- Shadow Empire: a 4X where professionals talk logistics
- Shadow Empire interview, with Victor Reijkersz
- Let’s Play Shadow Empire: Oceania! Part 1: The Rise of Avalon
- Let’s Play Shadow Empire: Oceania — Part 2: War of the Machines
With the release of Shadow Empire’s new DLC, “Oceania”, I’ve jumped back into the game — and chronicled my adventures in an LP.
In this, I aim to convey the feel of the game and why I like it so much. Every time I play, I find something new to appreciate. Sometimes it’s the science-fiction worldbuilding, which can make two games play very differently. Sometimes, it’s the strategic depth; there are many levers, and it’s important to choose the right one for the circumstances.
Let’s see how I fare.
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WELCOME TO AVALON!
Our planet’s last beacon of hope
I begin by choosing one of the new planet types — a Gaia world. The first Oceania game I played, on “Hard”, was a slog — I started on a tiny island, hemmed in by marauders, hostile alien wildlife, pirates, and an enemy empire.
This time, I set the game to “Normal” and generate a continental map. Eraliria Minor, the planet for this game, is home to nearly 6 million people, plus sentient aliens. It has a breathable atmosphere and a pleasant, Earthlike climate:
Here is my starting position — the country of Avalon. In the middle is Albion, my capital. (My previous Oceania game randomly named my capital city “Albion”, which fit the “Avalon” naming theme, so I kept the name for this game.) Following my usual playstyle, Avalon is a democracy with an emphasis on scientific research. On a post-apocalyptic world, there are far worse places to live!
I start on the lowest tech level, which requires me to research nearly everything. I also opt to start with a single infantry brigade, which I name the Lantern Bearers.
Linguists assure public that aliens are friendly
The first few turns are tranquil: no marauders and no giant, hostile wildlife. I send out explorers and — mostly — establish friendly relationships with the neighbours:
- To the west are two tribes of hunters — I agree to peace with them.
- To the south, east, and north-east are four separate city-states of farmers.
- To the north are my most exotic neighbours, the Obaran Territory — a group of native Cephaloids, 4-metre tall sentient herbivores with rifles. I quickly agree to peace, then start investing in learning their language.
I invest early on in setting up a Foreign Affairs Council, which unlocks advanced diplomacy. Out of the four farmer neighbours, two agree to come under my protection, and a third agrees to peace.
As for the fourth…
BORDER CLASHES ESCALATE!
Army deploys new superweapon to northeast frontier
The peaceful start ends abruptly when the fourth neighbouring farmer city-state, Votherum, declares war on me. (Reloading the save to inspect the details, it looks like I provoked them by driving scouts too close to their capital. But they still fired the first shot…)
In response, the Lantern Bearers march out. Their starting equipment is little better than Votherum’s, and other events in the northeast are concerning. I receive word that the Britmountain Clan, a hunter tribe just past Votherum, is hiring mercenaries. But with my hands full, I can’t do much about it.
After a number of turns, I pull an ace from my sleeve — a single battalion of newly designed Bedwyr light tanks.
The ability to field light tanks is the first military inflection point in Shadow Empire. Early infantry can do little more than hold the line against marauders and minor factions. The arrival of tanks tips the balance.
By early-game standards, the Bedwyr is a superweapon: it has a powerful gun, enough armour to shrug off small arms fire, and a high “structural design” score that future-proofs it when the time comes to upgrade.
When the Bedwyrs arrive, the Lantern Bearers press on towards Micatown, the capital of Votherum.
Just as they’re about to take Micatown, the conquest of which knocks Votherum out of the game, a rogue cabinet official from my own government orchestrates a rebellion (magenta) back in the south — barely a few hexes away from Albion itself.
I quickly raise a second infantry brigade in the capital, the Swords at Sunset, to meet the threat. With support from a second battalion of tanks, they bring the rebellion under control.
Around this time, I diplo-annex another one of the neighbouring farmer city-states (to the east in the above screenshot). This takes me to three cities in total (Albion, the captured Micatown, and the newest city, Hessen) — a strong start.
Enemy armies pour across eastern frontier
A side effect of Hessen joining Avalon is that I now have a border with the nearby empire of Panzerraum — a militarist regime that takes an instant dislike to me.
It comes as little surprise when Panzerraum eventually declares war, around the time I finish off the last rebels. Despite their powerful army, I’m not that worried. First, I have several times their population. Second, their army has several weaknesses I can exploit:
- The Panzerraum infantry have better small arms, but very little in the way of anti-tank weaponry.
