
MOO AI cares almost nothing for "state of war". It is objective-oriented. Sure, Erratic civs will roll dice regularly to see when they'll declare hot war. That makes them unreliable partners in any alliance, and difficult to keep as friends, but otherwise is not particularly relevant. Why not? Because the MOO AI is coded to smell weakness. (The Civ3 AI is coded to cut you a break if you are weak. The only time it piles on is the urge it has to sign up allies when it DOES go to war, meaning the side with more cash on hand signs up more friends, and the effect tends to trigger a dogpile. NO SENSE of self-interest. Just simplistic "sign me up for the cash" alliances. No strategy, no depth, and darn near no unpredictability!) The MOO AI will look for targets of opportunity and pursue the weakest-looking targets. They don't need to declare war, often won't bother. They'll just come and take what they want, if they can. Declaring war is irrelevant. ALL the AI's will be aggressive if you present a weakness. The only time an AI is completely trustworthy is when you are allied against a third threat, when it is in your ally's interests to remain on good terms with you because you're doing them a favor by fighting their other enemies. When it's in their interests to be friends, they'll be quite friendly! But if they are not under attack and see your worlds as the easiest target, well, too bad for you.
The game balance favors defense, though, so that makes it impossible to use cheap or luck-reliant rush attacks in the early game. The core worlds of all sides are secure unless and until some faction or other gains enough combined advantage in production and tech to send a fleet capable of overwhemling a planet chock full of missile bases. That never happens by luck. NOT EVER. Only new colonies, which take time to stand up from scratch, are vulnerable to smaller forces or when civs are evenly matched or relatively close in strength. Thus conflict takes place on the fringes, and nobody gets steamrolled. Dice are almost irrelevant.
There are no uber-techs in MOO. No loopholes for translating small advantages or small leads into decisive victory. In Civ3, deny iron and/or horses to an ancient rival, enjoy a massive military advantage and crush them underfoot with swords or horsemen of your own. Get to knights while they have no iron, and roll them up. Get to cavs while they still have muskets, or lacking saltpeter, pikes, or lacking iron too, perhaps even spears (!!!) and you roll them up. One uber tech, a few uber units, cheap victory, and then have peace any time you like, while you consolidate your gains. You can even build lots of horsemen and shortcut the production process by translating cash into shields via upgrades. Also works with warriors into swords. In C3C they've made it more expensive, but it can still be a shield multiplier.
In MOO, the AI is coded to gather its forces at a rally point and NOT to send them until it believes it has enough for decisive victory. It is specifically coded to build SoDs and to use them. Civ3, by contrast, will scatter its forces at any available target of opportunity, only builds SoDs by coincidence when its roads and railroads cause units to bunch up on their willynilly march toward a target, chooses only one primary objective at a time, based solely on attack odds rather than value, strategic position, or defensibility. Civ3 has NO sense of objective, no evaluation of total force strength for or against, and no corrective mechanism for second or third tries. MOO will up its estimate of what it needs, when it fails, and try again with a larger force. And again and again, unless a better target presents itself or you beat its tail so badly it gives up and treats you with more respect. The MOO AI is coded to respect strength. Civ3 is coded only to worship cash. No war it won't buy into, no tech it won't sell, no ally it won't trust, no stupidity too massive, if there is cold hard cash on the table!
Civ3's aggression is like a light switch. Flip it on if there is hot war, flip it off if there is peace. MOO3 AI is ALWAYS aggressive. There is some logic to its choice of targets, choice of friends and enemies, military plans, and layers of friendship vs aggression. The MOO AI actually respects the agreements it signs, backing out of alliances and nonaggression pacts before launching attacks against core worlds. Brush wars in disputed territory over unclaimed worlds, disputable colonies, or Hot Potatoes, is another story. Only full allies will not squabble over disputable territory. The one who rightfully owns the land is the one whose flag is planted there at the end of the day. If you can't defend it, it ain't yours. Pieces of paper mean squat. The interests of the civilization as it understands them are what drive behavior.
Dice cease to matter when the sample size is large enough to tranform from luck and lottery into probabilities. As Zed replied to you about Erratic civs, their fickle ways are a certainty. The only question is not if, but when, they will turn on you, and that can be managed when the game balance heavily favors defenders.
That's the chief difference between Master of Magic and Master of Orion. MoM plays like Civ, favoring offense and mobility. Player cannot dig a deep hole and use strategy to climb out of it. Player cannot weather the storm of being attacked by stronger rivals. Thus, the REAL gap between player and AI opponent must be smaller. Difficulty levels, faction choice, terrain, all the elements that combine to pose the actual degree of challenge... the challenge MUST BE smaller to avoid having one's fate put into the hands of the dice. I can understand why folks hated Chaotic neighbors in MoM. I hated them. They undermined the game balance there, and so did the heroes. The economic model was a no-brainer series of repetitive build orders and citizen management, rather than a system with strategic options. How boring (for me, at least).
The Erratic personality trait in MOO doesn't have the same effect. An AI opponent must achieve a combined production/tech lead on you of significant proportion to be able to roll you up, and to do that, it needs a lot more than one dice roll to break against you. A whole lot more. Thus your fate is not, in fact, in the hands of the dice at all. The number of dice rolls that have to break against you in MOO for you to lose by luck are many, rendering the likelihood statistically irrelevant.
