Let's Play Master of Orion Classic: Part 1, Meklars part 1.

Right, I tried to do this awhile back but never got anywhere really before I lost the saves. Let's play...

Master of Orion. The original, not the newer remake game.

General context before we go any deeper: Master of Orion is, though not the first of the genre, the game that got the 4X genre coined as a genre at all. It is among the earliest.

The 4X in question being 'eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate', as Wikipedia helpfully describes. This is a pretty good summary of the broad strokes of the flow of the genre. 4X games generally involve starting off with a single city, or in the case of the space faring examples like Master of Orion, a single planet, and next to no knowledge of the wider world. You explore outwards, expand your empire, exploit available resources, and sooner or later run into rival empires that you will probably need to exterminate at least some of.

That said, let's actually start a game.

There are the galaxy settings I'll be using for the first run. They aren't generally optimal, a small galaxy with five players is pretty crowded, but is rather optimized for the species I'll be playing...

The Meklar. Their advantage, what the game calls 'enhanced factory controls' is most useful in smaller maps, and less useful in larger maps. The secondary characteristics of the species the 'choose race' screen doesn't mention reinforce this. I'll get to those when they crop up.

I skipped showing it, but you can pick one of six colors (the AI players will use the others) which have their own ship design styles visually. It's entirely aesthetic but a nice touch. I chose white, hence the white flag.

Here we see me naming the faction leader. The game offers defaults- for the Meklar it's stuff that sounds more like a product number than a name, various strings of digits and letters, while every other species has their own styles for these things. I'd rather just go with my screenname.

And here I rename the home world. Each species has a set default, which the AI always uses, but you can rename it if you like. The Meklar default, incidentally, is Meklon. Here I went with the name of the website, because why not. I'll be using that same naming convention every run I do. I intend to show off multiple species, ideally all of them.

After that the game actually starts. The first thing I did was check the galaxy map;

We're towards, but not in, the upper left corner. Well, really, we're about as smack in the middle of the map as we get, we're the little grey flag sticking out of a star. The brackets correspond to where the screen was in the game's normal view. In any event, the game likes to hide what species you are facing off against, except here. It's kind of weird, on stuff like the diplomacy screen other species aren't listed unless you are in contact with them.

As you can see, we have the Mrrshan, the Psilons, the Bulrathi, the Darloks, and plain old Humans to boot. I'll go over their advantages as we run into them.

Having checked the opposition and saved the game in case of one particular issue (which I will discuss when we see it), I go to issue orders to my fleet. You always start the game with a Colony Ship, with which to colonize new worlds, and a pair of scout ships. The reason it lists zero here is because I deselected them to send out only the colony ship to the nearest world. Yellow stars typically have habitable planets- each star system has one planet, if that- so barring bad luck it's probably a good move. In general, all else being equal I prefer to focus my initial efforts on the star types most likely to be habitable, because while with more advanced technology you can colonize the less habitable worlds, at the start you won't have that more advanced technology so it's best to hit the worlds you can immediately colonize.

The green line marks the travel path, although that mostly doesn't matter, while the ETA tells us how many turns it will take.

Having sent off the Colony Ship, it splits off from our main fleet, hence why I now have two grey ship icons. Yes, that's what the little grey things are. They are grey because I picked white. White uses grey a lot, for some reason. Regardless, I send one scout off to that blue star...

And the other to that green star down south. I could check the red star to the northwest, but red stars are less likely to have habitable worlds.

However, there's an important bit here: At the start of the game, you have the fuel technology to go three parsecs out from your worlds, and move one parsec per turn. Ships don't actually have to refuel, but you can't go more than three parsecs out from the nearest colony you hold. The ETA of four turns, therefore, means this is four parsecs out. Scout ships have the 'reserve fuel tanks' special and so can go another three parsecs out beyond your base technological limit, while our Colony Ships lack that feature. You can actually make custom ship designs, and indeed mostly have to, but making a Colony Ship with reserve fuel tanks is beyond feasibility right now. So we wouldn't actually be able to send a Colony Ship there, if the nearer yellow star proves uninhabitable, even though we can send scouts out there.

