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Cluster Wars (formerly Empyrean Challenge)
One of the most "challenging" space empire PBM games of the 80s was Empyrean Challenge. It pushed the standards of the day to the limit in terms of informational awareness, design and customization, text reporting, team-based competition, military planning, and cost. (Mature positions could cost in excess of $10/turn -- in the 80s!)

Now it is back in the form of Cluster Wars. Original creator Vern Holford (interviewed elsewhere in these fora) has assembled a team and is recreating this beast with significant updates in terms of rules and (especially) tools. He ran game #1 of what he is calling a "pre-alpha" release, which seems to have concluded. Now game #2 is starting up, with a full roster of 20 players (I believe).

I will blog about it here in this thread. If anyone here is interested in joining, I encourage them to contact Vern (go to for info). PBM games are usually hit with dropouts, and an early take-over of an abandoned position should find you in good shape for a full experience and an even shot at victory.

CW uses a highly customized MS Access client tool to both display every detail of your empire and provide you with power tools to craft your orders. It is, in my humble opinion, somewhat confusing. But the team has now put together a detailed tutorial to help get players through the first few turns. The first turn tutorial can be found here:

This tutorial, along with the MS Access tool, the CW web site, and the rules, suffers from deficiencies in layout, formatting, clarity, completeness, and accessibility to the uninitiated. But it more than makes up for that with enthusiasm, nuts-and-bolts knowledge-sharing, and a sense of collaboration with the development team. Like the game, it is a diamond in the rough.

The basic premise is that our star cluster is recovering from a dark age in which our old civilization crumbled and humanity shrank to a set of isolated star systems. Now, stardrive-capable civilizations are emerging on these planets simultaneously, and the race is on. Not only is this a race for control of the star cluster -- it is a race for survival. Every homeworld is approaching its population limit and death rates will soon go up. To save our people we must expand.

Unlike the old Empryean Challenge, in which 20-25 people were jammed onto one homeworld and forced to cooperate in order to face the other homeworlds in deep space, Cluster Wars grants each player an entire homeworld with a command economy. It appears we have been given a small bump in certain technologies to start with. Each player needs to set up their production lines, put together a complex interplanetary supply chain, boost technology quickly, and prepare colonizer ships to grab their share of habitable worlds, all in balance with spinning up military and naval defense forces and power-projection capabilities.

Turn 1 is out and orders are due back 6/20. Tomorrow I will post some screen-shots and review the basic approach I am taking (which, as it happens, is more or less in line with the turn 1 tutorial.)
Sounds interesting, but I miss a rulebook or something on your site!?
Ack, another design flaw. The rules are in the form of a wiki, and they are in the "Player Zone" on the site, which appears to require that you have an account in order to access. You should request an account -- I imagine Vern and company will grant you access even if you're not a current player.

I will suggest to Vern that they move a copy of the rules out into the general site, so new players can take a look.
Quick test to see if free image hosting really works.

This is the opening screen in CW's "central command" client tool:

[Image: xrUxnhz.png]

I will post more later tonight, after verifying that this works...
Hopefully the texts are in an external file, so we can translate them into german :-)
Okay, I'm back with more screen-shots from the CenCom tool.

[Image: 2t1bPnS.png]

This is a listing of all my "S/Cs" (which stands for ship/colonies). We all start with one "OPC" (open surface colony on our home world), one "OBC" (a stationary orbiting colony above our home world), and 2 small but well-equipped scout ships.

The grid coordinates are relative to your homeworld, so everyone's homeworld will appear at 0,0,0. This will make it entertaining to sync up our navigational efforts when we start meeting each other in deep space...

[Image: syMf6q5.png]

This shows us the inventory of items in our home colony. We've got a number of farms up and running, a lot of laboratories, etc. There is a basic assortment of military hardware, a bunch of consumer goods (to "pay" your people with), and a pile of "metals", "non-metals", and "fuel" with which to keep your production lines going. This is not nearly enough for the long term, and it is imperative that we get offworld mining colonies set up to boost our supply chain.

