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Blockades: How to set them up, and how to get around them - By Traitor

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Introduction:

Almost everyone who's played Trade Wars has run into this scenario: You log into a game that's only a few hours old and find yourself starting at Terra. A quick check of the logs shows lots of blown planets, and lots of people getting podded or #SD#. The few people on-line are either sitting in sector 1 with you, or they are God-knows-where in Scouts or maybe Missile Frigates. Fedcom is going nuts with people either laughing or cursing. What do you do? If you answered "I express to Stardock", then this article is for you!

This article is divided into three sections. In the first section I'm going to discuss some of the more common types of blockades, in the second section, I'll give tips on how to detect them, and in the third section I will discuss some ways of getting around blockades. While my corp isn't well known for running blockades (we think they are a waste of time and resources), we have run into just about every possible kind, and we've found some simple ways to get around them. Almost all of the tactics described below assume a more or less stock game and around 1k turns. Obviously with more turns, or with wild edits, these blockades can be more or less effective.
So, what do I mean by Blockade? I think of a blockade as a tactic where one corp tries to deny all other corps or solo players access to a particular location, usually the Star Dock (SD) or Fed Space (Fed). Usually Blockades are run early in the game to prevent other corps and players from getting started. Most of the time the blockade is designed to photon, pod, or kill traders trying to get access to whatever is on the other side of the blockade. Most corps stop running blockades after a few days, having accomplished their goal of delaying the opposition long enough that they can get off to a good head start. 

STARDOCK BLOCKADES:

I'll start with SD blockades first, since they are by far the most common. There are usually four types of SD blockades. The Scout Blockade, The Photon Blockade, The 'Fortress' Blockade, and the 'OMG, they blew it up!' Blockade :-O. I have listed them in the order that they usually appear, as each one is progressively more effective. Many corps will often run a combination of the first three, until they have the resources together to pull off the ultimate blockade, blowing up the SD. With a 6 player corp and 1k turns, it is possible to get the resources together to blow up SD by the end of day 2, if you dedicate your corp to it, and nobody tries to stop you.

THE SCOUT BLOCKADE
This blockade is simple. About 1/2 the corp heads to SD ASAP, and they get one of their guys into a scout with max figs, then surround the SD with figs (10+ is a good idea), a few mines and maybe a few limpets. The guy in the scout then runs a script that checks for people hitting the mines/figs, and if someone does hit them, it will jump to that sector and try to pod the person before they can get to the SD. Since the Scout is fast, and has great offensive odds, and the starting ships are usually slower and have few figs, you can almost always capture people's ships in one shot. If the scout captures the victim's ship, the scout will tow it back to SD and one of the corpies will sell it for more figs to put on the scout. Some corps will run several scouts at once, each one taking turns round-robin style to pop people as they come in. This allows the first scout to replenish its figs and the sector figs if necessary, while the second scout waits for the next victim. The other members of their corp, meanwhile, are PPT'ing or going red to take the blockade to the next level, or they are hunting down the ones who did make it past their blockade. The advantage of this kind of blockade is it's quick and easy to setup. You can set up one of these in less than 30 seconds if it's properly scripted. The disadvantage is that anyone who has ever run into one of these before will know how to get past it. 

THE PHOTON BLOCKADE
The Photon Blockade is similar to the Scout Blockade, in that the enemy has surrounded SD with figs and mines and is running a script waiting for someone to trip a fig or mine next to SD. What's different about it is that instead of using a scout to attack and pod or kill you, they are trying to Photon you first to play the turn denial game, and THEN they pod or kill you. Sometimes they just let people sit there, having accomplished the goal of turn denial. Photon scripts are the Blockade method of choice in games where photons are active, and fed safe players are allowed to fire photons from fed. These blockades require more resources to setup than Scout Blockades, but are more effective because you can stop any ship, regardless of the number of figs it carries. In games with move delays, they are especially effective. 

