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Echo Cluster
The Official VGA Planets Newsletter
Volume 2. / Issue Number 3.
March 2004

Ed Robinson E-mail me

Lady Kate
Shawn McPherson
Tim Wisseman

This Months Featured Site

Visit Battlestar Command Bridge Today!!

Welcome to the VGA Planets Newsletter! This month, I couldn't get a response from any host I sent mail to, to be featured, so I featured myself! Hopefully this is not an indication that hosts are not interestd in being featured here, this can be a wonderful place for Hosts to get "free" advertising! This month we have the usual contributions from Donovan, Merlyn, and the last article in a series by Lady Kate. There is also a section by Shawn McPherson on the joy of Shareware only games. Also we have the last section on Klingon strategy by R'Bok. Read on for this months newsletter! VGA Planets continues to be the largest PBEM (play by email) strategy game on the market today.

Ed Robinson, Editor

"Thoughts From the Cave"

Random Thoughts

by Merlyn

Well this is going to be more of a personal column that a VGA Planets column. There are times when we all must take a break from VGA Planets. No matter how much we love to play the game there are times when our personal lives need to be tended to. Thanks Ed for waiting so long this month :-)

I have been getting many emails asking why I haven't started any new games and everyone is asking if we are going to continue hosting. Yes we are going to continue hosting. New games will be starting when things settle down a bit.

It all started about a month back when my sister-in-law had a stroke and this placed a small burden on the family, naturally I had to rely on our automated host to keep things going as my computer time was thin. A week after that my Daughter was married and we were in Florida for a week. I shut all games down for that week we were gone and as usual we had to do a little tweaking when the host started back up. Then when things started to settle down, last week which would be approximately a week after we returned my Mother-in-law had a stroke. Well to say the least, this has been one busy cave.

It is times like this when you realize how important family is. Never take anything for granted and love the ones your with as the most important time in your life is the time you spend with them (Merlyn wipes the tears away).

The host is running and as soon as everything settles down we will be adding more games and we will also answer emails for the next few days as time permits until everything is caught up. Keep looking at the site and by mid-week we will have everything back to normal and there will be new games to play.

Until then...........

See you in the Echo Cluster!

If there is anything you would like discussed or you agree or disagree with anything in our column send us your comments at: Merlyn@thelastdomain.com and we would be happy to talk about it or post it in the upcoming months.




History of the Web Mine, Part III.

As time went on, tensions between the Facists and the Crystals began to ease. While this was good news on the diplomatic front, both sides knew that once the Facists discovered a way to keep the neutronium containment field from exploding, the web mines would once again be useless, and the invasion would start in earnest. While the Facists were being kept at bay by the web mines, the Crystals too were at the mercy of the web mines. They were able to avoid actually hitting the mines since they knew the access codes, but the proximity to the webs was causing massive fuel loss. Research began again into finding a way to prevent the fuel degradation without the explosive side effects.

There were several teams of researchers working on the issue, each from a different angle. One was trying to tweak the current containment field, another was trying to make changes in the refining of the neutronium that would allow it to be stored in the ant web mine containment field. A third group, headed by a young and brilliant female Federation scientist named Katie Johnson, was trying a totally different approach. Her team was trying to exploit other physiological properties of the Crystal people. To that end, they were trying to create a containment field that required a Crystalline physiological component to function. This, they reasoned, would prevent other races from developing anti web mine technology. Her hands on input was extremely limited since the required environment for the Crystals to live aboard ship was immediately deadly to most other biological species, so she was limited to an isolated research suite on the ships and bases she worked on.

After a year of research, several containment fields had been developed, as well as a new neutronium refining technique. The new ideas were not without their drawbacks. Neither were 100% effective. The new containment field minimized fuel loss to a degree that only about 1/10th as much fuel was lost while in the field. The refining changes yielded better results, but was so costly that it was not practical to implement in a widespread fashion. The third group still had not achieved the results they had set out to achieve.