Regardless, that green star is close enough to the yellow star, so if we can colonize the yellow we might be able to colonize the green, too.

I pass a couple turns, and...

Our Colony Ship arrives at the yellow star, which happens to be Nordia. So far as I know, most systems get a random name from a pool that is in no way relevant. Like I said earlier, species home worlds have fixed names. Regardless, a steppe world can be colonized with initial technology, and 45 max pop is not shabby, so I take it. (I'd probably take it even if it was terrible, for a first colony.)

Also visible in this screenshot is the fleet icons for the two scouts, each still in motion.

You get this cute little cinema of a ship coming down and an astronaut planting a flag every time you colonize a world. It tells you what year it's occurring on (which is turn count, basically, starting from the year 2999), and otherwise I believe the graphics are largely standardized. Different environments get different backdrops, and the flag is white because we're the white nation in the game, but the little astronaut and the ship look the same regardless of species and color alike.

While we are here we can rename the system we are colonizing, but I generally don't care to do so.

Now that we have a second colony, there's something very important to do:

Use the 'trans(port)' function. The transport function is for sending colonists between worlds.

Before getting into that though, I'll give an overview of the planetary management panel. From top to bottom, we have the planet/system's name (Vigaroe, as I renamed it), a planetary info box listing its biome, population limit, and if it has any special features (home worlds don't, barring events), and then pop, bases, production, and five planetary production sliders, plus the ship type and transport controls. Pop is the planets population (in millions. Each one pop is a million colonists/citizens.), bases is the number of missile bases installed on the planet (none, in this case), production is the worlds total industrial output, to be split between the five categories of ship, for building any of our ship types, def(ense), for constructing missile bases or, eventually, more advanced defenses, Ind(ustry), for the construction of factories, Eco(logical), for cleaning up the pollution our factories produce, increasing pop count, and other things we lack the technology for, and Tech(nology), for producing research points to, well, advance our technology.

At the moment, we're generating 4.1 factories a year, each of which produces 1 industrial waste and 1 point of production. At baseline technology levels, we need 1 point of production to clean up two units of waste, which the game automatically commits to Ecological spending to keep it all clean. Each factory takes a total of ten production to build, paying for itself, in practice, in twenty turns.

Master of Orion is a fairly slow game, in terms of needing to go through lots of turns, but the turns pass quickly.

Regardless, what we want to do right now is transport colonists to our new world.

So we hit trans(port) and get the screen changed to this. Incidentally, our mouse cursor changes from the little hand to that cute starship I have hovering visually by Nordia.

Select an inhabited system...

I dragged the slider up to 11 million. Note that a Colony Ship only puts two pop on the world by default. It also provides no factories, but in addition to factories each population unit generates .5 units of Production. As an odd note, transport ships cost no resources and take no time to produce. The only cost is removing the population from the one world and sending it to the other. It feels a little silly from a realism perspective to say that a transport ship that can bring a million people between worlds is free while a simple one man fighter craft uses meaningful amounts of resources, but gameplay wise it's probably better this way.

Regardless, back to the matter at hand. While I don't know the actual formula, pop growth is fastest when the population is close to half what the world can support, slowing down above and below that gradually. A two pop world could sit there for several turns, while Vigaroe will generate probably two or three pop a turn right now. Sending the citizens off will speed up both worlds growth, and enable Nordia to get productive faster.

As a note, the game says 'troops to transport' here, and indeed your citizens are also your ground forces. We can transport not only to friendly worlds to reinforce their numbers, but also to hostile worlds to invade them. Not that we know of any other nation to invade yet.

Orders given, we end our turn...

And find out that Moro, the blue star, is also a steppe world, with a pop max of 50. I'll be wanting to try to take that soon.

Here I selected our colony transports in motion. Note the different mini-ship design- colony transports show up as that little icon instead of the standard fleet icon.

Offscreen, I redirect the northern scout to the red star to the upper left.

End the turn...

And our other scout arrives, at Zhardan, an arid world with a pop max of 55. We have at least three habitable worlds in our reach already, which is more than expected.

I order this scout off to the red star to the lower left of Zhardan, and end the turn...

