Let's Play: Master of Orion 2 - Part 1

Master of Orion 2 is a 4X TBS released by MicroProse in 1996. For any of those of you that don't know 4X is defined as:

... a genre of strategy-based video and board games in which players control an empire and "eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate". The term was first coined by Alan Emrich in his September 1993 preview of Master of Orion for Computer Gaming World. Since then, others have adopted the term to describe games of similar scope and design. -- Wikipedia on 4X

For me MOO2 was probably the 2nd 4X game I ever played after Civilization and I fell head over heels in love with it! The science fiction setting, the large variety of races, the varied technology tree and the awesome tactical space battles just kept me coming back time after time.

Game Setup

I'm not really one for picking favourites, but this is almost certainly my favourite 4X game of all time - I've probably put at least a 1000 hours into this game over the last 16 odd years. So I've got enough experience that Average difficulty is usually too easy, Hard is manageable and Impossible is just that. So to make it a bit challenging without being too long I'll play with the following setup:

Setup for maximum action in minimum time!

It's only Average difficulty, but cramming 8 players into a Small galaxy should up the challenge significantly. I've taken Pre Warp as well which means players start without the technology to build ships or travel between the stars - this should slow down initial expansion a bit, but may give a slight edge to civilizations with production or research bonuses. Average means there should be an even split between habitable and mineral rich worlds.

I'll make myself a custom race using the Elerian portrait, they've always been my favourite! This portrait choice also means I'm not taking one of the power-players out of the game (generally Sillicoids, Sakkra and Psilon).

The Elerians are by far the only matriarchal society in the galaxy and the best looking!

For my custom racial setup I'll be taking a pretty unconventional one - fingers crossed that it works out:

My unconventional racial setup.

Here's an explanation of my choices:

  • Feudal: Ship costs reduced by 33%, -20% morale unless I have a ground forces building, research reduced by 50% and assimilation of other populations is slow, while mine are assimilated instantly if one of my worlds is conquered.
  • +2 Research: I hope this will be enough to compensate for the research penalty from Feudal.
  • +2 Production: I can build things more quickly, especially ships with that 33% discount.
  • Rich Home World: More extra production on my home world.

So how I envision playing this race is as a super-aggressive early expansionist, because if I let the other races grow stronger for too long, they'll eventually out-research me which will render most of my racial advantages useless as their technology helps them to surpass my levels of production and research.

It Begins

It's star date 3500.0 and this is what my starting neighbourhood looks like:

Starting neighbourhood

I have a faint suspicion that the game may have screwed me by putting me out of colony ship range of any other stars for basic fuel technology... but we'll see, that's never happened to me before in 100s of games so it seems rather unlikely. Where I definitely did get screwed is with my home system... the only planet other than my Rich, Medium Terran home world with maximum population of 12 is a Tiny, Low-G Barren with Abundant resources that can only support 1 population! So building a star base to expand into my own star system is not an option...

I start by setting all of my population that are not needed for food production to research, which gets met 10 RP a turn (signified by the microscope - a single RP is shown as a test tube):

Home planet initial setup

Having a quick look at my research screen, I need to research Nuclear Fission under Power and Chemistry to be able to build my first scout ships:

Researching power to start with...

Researching this should take about 5 turns at my current research rate and as indicated by the arrows completing this research will unlock all 3 technologies:

  • Freighters: Allows you to transfer food and population between planets you control .
  • Nuclear Bomb: The first bomb technology - bombs are used to destroy ground defences and infrastructure on planets after you've destroyed the fleet guarding a system.
  • Nuclear Drive: This is what I'm really after - you need drives to propel your ships through space.

After 5 turns I have invested 50 RP into getting the technology and I now have a 20% chance to complete the research on my next turn. This chance will double each turn, so next turn it's 40%, etc.

Something interesting happens though! A commander has offered to join my cause:

Commander Gizmo joins me!

Gizmo will cost me 50 BC (that's 50 billion credits) to hire and then 1 BC per level of the commander in maintenance per turn to keep. His 1st ability is Engineer, which improves the shield regeneration of the ship he's on as well as fully repairing the ship after a battle. His 2nd ability is more important though, it's a flat 5 points of research per turn - that's not a lot, but at the moment it's 50% of what I'm producing and it means when I switch all my population to production I'll still have a trickle of research going on in the background. Welcome mr... uh miss... welcome Gizmo!

On star date 3500.9 I complete my research into __Nuclear Fission:

Nuclear Fission!

Although I've now unlocked Cold Fusion in the Power category and I need that for a colony ship, my next project is researching Chemistry - I need to build scouts and figure out where to colonise first:

Next up: Chemistry

Oh crap! On star date 3501.0 I decode radio signals from a cat-like people calling themselves the Mrrshan... from what my researchers tell me, it appears they are a militaristic dictatorship and they are right on my doorstep!

Mrrshan next door!

I make some attempts at establishing a research or non-aggression treaty with them, but they're not interested - this is going to seriously hamper my options for expansion:

Explore, Exuh... shit!

