Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri - Morgan Industries

The next few turns were unexciting. The immediate goal was to expand out to new bases as fast as possible. I rushed colony pods as soon as any base reached size 2. Which was now happening slower than in the Hive game, without the growth and industry bonuses from both the Hive faction itself and Planned economics. And also with fewer terraformers thanks to the support problems of both Morgan's faction penalty and lacking Police State.

My economy also didn't grow much just yet, as I sometimes had to set the psych slider up to 20% to cover happiness for a base at size 2 for a turn, and eventually had to keep it there once every base had a bureaucracy drone.

A few interesting happenings:

Base #5 was a nasty pink-dot drop over here in Gaia's face. The AI in SMAC isn't aware of such aggressive moves and won't degrade relations or declare war over it. I took advantage of the rule that a tile equidistant between two rival bases goes to the ownership of the newer base. This move stole several rainy tiles, including the highlighted one, with an energy bonus, where the Gaian former is currently working. I correctly anticipated what would happen: the Gaian former didn't stop its job but continued to finish that solar collector for me.

Next turn, base #6 would go on the circled tile in the east, within reach of the tile where that southeasternmost former is sitting, which is another energy bonus.

At one base was this fun toy, like in the Hive game, a rocky tile with a mineral bonus, which uncaps the yield and comes to a total of 7 minerals. (This never occurred to me before, but perhaps a dedicated speed-run should restart until it gets this tile, which could build and support formers faster than anything else.) This tile would build my first supply crawler and then get crawled by it to build more.

Then I got this nasty surprise: lost a base to a mind worm! That was despite a sensor underneath it, which should have seen the worm (so I could have defended with a former for a turn to build a combat unit); the worm must have come from the full 3 tile distance along roadlike fungus squares. Well, the base is replaceable, but it's been a good long while since my cockiness got so viciously punctured.

So I'll breeze past 20 turns of expansion to this next overview.

That shows the layout of the land. I've got 12 bases in 38 turns; the Hive game took 47 turns to that number. Gaia is to my west, Sparta to my north, Peacekeepers past Sparta Command to the northwest (see the minimap), and the Believers to the far northeast in the corner of the picture. Miriam had declared vendetta upon contact. Sparta is holding an argumentative peace after I paid a few tech demands. Lal signed a treaty and traded me a few techs.

This also shows the cornerstone of my strategy now: The Planetary Transit System. This secret project makes all new bases start at size 3, and also has the undocumented effect that all existing bases are immediately raised to size 3 as well. I downplayed the PTS in the Hive game, because I already had in mind this demonstration of it, where I will exploit it to the max.

As we know, Morgan is the worst faction at population-booming. It requires a ton of effort: the creche, a golden age (which itself is hard without police to control drones), normal growth to size 3 (required for the golden age and slower without the growth modifiers of Hive and Planned), the hab complex to get beyond size 4, and also Democratic government with its support penalty that makes those facilities that much harder to build. Despite the dominance of pop-booming in the Hive game, I don't intend to try here until the Cloning Vats. Instead, I'll use the Planetary Transit System as a substitute means to get lots of population more efficiently in terms of investment.

How to get the PTS built? I decided not to upgrade crawlers. The best deal I could get was as shown here, upgrading a rover crawler to that expensive model. The upgrade would cost 160 credits for a differential of 81 minerals. That's a decent 2:1 conversion, but in fact I could do slightly better by rushing regular cheap crawlers, since they would crawl a few extra minerals in the meantime before being consumed.

I was still building colony pods too, but now mixed in supply crawlers at bases that were growing more slowly without a nutrient bonus. Presently, in turn 2139, I had enough crawlers to get the project done. The PTS costs 270 minerals with the Wealth industry bonus. Each crawler yields 30 after a temporary swap out of Wealth. I actually did it with only eight crawlers, plus two turns of Morgan Entertainment's normal production with that big mineral tile.

The PTS instantly doubled my faction dominance rating by tripling my population. There we go.