And in the next turn, spot a Mrrshan fleet skulking about. Species home systems are always yellow stars, so the yellow star in the center of the screen is probably the Mrrshan homeworld, given that we have a Mrrshan scout showing up around Zhardan. If it's not that one, it's the one to the south of it. Not anywhere else for them to be coming from my southeast from.

Regardless, we can't really do anything about that just yet, other than be aware of the probability of encountering them soon. I'm fairly sure Zhardan is out of their Colony Ship range, but we'll find out.

We pass another turn, and spot this Bulrathi Fleet in orbit of Moro. Like the Mrsshan, they necessarily come from a nearby yellow star.

I'm guessing they come from the bracketed one (bracketed because I selected it), but they could come from the other, as well, which has a little barely visible four pronged green thing- that's what the mouse cursor changes to when hovering over any part of the space map here.

Regardless, at that range they probably can't take Moro, but I'm not about to take chances.

So I immediately start building a Colony Ship, diverting around half my non-ecological production from Industry to Ships. I also had to click the Ships button down there to go from scouts to Colony ships- well, I had to click it a few times to click through options. Not that most of the available starting options are worth building.

The Ecological bar is red because I clicked it to 'lock' it, so that moving the other bars wouldn't affect it. The game doesn't really let you lower Ecological output below the minimum to remove waste for long, due to auto-correcting to that minimum, but it's a bad idea anyways. You can do it, but not only will it snap back, industrial waste you don't clean up outright lowers pop limit on a planet. You can just clean it up afterwards, but it's mostly best to just go with what the game defaults to here.

Anyways, I move onto the next turn and...

Nooot what I wanted to see. This is the thing I save in case of. The Guardian of Orion.

Continue to the battle, and it immediately rushes forward and launches a bunch of missiles and torpedoes. It's way outside our weight class right now. It has 6000 HP. The biggest ship we could possibly make (and it'd take forever) is 600 HP currently. It also has, well, an arsenal of death dealing weapons and other systems we can't match.

In a futile effort, I order our poor scout to retreat. The missiles and torpedoes rush forward, the Guardian takes its turn (here we can see what it looks like without a bunch of missiles and Plasma Torpedoes obscuring its graphic), and rushes forward and kills our scout with a bunch of energy weapons.

Let's go into what makes the Guardian scary in more detail.

This is a screenshot I grabbed of the screen that results from using the Battle Scanner special system to, well, scan the Guardian.

We can see its weaponry and other parameters here, and also its special systems. With 7 shield, we outright can't hurt it with starting technology, our best weapons (that can target ships) only do up to 7 damage so it ignores all that. With an attack level of 10 (what the 'att lvl' stat refers to), it is incapable of missing our ships.

It carries forty five Scatter Pack X Missile systems, each with five ammo (it's already fired the first round as of this screenshot, the '4' at the end is remaining ammo), meaning it will spend the first five turns in combat launching four hundred and fifty rockets per turn that each do 15 damage. And again, our ships will always be hit due to its high accuracy. Our toughest possible ships would die in ~sixty-five such hits, leading to us losing over six such ships per turn to the missiles alone.

Such ships would also take Vigaroe over forty years to build. Smaller ships would die in one to two rockets. It could kill thousands of such ships on rockets alone, and packs several other weapons. I don't even really need to get into the rest of the details, given for this stage of the game a large combat fleet would be a hundred or so small ships.

We can't hurt it and it would wipe out any fleet we sent several times over. We'll discuss it further when we have the tech to possibly care.

This system, then, is Orion. We want to take control of Orion, shock, but it'll be a long while before we have the tech to break the Guardian.

So for now it's a system we basically can't access.

As a point of order, as far as I'm aware the AI will never send ships to Orion while the Guardian is alive. I'm certainly quite confident they won't seize it for themselves. At least not before you do the work for them. They're perfectly willing to try to take it once you clear out the Guardian.

In any event, I mentioned saving for one particular reason- the Guardian is impossible to escape at early tech, waiting till you have scouted a planet to send forth the Colony Ship is usually stupid (in part because it eats into your initial production pretty badly to maintain), and then sometimes you'll wind up losing a very expensive Colony Ship to the Guardian for no reason. Which is such a huge hit to have happen so early that you may as well restart right then and there.