About two months after the first development presentations were presented, Johnson's team made quite a discovery. While the team was onboard two scout craft traveling through a particularly dense web minefield, the ships were comparing readings to see just how effective their test containment field was. What they discovered was astounding. The scout ship with the test field was losing fuel at about the predicted rate, but the control ship was not losing any fuel at all. Both ships came to a complete stop and began recalibrating their sensors and instruments. They could not find any problems with their equipment, and a visual inspection of the neutronium containers revealed that indeed, this ship was not losing any fuel to the minefield.

The team decided to keep their anomaly quiet until they could explain it. They sequestered themselves in a very remote outpost, isolated from almost everything and began their work anew. Several experiments and troubleshooting steps made things even more confusing than they already were. The ships both lost fuel most of the time, and the times they didn't, there was no rhyme or reason as to why. They all knew they had the answer there...they just had to find it.

Several more frustrating weeks passed, and Johnson was about at the end of her rope. One morning, she ordered her team to analyze everything, and she meant everything. She wanted specifics on every last detail, all the way down to breathing patterns, and eye focus rate. This data was collected and analyzed for several days, and finally came the break they were looking for. It appeared that when the female Crystal scientists were in close proximity to the fuel containers in the engineering section of the ships, their own internal resonance was mirrored in the fuel. This resonance kept the fuel from breaking down while in the web fields.

This discovery was taken to the full research council, and before long several other discoveries were made. First, it was noted that this resonance symbiosis had never been noticed before in relation to the web mines, probably because very few females served in the engineering sections of star ships. Many attempts were made to artificially recreate the resonance symbiosis, but all attempts failed. This was the final piece that Johnson's team had wanted. They had discovered something so simple, yet it could not be duplicated. They had discovered the Physiological fuel container that would keep the Crystal ships safe, yet could not be replicated.

During the fuel research problem, a few more advances and discoveries had been made in the deploying and sweeping of web minefields. The mine units were so small that they could not be targeted by beam weapons unless the sweeping ship was practically on top of them. The density that the web fields were laid at made it very difficult for enemy ships to pass through them. Further advances in the containment fields resulted in a standardized containment level that maximized fuel drain, while at the same time maximized minefield life.

One fear that many of the military, and space faring personnel had was that captured Crystalline women would be kept as slaves to provide the proper resonance, but research showed that even the slightest containment disrupted the resonance. Since the Crystal people require such elaborate environmental systems to maintain life-support aboard other races ships, it is doubtful that taking Crystals as slaves will ever prove beneficial.

As with any defensive capability, there are those who immediately start thinking of ways to use them offensively. It did not take long for the powers that be in the military to realize the potential of this weapon. All mine capable craft were loaded with web mine containers for laying web mines. A new strategy was developed by merchant raiding craft to use their web mines to drain the fuel from cargo vessels, and use boarding parties to capture the craft. Other offensive uses, which are truly devastating is that the Crystals use cloaking vessels captured from the Facists to move into enemy territory, and drop a web field near a base, or other critical planet. While this is not a killing blow to an empire, it could be so disruptive that the empire may never fully recover, especially if the mine field is followed up by an invasion force.

The history of the Crystal Peoples development of the web mine is a colourful and sometimes desperate story. The one thing that cannot be argued however is that as a weapon, both defensively, and offensively, the web mine is one of the ultimate weapons in this Echo Cluster.

Most of this history was gathered from interviews with the principal scientists involved including my very good friend Dr Katherine Johnson from the Federation Science Corps located at the Daystrom institute.

Here ends the history of the web mine.

Following is the last segment on Klingon Strategy by R'bok. Read on!

