Top News from around the Universe
April, Issue
No. 4 Vol 1, No. 4

Playing the Baron

[This is a monthly series written by playtesters in the Universe 101 game. Each month, we ask one of them to share tips and strategies they picked up along the way. This month, Bruce Dean talks about playing the Baron Leto Atreides, and about his competition in that game, the Baron Justinian -Ed]

Watch out! Justinian is coming and he’s pillaging and absorbing everything in his path. Hide the women and children. Man the fortresses. Bring the battlestar fleets home. Abandon the outer satellite worlds. Create a strong line of defense. He musn’t get to our homeworld. He mustn’t see where we keep the artifacts. The Raider is behind him nipping at his heels, avoiding the biggest fleets. Where is that warlord when we need him? Tell the trader to dump his cargo and turn his freighters into cruisers. Justinian is coming…

I now have had two experiences playing a Baron. I took over the character of Leto Atreides for a player who had just gone off to college in U101 and was able to rescue an empire that was being besieged by a number of greedy Starlords. They were picking away at the edges of a floundering empire, because they hadn’t received any communication. I am now playing a Baron in one of my two universes and am on about turn 10. The advice that I will give today is decidedly different than the advice I would have given after U101.

I believe the Baron is the most intuitive character to play. The Baron wants to own everything and he wants it to work well. The new player who is playing a Philosopher or a Trader for the first time, has a hard time understanding that owning worlds is to his/her detriment. The opening strategy for every player is to expand as quickly as possible and absorb everything in his path. Well, the Baron is one of the few characters who never changes that beginning strategy; expand, absorb, fortify, make productive, expand some more.

The subtlety lies in how you go about doing this. I am just now discovering the value of scouts. This versatile piece of machinery is the core of initial expansion. Load your exploring fleets with scouts. They can be transferred to fleets you find along the way. They can be converted to fortresses so you don’t leave planets undefended. They can travel four worlds each turn. And you can give fleets away, if you have to, without feeling the loss of a more expensive cruiser or Battlestar.

Of course, you bring your cruiser fleets into play once you have secured worlds with fortresses and when you know which worlds need supplies. And for the most intimidation and firepower per credit, it's hard to beat a Battlestar. However, they come into play later in the game when you have a border to defend.

Another important tactic for the Baron is communication. Communication is critical, as it is with every character. You can’t compete well without it. And much of the fun lies in communication. My first Baron was a self important, haughty, condescending noble. I really enjoyed that voice. However, I have since come to realize that persuasion is what communication is all about. It is not just about creativity. Have fun and make it fun for those you encounter.

Allies… hmm. Of course, the most important and natural ally for a Baron is a Trader. If you find one right away you are in luck. Give the first trader you meet as many big cruiser fleets as you can spare. If you are devoting any of your own fleets to raw material hauling, you are making a mistake. Don’t be stingy; the Trader’s fleets will double your production at most worlds. But any good alliance is a two-way street. What do you offer everyone else? I think Barons offer access. Everyone wants access to your worlds. You must recognize that this is the coin of your realm. You have nothing else to offer except perhaps protection, but many characters do that better. The Terminator, the Philosopher, the Raider, the Warlord, the Trader can all be persuaded to give you worlds, but you must give them exactly what they need, worlds to raid, robotizes, minionize, capture and supply. You also offer associations. You can let a Raider raid your worlds if you have a Terminator to robotizes them and take the sting out of the raid. Warlords can take the worlds from your Trader and Philosopher allies. Be sure that everyone has the right to use the factories and credits available. Be generous. Treat the worlds that have been given you as if they are on loan. Make sure a player feels that he has the first chance at credits on a world he has given you. A player that you have given a gem to will reward you when the time is right.

There are two things that make this game especially fun .The first is a close ally or two. In U101, my ally, in the end, was the raider, Orion. He began the game by raiding every world he came across. Rumors about him were flying around. Anyone who encountered him was ready to blow him away. I spread many of them myself (after all, this is a game of rumor and innuendo). He had this amazing, in-game voice, writing as if he were a New Jersey mobster. He had to be intimidating but it finally occurred to me how consistently funny he was. By the end, I was trying to explain to other Starlords how misunderstood he was. It was great getting on IM (Instant Message) and planning a strategy to bring down the Baron, Justinian. That reminds me, the other thing you need to maximize your fun, is an enemy or a war or some kind of major confrontation.

I’m finding in this 2nd round of games that I am not wasting time before making friends. In U101 it was a bit intimidating to discover someone on your doorstep. The universe felt much too crowded. Now I meet someone and I try to let him know what I can do for him/her. The Baron scores points early and late, but not in huge bunches. He can be a natural target in the end because he has a big empire with many Starlords having access to it. Try to maximize the scoring of the Starlords around you. Just beat them to the finish line.

U 101 ended too quickly and too suddenly. I think we all wanted five more turns. The opening skirmishes had taken place but not the decisive battles. Next time…

The Weaver
aka Baron Leto Atreides
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