I prefer just reloading a save made on turn 1 if that eventuality arises, takes less time and has about the same result. Losing a scout is a bit meh, so I don't bother in that case.

Moving right along.

The Mrrshan fleet has left orbit...

As has the Bulrathi fleet. We don't know where they are going, but we can guess based on what planets they left and where they are. I don't much care right now, though.

End the turn...

And my other scout finds an irradiated hell hole we can't take and probably wouldn't want to. While I'm looking at it, we can see the big purple cloud that has been in several of my screenshots. That's a Nebula. It probably won't meaningfully impact this run, to be honest.

The Bulrathi scout seems to be heading to this system, which suggests to me that their homeworld is the yellow star just to the north. (Spoilers: I'm actually wrong.)

I check on the production of the Colony Ship and put a bit more effort into building it faster, at the cost of factories per turn.

I also send my scout off to what I suspect to be the Bulrathi homeworld. Nine turns will be a bit.

Pass a turn...

... well, crap. Here we meet the Bulrathi officially for the first time. This implies that our empire is in contact with their own. That happens when one of us has the fuel tanks to reach at least one world of the other species without reserve fuel tanks. And given that I got a galactic news report (that I forgot to screenshot) telling me the Bulrathi have three worlds now...

Yep, they took Moro. I was also wrong about which star their home world was- we automatically know all systems of any empire we are in contact with. They beelined straight for us, right from the start. Had I known this was coming, I might have sent the starting Colony Ship to Moro and not Nordia, but of course I had no way of knowing. Incidentally, Ursa is the Bulrathi home world.

Since I have encountered the Bulrathi, I may as well lay out our respective factional advantages. The Meklar have 'enhanced factory controls', as I mentioned awhile back. For most species, before technology, each colonist can operate two factories. For the Meklar, that number is increased by two, to four. So I can build up to more productive worlds to a greater degree than rival empires. Unfortunately, it offers no immediate advantage at the start of the game, but then neither does the Bulrathi edge. The Bulrathi have an automatic +25 advantage in ground combat. I'll go into what that means exactly when we get to ground combat, but in practice it's not inaccurate to say they should always do ground invasions and you should pretty much never do it to them.

Also, note that the AI very much cheats for production, hence why they already have three worlds when I decided to try to rush out a Colony Ship awfully early and yet still don't have it.

Here's a look at the colony screen we get for other empires planets. I would consider immediately invading in ground combat, but they are Bulrathi and would wreck me to a disturbing degree and I don't have a military fleet to back up fighting them with. No, better to be peaceful for a bit.

Anyways. Pass a few turns, and my Colony Ship is closer to being ready, but not much has happened.

Bizarrely, a turn or two later, Centauri stops showing up as a Bulrathi Colony... except it still does on the Galactic Map screen, which I neglected to take a screenshot of. No events occurred to destroy it or anything. Also they colonized Tau Cygni to the north. So I'm pretty sure they actually have four colonies now. Not too worried yet, but still not happy.

Oh and they have a Colony Ship orbiting Moro right now. Like I said, they cheat on production.

Also, while I failed to get a screenshot of the brief period the transport fleet was visible, they got a nice fleet of transports over to Moro. Now I definitely can't ground invade it at all successfully.

I begin, a turn or so later, tweaking production ratios. Here we see the ship being finished in three years...

And same turn, still being finished in three years but with more factory progress. This is a thing I do mostly with Colony Ships. Anything else, I'm probably not building it while factories are still in progress. Or if I am, it's a much smaller ship that I can actually build one or more of in a turn. Regardless, production effort being burned on building the ship that doesn't actually make it come sooner is fairly suboptimal, I'm basically getting extra work accomplished for the same production value.

Pass a turn...

And get a space combat with another empire. Sorta.

It's a Darlok scout. Like my own, it's unarmed. The AI always retreats unarmed ships, even if the enemy is also unarmed. So I pass combat turns till they warp out.

Here is the rather impressive world of Galos- 115 max pop is higher than a home world gets; Typically, you don't find worlds clearly better than your home world, but sometimes you'll see the odd one like Galos here that just is plain better. Unfortunately, it'll probably become yet another Bulrathi world. The green ship is of course the Darlok one I just encountered.

