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Cluster Wars Newbie: A Gravity Well of Confusion That Swallows All
Cluster Wars is a game of Interstellar exploration, colonization and conquest with project management and planning skills becoming ever more valuable as the game progresses. As other Players are encountered, Diplomacy becomes an additional requirement.

- Quote from the Cluster Wars website

In reality, what Cluster Wars is to the uninitiated newbie is a gravity well of confusion. Substantial complexity is an understatement. I have no idea where to start. The documentation is voluminous - and unread. I have been plucked down in this universe, and I know nothing from anything else.

What's a star-faring fellow to do?

Isn't it situations like this that they make cyanide pills for?

Plus, if I read Ixnay's posting in another thread in this forum section correctly, the next turn due date is today.

I've yet to read through the entire Far Horizon rulebook, and now, I am saddled with this monster of a verbose beast. Nothing good can be expected to come from a situation like this, I fear. My galactic days are numbered. I hear the bounty hunters, now, coming for me.

Parts of the interface remind me too much of a spreadsheet - and oh how I detest spreadsheets! Even still, I kindly thank Vern Holford and Jay Colombo for setting me up with a position in this game.

I just wish that I knew what the Hell that I was doing.

But, isn't that always the case?

Right now, the initial taste of what I am seeing, as I browse through the Central Command software's displays, leaves my mouth dry. It doesn't strike me as being particularly intuitive, but in all fairness, I lack any common frame of reference. I am entirely new to the game, and I am certain that, with the passage of time, that will begin to show more and more, as I begin to struggle with trying to issue orders for my position.

Right now, it's all just one big cluster !@#$, a mess of epic proportions, one where confusion holds sway, and holds my empire hostage to the whims of ignorance.

Meanwhile, from the furthermost distant regions of space, from the dimension of Far Horizons, I can almost heard Darkseid mocking me - His laughter coming at my expense.

One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.

And away we go! Cluster Wars, here I come.
Look at the tutorial they sent with the turn. If you do ONLY what they suggest, you'll learn a lot. For example, I had no idea how to go about doing 'home improvement' on an OBC. Or how simple it was to make a lot of ships of the same type en masse.

It is not intuitive - even with reading the tutorial. It does seem spreadsheetish and database-y, but the fun will begin when we all start bumping in to each other and whatever else might be out there.

Sitting down, tonight, to try and sift through what I need to issue orders for my position, is wonderful - if the objective is to demoralize the player who is new to the game.

A little earlier, I loaded the Central Command software, to see if I could download a turn # 3, in case a new turn for the game had been processed. But, nothing new downloaded, and so I set about trying to figure out how to get started issuing orders.

Nothing about what I have encountered, thus far, qualifies as intuitive. I would rate the entry curve for the new and uninitiated as very high. This is exactly the opposite of what is desirable, if the objective is to attract lots of new players to the game.

What I, as ruler of this empire, actually controls is accessible, but nonetheless, it remains a mystery. Navigating this asteroid field of information is not without hazard. You can forget about just jumping in and role playing your position. A crash course in the basics is imperative.

The Central Command software is not my friend. It is as alien as any species in the game. It's crude. It's cumbersome. It also has a penchant for exiting entirely, when all that one wants to do is to just back up.


The "helpful" links in Central Command aren't really helpful. I want a rulebook and tutorials to download. Instead, I am faced off against a multitude of different web links. That approach all but ensures that learning the game from scratch will take longer than otherwise has to be the case.

Using Jay's "Introduction to the tutorial for Turn # 1 is a starting point - but after getting the Central Command software to accept 3 orders, I am ready to quit.

The process is tiresome. It's tedious. In Central Command, while in the Order Writer thingamadoodle whateveryoucallit, I have two numbers on the left hand side - 37 and 38. I don't know if one is a ship, or a colony, or if they are both ships or both colonies. Clicking one or the other makes no difference. In a nutshell, it's a horrid approach to presenting information of such a critical nature to the player. Before one does anything at all, confusion ensues. The one constant, it seems, is confusion.

I have to work in the morning, so staying up all night to try and figure it out, to fight my way through it, so to speak, is out of the question.

One of my orders is for 37, and two are for 38. Is it what I want to do? Nope! Not at all. But, it's what the crude tutorial says to do. At least, I think that it said to do that. Needless to say, I am not a fan of the tutorial. It serves to heap on further confusion.

