Yes, without ever having actually played this game, Cornflakes has miraculously divined that I must have been a poor player.
The part about the geography mattering a lot was correct, though. The rules were pretty simple:
- Some but not all stars are connected to each other
- Everyone starts with X number of troops at one star
- Each turn a small random number of troops are added to any star with at least 1 troop there
- Each turn each player can choose to move any number of troops from one star to another, or none at all
- Colonized stars could have a garrison number set; that many troops would never leave
- Sending troops to a star currently holding an opponent's troops would start a contest
- In a contest, the numbers of both attacker and defender troops at that star would be reduced
- Roughly equal numbers of troops would generally leave the star controlled by the defender
- Roughly 2:1 for the attacker would usually give the star to the attacker (with few troops left)
- No fog of war meant that every player could always see all troops of all players all the time
That's pretty much it. The game was just moving troops to colonize stars and to take stars from defenders.
So the key was starting at the end of a large block of stars with a single connection to all the other stars (and your opponents). This then led to a three-phase strategy:
: Every turn, send out as many troops as possible from every colonized star towards stars with no troops. Also, if you can see that a path has only three uncolonized stars, send only 3 troops down that path. This started the process of converting as many stars as possible (behind your home star) into troop-generators.
Note: some limited automation was possible. You could send a defined number of troops to, as I recall, 8 or 10 connected stars each turn without having to do it manually. There was also a "send all troops from up to X connections away to the currently selected star" command. We'll see in a moment how that came in handy.
: Once you can see an enemy's troops getting close to your home star, it's time to make sure the single entry point to your block of stars is well-defended. The easy way to do this was to use the "send all (but one) troops from all stars to this star" command. (Although you'd probably still manually tell the stars furthest away to keep sending troops the other direction, so you can keep expanding for a while.)
Each turn from then on, all available troops (above the preset garrison limit) would move from star to star toward your home star, and just start piling up there. This insured that if an opponent did try to attack you, you'd have more than enough troops to hold that star.
: Once most of the stars in your protected block are producing troops and you've got several big piles of troops at and just behind your blocking point, it's time to go on the offensive. Pick the opponent with the fewest troops, and, preferably, only a single connecting point to the other opponents, and start plowing through them. Generally, once you make the big breakthrough, it's all over for that opponent as they'll never be able to amass enough troops at any defending star to outnumber your attacking troop strength. Once you've taken all their stars, return to the Consolidation phase, then back to Expansion when you think you're ready. Repeat until all their base are belong to you.
So, with everyone (human and AI) following roughly this same algorithm, winning was dictated largely by starting geography. If the RNG started you off in the middle of highly-connected block near several AI opponents, it was nearly impossible not to be overwhelmed by the mid-game by an AI player who started off with a safe/large block of stars. This was visibly as true for the AI players as for me, so I like to think it's not because I'm just stupid.
The mild randomization of battle attrition meant that you needed to be careful in planning when and where to attack. This was what kept the game fun to play, as long as the starting geography allowed at least a fair chance of being able to win.