Opponents: 20 AI, Genius
Galaxy Type: Gigantic, Habitable & Extreme Planet: Abundant, everything else: Occasional.
Other Settings: Very Slow Pacing & Research Pacing, Disable Tech Trading & Brokering, Ascension Victories turned Off.
Outcome: Tech Victory at turn 277, 40 hours of play time.
So I wanted to play a larger and longer-format game type to get a firm amount of early/mid/late playtime. This format accomplished this, and it was a really great/rewarding game. Here’s a mix of my impressions of the game & the Yor (or the game from the Yor perspective, if you will).
First though I’d like to just mention that the game is in really good shape and has come a long way in the 2-3 years since I picked it up last. Thank you Stardock!
Ok, I’ve come to the realization that the starting-game snowball is too dependent upon getting the super-pimp scout ship(s) in the Korx Bazaar. Acquiring that much vision grants a hands-down win in the early game resource/planet rush, thus it does not present an interesting choice early-game, but rather a no-brainer must-buy. My next game I’m tempted to disable the Bazaar even though it also disables a couple of races. Solution: Bazaar should be able to be disabled in the galaxy settings. A better solution would be to do a balance pass on the Bazaar ships with maybe a one time visit from the Korx at turn 15 or so to balance out the “finding it” problem, with early awesome scout ships less awesome and available in larger amounts. Another interesting idea might be to integrate the Bazaar with the ship builder somehow where you can buy made-to-order ships (you design the ship you want to buy in the builder), or individual one-time modules/components could be purchased which a player could then build into a ship in their shipyard.. Anyway, I guess the desire for a balance pass on the Bazaar prompted me thinking about this…
The early game rush is otherwise pretty standard. The Yor/Synths have a couple of cool early to mid game features though that really make them enjoyable to play. First is the 100% tax rate (this should auto-default to 100% for synths upon game start, btw), it allows the player to skip the issue of always running deficits in the early-midgame, thus also skipping trying to grow pop/revenue as a major priority. I’m not sure whether this factor outweighs their overall population mechanic – but I’ll talk about pop later and not here. Similarly, planets functionally get “free” tiles as arable land/farms can be destroyed without detriment – this is also nasty because other races need those and have no way of getting them back. The other early-game dynamic in play for Synths is the Citizen: Mechanic (+1 ship move speed). It’s just an all-around fun citizen to have (fast ships are fun!) and the usefulness is there through the late game. But early game +1 move is so awesome for the resource scramble and going from 2 moves to 3, or 3 to 4 is a really impactful amount (percentage-wise) and really makes me feel like it gives me a leg-up.
Into the mid-game I’d say that the Synth experience is dominated by a couple of dynamics. The first being a severe lack of population, which also feeds into poor raw production, which feeds into having crap production in everything. At the point where planets start getting taken/flipped, most of the AI planets manage to have 4-5 pop, whereas mine all have 1. If you multiply this across 15+ (or however many) planets, that’s a lot of population, and a lot of raw production you’re missing as a Synth. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this might be player-error, but it’s definitely something that stands out as a dominant theme in my game. The second interesting and unexpected dynamic that I came across is that the Yor culture push is STRONG, holy crap. It’s a result of the perpetual 100% morale doubling it. It’s nice not to have to worry too much about building culture and to do well in the flipping contests, should they arise. With the new “no FOW in territory” setting (which always made sense to me), this has the additional advantage of granting vision – which is always useful. The feeling of playing with this kind of culture push feels like it represents the flavored lineage of the Yor though the series. In GC2:ToA recall that the Yor Super Ability was ‘Super Isolationist’ - their planets were always impossible to flip and they were just very difficult to dislodge from map locations – I always dreaded starting next to the Yor, and the +100% Culture side-benefit of the +100 Morale reasonably reproduces (or at least approximates) the flavor of Super Isolationist (although the GC2 -50% move speed was thematically awesome and I do miss it), which does justice to the Yor, and I like it..
