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Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri-Basic Strategies

Like other great Sid-style turn-based games, the action in SMAC centers around four main imperatives: Explore, Discover, Build, and Conquer.

Imperative: Explore

Small steps for mankind-the early game
In SMAC, the early race for territory significantly influences the rest of humanity's history. You'll want to build as many new bases as possible until you start bumping into rival factions and need to look to your defenses. These bases define the extent of your borders and serve as the cornerstones of your empire as it grows. In order to formulate a good early expansion strategy, you need to assess your starting location:

  • Island starting location: If you start on an island or small land mass, you must quickly develop naval technology to move your colony pods to a more spacious area. Even a rudimentary navy can secure your supply routes between land bases and harry enemy terraforming activities, and render large defensive garrisons unnecessary. In this situation, assign your researchers to concentrate on "Explore" techs so they quickly discover Doctrine: Flexibility, allowing the Foil chassis and sea transports.

  • Continent starting location: A starting location on a continent can prove a mixed blessing. On one hand, you may have plenty of territory to expand into, but on the other hand, large tracts of land inevitably attract attention from rival factions. If you expect early conflict, set your researchers to work on "Conquer" techs so you can defend your borders and stake your claim to arable terrain.

  • Look for surrounding elevations: In SMAC, mountain ranges trap the rainfall travelling from west to east. Therefore, land on the west side of mountains often makes for excellent base sites, while the higher elevation results in better energy collection once Former units construct solar collectors. Set up bases in these areas as quickly as possible to establish your borders. Then expect to defend these prime sites from interlopers, or you'll have to content yourself with scrabbling a hard living from the arid deserts often found to the east of a mountainous area. Rivers or special resources make these areas doubly valuable.

  • Scout for the landmarks: Scattered over the surface of Planet are large landmarks with important gameplay benefits. Factions who can stake a claim to these landmarks reap these benefits, so plan to set up new bases in these areas as soon as you find them. A partial list of landmarks and gameplay benefits:

    Freshwater Sea: +1 nutrient per square.
    Garland Crater: +1 mineral bonus per square.
    Geothermal Shallows: +1 energy per square.
    Great Dunes: Inhibits nutrient production.
    Monsoon Jungle: +1 nutrient per square.
    Mount Planet: +1 bonus of both minerals and energy.
    Pholus Ridge: +1 energy per square.
    Uranium Flats: +1 energy per square.

    As you can see, you must expand early to have access to prime territory. On a sizeable landmass, many players produce little other than colony pods and cheap garrison units for the first 50 turns in bases other than the headquarters. Even past 50 turns, it's a good idea to expand until you run out of space, get into a war, or experience significant drone riots.

Dealing with Mind Worms
During your early expansion, send out at least one or two exploration units to scout the terrain and recover the ubiquitous Unity pods scattered over the surface. In the course of explorations through Xenofungus and when entering Unity pods, you run the risk of stumbling across voracious Mind Worm boils, which attack using psi combat and can tear up your scouts. However, the rewards of the Unity pods, which include technologically advanced alien artifacts, energy credits, robotic terraforming equipment, and additional scout units, prove so valuable that you often must risk Mind Worm encounters to keep up with rival factions.

There are several ways to minimize Mind Worm depredations when exploring:

  • Expand as you explore: Mind Worms seldom appear near your bases. Therefore, you don't necessarily want to explore Unity pods until you can establish nearby outposts to drive the worms further into unexplored territory.

  • Build sensors as you go: Your Formers can build sensor arrays anywhere inside your territory. Sensors help you deal with Mind Worms in three ways. First, Mind Worms shy away from this man-made equipment, and seldom appear near a sensor. Second, should a Mind Worm boil appear, the sensor confers a defensive bonus to any of your units attacked by the native creatures. Finally, the sensor's extended sighting radius can provide early warning of lurking boils. The last two sensor benefits apply when defending against rival human units as well.

  • Travel well-known pathways: When moving through Xenofungus, try to travel along areas you've already entered. Mind Worm boils appear more often in less frequented areas. If possible, avoid Xenofungus altogether, as Mind Worm boils get bonuses when fighting and moving in fungus.

  • Increase your Planet social engineering rating: A positive Planet rating allows you to try capturing native units; the higher your rating, the more likely your chances of capture. The Gaians automatically begin the game with a positive Planet rating, and so can often build up a sizeable force of immature Mind Worms early in the game. When playing the Gaians, you may even want to hunt native units for capture. You can actually release Mind Worms into the wild near enemy bases or units, wreaking havoc on your opponents...or even your allies!

  • Use custom-built and high-morale units for exploration: When engaging in psi combat with native units, only the respective morale of the units counts towards victory resolution; the offensive and defensive armament are meaningless. Therefore, only send out units for exploration that have high morale or that have special abilities which increase psi capabilities, such as Empath Song (+50% to psi attack) and Hypnotic Trance (+50% to psi defense).

