VGA Planets Super Site

VGA Planets
(Reviewed by Conquest)

West Coast Online Magazine - Feb. 95, issue 24 - page 17

As the moon rises slowly over the planet Centeria, the native population is upset. We have taxed them greatly, and strip-mined the once-verdant surface in preparation for the inevitable onslaught from above. They may riot.

Tonight will tell whether the planet lives or dies. We have watched for several days as two alien ships hopped from planet to planet, drawing nearer. Long-range scanners find the ships to be massive, more than 500 kilotons each. Each of these ships can carry fighters. A mere 20 fighters can kill a small planet like ours, and these ships can hold 50 each! They are overcoming all resistance to their advance; our fate is sealed.

Centeria is a temperate planet, rich in minerals, located at the far reaches of our galactic empire. It was a lucky find by a hard luck freighter that was nearly out of fuel. Centeria was to be its final destination after visiting a string of planets inhospitable to our race. We are known as the Empire of the Birds, and we thrive in earth-like settings. We look much like the Romulans of your Star Trek television series.

The freighter landed at Centeria and unloaded 2500 colonists, supplies, and money. We dismantled the freighter to get a head start on building factories, mines and defenses. After months of intensive mining and manufacturing, we began building a starbase, and this gave us hope. From this starbase we can build new ships and weapons. But the attack will come before we can build ships.

The planet has a native population of cow-like creatures participating in our colonial government to the extent that we are all growing quite wealthy. The colony population is happy and abundant. We would be content to stay fat and happy but for the deadly robotic race from a neighboring empire.

The infidels destroy us whenever they can. They are cold-hearted machines, resembling Cylons in your television's BattleStar Galactica series. There is no reasoning with the robots - no diplomacy. They don't respond to any message we send. From the robots, there is only silence and death.

At this distance from our home world, we have little protection from our battle fleet. The call went out, but only one medium cruiser was in range. The cruiser arrives tonight. We hope it is enough. Only the results of turn 35 will tell...

VGA Planets is a shareware game proving quite popular on BBSs and the Internet. Written for DOS PCs by Tim Wisseman in 1992, he continues to revise it, sometimes monthly, sometimes more often. If you played the game last year, try it again. Tim has added depth and complexity to bring out the Alexander the Great in all of us.

Structured like many "Napoleon" games, VGA Planets has eleven players dividing and conquering a finite universe. In this case, the universe is square, and holds 500 planets. Players get points for the number of planets they control, and the number of starbases and ships they build. Each player runs the client software to view the universe map, and inspect each ship, planet and starbase in turn. (At the heart of it, VGA Planets is a distributed database application.) Once all commands are issued, the player prepares the turn and sends it to the host.The host collects all turns, and processes them in order, calculating outcomes and preparing new result files for each player.

Typically, a host is a local BBS that runs the turns at midnight and has them ready for pickup in early morning. Some private player groups agree to process several turns a day early in the game to speed things up. Your host can allow the computer to play any of the races in the game. The computer is relentless because it never misses a turn, but with experience you'll find it easy to defeat.

Unlike map-based games, Planets is chock-full of interesting color graphics at VGA resolution. As a bonus, you can download utilities to help play the game. You start the game and a face that represents your race stares out at you. The races are based on sci-fi TV shows or movies. For instance, you can play Star Wars' Rebels or Evil Empire, Star Trek's Borg, or you can join Battlestar Galactica's Lorne Green in the Colonies of Man.

The main navigation aid is the star chart of 500 points of light. Use your mouse to move around the screen (response is fast). Your planets have a blue halo (white or green if there is a ship in orbit), and your ships in flight are green points of light. Enemy ships are red.

Move the cursor and double-click on your home world. Up pops a full-screen image of your planet's resources, showing defenses, secret friendly code, amount of minerals, colonists and natives, and their tax rates. Press B to build factories, mines and defenses, convert manufactured supplies to money, or change the tax rates. F4 takes you directly back to the star chart, and F3 brings up the starbase screen. Spend money (megacredits) to increase defenses or raise the technology level of the planet (more tech gives more juice). Build a starship from a variety of components, each consuming a certain amount of resource.

The planets have whimsical names, but many hide serious problems. Desert worlds and arctic worlds may limit your race's ability to colonize, or the discovery of an amorphous native race can kill all your colonists in one turn. Prized planets are rich in four minerals, host a cooperative, industrious native race and have a temperate atmosphere. These planets are few and far between, and are worth fighting for. (New versions of the host program let you change planet temperature with special science vessels, discover a native race after you have been on the planet a while, or sustain mineral-rich meteor impacts to liven things up.)

There are three phases to game strategy. In the beginning you define your turf by building small freighters to spread your colonists to neighboring planets. As your empire bumps into your neighbors, you need to build fighting ships to protect your turf while invading theirs.

There are lots of border skirmishes by turn 25 in this game. After turn 30, you are ready to conquer your neighbor. Develop attack plans and build powerful, fast ships with high-tech weapons appropriate for the job of planet killing. You can do these things only if you've cultivated your colonized planets and set up logistics to deliver minerals and money to your starbases. There are many ways to end a game, and many players decide to stop when one player reaches a certain point level. With one daily turn, an entire game can take several months.

