Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri - Gaia's Stepdaughters

This is a writeup of a playthrough of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, with the Gaia's Stepdaughters faction. This comes after my games with the Hive, Morgan Industries, and the UN Peacekeepers.

The UN game took me a lot longer than I expected in real time. Almost as long as the Morgan game, despite managing only five bases rather than seventy. The giant time sink was terraformer management, which took a ton of meticulous attention to balancing food and borehole improvements, plus the energy-park as well, and fixing a lot of eco-damage. I wanted to play a game with the terraforming streamlined to easy simplicity.

Of course the simplest terraforming strategy is the classic favorite of forest-and-forget. The variant rule: only terraforming compatible with forests is permitted. This allows roads and sensors; this isn't meant to be a challenge without those. Raising land from the sea also works, as also does the Drill Aquifer terraforming option to create rivers.

And of course the faction appropriate to go tree-crazy is Gaia's Stepdaughters. Although there's actually really no mechanical connection here. Gaia doesn't have any particular reason to favor forests. In fact, Gaia is actually one of the best factions to use boreholes: they need the energy to make up for lacking Free Market, and they mitigate the eco-damage with the the favorable Planet rating both inherently and from lacking Free Market. But thematically, trees are right on for what Gaia should be doing. And I'm looking for an excuse to play a game as Gaia, and for something other than a quick worm conquest, so here we go.

Finally, one more angle to throw into the mix. I'm going to try out a component of luck abuse, specifically that on each turn roll I will reload until getting some good results with auto-spreading forests. I mused about this possibility in the other games. I actually hadn't intended this right at the outset, but the idea came to me after my first planted forest happened to auto-spread quickly, so let's go with it and see what happens.

Same settings as the other games: Base SMAC, not the expansion or any mods, Transcend (highest) difficulty, standard map size, low ocean for more room, standard erosion and rainfall and native life. Game settings: all victory conditions, no pod scattering, no random events, directed research.

Double nutrient bonuses, and not on but near a river; quite comparable to the UN start minus the rocky mineral tile. I moved the scout east to get a look at the the next tile further east, which might have been another tile bonus in the pinwheel pattern. There was none, so the starting spot looked plenty good enough to settle Gaia's Landing.

Gaia's real faction power isn't the +1 Planet, which feels good but is only marginally helpful; it's the +2 Efficiency rating. That greatly reduces the penalty for unbalanced sliders. With that, I could run the economy slider at 90% to put all 3 energy into cash and lose none to unbalancing. And since Gaia starts with Centauri Ecology tech, research could wait a moment, while I began the first former immediately and could rush it just two turns later with the money.

My second base went two tiles south of Gaia's Landing (this is 'Sikander spacing'), so it could put the second nutrient bonus to work too. It too rushed a former as soon as was possible.

The big early news: on turn 7, my scout bumped into not just one but two other factions! Both the Peacekeepers and Morganites were nearby. Lal offered me a map trade for my Centauri Ecology tech, which I accepted, and the map showed Morgan too. Notice the circled tile all the way in the east: that tile should be within Morgan's border (it's equidistant from Morgan HQ as the tile 2 NW of it) but it isn't, meaning there's another faction that way too. But getting my scout that way would be a headache around the zones-of-control of Morgan's units, so he went to explore westwards instead. Later Morgan would trade me the comm frequency of that faction who turned out to be Sparta.

And the big news out of that encounter was Morgan lending me the majority of his extra starting money. This is ferociously stupid on the AI's part. That's an interest rate of 0.5% per year, which would be terrible in any 4X game but particularly so in SMAC. The return-on-investment for anything good in this game is something like 10% per year, doubling every 8 to 10 or so turns. Morgan just wasted his faction's entire advantage and handed it to me instead.

And here is the forest luck abuse that I mentioned. My first former finished its forest on the north nutrient bonus in 2109, so the upkeep of 2110 was the first chance for it to auto-spread, so I reloaded (about 20 times) until it did. I did the same on the following turn, and then in 2112 my other former's forest at Lily was also finished so I reloaded until that one spread that time.