I order my scout off to the south...

And go and fiddle with my Colony Ship production again.

Once again, slightly more factories per turn, but no slower ship production in turns.


This could be the Darlok home world, based on range...

But I think this one is rather more likely.

Regardless, not my problem for now.

More production tweaking. Also visible that I haven't commented on is a Bulrathi scout fleet flying past my home world.

And the tweaked values. Probably won't show too much of this in the future. It's good play, but it's not exactly riveting to watch me do in screenshot form.

Pass a turn...

And at last, the Colony ship is ready. This pops up at the start of any turn we finish ships in, though this is the first time it's come up, since this is the first ship we actually built. The six boxes are for our ship types- you can only have up to six different designs at once, which is a bit restrictive. You can freely decommission old designs, but doing so wipes out any copies you have (providing a partial refund on cost). Those six designs includes the prebuilt designs, including our starting Scouts and Colony Ships. You actually start with five prebuilt designs, though I only ever keep three of them, as aside the Scouts and Colony Ships the prebuilt designs are all combat ships and two of them are pretty terrible.

With the Colony Ship ready, I decide to actually go check out the Races screen.

Here's the races screen. We can see our friends, the Bulrathi, but while I know others exist and even who they are thanks to the Galactic Map, they're listed as 'no contact' here because, well, we aren't in contact with any of them. We have no form of trade or treaty with the Bulrathi, in part because I haven't bothered to talk to them. We can also see that our relationship with them is 'neutral', because we haven't done anything to make them like us nor anything to make them hate us. We also have no spies, and are investing no resources into spying on them.

So let's look at our spy report.

They have no Alliances and no Wars (we know those automatically, even if we haven't spied on them), and they have the basic technologies in each field, so far as we know. The report is 19 years out of date, though, by which the game means the start of the game, so it's possible they have actually developed new technology. Their leader is an 'Erratic Ecologist'. According to the manual, the former means he's basically crazy, going from super tolerant of my antics to warmongering psycho at the drop of a hat with no warning, while the latter means he focuses on trying to build up big populations and industry his worlds have. Well, I'm paraphrasing, but the point is he's gonna try to fill up his population and be pretty passive mostly. Other than the insanity.

I check the status screen next...

As we can see, he's about equal to me in population, fleet strength, and technology (so he probably hasn't developed any tech yet), but has more planets (as we already knew) and more production.

The AI is bad, so I'm not too concerned.

Moving on...

I order my Colony Ship off to Zhardan so I can hopefully take it before the Mrrshan try to follow in the Bulrathi's footsteps. I'd really rather have at least three worlds before I need to go to war, and really would rather not come into contact with the Mrrshan at all, this early.

Then I go back to Vigaroe...

And switch us from building Colony Ships to some actual research work.

Let's talk about tech.

Here's the tech screen. We can manipulate ratios of where our research should go, though I haven't touched it yet, and see what technology we have. Like the Bulrathi (probably, like I said they could have invented more), we have only the starting technologies.

The Battle Scanner is a ship special system. It, as it says, allows us to view the enemy ship loadouts in combat, but also makes our ships slightly more accurate and improves their turn order in battle.

Not listed here, we also have the basic Battle Computer mk1, which we can load on ships to make them more accurate.

Moving on, the basic construction tech: Reserve Fuel Tanks. As I said before, that's a ship special system that allows our ships to head out farther. It's situational in use, but far from worthless.

Here we have the basic force field tech: Class 1 Deflector Shields. We can put them on our ships to make them take a flat one less damage from all weapon impacts. Useful to make them that bit tougher, but not a big deal overall. More advanced shields will matter more.

The basic Planetology tech: Ecological Restoration. It just describes the fact that we spend 1 'BC' (billions of credits, the games unit of production effort) per 2 units of industrial waste for clean up. More advanced forms of the tech exist that clean up better.

Absent here: The basic Colony Base Module tech with which we colonize worlds.

The basic propulsion tech: Retro Engines. The starting engine that allows us to space travel. We'll get better.

We presumably also have a fuel tech, but it's not formally listed.

