Beginners' Getting-Started Strategy Guide for Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri/Alien Crossfire

Beginners' Getting-Started Strategy Guide

for Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri / Alien Crossfire

(Page Beta:  check back for serious edits/updates soon) 

This is a short guide on what to do on the first several turns.  It is designed to help a new player get used to the game.  It is recommended to try the tutorials first and then to try a few games and see how you do.  This will give some suggestions but because of the nature of the game, you will have to adapt what you do to what you find.

This guide isn’t supposed to detail a good strategy but rather one that will help a new player learn the game.  The goal of the strategy given in the guide is to teach a player how to use the interface competently without teaching every aspect and trick and to get the player set up to survive well into the midgame.  The target audience is a player that has tried a game or two and didn’t know what in Planet they should do.

Before setting up the game rules and the planet set up are important

Victory conditions:  These will not affect the play at the start of the game (at-least for new players)

Do or Die:  Turning this off will help you if you lose all of your bases but it will make it hard to completely wipe out an enemy faction by conquest.  If you are trying to learn the game it might be good to turn this off.

Look First:  This allows you to decide where your first base will be.  The locations the game picks when this is checked off aren’t bad and you would have to do some exploring to find a better spot.  This guide assumes that it is turned off.  It is usually better to get off to a quick start with a base even if it’s not optimally located.

Tech Stagnation & Spoils of War:  This is up to your preference.  Stagnation and spoils helps players who are more warlike while turning this off helps those who are researchers.  This will affect the early game but not soon enough for this guide.

Blind Research:  This changes the nature of the game is significant and subtle ways.  What one you play will be up to your preference and may take some experimentation to figure out what that is.  Blind Research is simpler than directed research and if playing Alien Crossfire and against an alien faction, using directed research takes away an advantage of the aliens.

Intense Rivalry:  It is recommended that when learning the game to turn this off.

Unity Survey:  This will give you an idea of the height of the land (which is important) and where the coasts are (which is very important) but not what is on a square of terrain before exploring it.  Having the Unity Survey (turning the “No Unity Survey” rule off) will help speed up exploration and early settlement.

Unity Scattering:  This adds to some randomness in the game and provides some more flavor.  Exploration is more fruitful with scattering (though it is also fruitful without scattering).

Bell Curve:  Random events shouldn’t occur during the time frame of this guide.

Time Warp:  If this rule is turned on then this guide is obsolete.

Iron Man:  This option should fit how you play games.  Even if you will turn on Iron Man eventually you might consider having this off until you learn the game.

Randomize Factions (personalities and agendas):  You can play this and get a more different game each time but you will miss out on some of the common culture and experience of the game

You can set up your own planet that will be procedurally (randomly) generated based on inputs or you can use a map of planet (normal or huge).  The map of planet is a good and balanced map.  You might get a balanced map from generating your own or you might not.  It would be easier just to use the map of planet and the huge map will give you both more room to work with (perhaps too much once you learn the game) and give you more time to work with (on average) before having to worry about other factions.

Planet Size:  The larger the planet the more room each faction has to work with (essentially unlimited on huge and you might not get more than one base without conducting war on tiny) and the larger the planet the longer on average it will take to find another faction, have your borders meet another factions borders (might not happen on huge without war), and find all seven factions through exploration

Ocean Coverage:  At 40% almost all land will be connected.  Naval units lose most of their importance and coastal bases and sea bases will be limited in how much ocean they can colonize.  Waging war is considerably easier in this mode.  At 60% there will likely (but not guaranteed) be at-least two factions sharing a continent size landmass and at-least one faction separated from these by ocean.  It will probably be possible to reach all the continents and islands by ocean though there could be two continents stretching from pole to pole separating the planet into two disconnected oceans (particularly on smaller planet sizes).  At 80% it is almost guaranteed to be able to reach any landmass by ocean and for all water to be connected.  It is likely (especially on larger planets) that each faction will have its own small continent or large island (or when unlucky a small island) to initially settle.  Factions will likely have to use a navy to meet one another.  Navies are useful and colonizing the ocean can reap large dividends especially for the first faction to do so.  The pirates (an Alien Crossfire faction) have a large advantage here.

Erosive forces:  Stronger erosive forces favor population growth over industry while weaker erosive forces favor industry over population growth.  This difference is more important the earlier in the game and decrease over time.  This effects the game in subtle ways but will not effect this guide.  It may be best to avoid strong erosive forces until one is comfortable in the early game (basses are quicker to produce things and it will be longer before one has to deal with managing a large base population)

Native lifeforms:  With the exception of the Gains or the Cult of Planet (an original and Alien Crossfire faction respectively) fewer alien lifeforms makes life easier.  The Gains have benefits and detriments from more alien life while the Cult benefits noticeably more [I believe].  Important is with the exception of those two factions more native life harms all players (though unequally).  When learning it might be best to avoid abundant life.  Also the more life the higher your score will be

Cloud Cover:  The more it rains the more people there will be on Planet.  Dense cloud cover helps those players who build a lot of bases (which this guide will instruct you to do) and players that aren’t the Morganites.  Sparse cloud cover is a less forgiving game where the consequences for mistakes or playing sub-optimally are larger.  It may be best to use Average while learning.

Difficulty has several effects and it would be best to play Citizen or Specialist when learning.

What is left is to choose a faction.  The Alien Crossfire factions are more nuanced and specialized then the original seven factions.  It is easier to learn the game when only playing with the classic factions in the game.  Below is a brief summary of each of these seven.  Pick a faction that either you think you will play better than the others or has a personality that you like.