The Battles Begin

When the time comes to either attack the enemy area or defend your home cluster, the name of the game is battle groups. The Colonies can send out an unescorted Virgo or the Bots can run an Golem around by itself but a lone Victorious is pretty vulnerable. For local patrol or reaction, I usually have at least three Vickies together, one towing a pop ship and escorted by a pop ship with transwarps, an Ill Wind with lots of torps and a Coldpain. The Coldpain scouts the battlefield, the Ill Wind lays defensive mines and the transwarp equipped pop ship is used in a softening attack. A Nefarious Glory Device will give a Victorious four percent damage so make sure the Vickies have forty supplies on board. As you patrol, have the towed pop ship set to trg incase some smart assed Darkwing battleship shows up. The Darkwing is basically a cloaking Victorious with two extra torp tubes. It will kill a Vickie one on one and live to tell the tale. You also do not want a cloaked ship towing off the Nefarious for capture or destruction.

Depending on who or what you are attacking, the order of battle is simple. If the Coldpain finds an enemy task force or fleet on a planet and you want to attack them, get close. Hopefully you can get to a planet less than a turn away and the enemy will never know what is coming. If not, get one turn away and wait to see if the enemy moves. If the enemy decides to lay in wait, run the transwarp Nefarious in set to pop. Movement will come before the pop and the pop will come before battle so there is nothing the enemy can do. All ships on the planet will be damaged and if the ship is light enough, destroyed. Patriot Class Carriers and Meteor Class Blockade runners are destroyed with one mine hit so they will be immediate space junk. Larger ships will not only be damaged, but their shields will be lessened and their beams will be discharged. Next you can attack with the Vickies and the second pop ship set to go off upon arrival at the planet. The following will happen: The ships will move to the planet, the Glory Device will activate, the ships (if they have supplies on board) will repair and the battle will begin. So the enemy will be damaged (again), his shields low, and you get the first shot with your now undamaged Vickies. If you don't have a transwarp equipped Nefarious handy, thats ok, you get the picture. Always pop when you attack.

An example of this battle tactic is when fighting a Virgo Class Carrier. The pop will take the ship to 15% damage and the shields to about 80%. Two pops will take the ship to 30% damage an shields to about 60%. You can see the advantage that the pop ships give you. As mentioned before, with big carriers like the Virgo, the first two Vickies to attack can have x-rays and mark four torps. All beams kill fighters equally but the x-rays recharge faster. Also, all torps mark four and above take down shields fairly equally so since you are surely going to lose one or two Vickies killing the carrier, they can be cheaply made.

Major offensives against other races must be carefully planned. You will have to planet hop the Victorious Battle Group or fleet and constantly refuel. Prepositioned fuel or fuel planets in conjunction with accompanying neutronic fuel carriers are a must. Slowly expand your empire and build your defenses. The Fascist is not going to drive all the way across the star map to attack another race. Let them come to you as they most certainly will. Make them burn their fuel and run a gauntlet of pop ships and Coldpains.

Special Tactics

Most of my attacks or defenses involve a Coldpain as a scout. Think of the Coldpain as being a German U-boat (in fact, I name my Coldpains U-XXX with X being the ship number). Sneaking around, getting intelligence information and attacking enemy convoys. Is the enemy task force too large for your own. Set the Coldpain to mission "tow ship" and tow the enemy battleship or carrier out to the Vickies. As long as the Coldpain has a friendly code number higher than the Vickies, the Vickies will fight first and destroy the enemy ship. You can also tow ships away from the task force and destroy them as in the case of fuel or cargo ships.

Minefields are also important in the total scheme of your defense. Always make an enemy attack you through a mine field. Damage from a minefield will only enhance your later pop of that same ship. Even though you have trigger ships guarding the fleet and important planets, minefields are difficult for a cloaked ship to move through and he just might make a mistake. If you see an ship in your area that has cloaking capability but is uncloaked, he is probably mine sweeping. He will surely cloak up the next turn so I always try to immediately lay a minefield around him or near by. The enemy cloaker thinks that there are no mines so you can get lucky.

On the other side of the coin, if you are in the enemy area and he has minefields, don't be afraid to drive through them. Travel twenty light years or less and the odds that you will hit a mine are slim. It takes some time, but minefields give the enemy a false sense of security. Work your way through them and give him a real surprise!

