SMAX SE settings, Part 1.
Originally from the The SMAC Academy, by Mark.
Please note that this article only covers the Cyborgs, Angels and Drones. More will be forthcoming.
The Consciousness are a tricky faction to play well, but their good research and efficiency make them a very useful early hybrid faction for a number of different reasons.
A lot of their early game plans mirror those of the Gaians. It's planned/wealth as soon as they know how - though their growth problems prevent them from pop-booming early. FM isn't really an option early on, unless you're prepared to use doctors en masse, but the early game research is good enough that you don't have to.
Mid-game, you're looking at prepping for some sort of pop-boom. It isn't viable early on, because to pop boom with the CyC, you need to GA in demo/planned...so mid-game is probably the earliest you can do it. Assuming you're playing them as a builder faction, it's necessary to boom - and to do it you'll likely need the HGPHuman Genome Project, the VWVirtual World (to save you building horrifically expensive Hologram Theatres) and some fairly specialist terraforming (for the energy you'll need). If you can boom with the CyC, Dem/FM/Knowledge is every builder's dream....+2 economy, +4 efficiency, +4 research, and no morale penalties. It's either this or planned (if you're at war, usually) for the mid-game - either way, you're doing OK, assuming you've got a few boreholes/tidals in place for some energy.
A bit of a nothing faction, this one - no real strengths, but no real weaknesses. They are, however, hindered by a quite horrendous bug in the game (at least, from their point of view) in the mid-game (though in MP, this doesn't matter so much).
Early on, you'd play the Angels in much the same way as you might play any other faction...usually Planned/Wealth early, the occasional dip into FM, but otherwise not a lot happening. Planned to boom for the mid-game (they have no problem booming) and FM or planned, depending on diplomatic state, up until knowledge becomes available, and Pre-Sentient Algorithms.
Upon the discovery of Pre-Sentient Algorithms, the Data Angels get a covert ops centre in each base, increasing their base probe by 2. Added to their intrinsic +2, this gives +4. Problem is, the game doesn't recognize this as +4 - any probe value above +3 is considered 0 by the game. In fact, in SPSecret Project, they need to run knowledge to get any advantages from probes at all! Of course, in MP, this is largely a moot point, as other players will respect your probe rating and not try to mind-control anything in the way the AI would.
After that, it's FM or green as you see fit - green later on, or if you're at war. Not a lot to be said, really.
The Drones are a very interesting faction to play, in that they have one HUGE bonus (industry), one substantial bonus (-1 drone per base), and one massive hindrance (their research). Basically, you're looking at FM as early as you can get away with it - you can buy tech from other factions, and go wealth as soon as you can (for the extra +1 industry). Demo is also a must, because of the ICSInfinite City Sprawl that the Drones tend to lean towards.
The fact is with the Drones, research penalty aside, you have all the tools you need to get very very big, very very quickly. The sheer power of the Drones as builders is incredible at times - industry is where their advantage lies, and they're not hit by any other major penalties either. They can pop-boom easily, and get to +2 economy easily - the inability to run green is a bit of a pain later on, but planned will provide a worthy substitute.
So, Dem/FM/Wealth for the drones - planned to boom. You need *loads* of bases - planned/wealth gives you a mind-numbing *+4* industry, which you can put to good use by building loads of facilities (and usually bag the lion's share of the SPs to boot). With this in mind, if you can overcome the technological barrier, you can simply over-run anyone and everyone running either planned or FM - and get a decent research rate to boot. Mid-game, there is no better faction than the Drones, period. Knowledge is sometimes useful, because it gives you +25% research and a bit of efficiency to make up for no green - but most of the game you'll be in wealth.