2013 MAY 10
G+ Jeff Thomas
I’m 6/7 for winning real-time games so far, so I would say my strategy in this game has been pretty successful. That being the case, I thought it might be useful to write out a little guide to my approach, both for others’ benefit, and for the devs to consider in balancing things.
NOTE - This strategy as a whole is intended for games with 80-100 stars as their victory condition, and may not work as well on smaller maps. It also does not work well in turn-based games, or if you can only look at the game once or twice per day.
Early Game (first 2-3 cycles)
Join late, if you can. This gives you a BIG (possibly too big) advantage thanks to the cash bonus.
Expand expand expand. There are probably 3-5 desirable planets (or clusters that you cannot see the details of with your initial sensors) within easy travel distance of your start location. Do not build anything else until you have fleets en route to all of them. It is MUCH easier to take territory in the initial push than to fight someone for it later. Ignore low-resource stars (10 or lower) until you have taken their more valuable neighbors (unless they are strategically placed, or a perquisite for getting somewhere else, of course)
Talk to your neighbors. Provided that they have other directions to expand, most people are happy to have a secure border right off the bat - and the maps in this game offer lovely opportunities for establishing reasonable borders that leave a nice gap for security. Unless you are ok with a reputation for backstabbing, you may want to choose one neighbor to NOT make an agreement with (often, this will be a neighbor whose placement will give them few options but to attack you eventually).
In the very early game (first cycle) the most important things to invest in are economy and science. Thanks to the defender advantage, having fewer ships is something you can get away with for a while. It may be worth putting off spending all of your money for a few hours so that you can spend some of it on improving those shiny new worlds your ships are en route to taking.
Avoid attacking anyone early. The defender advantage in the early game is merciless. On the flip side, creating opportunities for anyone with whom you haven’t made an agreement to attack YOU is a great idea - inflicting casualties at a great ratio now will give you an edge in any later conflicts.
Research terraforming or manufacturing first, most likely followed by weapons, then by the other of manufacturing and terraforming. You will likely want to get hyperspace (for reaching distant clusters) as well, but ideally by trade rather than research. Do not research anything else.
Trade as much tech as you can. Any level 2 for any level 2 unless you expect to fight the recipient immediately, and they want weapons. Remember that you can turn around and trade anything you just gained in trade to someone else (and so can everyone else in the game).
Mid-Game (next 2-3 cycles)
If you have a neighbor who is AFK, now is the time to start actively encroaching on them. Even if their defenses are pretty good, it is probably worth it to send a few carriers running through their territory to take all their undefended or minimally defended worlds, even if taking their “good” planets would be prohibitively expensive.
Start catching up on the shipbuilding capacity front - but keep investing in science and your economy as well.
The main research emphasis during this stage of the game should probably be on a balanced progression of weapons and manufacturing. Depending on your circumstances, you may want to research terraforming, scanning and hyperspace as well (though probably no higher than rank 3-4), but it is better if you can trade for them.
War with an active player is probably still undesirable because of the defender’s advantage - but if you have a tech/numbers edge and/or an ally, or they attack you, now might be the time to go for it (more tips on war at the end).
Remember that victory is about stars, not military supremacy. Make a plan to get the stars you need - and remember that even if you’re technically overextending yourself (or sacrificing ships you can’t afford to lose to get them) - holding all of the necessary stars for an hour is the same as holding them forever.
In doing the above, remember that it is MUCH better to make the last run to victory at a sprint than a grind - unless someone has agreed to take second (seek this agreement from a neighbor if you can), when you get close, everyone who is paying attention should attack you, if they aren’t already. Plus, there are serious style points to be gained in taking the last 5-10 stars all at once. Plan in a margin of error for the unexpected - I generally aim to have 2-3 more stars than I need when the game ends.
The last round of stars can come from anywhere - your bitter enemy, AFK players, the distant stars at the edge of the map, your allies. In the latter case, if you’ve reached an agreement with an ally about second place, they might even GIVE you some of the stars you need voluntarily. (Also remember that most AFK players’ weapons tech gets comparatively worse as the game goes on - so you will want to periodically reassess the value and defenses of their stars.)
Manufacturing and weapons, research them. As the game reaches its decisive point, you will probably want to be all weapons all the time, unless you’re sharing tech back and forth with an ally who is doing that (reasons in general tip #8 below).
Focus. Manufacturing and weapons are the most important tech in the game. Get them as high as you can. Terraforming, Hyperspace, and Scanning are worth leveling to 3-4, but not much higher. Banking and Experimentation are worth leveling to 2 in your spare time (if you have an edge in other things), but higher only via trading.
