Planet Cult Strategy
Originally from the The SMAC Academy, by JustinSane.
Disclaimer: I'm not as good as you guys I've never played multiplayer and my skill level at economic management is rather pitiable. I am however a longtime lurker here and at Apolyton and am marginally decent at single player
Ever since I got the Planetary Pack a few years ago, the Planet Cult has been by far my favorite faction. I loved the ability to quickly mass a green army and go marauding. Slight problem: Objectively, they aren't very good. In fact, they seem to be the consensus weakest faction in the game, and rightly so.
Still, I tried many different times to come up with an opening strategy to overcome the significant difficulties in getting these guys to parity with the other factions. Fast momentum, quick to centauri empathy, quick naval, going for the progenitor resonance weapons fast - none of it worked satisfactorily.
Basically, I was always left, sometimes after conquering one or two other factions, with weak industry and a crippling, pathetic tech rate. I couldn't get crawlers fast enough, couldn't get restrictions off fast enough and was slower to all the important mid game SPSecret Project's. Eventually, I gave up and switched to Morgan and the Drones, with much better success. Still, I wanted a way to make the Cult work.
About a week ago I came up with an idea that seems to give them an equal footing to most other factions 50 years in. Basically, an extremely rapid pop boom. The cult simply can not get to Ind Auto as quickly as other factions, or use it as effectively once they do (no wealth). They can't use FM to boost their tech rate, since it only gives them +1, missing out on the critical +1 energy a square. What they can do is pop boom. In classical SMAXSid Meier's Alien Crossfire (Cross = X) builder strategy, it's Ind Auto first, then restrictions off and a pop boom. People don't pop boom first because their aren't enough nutrients, it requires 4 techs (only one fewer than Ind Auto), and drone control tends to be difficult.
The cult, for all their weaknesses, is uniquely well suited to dealing with these problems however. Firstly, as was previously mentioned, Ind Auto is both harder to get to and less rewarding once you are there, so the incentive for the counter strategy is not as great. Second, though it's often dismissed as a rather useless bonus, the worm police can be very handy for early drone control, almost as much as the PK and Drone bonuses. Third, no one pops pods as effectively as the Planet Cult. Pods give worms, energy credits, and most critically AA's. Fourth, their starting tech leans toward the pop boom while not helping the Ind Auto beeline at all. So using the AA's (almost always one, usually two, often three, sometimes four in my experience) and having dedicated a base rather early to starting it (preferably with a mineral bonus, with monoliths a decent second choice) build the WPWeather Paradigm very early. It's a nice project in any case, but here the critical idea is to quickly get condenser farm squares down, which bypass nutrient restrictions.
As far as tech goes, info nets, plan nets, then eth cal is all that is needed, though biogenetics can also be somewhat handy as a fill in if you aren't allowed to get everything directly. Switch to planned as soon as you hit plan nets. Get creches and rec commons up ASAP, rushing when possible with credits from pods and worms that won't joining your cause. Then boom. With a rec commons and a worm or spore launcher, you can hit pop 5 without drone problems. While booming, continue building condensers and borehole any energy or mineral specials. Use librarians extensively and engineers when there is urgent need of energy credits.
As to where you go from the boom, I see three main options. My personal favorite is to go for centauri empathy and build the EG. No one will be able to stop you from getting the governorship then, and the commerce income can be very nice, as is the possibility of playing tech broker. The other two options are to go for Ind Auto or go for Eco Eng while building a bunch of boreholes. In any case, you will have a much higher population that normal, and thanks to the effectiveness of specialists, better research than I have been able to achieve using any other strategy as the cult. In the trials I've run, I've been able to attain turn 50 results comparable to or better than I have with any faction other than Morgan, the Drones or the University. The WP is a serious long term chip to play with, and the strong population means you will have a comparably powerful, if less flexible economy to a faction with crawlers but half the pop. The other really nice thing about this is how easy you can transition to the attack if you run into a hostile faction. Worms, Spore launchers and probe teams can be a devastating combination early on, and are certainly enough to keep you from being a soft target for some belligerent such as Yang or Miriam in the early going. (Morgan's Achilles heel) If you happen to run into one of the factions less equipped for early combat, you can easily turn the conqueror yourself without sacrificing the beeline.
Anyway, I doubt this will make the Cult the strongest faction, and I'm not a good enough player to make any strong conclusions, but it is my belief that this is the strongest way to play them in the early game and that when used such, they compare favorably with other momentum oriented factions trying to build, such as the Spartans, Hive and Believers, while not lagging too far behind any but the most hard core builder factions (Morgan, University) Thoughts, comments and quite likely corrections are gratefully welcomed.