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Flagship#130 Review


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 Ö


[In issue #128, KJCís 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 Gamesí new game program totally changed the game, for the better. Now players could download an offline order editor which from KJCís 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 playerís positions. Then we have the playerís 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.


Getting started

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 affís 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 wonít publish the result here as there was and I donít 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.


Starbases

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 donít 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 itemís 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, donít 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 doesnít happen overnight. It is time consuming and expensive for a base to conduct, but very rewarding. You arenít 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 itís feasible and heíll 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!


Political positions

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.


Combat

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 youíd 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 shipsí 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 enemiesí 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 weaponís 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 canít 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 targetís starport, combat will commerce against the defending troops. Again ground combat is conducted over four rounds every day. Each round both sidesí 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.


Affiliations

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). Iím 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 gameís many aspects. Do give it a go.




 
News
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Return of the LiQuans

A close associate of the Baron LiQuan has been haunting the Corewards periphery and like the old Baron it is said he has a meklan connection. It's unclear whether he obtained his meklan nanites via the CIA but there are rumours that the DEN may be helping the Liquan relative in a bid to sow discontent in the Stellar Empire. Exactly why they would start in Corewards is unclear although with DEN allies, the DOM, having strong positions both in the Sol system and the old Harcorp systems of Harlong and Coptuv they may be the linking factor.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Meklan Unleashed on Mobile Bay

Mad Dewiek scientist Dr Kala released a number of Meklan on the busy world of Mobile Bay in the Yank system. Thousands of civilians have been killed in what is treated by DEN warlords as an amusing practical joke. Rather than take any responsibility for their affiliation’s reckless behaviour, a DEN lord rumoured to be half-meklan himself quipped he would nuke the planet whilst another merely saw it as an opportunity to test some of his greener troops in combat. Surprisingly, the KAS planetary defence force was up to the job of repelling the insidious incursion. Questions remain whether further meklan are stored elsewhere on the planet and whether anybody will challenge the Dewiek’s lack of care for the lives of innocents. Probably not, given how even the mighty IMP are now cowering from a fight with the DEN (see inside this edition).


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Who is behind the AFA?

Following the large scale holiday attack by the AFA against the FET the question of who is behind the attacks has been raised once again. What is clear is that the AFA is using ships that were transferred from the GTT to the IMP. The organisation and expertise of the operation also reduces the pool of potential candidates. Few can go from commanding a handful of broadswords to half a thousand warships and significant army logistics without a long stint in one of the more combative affiliations. With the DEN’s allies the HEX in close relations with the FET and no recent history of animosity between the aliens and FET, at least since the departure of former one-eye big-bun Norozov, it would be a bizarre turn of events if they were behind these attacks. Frankly, there’s no point dancing around it. The IMP are clearly behind the AFA. The question is what can anybody do about this move of significant Imperial resources to a black-flag agency?


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Fox Effects Fantastic Turnaround

With his feet barely under the table, Xavier Fox has managed to dramatically turn things around at the GTT. With year-on-year sales figures up by 23%, manufacturing up 42% and ship production increased by 36%, the megacorporation is running at full steam with noticeable impact on local economies across the Stellar Empire. Political analysts also note that after a period of retrenchment following the disastrous leadership of Ike Krieger, investment in defence is at a five-year high. After such bullish growth, the trick will be for Mr. Fox to recruit C-level executives fast enough to match his ambitions. It is notable in temperament, the current crop of GTT politicals do not exhibit the monomaniacal xenophobia of their predecessors and have resisted repeated provocations by the DEN to enter a pointless spar before they have re-established superiority against the foolhardy aliens.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Felini flounder in Winter against superior Dewiek forces

