by Jack Fulmer
As I have written in other articles that have appeared in previous editions of SEDG I particularly enjoy anonymous Starweb games. In anonymous games I usually play either the Pirate or Berserker character type. I played a Pirate in SW-A1319.
To accompany this article I have provided several maps of the web as it was visible to me at various points in the game. The text can be read either with or without referring to the maps. However, I do believe that the maps help to make more understandable my descriptions of the positions during the game.
I have referred to the other players that I met by a generic “Player” number if I did not know their character type. Once their character type was known I refer to them by their type and a number (for example “Apostle 1”). Hopefully this will make easier for the reader to understand the character I refer to rather than attempting to remember player code names.
My Starweb style is to play to win each game. If I cannot win I want to score as many points as possible. When playing an anonymous Pirate I have a simple, three step overall strategy to achieve victory.
Step 1: Explore, explore, explore until another player stops me.
Step 2: Attack, conquer and capture worlds from as many other players as possible.
Step 3: Score as many points as I can as fast as I can while maintaining optimum usable industrial
As the game progresses my tactics evolve to support this strategy. Step 1 of the strategy will be implemented during turns 1 through 5 in most games. However, I continue on all possible avenues of exploration for as long as possible. Depending upon the vagaries of the particular map and the tactics of the other players you may find unexplored worlds well into the game. Those are jewels to a Pirate so find all that you can as early as you can.
Step 2 will start with initial victim selection on approximately turn 5, 6 or 7 depending upon the availability of information. It continues with an attack beginning no later than turn 10. Often I attack someone much sooner if circumstances indicate a good chance of success.
Implementation of Step 3 should start on turn 2. I have a rule that I follow that I've called Fulmer's Rule of 27. It states: "Find the smallest number of metal producing worlds in your empire which are within your ring 3 and whose metal production totals at least 27. Then plunder all other worlds as frequently as possible."
The number of worlds required under this rule is quite variable from game to game. The average for me has been six. Therefor on turn 2 and turn 3 any world that I capture with metal production of 3 or less I will immediately plunder. I then reassess the metal production situation on turn 4 when I will have seen all or almost all of my ring 3 worlds. I include industrialized worlds in this rule. I plunder any world with two or less industry that I capture on turn one turn 2 or 3 unless its metal production exceeds its industry by four or more. If a world has three or more industry I will start to consider how the world fits the balance between Steps 2 and 3 before plundering it.
You can begin implementing Step 3 on turn 1 by plundering your homeworld. I have tried this tactic once or twice but do not recommend it. As a Pirate you need to take every chance to score that you can find. However, to do so you need to capture and hold as many worlds as you can. This means that plundering your homeworld hinders strategy Steps 1, 2 and 3 by reducing your early ship production. You don't lose very many ships in total but you lose them exactly when you need them the most. Ironically the one character with the most to gain from a first-turn homeworld plunder has the most to lose by doing so.
Here's how SW-A1319 progressed...
Turns 1 through 3
Exploration was uneventful. The map turned out to be a straightforward hex. The only modification was a string of two-connector worlds leading out from the homeworld.
On turn four I met Players 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. It was quite obvious that there were at least five neighbor homeworlds within two moves of my own homeworld. As a pirate I considered that a great strategic position. If you are going to try to conquer your neighbors then having them within easy reach is a distinct advantage.
My neighbors' scores were -80, 10, 50, 214 and 325. My score was 346. It appeared that I was looking at three players who were Merchants or Berserkers with a remote possibility of an Artifact-poor Collector in the mix. The two high scores looked like possible Apostles, Pirates or Empire Builders. 214 is a low score for an EB on turn 4 so I doubted that there was more than one of that type, if any. Someone had clearly run into a bunch of bad artifacts. Minus 80 as a turn 4 score? Ouch!
On turn 4 I owned 16 worlds and 17 keys. That wasn't a bad position at all. Plus I still had a few unknown worlds to explore. I also decided to do five probes on turn 4. That was more than 10% of my total ships at the time; a big investment. Since I was on five different players' ring 3 I hoped to use the probe data to select an early victim.