Something that I have not mentioned thus far is the fact that Fascists ground assault at a 15:1 ratio and defend at 5:1. Simple terms, one of your guys can take out fifteen of the enemy or on defense one can take five. This is significant as a Coldpain with seventy clans on board effectively has 1230. An Ill Wind with 220 clans, well, you do the math. You can take over virtually any planet and make the enemy pay dearly for yours. Since your ships are immune to planetary defenses, you can park a ship on a planet and ground assault at will. Not enough clans aboard to take over the planet? Sit there and pillage a few turns and deplete the enemy colonists by 20% each turn until they are down to size and ripe for attack.

Tactics Against Specific Races

I have already talked about attacking large carriers with Vickies but what about some of the other ships? If there are Privateers in the area, take an Ill Wind or Victorious and tow around a pop ship set to trg. The Privateers rob ships by taking off the fuel and then boarding the ships. This is a mission so if the ship is a Meteor, he will be uncloaked. A pop will come before rob ship so if they are waiting cloaked, they will be destroyed. If they are waiting, uncloaked, hopefully your scout Coldpain has seen them and simply setting the Nefarious or Saber to pop will take them all out before any battle or ship robbing takes place. I once drove an Ill Wind to a planet in this manner and the ensuing pop killed four Privateer Meteors that were waiting to rob the Ill Wind. I guess the guy didn't know much about pop ships.

While on patrol, if you see a Borg probe, capture if possible but kill at all costs. The same with any planet that has Borg on it. They will assimilate the natives and soon you will have six or seven million Borg on a planet with a star base or over a hundred defense posts. The experienced Borg Commander will seed the entire Echo Cluster with single Borg Clans that eventually grow to inhabit entire worlds. If he gets a star base behind you or close an is able to build a Firecloud Class Cruiser, YOU ARE DONE. If you see a Firecloud, kill it. Even if you have to sacrifice a Coldpain, kill it. Fireclouds bring entire fleets. Read the VGA manual for details.

If, early on, you detect that the Crystals are close by, do what ever you can to take them out. If you allow the Crystals to get an economy going where they can build lots of torps, you are in a bad way. Several times I have been taken out early because Mr. Crystal Boy was next door and I had web mines up my wazoo. Don't know what a web mine is? Read the manual.

In Summary

I could write a book on the Fascists but that would be a little out of line. Just remember a few basics things and you can be a successful Fascist Commander. Use your Coldpains early and often. Don't forget the early capabilities of the Ill Wind. Remember that you are immune to NUK, ATT and you can pillage. Remember your ground assault potential. And use those pop ships to attack the enemy and make money off of the Amorphous worms. Build a solid empire and the enemy will come to you. Use some simple tactics and they will wish that they had attacked the Borg instead.

TO REG OR NOT TO REG...The Joy OF Shareware-Only Games

Registered, VGA Planets is a classic multi-player space combat strategy game. It features stable, well play-tested DOS & Windows versions with numerous player settings, a healthy community of hardened veteran players, and a veritable arsenal of 3rd party add-ons. The challenge of playing against human opponents, with all their quirks and diplomacy, makes this game a true winner.

However, let's not forget that VGAP is first and foremost a shareware product. The actual community of people that have played the shareware version over the years is far larger than the loyal fan base of registered players. In fact, the shareware version itself is eminently playable, with only a handful of features (albeit important ones) removed.

Yes, most new players start out playing shareware before registering their copy. The promise of warp 9 engines is often too vital to pass up for even the most tight-fisted admiral! And yet, if it were not for the fact that most people are playing against other players who are registered, there would be little need to register. Why? because a game replete with a full retinue of shareware players can be loads of fun. Even after playing several years as a registered player, I still enjoy a good shareware game.

