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.
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
- 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
- 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
There are several ways to minimize Mind Worm depredations when
- 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
- 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.
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
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
- 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
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
- 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
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.
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
||+25% attack bonus per level of
|Fast units in smooth or rolling
||+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
- 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.
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!