On a drizzly Saturday night in February Howard Thompson, Steve Jackson, and myself met at Ben Ostrander's house for a game of GODSFIRE. Ben had a table large enough to accommodate the entire map, so his place was a natural choice. Initial set-up was about a half-hour. Those playing for the first time would require more time.Godsfire is a science fiction simulation designed by Lynn Willis, first published by Metagaming and later re-issued by Task Force Games.
We played scenario ten with each of us having two systems at the start of the game. Steve's systems were Assab and Zia, Moros and Dasar formed Howard's systems, Ben chose Weribe and Huacho, and my systems were Vand and Grom.
My general strategy at the beginning of the game was based on the positions each player held around the map board, and on their abilities as gamers. With almost the length of the map separating Howard and myself, I felt comfortable knowing he would have to go through Ben or Steve to get to me. Howard, a "bulldozer type" in STELLAR CONQUEST, is a formidable opponent. He starts slow, usually waiting until he has a strong base before moving against an opponent, but once he gets rolling he is almost impossible to stop. Ben was closest to me, but Ben is rather new to gaming, and while his strategies are sound his tactics are usually weak. Ben made an inviting target, but to move against him would expose me to my biggest threat – Steve. Like Howard, Steve is a tough opponent. He plays a very detailed game, and he always surprises me with his unorthodox style. I knew I would have to watch him closely and counter everything he did.
My strategy was to play a defensive game, and wait for an opportunity to present itself, I had hopes that "opportunity" would take the form of a mistake by Steve, but things didn't turn out that way. In fact, my strategy fell apart around turn two, but into the fray after a short pause for the uninitiated.
GODSFIRE is similar to STELLAR CONQUEST, but one of the major differences (among many) is the social interphase. Unlike SC, where if you want [to] attack ships or escorts you simply buy them, in GODSFIRE the type of military units you purchase is determined by the political party in power and whether the region is industrialized.
Industrializing a region is a difficult task; placing the correct party in power and maintaining it is also hard to achieve. But without a balanced mixture of political parties, and therefore a balance of military units, your actions and strategies will be limited.
Of course, this juggling act can be made more difficult by your opponents slipping money into your system and attempting to subvert your political parties, and there is always the danger of revolt (nasty things) which will usually require military muscle to quell.
And so it goes.
As you see, GODSFIRE requires your strategic concepts to be framed within your political structures. Generally, victory will belong to the player that has the best political setup combined with a good overall strategy with the usual adherence to tactics and timing.
Howard, the old master, proved this point quite well during the game.
Turn-1 My initial political situation is good. I'm top heavy with moderate political parties, but I should be able to industrialize quickly. Howard surprises me and Steve. He has sent 3 SQDs toard Zia, while Steve has shifted most of his forces to Pirr. I position the bulk of my ships around Grom. Ben has set up a simple screen of ships around both his systems.
T-2 Howard's 3 SQD's continue toward Zia. Steve doesn't consider them much of a threat since he moves more of his forces to Pirr. I move almost all my ships into a tight defensive position around Grom. I think Steve is trying to draw me out. Ben is shifting money from Weribe to Huacho. His forces are still screening his systems.
T-3 Howard and Steve fight a small battle between Assab and Zia. Howard overplayed his hand, and Steve destroyed 2 SQD's at a loss of only 2 AG's. I resist the temptation to attack Steve, and wait to see if he will pursue Howard. Ben is still sending money to Huacho, and he has moved his ships into a wider screen around his systems.
T-4 Steve doesn't pursue Howard. Instead he resumes his stationing of forces around Pirr. Howard has backed off, but seems to be getting his forces together for a stronger attack on Steve. Ben's ships maintain their positions, and I follow his example.
T-5 Everyone is industrialized. Ships have sprung up on all the systems. Steve sends more of his forces to Pirr. Is he seriously going to attack Pirr, and attempt a pacifist victory? [note: a pacifist victory is achieved by ownership of three fully-industrialized systems and no debts] Ben has quit screening his systems, and is maneuvering some ships toward Vand. Now I must balance my forces between Steve and Ben. Howard appears to be taking an interest in Soont.
T-6 My political situation is very good. I was able to change the party in one of my industrialized regions from moderate to extremist. Now I can build SQD's. Howard is beginning to vector his forces toward Soont. It appears he is duplicating Steve's action around Pirr. Ben has made some minor movement toward me. I'll force him to attack early with a small thrust toward Huacho.