My son wants me to put him to bed. That, at least, isn't confusing.

So ends my efforts at Cluster Wars for the night.

What do I feel that I succeeded in accomplishing? Nothing at all.
Grim! You're a player! That's awesome! I think we have a real quorum now! Welcome aboard, and I hope to run into you in deep space at some point...

I agree with your complaints about the confusing user-interface. The moderators have built something akin to a power-assist for those who already knew the game (and who had to use spreadsheets, calculators, and paper-and-pencil notes extensively in the past.) To that extent, they succeeded. It is significantly easier to play the game than before.

But for newbies, the complexity and UI are major barriers for which all the bells and whistles of Central Command offer little help.

Having said that, this IS a "pre-alpha" test game, and they are very willing and eager to improve the system based on player feedback. These tutorials, for one thing, are immensely helpful in walking players through their first turns. And these first turns are critical, not because the player might fall behind, but because they might drop out. (I would add that the tutorials themselves suffer from the same lack of design as Central Command -- no bulleted lists, no effective paragraphing or spacing, etc.)

I'm going to start a thread with suggestions for the moderators. They are running the game for free -- we might as well give them some quality feedback in response (as you have been already!)

As for your immediate question -- I suspect that 37 is the number of your "open colony" (your home planet), and 38 is the number of your orbiting colony (hovering over your home planet). Pool Boy's suggestion was good -- display a colony name in addition to the colony number, to make it more readable.

Your home colony is where most of your production and all of your farming and mining is taking place. Your orbiting colony is currently just producing "Light Structural Units" which can ONLY be built in orbit.

Advantages of orbiting colonies (over open colonies):
- can be built in any orbit of a star
- can build light-structural units
- can run farms and life-support with no fuel-expenditures, if in orbit 5 or less

Advantages of open colonies (over orbiting colonies):
- can run Farm-1s (dirt farms) which produce considerable food for early turns
- require only 1 structural unit per volume of unit housed (enclosed surface colonies require 5, orbiters require 8, and ships require 10!)
- excess bulk items (like minerals) can be stored "outside", not using structural units
- count toward victory (because only habitable worlds count for that, and open colonies can only be built on such worlds)

Anyway, the vast bulk of your orders should be originating from the open colony (37). The only orders your orbiting colony (38) would be issuing would be if you were monkeying around with the light structural unit production runs.

The thing that keeps tripping ME up in the order-writer is that the "target" area appears over on the right side of the interface. So when I want to transfer 250k "metals" and "non-metals" from my home planet up to the orbiter, I have to:
- select the Transfer order
- select my home (open) colony
- enter the quantity
- enter the unit type
- enter the tech level of the unit (if applicable)
- then select the target ship/colony number over on the right
(The "Pickup" order is the converse, so each turn my open colony "picks up" the completed light structural units from the orbiter. All transfers and pickups require the use of Transport units, manned by "professionals" I believe.)

In an ideal universe, these options would be largely done through click-and-drag controls.
Since it is the first turn that I will be doing, after I woke up, this morning, I sat down to try and draft a few quick orders, before I head off for the day.

Freshly rested, I again find myself mumbling about the interface, and about the needless way in which certain things are made far more difficult than they have to be.

Having no idea what to access in the Central Command, in order to bring up an overview of my empire's assets, I find myself flying blind. I checked, first thing, to try and download fresh turn results, in case the turn was actually run late last night, but there was nothing new for me to download. Hence, why I am scrambling, this morning, to try and at least get something in under the wire.

Of course, I couldn't find any actual way to tell what the wire - the turn deadline - actually is, but that's another area of complaint, altogether, in and of itself. Apparently, players are supposed to just magically know when the next set of turn orders are due in for processing. Go figure!

The closest play by mail space empire game that I played, back in my golden heyday of playing games of that genre, was Galaxy: Alpha, which was published and run by Intergalactic Games. What crime against the universe have I committed, that has relegated me to suffering through a major increase in complexity, as far as issuing orders goes, while simultaneously being deprived of the enjoyment of feeling as if I have an actual empire, as distinguished from just an unintelligible (and disorganized) clump of numbers and statistics?

My introduction to trying to play Cluster Wars is a sterile, deadening feeling. An absolutely enormous amount of opportunity is being missed by the game, right off the bat. Already, without even having one set of turn orders processed, I am beginning to feel numb about the game - which translates into a feeling of, it really doesn't matter. That's hardly what you want new players to the game to feel, if the grand object is to entice them to play over the long run.