Things were looking good. I was up to twenty worlds and nineteen keys. As a pirate I considered that to be an excellent start. Even better my probes had allowed me to deduce the location and world number of not one but two of my neighbors' homeworlds.
I met Player 6 and determined that Player 1 was Apostle 1. Apostle 1 was located at the other end of the two-connector string from my homeworld. I thought that if the web that I could see was typical then probably everyone's homeworld was connected directly to one other homeworld with five intervening two-connector worlds between each pair of homeworlds.
Scores that I could see on turn 6 were -110, 30, 70, 284, 325, and 499. The three low scores had to be merchants or berserkers in my opinion. Either 284 or 325 was Apostle 1 with the other possibly a second apostle. The 499 score had to be the same player who had 325 on turn 4. Therefore his score had changed by 174. Almost certainly he was an EB or a pirate. I had a score of 658 and was inclined to guess he was an EB. If so then I was looking at six neighbors who were not going to plunder their worlds. The plunder potential was fabulous so long as I could conquer some of them.
Where to start? Where to start?
Will the first victim sign in please?
As a result of my probes I knew that world 65 was Player 2's homeworld and that world 208 was the Player 5 homeworld. I tentatively selected Player 2 as my initial target for conquest. This was primarily because I had found two routes to his homeworld from my world 39. I could also see four of his worlds on turn 5 and knew that one of the routes was almost undefended. My look at those four worlds told me that Player 2 was not an apostle. So whether he was a merchant, a berserker or an EB I considered Player 2 a prime choice for first victim.
Player 2 had given back to me a ring 2 world (world 4) of mine which he had captured on turn 4. In addition he had unloaded consumer goods on another ring 2 world (world 39) on turn 4. He was clearly trying to be friendly and seemed to be saying, "I'm a merchant." I rarely cooperate with merchants in an anonymous game. In fact I generally attack them whenever and wherever I find them.
This is because a competent merchant is easily the biggest threat to quickly win an anonymous Starweb game. Right behind them as scoring threats come berserkers if they are given sufficient time to get rolling. So convincing me that he was a merchant was going to be a tactical error by Player 2 if I could capitalize on my information.
Turns 6 through 8
Turn 6 revealed that I was suddenly the less than proud possessor of three plastic artifacts. One of them I had owned on turn 5. But I captured a neutral world with a plastic on turn 6 and Player 4 had dumped one on me (at my world 108). In the long run, for a pirate, owning three plastic artifacts is roughly the equivalent of losing three or four plunderable worlds.
I learned on turn 6 that Player 6 was in fact Apostle 2. On turn 7 I learned that he was not your charitable type of apostle. He had dumped a fourth plastic on me on turn 6. I had to get rid of the things quickly!
I moved a key to carry the plastic that he had contributed back to a Player 4 world by turn 8. As it happened the other three plastic artifacts were located at two adjacent worlds. I was able to gather all three of them on a one-ship fleet at one of my border worlds (world 72) on turn 8. The world had no defending ships so I probed away the single ship on the fleet. This created a neutral key with three plastics on it. I later moved in a 3-ship key at peace. I transferred one ship to the neutral key and one ship to the world as a Pship. This protected the world for continued plunder while keeping neutral the key carrying the three plastic artifacts. At this stage of the game I did not want to chance a war on two or even three fronts simultaneously. That's why I didn't immediately dump them back on Apostle 2.
Apostle 2 showed up at a ring 4 world of mine (world 58) on turn 8 with a fleet carrying the Radioactive Isotope. It certainly appeared as if he was going to drop that on me too. So I gave the world to him on turn 8. Sure enough, turn 9 showed that he had dropped it on my world but my gift had spoiled the plan.
On turn 8 I very seriously considered redirecting my attack from Player 2 to Apostle 2. He hadn't really hurt my game position significantly but emotionally I wanted to nail him for dumping his trash on me. With great reluctance I concluded that attacking Apostle 2 just wasn't the smart thing to do if I wanted to score well in the game. I used a probe on turn 9 to determine Apostle 2's homeworld number. If I could come back for him later I resolved to do so.