Gaians:  A nature loving faction.  It can use native life better than any other of the classic factions, starts with the ability to terraform, and can have a strong economy if allowed to develop.  Its conventional military is poor without a lot of infrastructure to support it.  If one can avoid an early fight, one can play this faction pretty much how one wants and can be a good learning faction.

Hive:  Think an amalgamation of the societies that have called themselves communist on earth.  It is an economically focused faction with an excellent industrial capability but not a lot of energy (which is used as cash).  It can easily have the largest army on planet.  It can be played well as a conqueror or it could shift its focus into building a huge infrastructure.  It will struggle to maintain its budget much less produce a surplus which can limit its great strengths.

University:  This faction is focused on research.  Unless this factions has trouble getting off the ground or another faction takes off as the far leader, this faction will have the quickest research in the game.  It requires skill to play though as their basses are hard to manage.  It’s military while not large will likely have the best equipment in the middle game.  This is somewhat of a specialty faction and not recommended for players first learning the game.  It can be good to play to learn about game concepts in more detail once one gets the hang of the game.

Morgans:  Think the communist nations’ critique of capitalist nations.  With the same caveats with the University, this faction is usually the richest in the game.  It has excellent generation of energy (money), research, and industry for producing infrastructure.  It has trouble producing a military however.  This faction is nuanced to play and is not recommended for those learning the game as it will be very difficult to go on the offensive with a conventional military and at some point another faction will declare war on you.

Spartans:  The prototypical military faction.  They have the best military units in the game (though if the factions stay relatively balanced the Hive has a larger army and the Believers have are better on the offense and weaker on the defense).  If you like to wage war then any of these three factions is right for you.  One can project several different personalities on the Spartans including fascist, military junta, oppressed people fighting for their existence (like the 19th century Florida Seminoles), or their namesakes: ancient Sparta (the actual ancient Sparta, none of that 300 nonsense).  This is a good learning faction for players who want to wage war.

Believers: Christian fundamentalists.  They have abysmal research but are excellent at war.  When at war try to attack with this faction as they get a combat bonus when attacking but not defending.  They really on either spoils of war (stealing tech when conquering a base if rules allow) or probe teams to maintain research parity.  Because these are more nuanced ways to advance technologically, they are not recommended for beginners.  If allowed to build up they can be quite difficult to conquer even if they are a generation or two behind your own troops.

Peacekeepers:  The intensely average faction.  This faction’s personality is probably what would have happened if the Unity mission had actually stayed unified… whatever that is.  The Peacekeepers have no glaring weakness and a couple of strengths: their basses are easier to manage and they can have larger basses.  Their only real weakness is the lack of any significant strength that the other factions have.  They can be played however a player wants to play them (which can be good if none of the other factions match a player’s play style) or can be played to adapt to how the game is going.  This is also a good faction to learn the game with as one can focus on the core game mechanics and one doesn’t have to worry as much about base management.

Once you chose a faction you can change the name and gender of the leader and then it’s time to descend to Planet.

If you don’t have flexible start, you have a base, a scout patrol, and maybe a colony pod depending on your difficulty.  If you have look first enabled, you can start exploration with your units while looking for your preferred spot to initially settle.

The main screen is a window of Planet in the vicinity of your base.  You can scroll the map by moving your mouse to the edge of the screen or holding the shift and using the arrow keys.  IMPORTANT:  Make sure to hold shift if you want to scroll otherwise you might move a unit.  The interface and information is on the bottom of the screen.

On the bottom left is the button for the main menu.  There are a wide variety of options here you should explore.  This is also needed to give units commands beyond the basic commands without knowing the hotkeys.  Pressing “ESC” from the main screen will bring up an option to exit without saving.

Bellow the menu button is information on your unit.  To the right on top is information on the terrain square while to the right is one or two info boxes telling you useful information.  Bellow these is a long rectangular box that lists all of the units that are in the current square.  This has left and right scroll buttons for when you have so many units they are not all visible at the same time.  To the far right on the bottom is a map of planet and you can scroll by clicking on the map.

Above the map is the commlink button.  This button lets you call the other factions.  When other factions call you, you are notified in a pop-up dialog box and you can usually decide to take a call or ignore.  The other faction leaders have the same options.  In order to call a faction, left click on the commlink and then left click on the faction.  If you right click on a leader then you have the additional options of seeing a faction’s profile (what information you know about a faction) or demanding a faction withdraw from your territory.  If a faction actually has units in your territory they will usually either withdraw them immediately or declare war.

There is also the option to call for a Planetary Council meeting.  The Planetary Council is outside of the scope of this guide except to say that it can be called only once a player has contact with all extant factions.  The game will let you know both when a faction is eliminated and when you have the ability to call the council.

Right click on a square that isn’t your base and isn’t black and click on “move curser to here.”  This tells you information about the selected square.  It lists the amount of rain, flatness, and elevation of the square as well as any terrain improvements in the square.  The above factors determine the nutrient, mineral, and energy production of the square as well as other characteristics.  The only improvement you are likely to see is a river and/or xenofungus.

Click on the base.

This brings up the base screen.  At the top of this screen is the governor options.  Click the red central governor button and make sure all of the options are on except for “fully automate.”  As you learn you can tweak your governor settings to your preferences.  Do not click on any of the yellow buttons for now.