Note also we have a large starting population. Among other things, we will want to move a large swath of those "unskilled" workers into "trainee" status, where they will become "professionals" over time. Unskilled workers can be replaced by "AUT" (automation units), but professionals are needed to run just about everything, especially labs. They are probably the ultimate limiting factor in building the economy, so it is wise to boost their numbers asap. (Note also we have a lot of AUT units waiting to be assembled!)

[Image: HcOIUy4.png]

Here is the manufacturing base on our homeworld. We are building an array of important items, with a particular emphasis on consumer good, automation, and factories. We will be assembling new factories asap, and they will most likely focus on building Laboratories or Factories. We'll probably hold off on weapons production for now, because of our dire need for production goods, ship-building goods, and mines.

[Image: yIOWA9l.png]

Speaking of mining, here is our mining display. Home planets get 6 slots for mining -- one set of metals/non-metals/fuel that are high-yield but limited deposits, and another set that are unlimited deposits but lower-yield. I don't know yet if this is the case on other planets. We have a lot of MIN units on each deposit -- I will likely move the low-yield MINs over to the high-yield deposits.

[Image: cn6he3l.png]

Here is a display of our tech status -- we have AUTomation boosted to level 3, a number of others at level 2, and everything else at 1. Higher tech goods are more capable/efficient. Some, like weapons, increase in power exponentially, so it is critical to boost those tech levels continuously in order to stay competitive. But there are always trade-offs. And every time you set up a production run of, say, Energy-Weapon-12s, you will have to set up a new production run when you boost EWP technology to a higher level. And each production run takes 4 turns to complete!

[Image: xMnuIZ0.png]

Finally, here is the built-in order generator. I put in one of my first orders -- "assemble all AUT-3 units in the home colony" (so I can train all those newly-displaced unskilled workers!)

I will probably run through my whole turn tonight. The general outline of my first turn will be along the lines of their recommendations in the tutorial:

- assemble the AUTs
- spend research on production tech
- scan for all start systems within 10 light years
- scan all planets in the home system
- update the mining and factory groups
- build some new ships and perhaps increase the size of the orbiting colony

(Note the OBC is critical -- it's the only place you can build "Light" Structural Units. Without them, ships become extra heavy and require a LOT more drive-power and fuel...)

More tonight -- maybe.
Turn 1 is due tomorrow (6/20). I will complete the turn and do a write-up here tonight.

If any of you on the sidelines are interested in taking over a dropout position, I suggest you contact Vern asap. If past history is any indication, there could be dropouts already. You might be able to convince him to hold up processing for a day or two while you take one of the dropouts and run a basic starting turn.
Captain Jenkins downed his martini with uncharacteristic speed. Tulane, the first ensign aboard the Space Heroes Interstellar Transportation Enterprise flagship, SH Mutha, paused before refilling his glass with what was left in the mixer. She had served with him since the Company first floated this space tub, and knew his moods better than almost anybody.

"I swear, Two Lane, I can almost smell it. I can almost smell the gold on planet 3. I can't for the life of me figure out why we haven't gone out there sooner!" Jenkins squeezed the olive gently, watching the pimento start to ooze out. "Gold, palladium, tons of iron, and more helium-3 than you can shake a swizzle-stick at..."

She watched as he pointedly chomped the olive, pimento and all, before sipping his refilled glass at a more leisurely pace.

"Captain, it's kind of a big deal to commit a space colony. There's a lot of set-up, planning, science -- peoples lives are at stake, sir!" She began mixing another round, hoping she might be able to fill her own glass before his emptied again. "And the money, god think of all the money the Company has spent on this ship. We can't goof this up, sir. It was better to wait."

Jenkins belched loudly. "Yeah yeah, I hear you. I read the memos. Whatever. But it is MY opinion that the Board was wasting time not putting this -- investment -- to quicker use. And as the Company has told us since diaper school -- ".

"Time is money!" Tulane winked. She loved this quiet time with the captain before an important mission.