I explored to ring 4 everywhere I had not been stopped by another player. I had even captured one neutral ring 5 world. I was hauling metal and trying to get to full production quickly while staging ships for a blitzkrieg into Player 2's homeworld directly from my ring 3 (world 39). Of course I was plundering all worlds not essential to ship production. My borders with the rest of my neighbors stayed quiet.
By turn 9 I had staged my forces for a sudden attack into Player 2's empire. On turn 9 I had arrived at Player 2's ring 2 world (number 178) with a 2-ship fleet at peace and carrying two artifacts. My hope was that Player 2 would either think that I was bringing artifacts to him or that I was an Artifact Collector. I didn't really care if he fully believed either possibility. So long as he thought that I was harmless I would be happy. My real intention was to AH world 178 with the 2-ship fleet on turn 9. Also on turn 9 I would be sending four attacking fleets through his ring 2 (world 178).
One small fleet would go to a ring 1 world (121) and another to a ring 2 world (18). The other two fleets with a total of 54 ships would blast through his Ring 1 (world 121) and straight into Player 2's homeworld (world 65). His ring 1 had been undefended when I probed it earlier in the game. I hoped that it was still not garrisoned. After all, hadn't I been a very nice, friendly neighbor so far during the game?
I had considered attacking Player 2 on turn 8 or turn 9. I could have entered as many as five of his worlds simultaneously not including his homeworld. But I would have had relatively few ships in my early invasion. I was concerned that a more gradual attack would turn into a prolonged war. As a pirate my biggest tactical advantage was the ability to make Pirate captures. A piecemeal attack would waste that advantage. So I chose to go for a blitzkrieg and hoped to overrun his empire within three or four turns. I had high hopes of capturing Player 2's homeworld intact.
The turn 10 printout showed that my attack plans had succeeded nicely.The biggest success was at Player 2's homeworld (world 65). My two fleets had arrived intact with 54 ships. Player 2 had three fleets with only 19 ships there and he had left no I or P ships at all. Therefor I had fully suppressed his industry. Oh, if only I had had 4 more ships on my fleets! I would have pirate captured his keys too!
One of my small invasion keys was in position to attack and capture a Player 2, ring 2 world (216). My "Trojan Horse" 2-ship key had done an AH at his ring 2 (world 178) while I moved in two more fleets with 28 ships and captured the world. The only world where things had not gone perfectly was at his ring 1 world (121). I was there with a 5-ship fleet facing a Player 2 10-ship fleet. The world also had 20 metal stockpiled. A 10-ship that moved to a 20-metal world; the small number of ships at his homeworld but 47 metal stockpiled already at the homeworld all spelled Merchant to me. I concluded that Player 2 was Merchant 1.
If I attempted to reinforce at his homeworld then I had to decide whether or not to risk a possible ambush from that 10-ship fleet. Since the ambush could happen either because it was deliberate or because Player 2 decided to drop I chose not to reinforce at his homeworld. Besides I had him outnumbered almost 3 to 1 there anyway. It was certain that I could drive his homeworld neutral. In addition to an AH at his homeworld I probed the three adjacent worlds (worlds 96, 136 and 185) and probed the 2-connector.
On this turn I met Player 7. I had sent a fleet through the ring 4 world (world 58) holding the Radioactive Isotope that I had given to Apostle 2 on turn 8. On turn 9 he had given the world with the artifact to Player 7. Was Player 7 an Artifact Collector? Or was Apostle 2 continuing to dump trash artifacts on his neighbors?
This game was progressing extremely well. I now owned 24 worlds and 25 keys. My score was up to 2,177 already. I could see the scores of five other players. The highest score I could see was 1,329. So far nobody was attacking me so my offensive against Merchant 1 could continue undisturbed by other concerns.
Merchant 1 had retreated from his homeworld but I had not captured it. He moved a 1-ship key into the world. Of course I captured it with my 51 ships but the homeworld remained neutral. I had to move fleets to the adjacent worlds as quickly as possible to prevent more 1-ship fleets keeping the homeworld neutral. Merchant 1 had also given a key to Player 3 at his former homeworld. I had attacked and destroyed the ships on that key but now Player 3 knew about our war.