Now I started looking for favorable spreads, in directions where the new forest would be positioned for an upcoming base to work. But while looking for that, in 2113 I got two spreads on the same turn, so just kept that result instead. Then the same also happened in 2114 and yet again 2115, so now that was a total of nine free forest spreads in just six turns. Each of those results took about 50 reloads to find, but reloading goes super fast, less than a second in SMAC compared to thirty-plus in Civ 5, so this all took just a few minutes.

The next order of business: With Morgan's loan, then I flipped my slider to all labs instead. This was to research Information Networks then Planetary Networks, to use Morgan's money to adopt Planned, in time to get the industry discount on my first colony pods. That happened, leading to this look at my first four bases. Flowers Preach actually wasn't the best location in retrospect; it should have been one square northwest, to reach one of those forests now and also leave room for one more base between it and the Peacekeepers. Anyway, the three bases building scouts are all for police at size 2, since with the Planned growth bonus, they would reach and stay at that size for a bit until they could accumulate enough minerals for more colony pods.

The other news in that picture was meeting the University to the southwest. Nothing came of that contact just yet; as usual I didn't want to upset my carefully chosen beelines with wrong tech acquisitions. But follow the action now:

My exploring scout had walked up right next to University Base while it had been empty. Unfortunately, then next turn it did build a scout for defense. I could have conquered University HQ a turn sooner if I'd approached more smoothly on the river. The odds were against me for a direct attack, as shown. I was sorely tempted to luck-abuse it to win the combat (SMAC came long before "preserve random seed" upon reloading), but if I went down that rabbit hole, I'd have to luck-abuse everything else for the rest of the game as well. So I decided to passively move on instead.

But then this happened: I lucked into my mind worm right here, wow! Any faction with +Planet gets their first capture automatically, but it hadn't happened for me yet mostly since I hadn't had reason to move into much of any fungus tiles to find one. In fact I hadn't even intended to enter this tile - I intended for the scout to bounce off with fractional movement remaining, to get a glimpse of the tiles beyond it, then continue past Uni Base to the west. This wasn't supposed to be a mindworm conquest game, but this was way too good an opportunity to waste.

And so my mind worm killed that defender and my scout captured University HQ. I even got Zakharov to declare the vendetta with the "demand withdrawal" option. The worm would continue on to capture a second University base as well, and then I'd sign peace a bit later when they actually did turn up with a couple potentially threatening units. Capturing the bases isn't a huge swing, it's nothing like a capital in Civ 4 or Civ 5, these bases are just ordinary compared to your own. But mostly this attack secured and freed up a good chunk of land to claim for myself.

Moving along to the next overview, here are 12 bases by year 2131. I had continued to abuse reloading each turn to get a favorable batch of forest spreads, now frequently two per turn and soon sometimes three. This expansion felt nicely fast. It's hard to judge just how much I was getting from the luck-abuse forests. My best guess is it made an overall difference of 5 to 8 turns or so, about the time it would have taken each base to build and support one additional former. As it was, each base built one former and one scout for police, which nicely fit into the two available free-support slots.

As usual, my first tech goal was Industrial Automation. This time I couldn't find any trades that helped, so I had to research by myself through all of Industrial Base - Biogenetics (the best way to fill the unavoidable missing-tech hole) - Industrial Economics (other factions would do this first but Gaia can't use Free Market) - Industrial Automation. I got Ind Auto in 2131, nicely faster than the Hive and Peacekeeper games, helped by the luck-abuse forests of course.

There are Recycling Tanks being constructed in that picture. That's specifically to prepare for the Planetary Transit System. Any base without access to a nutrient bonus built the rec-tanks, so that at size 3 it would work exactly three forests with the three food from the base square. We'll break onto a new page to cover the PTS in detail.

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