THE FORTRESS BLOCKADE
The Fortress Blockade is usually a late game blockade. Here, the corp tries to keep people out by having an overwhelming number of figs and mines in the sectors surrounding SD. The idea in this case is to have more figs there than you can macro through, and either P-Drop you, or Photon you while you are still dealing with the figs. If you are just starting the game and they are running one of these, there isn't much you can do about it except wait for extern, or possibly try a backdoor. Most of the time when corps are running this type of blockade, they are just trying to suppress new players. Usually, by the time they have the resources to pull this off, the other corps on the game already have at least one person in an ISS.
Once some other corp gets someone with a commish and a trans-warpable ship, the above blockades are more or less useless. The goal of all three of the above blockades is to keep the opposition out of SD long enough for the blockading corp to get a good head start. After the other corps have the ability to t-warp directly to the SD, maintaining these blockades cost more resources than they are worth, unless they are just playing for the sake of killing the inexperienced.

THE 'OMFG, they blew it up!' BLOCKADE
Given enough figs, and the willingness to use 'em, it's possible to blow up the SD. It takes hundreds of thousands of figs to do it. (Of course, if the sysop has messed with the ships, it can be easier to pull this off.) Usually what happens is you have two guys at SD. Both of them are in IC's. All of the IC's are loaded with figs, and one guy has a bunch of cash on him to buy more figs. The other guy attacks the SD. After attacking, assuming he's still alive, his corpie transfers figs to him and he attacks again. The trick here is to never leave the attack prompt. The second guy keeps feeding his corpie figs until the SD blows up. (You can transfer figs to your corpie, if he's in the same sector, even when he's attacking a port…) The tactical advantage to doing this should be obvious, and the corp that's planning on blowing up the dock will almost always have planned ahead and purchased several extra ships and loaded them out with everything. If you are just joining a game and the SD has already been blown up, you might consider moving on or waiting for the game to rebang. 

THE TERRA HAZZ BLOCKADE
The last blockade I'm going to talk about is the Terra Hazz Blockade. In games where there are no starting planets, everyone joins the game at sector 1. This blockade capitalizes on that fact. The enemy will attempt to surround Sector 1 with 100% nav hazz, and then surround the rest of fedspace with mines or fig piles. The Hazz kills your ship, and the mines or figs get your pod. If you see a lot of planets getting blown up in groups of 5 or 10, and lots of people dying by hazz or mines, then you know they are running this type of blockade. This is IMHO the nastiest kind of blockade, and it's almost 100% effective, however, its probably the most difficult to pull off. Fortunately, because of the difficulty, this kind of blockade is rare. You probably won't ever see it happen in a tournament because the enemy is gambling that they can get the blockade up before anyone else slips out. It's in casual games, where you don't have droves of people waiting in the wings for the game to open, where you can expect this kind of blockade. If you don't get out of Fedspace before they get the blockade up, you probably aren't going to get out without outside help. A typical setup goes like this: The corp that's setting up this blockade will first try to get someone to SD as quickly as possible and get them in a Scout and have them run a SD blockade (see above) to catch those who do manage to get logged in before they get the Terra Blockade setup. The rest of the corp will PPT to get as much cash as possible, starting with the ports in Fed. They need about 3-4 million credits, which 4 good players PPT'ing can make in about 20 min. With a 6 man corp, that leaves 2 players left with full turns to complete the rest of the setup. Then they will take the cash they made and get someone into a good ship (Usually a Corp Flag, sometimes an ISS.) The CFS will then purchase figs, shields (whichever are cheaper at the moment. If shields are more expensive than figs, they will only have figs. Usually they need about 6000 or so combined figs and shields), mines and g-torps and as many dets as it will carry and head to the first Fed sector between Terra and the Star Dock. For example, say the direct route between Terra and the SD is 1 - 3 - 1111 - 2222 - 3333, with the SD in sector 3333. Just before they get to that first fed sector (3), the CFS will drop about ˝ it's mines and maybe 1000 offensive figs in sector 1111 and then move to sector 3 and drop 10 planets. The CFS will then bust 5 planets, go to SD and get 5 dets and fill up on mines again. It will then return to sector 3 and bust the rest of the planets, leaving a 90-100% hazz in sector 3. On average, this will cost them about 1.7 million credits to get setup, including the cost of the CFS. They can bust only 9 planets and save themselves 1000 figs; taking the risk that 1 in 10 people will make it past the hazz. However, this is often a good deal, since the mines and offensive figs in the next sector will probably pod them at that time, and force them to retreat…back into the sector with the 90% hazz. Most people aren't lucky enough to survive it twice. Once they have the first sector setup, the PPT'ers will take over SD Blockade duty, and the first guy in the scout will become a blue. Taking the remaining money, they will have their CFS guy go red and bust planets at SD. Then they will get a Merf or a Colt and have the CFS start SST'ing, using ports that were previously scouted out by the other PPT'ers. Once they make about a million creds from SST, they get their Blue into an ISS and he will start furbing the Red. When the red gets low on turns, he will cloak somewhere and transfer the cash to the Blue. This takes about 10 minutes or so if you got the right scripts, and makes about 7-8 mill (counting expenses). The blue then uses the money to finish the other fed sector's Nav Hazz, and mining the adjacent sectors. One thing to keep in mind about doing this is extern. Extern will clear all Fed sectors of Hazz, and will likely sweep away most of the mines and figs that are in place around fed. Some corps will wait until just after extern before putting up this kind of blockade. It really depends on how soon after the BigBang extern happens. Sometimes a corp will make due with 3 PPT'ers and try to get 2 or 3 reds going for the extra cash needed to setup the blockade after extern. Sometimes, a corp will rely on a SD blockade early on, and then switch to this blockade just after extern. I've seen it done many different ways, but I have to say the most effective one I've seen was the one I outlined above. The sooner you can get Fed locked up with Hazz, the better. The 2 or 3 red method may be better in the long run, but if you try this tactic, you aren't playing for the long term anyway, you are going for speed. 