Whomever is in charge of the tutorials for the game should be summarily executed on some distant, lifeless moon of some nameless, unknown planet orbiting a faraway, never-discovered star in some remote and distant galaxy far, far away.

You're making it hard, boys! I want to play a space game - not kill myself fighting with tutorials, software interfaces, and complexity.

I've run out of time, and must depart. I do so at the risk of losing my empire to the misfortunes of not knowing what to do, and no quick and easy way out of the hole that I now find myself in.

Needless to say, morale across my empire plunges.
Having arrived home from work and eaten supper, I have a few moments to relax.

So, I try to download a new turn, to see if a turn was processed. At first, I thought that there was nothing new to download. I loaded Central Command, again, and turn # 3 is there.

But, did the orders that I send in actually get processed? Or was I too late and missed whatever deadline existed?

Having browsed the turn over, I honestly have no idea, whatsoever.

I began playing play by mail games in the late eighties. Yet, despite my experience playing them, I have no clue if my orders were even processed. From my perspective, that's not a good sign. I don't know if I turn # 3 contains good news, bad news, or no news at all.

There are no characters (great leaders of my empire). Apparently, I have no military to speak of. I have no idea where my empire is located in the galaxy, much less where any other empire is located. OK, so what is it about the game at this stage that is supposed to sell me on it?

Clueless, confused, and lost in space. That's the current status of my empire in Cluster Wars.
While fellow player Ixnay's people starve aboard their rocket ships, I remain blissfully unaware of the situation developing across my own pace empire. This, you see, is one of the unadvertised benefits of not knowing what the Hell to do.

This morning, I again opened up the Central Command software, heartened as I was by Ixnay's misfortune, to give the game of Cluster Wars yet another look. And what I saw wasn't pretty.

I am quite willing to give the game its due. Clearly, it is a game with some degree of complexity to it. Now, that's not to say that it necessarily has the kind of complexity that I, personally, gravitate towards, but it certainly has a degree of complexity that many would undoubtedly gravitate towards.

The game's complexity factor, however, isn't what turns me off. I detest spreadsheets. I despise them. I abhor them with a fashion. For all of its affinity for complexity, the game is still, at its core, a spreadsheet, when it comes to how the information is presented to the player. This approach is an interest-killer, for me. It automatically ensures that trying to play this game will be a chore for me - rather than fun.

I do not want to drill down into spreadsheet links, in order to learn the what my empire's assets are, nor to learn the details of what all has gone on with the processing of the most recent turn's orders. Tedium writ large should be the game's warning to all those who flee at even the slightest mention of the word - Spreadsheet!

Now, don't get me wrong - I don't mind the prospect of Ixnay's space-faring minions dying of starvation millions of light years from home. Indeed, I very much relish the prospect.

Even still, I would much rather focus time and energy and effort upon conquest of empires flung across the stars, than striving to prevent famine aboard my own ships. Thus, once one cuts through the morass of techno-swamp that is the Central Command interface, and once once succeeds in crossing the Sea of Confusion that is the digesting of information that is turn-relevant, the tedium of spoon-feeding and playing nursemaid to one's own population at large still awaits you - the prospective player of Cluster Wars.

How the information is presented to players is no less relevant than the information, itself. In their bid to resurrect a PBM game of old, the programmers seem to have forgotten this.

Because they already possess familiarity with the game, they possess a string and distinct advantage over prospective newbies to the game, as far as knowing what to do, and knowing where to look for the relevant information that enables one to know what they want to do.

Rather than a bundle of confusion, which is what the current methodology of presentation of game information comes across as, what I, as a player who is wholly new to the game and its predecessor that it is erected atop of, is the same information presented in a different way.

Turn results in either PDF format or in ASC II text format would be vastly preferred to this quasi-spreadsheet monstrosity of confusion-meets-lack-of-intuitiveness that currently serves as my gateway to processing game information and issuing orders for my position in the game.