Bellow that is a map of your base’s zone.  These are squares that citizens in your base can work.  The base square and one other square will have three numbers representing how many nutrients, minerals, and energy the square is producing.

Bellow this are options to for “Resource” (the one that’s selected), “Support,” and “Psych.”  The other two won’t tell you much right now but check back later with a large base that has produced several units.  Support shows a map where the units that base has produced (or more accurately, supports which is a concept beyond this guide) is and Psych shows a breakdown on why your citizens are what they are.

Bellow these are the total nutrient, mineral, and energy budget of the base.  The amount gathered by workers is the first number and the second number is the amount consumed by the base minus any bonuses received.  The last number is the net gain or loss.

Bellow this is the energy budget.  Most base facilities have a maintenance cost which is the base’s energy consumption.  Any surplus produced by the base is distributed based on your societies social engineering (not covered in this guide) and modified by base facilities (the bonus).  Energy to economy builds up your faction’s energy reserves (cash), energy to labs does your research, and energy to psych helps keep a base running or running better.

A base can run an energy deficit by using more in maintenance then it is contributing to economy.  The sum of all the surpluses (and deficits) of all your bases determines your factions energy surplus.  In effect you could have some bases helping to power other bases.  Also, apparently in the future, humans have learned how to store energy conveniently and without loss.  Energy reserves are used to buy upgrades to units, speed up production, buy off other faction leaders, conduct covert opps, and other nice things.  Don’t worry about any of that for now except to know that the governor might spend some of your money to speed up production.  Labs and psych are explained later.

To the left top is your bases nutrient tanks.  Each citizen eats two nutrients per turn.  Any surplus goes into the nutrient tanks.  When the tanks are full you get another citizen which also has to eat but can also work a square to bring in resources.  If your citizens are eating more than they are producing then the nutrient tanks are drown down.  When the tanks reach zero, a citizen dies and the tanks remain empty.

Bellow the nutrient tanks is the base’s commerce summary.  Commerce is not covered in this guide.  Bellow this is general information of the mission year, the energy reserves for your factions, and the ecological damage of your base.  Most terraforming improvements and mineral production increase ecological damage while some terraforming improvements and base facilities decrease ecological damage.  There are also several faction wide effects which affect this number.  When it is zero, you have nothing to worry about, but when it’s positive, then the native life might attack your base.  This isn’t covered in this guide as you are not likely to have ecological damage towards the beginning of a game.

To the right of the map is the base facility list.  As your base builds facilities, they are listed here.  If you’re playing as the Hive, you have a perimeter defense listed here, if you’re playing as the University, you have a network node listed here, and otherwise there isn’t anything.  Most base facilities cost a certain amount of energy each turn in maintenance.  You can right click on a base facility that gives you the option to scrap it.  Scraping a base facility gives you a certain number of credits and stops the maintenance as well as making you lose the facility along with its benefit.  There is no way to turn off the base facility (stop getting the benefits for not paying the maintenance) without scraping it.

At the bottom left is the production queue.  What is shown (either the unit picture or a symbol for the base facility) is what is currently being produced and how much of it is finished.  A white square is finished production and the blue squares is unfished production.  The highlighted blue squares are production that will be finished this turn and is equal to your mineral balance.  Bellow this is the time it will take to finish production.

To the right are the queue and two buttons bellow.  By pressing “change” you can change what is currently being produced.  This brings up a list of all of the units and facilities you ban build spread out in grid form.  First are your combat and non-combat units.  Then comes a list of base facilities.  Each base can only build one of these and they stay with the base.  Then comes the option to stockpile energy.  If this is chosen, your base won’t produce anything but it will contribute more to your energy reserves each turn it is active with the amount of energy added based on your base’s mineral production.  After this comes secret projects.  All of these are colored gray and they provide benefits to your faction, have no maintenance, only one (of each project) can ever be built on Planet, and cost a lot of minerals to build.  If you click on one of these squares the base’s production will change to that.  If you click on cancel the base’s production will stay the same.  At talent difficulty or higher, you will lose some but not all of the production you’ve invested so far if you change production.
Bellow the “change” button there is the “hurry” button.  Pressing this will give you the option to spend a certain amount of energy in order to finish the production in question this turn.  Even secret projects can be hurried.  Do not hurry now.  Above these buttons is the production queue.  You can use this to tell your base to produce something after its current production is finished.  This can be used to keep track of important products that you need to produce or need to produce in a specific order or to avoid losing production at higher difficulty levels.  Once you’ve made some technological breakthroughs, play around in the queue list to learn how it works.  By pressing cancel, you don’t save your changes made and if you need to get rid of something from the queue list you can click remove from the queue menu.

At the top middle of the bottom, there is the base name.  There are also arrows to the left and right.  When you have more than one base, this is a quick way to cycle through your basses.   Bellow this are your citizens and below this is the list of the units that are in the base.  This is the same as from the main interface.

You have one citizen at present.  If you’re are playing the Peacekeepers, this citizen is blue and otherwise it is yellow.  Blue citizens are called talents, yellow citizens are balled workers, and red citizens are called drones.  If at any point you have more drones then citizens, your base is in a drone riot.  The base deals with nutrients as normal and it maintains its base facilities and units but it does not progress on production or contribute energy to your reserves or to your research.  If drone riots persist, they can destroy base facilities or defect to an opposing faction.  Drone riots never destroy secret projects.