FIRST THINGS FIRST: Detecting A Blockade

Before joining any game, the most important thing to check is how many hours the game has been running. If you manage to get on just after BigBang, then you shouldn't have too many problems with blockades if you hurry. If you are four hours late, then you just might have your work cut out for you. The sooner you can get into a game after BigBang, the less time the enemy has had to get a blockade rolling. A well-coordinated corp can effectively lock down a new game in less than 30 minutes if they are left unopposed. This is especially true in games where there are no starting planets, and everyone has to start in sector 1.
The next thing to check is the game settings. It's easiest to do this from the game menu. Select the game you want to check out, and then press '*'. This gives you a lot more information that the 'S' option. See below:
==-- Trade Wars 2002 --==

T - Play Trade Wars 2002
I - Introduction & Help
S - View Game Settings
H - High scores
X - Exit

Enter your choice: * <- Press '*' here and hit enter

The * dumps out a lot of data to your screen, so it's helpful if you are either logging it to a file, or you have a decent sized scroll-back buffer to check them out. You will want to check several things. The most important thing to check is the version! TWGS 3.11.55 is the latest version as of this writing. Earlier versions have known exploitable bugs or settings that make it easier to run blockades. There is no reason to play on a board that's not running the latest and greatest. (Even though the latest and greatest is also buggy. :-) You can also tell if it's running in GOLD or MBBS mode. Next check universe size, and turns per day. You want to check if photons are on (Photon Missile Duration. If it's set to anything but 0 seconds, photons are on), you also want to compare the start day with the defined start day to determine the age of the game (the older the game, the more experience you get from visiting ports for the first time, and the easier it is to go red, and the sooner a corp will have the resources to put up a blockade), check the Time Online allowed (Time limits discourage blockades, they still happen, but you can usually wait them out.), The Initial Figs, Holds and Credits (By default, these are 30 figs, 300 credits, and 20 holds. If the sysop has increased these, it makes setting up a blockade easier), and New Player Planets (If set to False, it means everyone starts at Terra). It's also good to check when extern happens, and find out if Photons can be fired from Fed by Fedsafe players. You will need to check with the sysop for those settings, however, since you can't find that info out from the settings. Most sysops post this info somewhere.
Then you want to look over the logs and at the player stats. If you see the same person captured/destroyed a lot of other trader's ships, and that person is in a Scout, then you know you're probably dealing with a Scout blockade. If you see a lot of messages in the log that show the same person or corp is firing a lot of photons, and those players are currently in Missile Frigates or ISS, then they have already moved to the Photon Blockade. Often the Logs will have the photon messages interspersed with messages about people getting podded or #SD#. If you see a lot of planets getting busted and lot of people getting killed by nav hazz, and there are no starter planets, you can expect a hazz blockade, and you probably don't want to move from Terra until you get a good feel for how things are going. 

