Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri - The Lord's Believers

This is a writeup of a playthrough of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, with the Lord's Believers faction. This comes after several other games, in the order shown on the home menu here.

Like the Gaia game, this one also comes as a result of my 5CC experience with the Peacekeepers. In that game, I was never quite satisfied with the energy park. It was never quite working at full power: I couldn't quite keep up on building supply crawlers for it, and also of course it wasted so much to overflow truncation.

But there was one interesting spot in that game that I never mentioned: I had a small second energy park going as well, visible on the left edge of this shot. This came about because I had happened to build a few solar collectors there early, in locations that could all be adjacent to a few mirrors. I never developed it more, since the formers were then all on the main park instead, and no arrangement could overcome the overflow problem anyway. But I liked that base all along, that energy was noticeable, often producing at that base almost double the energy of the others.

I want to do a full-blown energy park, throughout my entire territory, with the stripes of solars and mirrors extending through each base's radius to be worked directly rather than by supply crawlers. I've wanted to do this for years but never got around to it. This will be that game.

What faction? Of course this will take an enormous legion of terraformers, and so the driving force will be to support them. The faction that gets a support bonus is The Lord's Believers. And the Believers are the faction that would most want to overkill with a massive energy park, to overwhelm the research penalty. There's no way to turn the Believers' negative into an actual advantage, but at least it will mean I'll have that much more headroom to go before running into overflow truncation problems.

There will be only two formal variant rules in effect: no boreholes, and no tree farms. I think that is all I need to make the energy park be the correct emergent behavior. Obviously boreholes would overshadow it as always. I don't want to ban forests entirely, as that's an important piece of getting new bases started, so banning tree farms will allow forests but limit their usefulness as a long-term engine so I'll want to replace them by midgame. The rest of the terraforming is fine: farms directly work underneath solars and mirrors, and a few condensors or mines here and there are okay too.

We begin here after a number of map rolls. Note the lumpy contours of the wireframe outlines in the fog, that means I have a good amount of land in all directions to build my energy park. And to start with, we have two mineral bonuses, one rolling-rainy and one on a rocky tile just like the U.N. game, very nice.

I arranged the two bases like this, so each is in the center of a bonus pinwheel as defined by the mineral bonuses. Either could work the 2-3-0 rolling-rainy mineral bonus. It went to From On High, because New Jerusalem had a better alternative option, another rolling-rainy tile, while From On High could only reach moist tiles apart from the big bonus. Since New Jerusalem would accumulate minerals slower, I made it go straight for its first colony pod, while From On High would have enough minerals to put out a scout first.

I intentionally put the HQ as the base not on the river, so that each base would be producing 2 energy, which could go all into economy at 80% slider. If the river base had been the HQ (which yields +1 energy) it would produce 3 energy to the second base's 1, but that 3 couldn't be fully allocated by the slider without unbalancing loss. The Believers have an additional penalty to research besides the -2 SE: they are allowed no labs points in the first ten years after planetfall, so you want everything to go into economy. And you start by building scouts and colony pods because you can't get to terraformers for a while.

Next turn, the two scouts had fully revealed all the possible bonus pinwheel spots. Each base has one more nutrient bonus, excellent -- but each is on a bad underlying tile, rocky at the capital and arid at From On High. But each still yielded 2-1-0. Now each base had equal secondary choices, so now I could freely swap that best rainy-minerals tile back and forth. Now my plan was this: New Jerusalem would indeed do a scout (losing 1 mineral by switching), and then both bases would do colony pods, swapping the mineral tile back and forth so that each base came to 30 minerals at the same time and just as it grew to size 2.

(An interface loophole exploit: it's actually possible for both bases to work the big tile sometimes. On any turn on which the HQ completes a build to get the zoom-to-base popup, it's possible to unassign the HQ from that tile, go to the second base via F4, and assign the second base to work that same tile on this same turn! That's both cheaty and excruciating enough that I don't bother to do it, but a dedicated speedrunner could, particularly to double-work your first few boreholes.)

The north scout continued north, and noticed that my border was compressed inwards from the place where it should be. That means there's another faction in that direction:

That faction was Morgan. He sold me Deirdre's comm frequency. I called her up, and carefully avoided trading my Social Psych tech for her map, hoping it would serve as bait for the jackpot I really needed... which I got when she agreed to trade me Centauri Ecology!

That's the best possible start for the Believers, find Gaia and trade for that tech instead of trying to research it yourself. The 10-turn prohibition on research had just expired, but there's yet another research penalty the Believers suffer from, techs cost double in the first few turns, and so Centauri Ecology would still have taken nine turns. I really liked how this worked out here, that I got that tech fast but not instantly on like the second turn, so that the Believers still had that first techless span as they should.

A sharp eye will note my eastern border is also closer than it should be. So my scout in that direction also knew there was another faction to find:

I had tried to trade Industrial Base from Morgan, but he not unexpectedly declined, for the reason shown there. But then my next neighbor Lal agreed to trade it to me! I happily set my own labs to Industrial Economics, which would actually become my first self-researched tech.