A nice summary, one that presents all of the relevant info in one mass, should be relatively easy for the games programmers to generate. For them, it is all data, anyway. I'm not after different data. I simply want the same data presented to me a different way. It doesn't have to replace the current monstrosity that they have in place. Rather, it merely needs to supplement it. That way, the players can have their cake and eat it, too, no matter whether they prefer what currently is, or whether they are having difficulty making heads or tails out of what currently is.
Please find this report I generate for myself using MS Access front end linking to the game database for read only purposes.Dodgy
(07-10-2013, 11:00 PM)Darth Pedro Wrote: Please find this report I generate for myself using MS Access front end linking to the game database for read only purposes.Dodgy

Woe! Two hundred and fifty-seven pages.

I'm not a fan of the pink color, but that aside, it's still a vastly better presentation of game data than what the Central Command software provides.

Do you have any battle results to share, Darth Pedro?
The color coding is to help me debug the report tool as it is a work in progress. The one for this game so far isn't nearly as extensive (yet) although this game has an estimated potential to be almost twice as large as the last one.

I have several other reports I use too and some special purpose ones like the Unlimited Mining Deposits only report to help identify strategis paths through the cluster.

You also might want to look into purchasing AstroSynthesis 3.0 from nBOS software. There are also some free plug-ins for it. Some of us are suing ti to make 3D star maps.

Here's the system probe for the Turn that "Copperhead" retook my home orbiter.

Probe from turn 62 for Star A Orbit 1
Planet type Terrestrial. Habitability - 0
Ship #547 Envoy-14 owned by 1001 Mass = 5.5 T(xyz) -4/4/-8
Ship #6557 NameMe owned by Aliens! Mass = 6.1 T(x/y/z) -5/-1/4
-----------End Orbit 1 Probe Data -----------------

Probe from turn 62 for Star A Orbit 2
Colony #96 DPE Gas Tank A2 Mass = 8.6 T(xyz) 0/0/0
Planet type Terrestrial. Habitability - 0
-----------End Orbit 2 Probe Data -----------------

Probe from turn 62 for Star A Orbit 3
Colony #27 Homehearth Mass = 7.3 T(xyz) 0/0/0
Colony #28 Captured Prize Mass = 9.6 T(xyz) 0/-1/0
Colony #208 Name This Mass = 5.7 T(xyz) 1/0/0
Colony #272 Name This Mass = 5.4 T(xyz) 1/0/0
Colony #289 Name This Mass = 5.5 T(xyz) -1/0/0
Colony #290 Name This Mass = 5.8 T(xyz) 0/1/0
Colony #382 Name This Mass = 5.7 T(xyz) 1/0/0
Colony #383 Name This Mass = . T(xyz) -1/0/0
Colony #384 Name This Mass = 5.7 T(xyz) 0/1/0
Colony #427 Name This Mass = .3 T(xyz) 1/0/0
Planet type Terrestrial. Habitability - 25
Ship #207 DPS Hauler A5 Mass = 9.3 T(x/y/z) 4/-8/2
Ship #712 DPS Hauler A10 Mass = 9. T(x/y/z) 8/-2/-4
Ship #5104 Finale Report DPS Crap Shooter owned by Aliens! Mass = 5.3 T(x/y/z) 0/0/0
Ship #5843 DPS Copperhead Mass = 10. T(x/y/z) 0/-1/0
-----------End Orbit 3 Probe Data -----------------

Probe from turn 62 for Star A Orbit 4
Planet type Terrestrial. Habitability - 0
-----------End Orbit 4 Probe Data -----------------

Probe from turn 62 for Star A Orbit 5
Colony #590 DPE Gas Pump A5 Mass = 9.2 T(xyz) 0/0/0
Planet type Terrestrial. Habitability - 0
-----------End Orbit 5 Probe Data -----------------

Probe from turn 62 for Star A Orbit 6
Planet type GasGiant. Habitability - 0
Ship #2316 DP BP Airlock 1 owned by 3 Mass = 5.9 T(xyz) 9/-41/-54
Ship #4486 GERALD'S SHIP owned by 6 Mass = 6.4 T(xyz) -9/-20/-73
-----------End Orbit 6 Probe Data -----------------

Probe from turn 62 for Star A Orbit 7
Colony #31 DPE Gas Tank A7 Mass = 9. T(xyz) 0/0/0
Planet type Asteroids. Habitability - 0
-----------End Orbit 7 Probe Data -----------------

Probe from turn 62 for Star A Orbit 8
Colony #503 DPE Metallica A8 Mass = 9.6 T(xyz) 0/0/0
Planet type GasGiant. Habitability - 0
-----------End Orbit 8 Probe Data -----------------