The type of citizens you have is determined by factionwide effects, base facilities, and psych effects.  After your base reaches a certain number of citizens (determined by difficulty) each new citizen is a drone unless altered by one of the above effects.  Before this population limit each new citizen is a worker unless altered by one of the above effects.  A breakdown of most effects is shown in the Psych view.  Later on in this guide will be an example of how to manage for drones.

To the far right there is a button to have your citizens nerve-stapled.  Doing so prevents drone riots for ten turns but is viewed as an atrocity and will hurt your diplomatic standing, economy, and ecological management.  It can quickly end a drone riot and provide some protection but there are usually better ways to manage drones.  You can click on any citizen to turn that citizen into a specialist.  Specialists are not covered by this guide.

At the far right bottom there is a list of units that consider this base their home base.  Right now it’s empty but it won’t stay that way for long.  These units will have zero, one, or two blue shields to their lower left.  The number of shields is the number of minerals required to support that unit.  The sum total of all of these shields is the base’s support budget and it must spend this much in minerals each turn reducing the amount of minerals that can be spent on production.  If the mineral deficit is ever negative the game will disband one of the base’s units until the budget is balanced.  Unlike the energy budget and like the nutrient budget, a surplus at one base cannot cover a deficit at another.  Unlike the energy and nutrient budget there is no (straightforward) way to store minerals.

Generally speaking, either almost all units require two minerals to support or each unit above a specific number (for example, two) requires one mineral to support.  This number is determined by a variety of factors that this guide doesn’t go into.  Just remember that once minerals pop up on a unit, almost all additional units produced at a base will require one mineral per turn to support.  You can change which base supports a unit by moving that specific unit to the base you want supporting it and click on “set home base” from the action menu of the main menu.

If you are playing on either citizen of specialist difficulty, change production to a colony pod.  If you are playing on a more advanced difficulty look at the time it will take to finish a colony pod and compare that to the time until base growth (these numbers are at the bottom of the colony pod entry in the build menu and the nutrient tanks respectively).  At higher difficulty levels, each colony pod produced reduces the population of a base by one.  That said, if a base is at one population and has finished a colony pod it won’t actually build it until the base is at population two wasting several turns of production.  If you’re not building a colony pod, build another scout patrol.  Exit the base screen.

You will now move the scout patrol.  Before you ever move a unit make sure that the unit you want to move is the one that is active.  It (or the marker to the above left of it) will be blinking.  Right click on the base square and click move “curser to here”.  Right click on the scout patrol and click “activate unit.”  You have now made sure that the scout patrol is active.

You can move the scout patrol by using the numeric keypad on your keyboard (the unit will attempt to move in that direction, you can’t move a land unit into water without a transport and some terrain may not work) or they arrow keys (but then you can only move in 4 directions and not 8).  You can also right click on an adjacent square and select “move unit to here”.  If you want to move the scout patrol long distances, you can right click on a distant square and select “move unit to here.”  Don’t do this now as when exploring you want to move one space at a time.

The symbol at the top right of your unit is in the color of your faction (helping you determine which unit is whose) and the symbols represent the unit’s experience.  The experience ranges from very green to elite and you will quickly learn what symbol means what but the more nodes are attached to the square, the more experienced the unit is.  The more combat a unit survives, the more experienced it will be and the better it will be in combat.

The scout patrol as an attack value of 1, a defense value of 1, and a movement value of one and is thus labeled 1-1-1.  A unit with and tack value of 3, a defense value of 2, and a movement value of 1 will be labeled 3-2-1.  There can be modifiers to these values, for example: 8e-<4>-6^2 sea, that this guide won’t address.  Most non-experience information about a unit can be derived from this label but the name can also tell about the unit.

To move from one square to any of the eight surrounding squares generally takes one point of movement.  A land unit cannot usually move to sea and a sea unit cannot usually move to land.  It takes two points of movement to move into rocky square (you can check by its image and until your recognize it by right clicking on the square).  Your 1-1-1 scout patrol can move into a rocky square but a 1-1-2 scout rover would spend both of its movement points to move there.  Generally the 1-1-2 rover could move two squares but not if the first square is a rocky square.  The 1-1-2 rover (as well as the 1-1-1 scout patrol) can always move into a rocky square.  Later when there are forests, they operate the same way for movement.

Rivers and later on also roads cost 1/3 a movement point.  This means that a 1-1-1 scout patrol can move three squares if they are all along a river or road.  An important thing to remember about rivers is the 1/3 cost only maters when moving along the course of a river.  If a river makes a turn and your fallow the turn by moving sideways twice you spend 2/3 of a movement point versus the 1 movement point if you traveled to the same square diagonally.  This movement cost supersedes the terrain movement cost (i.e. it takes 1/3 of a movement point to move along a road into a rocky square).  In order for this bonus to have an effect the unit has to start and end its movement (moving from one square to another and not from the beginning or end of its turn) on a road or river.  Moving from a road to a river doesn’t give this benefit unless the river already has a road.

If there are any pink squares in view, these squares are covered by xenofungus.  Xenofungus is a form of “plant” life that makes its habitat all over planet and in every biome.  It creates neural pathways which means that planet itself can think though not very sophisticatedly.  Entering xenofungus costs 3 movement points.  A 1-1-1 scout patrol or 1-1-2 scout rover with one movement point left has a one in three chance to enter a fungus square if it tries.  If it succeeds, the movement happens at the unit has moved for this turn.  If it fails, the movement does not happen and the unit has moved for this turn.  A 1-1-2 scout rover with both moves lest has a 2/3 chance to enter a fungus square.  The road or river movement overrides this and entering a rocky xenofungus square costs 3.  It is always possible at one movement point or more to enter one of your bases or a square containing any other of your units.