* * *

Space Heroes Information Nexus: special report-----

The Company Press Service has just released another briefing on today's market report. Company subsidiary stocks have soared to new levels, but there is concern on the horizon. Population Control scientists have determined that our planetary death rates are starting to creep up as a result of widespread overpopulation and environmental degradation on our planet. This, of course, prompted the first annual Space Hero plan in a generation, intended to re-ignite our spacefaring capabilities, secure new sources of raw materials, and most importantly, goose Company stock.

Company production coordinators have been meeting in the orbiter for a full quarter, now, laying down the plans for full-scale reorientation of our economy. Now that the Company has bought out all other competition in all other markets, and we are all 'coworkers', the Board feels the time is right to shift focus away from destroying competition and up to exploiting the stars. The final round of mergers and aquisitions has resulted in unprecedented surpluses of production goods, technical talent, and raw materials, not to mention a big fat 'peace dividend'.

As a result, Company stock prices are climbing, even though we are facing perhaps the most challenging ecological problems of our times.

* * *

Yes, we are back with another GameLog! This is the first turn of CW pre-alpha game 2. I command a planet full of resources and people, and I'm gonna go get what's coming to me. First turn orders have already been laid out in general terms a couple of posts ago. I may throw in a surprise or two just to keep things interesting for the reader. I know that *I* get surprised when playing this game all the time, even though the random element is pretty small. It's the deep deep planning complexity that gets me. I forget stuff and it makes the game -- interesting -- when my foolishness comes and bites me later on. We'll see how it goes!

If there are any other forum readers here who are in this game (and I know of at least one), please feel free to join me in putting up a GameLog thread. Or just chime in on this one now and then. Cheers!
Just sent in my turn 1 orders (on the day of deadline). Further notes/observations:

- my people are burning through their "consumer goods" twice as fast as I am making it, so I am bumping up that production line by 25%/turn for this and the next 3 turns -- in effect doubling the supply every turn.

- one factory group is producing obsolete stuff (tech level 1 factories, and I am boosting that to level 4 this turn), so I am ordering it to build 'nothing'. This is an experiment. Each factory group is currently set to push 1/4 of the production line through each of the 4 work-in-progress stages. I want to see if clearing the orders will free up 1/4 of the factories to help the other 3/4 of the factories move the work-in-progress units faster

- I have lots of farms and mines that are not being used, but I don't have enough people to run them! I also have 2 million laboratories sitting idle, and according to my back-of-the-envelope calculations I can't afford to bring them online without shutting something else down! So I am holding off on adding further production power until I see some results from my huge training program (which promotes 'unskilled' people to 'professional' people), and automation program.
"Uh, sir, we're picking up some highly unusual particle trails on the scatter-scan of Largo Leadball. Way more organics than expected, and some radio isotopes that are off the charts..." Tulane deftly manipulated the probe reports and assembled an array of pivots and charts for the captain's display screen.

Jenkins put down his martini glass and lazily thumbed up the display on the main bridge monitor to make it easier for his slightly-foggy eyes to skim through the data. The rest of the bridge crew ignored this -- it had been another run through of the new probe systems fired off by Corporate. As a courtesy, all resulting data from these probes was copied to all company flagship captains. Well, "both" of them anyway.

"Organics? That's nuthin but a hot airless rock out there. What organics are stable enough to form under that heat?" He looked at his ensign with a rapidly furrowing brow. "Radio isotopes, too? Those don't sound compatible with organics. This whole things is getting me more curious than a Louisiana judge. Two Lane, sound general quarters. We're gonna float out to high orbit and see if we can run a probe from our own ship and corroborate this stuff..."

"Yes captain." She worked with the efficiency of an employee who knew what was going to hit their bonus checks this quarter if the ship met escalated performance metrics.

* * *

"The Chairman is recognized by the Board, but be reminded that this meeting is already over schedule, and our decision is not likely to change."

Chairman Smithers rose from his cushioned throne-like chair and approached the lectern in the secretive meeting chambers of the Corporate board room complex. "Vice Presidents, Senior Executives, and Special Policy Consultants, I feed it is necessary to remind you how very important this time is in our history. We have only enjoyed a consolidated corporate homeworld for a score of quarters. We can't take the risks you have insisted we face. The implications for our planet, our people -- my god, think of the bottom line!"