Probe from turn 62 for Star A Orbit 9
Planet type Asteroids. Habitability - 0
Ship #3317 CBL-6 Annie C. Johnson owned by 13 Mass = 6.1 T(xyz) 24/67/-53
-----------End Orbit 9 Probe Data -----------------

Probe from turn 62 for Star A Orbit 10
Colony #589 DPE Rocky Top A10 Mass = 9.2 T(xyz) 0/0/0
Planet type GasGiant. Habitability - 0
-----------End Orbit 10 Probe Data -----------------

Probe from turn 62 for Star A Orbit 11
Planet type None. Habitability - 0
Ship #6283 ReCon Read T-60 owned by Aliens! Mass = 7.9 T(x/y/z) -29/-13/31
Ship #6351 GERALD'S SHIP owned by 6 Mass = 5. T(xyz) -33/46/-39
-----------End Orbit 11 Probe Data -----------------

-----------End Star A Probe Data -----------------

Here is the orbit probe of my home orbit at the height of the Coalition Technology swapping operation. Notice the owners...
Probe from turn 59 for Star A Orbit 3
Colony #27 DPC Homehearth Mass = 10.1 T(xyz) 0/0/0
Colony #28 DPO Guardian owned by 3 Mass = 9.6 T(xyz) 0/-1/0
Colony #208 DP GQ OBC owned by 1001 Mass = 8.3 T(xyz) 1/0/0
Colony #272 DP CH OBC owned by 12 Mass = 8. T(xyz) 1/0/0
Colony #289 DP BP OBC owned by 3 Mass = 8.8 T(xyz) -1/0/0
Colony #290 DP CB OPC owned by 13 Mass = 8.4 T(xyz) 0/1/0
Colony #382 DP ER OBC owned by 4 Mass = 8.8 T(xyz) 1/0/0
Colony #383 DP TE OBC owned by 8 Mass = 7.8 T(xyz) -1/0/0
Colony #384 DP Q OBC owned by 11 Mass = 7.8 T(xyz) 0/1/0
Colony #427 DP GB OBC owned by 6 Mass = 7.8 T(xyz) 1/0/0
Planet type Terrestrial. Habitability - 25
Ship #207 DPS Hauler A5 Mass = 9.4 T(x/y/z) -5/-2/4
Ship #547 Envoy-14 owned by 1001 Mass = 5.4 T(xyz) 0/0/0
Ship #712 DPS Hauler A10 Mass = 9.1 T(x/y/z) 3/-7/-4
Ship #1338 Bad Apple owned by 4 Mass = 7.2 T(xyz) 0/0/0
Ship #2316 DP BP Airlock 1 owned by 3 Mass = 5.9 T(xyz) -1/0/0
Ship #2756 CBL-6 Amanda F. Lewis owned by 13 Mass = 6.8 T(xyz) 0/1/0
Ship #3317 CBL-6 Annie C. Johnson owned by 13 Mass = 6.1 T(xyz) -1/7/-7
Ship #4485 GERALD'S SHIP owned by 6 Mass = 6. T(xyz) 1/0/0
Ship #4486 GERALD'S SHIP owned by 6 Mass = 6.4 T(xyz) -1/0/0
Ship #4820 DPS Tug 2 Mass = 5.3 T(x/y/z) 0/0/0
Ship #4830 CB Gnat owned by 13 Mass = 4.3 T(xyz) 0/0/0
Ship #4831 CH Gnat owned by 12 Mass = 4.5 T(xyz) 0/0/0
Ship #4832 Q Gnat owned by 11 Mass = 4.2 T(xyz) 0/0/0
Ship #4833 Finale Report CB Gnat owned by Aliens! Mass = 4.5 T(x/y/z) 0/0/0
Ship #4834 ER Gnat owned by 4 Mass = 4.7 T(xyz) 0/0/0
Ship #4835 TE Gnat owned by 8 Mass = 5. T(xyz) 0/0/0
Ship #4836 GB Gnat owned by 6 Mass = 4.8 T(xyz) 0/0/0
Ship #4837 Finale Report Q Gnat owned by Aliens! Mass = 4.5 T(x/y/z) 0/0/0
Ship #5104 DPS Crap Shooter Mass = 8.9 T(x/y/z) 0/0/0
-----------End Orbit 3 Probe Data -----------------

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