Phoenix: Rising Again
An open-ended game from the ashes of Beyond the Stellar Empire TED PRATT reviews this re-written and revived turn-based game …
[In issue #128, KJC’s Mica Goldstone described the history of the Phoenix, which springs from a total rewrite of its original, Beyond the Stellar Empire. Now Ted Pratt reviews the game.]
PHOENIX IS AN open ended sci-fi role-playing game in which players can choose to be part of an affiliation and use various assets such as starships, starbases, ground parties, outposts and agents/operatives to further their own goals and that of their affiliation within the game.
In December 2002, KJC Games’ new game program totally changed the game, for the better. Now players could download an offline order editor which from KJC’s website. This could be used to issue orders, then upload them directly to KJC where the computer would process the turns and sent out the results via email. More recently, KJC has introduced their Nexus website. Although still waiting for a few finishing touches Nexus has taken the game to a new level again. The site includes various forums where players can discuss issues both in and out of character. Affiliations can create their own internal forums away from the prying eyes of the rest of the galaxy. The game rules are shown in a library section of Nexus and again affiliations each have their own library sections that they can use how they wish. A new order editor is
also available, and a page showing all the last turn results of a player’s positions. Then we have the player’s data archive. All the in-game knowledge that a player learns about during play is recorded here. It includes star maps and the various items that are part of the game. Nexus also lists all the starbase trade markets, so players can see where the most profitable trading is to be done. Phoenix has become a true web interface game, although the old options of using the offline editor and receiving email results are still available to those who prefer that method.
One of the biggest advantages I find in all this new development is that KJC have been able to allow players to run positions such as starships, ground parties, outposts and a couple of other position types free of charge. You could play the game using nothing but ships to conduct trading and never have to pay a penny to KJC.
On joining the game you start off with a small cargo ship, a hold full of trade goods and a few stellars (the
game currency) and find yourself in the Yank star system,an area of neutral space where combat is illegal, although accidents and pirate activity do occur. You will also find that you have been placed in a random affiliation (aff) and all the contact details for that aff’s Periphery Director (PD) will be shown on the first turn printout. It is advisable to contact the PD to introduce yourself and to ask for advice, as it can be quite confusing as to what to do first. Newly arrived star captains can if they wish leave their assigned aff to either join another or try to make their way in life as an independent (IND), although this can be dangerous as there are a few INDies that operate as cover for pirate activities and most affs will shoot an IND on sight in star systems they control. Most aff PDs are happy to give new players a run down on their affs and sometimes offer incentives to join them such as additional ships and better equipment.
Phoenix is run every day, Monday to Friday. Each week has 300 Time Units (TUs). Positions such as ships, ground parties and operatives use up TUs as they go about their business. For example, to jump to a different star system costs 100TU. To buy, sell, pick up or deliver items to another position normally costs 10TUs per transaction. Moving around star systems also costs TUs, the amount depending on what type of engines the ship has. You can issue orders to your position which will be processed in the order written until that position uses up all its accumulated TUs: no position can use more than 300TUs per week. Most players wait until their positions accumulate 300TUs and have the ship conduct all its actions in one go, then wait again for the TUs to build up before issuing more orders. You also have the option of issuing a lot of orders that will keep the ship busy for weeks on end.
The game program moves the position until it runs out of TUs, then stops the turn until 300TUs have accumulated and then automatically runs any pending orders that were issued. Very useful for those long haul cargo runs, as you can issue orders then forget about the ship to concentrate on other things and receive a turn when the ship next moves. You can play Phoenix free of charge having your ships conduct trade with player-run starbases or engage in combat if you wish, but the game gets better for players willing to open a paying account with KJC.
Ships can conduct exploration of planets and other areas of space. This is where the GM moderation comes to the fore, in the form of special actions (SAs). Players interested in exploration can order ships to land on a planetary surface (planets are divided into sectors and are of varying sizes) and conduct a surface exploration. This will give a standard description of the type of terrain in that sector and a summary of anything else discovered.
Here is an example of such an exploration from a sea sector of a planet in the game:
This area is dominated by a dark and lifeless
sea of free water There are a number of
impurities found in it, most of which are
completely useless A closer analysis of the
water would be needed in order to identify any
that may prove of some use.
If you want to conduct any follow-up investigations, you can order a SA to find out more about the area. In the above example I ordered a SA to conduct a closer analysis of the water to see if there was everything useful.I won’t publish the result here as there was and I don’t want to give any secrets away!