By the mid-game the ships are all moving pretty well also. I got a small hand-full of Mechanics which really cuts down on ship cost (skip the engines), as well as leaving space for more guns/shields/etc for the warships, which seems to lead to generally superior fleets I think? Like I said: the Mechanic Citizens are really fun! Other than Mechanics, I lean heavily into Leaders for a strong late-game, the empire-wide bonuses are easy for me to figure out apart from the usual obvious specialist for planet XYZ that comes up. On a related note though, the Terran Alliance started right next door and were really outfleeting me early-midgame, but the Space Monster crisis really saved my ass by giving me a massive ship to fight back with because the raw production just wasn’t there to keep up with them.. As an aside, I find it’s a usual experience for me regardless of race that I find the AI ramps up military faster than I’m naturally inclined to do. So again, me sucking at war earlier-game may just be due to my own shortcomings..
Late game was dominated by severe resource constraints, but as these resources came online they fed into a very hard snowball. In particular: Durantium – Synths can never get enough. Followed by Promethium – but I think this is more varied depending upon how tech-heavy a player goes. There’s not a lot else to say about the late game – the snowball wins, especially when backed by lots of research production (you will always have better stuff, and produce plenty of it), so the last, I dunno 70+ turns was not really competitive, but enlightening nonetheless. The new default setting of AI surrendering scuttling all planets but their homework is actually really great – speeds up the later game, declutters the map, and leaves the only obviously-valuable planet they have. By my end game most of my research production was taking place on the (5) conquered homeworlds whose prior owners had stacked with research citizens and had built better research buildings than the Yor are allowed. Although, I must say, that 100% tax rate really does wonders once a Synth can start actually building appreciable pop..
Which brings me to the elephant in the room for Yor/Synth. Population.
Of all the Synth features, it’s clearly the most differentiating from the other life-forms, and as such worthy of discussion. The different population mechanics for Synths make for very different resource curves, and thus power curves for the Yor, especially in conjunction with other Synth attributes.
First off, the +100 Morale allowing for a 100% tax rate. As I alluded to earlier: money never presents itself as a problem it seems like, and later game the Yor seem to be swimming in it. Usually when I have a game going and I look at the colony list I’ll have a couple of planets that are making bookoo bucks followed by a long sea of red ink and a lot of just barely break-even planets. With the Yor every planet seems to be perpetually in the green, which feels so much better. When you combine this with the Korx Market, it makes for a very strong late game. For example, in my game I was able to keep the Durantium price >700 in the market after sucking up all of the initial accumulation of supply which, I have to imagine, effectively blocked any of the remaining AI from buying any. Similarly, the income went a long way in procuring Promethium which (it sure seemed like) I could never get enough of. It’s honestly REALLY difficult for me to imagine the Yor overcoming their resource constraints without the extra income and the Korx Market, as I could have consistently put to work 3-4x the Durantium (and later Promethium) that I was able to mine, despite investing heavily in mining techs/infrastructure.
The reason I mention all of this, with respect to population is that the “Build Population” Synth action costs 200 production, 1 Durantium and 1 Promethium. It’s uber-expensive in all respects. Late game the 200 production is ho-hum, but early game it’s definitely an investment, especially if it’s being built instead of the usual colony build-out. And early or late game, the Durantium/Prometh are valuable resources. The game balance itself makes all of the mineable resources if not rare, at least restricted for the usual empire build out of: ships/fleets, citizen promotions, starbases/modules, special projects, etc. The Synth utilization of Durantium/Prometh really upsets this equation a lot by heavily bottlenecking any output requiring either resource. These costs can be somewhat subsidized by a couple of mechanisms: the Korx Market (as was mentioned earlier) and also the Supply Ships. Each Supply Ship providing ½ the Social Production to “Build Pop”. BUT, building population incurs a significant opportunity cost; whereas non-Synth pop grows on its own, growing Synth pop requires diverting output (social production, ship prod, money) from other endeavors. In a game world where power curves are predicated upon autonomous pop growth this can matter a lot. Whereas for other races instead of pop growth feeding into the empire power curve, for Synths it is instead something that diverts other power curve feeds into pop growth, which then feeds into the empire snowball later – it’s an interesting dynamic that I haven’t figured out what its full effects are. But suffice to say, it’s restrictive in a very different way than non-synthetic life. I have yet to do a full playthrough of the Silicon guys (Onyx, Slyne) so I’m not sure that I have a fully formed opinion on the matter overall, but these are sort of my off-the-cuff thoughts on the matter (although, oddly enough, in my game the price of Korx Durantium tripled in 5-10 turns right around the time both the Slyne and Onyx were wiped out, suggesting to me that they were Durantium suppliers rather than buyers from the Korx).