  • ATTACK!: In psi combat, the attacker has an advantage, so try to take the offensive where possible, so long as you are not attacking into fungus. Also, you can often recover energy credits from wild Mind Worm husks when you attack.

Imperative: Discover

The techs your scientists research determine the type and quality of available units, base facilities, secret projects, and social engineering choices. The wise leader acquires a good mix of technologies in each of the four categories. You can increase your rate of tech acquisitions through several methods:

Increasing energy and labs production

  • Increase your energy production: Your labs research rate directly depends on the amount of energy your bases produce each turn. To increase energy production, your Formers can (with the appropriate technology) build solar collectors and tidal harnesses around your bases, drill aquifers to create rivers, raise nearby terrain, and sign treaties with other factions to generate trade in energy credits. When constructing new terraform enhancements, be sure you assign citizens to work the newly-upgraded squares.

  • Build facilities that increase your research: Several base facilities increase your rate of research, including network nodes, research hospitals, biology labs, and quantum labs.

  • Build Secret Projects that help you discover new techs: Several Secret Projects increase your rate of research or give you techs outright, such as the Universal Translator (two free techs), the Planetary Datalinks (gives you any tech discovered by three other factions), and the Theory of Everything (increases labs by 100% in a base).

  • Assign citizens to work as Specialists: Several kinds of specialists can increase your labs production, including the Librarian, Thinker, Engineer, and Transcend. If you can afford the decrease in resource production, assign some citizens to these specialties in bases where labs production is already high.

  • Change your energy allocation: You may change the amount of energy devoted to each of the three allocations (labs, psych, and reserves) from the social engineering screen. By increasing your labs allocation, you increase the amount of energy channelled into research. If you pump too much energy into labs, however, you may generate inefficiency that negates or reverses any research bonus.

  • Improve your energy and labs through social engineering choices: Altering the values of your society can improve your energy and labs production, resulting in quicker breakthroughs. However, these choices decrease your ratings in other areas, so avoid extensively unbalancing your society just to increase these two factors.

Other ways to acquire technology

  • Explore Unity Pods: The Unity pods scattered about the Planet often contain data from the ship's databanks. Recovery of a pod containing this data results in a free technology breakthrough.

  • Link alien artifacts to Network Nodes: Unity pods can also generate alien artifacts. You may link an artifact to a network node by moving the artifact into a base containing a node. Linked artifacts generate a high-level technology for free. Note that you may only link one artifact to each node, and that linking an artifact may destroy the node. Bases in drone riots have a greater chance of losing a net node when linking to an alien artifact.

  • Trade technologies with other factions: Trading research with other factions is one of the fastest ways to acquire new tech. You can expect better success when offering to trade techs with a friendly faction, so keep good diplomatic relations with advanced powers. Often, Pact Brothers or Sisters request that you direct your research towards a particular goal, so they can trade an equally valuable technology. Be careful, however, to note the level of techs they are offering to trade. Often your rivals attempt to rip you off by offering you a low-rated tech, asking for one of your choice breakthroughs in return. If they try to pull a fast one, either refuse their offer or propose to give a lower-rated tech as a more appropriate trade.

Imperative: Build

To thrive, your empire must build an infrastructure to support expensive military units, advanced Secret Projects, and efficient energy production. Building this infrastructure primarily depends on one resource: minerals. You may increase mineral production in a number of ways:

  • Construct terraform enhancenments: Your Formers can construct a number of terrain enhancements that increase mineral production, including mines, mining platforms (in the ocean), and thermal boreholes. In rocky terrain, a mine needs a road for maximum mineral production. Remember that no square may produce more than two minerals until the discovery of Ecological Engineering, unless that square contains a special mineral bonus.

  • Build base facilities that generate additional minerals: Several base facilities improve mineral production, including robotic assembly plants, quantum converters, and nanoreplicators. Keep in mind, however, that these facilities can cause significant ecological damage, so prepare for potential fungal blooms if your Planet rating is low. The Bulk Matter Transmitter Secret Project also provides +2 minerals to each base.

  • Reduce your unit support commitments: Depending on your society and faction choices, some of your units may use up minerals as the cost of supporting them each turn. Often, beginners churn out many useless military units that sap all the minerals from their bases, then wonder why they have nothing left to build new production orders. A unit with a mineral next to its icon on the base screen's 'Support' section costs one mineral each turn. If a base has too many of these units, consider disbanding a few of them so minerals are freed up for new construction. Your support commitments may also be reduced by selecting the "Police State" or "Power" social engineering choices, assuming you possess the appropriate tech. Finally, the Living Refinery Secret Project also reduces your support commitments.

  • Send out Supply Crawlers to utilize faraway mineral bonuses: Supply crawlers can ferry any resource (nutrients, minerals, or energy) from an unworked square back to its home base. Send these crawlers out to find special mineral resource bonuses isolated from your bases and order them to convoy the resources home. Have a Former build mines on these square to maximize the mineral production.