Ships can also be ordered to look for mineral resources. Using sensors, they can scan planets for the various types of minerals that are needed for production conducted at starbases. Once a mineral is found the ship can then prospect the deposit to get its exact yield and the actual amount of ore available. If you think its worth while, you can set up an outpost to exploit the deposit. These are a position somewhat like a starbase only smaller and are limited in what orders can be issued to them. Normally they are set up to exploit a mineral deposit or another type of exploitable resource
found on a planet. The good thing about outposts is that once established and initial orders given to exploit the resource you can ignore it, only sending a ship to collect the exploited materials whenever you like. Again these positions are free to run, but a small charge is levied if you request an update for them.
These are the powerhouses of the game. This type of position does cost real money to run each week, so only players with an account can operate them. Starbases are comprised of a number of complexes of various kinds: Command, Factory, Merchandising, Research, Mines and a few others. These positions can set up public markets, selling items such as local trade goods, manufactured items and the like and buying goods from other planets and star systems shipped in by
other players or your own freighters. Bases can also interact with local populations if the planet has any. Using merchandising complexes the base can sell trade goods to the locals and each merchandising complex generates an income for the owner through broker fees on trade between the local inhabitants. You don’t need to do anything to generate this income as each planet has its own economic stats and you can work out how much income each merchandising complex will generate based on those stats. Every planetary population has a finite amount of money each
week to spend on goods offered by starbases. Again the owner just has to use the sell to local population order to place goods on the planetary market and the locals will buy the amount they can afford each week. Goods from off world have a higher value than locally produced goods, so a smart owner will offer good buy prices on his public market to entice ship captains to sell their goods to them.
Bases are also the manufacturing centres of the game. Using factories bases can produce any item that you know about, so long as the base has the required raw materials in stock. Each factory can produce a limited amount of items per week measured in mass units (MUs), but there is a diminished return. For example, the first ten factories each produce 50MUs per week, the next ten produce 40MUs, then 30MUs, 20MUs and any remaining factories 10MUs each per week. Each item in the game has a size again measured in MUs. Modules, the component parts needed to construct complexes are 40MUs in size. As well as the item’s size, each has a raw materials requirement. Basic modules, for example, require 40MUs of metals to produce. Higher tech versions of items are smaller in size, but do need more exotic and rare materials. Basic modules mark two require 25 metals and 5 rare earth elements, but are only 30MUs in size. A base can overcome the diminishing returns on production by setting up a mass production line to produce an item. You have to allocate a minimum of ten factories to mass produce an item and each factory will make 45MUs of production per week. Adding more factories to the line will increase the amount of production: the next ten factories will produce 50MUs each per week. Once set up, a mass production line will continue to produce the item each week without further orders, as long as the base has the required materials. Even if the materials run out, the line will stand idle and automatically start up again once the materials are available.
Bases can recruit members of the local populations to work in the base as most complexes require 500 man hours to operate at peak efficiency each week. Every worker contributes 50 man hours per week, so complexes need ten workers to operate. There are some exceptions to this rule: dome complexes, for example, don’t require employees and research complexes need 50 employees to function.
The base can also recruit mercenaries from the indigenous population and can then use the basic training complexes to convert them to the various troop types in the game, such as crew for ships, marines, soldiers, scouts and startroopers. Of course, all of this costs money in the form of stellars: each worker and troop expects to be paid at least one stellar per week. Workers and troops located at outposts expect 1.5 stellars per week to compensate them for being assigned to a backwater asset.
Another aspect of the game that is done at bases is research. Using research complexes a base can research in various areas. Most items in the game can be improved upon. There are three levels of research: first we have Principles, which are the foundations of all research. There are too many to mention here, but include things such as Energetics and Cybernetics. From these Principles bases can then look into researching higher tech level principles and/or techniques. For example, if a base has researched Energetics it can then go on to researching a Photon Beam Weaponry technique. Next, we have Blueprints (BPs).Again if a base has Photon Beam Weaponry, it can then produce BPs for the different types of standard photon weapons. These BPs are needed at a base if it wants to build the items specified in the BPs. Research doesn’t happen overnight. It is time consuming and expensive for a base to conduct, but very rewarding. You aren’t restricted to the standard research lines. If you can come up with a good idea for a new item or ship design you can use a SA to ask the GM if it’s feasible and he’ll let you know what line of research is needed. There are a few new items out there that have occasionally taken players by surprise the first time they were used: Cloaked Kinetic Missiles spring to mind!
You can also run a political position. This is your in game persona and is an actual position located in the game area. You create it using a crewmember of your ship or another troop type if you have them. There are several advantages to having a political. First is that on creation KJC will give the player two more ships, a medium sized freighter and an escort ship to go with it.
Also, a political position is paid 10000 stellars per week as an incentive. Another advantage is that a political position has a central stellar account. This means that all the money a political has is in one place. Before that, each position a player controlled had to carry its own fund--very inconvenient if you lost a position for some reason.