A shadowed face from the other end of the dark table moved slightly. "Get to the point, Smithers."

Smithers' jowl tensed. "You would have us throw away the considerable surplus we have amassed on some.. some space adventure? This money needs to be paid out as dividends to our equity lords! THEY deserve the fruits of our labor, our capital consolidation, and our market manipulations. We can't throw this all away on a project that's based on phony starmaps..."

The shadow retorted quickly. "NOT phony. These probes have been repeated and re-analyzed for an entire quarter, Smithers. There is no doubt. Green is our main target -- that planet can clearly sustain life. Open farms, breathable cities, even dog-parks. The risk of letting this opportunity go is FAR greater..."

Smithers slammed his fist on the lectern. "Are you mad? How will the equity lords get a return on THAT next quarter? They are going to come down on ME if their next quarterly statements don't meet our marks! We have based our very civilization on these quarterly statements! We have dabbled with longer-scale investments here and there, funded mainly by our slush-funds, but never have we committed what amounts to all our corporate profits AND THEN SOME on ANY project! What will the lords do? How do you expect them to react? What if I get fired???"

The room fell deafeningly silent for a few moments. Smithers knew the board members were conferring, mainly by private text. He used the time to compose himself.

"We are entering a new era, Smithers. The quarterly profit model is not serving us well anymore. We used it to beat our competitors, but we can't beat our planetary ecology. There isn't much room left down here, and if we don't start moving people up soon, all your quarterly numbers are going to add up to jack squat. The equity lords will back the board on this. They will realize, we are confident, that our plan is the only game in town. Anything less will risk a total ultimate collapse in their share price -- a threat to our society that we cannot allow."

The shadow cleared its voice and continued. "As for your job, Smithers, you don't need to worry whether the Lords will fire you. We are going to fire you ourselves. Effective immediately."

* * *

Turn 2 is out, and wow! Three complete shockers, to me anyway. This was surprising, considering that I thought the first dozen turns at least would consist mainly of an orderly development of my imperial supply chain.

First, and most intriguingly, the results of our system probe showed an existing colony already in place on planet 1, named 'alien ruins' and controlled by 'aliens'. I have never come across this in the old EC games. It's a small colony -- somewhere around a million mass-units, as opposed to the five billion of my home colony -- but could be dangerous. I have no idea if it is truly abandoned, or perhaps populated by aliens or their robotic guards. In game terms, though, it promises at the very least to be a source of alien technologies. Every piece of advanced stuff I grab could be used for prototyping to accelerate my own tech program.

Second, another planet in my home system is habitable. These worlds are rare (compared to airless rocks, gas giants, and asteroids), they count toward final victory conditions, and this one in particular will provide an easy pressure release valve to get population off the homeworld. Again, I hadn't seen this in any other game.

Finally, the probe of all star systems within 10 light years showed a huge number of systems -- 44 or so. (Well, huge to me anyway.) Many of them are binary/multiple star systems, which multiplies the number of planetary orbits available. I even saw 2 systems with FIVE stars in them. I do remember my first position as a 'regent' ruler in EC-1 back in the 80s. I was given the governorship of "the quad" for my team -- a 4-star system very close to the homeworld. It had no habitability, but a LOT of mineral riches, and interesting military possibilities. So there are a LOT of stars out there, and some of them may hold a LOT of planets.

I came across one bug. The mining section of my turn results crashes the client tool. I had ordered some consolidation of my mining groups, and apparently this may have caused a fault in the data. I will alert the GMs.

This also revealed a user interface problem. (And it might just be my own confusion with the tool.) I can't seem to find a record of my turn-1 orders. Nor can I see a 'shapshot' of my empire on turn 1. I wanted to compare mineral totals between turns 1 and 2 to see if mining had taken place, but I can't see the turn 1 totals anymore -- just the current turn 2 totals. I will dig into the rules and help docs to see if it's just my mistake.

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