All right! So I hop into my game with the Festron and look around the map, and it's not a bad starting point. There is a red star 2 systems away and another 3 systems away. A purple star is also 2 systems away, and there's a black hole just at the edge of my system. That takes care of Durantium, Promethium, and Antimatter. I'm of the opinion you don't need Elerium or Thullium early, but there are blue stars close by anyway for thullium, and I'm sure I'll find some Elerium if I look hard. Elerium as our planetary resource is pretty ho-hum, I'd rather have just about anything else, but the artifact isn't bad, a free warship!
Be aware - there will be spoilers from this point on! If you don't want to have hidden information, stop reading until you've played yourself!
Still with me? Okay!
Turn 1 for me is almost always the same. 'Draft Colonists' take both planets, send the probe to explore, then look at the leaders. As you can see, we got very lucky with good leaders we can afford. We are blessed with a 10 Diligence 12 Resolve leader who is warforged, they are going directly in 'The Mantis', the other 2 become Ministers of Technology and Exploration IIRC. Getting 'The Mantis' going is key, as that's how we are going to pay for everything we need at 100 credits per battle, we want to go to war! So 'The Mantis' and our survey ship start by surveying the artifact in our system. We select 'Starbases' as our first research, plop down 'Industrial Center' as our first building, and start a 'Colony Ship' at the shipyard. Then begins the "hurry up and wait" portion of the early game.
A few turns later our Constructor's are sent out towards the Promethium and Durantium, and our colony ship takes a good (3 production / 3 science) planet. A 3rd constructor is built and takes the Antimatter in our system. I am within the Economic relic's range, but have no intention of building a Xeno Archeology Lab - Economic relic is an F for us. Next up for tech is Asteroid mining as we have 12 asteroids in our home system. By turn 10 we've started mining all 3 important resources, and have a colony with 2 more ships heading towards decent planets! Unfortunately, there's no good Core World colonies within 50 sectors (I keep wanting to call them parsecs!!) There is a class 21 world which is ho-hum, but next to it is a minor civilization with a class 27 world, Bingo! Bonus, it is something to farm for money with 'The Mantis'. So around turn 10 is when I realize I need to rush for Planetary Invasion, so that's what we do.
First contact is with a Yor Probe around turn 25. I start back-tracking from where the probe came from to eventually find a few naked Yor Core Worlds over the next dozen turns. By turn 30 I have finished Planetary Invasion, and on Turn 40 'Obreron' has fallen to me. From there my Transport starts the 10 turn journey to the first of Yor's 2 unprotected colonies. The entire time 'The Mantis' has been getting in as many fights as possible and found me my first Core World - a nice class 31 world I take in the next few turns that's about 70 sectors away. A few turns after I take my Core World, the Drengin's take a class 19 in the same sector and immediately turn it into a Core World themselves.
On Turn 50 this is what everything looks like.
Along with getting Planetary Invasion, I have grabbed Railguns, the first Railgun upgrade, Defensive Studies, Orbital Manufacturing (for small hulls), and Orbital Repair on the path towards medium hulls. My focus over the next 20 turns is to make a bunch of small hulled gunboats (4 railguns) and start my campaign against the Yor. My tech interest switches aggressively - I take Leadership Recruiting, Ministry of Defense and Finance, and start taking Research and Planetary Improvement techs. Why? My ships are significantly more powerful than the enemy but realistically only Caridea can make them efficiently. The rest of the planets need to bulk up their modifiers by building Supply Ships to support the individual planetary production - and they need nextra tiles, upgrades, and buildings to do that effectively.
By Turn 69, I've taken over the entire Silnra system including the planet from the Drengin, invaded the first Yor Core World and am a turn away from beginning the second. Colony ships with small gunboats and medium Command Ships as escorts are on the way to the area to bolster my new class 32 Core World and I'm but a few short turns away from a new class 34 Core World. This game feels like it's going great. I'm flush with money from 4 planetary invasions and too numerous to count battles with 'The Mantis' but I'm being careful not to rush too many things because honestly the -10% approval hit for so many turns is crushing for things on the planets and I don't need more warships currently. In hindsight I could be rushing supply ships to pay slightly more and avoid the approval hit, but I didn't think of it.
Here's the galaxy on Turn 69 and the score.