There are certain orders that only a political position can use, such as creating squadrons. This is very useful. You create a squadron and can add as many ships as you want to it. Then you can issue squadron orders to one ship and the rest follow. Great for setting up freighter convoys or warfleets.
Ground parties and orbital platforms
Other position types include ground parties. These are comprised of various troop types and other item types such as tanks, artillery and the like and are used primarily to assault enemy starbases. Operatives recruited from veteran troops can be dropped into enemy locations to conduct all sorts of espionage missions. Orbital platforms are used to defend areas of space and are packed with space weaponry. Players normally construct these in orbit of their major bases and if they have the resources can add to them over time. There are some truly monstrous platforms in the game.
There are three areas of combat in the game: space combat, which involves ship to ship (orbital platforms included) and in some cases ship to base in the form of orbital bombardment; ground combat where ground parties assault bases; lastly, boarding where one ship attempts to lock onto another and capture it using boarding parties comprised of troops. Not surprisingly, marines work best for this.
Each position in the game has several lists to which it can add other items. These include Enemy, Support, Defend, Ground Enemy and Do Not Target. As you’d expect anyone you want to attack can be added to your enemy list. Players have the option to add individual positions or the positions of whole affs to their lists. Of course, you would add your allies to the support and defend categories.
Combat is conducted one per day. As positions move, the various lists are checked by the game program and if a battle is indicated all movement for those positions is stopped for the day and a battle occurs. Battles are played out to a maximum of four rounds, each side manoeuvring and firing at their enemies depending on how they had set up the ships’ combat options beforehand. Again, once these options are set up you can forget about them until you want to set them up differently. Options include specifying whether to try to disengage from combat and targeting specific areas of your enemies’ ships such as engines, weapons or structural damage.
Ships in combat use various types of weaponry and defensive items. We have energy weapons of differing types, like missiles, torpedoes and space fighters. Defensive items include shields, armour plating and point defence weapons like gatling lasers and phalanx missiles. To use these items, ships are fitted with sensors and targeting computers, each giving bonuses to accuracy and coupled with a weapon’s inherent accuracy modifier they give a total bonus that is used to calculate whether a target is hit or not. Off-setting this is combat speed and target silhouette. The program does all the calculations and determines the amount of damage the target has suffered.
Players who were involved in the combat receive a battle report showing all the details of the combat on a round by round basis. They can then if they wish issue orders to their positions to either continue with the combat or move out the following day. Assaulting a base is somewhat difficult. A well defended location will probably be using shield complexes to enhance its shield strength to the point where most space weaponry will just bounce off it (but shields do deteriorate each round as they take damage unless enough generators are used to keep them intact). The down side for the base is that it can’t use space weaponry to shoot back, but can use point defense weapons. So if the owner is smart, bases will have a few orbital platforms to use as top cover, harassing enemy ships causing mischief.
The best way to take on a base is with ground parties. You have to assemble enough troops and equipment and transport it all to the target base. This could take several ships and needs a lot of coordination with other players. Once the ground party is dropped into the target’s starport, combat will commerce against the defending troops. Again ground combat is conducted over four rounds every day. Each round both sides’ control factors are checked (each troop type has a control factor) to determine how much of the base they have captured or defended. If one side has an overwhelming superiority in CFs the base will either be captured or the attackers driven off. Battles in starbases can take several days or even weeks to resolve, each side trying to deliver reinforcements: all the time the base is taking collateral damage to its complexes.
Boarding actions are very much like attacks against bases, each side using CFs to determine the outcome. Normally these actions are over in one day.
All of the above is mainly the pure game mechanics.
Where Phoenix really shines is the affiliations. Most players belong to an affiliation.There are several different types and their members give each a distinctive character. There are government types such as the Imperial Services (IMP), Detinus Republic (DTR) and Confederate Naval Forces (CNF). Alien affs include Flagritz (FLZ), truly alien with lots of tentacles;
Falconians (FCN), an Avian race; Dewiek Elder Nation (DEN), a canine race, and several more alien affs. There are also affiliations set up as mega-corporations such as Frontier, Exploration and Trade (FET). I’m the FET PD so am a bit biased!
Affiliations sometimes ally with others and form distinct political blocs.For example, the Imperial bloc consists of the IMP, FET and another mega-corp aff known as Galactic Trade and Transport (GTT). The political landscape is always changing, as alliances are formed then dissolved.
The roleplaying of all players on the forum is excellent and can sometimes get quite heated. I actually spend more time roleplaying than submitting orders.
All in all, an excellent game with a few more upgrades coming along including more interaction possibilities with planetary populations.
I can thoroughly recommend Phoenix. This review cannot really cover all of the game’s many aspects. Do give it a go.