I owned 29 worlds and 29 keys this turn. I captured Merchant 1's homeworld (world 65) on turn 12. He could have sent in another 1-ship spoiler fleet to prevent my capture but chose not to lose the key. He apparently had not dropped and therefore probably wanted to preserve all possible fleets to haul metal for other players.
On turn 12 I already owned or was attacking most of Merchant 1's ring 2 worlds. I had even captured one ring 3 world and would AH another this turn. My progress was a bit slower on the salient out of Merchant 1's homeworld that was farthest from my homeworld (via world 96). I would completely overrun and capture his former empire by turn 14 or 15 unless Merchant 1 did a highly unlikely counterattack.
It was time to select my next target.
For three reasons I quickly settled on Player 3 to attack next. First, his empire was within easy reach of both my original homeworld and Merchant 1's homeworld. Second, many of my fleets and ships I had used to attack Merchant 1 could easily be diverted to attack him. Third, because of the fleet gift from Merchant1 on turn 11 he knew I had attacked Merchant 1. I hoped to attack him before he had a chance to place too much of a defense in my path.
I redirected some fleets from the Merchant 1 conquest and sent my original homeworld ship production to begin the attack on Player 3. This force totaled 6 fleets and 93 ships. Full production of 60 ships per turn from my homeworlds would follow on each turn so long as they were necessary to conquer Player 3.
I captured a neutral ring 7 world this turn. I had now captured one each of ring 4, 5, 6 and 7 worlds along a "seam" between Apostle 2 and Player 5. The validity of Strategy Step 1 was again confirmed.
At this point I was beginning to get really grandiose ideas. I hoped to conquer Player 3 quickly and just continue clockwise around the periphery of my original empire conquering and plundering as I went. Apostle 2 continued to be occasionally visible. But the rest of my neighbors were quiet and presumably occupied in other parts of the web. Since their empires were close to mine I viewed this as an invitation to conquest just as soon as I could redirect sufficient forces. I had hopes of owning 50 or more worlds as is normal in Multi-Starweb.
Turns 13 through 17
I finally met someone while moving down the seam between Apostle 2 and Player 5. At my ring 8 (world 111) I met four players on turn 13. Player 8 owned the world and had two fleets with 7 ships there. Player 9 had four fleets there with 21 ships. Player 10 had one fleet with 2 ships and Player 11 had two fleets totaling 28 ships.
Player 9 had attacked Player 8's home fleets with three fleets but had only destroyed all home fleets without driving the world neutral. Player 8's I-ships had attacked a Player 9 fleet. All of the other fleets plus my 1-ship fleet had moved in this turn. Since there obviously were no more neutral worlds in the area I attempted to leave with my fleet intact. Nobody fired at me when I left. The turn 14 printout showed that everybody left except Player 8 who owned the world.
On turn 14 I also met Player 9 at the ring 3 world (world 117) in the string of 2-connector worlds leading from Merchant 1's old homeworld. Player 9 had attacked home at this Merchant 1 world on turn 12 but my arrival prevented his capture of the world. I pulled my fleet back to my homeworld on turn 14. But when I left I probed ring 4 (world 17) and dropped a neutral I-ship on the ring 3 world. I had not decided whether or not to start a battle on what appeared to be the route to Player 9's homeworld. By keeping the ring 3 world neutral for another turn I bought a bit more time to make a decision. The probe was of course intended to obtain tactical information.
I hoped that my actions wouldn't upset Player 9 unnecessarily since he had also given a world (world 97) to me on turn 14. The world was on my ring 9 and connected to the ring 8 world where there had been such a crowd of players on turn 13. Over the next few turns we feinted a few fleets back and forth along the 2-connector string but we never had a serious conflict.