Imperative: Conquer

Of course, all the exploration, building and discovering in the world is useless if you can't mount an effective military campaign in an offensive or defensive posture. On one level, combat is quite simple in SMAC-just try to move your unit into a square containing an enemy. On a deeper level, the success or failure of your armed forces depends greatly on the planning and foresight that go into a campaign: your unit designs, invasion tactics, and strategies for base conquest.

Designing succesful units

  • Design units for specific tasks: Building a unit that's maxed out in all categories results in a prohibitively expensive design. Create offensive and defensive units for use in different environments. For the cost of one 8-5-2 Armored Chaos Rover, you could build two 8-1-2 Chaos Speeders and one 1-5-1 Photon Defensive, increasing your flexibility and number of attackers.

  • Don't be confined by preconceived notions when designing units: For example, players often think of defensive units as being slow and heavily armored. These types of units certainly do the job, but why not put strong armor on a rover chassis? That way, you have a defensive unit which can quickly shuttle back and forth between trouble spots. You then need keep only one garrison in each base, with defensive reserves centrally located.

  • Know your opponent's capabilities: If you have infiltrated an enemy's datalinks with a probe team, you can see their total military capability at any given time (by viewing the Security Nexus report and clicking on your opponent's icon). In addition, you can also see what they are building in each base. Design your units accordingly; if Colonel Santiago churns out Rover Tanks, you should equip all your units with Comm Jammers, which confer a 50% bonus in combat against fast movers. If Miriam's technologically backward zealots have not discovered Doctrine: Air Power, be sure to pound her bases with needlejets.

Plan an invasion strategy

  • Know the terrain: Terrain can play a significant role in combat. Know your terrain and plan routes of attack to maximize each unit's strength. Here's a list of basic terrain modifiers:
    Artillery. +25% attack bonus per level of altitude
    Fast units in smooth or rolling terrain. +25% attack bonus.
    Any unit in rocky terrain. +50% defensive bonus.
    Any unit in xenofungus. +50% defensive bonus, unless it is being attacked by a native life-form (either human-spawned or wild) in which case the unit gets no defensive bonus
    Any native life-form in xenofungus. +50% combat bonus
    Infantry units attacking versus base +25% combat bonus
  • Attack en masse: If you decide to attack an enemy position, maneuver your units so you can use all available firepower. Don't attack a well-defended base in ones or twos, allowing the enemy a chance to repair damage and bring up reinforcements.

  • Avoid the stack: Moving all your units in a stack concentrates your forces in a crowded, vulnerable state. If an enemy attacks a stack, the best unit is chosen to defend; if that unit loses the combat, then your other vehicles take collateral damage. Try to spread out your units so one lost combat does not damage your whole invasion force.

  • Use the fungus: On land or at sea, units in Xenofungus cannot normally be seen by an enemy. Plan your invasion routes accordingly. Since fungus also confers a defensive bonus, your units possess an advantage if they are discovered and attacked. Also, Mind Worms in fungus receive several additional bonuses, whether they are wild or player-controlled. They heal damage fully when resting in fungus, while other units usually must return to a base to completely repair. They can move and fight more effectively in fungus; Mind Worms only use 1\3 of a movement point when travelling in fungus, and gain a 50% combat bonus as well. The Xenoempathy Dome Secret Project allows all your units to move as natives through Xenofungus, while the Pholus Mutagen Secret Project confers native combat bonuses on all your units.

Victorious base attacks

  • Attacking a base: Mounting a successful attack on a well-defended base requires foresight and planning. First, a wise leader includes a diverse mix of offensive and defensive units in an invasion force. Defensive units can protect against counterattacks, and can convert to garrison duty once you conquer the target base. Fast rovers can scout ahead and sweep enemies out of open areas. Artillery can cut reinforcement routes by bombarding roads, reduce the strength of base defenders, and keep damaged units from repairing.

  • Destroy sensor arrays: A faction's sensor arrays provide defending units in a 2-square radius with a 25% bonus, usually tipping the balance in an otherwise close combat. You must destroy nearby sensors if you expect to take a well-defended base. Air power often proves the most straightforward tool for this task-use your needlejets to scout the area around a target and take out the sensor with bombing runs. If your jets don't succeed on the first try, postpone your main thrust until they do.

  • Soften up the target: Artillery, naval units, and air power can quickly return a 'hard target' to the Stone Age. These units can bombard terrain enhancements such as mines and farms, reducing the resource production of the target and starving out the populace. They can also destroy roads so your opponent cannot reinforce a threatened area.

  • Use probe teams liberally: Probe teams can bring down perimeter defenses and other base facilities, and stir up drone riots. Causing a drone riot right before an invasion serves two purposes. First, units supported by a base in drone riots fight with a morale penalty. Second, a base with drone riots cannot produce new defenders, and must be resupplied from somewhere else.

Dominate the new world
These four imperatives-Explore, Discover, Build, and Conquer-represent the cornerstones of a successful strategy in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Thoughtful leaders utilize a mix of the four that changes each game in response to their situations. Master each imperative and you'll be on your way to complete domination of Planet!

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