And the basic weapons techs. Here we actually have three. Nuclear missiles, the most basic form of missile we can load on our ships and that appears on any Missile Bases we construct. Missiles are long range weapons, but possess limited ammo.

Nuclear Bombs, which are our basic planetary assault weapon. We can load them on ship designs. They do heavy damage to missile bases or planetary populations, and possess limited (but generous) ammo supplies. They cannot target ships. Still, we'll need them to take on Missile Bases, realistically speaking, at least prior to gaining more advanced types.

And lastly Lasers. Lasers is a two in one deal, and has equivalent, more advanced beam technologies that are also two in one deals. Basic lasers are smaller, while Heavy Lasers use up more space, but hit harder, helping them breach shields, mostly, and can fire at range two. They are, however, less accurate each space away you are, and so not only have a more limited range than missiles but are, in general, worse at the long range game. Still, they can allow you to bombard the enemy from a short distance with, potentially, no chance of retaliation, and all beam type weapons possess unlimited ammo.

Anyways, I hit the = key to equalize my research distribution, so I can get started on a little bit of everything now that I'm researching.

One more thing: Scanner range is how far away our planets can see enemy fleets, and is boosted by specific technologies, Robot Controls is how many Factories our colonists can man per head, and has its own technology series, Factory Waste 100 is the base rate of factory waste production, and is the percentage of waste generated by factories (we'll pick up technologies that reduce the rate to 80%, 60%, etc, all the way down to zero, reducing the amount of waste generated), the ground combat +0% are how much of a boost to ground combat strength that field is providing (which is to say none for now), terraform +0 is how much terraforming potential we have (which increases the max population of the planet by a certain number of colonists), Waste Elimination is the amount of waste eliminated by each production point, as I covered earlier, and ship range is the point I covered earlier of how far out from our colonies our ships can range.

Each of these parameters is boosted by technologies within that field they match to.

Lastly, I'll comment on technological strength and weaknesses. Each species has certain areas they are particularly good or bad at.

The Meklars are poor at Planetology, which hurts some, but excellent at Computers, which is a bit unsurprising given they are cyborgs. Planetology is a critical field anyways, so I'm not interested in ignoring it, but I'll develop Planetology techs slower (with the cost in research points being 125% the base cost for the field) and have a more limited selection of options.

Being excellent at Computer tech has the inverse effect, I'll develop those techs faster (needing only 60% the normal research points) and be able to naturally research more of them.

Our neighbors, the Bulrathi, are as poor at Computer tech as we are at Planetology, but are 'good' at Weapons and Construction tech. This is a lesser degree of advantage than our Excellent (they need 80% the normal research points for such technologies), but of course they are good in two fields.

Regardless, we're each average at every other area.

So hey, speaking of them being bad at Computer tech, Computer tech helps with spying. So let's spy on them.

I assign 2% of my empire's planetary resources to spying on them...

And then tell them to perform Espionage. Sabotage can be useful, but Espionage is the holy grail of spywork: It allows us to steal technologies we don't have that the Bulrathi do. They'll keep them, of course, but I'll get the tech for myself, and that's nice. Having spies in their empire at all will give us spy reports.

We could tell them to hide, but in my experience that's fairly worthless.

Regardless, once my research gets going, I'll probably have a pretty persistent tech advantage in Computers over them, which both makes it easier to spy on them and easier to catch any of their spies in my empire. This is one of the reasons I consider the Meklars to be strong in smaller, crowded maps, they are pretty much the second or third best faction at spying, which is a significant tool once in contact with another empire. Compared to factions less adept at Computer technology, they will usually be stealing more tech than gets stolen from them, leading to an edge in tech level overall as compared to if the two empires developed with no contact.

Lastly for this update...

Here's the detailed view of Vigaroe...

And Nordia. We can see the planet type and star color graphically, little markers showing us the rough population and factory counts, and an exact numerical listing of the max pop, factory count, industrial waste not cleaned up, current population, and growth, which is the change in population compared to the prior turn, it'd list a minus if it had reduced for any reason.

Next time, we'll see me start to advance technology, try to colonize Zhardan, and hopefully manage spywork on the Bulrathi.


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