There is also a chance that when trying to enter a fungus square, a mind worm boil or spore launcher (if playing Alien Crossfire) will be generated instead.  The unit can make another move with the same number of movement points left that it had when it made the attempt to enter the square and can retreat, attack, or hold ground.

Combat is initiated by trying to move a unit into a square with a hostile unit.  Between conventional human units combat works as fallows.  Each unit has a number of hit points (for most early game units this is capped at 10).  The attacker compares its attack value against a defender’s defense value.  For example a 6-1-1 attacking a 1-4-1 has a ratio of 6 to 4.  Each unit receives modifiers due to its experience, due to terrain, due to unit abilities, or due to game difficulty.  For example if the 1-4-1 was in a forest the ratio would be 6-6.  One of the two units wins each round of combat with the chances given by the ratio (at a 6-4 ratio the attacker has a 60% of winning a round and the defender a 40% chance).  If a unit loses a round it loses a hit point.  Once it reaches zero it dies.  If two stacks of units (a stack is when there is more than one unit on a single square), fight the attacker choses which unit will fight and the computer choses the defending unit with the greatest chance of winning the fight.  If the defender loses and is not in a base, all units in the stack lose hit points.  Not moving a unit heals 10% (of its maximum possible hit points) per turn or 20% if in a base.  It can only heal to 80% when healing outside of a base.

Mind worm boils (and most alien life other than the fungus) attack and defend using what is called “psi combat.”  Psi combat works the same except that on land the attacker has unmodified strength of 3 and the defender unmodified strength of 2 (it is 1-1 on sea or in the air).  In psi combat the experience modifiers play a huge role but until later on in the game it is always advantageous to attack when compared with defending.  The Gains, when attacking native life with either a conventional unit or a mind worm boil, have a 25% chance of capturing it.  If captured the Gains, without damage to the capturing unit, gain control of the boil which is supported by the same base that supported to unit doing the capturing.  Other factions can gain this ability (and change the chances of success) later on in the game.  Mind worm boils treat xenofungus like its roads.

Sometimes native life will be generated without trying to enter xenofungus.  In the sea, there are isles of the deep and (if playing Alien Crossfire) lurkers.  Isles of the deep are like mind worm boils except they also act as transports (a land unit moves onto a transport and stays on it while the transport moves along water) and when generated by the environment usually carries one or two boils of the same experience.  It will launch its boils onto land.  Lurkers do not carry boils but can attack coastal bases.  In the air there are locusts of chiron that are flying mind worm boils.  They don’t generally appear in the early game.  There are also fungal towers (in Alien Crossfire) but they don’t move and they don’t attack you so don’t worry about them for now.  Just don’t try to enter a fungal tower square.

If you attack and kill a native life form, generally all native life forms on the same square are killed and you receive a number of energy credits depending on the number of lifeforms killed and their experience.  It can actually make you a not insignificant amount of money to deliberately try and generate mindworm boils and killing them (by moving a high experience unit through the fungus for example).

If a mindworm boil enters an unguarded base, it reduces its population by one and destroys a base facility (not a secret project).  That means that if a base was at one population, it is destroyed.  This can destroy secret projects.

At the beginning xenofungus is annoying because it is hard to travel through and it can spawn hostile creatures.  The exception is for the Gains who should try and capture a mind worm boil to vastly speed up their exploration.  Xenofungus in the sea appears blue (but with a rough texture as opposed to the smooth texture of clear water), costs three to enter but sea units can always enter a sea fungus square, and is called sea fungus.

Scattered around planet are saucer shaped “unity pods.”  By entering a square with a unity pod the pod will be opened and can contain something good like energy credits or a 1-1-2 unity rover, nothing (the pod is empty), or something bad like spawning one or more mind worm boils.  On average unity pods are worth the risk and even going out of ones way to open it.  I would not open a unity pod with a colony pod if I can help it.

Sometimes a unity pod reveals a monolith.  These are terrain features that produce a nice (for the early game) 2 nutrients, 2 minerals, and 2 energy while benefit combat units that investigate a monolith.  To investigate a monolith move a combat unit (your scout patrols count) to the monolith.  You will be given the option to investigate.  If you chose not to then you can continue your turn like normal.  If you investigate the unit will gain one level of experience (usable only once per unit) and all damage will be immediately healed.  Investigating a monolith ends a turn.  A particular monolith can only be investigated a certain number of times before disappearing.

Sometimes a unity pod reveals an artifact.  Artifacts are valuable units but completely vulnerable.  Any unit that attacks it will capture or destroy it.  If an artifact is brought to a base with a network node you will receive a free technology.  Each network node can only use one artifact this way.  If you’re playing the University bring it to the nearest base and it will work.  Otherwise bring an artifact to a base with a network node, or bring it to a base and wait until you build a network node at one of your bases.

When traveling back to a base from where it is found, you’ll want to be careful.  You either want to escort it with the unit that found it or try and avoid native life as much as possible including xenofungus.  To escort the artifact, move one unit first and then move the other unit to the same square.  If the first unit fails to enter a xenofungus square then don’t attempt the move with the other.  Once you can reach a base while staying clear of xenofungus squares (for maximum security don’t even stop next to one) you can send the artifact back to its base by right clicking on the base and selecting “move to here,” or by pressing “g” on your keyboard and selecting the base you want from the menu that appears.