On star date 3501.5 I finish my research into Chemistry and immediately start on Cold Fusion. I'm not sure if I'll be able to make use of a colony ship, but if I end up going for the Mrrshan's throats instead I'll need the transport ships to invade their home planet, so this is still a good plan. I also receive some transmissions from the squid-like Trilarians:

Unfriendly Trilarians

I also get an offer from Commander V'Larr to join me - I can't afford him right now, but his Megawealth would add 10BC a turn to my coffers, so I should remember to check back in about 23 turns to see if he's still around:

Commander V'Larr!

I immediately design a basic Scout ship to go look for some expansion possibilities. It has extended fuel tanks to hopefully be able to reach some nearby systems. Hopefully it doesn't encounter any resistance as its only armament are 2 small nuclear missiles.

My 1st scout design

Moving 3 of my 4 researchers to production I can knock one of these out in 2 turns, so I'll probably build 2 and then switch back to research until I figure out what my strategy is going to be.

I send this first scout to the orange star near Fieras - it's a turn further away than the blue star, but it's more likely to contain habitable planets:

Exploring!

The orange star is known as the Waghi system... the only planet is small and toxic which is not really a good option for colonisation, so next stop is Fieras - I'll probably spark a diplomatic incident, but if they don't have any defences I'm going to start bombarding them out of existence so I can take their homeworld:

Waghi sucks!

The blue star is called Ras and is a bit better. It has 2 barren planets of large enough size to support 4 and 5 population, mineral resources are abundant and one of them even has gold deposits which can boost credit production a bit... The main drawback to colonising these is that I'd have to ship in food from Draconis, since barren planets can't produce any food (at least not without a bit of technology). Instead of sending the freed up scout to Trilar, I direct it to Fieras as well... if my first scout wins or encounters no resistance he'll need some backup. It also wouldn't be a good idea to start a war on 2 fronts!

Fieras here we come!

Dammit I forgot - home worlds start with a star base to defend them! I'm going to have to pull back and build up an attack force then come back. Fieras is a really nice system - better than mine:

  • Rich, Medium Terran supporting up to 12 population.
  • Rich, Medium Desert supporting up to 4 population.

On star date 3502.3 I finish researching Cold Fusion, which leaves me with some tough choices... If I'm going to attack the Mrrshan I'm going to need something that can keep firing longer than the 2 missiles my scouts are armed with. The scouts are Frigate class ships, the next one up is a Destroyer which when fitted with extended fuel tanks can fit 2 missile launchers with 5 missiles each, so it would take 5 turns to dispense 80 damage. Probably not enough to take down even a star base with basic technology. If I recall correctly lasers will pack about 1-4 damage per shot, but I may be able to fit more of them and they don't run out of ammo... the downside is that I'll need to research electrical targeting computers as well if want to have a hope in hell of hitting anything. Lasers and computers it is!

I finish my research into lasers on star date 3503.0 and immediately start on basic electronic computers and finish that on 3503.5. For my next research I start on Research Laboratory under Optronics in the Computers category - if you look carefully you'll see that only one arrow is showing. I've now reached the point in the game where I have to choose which technology to pursue in a given category - if I want the other two I'll have to try and beg, borrow or steal them from someone else. The laboratory will give me a flat bonus of 5RP per turn when built as well as boosting scientists in that system's production by 1RP per scientist:

Researching laboratories

I quickly design a ship that I can use to attack the Mrrshan. It called the Pincer and it's weak as hell, but maybe with 4 of these and my existing 2 missile armed scouts I can wear down a star base before being destroyed. The design is a bit weird, I use point-defense lasers instead of standard ones. They do half the damage (1-2) and have half the range, being designed to take out incoming missiles, but they also have a 25% bonus to accuracy which along with my computers give me +50% and forces me to get to point blank range:

The Pincer

This plan is very unlikely to work, but at least my population is up to 10 now, so with half of them on production I can knock out a ship a turn, so it'll be quick experiment to see what happens.

It actually took on average 1.5 turns to build a single Pincer, so only by star date 3504.1 do I have my fleet of 6 Frigates built. I dare not build a bigger fleet as my 1 planet and star base is only generating 6 command points, which limits how large my fleet can be (going over this limit will result in huge credit costs to maintain the extra ships). Here goes nothing!

Here goes nothing!

3 turns later I arrive at Fieras, to find that they have been busy building a Cruiser while I was away! These are some pretty bad odds now - I'll be quite happy if I can just manage to take out the Cruiser without losing my whole fleet.

My fleet

The Mrrshan defenders!

It's an unmitigated disaster! They wipe out my fleet in about 3 turns - I didn't even get through the Cruiser's armour... Something I failed to take into account is that the Mrrshan have a racial +50 ship attack bonus, which means their lasers shoot like they've got computers 2 levels higher than mine! They're not happy and they're probably coming to get me now...

I immediately go chat the Trilarians and manage to come away with a non-aggression pact and a research treaty. I'm going to keep buttering them up, try to finish my research laboratory to speed up research and then figure out a better offensive strategy to use against the Mrrshan.