T-7 Steve is starting to feel threatened by Howard's forces around Soont. I believe Steve is about to abandon his attack on Pirr, and concentrate on Howard. Howard has left himself exposed to any movement by Ben, but Ben continues to maneuver toward me. I attack him between Huacho and Tufan, and destroy two of his SQDs and lose one of my own. Ben has the best political make-up, and he's making full use of it. My political situation is static, which is good, but I need a reactionary political party so that I can build PDFs. Apparently Howard can't build PDFs either, and Steve can't build SQDs.
T-8 Howard has positioned his forces quite well. He can attack either Assab or Soont. Steve sends three AGs toward the middle of the board. Perhaps he hopes to take advantage of Howard's exposed systems. Ben and I tangle again. I lose one AG, and destroy two more of his SQDs. I would like to back off from Ben, and see if he and Steve might join forces against Howard. Another option would be to attack Steve at Pirr, and see if Howard would also attack Steve at Assab. I need to change my political setup, but I'm under so much pressure that to do so would be risky. Maybe next turn ... famous last words.
T-9 Steve and Howard continue to dance around Soont, but Steve is again concentrating forces at Pirr. Ben disengages from me at Tufan, and I'm happy to see him go. I need the time to work on my political situation, but I have the feeling it's about to hit the fan.
T-10 Surprise. Howard attacks Steve at Zia. A beautiful stroke by the "old boy". Steve's National Government flees with the treasury to Assab. Ben and Howard form an alliance. I decide to come to the aid of Steve, and dispatch my main fleet to Zia. I leave a thin screen of AGs around Vand and Grom.
T-11 Howard is wreaking havoc on Zia. He will probably reduce Zia to subsistence level if Steve doesn't recapture it soon. Steve's 3 AGs have penetrated to Moros, and were able to destroy one of Howard's AGs. My fleet and Steve's Pirr force arrive at Zia. Steve loses 3 AGs near Assab and only destroys one of Howard's SQDs. Together, Steve and I wipe out 3 SQDs and 2 AGs of Howard's in and around Zia. Finally, Ben attacks Vand. His timing is excellent and his forces outnumber mine by 3 to 1, but he leaves too many of his ships exposed to multisided attacks. Ouch. I was able to outmaneuver Ben, and I hit his exposed units with good odds, but the dice failed me. Ben lost no ships, and destroyed 2 AGs of mine.
T-12 Howard retreats from Zia. He and Steve are both weakened, but Howard still has the initiative. The battle has moved to Assab. Smash. Howard is tricky. He suckered in Steve's forces, and wiped out six of Steve's SQD's, but Steve destroyed three of Howard's AGs. Also Steve's AGs near Moros have pulled off some of Howard's ships from the Assab theater. Ben's fleet has surrounded Vand. Again he leaves several units exposed, and again I attack at good odds. Ouch again. I lose 2 SQDs and 2 AGs while Ben loses nothing. I'm being whittled away.
T-13 Steve is able to return his NG [National Government] to Zia, and begins to restore the economic level of the regions. Howard is holding his ground around Assab, and he and Steve are locked in a close fight. Their losses are equal: 1 SQD and 1 AG each. Steve's 3 AGs near Moros escape Howard's home force, and destroy another AG of Howard's. Ben tightens his grip around Vand. My main fleet is coming to the rescue, and I should be able to drive Ben off, but my losses are high. I destroy one AG of his, while he wastes 2 SQDs and 1 AG of mine. Sigh.
At this point with our supply of munchies and cola depleted, the clock edging past 2 AM (I told you guys, we got to start at 8 AM not 8 PM), and our eyeballs red and swollen, we stopped. Exhaustion was the victor.
Actually the consensus was that Howard enjoyed the best position when we called a halt to the game. Steve would have to rebuild Zia before he could launch an attack toward Howard's territory. Ben and I were stalemated with Ben holding a definite advantage. So Howard could pull back and attack a neutral system with a high degree of success, and therefore achieve the necessary conditions for a pacifist victory. Of course, he could have always pressed the attack against Steve, and also had a high degree of success since he was outproducing Steve by 2 to 1 in military units.
And although Howard never produced any PDFs, he never lacked for them. He bought them from Ben. Howard reads the rules, and under the heading Diplomacy he found what he needed. We decided it was within the rules to buy them from another player as long as the amount spent off-system was balanced by the amount spent on-system. If not, the allegiance index of all the regions on all the buying player's systems would drop for each GB difference.
In hindsight, I should have attacked Steve from the beginning, while Steve would have been better off attacking Soont, and guarding against Howard. Ben played good strategy, but he should have moved against Howard when Howard hit Zia. As for Howard, it's hard to find fault with a winner, but once Steve committed the major part of his ships to Pirr, Howard would have had an easy time with Ben.
At any rate, the game was well played and enjoyable, and in gaming that's what really counts.