The very heart and soul of any empire is the economy. It supersedes the army, and even technological research and innovation. Do not misunderstand this. The production of war materials and research are vitally important to your survival and eventual dominance, but an empire's ability to produce quantities of either is driven by the force and stability of that empire's economy. You must understand that players who use a strictly militaristic focus are playing the game from the "Momentum" standpoint. Their key hope is that their program of relentless assault can end the game before some Builder or Hybrid player can build up a strong enough economy to stand against them. Never forget:
- Your economy is the most versatile tool you have. In times of crisis, you can configure it to crank out massive amounts of cash to fund your war effort (or whatever), and in times of peace you can ratchet your research up through the roof.
- Contrast that to military units, which are actually only useful in three very specific situations: If you are attacked, if you launch an attack, or if you can make your opponent believe you are about to launch an attack (i.e. feint) (see below on creating turn advantage). Otherwise, they simply take up space on the board. They represent a certain amount of "potential energy." That is to say, the potential to cause harm to another empire or to defend your holdings.
- Technological advances are likewise "potential energy." By themselves they do nothing for you. You have to actually build something to get anything useful out of them (a new prototype, base facility, secret project...something).
Factors of production on Chiron
You've already been introduced to them, and here they are again, this time, with a slightly different treatment:
- Nutrients: Enables your population to expand.
- Minerals: Allows you to build stuff.
- Energy: Drives your research efforts and puts cash in your pocket. In order to build a healthy economy, attention must be paid to all three.
Your economy is driven by the function of the passage of time acting against the three factors of production listed above. It's like plate tectonics, with time on one side and your productive factors on the other. You can vary your economy's effectiveness versus time (bigger or smaller "quakes" = speeding up or slowing down) by adjusting your three factors of production.
Basic economic theory
The basics of economic theory are intuitive, but are outlined below:
- Makin' Big Cities: Maximize nutrient output over time. Note that without controls on growth (i.e., sufficient mineral production to produce anti-drone facilities), your base will suffer chronic rioting.
- Makin' Productive Cities: Maximize mineral output over time. Lets you build stuff very quickly. Too much mineral production leads to eco-damage, which in turn, leads to "worm rape" — something you don't want to see.
- Makin' Bill Gates Cities (lots of tech and cash): Maximize energy output over time. Generates money and research points very quickly, but comes with the ill effect that it takes a long time to build all the base facilities you need to get to this point (i.e., it will take even longer if you don't balance this with mineral production).
Intermediate economic theory
As I said above, basic management of the factors of productive is intuitive (if you want the base to grow, give them lots of food), but since it is clear that taking any of the factors of production to their extreme is probably detrimental in some way (to say nothing of the inefficiency it creates), it becomes obvious that some balance needs to be struck. He who has a clearer understanding of when to focus on which of the factors of production will almost always be able to create a stronger economy than he who is content to let the computer make production decisions.
Energy production is basically unimportant in the early game. You are starting from scratch. You have nothing. No infrastructure at all. What you need is a good balance of nutrients (to grow your population pretty rapidly), and minerals (to build your first, most basic facilities fairly quickly). Only when that has been accomplished should you begin to worry much over energy production or enhancement. For this reason, planting forests is probably the most important early-game terrain enhancing you can do. Due to mineral and energy restrictions, early forests will produce as much as early mines (and mines take 6-8 turns to build). Two forests (which tend to expand on their own), or one mine? You don't have to be a student of economics to see which is more efficient, and efficiency is the name of the game (and this provides something in the way of a specific explanation of the terraforming choices mentioned earlier in this guide). Of course, in the same breath, do not discount the value of mines and boreholes. Your spare formers should be working on both of these terrain enhancements as soon as you are able, planning for the day when the mineral restrictions come off, and enabling you to instantly shift your supply crawlers around to take advantage of new efficiencies brought about by your increasing tech-level.
Once you get your most essential base facilities constructed you should probably shift into a more balanced mineral/nutrient mix (still not paying terribly much attention to energy) in order to facilitate population growth, while using your selected "focus" to heighten each base's per turn output of one of the factors of production in particular. Here though, certain base facilities can make this more efficient (don't kick up your nutrient harvesting until you finish your Children's Creche, otherwise you're just spinning your wheels). Also, monitor your growth constantly as your bases creep up on their maximum size, and adjust your nutrient output accordingly. You don't want any wasted effort if you can help it. Wasted effort and resource is an opportunity for your opponent to close the gap on you and possibly overtake you.
A number of truly powerful Secret Projects become available amazingly early on in the game, and we'll take a brief look at each of them in turn. Evaluate them against your favored strategy and see which of them fit best with your game. When you have a list of projects that are "essential" to your strategy, pursue them with a vengeance in your games! Understand though (especially in multiplayer games) that you might not get all of the projects you'd like, so the important thing here is not to overcommit. That is to say, if there are currently six Secret Projects available to you, don't start working on all six at once! If you do, and someone beats you to a project, you are stuck with two options, neither of them very good. You can either opt to change the production in your base, losing half of the accumulated minerals you had built up toward that project, or you can have that base continue to build, with plans to switch over to a new project as soon as you get a tech that grants you one. The problem here though, is if you do that, you effectively tie that base up for a number of turns where no further developmental work can be accomplished at that base — not a good thing at all. So, take your project work in small slices, and try to only start a project when you are reasonably sure you can finish it ahead of everyone else.
The very best way to rapidly complete a secret project is to have all the bases in the immediate vicinity of the "Project Base" build Supply Crawlers and have them start harvesting minerals. In all likelihood, you will begin to run some eco-damage, but don't worry, it won't be for long! Remember that each crawler you have costs you a base of 30 minerals. Remember too, that most of the early game projects cost between 200-300 minerals, which means that for a paltry ten crawlers (less than that, in practice), you can complete any of the early game projects! This is one reason why Industrial Automation is so important. Your goal here is to keep building crawlers at an ever increasing rate until you have enough to send them all to the "Project Base" and finish the project. Alternately, you could simply set your nearby bases to building crawlers and shuffle them into the Project base upon completion, but this is slightly less efficient, although the upshot is that you don't have to worry with eco-damage creating fungal blooms and the potential for worm-rape. Also note that, if you have the cash, you can get significantly more "bang for your buck" by spending some cash to upgrade the crawler to a more expensive variant, because when you cash the crawler in toward the Secret Project, you will get its full mineral value; note however that crawler-upgrading is regarded as a cheat in many circles, so check beforehand to make sure that's acceptable, and if not, just use "regular" Crawlers as described above.