Start exploring with your scout patrol keeping all of this in mind.  Try to go for unity pods and try to reveal the black area.  Make sure to move square by square when exploring.  Only set to travel more than one turn when crossing territory that you have already explored (for example you’ve reached a coast and want to explore in the other direction).  You can either explore to reveal area close to your base (on a uniform featureless landmass, exploring in concentric circles) or explore in one direction.  The former will let you chose the best sites to set up new bases while the later will speed up the time for you to find the other factions.

If you want a unit not to move a turn and stay in the same place (for example to heal), you have three options.  You can press “SPACEBAR”: the unit will stay in place and consider itself moved for the turn and it will request orders next turn.  You can press “H”: the unit will stay in place until you order it to do something else or it is attacked.  You can press “L”: the unit will stay in place until you order it to do something else, it heals as much as it can in that square (for example up to 80% outside of base), or a unit belonging not to you moves next to it.  Any unit holding (“H”) or sentry (“L”) can be activated at any time and use its remaining movement points (or all of them if holding or guarding from the beginning of the turn).

When all units set to move or have no orders have moved then the turn is over and the computer will tell you this audibly and by flashing the “end turn” button in the lower right of the main interface.  You can still change orders for units, move some units that had orders to stay still, or change things in your bases.  When you’re satisfied you can click on “end turn” or press “ENTER” and then all the other factions and the native life will now move in order.

At the start of your turn the computer will run through each base and calculate population growth, mineral production, and energy usage.  If something important happens (you can change preferences for what you consider important) then it will pause the game and notify you with a pop-up.  You have the option of zooming to base control (the base screen) to make changes or proceeding to the next base.  If nothing important happens, the computer doesn’t inform you.  Examples of important things are the completion of its production and a drone riot.

The first time you are likely to receive this message is for your base finishing its colony pod (or scout patrol).  It might be if a mind worm boil is spotted near your base.  Once you’ve finished your first unit, you now have two units to move each turn.  In order to make use of a colony pod, you move it to the square you want to build your new base and press “B.”  You have the option of naming your base or using the default name given (from a list).  You have a new base that can be controlled similarly to the first one.

If you don’t feel like you can chose the best spot for a new base, you can have the computer do it for you.  When the colony pod is finished, press “SHIFT+A” and set the unit to automate.  This can be done with any unit and the computer will move the unit based on what it thinks is best.  Keep in mind that, with colony pods and formers, the computer doesn’t take good enough precautions with respect to native life which usually destroys such units.  When learning it is okay to have colony pods and formers set to automate so you can see what the computer does with them until you learn enough to pick out base sites and terraforming for yourself.

If you built a scout patrol first you can either have it explore or guard the base.  Guarding a base is good because at some point it will probably come under mindworm attack and in the early game, one unit in a base is usually enough to defeat the mindworms that attack.  Press “L” to have the unit guard the base and when a mindwrom boil gets next to the base the unit will “wake” and ask you for an order.  In the early game it is usually better to attack the mindworm rather than have it attack you so attack it.  The computer could use units set to automate as garrison units but won’t use them to attack these mindworms so just set “L.”

You will eventually want a garrison unit in each of your bases (remember armor doesn’t matter to Planet’s defenses but it does matter to other factions) and at-least three units exploring.  If you built a scout patrol you have a choice to make.  That said the second thing you should build would be the thing you didn’t build.  If you built a colony pod first, now build a scout patrol and if you built a scout patrol, now build a colony pod.  Continue exploring with your one or two scout patrols.

At this point, you now have decisions to make about what to build.  Since you have the governor active (new bases take the governor settings from the base that supported the colony pod that built it), it will make suggestions.  It can be okay to watch what the governor does and go along with it to see a particular strategy but don’t be afraid to overrule the governor.  Just change production or use the build queue.

New bases will generally build the “best” available garrison unit which isn’t always the best for a given situation.  If other factions are far away a scout patrol does just as well against native life as a more expensive and better armored garrison and you best garrison unit right now will likely be obsolete by the time an enemy army is at your base.  If other factions are already bordering you, you will probably want to build a garrison unit that has the best armor available.

When deciding what the build you can build a combat unit, a colony pod, a former, or a base facility.  Right now combat units are good for exploring and for garrisons.  Quick units are good for exploration while infantry are good for garrisons.  Colony pods are good for expansion and formers are good for terraforming.

When you discover “Cenauri ecology,” you can build formers and it should be a priority.  Formers construct things like roads, farms, solar panels, forests, and sensors in the squares of your territory.  Each terrain improvement has an effect and most of them increase the amount of nutrients, minerals, and/or energy a worker working a square produces.  If you don’t know how to use them then just set them to automate (“shift+a”) and watch what the computer does.  At some point you can read about terraforming strategy and manage them yourself.  One important thing to remember is that forests proliferate on their own.  Each turn, each forest has a chance of spreading to a nearby unimproved square (farms block the spread of forests for example) even replacing xenofungus.  You will want at-least one former for each base you poses.

Base facilities are expensive.  They generally take more minerals to build then units and they usually have annual energy costs to operate.  The energy bank, for example, increases economy by 50% at the base it’s built and has a maintenance cost of 1.  If you are running 50% economy in social preferences (which you are by default) and your base collects 4 energy, it’s contributing a base of 2 towards economy which the energy bank increases to 3 for a +1 advantage which is the same as its maintenance.  The energy bank is just breaking even.  Building an energy bank before your base is contributing more then 2 (at base level) to economy doesn’t make sense and that production could be spent building another colony pod or former.