A curse should fall upon the heads of the "geniuses" who came up with the idea of combining MOO and MoM to make Master of Magic II, Magic at Antares. A pox on all their houses. I could be wrong, but my understanding is that Mr. Emrich was one of those. Those folks killed the Master of Orion franchise. MOO3 was doomed before it ever started because it tried to appeal to both MOO1 and MOO2 fans. That's like trying to combine baseball and American football into one sport. Doesn't work. I hoped against hope that it might work, but no.
OK, I'm interested, but I've checked this forum, the general RB forum, and the RB main page, and I don't see any mention of this. Tell me more!
The new RB forums at LurkerLounge are open for business.
The Master of Orion discussions have been held in the GalCiv forum over the last couple of weeks, but are moving (along with everything else) to the new forums, where MOO has its own RB forum now.
Here are the other relevant pages:
Realms Beyond Orion
, home of the Imperial tournament.
Sirian's Master of Orion Page
I'm going to guess that in a tourney, who declares war on who will tend to be random. (Add in the Darloks for some real chaos -- they have a way of starting wars between everyone with all the spy framing they do.) Other factors, like the Psilons and Klackons pounding the snot out of the crummy Mrrshans, dumb AI's never expanding beyond their first planet, and the Humans threatening to win diplomatically, won't be random at all.
To the best of my knowledge, there has never been an MOO tourney on the scale of the Epics. I'm certain that MOO has the best overall game balance from a single player perspective. I can't predict how well it will hold up under a tournament structure. However, I cannot imagine the results being more luck-dependant than those of Civ3. Have you SEEN the Epics results over the years? Civ3 AI's declare war PURELY on dice rolls. Look at my Carthage and Egypt in Epic 39 vs those of others. Go back through the Epics and have a look. Who declares on whom and when varies wildly, without any strategic basis. Results of wars vary widely, too, with luck breaking for or against whole civs on military results, leader luck, timing of who happens to have more cash to sign up dogpile partners on which timing, and so forth.
I will be SHOCKED if there half as much warmaking swing in MOO as there is in Civ3. MOO wars turn on who has the stronger force. Combat won't even start until an AI believes it has a SoD capable of achieving a particular objective. Quite unlike the Civ3 AI, the MOO AI won't throw its forces at a target unless it thinks it has a chance to win, and will retreat if it believes it is outmatched, or if shown to be losing. The MOO AI might declare war, but if it looks at your missile bases and sees that its best SoD has no chance, it will WAIT to gather more ships, and when it does attack and loses, it will TRY AGAIN at the SAME TARGET with a proportionally larger force. That kind of sophistication just isn't present in other empire games.
The chief thing to be said against MOO is that, being a nodal game, there are far fewer variables, and it is much simpler to code effective rally points and SoD behavior. Civ3 has to play on a tile grid with more mobility, with land, sea and air units, with water tiles, roads, rails, terrain variances, rivers, blah blah etc etc, using forces that can be ambushed en route, distracted, divided (thus weakened) and which engage in combat one unit to one unit, not whole force vs whole force. Thus, the combat model for MOO lends much more easily to effective strategy than does Civ3. Civ3's AI is miles ahead in sophistication and ability, but it has such a steeper hill to climb, the net result comes out way behind. The game rules for Civ3 require tactical combat choices, for the AI to adapt its tactics on the fly according to the micro result of each unit action, rather than strategically commanding its forces as a whole. I'm sorry to say that, while more ambitious, this system leads in net effect to a much less strategically competent package.
For lovers of strategy, the nodal game comes out ahead. There's something to be said for the KISS principle. MOO works on a scale of entire armies clashing rather than single units dancing around one another, and the combat takes place at a very limited number of locations, with no cheap tricks for dividing (and thus conquering) the opponent's force. The tighter playfield and limited engagement points work hugely in MOO's favor for crafting an imperial environment. Results turn on big choices, not an endless series of little ones.
Survivability in any empire game is based on defensive strength. One must be able to protect production centers to stay in the game. When defensive strength is, say, for example, three times the power of offensive strength, then an opponent would have to be three times as strong as you to challenge you. You could then survive when outmatched, being up to three times weaker than your opponent. Yet to move against your opponent with success, YOU also need to be three times stronger than him. Now, how do you get from being weaker to being stronger? Strategy. Attacking weak points, making gains, choosing research options wisely, choosing espionage efforts and spending wisely, lining up allies effectively. Survive to breathe another day, maybe a weakness will open. An opportunity to advance your position may present itself.
The MOO game balance lets the player survive when the real degree of challenge is higher. Not only is the hole deeper, but the climb out of that hole is longer, because you can't just get to equal footing, but must put the opponent into the hole you climbed out of to turn the tables.
Civ3 has some degree of this with the defensive bonuses and behavior of production centers. Stacks put their strongest defender out front. Cities heal damaged units faster. Larger cities enjoy stronger defense bonuses. Defenders have full mobility on roads and rails within their cultural borders while attackers do not. Without Battlefield Medicine wonder, attackers do not even heal at all while inside enemy borders. These combine to give advantage to defenders, which puts Civ3 ahead of many games in terms of balance, but it's still not even in the ballpark with Master of Orion's trim nodal environment. MOO vs Civ3 in terms of game balance? No contest.
So you say you're interested in some Master of Orion activity? Excellent! We could use more players for our new tourney, and we're just getting started, so you can still get in on the ground floor!