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Pirates in Sins of a Solar Empire
Most Sins maps include pirates who lurk in an asteroid belt somewhere in the planetary system and launch attacks on any world offering plunder at the instigation of one of the combatants in the sector. Sins of a Solar Empire: Diplomacy has not significantly changed the pirate attack mechanic from earlier versions of the game, but the danger these attacks can pose has increased due to the ability to coordinate placing a bounty with offering missions to other empires on the map.
Use of major pirate raids can be a powerful technique when properly employed and has led to a legitimate question: are Sins of a Solar Empire: Diplomacy pirates overpowered? Especially at the start of a game when most players are busy expanding their empires and often distracted by battles far from their main systems a well timed pirate raid can be devastating. These usually come from the same general direction but tend to maneuver past heavily garrisoned worlds to strike at rich but less strongly defended planets closer to the heart of an empire. Due to pirate raids' inclusion of planetary bombardment vessels these raids can pose a dire threat, completely destroying nascent colonies and setting back expansion and economic integration relative to the other players on the map.
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Case for Nerfing Sins Pirates
A clever player who is willing to take a major risk can save money at the start of a game and suddenly increase the bounty on a neighbor, effectively throwing a major raid into the midst of the target empire without disclosing which enemy put up the cash. A sufficiently large pirate raid launched against an empire that is focusing on expansion or the economic development of a few core worlds can catch that player off guard and deliver a severe mauling in short order. When followed up by an open attack constructed during the course of the pirate raid the attacking empire can often grab a choice planet or two from the victim - sometimes even snatching worlds that had only recently been cleared of local forces and not yet colonized.
Especially if two players gang up on a third using this strategy, such a pirate raid followed up by conventional attack can make it impossible for the targeted empire to survive. While it may be difficult to hold off an early rush by two neighbors in practice it can be done. Stalling the enemy growth long enough can provide time for an early alliance to fray and for other powers to attack the aggressors while their back is turned. But pirate raids make this almost impossible.
So a strong case can be made for reducing the power of pirates in Sins: Diplomacy. Simply eliminating the ability of pirates to bombard colonies would, at the least, mean that a pirate raid could be ignored for a short time while building up ships to combat it without having to worry about your economy getting reduced to a shambles in the meantime. A few structures might be lost, but the counterattack would make up for it.
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Argument in Favor of Keeping Pirates as Tough as They Are
However an even more compelling argument can be made that only in rare cases have Sins of a Solar Empire: Diplomacy pirates overpowered a decently defended and run player early in the game and that their inclusion as a powerful force that players with strong economies can effectively hire at intervals adds significant complexity to Sins.
Pirates in Sins of a Solar Empire can only overpower an unwary player or one who is quite inept. Impending pirate raids are announced before the pirates launch and there's a significant lag between the pirates launching and striking an empire. A decent defensive line with a hangar or two and several defensive structures - which should be present on any planet in an empire for basic security early on - can hold a pirate force long enough for reinforcements to arrive. Indeed most players will be happy to meet a pirate raid with a capital ship or two - every ship destroyed while a cap-ship is present in the system provides it with experience points and levels it up. Pirate raids can even be banked on to provide an influx of experience that makes capital ships ever more lethal.
A player who doesn't have sufficient military forces to meet and defeat a pirate raid or sufficient defenses to crush any attack on a vulnerable world ought to be hoarding sufficient gold to capable of hiring the pirates themself. The only excuse to not rapidly building a fleet in Sins of a Solar Empire is to build up the resources needed to rapidly research cutting edge technologies that will act as force multipliers for the few ships and defensive structures that are maintained. In addition, the simple need to possess sufficient miltary force to crush indigenous resistance around local worlds means that any player hoarding money is either wasting time or putting it to good use - whether by hiring pirates, buying allies, or investing in research.
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Sins Pirates are Not Overpowered
To an experienced Sins player the pirates offer only opportunities. Even to a marginal player pirates should be viewed as little more than a nuisance at worst. Even the largest pirate fleet can be held off and defeated while capital ships are provided with a massive boost in experience. In most games I've played of Sins of a Solar Empire: Diplomacy pirates overpowered only players who were in such dire straits that a half-effort on the part of another empire would have pushed them over the edge.
The pirates in Sins are not sufficiently overpowered to warrant their being nerfed or mitigated in any way. If a player can't handle them, the player may want to spend some time practicing against computer players set to a defensive stance and perhaps lowered in difficulty until they get the hang of the start of a game. Being able to balance expansion with defense is a vital skill in Sins games, and being badly damaged by pirate raids should be viewed as a symptom of a larger problem, not the sole cause of difficulty in and of itself.
So if you are running into trouble with Pirates, step back and assess how you are beginning games and why they're able to defeat you. If all else fails...hoard money yourself and pay for the pirates to attack a neighbor, then follow the raid with a scouting force. If nothing else, you'll see how an opponent either succeeds or fails at breaking a pirate assault.
A guide to Sins of a Solar Empire's Diplomacy expansion pack.