ADVICE FOR BEGINNERS: INTRODUCTION
Copyleft 2021 by Bruce Alexander Knight -- all rights reversed
In any diplomatic war game, a strong opening will put you in a much better negotiating position. When you first meet your neighboring players you can confidently say, “You don't want to fight me. Let's be friends and fight somebody else together, later.” I've always opened strongly in Starweb (SW) and Retro Space Wars (RSW), and I'm happy to tell you how you can do it too.
SW was developed by Rick Loomis in the 1970s in cooperation with Fred Saberhagen and others. My late friend Michael R. Noble persuaded me to try it in 1977. Though the learning curve was steep, I got (and heeded) Mike's sound general advice. I finished second (after Mike) and fell in love with the game. I've recommended it to fellow gamers ever since.
RSW was developed in the 2000s as a more flexible platform for SW-like games. “Classic” RSW is nearly identical to SW in its rules and order format. “Advanced” RSW offers more player types, and “specialty” RSW games allow the player who sets up the game to tweak various rules and design even more player types.
New players may be overwhelmed by the complexity of SW or RSW rules, and make mistakes in their openings that leave them very weak. In 2017 a rookie ally complained to me, “There's no play book for this game.” I sympathized, and told him I was writing one. This is it.
What qualifies me to write this? I've helped new players since my own first game, and coached my now-ex-wife to victory in her very first SW game. I've also led alliances with newbie members, consistently helping those partners finish ahead of the pack. I understand the game and can explain its ins and outs in simple terms.
Because the “races” or player-types all earn points for doing different things, no single strategy is ideal for all. For articles on strategies and others aspects of the game, visit the Starweb Email Discussion Group at http://www.flyingmoose.ca/SEDG/sedg.htm -- but don't believe everything you read!
Despite their differences, all player-types need to achieve similar things during the game's opening. In the pre-contact phase all must build ships, explore their areas, capture worlds and keys, and move metal to their home worlds (HWs) to build more ships. Once they meet their immediate neighbors, around Turn 4, they should decide with whom to ally and how, while moving enough metal to maximize HW production by Turn 8 or sooner. My goal here is to show you how to do those things while avoiding crippling errors.
You needn't be a genius to master the game, but it is NOT for dummies. If you don't have patience and a long attention span, you should probably play something else. With 2-week turns, a typical game lasts most of a year. Games with slower turn cycles run even longer.
In addition to strategy and tactics, success also depends on good logistics and negotiation. Being diplomatic will get you more allies and help you avoid costly, risky wars; so I recommend also playing Diplomacy to hone your negotiating skills. Searching online for “play by email diplomacy” will show you a number of sites for that game; http://www.diplomaticcorp.com/ is my personal favorite.
In the following chapters I'll assume that you have familiarized yourself with the rules and understand how to look up and format SW orders. You needn't memorize everything, but writing your orders correctly is critical. The “code” syntax is straightforward; typically a noun is followed by a verb and possibly another noun. A movement order consists of a noun (numbered fleet) followed by as many as three verbs (moving through up to 3 links per turn).
War is not inevitable, but games without major wars between alliances are rare. If you want to lead your allies in battle, you really should study Sun Tzu's The Art of War -- older than Jesus but still the best book on strategy and statecraft ever written. I recommend the translation by Samuel B. Griffith, a US Marine Corps general who lived in China many years.
In the coming weeks I'll post my play book here, one chapter for each of the first several turns. I can't guarantee that you will win, of course, but playing a strong opening should ensure that you won't be a pushover when faced with aggressive neighbors in the mid- and end-game. Take heed, and have fun!
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