On turn 14 I met Player 12 at a ring 4 world (world 127) of Merchant 1's homeworld. He had ambushed a fleet of Merchant 1's on turn 14. The world was held by a single P-ship and with a neutral key also there. This world was so far from my core area that I decided to AH. I thought that even if he got angry and counterattacked he couldn't cause me much damage. I captured the world on turn 15. I never saw much of Player 12 during the rest of the game.
Part of the reason that I decided not to attack Player 9 was that Apostle 1 chose turn 13 to appear in force at my ring 3 world (world 91) in the string of 2-connector worlds leading from my original homeworld (world 113). He had moved in with two fleets and a total of 49 ships. By this time almost all of my ships were far from my homeworld. I abandoned my ring 3 world and sent the two fleets and 52 ships that I could scrape together to my ring 2 world (world 149).
On turn 14 Apostle 1 had captured my ring 3 world and had pressed his attack. He had two fleets and 28 ships at my ring 3. He also had one fleet with 44 ships facing my two fleets and 52 ships at my ring 2 (world 149). Based on what was happening in my other battles on turn 14 I chose to attack Apostle 1's fleet at my ring 2; reinforce ring 2; and move a blocking force to my ring 1 (world 130). Apparently my show of determination to defend my empire caused Apostle 1 to reconsider his actions. On turn 14 he pulled his fleet back from my ring 2. He kept 62 ships at my ring 3 on turn 15 and was apparently content to try to fully convert that world.
I really did not want to abandon my attack on Player 3's empire. Besides, those forces were still relatively far away from defending my homeworld. I had learned one key fact that affected how I moved my ships on turn 14. By probing his homeworld (world 137) on turn 13 I learned on turn 14 that Player 3 was Berserker 1. It appeared that Berserker 1 might be a dropout or at least had missed a turn. He had ten fleets and 90 ships at his homeworld. Berserker 1 also had 61 metal stockpiled there plus there were two Merchant 1 fleets there with 20 total ships.
I decided that my best course of action would be to bypass Berserker 1's homeworld. I would attempt to capture as many other worlds as possible in his former empire.This worked well for the worlds that were nearest to my original empire. By turns 16 and 17 when I reached the worlds on the far side of Berserker 1's homeworld from my own homeworld I found that Apostle 2 had been there before me and made a lot of converts. I also discovered that some worlds had been PBB'd and robotized.
Starting on turn 16 I began to shift fleets and keys to begin attacks on Player 4 and Player 5. On turns 16 and 17 I saw some fleet movement by Player 4 so I concentrated first on Player 5. By turn 17 I had begun my invasion of Player 5 with numerous keys and 200 ships.
By turn 17 I had exceeded my highest expectations for resources and scoring. My score was 5,032. I owned 55 worlds and 33 keys. Plus it appeared likely that I would capture more of both assets. I began to hope that the ending score was a high one. I wanted to see just how many worlds I could amass.
Turn 18 to the Finish
During the last few turns I continued to push to capture all possible worlds. On some portions of my border my expansion was stopped by a combination of lack of ships (far from homeworlds) and by the actions of other players.
In my far "northwest" I was blocked by Berserker 3 and by Apostle 1. I would have liked to push on into Apostle 1's worlds but did not have enough ships there do the job. Over the last few turns of the game he had continued to build up large numbers of ships in the 2-connector string that connected our homeworlds. On the next to last turn of the game Apostle 1 captured my ring 2 world (world 149) using two fleets and 139 ships. Starting a second front near his homeworld would have been fun.
On turn 19 I had decided that the game would end soon. So I pulled out my defending ships that were in the 2-connector string. By then I had plundered the ring 2 world four times and the ring 1 world five times. Looked at from the perspective of scoring the ships could be better used to capture new worlds than to defend the old ones. I also decided to plunder my original homeworld on turn 19. I decided that the additional ships that it could produce were unlikely to reach the fighting front before the game ended.
To my "north" Berserker 1 was sporadically active but never counter attacked to recapture his lost worlds. Between the worlds that he had robotized and PBB'd plus the fully converted Apostle 2 worlds I sent more ships to make easier conquests. Despite knowing where Apostle 2's homeworld was I never did send my payback invasion his way. On the final printout Apostle 2 appeared at a remote world I had just attacked (world 76). He arrived with 29 fleets and 206 ships. It seemed that someone else had driven him out of his empire.