One thing notably missing from the Yor buildings is any sort of pop cap busters (cities). In versions past the Yor got +100 pop cap, so maybe no equivalent ever got added for them, but this also really crimps them. So late game, even when you can build a lot of pop, it’s still throttled by the planetary caps that will never be as good as all the non-Synth races, which doesn’t seem intuitive to me at all. Especially when you consider that the +100 Morale mechanically allows for a lot more pop. This can be achieved, by the way, by using a Colony Ship to ferry pop around to bust caps with no negative repercussions at all – so why not just be able to build more pop? - as the Colony Ship thing is a really cumbersome thing to micromanage. When the Yor had a +100 pop they were the ultimate "build tall" race, and I feel like the implementation of planetary pop cap enforcement really took away this unique Synth attribute.
So, take this with a grain of salt since this is just the opinion of one random guy on the internet, but I might suggest a couple of tweaks to the Synth Population system, these don’t necessarily fit together and are just different ideas:
Pop cap busters could be allowed either by buildings or the skill tree.
Change the resource requirements for “build pop”. Say either leave as-is or slightly less for under pop-cap building, then double for up to double pop cap, triple for triple, etc. IE if a planet pop cap is 10, then it’s (production/Durant/Prometh) 200/1/1 until you get to 10 pop, then 400/2/2 until 20 pop, then 600/3/3 until 30, etc. A player will hit diminishing returns pretty quickly, thus the “old” +100 pop idea is still in-play (which, I do think was a REALLY cool idea), but there are serious soft limits also in-play before one would ever hope to reasonably get there.
If pop caps are going to be meaningful with +100 Morale, colony ship pop shuffling should be disallowed (ie a colony ship can’t add excess pop other than parked (pop cap +1?)). I don’t know if this is a viable strategy for winning, but it is cheesy.
A Synth Citizen that gives Population?
A Synth Citizen that busts pop cap when stationed on a planet?
The citizen stuff doesn’t even need to be Synth-specific, Population Citizens generally aren’t a terrible idea: “This one celebrity convinces a 3 billion idiots to move to you planet” type of thing..
A Korx Market that sells excess pop. (Slaves makes sense for a market, but the optics of buying/selling slaves in a game is fairly poor, so “migrants” or “refugees” might be better terminology).
Starbase pop modules (synths can live in vacuum right?).
So… those are my impressions from a 40-hour Yor playthrough. They are a really fun and unique race, and GC3 is a great game. I really do love the synths and the +100 Morale really makes for some interesting custom races (Krynn skill tree for instance), as does their resource hunger (Snathi skill tree). What I would really love to see would be MORE SYNTHS, because they are such a cool idea. More Dunantium/Promethium based synths. As well as different flavors – what about Elerium/Antimatter-based synths that are made out of energy fields? Or various combinations of based-ness: Thulium/Elerium, Thulium/Antimatter, Durantium/Thulium, Promethium/Thulium, etc. There are definitely some cool possibilities.
As always, I’m always super open to input/responses, as I’m sure there are plenty to things I’m overlooking.
Cheers, and thanks Brad & Crew for a terrific game!