I decide to start allowing the Xelosi and Drengin to invade the occasional Silnra planet by leaving the worst one undefended, then re-capturing it immediately for the 1000 credits. I let them do it 3 times for an extra 3000 credits. In hindsight, completely unnecessary - but it cost almost nothing and had immense benefit. Over the next 23 turns, I continue to diversify my tech choices - The whole Railgun tree up to Pulse Cannons, Secret Police solves my crime problem, Hyperdrive Optimization/Warp Theory to speed up my jaunt across the galaxy, Fusion Power Plants for the production, Armor/Energy Defense Theory for my Starbases. I focus on strengthening my defenses along all fronts, including building a few Military Starbases, then mobilize the rest of my massive warfleet to the front lines of the Yor and plan the invasion of their homeworld. I even brought a Constructor along to make a Military Starbase in their home system to further solidify my advantage. My first few medium hulled frigates (7 railguns, 1 foundry or 6 railguns, 1 foundry, 1 hull reinforcement) are starting to pour out of Caridea and Silnra. Silnra's are defensive for now, with Caridea's being sent towards the front lines of the Yor. Honestly, with over 7500 credits, I don't know why I didn't stomp a little harder on their neck and rush out some frigates closer to the front lines - at 544 or 432 credits they are a steal, but sitting on the credits feels safest - I'm more afraid of needing to spend them quickly in a few turns if suddenly the Drengin and Xelosi come with too big an army, or if the Yor are more powerful than I think. This invasion could have probably started 10 turns earlier had I been more aggressive, but c'est la vie.
Here's the galaxy on Turn 92 and the score. It looks even more lopsided.
I expected the Yor to put up more of a fight, but an army of small 28 attack gunboats, my two level 3 medium Command ships, proved far too much to handle. Seeing how well things go over by the Yor, I build a second Transport from Silnra and start bringing the fight to the Drengin. On Turn 99, Iconia falls, and their last Core world will fall a few turns later. Drengi is going to take over 10 turns to siege!!!! But no matter, I've taken its feeder worlds and can continue to kill it's shipyard every time they rush one.
I finish the invasion of Drengi and head for one of their other Core worlds. After defeating the Yor around turn 107 the invasion fleet turns and heads towards Savvot which I've discovered by building the 'Eyes of the Universe' to continue my thirst to get more ahead. I continue to grab any tech that upgrades my planets, manufacturing, or research to - you guessed it - get more ahead. My military is so oppressive right now and large hull ships are too many build points to be necessary, but I get Precursor Origins to unlock my last 2 Commander Ships and start leveling them up, just in case... Importantly, throughout the entire game I never took Universal Translator. Why? Zero of the tech's it offers are worthwhile in a game like this, and it replaces a single tech that randomly appears *rarely* with 3 common ones! On turn 123 I'm simultaneously invading 5 Xelosi planets including their homeworld, and my second transport is heading towards the two remaining Core Worlds to conquer. Savvot is going to take 10 turns, like Drengi, but it doesn't matter.
Sad, but I haven't seen a single Ocean planet the entire game. I won't belabor the point any more, in 12 more turns I've captured all of the remaining planets and the game ends in a victory for the good guys!!! I mean .... bad guys .... whatever.
Some thoughts as I reflect on the game and how I played it...
I certainly played too defensively from turn 69 on. I wanted to guarantee a win instead of rush for the quickest win possible. As you can see I ended the game with over 20,000 credits, I could have pushed harder and faster. Given that the AI gets a small bonus every turn the game goes on that may be the smarter way to play. However, I feared a tipping point, where if I pushed recklessly that they might just hold, and then I'd have over extended by not having the production or research to be on even footing if they ever broke the attack and started a counter attack.
I was pretty sure I was outclassing their small bonus turn by turn by continuing to climb up the tech tree and aggressively improving my planets, which meant I could continue to reinforce with more and more powerful warships in higher numbers than they were capable of producing even with their bonus. It probably didn't matter at this low difficulty of Normal, but perhaps at Genius or Incredible by not stomping on their throat quicker they may have turned the tables. Or maybe trying to stomp on their throats at harder difficulty would have lead to a loss. I've never tried to win in the fewest turns possible, I just wanted to guarantee the win in what is supposed to not be winnable. Maybe that'll be for next month's playthrough!