- And while they have a handful of pre-apocalypse Romulus tanks, whose technology is far beyond anything I can build, they have only a few tanks of their own manufacture.
On the other hand, I have a good tank design — the Bedwyr — together with the industry and the metal to scale up production.
My plan, then, is to play for time and eventually, fight a war of machines against men. In the meantime, I rush the Swords at Sunset to hold the line in the east.
On the same turn that Panzerraum declares war, I receive a second declaration of war — from Britmountain. This time the shoe is on the other foot: after Britmountain grabbed land, I refused to agree to their borders.
And so, while Panzerraum occupies my main attention, the Lantern Bearers find themselves fighting an economy-of-force action against Britmountain in the northeast. As a minor faction, Britmountain is far less dangerous than Panzerraum. But their large, numerous mercenary “Shadow Regiments” come as an unpleasant surprise. Even with basic, improvised gear, Britmountain’s sheer numbers let them overwhelm two Lantern Bearer battalions.
FRIENDS IN NEED!
Neighbours receive a hero’s welcome
This is when my early investments in diplomacy pay off. I diplo-annex another minor to my south, giving me a fourth city (Ziemerfeld) and their giant army of militia. The sea of militia flows east, to join the fight against Panzerraum.
Meanwhile, the friendly Cephaloids agree to send a small contingent of mercenaries. I deploy them to reinforce the Lantern Bearers against Britmountain.
Not every neighbour is so helpful: the nearby empire of Polyshelf demands tribute. Out of all the major empires in the game, Polyshelf is the runt of the litter. Stuck on a small island, they have neither a large population nor significant territory. But, not wanting to risk a three-front war, I pay up.
Avalon will remember this.
Prime Minister announces “end of the beginning”
In the east, casualties are high as Panzerraum pushes against my militia and regular infantry. But they buy the time that my strategy needs. Equipping my infantry with newly-designed combat armour mitigates Panzerraum’s firepower advantage, while metal mines, oil wells, and paved roads let me field and supply a powerful armoured force.
If fielding tanks is the first military inflection point in Shadow Empire, then massing tanks is the second inflection point. I raise an entire armoured brigade (comprising five light tank battalions) — the “Companions”. Before, I had two tank battalions. Now, I have seven.
The Panzerraum AI has organised its army into what looks like a small number of large units. Their size makes them dangerous, but it also leaves them with too few units to hold a long front. And with an army of mostly infantry, they don’t have the mobility to manoeuvre, outflank, or do anything other than frontal assaults.
At the same time, I have a lot of militia, plus a critical mass of tanks. This lets me hold the line, probe for gaps in the Panzerraum line, and use the tanks’ speed and firepower to cut off stragglers.
Panzerraum’s anti-tank units turn out to be less dangerous than they seem — being organised into discrete units rather than sprinkled into combined-arms formations (perhaps the AI didn’t research these?) makes them easier to cut off and destroy.
In the far southeast of the front, where there are few Panzerraum troops, I score my first major victory of the war. Spearheaded by the Companions, my army captures the city of Reunionforest — from the looks of it, a formerly independent city-state that succumbed to Panzerraum.
Meanwhile, in the northeast, the Lantern Bearers, their Cephaloid allies, and a single battalion of Bedwyrs begin to see success against Britmountain.
Punching through and encircling enemy forces thins out the survivors to the point where I can advance up the road and take Britmountain proper, knocking them out of the game.
This is the current situation. The Lantern Bearers and the former territory of Britmountain are in the north. In the middle, Panzerraum (green) faces off against militia and the Swords at Sunset. The Companions are in the far south:
Victory against Britmountain has freed up the Lantern Bearers to strike south, although I need to beware unidentified enemies to the northeast (marauders?). Meanwhile, I may able to encircle and destroy several Panzerraum units, or else dart around behind them to cut off their supply lines.
To accomplish this, I have:
- A lot of militia
- Cephaloid auxiliaries — the original contingent, plus the rest of their tribe, who joined me later
- 2 infantry brigades (total 10 battalions) — the Lantern Bearers and the Swords at Sunset
- 12 light tank battalions — the Companions; a second, newly raised armoured brigade, the “Sarmatians”; and two independent battalions
- A single battalion of medium tanks on the Panzerraum front
- 2 independent recon battalions
Further west, the homeland is peaceful and already bearing the fruits of development:
Longer term, the outcome of this game already looks like a foregone conclusion — I have the largest population of any empire. Panzerraum is a very distant second:
The priority is to defeat Panzerraum, then see what else is out there. Are there any other major empires on my continent? Or will it be time to look across the oceans?