Look for the Door
It took me a while to find a game locally. I had become addicted to VGA Planets after joining a private game hosted out of Colorado, but the cost of calling and the time zone difference was awkward. I found a local host by downloading and searching the database file (available on the WCO BBS), and ended up on the Roadkill Grill in San Jose. Roadkill uses a VGA Planets door program to collect and distribute player turn files, as well as to post player lists and game scores.

If you join the game, please stick around for a while, and be sure to upload your turn daily. If you miss five days in a row, your race reverts to computer control until the game ends. Roadkill runs the VGA Planets host program sometime after midnight, and result files can be picked up after 4 AM.

Caveats to happy Planet playing
Play locally. You don't want to quit a game because the phone bill (2 calls per day) is becoming a sore point. You'll have enough to worry about as a fleet of avengers invades your prized territory. Play every turn. Skipping a turn can set you back further than you think. Read all seven PLANETS.DOC files. You need to know how the game works and how your opponent can use special advantages against you. Don't get lost in the details!

Use the message system to build alliances, threaten enemies, and deceive the competition. Don't play against the host. The person running the host machine has complete access to your game files, and can easily take advantage of that information. Unless you absolutely trust the host, don't join a game that he or she is running. Having host power brings out the tyrant in some people.

Allocate time. Early-game turns take five to twenty minutes. Middle-game turns take about an hour. End-game turns require more than two hours to adjust every planet, ship and starbase. Tell your loved ones how much you enjoy the game, and that it reduces the stress from work. As an end-game consumes your evenings, don't forget your spouse! Disconnect your internal PC speaker. The individual ship screen beeps when you open it. It's the penetrating type of beep that annoys spouses and bosses.

Practice. Download the host program and practice playing a short game in a small universe against a couple of computer opponents. Get a feel for navigating the screens and giving commands quickly. Learn to use your ethnic race advantage effectively. My race can use super spy to slide up to an enemy planet, discover its friendly code, and beam up the minerals. There's nothing the victim can do about it!

Register the program. For $16 and a postage stamp you get enhanced power, secret codes, and a map of the universe. Tim deserves every cent for this wonderful program. Be sure to call the Tim Continuum BBS to gather several cool utilities. They're free to registered users. Take a period of rest and relaxation after a game ends. Your universe is gone - there are no more ships, colonists or starbases. Your final plans, whether they worked or not, no longer amount to anything. You need a period of mourning before diving into another universe.

In my game, turn 35 came, and with it the robot attack on Centeria. Planets has a VCR recorder to replay each battle shot by shot with sound and animation, and I had plenty of action to watch! With barely enough minerals and plenty of money, I had built a starbase the previous turn. The starbase fortifies the planet and enhances its weapons. My cruiser arrived on time, converting half its torpedoes to mines and laying them as it reached planet fall.

Torpedoes take a heavy toll on an enemy ship, but when fired in combat, nearly 1/4 missed the mark. My cruiser spent its torpedoes to even the odds against the first attacker. But that first ship was heavy and carried a large crew, narrowly defeating my cruiser, blasting it to smithereens. My heart sank as I watched the dots of light fly off the screen. My planetary defenses easily destroyed the first ship, but the second ship alone could take out my planet if it held enough fighters.

Lucky, lucky Commodore Perry! The robots were run by a computer player, which never communicates through the message system. But computer players never sweep for mines, either. The second ship hit two mines on its way in, taking 15% damage. The ship must have been built early in the game because the weapons were weak, and there were no fighters on board. The fighters from my planet drained the enemy's shields and inflicted 15% more damage before they were shot out of the sky. The behemoth took another 20% damage from the flimsy weapons on my planet before the attack ran out of gas. (The video recorder goes only so far before stopping an attack.)

Turn 36 is up now, and I've got to rebuild my planetary defenses. I have enough money to put fifteen fighters in the air and enhance the starbase weapons. That should get rid of the damaged attacker. Looking at the planet's economy I find bad news. The natives are angry and have begun to riot. I have to reduce their tax level now or lose the factories and mines I'll need to rebuild. My work is cut out for me on Centeria.

There's more bad news waiting. Scanning the star chart, I notice a massive ship of the Lizard race heading toward Wookie World, the home world of my empire. Things won't be so easy this time - the Lizard player is human, and I've had dealings with her before. I'll send a bluff message as I prepare the defense of this and the other 26 planets. Turn 39 should be a real corker!

Conquest is a player at the Roadkill Grill BBS. He'll be taking over a universe near you sometime soon. Some BBSs running VGA Planets: Delta Junction (408) NNN-NNNN, Chamber II (408) NNN-NNNN, Roadkill Grill (408) NNN-NNNN, Wolf-359 (408) NNN-NNNN, Airtight Garage (415) NNN-NNNN. On the Internet, check the web site at, or the newsgroup:

The above article was copied with Mark Shapiro's permission from the WCO magazines at Conquest's real name is unknown.

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