Micromanagement notes: The PTS wasn't in my HQ base, because the supply crawlers were closer to Morgan Entertainment and could complete the project there a turn sooner. So I alertly rushed a colony pod in my HQ base on this same turn, since that would complete before the PTS which would then bounce the population back up to 3. Also immediately upon completing the PTS, I could use the F4 screen to inspect the rest of the downstream bases on this same turn, to make sure they had enough food, and assign a doctor for the one base that would riot. Before completing the PTS, I set the psych slider to 40% for this turn, knowing I would need that to handle drones as you see there.

The next job was to turn the PTS population into more bases as fast as possible. Now that every base was at size 3, it immediately (or had already) started a colony pod. And with the PTS population working Free Market boosted tiles, I was making 40 energy per turn, even after losing a lot to the psych slider. That energy went into rushing those colony pods of course.

This was intensely intricate and tricky to get right. The critical case is as shown in this just-founded base. Note the situation here: this base can either work enough food to not starve, or avoid rioting by hiring a specialist... but it can't do both. Giving up any land tile to hire a specialist will make it starve. But I can't handle these drones. I quickly blew far past multiples of the bureaucracy limit, so that the second and third citizens in every base were "superdrones". (The first citizen never is.) The superdrones make it impossible to subdue this base with psych - a size 3 base is only allowed to use 3 increments (6 units), no matter how much is produced or how high the slider, and two of the increments only convert the two superdrones to regular drones. The PTS quells one drone itself (as "Facilities"), but that's not enough. There is no feasible solution to these drones. No specialist without starving. No police in Free Market. Rushing a Recreation Commons is too expensive.

What I had to do was get every such base down to size 2 immediately, by rushing a colony pod on the base's very first turn. The game's order of operations is this: first check for starvation, then process production, then food and growth, then check happiness. That first check for starvation is important, since that's what prevents me from using a specialist, you must feed 3 citizens even if one then disappears into the colony pod. To rush enough minerals to complete the colony pod cost about 40 credits depending on the base's exact production, and I was making about 40 energy per turn, so I could do this once per turn. This is why I couldn't go for Democratic politics: the support penalty kills the 10 free minerals for a new base, which was absolutely critical to make this work.

But notice how getting this right makes for a chain reaction. The moment every base was founded, if I had the energy, it could rush a colony pod... which would plant the next base and do it all over again! I did this as much as possible, marching a chain reaction of bases in every direction from my core. This happened fantastically fast; I could plant an indefinitely long sequence of new bases at intervals of just two turns each, and as many of those sequences in parallel as I could afford with energy.

That was the crucial case to get right: a base with a single 2-food tile must rush the colony pod immediately or riot or starve. Some other cases occurred too. If a base had two 2-food tiles (or a 3 plus a 1), it could live with that and a doctor for a while until it could rush or just build the colony pod. Or if a second 2-food tile was coming soon, I could let the base riot briefly until the tile was ready. The last case was, sadly, for a base with no 2-food tile at all, for which the only outcome was simply to starve down to size 2. I increasingly started to let that happen at the edges of my land in directions where there was no room to chain another base anyway.

My research stalled for several turns while doing this. I had to run the psych slider as high as 70% to sustain some of the outer bases at size 3 before they could produce their colony pods. Also 20% economy for money to rush the pods, leaving me limping along at 10% labs and getting nowhere for the moment.

My path to fix this situation was to get all the bases down to size 2 by producing that colony pod, plus the Human Genome Project. I mustered enough crawlers for that ten turns after the PTS. This shows how I wanted every base: size 2 is the sweet spot, since the third citizen is a liability as a superdrone, costing more to handle than he could produce. Every base handled drones at size 2 exactly as shown here, between a small amount of psych, the PTS (facilities), and HGP (secret projects).

The result of all that: in just ten turns after the PTS, the marching chain reaction of bases tripled my count from 12 to 36.

You can see that most bases are size 2 as targeted. A few of the newest are still at size 3 before producing their pods, each of which would continue the chain reaction in that direction as long as I wanted. You can also see that I wasn't at all adhering to the strict 2x2 spacing grid that some use for ICS; that's not important, don't waste effort on fungus and rocky tiles, it's more important to get the bases planted fast.