Let's look at some of the reasons why Shareware games rock:

- Tech Level 6 Max - The most obvious reason of course is that bases only allow you tech 6. Building slower engines at the outset of a game changes things radically. Suddenly, those hype ships are much more valuable, the Borg are really weak because they can't build their cubes, and minesweeping can be a tough job. Planet hopping at warp 6 is virtually impossible on most of the map making your moves very transparent to your enemies. Suddenly, things like fuel and diplomacy are vastly more important!

- Natives - Planets with native races like Silconoids (Tech 10 torpedoes), Humanoids (Hulls), Amphibians (beams), and Ghipsoldal (Engines) are now very valuable since they are your only way to produce higher tech levels for these components. And the Feds? Make sure you form an alliance with them! They can refit your ships to create a true tech 10 vessel. It might take a lot of work building the components and transporting them to a base for a refit, but when you've finished, you just KNOW there is nothing in the whole echocluster that can beat it.

- No Ares Transport functions - Some ship specific functions, like the Ares fuel production, are disabled in the shareware version. However, this isn't too important since the Colonies can still use the Cobol to produce fuel.

- No Lokis - Unfortunately, the de-cloaking feature on the Loki is also disabled. This affects the Feds and Lizards.

- No Making torpedoes - The mkt code is disabled. That means resupplying ships with torps is a lot more time consuming. You either have to send them back to your bases (making them even more valuable and strategic) or string long supply lines of ships to ferry torps from bases to the frontlines. My advice: build all your ships with the same torpedo tech level. ie. Mark 4, for maximum bang or the buck and ease of transfer.

- Alchemy Ship Defaults - Should you be lucky enough to find a Ghipsoldal planet and build an Alchemy ship, you can no longer specify which mineral it produces. The default, 1 of each mineral, is all that is allowed.

- No limited mine drops! - Forget using codes like md2 or mdh. The won't work. If you set a ship mission to lay mines, it drops them all. One way around this is to keep ships in pairs. If you are the Crystals, for example, use an Opal to drop the mines, transferring them from another ship, like a ruby. Oh yeah, and the msc code for scooping mines doesn't work either.

- No ship cloning - If you want another copy of a different race's ship, you have to do it the hard way -- trade or capture it.

- Bases can't dump parts - Generally, this isn't a big deal but sometimes when you are in a real pinch for minerals, recycling those old stardrive 3 engines can help. It also takes away a tactic from the birds where they use the Super Spy mission to dump parts on Fed bases, assuming the feds are stockpiling parts for refits.

- 500 Ship limit - Probably one of the nicest things about shareware playing is that the game becomes more logistically challenging. Too often in registered games, I've seen the 500 ship limit max out at turn 25. Not fun! Shareware is slower. Hence, it requires more time to develop planets, colonize them, and move around. I've seen games finish before the ship limit is reached. Your resources are more precious and every ship counts. This makes the gameplay feel somehow more authentic.

When considering the above points, there are clearly some advantages and disadvantages to playing shareware. Choose your race carefully. The feds gain because of the Super refit but lose because of the Loki. Races with faster ships, like the Privs, Empire, Rebels, and Borg, can get a leg up on the competition when colonizing. Cloaking races, technically weaker in combat against carrier races, move more slowly but due to harder planet hopping, their cloaking ability is more valuable.

Lastly, keep in mind the ship list of each race. The Robots are strong with their Instrumentality class, the heaviest in a Shareware game. The Borg, on the other hand, have no heavy ships under tech 8. The Colonies, while losing the ability of the Ares, have the Cobol to compensate for fuel consumption when overdriving engines. That means that at Warp 7 or 8, the Cobol generates enough fuel to offset the high burn rate of a warp 6 engine.

In short, things are quite a bit different but still balanced. Strategies and tactics all have to be refined when playing in Shareware. True, Shareware-only games can be challenging but they can also be rewarding. Just remember, the next time you play a shareware game, make sure you don't use a registered version by mistake! The Host can distinguish if turn files compiled by a Shareware version or not and may decide to take "corrective" action.

Have fun out there!!


