Thanks to the combined powers of laziness and convenient digital purchases have, I’ve ended up buying games on gog that I already own. Because oldies on sale cost less than I’d spend on my lunch, and I can’t remember where the original CDs are stashed.

So that’s how I’ve ended up playing master of Orion 2 again, which was my favourite of the old 4X strategy games. Being the “ffg strategy guy” I am of course an expert of this game and can offer much advice on matters such as production queues and ship design…

haha who am I kidding. Here’s my strategy: 1: get to Orion before anyone else: 2: build ships with heavy deathrays 3: hope the Psilons don’t already have a fleet of 200 Doom Stars.

Bloody Psilons. Anyway though, I was sat down at a new game, colonising a few planets, building factories. Hoping my one rickety tin-can cruiser didn’t actually have to fight anything. Then I heard that dreaded music, and saw a familiar “through the gateway” cinematic.

oh, crap

oh, crap

Periodically, the game will have Antarans appear and attack someone. These guys work differently from all the other races (player or computer controlled). They don’t appear to control any planets of their own, they just pop up out of nowhere, raid a planet, then if not defeated they disappear. By late in the game they’re not a a maor problem, but early on they can pose a critical threat. Their technology is way ahead of anyone else’s. Their ships are loaded with devastating weaponry. They laugh at your pathetic cruisers and fusion beams.

Or they laugh at mine, anyway. Do my ship designs suck? Write in and let me know. But I find they stand up about as usefully as I would personally in a fight with Vin Diesel. I send them hurtling in to try and do some small amount of damage, then rely on fixed defenses and hope. If the attacking fleet is small, I might just come away unscathed. If my colony is large enough, there may still be something standing in the case of a defeat. Otherwise, it’ll probably razed to the ground.

There’s always a brief moment of panic and hope when you first hear the wooshing noise. Who are the Antarans going for? If it’s you, a moment of sorrow or at best grim resignation. Time to decide if making a stand is worthwhile, or if you’ll just be picking up the pieces after the Antarans are done. If it’s one of the other races, there’s a monumental sigh of relief. You’re safe and one of your rivals, at very least, has taken heavy damage to one of their colonies. and you have a few dozen turns before this all happens again.

Several attacks in a row can feel like your empire is being pulled apart one colony at a time. It’s rather demoralising. Now you can, before a game, totally switch off the Antarans. However, if they are present, so is planet Orion. That’s the one with the fancy technology that normally can’t be researched. Such as deathrays, and I do enjoy purple beams of destruction that make bad guys go kaboom. So I always keep the option on, even though it makes the early game a bit more tense.

The funny thing is, it also makes the endgame potentially easier. You do eventually get the chance to attack the hidden Antaran world, and the forces protecting it are, by this point in the game, underwhelming in strength. If you conquer it, you win the game, regardless of the status of the rest of the galaxy. Also though, the other conventional races can go a bit crazy, building monstrously huge fleets. Rows, and rows of massive warships, filling the battle screen. I think that’s down to a combination of hard-mode bonuses to AI players, and me taking too long to go on the offensive. I’m not sure the developers even intended enemy fleets to get that big, as I’m sure I recall error messages popping up saying the game engine had hit a hard limit on how many ships it could throw around.

So Antara becomes an easy back door to victory, albeit one that feels a bit of a cheat.