I always loved games. I mean, every kid loves games, but my love was a bit different. While the other boys were running around playing tag and wrestling, I was drawn to games that challenged my mind. Puzzles and strategy games like Othello and Mastermind fascinated me, but let me tell you, it didn’t win me many friends. I must’ve got it from my dad. I can still remember playing games with him, but he died when I was still in elementary school.
As I got older, I got better and better at harder and harder games. This was great in some ways, but I soon found that there was no one around me wanted to play with me anymore. When no one would play my games with me, I ended up spending more time with computer games than people. Not that computers were more fun to play with than people, but at least computers didn’t refuse to play with you again if you win three times in a row.
I somehow made it through High School and into college before I gave up on school. The courses I could handle, but ironically enough, it was the social games that did me in. On complex computer games, I rocked; dealing with peers and especially girls, not so much. I ended up dropping out and working in retail and fit in just like a fish in pudding.
I kind of like the work at my current job. My section is always the best organized and stocked section in the store, but for some reason this seems to piss off my supervisor. I seem to have this amazing ability to get on peoples nerves without having any clue why. All I can do is keep my head down and hope that I don’t get fired like I did at the last two places.
I headed home in my ancient Toyota Imnotsurewhat to spend a peaceful, relaxing evening administering a massive stellar empire and grinding enemy civilizations to dust. For the last week the Amalgamated Republic (my empire) and the Alphan Dominion had been fighting it out. We were the two largest empires in this particular game of Peace of Iron.
For over a year I had been slowly building up my realm. My strategy was based on building a society with a strong economy and political stability, rather than trying to conquer any system that looked vulnerable. I always kept my treaties and went after only those who attacked me. While at first it looked like I was being left behind, in the long run the solid foundation I had built paid off. Instead of growing explosively, my realm steadily grew into a nearly unstoppable juggernaut.
The only other empire that rivaled the might of my own was the Alphans. I had avoided conflict with them for a couple of months after our borders had met, but all of that came to an end when they attacked a third empire that I had a defense treaty with. Thus began our “titanic struggle of galactic proportions.”
He kept sending probing forces to try and find a weakness that he could exploit, while I slowly took systems on the border and consolidated them before moving on. Tonight would probably be the deciding phase of the campaign. If the Alphans did not come up with a strategy that could stop my advance, then my advantage would become overwhelming and I would win the war.
All of this was running through my mind as I unlocked the front door to my house. “Hey mom, I’m home.” Yes, I’m a 24 year old gaming nerd who still lives with his mother. I sure everyone is dumbfounded beyond words at this turn of events.
“How was work, Sweetie?”
“Apparently it’s too much to ask to just do my job and be left alone.”
My mom came into the room with a look of longsuffering concern. “Alan Victor Spenser! You’re not planning on quitting, are you?”
“I never plan on quitting. It always just gets so bad that the only choice is between quitting and getting fired.”
“Sorry, honey. I’m not trying to get on your case. Maybe it would help if you made some friends at work.”
“Mom, I’ve tried. I’m friendly with everyone, but it never goes beyond that. It’s like there is a game going on, but no one will tell me the rules or even admit that the game exists.”
“If it’s bothering you this much, then maybe you should look for something else. Just remember …”
I finished with her. “‘Don’t quit your job until you find another one.’ I know. It’s a great idea, but I’ve just never managed to pull it off so far. Maybe this time it’ll be different.”
I could tell that she had more she wanted to say but she let it go. “If you’re hungry, I can make you something.”
“Nah, I’m still too wound up. I’ll nuke something later. There are plenty of job listings online. Maybe I’ll find something there.” I woke up my computer and left all thoughts of work problems behind by checking out how my realm was doing on PoI. The game keeps on going whether you are there or not, and this means that a lot of your success or failure depends on how well you could pick subordinates and delegate to them. I can’t tell you how much time I spent creating a workable promotion system, but in the end, it really paid off. The bigger your empire, the less time you have to micromanage everything.
First I checked out my war fronts. Besides the big war with the Alphans, I was fighting six smaller empires when I had left the game this morning. The Republic of Rectangles had surrendered while I was at work and my subordinates were busy with the process of assimilation. I sent a few ‘suggestions’ to aid with the process.
This good news was countered by the news that the previously neutral Dominion of Awesomeness had launched a strong attack on one of the more isolated parts of my empire. They had managed to take three systems that were only partially assimilated and had invaded four more. I checked the details and found that his forces were bogged down in my layered defenses and were now vulnerable to counterattack. This was going in a typical enough fashion that I really did not have much to add to the strategies that had already defeated dozens of similar assaults. I gave these guys three days before they cracked, if they don’t sue for peace before then.
A few more similar checks and I am ready for the main course. The Alphan front had actually done better than I expected. Twelve systems had fallen substantially faster than expected, and many others were ahead of schedule. My main admiral contacted me with the information that he had found a major weakening of the central front. He believed that an accelerated schedule could bag ten lightly defended systems within a day and another twenty on the following day. I chuckle to myself as I deny permission.
It was a pretty good strategy on the Alphan’s part and would have taken most players. Pulling forces from the front as well as weakening an internal pocket would allow my forces to rush in, only to be cut off and destroyed. I shifted my reserves and set up raiding forces to hit the areas where the Alphan forces were most likely concentrated. I decide to send a private message to the Alphan leader. “Well played sir, but I suggest that you sue for peace, as it now only a matter of time before you fall.”
A message popped up from the Alphan leader a few minutes later. I was expecting a hostile reply, as he still controlled the second most massive and powerful empire of the game, so his actual reply surprised me. “The Alphans accept your peace terms. Congratulations, this game is yours. I look forward to seeing how you fare when we take this up to the next level of games.”
OK, just what next level is he talking about? It must be some sort of revenge message. Two hours later, I got another message from the game administration which changed everything.
“It is with both joy and sorrow that we must announce that the region 17 game of Peace of Iron has been completed. Congratulations to VictoryNAlienSp8ce in his epic achievement. All surviving players will be given free entry into a new region of Peace of Iron or any other active Prometheus game. Many of you also qualify for bonuses based on your performance in this game. Please click on the link below to find out how to claim your free entry code and bonus prizes.”
I sat there in shock. How could the game be over? The game is one of the biggest ever devised with a playing field of one million systems. It could only be over if one player gains an overwhelming advantage.
Wait a second. VictoryNAlienSp8ce is my name! I won? I went back and read the message twice before I clicked on the link.
A chat window came up with a picture of a bald man with a mustache. “Hello there. I’m Hans Smithe. I’m one of the head administrators here at Prometheus Games. You’ve caused quite a stir here tonight.” He typed something into his computer. “You’re Allen Spencer?”
“Well, Allen. Not only did you come out on top of Sector 17, you are the first player anywhere to have won a game of Peace of Iron. The game was designed to go on for years. We were caught a bit off guard by your victory, but I just got word from upstairs that they have authorized an impressive prize package for you. I don’t have all the details yet, but they should have everything set up by tomorrow. Just check your account messages. Anyway, I’ve already sent your pass code to join in any Prometheus game you like.”
All comments and corrections are greatly appreciated. Feel free to introduce yourself in the comments. I love finding out about and connecting with my readers.