The exception to the above rule is the recycling tanks.  Recycling tanks have no maintenance and contribute 1 each of nutrients, minerals, and energy.  You will eventually need to build other facilities at a base in order to advance in the game but the recycling tanks makes sense at every base no matter how poor, low populated, desolate, or unsophisticated it is.  Generally, recycling tanks will be the first base facility you build faction-wide and the first base facility you build and every single one of your land bases (sea bases get a free pressure dome which is essential for them and doubles as recycling tanks.).

Another exception is for recreation commons.  Remember the drone problem talked about above?  There are facilities that can turn drones into workers.  One of these is the rec. commons.  This is an early game facility.  The Believers start out being able to build it and all factions will have the ability to build it before too long.  Once built two drones (if present) will be turned into workers.  If any base is at size 6 (on citizen, earlier for other difficulties) and you are not the Peacekeepers, build a rec. commons as soon as is convenient.  If a base grows to size 7 (smaller on difficulties harder then citizen) and you haven’t it will experience a drone riot if there is no police unit in the base.  If you’re building a lot of basses, these can start earlier.  Once a base is at size 7, look at the Psych view in the base view.  At the top you will see a line of workers labeled “unmodified” with a drone at the end and bellow that you will see a line of workers labeled “facilities” without that drone signifying that that base has a facility that is turning that drone into a worker.

Another way to deal with drone riots is to use police.  Combat units count as police and garrisoning one in a base might work as police.  If a unit works as police it changes one or two drones into workers similarly to the recreation commons.  The number of units a faction can use as police and their effectiveness varies in ways not discussed in this guide.  Another way to deal with drones is through psych spending.  For every two psych spending a bass does, it changes a worker to a talent (or a drone into a worker if there are no workers left in a base) and as long as the number of talents is greater than the number of drones the base does not riot.

The factions that do well in the early game, for the most part, build a lot of basses and do a lot of terraforming.  In general, factions that don’t expand OR don’t terraform fall hopelessly behind.  Until you have a large faction you want to always have colony pods (multiple) active and building new bases.  Large is dependent on planet size, the landmass available to you, and the proximity to other factions.  It isn’t unwise to build more colony pods if basses can still fit on your home continent.

Priorities when deciding what to build at a base at the beginning of a game (assuming some distance from the other factions) are garrison, recycling tanks, formers, colony pods, and explorers.  This is not necessarily in that order and not necessarily at the same base.  You don’t want a base ungarrisoned for long but you could move a unit built at an older base into a newer base, set the units home base to the base it will be guarding (optional but recommended), and set the unit to sentry “L”.

One way to manage is to just do what the governor recommends.  An usually better way to manage it is always insure that you have 2 to 4 (or more) colony pods active or in production depending on the directions you have to colonize in, a garrison troop in every base, a recycling center at every base, at-least one former for every base, and 3 to 5 explorers and to prioritize it in this order.  There are other strategies.  Some players build colony pods up to almost one or more per every base without worrying about garrisons until they fill their home continent while others escort each of their colony pods with the future base’s garrison.  Others build formers before recycling tanks or build two or more formers per base.  Once you’ve achieved this then you can start thinking about what type of game you want to play and start producing for that.

At five turns in the computer will ask you for your research priority.  If you have undirected research setting to explore is a good option.  This focuses on technologies that promote population growth and faction expansion.  The conquer priority promotes technologies aimed at offensive or defensive warfare, the build priority promotes technologies focused on infrastructure (base management and terraforming), economic (energy production), and industrial (mineral production) development, and the discover priority promotes technologies that promote further technological research.  If you have directed research “Centauri ecology,” is a must.  Also useful are biogenetics for the recycling tanks, social psych for the recreation commons, doctrine mobility for the speeders (land unit with two movement points) and doctrine flexibility (requires one knows doctrine mobility) for the ability to enter the water.  Also of note is “secrets of the human brain,” which requires knowledge of both biogenetics and social psych and gives the first faction to discover it a free tech.

Scientific advancement in the game works like this.  Each advancement costs a number of research points.  Each base adds its lab energy output (modified by other factors not discussed in this guide) to the total number of research points accumulated.  Once the cost is reached a faction gets that discovery (the surplus holds over) and a new research goal is chosen either by the player or the computer depending on that game’s rules.  Each breakthrough allows a faction new unit weapons (or utilities), armor, chasies, reactor, or abilities, bass facilities, secret projects, terraforming actions, unit actions, or social preference choices (one technology, optical computers, is a stepping stone in that it doesn’t have any effects other than unlocking other advancements).  In order for an advancement to pay off those benefits must be used (by building units with the new and better, weapon for example).  Each advancement also completely or partially unlicks another advancement to be researched.  The tech tree is found in the datalinks (press “F1” in game) or on multiple places online.

Once the basic technologies have been researched, what to research next depends on the situation and play style.  A player expecting warfare (either as the aggressor or the defender) will want industrial base and high energy chemistry for defense as well as applied physics and nonlinear mathematics for offense.  Those looking to build a wealthy or productive and isolated faction will want to research information networks, industrial base, industrial economics, and ethical calculus.  If you’re unfamiliar with the game look at the tech tree and figure out what will help you have fun or use undirected research.  Going for technologies that give you access to desired social engineering is also a good choice.

At some point you will run into another faction.  As soon as one of your units or bases becomes adjacent to another factions units or basses you exchange com(munication) frequencies.  Com frequencies can also be optioned through other factions, through unity pods, or through a secret project.  Once in contact you can talk with the other faction leader.

