The Phaedrus Cluster, Game 2:
The "betrayal" (ignition of unacknowledged but inevitable conflict) of Kevin Spacey and Uhrmungle aside, Game 2 was nearly straightforward for me. I quickly made strong, mutually-benefiting allies, who allowed me to compete with and outdo my neighbors, and, in the end, bear the burden of war. Essentially, the science and fleet strength I established early in the game was cemented with the conquest of Kevin Spacey (sorry, Kevin), and I launched a joint attack on the then-leader Uhrmungle shortly afterward, whose resistance to the combined ability of me and my allies would eventually dissolve; despite a short time playing the defensive, I eventually incurred deeply into Uhrmungle's territory and subsumed a crippling amount of his production capacity, while my allies caused the same damage on their own front. This sustained, Uhrmungle's offensive capability crumbled, mine ballooned, and I won the game. Thanks for the help, J Mallard, whoever you are.
Now -- nearly straightforward.
There were three notable wrinkles in the proceedings that I remember. The first, and most significant, was The Disappearance of Dahle: Right as the first assault on Uhrmungle began, it seemed clear to J Mallard and I that we would face significant difficulty effectively coordinating our fleets against Uhrmungle because of the enormous rearward front shared by the both of us with the powerful green empire, Dahle. Given that, at the time, Dahle could make no further progress in the game except by attempting to conquer us, war with him seemed unavoidable (regardless of whether he was directly cooperating with Uhrmungle or not), a war which, left unaddressed for the moment, would have probably necessitated an ultimately fatal reconcentration of our fleets mid-war-with-Uhrmungle to stymie the losses he would have caused. However, even with preparation, as far as I could tell, there was simply no way to deal with him - we could have focused wholly on Dahle as an effort to preempt him, turning our attention from the newly hostile Uhrmungle, but that naturally would have left us open to attack from the newly hostile Uhrmungle, whose already large strength would have grown even larger as he swept through our hobbled garrisons. We could have focused wholly on Uhrmungle, but, like I said, that would have left us sitting ducks during attack by Dahle, who, while not overwhelmingly disposed, would have depleted our rearward resources to a degree that the resistance of Uhrmungle would have become impossible, even if we did manage somehow to drive Dahle back. (Keep in mind that Uhrmungle, then possessing a science advantage over J Mallard and me, would surely have begun funneling tech to Dahle when he learned about our conflict.) Unfortunately, our best bet would have been to spread our ships across our territories in the hope that whatever distribution we decided on would prove a match enough for both Dahle and Uhrmungle's initial waves, giving us time to gear up for an attack of our own or another wave. This was a precious hope, however, and the numbers were blunt; barring notable error on the part of Uhrmungle or Dahle (and none on our own), victory was very unlikely. Although I didn't say it to J Mallard, it seemed to me that we had already lost.
I have no idea why he left, but he's very lovely for doing so. After Tick 476, we made Uhrmungle our main target, looted Dahle's headless empire, and pressed to success.
The second wrinkle was Crazy Crane's Deceit: If The Disappearance of Dahle was the primary reagent of the victory tonic, then Crazy Crane's Deceit was the catalyst. Poor Crazy Crane, put upon by his more fortunate neighbors, spent the entire game without more than nine stars to his name. Although I cannot speak with much specificity about his experiences, it seems to me that his weakness largely made him a useful tool in the eyes of those more powerful surrounding him (including me, admittedly), who believed he might be willing to do their (our) dirty work in exchange for a chance at the stature he probably craved. Again, I do not know how he reacted to most such bribes, but I do know that he eventually gave his life for our sake, rather than besmirch his dignity by accepting one or one more.
As I understand, shortly before the official start of the war, Uhrmungle asked Crazy Crane to concentrate his remaining military power on J Mallard, who bordered Crane, and suggested that, if Crane did not comply, it would be the last thing he did. Not taking kindly to being baldly threatened (and presumably realizing J Mallard would probably inflict the same fate anyway), Crane elected instead to take matters into his own hands. He gathered all his ships, wished J Mallard and I luck in the war, and sent his fleet straight into Uhrmungle's heartland. I do not know the immediate effects, but the offensive evidently shook Uhrmungle enough that J Mallard and I managed to win a number of early battles against him that we certainly wouldn't have otherwise. While I don't think Crane's attack caused Uhrmungle permanent damage, it likely set the stage of the war for its foregone conclusion.
A surprise assault launched under the guise of servitude, and by this man? It must be Crazy Crane's Deceit!
The final twist came out of the blue, as it were - surprise support from Kevin Spacey: Despite what I said earlier, Kevin Spacey had not been conquered per se - he had almost been conquered but was instead only crippled, managing to preserve a shadow of his empire at the end of our conflict by bursting South into Dahle's uninhabited territory. Following this daring maneuver, I saw nothing from Spacey for a while, and I soon moved onto more demanding matters. I assumed he was busy plotting something, maybe trying to make further headway into Dahle, or work up the might, perhaps with Uhrmungle's backing, to harangue J Mallard or me. I figured, at any rate, he could no longer be a significant force in things, and stopped paying attention to him altogether.
Then, without warning, I found one day that my daily payout, then about $1,500, had doubled in one cycle to about $3,000. While quite pleased, I was naturally bewildered. I checked my event-log. The sender? One Kevin Spacey. As he later told me, he had saved several cycles' worth of income while preparing to take more of Dahle's land, but realized that the rapid approach of J Mallard (I believe) made these preparations moot. Now lacking an ultimately useful way to spend the money himself, he decided he would attempt a more indirect means of Uhrmungle-subversion (his ultimate goal), instead sending all his money to me.
While, at this point, I had gained a lead on Uhrmungle, I can tell you that a day's income come early was the point of no return. I posted this image earlier:
The jump of the red line in each graph is entirely due to Spacey's intervention.
Anyway, that is the story of Smokey Sax. I hope you liked my write-up. I enjoyed doing it.
Since I'm interested, would you mind sharing any rhetorical issues you may have spotted? Verbose? Unclear?