Shawn McPherson is a 5 year player of VGA Planets and can be found in registered games at www.echocluster.com and shareware at http://members.rogers.com/planets

Monthly Help
Brought to you by Donovan!


The Loki Class Destroyer (which can be built by the Feds and the Lizards) emits a Tachyon pulse that decloaks enemy cloaked ships in a range of 10 lightyears. The Loki emits it's Tachyon pulse automatically before and after movement (*), decloaking enemy ships which start or end their journey within 10 lightyears of a Loki. The first Tachyon Pulse is emitted shortly after the Host program processes cloaking orders, and will result in immediate decloaking of the cloaked ship. If decloaked by a Loki before movement, the cloaker does not burn any fuel for trying to cloak.

Federation, Lizard and Birdmen cloakers are immune to the Loki's Tachyon device. (Birdmen immunity is host-configurable)

Cloakers by any other race than the above three will be decloaked both before and after movement, even if the owner of the cloaker also owns the Loki which decloaks it. So if for instance a Privateer gets his hands on a Loki he will decloak his own ships which start or end their turn within 10 lightyears of his own Loki, but he still won't decloak any Fed, Lizard or Birdmen ships.

The Loki needs at least one kiloton of fuel onboard for the Tachyon device to work, the device itself does not burn any fuel. The Tachyon beams are emitted automatically, the owner of the Loki does not need to set a mission or friendly code to trigger it. The Loki will also decloak ships if it is built without weapons. The Loki's decloaking function will not work if the Loki is damaged 20% or worse. The Loki will not work if you have a shareware version of VGA Planets.

* Since host version 3.22.047, the Loki also decloaks ships after the auxbc.ini phase, meaning there are two moments after movement when the Loki decloaks ships. This was added because some addons include movement in the auxbc phase, which enabled people to move cloaked ships to or near a Loki without being decloaked.

The preceeding section is but a small portion of Donovan's Help Section. To visit Donovan's Site, go to http://www.xs4all.nl/~donovan

Featured Host

This months featured host is Ed Robinson, host of Battlestar Command Bridge!

1. When did you start playing VGA Planets?

I started playing in 1995. Me and two of my friends started with the shareware version, and shortly thereafter were hooked.

2. When did you decide to start Hosting?

I actually did some private hosting, but started my own hosting website in 2000.

3. When did you create your Host site?

My host site when up in 2000, started as Ed's VGA Planets Website, and then got changed to Battlestar Command Bridge in 2001.

4. Which do you prefer, A plain game with no add-ons, or a game with add-ons, and why?

I can't say I prefer either one. From a playing standpoint, I would prefer a game with some addons, especially Sphere, I really like the wraparound map feature, as well as Raceplus. From a hosting standpoint, I of course find a plain game much easier on me to host.

5. What Country are you from?

The United States

6. Do you like hosting more than playing? or vise versa.

I would say I prefer hosting over playing. I currently still play in games on other hosts, and enjoy playing a good game. But my love will always be hosting, as indicated by the amount of time I put into it every day.

7. What do you see as the most progressive change in VGA Planets recently or in the past, and why.

I would say one of the most progressive changes in VGA Planets would be the dedication of its hosts, and its players. It continues to have new players and new hosts crop up, even thought it is a game that exists in an era of real-time games.

8. What is your favorite Add-on?

My favorite addon would have to be Sphere. It made such a radical change in the way Planets is played.

9. Where would you like to see VGA Planets go in the next 5 years?

I would like to see a continuation of new players come along, as well as some new hosts to take up the slack created by older hosts dropping out. I would like to see more activity in the newsgroup, maybe some sort of moderation to keep things going there. I would also like to see some more refinement, and maybe some adjustments made by Tim to some of the host sequencing and the Host configurations.

10. Do you think VGA Planets is dying off with no new players, or does it continue to appeal to new people

I don't think its dying. I would say it continues to attract new players, however I do see some of the new players being scared away by those who continue to cheat to gain advantage in a game that doesn't need cheaters.

Find Ed's Site at: http://battlestarcommand.com

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