The FEL have managed to get their asses kicked by the DEN yet again after provoking the definitely ‚Äúnot cute or cuddly‚ÄĚ Dewiek in the Crossley system. The furry punching bags had bought a civilian flagged outpost in the system, without permission or under certain conditions depending on who you ask, and then had the gall to reinforce this error by positioning warships in orbit. The famously patient warlord Halvor did not buy the story these heavy hull armed ships were merely transports and sent a pack to clear the orbit. The mouthy yet green Felini fleet commander Pr'prz fancied his chances against what looked like a light complement of DEN warships and ordered his own warships to engage in the neighbouring Winter system. The result was predictably a wipe out of the FEL forces consisting of forty-seven capital warships at no loss to the DEN. Once again, a series of calamitous decision making resulted in Felini lives being wasted by a leadership barely fit to clean a litter tray. The otherwise untested Halvor can now claim some victory ale although with his penchant for picking on creatures as weak as Gracians, it‚Äôs not exactly clear how much glory this new breed of Dewiek warrior can claim against the legends of old.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Dastardly Dewiek Disregard Yank Neutrality

The governor of a MRC outpost in the Yank system reports that a 400-hull DEN warship called Grey Hunter Axiom entered orbit of Spritzer and opened fire with weapons of mass destruction (WoMD) against a platform, outpost, ground party and ship. Reports indicate significant casualties to Kastorian personnel both in space and on the ground. The KAS Junta is gruffly warning, with a slightly indifferent air, that everybody better stay out of the sector of the outpost for their own health. It is unclear what measures the KAS have or will take against the DEN on this matter. Such a breach of Yank neutrality has in the past caused the Dewiek to froth at the bit against the Empire for their disregard of ‚Äėcivilised‚Äô norms. Their current silence on this matter speaks volumes.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Yenni-bodies Pirates?

A PIR outpost was miraculously discovered by an IMP freighter, of all things, in the Yanni system with several Javelin class warships in orbit. After noticing the IMP freighter and seeing the public post by Jack Jones on subspace, the PIR decided to flee and leave a combined force of IMP and FET forces to capture the outpost. A brain damaged three-year old commentator who still believed in the goodness of people and Santa Claus was quick to commend the IMP on their good work, dismissing those who thought it no more than a convenient clearing up operation signifying* completion of operations in the nearby FET claimed systems of Graydown, Canth and Onissian by IMP puppet Edward Lowe. Meanwhile, the Wolf Lord Lyceum summed up the view of many when he screamed, ‚ÄúWhat is this amateur b*llshit?‚ÄĚ into an uncaring universe.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Crowe Coups Self

The IMP Viceroy Tiberius Crowe has finally achieved something in his unremarkable tenure by relinquishing even the semblance of wearing big boy pants and instead, appointed Jack Jones as Patrol Commissioner, salty spokesperson and policy maker for the Empire. Crowe will now join CIA Director Laton in riding the special bus to work where the two of them will enjoy long pleasant afternoons sipping cups of tea. Actually, just tepid fruit-scented water as neither of them can be fully trusted with a hot kettle. Occasionally, they might be visited by equally dynamic war ‚Äúveteran‚ÄĚ Admiral Bridge to enjoy mimes presenting the latest comics from the Howl. Meanwhile, Jones is putting pressure on the FET and will soon no doubt find a pretext to deploy his vast mercenary forces against anyone else who is seen working too closely with his most hated of enemies, the HEX.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Highlord Aadolf Loses Control As Dewiek Break Peace Treaty

Around one hundred DEN warships have launched an attack on a small GTT destroyer squadron of forty ships in the Daggern system. Two GTT ships were destroyed and another fifteen suffered noticeable damage. CEO Xavier Fox issued a restrained but angry statement demanding the DEN explain themselves. Highlord Aadolf‚Äôs buffoon-like response amounted to ‚ÄúDewiek be Dewiek, let‚Äôs drink and forget about it.‚ÄĚ Cold comfort for the dead crew onboard the GTT ships and their families. Especially, as seems likely at this time, the Empire will settle for some bloody money instead of retribution.


 

Free Ship when you sign-up
Complete missions for in game rewards
Control everything, up to an entire empire
Dedicated human moderators
Player and Moderator driven plotlines
Discover new worlds to explore, exploit & colonise
Over 20 years of content development
Persistent Browser-Based Game (PBBG)

I’ve played on and off for approximately 10 years, over a 20 year spell. After some interesting debate on the in-game forum, I did wonder what, exactly, has kept drawing me back to the game, when for so many others I’ve generally lost interest after a few months.

Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).
-Zigic