I was now producing 124 energy per turn as shown, and 84 labs, each more than triple the Hive game at this same date. This is the strongest way to play Morgan, drastic ICS. His faction economy rating accounts for an extra 2 energy per base, so the way to maximize that is to have many bases. Morgan isn't about getting rich by way of energy banks and multipliers; there's too small a baseline for those; Morgan's best leverage is ever more more more bases. Not even the Merchant Exchange is worthwhile; it costs 200 minerals for less energy than a 30-mineral colony pod!

Another ten turns later, I increased my base count by another half again to 54. In 20 turns since completing the PTS, I've averaged more than two new bases every turn. I also added the Weather Paradigm with the next batch of crawlers. Now producing 176 labs and 127 energy, over 4x the Hive game at the same date. (Although the Hive was in the middle of its first pop-boom right then.) The faction dominance graph is a straight line upwards, not slowing or plateauing at all.

Another effect of all this expansion was crushing my neighbors with border pressure. SMAC has no culture subsystem for tile ownership; tiles just automatically belong to the closest base. In case of a tie in distance, the tile goes to the newer-founded base. That is highly exploitable; by settling two tiles away from an enemy base, you can steal all of its first-ring tiles! I did so here against Sparta, stealing almost every tile at their HQ and many from their other bases, and also crammed Gaia into a narrow strip of coastline tiles.

Gaia had terminated our pact, not unexpectedly. Gaia and Sparta were still maintaining uneasy truces after I had paid out several tech demands, though now I was building rovers in the border areas to prepare for the inevitable fights.

Miriam had declared hot war the instant I met her and never wavered. I hadn't seen any combat units yet, until this one, a 4-2-1 Impact Infantry. That's nasty; it could kill any defender I could muster (2-armor with no perimeter defense is nowhere near enough), and would also stand up to any 2-power counterattacker thanks to its higher morale. But of course the answer was a probe to buy that unit onto my side! The bribed unit itself got killed a turn later by Miriam's next infantry, but the important part was now I had access to the 4-attack impact weapon without the tech, and now started building my own impact rovers.

On my other border, Lal had been a helpful friend, trading me quite a few techs over time: Biogenetics, Doctrine Mobility, Doctrine Flexibility, Applied Physics, Polymorphic Software. But now that came to an end thanks to the sequence of events chronicled here.

I was presently researching Optical Computers. I knew Lal had it, because it showed up as a possibility in the trade dialog, but he refused to trade it, as is normal once the player takes a big lead. I decided to go for a probe steal, and also built and brought an impact rover to deal with a vendetta if that resulted. But the problem was that Lal just happened to move up that unit of his right now, blocking the way for my probe. I was one turn away from finishing Optical Computers myself, so the steal had to be this turn. (In SMAC as in Civ 1 and 2, if you otherwise acquire the tech you're currently researching, your progress stays intact for your next choice of research, so the steal would save me the entire cost of the tech.) I could only get my probe through for the steal if I could get rid of that unit somehow. I couldn't bribe the unit itself; at a distance of only 1 tile from its HQ, the cost was over 400.

So I tried something I rarely do: forcibly demanded the tech from Lal! Either outcome was good for me: either I get the tech directly, or he declares war, in which case my rover could kill his unit and my probe would get through. The latter happened... but then the joke was on me, my probe came back with the wrong tech! But this inadvertent steal of Doctrine Loyalty would actually shift my tech path somewhat.

Presently I also contacted my last two rivals. The University sailed a skimship up to meet me; turns out they had been right nearby on an island the whole time. Zakharov was mad, but I paid a tech demand to head off war for the moment.

Then my own exploring boat located the Hive far away up north. Surprisingly, Yang was gracious and extremely helpful. First he gave me the map of University territory for the cost of a tech. Then he signed a treaty, then also a pact for another tech! That showed me the Hive's own map as well - wow, he got a ton of land to himself. And he's expanded well, with ten bases... and two terraforming improvements, AI gonna AI.

Of course I immediately voted myself in as governor, able to outvote the rest of the planet combined, didn't need Yang's support but got it anyway. Governorship gives another +1 energy per base, another reason to ICS, and of course the free infiltration is always helpful.

I started conquering Miriam and Lal with impact rovers (already got UN HQ and a few Believer bases in the shot above), we'll check on the aftermath of that later.

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