And the final order of business in these conversations was to ask Morgan for a loan. Of course he handed right over half of his faction's starting advantage. On top of his 60 credits and 10 from one mindworm kill, I also had 40 accumulated during the first ten turns, when I couldn't run labs slider but also couldn't usefully spend that cash since the bases needed to grow to size 2 before the colony pods. In fact then even after the pods, it still wasn't good to cash-rush formers, while the bases were still under 10 minerals in the box to incur the doubled-cost penalty.

So here's a trick with cash-rushing I haven't shown yet. I switched the build order to a scout, paid the double cost to rush exactly 1 mineral, then switched back to the former. The result was to bring the former to exactly 10 minerals in the box this turn, so that next turn I could rush without the double-cost penalty. The two-step of switching to a cheaper unit helps because the cost for rushing a unit is quadratic with the number of minerals remaining; the cost per mineral is higher with 15 remaining minerals than with 5.

There's another version of this trick too. The game doesn't let you rush again after a partial payment, so that you can't partial-rush to 10 minerals and then also full-rush unpenalized. But that limitation is only triggered by partial rushing, not full rushing. You can switch to a scout, full-rush that at double cost up to 10 minerals, then switch to rush something else with no further penalty. This hasn't come up much in my games, since mostly my bases can simply produce 10 overflow minerals when I intend to rush again. I did use this on occasion in the Morgan game with bases too weak for the 10 minerals.

Back to exploring: I had a third scout going west, who observed yet another border irregularity: here my border actually jumped inwards between turns, indicating somebody in this direction just settled a base. That faction turned out to be the Hive, who also sold me contact with the University.

One of them sold me a map of both factions, and then Gaia also offered a map-for-map trade, that's unusual and I haven't seen that before, usually the AI wants tech for a map, but I guess I had enough map data accumulated that Gaia considered it valuable. (I suspect the map data doesn't actually mean anything to the AIs, like in Civ 3 where we know the computer code just has access to the map regardless of exploration so they already know everything.) Anyway, let's look at that map.

So just 17 turns in, I have six factions in contact and vast map knowledge. Unfortunately, I wouldn't get to continue exploring past the University with my scout currently by the Hive. The problem was that I was about to research Industrial Economics and adopt Free Market -- making that wayward scout cause pacifism anger in my HQ while out of my territory. Sadly, I decided I had to delete the unit. There wasn't any workable solution to the pacifism drone; hiring a doctor would make the HQ give up working the 2-3-2 rainy minerals tile, or else I'd have to go to 50% psych slider and lose half my juice everywhere. I wanted to rush the rec commons, but that doesn't work in this scenario, the pacifism drone applies only after facility modifiers. Well, at least that saves supporting the unit. I tried to get my northern scout (the original Independent supportless one) in this direction, but he got eaten by a mind worm.

The commlink also shows that I got pacts with four of the five factions. That was surprising, but most didn't last long as the AIs started to cancel them, particularly once I started to get into some of their disliked social choices. Relations did stay good enough long enough to get two more critical trades:

As I finished my own research on Industrial Economics, Morgan accepted it in trade for Info Networks. And he also had, though refused to trade, Planetary Networks. This is very unusual: Morgan as a Build-weighted faction almost always researches the Build-weighted Industrial Economics first before the two Discover techs. Anyway, Gaia came to my rescue with Planetary Networks as well. That's all the prerequisites for Industrial Automation!

And so I happily set my own research to Industrial Automation and completed it in year 2127. Who thought that in this series of games, the Believers would be the next fastest after Morgan?! Of course it happened because I got so many trades, I actually researched only two techs on my own to get here. Of course I adopted Wealth immediately, and built my first supply crawler for the rocky mineral bonus at the HQ.

I actually had not planned out or expected this beeline. I was actually looking to postpone Ind Auto in favor of the restriction-lifting techs, required for the energy park to do anything useful. But Industrial Economics was a required prerequisite anyway for Environmental Economics (energy cap lifting), so I may as well get that early for Free Market early. But Ind Auto's other two prerequisites of Info Nets and Plan Nets didn't do anything I needed, so I intended to put those off, but when they came in trade then I audibled into Ind Auto itself anyway.

This is why I might have postponed those techs: acquiring any increases the cost for all subsequent, with my rate now at 16 turns for the next tech, and that's even with Free Market and Wealth both in effect. The next tech Ethical Calculus at 176 labs now cost three times what Ind Auto had at 60. Also to unlock Ethical Calculus out of a missing-tech hole, I had to take a trade to perturb the modulus, which was Doctrine Flexibility from the U.N., which would further drag down the costs in the approaching future.

Ethical Calculus would take 12 turns after some city growth and expansion, finishing in 2139. Then to order up what I needed next in Biogenetics, I had to take another trade to bump the index again, this time Secrets of the Human Brain. (The AIs had Biogenetics, but as usual refused to trade it because of the Human Genome Project, so I had to research that myself.)

So I wasn't really following the variant vision all that closely yet; this just ended up turning into the standard path of Industrial Automation first and then up through the restriction-lifting ecological techs more slowly. At least I was expanding well at home. We'll break onto a new page to see that.

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