If the other faction leader doesn’t like you then the initial contact may just be a warning to stay out of the way or they might threaten you.  If they’re right next door you should probably give into the threat though you can usually take the option to negotiate down.  If they’re far away they usually won’t fallow through on their threat if you don’t give in.

If the other faction leader doesn’t care about you then they will likely offer to trade technologies.  It is almost always a good idea to trade (as two players benefit while five do not) but you can try to choose the less advanced of the two options the computer gives you.  If they like you, after you’ve exhausted all of the technology on one side or the other then they’ll offer a treaty.  You should take the treaty.  They might offer to sell you or to purchase a comm frequency for a faction that you or they haven’t met yet.  It’s usually a good deal to sell and a good deal to buy if you think the other faction will trade techs (or maybe can get you to the council).

Your faction’s borders emanate seven squares (as a circle would draw it, not a square) from your land bases and three from your sea bases.  Land bases only extend to land that is connected by land to your base.  If two faction’s territory would overlap, the boundry line goes down the middle of the base’s (equal distant) as the crow flies.  A faction’s border is designated by a dashed line in that factions color and you see the borders of factions you have the comm frequency for.  This can sometimes help you know where an undiscovered faction is if you think your border is close to your base without an opposing border.

Factions do not like it if your units are in their territory.  The exception is if you are a “pact sibling” of another faction (which is an alliance).  This can be say a former building forests within the other factions territory and they still won’t like it.  They will demand that you withdraw and if your refuse enough times they will declare war on you.  Some factions will give you the same curtesy and some will not.  You can demand a faction withdraw from your borders but you risk having them declare war.

What do you do once your faction is off and running?  You’re expanding and terraforming and you’re ready to devote your basses for something else now.  This depends on the situation you’re in and what game you want to play.  The further hostile factions are from you the more choices you have.  The closer other factions are to you the more you have to be prepared for an invasion.

Building secret projects is usually a good choice in well defended (interior) bases.  The bases with the largest mineral productions are the best as it is a race against the other factions.  You can be building more than one at a time.  It is also possible to switch from one project to another without penalty.  This means that if you will research a technology that has a secret project you want you can start a duplicate of a project you are already building and switch one of these bases to the new project once discovered.  The computer can switch as well and will usually switch to a new project if it loses the race for a particular project so be careful.  You always know if a faction is building one or more projects and what it’s building.  Getting secret projects is always good but not if it means that you cannot build the military units to repel an invasion.  If you have a lot of bases this shouldn’t be a problem.

If you share a border with the Hive, Spartans, or Believers then it is very likely that you will go to war with them at some point.  Try and have the technology, units, and infrastructure to go to war on your terms.  This might mean giving into their demands until you are in good position to fight back.  Most likely war will come at some point.

If you share a border with any of the other four then it is merely likely that you will go to war with them.  The same as above applies but it might be possible to placate them enough to avoid war.  It is also possible to choose their preferred social engineering preference and stay friends or maybe become allies.

If you don’t share a land border with anyone you might be able to exist without going to war.  This is still not something to expect but even if you do go to war you might last a long time before you actually fight.

Keeping these in mind, if you want to go for a conquest victory, pick the enemy you have the biggest advantage over, develop your faction to exploit that advantage, and attack (there is no diplomatic way to merely declare war) when you think you can capture all of their bases with deliberate speed.  Repeat.

If you’re going for any other type of victory you need to improve your economy and industry.  If you’re going for the diplomatic or economic victory, it might be best to knock off (or have other, friendlier factions knock them off) large hostile factions anyways.  If you’re going for the transcend victory you want to make sure your research is superior to other factions and have at-least one or two bases that are producing minerals out the wazoo.

If you’re going for survival and not for a victory, you just have to make sure that any faction that attacks you will pay dearly for each square taken.  A compact faction, with good defensive structures (perimeter defenses then children’s crèches then aerospace complexes, then others like command centers), multiple high armor troops at every base, and enough mobile offensive units to at-least harass the enemy would work.  (Keep in mind that according to the official story, when a faction reaches transcendence all factions this faction is hostile to, disappear).  Also keep in mind that if you get two generations or more behind technologically it will become increasingly harder to survive.

Also remember that an unbalanced faction will have trouble.  Even for a faction focused on military will find building a network node at a base already producing 6 energy to labs at base to be very valuable and unless the base needs to produce something else right now, worth the investment.  A military that falls behind in technology or outgrows its industrial base loses much of its usefulness.  A faction focused on the economy while neglecting its military risks finding itself under the boot of a more militant faction despite its technological and economic superiority.  Also remember that doing research is nice but your faction won’t get many benefits without building the things the research helps to build.

There are numerous other strategies and playstyles for how to handle the game in any situation at any stage of the game.  This is far from the only way to play from the starting gate.  Plenty of players can beat even experienced players without building a second base at any point during the game for example.  This guide isn’t designed to give you a good strategy but merely a competent one that will let you explore what they game has to offer… so explore! both by moving units into the black and figuring out what you can go with the game at this point.

AC2 Online SMACX Resource Center


For how-tos & downloadable SMACX resources of all sorts and a friendly international community glad to answer questions,
discuss ideas and teach modding (also a vibrant multiplayer community and foro en español &
forum en français)
click on the banner  - we'd love to get to know you
Beginners' Getting-Started Strategy Guide for Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri/Alien Crossfire