GETTING AROUND BLOCKADES:

Often the safest way of getting past a blockade is to wait them out. This is usually not possible on a board with no time limits, but if you aren't in a big hurry (You can ZTM or chat or whatever while you wait) this is the way to go. Of course, the enemy will have a big lead on you by then.
Another thing you can try doing is to wait for Extern. Extern will clear all figs and mines in the MSL's. If you can time it right, you can zip in or out during the extern clear. Most corps know this, so they will immediately try to restore their figs as soon as they are cleared. However, you can often slip through when they are redeploying their figs. Either way, you will probably only have a few seconds to make the attempt.
Of course, if you don't want to wait, you have several options. The first is to use the backdoor(s) to SD. (See Appendix 1: Backdoors) More often than not, corps running the Scout SD blockade won't have had time to put any real defenses into the backdoor sector(s). You just make sure that you have the sectors that lead out of SD voided, so you don't accidentally blunder into one on your way to the backdoor, and then plot a course for SD, running some kind of fig sweeping macro. Nine times in ten, you will be able to get in. Sometimes the corp running the blockade will dump a ton of mines or Hazz in the backdoors, so some caution is advised. If there are no backdoors to SD, then you will have to bust in the hard way. Usually that's accomplished by PPT'ing in your starter ship until you have enough cash to get around 2 k figs. (Or shields, whichever is cheaper. But always get some figs). Buy them from Terra (or one of the Class 0's if you happen to find one in your travels) and then you just macro your way in to the SD. Even if the Scout manages to beat your macro, they won't have enough figs to finish off your starter ship, and they leave themselves open to retaliation from your ship. There is nothing sweeter than killing the guy in the Scout. Or, you can risk just macroing your way in with your starting resources, and hope you are faster than they are. Anyway, the problem is once you get in you have to get back out! The blockade keeps you IN the SD just as it keeps you OUT, and there are no back doors out of SD. So you probably want to PPT a bit before you risk going in, so that you can at least afford a new ship, enough figs and shields to be able to survive a scout attack, and a density scanner minimum. Then you simply wait for an opening (have a script that waits for the enemy to leave the sector, and then exit at the same time while running a macro, counting on the fact that they can't be two places at once) or make your own opening with a macro, and you've pretty much bypassed their blockade. If you are a member of a corp, then you especially want to have your guys PPT a bit before you go to SD. Then you can afford to have a second ship sitting at the dock that your guys can use to x-port into and out of until you can afford a decent ship, maybe a commish and something with t-warp. 
What we usually do when we know someone is running a Scout Blockade is to have one of our guys PPT in the starter ship until he has enough figs to survive a scout attack, and around 50k or so extra cash. Then he tries to get to SD through the Backdoor, with one of our other corpies hot on his heels. Timing is important, so we coordinate the move via IRC. Once we get two guys in, then we use the cash to purchase a Merf with a dens scanner and some holds and a few figs and shields. We now have an extra ship sitting at SD. The 2nd guy hops into the merf, and we try to bust out. The first guy runs a fig clearing macro, and as soon as he moves, our second guy follows right behind him. The 2nd guy almost always gets away. Once he's out and about, it's easy for him to make money. Then using the extra ship at SD, we're able to have each of our guys cycle through the merf by x-porting into it, and get enough cash for a Commish and a CFS or an ISS. Once we have a ship with T-warp, we load it up with figs, run the blockade, and get it fueled, and presto! We can now move around freely, and we've totally bypassed their blockade. We can usually have this done in about 10 to 15 minutes. Most of the time we get this done sooner than the enemy corp can move on to the next type of Blockade, the Photon Blockade.
The methods for bypassing a photon blockade are similar to those used to bypass the scout blockades, but they are more risky. Once again, your best bet is to try and zip through one of the back doors. Unfortunately, by the time a corp has the resources to run a Photon Blockade, the backdoors are usually well defended with mines, figs, Hazz, and occasionally they are actively monitored by enemy ships, either running a similar photon blockade in the backdoor sector, or by a maxxed out Interdictor Cruiser. If the backdoors are blocked, then ya need to try marcoing your way in. Again, it's best to do a bit of PPT'ing first to have enough cash to get into a decent ship with scanners once you get into SD. Getting out may be tougher, but a good fig sweeping macro might buy you the time you need. 
Another thing to try is to move into the sector and then retreat, then move back a few sectors. Then check the logs to see if a photon just got fired. There is usually a delay between photon firing, so you can move, retreat, wait 1 second, and then move in again, this time trying to bypass the blockade. (See Appendix 2: Macros for an example of this)
Again, if you are part of a corp, you can try a coordinated effort. This may involve sacrificing someone to enable the others to get through. We often use the move/retreat method, followed by an almost simultaneous attempt from a different sector by another corpie. While the enemy is either waiting for his photons to reload, or while he's hunting the guy who retreated, another corpie can macro his way in.
As for getting around Hazz Blockades, what do you do about them? If you are part of a corp, you can have a 'volunteer' check out how well established the blockade is by plotting a course to fed, then voiding the first fed sector, then plotting another course, and so on, until you get to the last possible way to get to SD. (Usually the corps setting up this kind of blockade start with the first path and then seal off the rest in order, so if they aren't done setting up the hazz blockade, you can slip out this way.) Then start voiding sectors around SD. You void the SD sectors, cause you don't want to run into one on your way to freedom. Then you have your volunteer plot a course to some random sector, and see if they make it out without getting podded. The best thing for them to do is have a macro that will kill figs and answer the mine prompts as they move. If they do make it out, have the rest of the corp follow. If they die, then you probably have no choice but to wait for extern to happen, and then have everyone in your corp try run for it. Either way, once you get out of Fed, you still have to figure out a way to get to the SD. You don't necessarily want to head straight to SD at this point, since there is likely a SD blockade running too. Use the tactics I talked about earlier to bypass a potential SD blockade.