By star date 3505.1 I have finished research laboratories and more importantly no Mrrshan attack has materialised. I'm guessing the reason their ship was so heavily armed, was because it didn't have long range fuel tanks, so they can't reach me to strike back. I also figure my best hope for competing militarily is to hammer them with massive amounts of nuclear missiles, so I start researching Deuterium Fuel Cells under Chemistry. This will give the ships I build next the range to reach Fieras without extended fuel cells and also miniaturise my nuclear missiles a bit allowing me to fit more onto each ship.

Longer range ships and smaller missile launchers here we come!

This takes quite a while to research - by 3506.7 I'm done and I start on the construction category with Reinforced Hull for extra hit points for my ships, soon to be followed by automated factories to increase the speed at which I can produce ships.

I finish automated factories by 3507.6 and start building one on Draconis to be followed immediately by some military ships. Next I'll research Biospheres in technology, just to keep busy... Biospheres can increase the maximum population of a planet by 2, which is more useful than 2 food given that I only have one planet at the moment.

I design my new ship called the Zephyr. It's a Cruiser packing 8 Nuclear missile launchers with 2 shots each and 3 point defense lasers. The idea is to jump into a system, unload all my missiles as quickly as possible and get out before the incoming fire can do too much damage. One of these will take me 11 turns to produce, so I'll be building that automated factory first.

With the factory in place that drops to 8 turns and while busy finishing my 1st warship I finish research into Biospheres... I start on Battle Pods in construction next - they increase the cost of a ship quite a bit, but let you pack in 50% more equipment. I suspect I'm going to need a lot more firepower before this is over...

I spend some cash and manage to have 2 Zephyrs finished by 3509.4, here we go again! If this one fails I'll probably sue for peace with the Mrrshan and reevaluate my strategy.

Halfway through the journey Captain Grak offers to join me. He's an operations specialist, which would let me field a larger fleet. Hired!

Captain Grak

When I reach Fieras the Mrrshan fleet immediately attacks me - on the upside this means I don't have to worry about their starbase, but on the downside the Mrrshan now also have a Battleship armed with Fusion beams! Their battleship burns through 1 of my ships' armour in their first turn...

Damn these Mrrshan! How are they building so quickly!

By my calculation a single volley of missiles from 1 of my ships will take out their cruiser, so I split my first volley between the two targets. Let's see if we survive for a second volley:

Volley #1!

My reinforced hull pays of and I do in fact survive through the first couple of turns! I'm retreating the wounded ship now, while the other ship will have to sit and wait for my missiles to land... it looks like that battle ship has amazing PD, it's almost completely wiped out my 1st volley of missiles aimed at it.

Still alive!

Damn, I failed again... due to a mouse mishap I accidentally retreated both ships, but as I'm doing it an incoming missile trashes the engine on the wounded ship immobilizing it, so it gets killed off being completely out of ammo for its missile launchers. I almost killed their cruiser, but their battleship only lost 80 of its 100 armour.

Next time I'll be back with my own battleship and missiles tweaked to resist point defense fire. I don't need to do any research, so this is purely a question of how quickly I can build it. I start research on Pollution Processors in the chemistry category instead of Merculite missiles, I figure large numbers of miniaturized nuclear missiles will be more effective against the anti-missile defenses and the pollution reduction will allow me to build faster.

Using battle pods the Sunstrike can carry 12 missile launchers with 5 shots each, with missiles being armoured and with faster rocket engines, so I should be able to deliver massive damage in a really short time! Unfortunately it'll take me 29 turns to build!

Sunstrike battleship

In the meantime the Mrrshan get a hold of the fuel technology needed to reach me and launch their own attack!

Incoming!

I manage to take out their incoming cruiser and get extremely lucky! My missiles cause a core breach, so it goes up in a big explosion that takes 50 points of damage off their battleship!

Battleship hurt, can we kill it?

After an extended fight my battle station almost manages to win, but those fusion cannons just gradually wear down my equipment to the point where my fire becomes ineffective. The Mrrshan have won!

Ouch!

With that the Elerian empire is in ruins. I surrender to the Trilarians, even if they were not very helpful, they were at least my friends...

Surrender

The end!

Game Installation

If you want to give the game a try after reading this you can get Master of Orion 1+2 on gog.com for around $6. Just a few disclaimers on the GOG version - it didn't work very well for me out of the box:

  • It runs under DosBox
  • The mouse (for me at least) was unusable full-screen in DosBox (some weird vertical stickiness that is the death of accuracy)
  • The Win95 EXE is included, but seems to be missing some DirectX DLLs on Windows 10, so compatibility mode wasn't an option
  • I'm running it windowed for purposes of this review

To Be Continued

This game did not go too well and there are some cool aspects of the game that I didn't even get to yet, so before I dive into a review of the game and game mechanics, expect at least one or two more play posts. I find it quite distracting to document the game while playing, so I'll probably just play a game to a sufficiently advanced state and then continue the story from there...