Since the game openly bases itself on trickery, honesty and trust are the ultimate weapons against it. It’s better to work with others than against them.
There is also a balance to be had. Keeping stronger neighbors as friends is good. But weaker players in an alliance are probably better left consumed. Issue is, an angry or vengeful foe, and they have a right to be so, can really, really cause more damage than ultimate good.
The key issue is speed. NP is an infrastructural race. If the concept of Terra were somehow altered so that smaller empires could prosper off larger empire expansion, it might alter this, a little. But frankly, so long as “He who has the most of X thing” , be it stars or infrastructure or anything, it is in fact a race.
Speed and momentum will always favor the aggressor. To counter this, I believe Jay made a mistake in giving defenders a significant advantage. This actually doesn’t favor a more defensive strategy, it actually REWARDS offensive tactics. If you blitz your enemy, you win their star. You win their star, YOU are defender during the counter-attack. If you happen to set up just right, especially in the early game, it’s game over for your enemy, period. They can squirm, but your hold is essentially absolute.
From there, you’re catapulted to a new tier of momentum. You become feared by your neighbors, opening alliance doors and possibly closing others, which is fine, because you fear less and less. Do this twice in a row, and you can get such momentum going that you are effectively an avalanche. Add in at least two allies you can trust to stay in line, and the game is essentially over, barring some kind of upset.
So, considering this speed factor, the key is find close allies in the beginning nearby, and then utterly destroy someone else equally close by. If you build a reputation for betrayal at the start of games, you paint a giant target on your back: “I am a lying germ, kill me first!”. Not what you want. instead you want “I am a great player and I will turn your world into the Spice Mines of Kessel if you don’t make peace with me, you tentacled freak”.
As such, honesty, integrity, virtue, competence. Those alone ensure you’re too dangerous to cross, but trustworthy enough to hug close to the alliance bosom.
What’s sad is… this makes very undynamic games. It gets boring after a while to realize that the defining factor of a game is who gets a starting position with whom.
Consider my recent 64 game. I have been surrounded by two worthless newbs. They have ruined their own chances to live. I have neighbors who are friends. My friends will be sorry to see me gone. They will kill my enemies out of revenge and pragmatic need to expand somewhere. Atop this, there’s the diplomatic smear of me warning everyone “these guyz betrayeded meeee! KILLL! NO TRUST!” And that is often listened to, to a certain extent, even by strangers.
There is also the fact that these new players hurt themselves. Fighting at level 1 is never wise. It hurts. Even if they beat me, they will have lost momentum. But for me, it’s worse. My momentum is ruined. I’ve stopped expanding. NP DEMANDS that you Expand or Die. I have stopped growing, and been set back economically. That means I am dead. ruined. Gone. There is no hope now of growth. There is no point to fighting on, even if I have a chance to come back. In regards to the greater galactic conquest, I am as good as dead and buried.
So people hate it when they get betrayed. They fume, because likely they had a chance for success until that untimely slip of the knife.
It’s a shame that there is no way to make games for frantic. But that simply won’t ever happen until Jay implements technological research in a way that ensures each empire is self-sufficient. Once everyone doesn’t NEED another empire… well… then things are much different!