Good Luck and Happy Hunting! If you have any comments, please e-mail me at
traitor@tw-cabal.com.

APPENDIX 1: BACKDOORS

A backdoor is any sector that has a one-way that connects to another sector. For example, say SD is in sector 11, and sectors 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26 are the six two-way sectors that lead out of SD. If sector 45 also connects to 11, then it's a backdoor to SD. 
Backdoors to a particular sector can be found by voiding all the sectors that lead OUT of the sector. Once you have voided them, then try plotting a course to the target sector. If you get the following message, then there are no backdoors:
Warping to Sector 11
That Warp Lane is not adjacent.
Computing shortest path...
*** Error - No route within 45 warps from sector 10 to sector 11
Clear Avoids? 

Using the above example, you would void sectors 21 through 26, then try to plot a course to the SD. What you would see is something like this:
Warping to Sector 11
That Warp Lane is not adjacent.
Computed.
The shortest path (12 hops, 36 turns) from sector 10 to sector 11 is:
10 > (9) > (1459) > (880) > (526) > (4157) > (1844) > (1333) > (1318) >
(1286) > (1642) > (45) > 11
Note that sector 45 is the last hop before you get to 11. 45 is therefore the back door. You can check for additional backdoors by voiding sector 45 and trying to get to SD again.

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Copyright 2002 - 2005, Chris Kent aka Traitor.  All rights reserved.  See About.html for more info.