My offensive against Player 5 had been successfully completed. He apparently had dropped. When I entered his homeworld he was revealed as Berserker 2. Since I had pirate captured all of his fleets that I could find I simply bypassed his homeworld and worked on capturing the rest of his empire. Luckily he had not PBB'd or robotized any of his worlds. On the last two turns I had launched an attack on Player 4. When the game ended I was in the midst of overrunning his empire.
When the game ended on turn 21 I owned 82 worlds and 46 keys. The victory point limit was 7,545. I had finished the game with 8,172 points.
Victory-point limit was 7545
(1)Jack Fulmer: Pirate (Score=8172,Worlds=82,Keys=46,Ships=658,Industry=92,
(2)[Merchant 1]: Merchant (Score=6623,Worlds=1,Keys=22,Ships=187,Mines=5,
(3)[Player 9]: Empire-Builder (Score=5794,Worlds=17,Keys=4,Ships=257,
(4)[Player 4]: Empire-Builder (Score=4807,Worlds=11,Keys=9,Ships=217,
(5)[Apostle 1]: Apostle (Score=4454,Worlds=19,Keys=17,Ships=471,Industry=47,
(6)[Player 12]: Pirate (Score=4089,Worlds=25,Keys=26,Ships=471,Industry=106,
(7)[Apostle 2]: Apostle (Score=3947,Worlds=18,Keys=30,Ships=227,Industry=7,
(8)[Berserker 1]: Berserker (Score=3324,Worlds=4,Keys=15,Ships=200,Industry=33,
(9)[Berserker 3]: Berserker (Score=3232,Worlds=30,Keys=27,Ships=282,Industry=47,
(10) [Pirate 1]: Pirate (Score=2288,Worlds=8,Keys=7,Ships=187,Industry=32,
(11) [Player 10]: Merchant (Score=2269,Worlds=25,Keys=39,Ships=602,Industry=62,
(12) [Berserker 2]: Berserker (Score=382,Worlds=1,Ships=82,Industry=30,Mines=4,
(13) [Player 13]: Artifact-Collector (Score=240)
(14) [Player 8]: Pirate (Score=228)
Semi-Random Final Thoughts
I think that my decision to attack Merchant 1 first was the correct one. The final results revealed that she was an experienced player. She never gave up and was active throughout the game. After I invaded her homeworld I attacked her fleets everywhere that I could. I denied her access to metal whenever possible.
Despite all of my efforts she still achieved second place at the end of the game. I believe that she would have won the game if I had not attacked her as soon as I did.
I have nothing personal against her as a player. I simply am convinced that, as an anonymous pirate or berserker, cooperating for more than a turn or two with a merchant is tantamount to saying "OK, you win. I'll play for second place."
Poor artifacts cost me a lot of points during this game. At one time or another I owned eight different Plastic artifacts and the Lesser of Two Evils. Plus Apostle 2 tried to dump the Radioactive Isotope on me. I haven't calculated it exactly but I'm sure that I lost hundreds of points to negative artifacts during the game. I certainly don't ever remember owning so much junk in any other non-multi Starweb game.
In reality it is very hard to win a game as an anonymous pirate. Over the years I have played nine Starweb games as an anonymous pirate and have a 693 rating in those games. I have managed to win just one of the nine games, SW-A1319. I very much doubt that I will ever again play an anonymous pirate so successfully but I will keep trying.
This game was underway at the same time that I was playing a berserker in SW-A1324. I found the differences between the two games to be fascinating. As I wrote in SEDG issues 71 and 72 in SW-A1324 I played in a very limited area. Also in that game I had contact with very few other players. The contrasts between the two games could not have been more pronounced. And yet both games were interesting and fun in their own ways. I think that these two games are good examples of how varied and interesting it can be to play Starweb and anonymous Starweb in particular.
After 25 years I haven't lost my interest in Starweb. As long as Rick and Flying Buffalo offer the chance to keep playing I'll be willing and eager to do so.
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