Grind your enemies down. Warfare, insofar as it does not concern the final push to victory, is about gaining supremacy in production and ship numbers. Therefore, it is worth taking lightly defended stars you cannot hold, just to loot the economy and slow down your enemy’s science. It is often worth piling on defense, even if you cannot beat an attack, if that will cost your enemy substantially more ships than you (eg. unless they have better weapons tech than you do). Always leave one ship behind to defend a planet - it’s the best casualty ratio you will ever get.
Own the tempo. If you are at war, make sure it happens in your opponent’s territory as much as possible. Remember that you get an hour advantage in launching fleets, because they can’t see them until after the first tick of travel. Look at enemy sensor range, and be aware of when they will see your ships in order to respond. Even if you are numerically inferior, push push push, and run your enemy ragged chasing down your fleets while you ransack their lightly defended interior worlds, destroying their economy and stealing their improvements (if you can force them to deploy several larger fleets to chase down your raiders, that will give you a big advantage at the front). Don’t be afraid to bypass heavily defended worlds - force those fleets to come to you so you have the defensive advantage (and take those formerly well-guarded worlds once their fleets are committed to an attack). Remember that recently taken worlds are disposable - if the enemy is spending his time taking his worlds back, then he has that much less time to spend on taking YOUR worlds.
Upgrade from the galaxy screen - with the exception of worlds on a moving battlefront (that you might lose in the near term), the placement of your upgrades is irrelevant. Cheapest is almost always best. I will typically aim to upgrade my science if it costs less than $160 or so, my economy if it costs less than $25 or so, and my industry otherwise. (Of course, depending on what worlds and improvements you have, these numbers may need to adjust up or down by $5-10, and you should almost always be purchasing some of everything).
Build a river of ships. Your territory should look like a constant river of ships flowing towards the front, wherever that is. Build carriers where you have the most idle ships and send them to the front, picking up more ships along the way, and repeat this every cycle. It doesn’t matter how long they take to get where they’re going, because if you do this intensively enough, the result will be a constant stream of new arrivals at the front at all times (note that this does require you to think 24-48 hours ahead). No carrier should ever sit idle unless it is guarding something, or preparing for an attack (or the possibility of one) - and no group of 25 or more ships should ever sit idle unless it is guarding something or awaiting pick-up. When a carrier gets to the front, keep it there if it has strategic utility - otherwise strip it down to one ship and send it back to the nearest neglected concentration of ships, and bring THOSE to the front. For picking up ships from worlds deep within your territory, you will almost always want to build new carriers so as to not waste time on round-trip travel (though each new carrier might pick up ships from several worlds).
I typically end each game with 40+ carriers. The benefits of this strategy are that it is cheap (you can get 16-20 carriers for the cost of a pair of warp gates), flexible (because you can reroute your carriers as needed), and it gives you defense in depth. There is no advantage to a clever enemy with good hyperspace jumping behind your lines, because all he’ll get is the opportunity to fight the ships he would have fought tomorrow, today.
Plus it gives you all kinds of disposable carriers on the front to use for raids, counter attacks, attacks on many worlds at once, etc.
Keep a strategic reserve - once you’re into the late game, unless you are VERY hard-up for cash, try to set aside $100-150 or so per cycle to build carriers that you didn’t know you needed when the cycle started. This gives you a lot of flexibility, and since most people don’t do this, it can let you uncork some nasty surprises as well.
Don’t rely on warp gates. They limit your options, they cost a ton, they force you to defend (or retake) words that you might otherwise concede for strategic reasons, and with the river of ships strategy, they are mostly superfluous - though they can be very handy for accelerating the conclusion of conflicts once the outcome is no longer in serious doubt, and for redirecting your ships to a new front afterwards.?
Always be on the lookout for opportunities to use your opponents’ own warp gates against them. Examples: Take a gate within their territory with a raider fleet, build a gate of your own on the front, and dump in ships behind their lines. Alternatively, grab a gated system with a lot of incoming traffic and make good use of the defender advantage.
EDIT - 5/14/13 - Warp gates have just been made cheaper (again). This may well make them more viable than this guide suggests. I will update after I’ve played a complete game with the new pricing.
The value of tech is time sensitive. Some tech pays off over a long time (terraforming, experimentation, manufacturing, banking) some tech pays off immediately (weapons, hyperspace, scanning). The value of an “over time” tech declines the less time there is remaining in the game.
In practice, this means that my weapons tech consistently ends up a few levels higher than my manufacturing, because I go on a weapon research binge once I spot a decisive moment coming up. Not only does this boost my strength on the front immediately (it’s almost like teleporting a bunch of extra ships into place!), it also tends to force my opponents onto the same track, limiting their options, and it helps to ensure that once I’ve won the critical moment, my opponent(s) will have less chance to come back. Pushing a tech in this fashion is much less efficient in terms of long term strength than a more balanced approach - but if I already won the game in the short term, who cares? Also, suddenly bumping your hyperspace range after a long delay can open up some fun opportunities to surprise your opponents!