Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri - Spartan Federation

Now the story of the game was the paths upon which Blind Research sent me. First I got some surprises on how it actually works; I'm not sure if I've ever played a full game with that before, at least not within recent memory.

The surprise was that your research bar can change colors mid-tech. While dealing with the Hive and Morgan wars and the PTS, my research bar was showing a green Explore tech, but then suddenly (I think when I traded for Intellectual Integrity) changed to white. I could see where it might do this if there were now no green techs available, but in fact there was, Centauri Empathy was available. Best guess I can make is that the missing-tech mechanic still applies, and Centauri Empathy was blocked at that moment so there was indeed no green tech available, but I really don't know for sure.

The white bar would indicate Advanced Subatomic Theory as the only available result, also a dud of a tech. But then the next surprise was that the white bar changed colors again on the following turn, to red... which then resulted in something surprising much earlier than I usually get it: Advanced Military Algorithms! I hadn't even realized I had its prerequisites; both Polymorphic Software and Optical Computers are duds that always come behind other priorities.

A.M.A. means we can repeal the U.N. Charter and nerve staple everything. The best time to do this is generally as you start population-booming. But I decided not to wait for that. In year 2163, I applied all the nerve stapling -- then switched to Free Market for the income! That gave a configuration we haven't seen yet in these games: all the size-3 PTS bases getting the full benefit of Free Market without a big leak of energy to the psych slider. To drone-control the PTS bases, usually the only options are the psych slider, or skipping Free Market in order to use police units. But the early nerve stapling did the trick here and substantially improved my research rate for the moment, from about 8 turns per tech to about 5.

My game plan was now built around the 10-turn intervals defined by nerve stapling before it wears off and needs reapplication. Now for ten turns, I stayed in Free Market while the bases built their children's creches. Then I switched to Planned to nerve-staple again, and rushed all the creches with the industry discount... plus Democratic to pop-boom. (Golden Age booming was impossible since I had missed the HGP and was far beyond the b-drone limit, so the booming had no other method besides the classic combination of Democratic + Planned + creche.) I stayed in the Democratic + Planned configuration for the second chunk of ten turns after the initial stapling.

20 turns after the charter repeal, here we are with booming completed for the moment, most bases at size 7. The ones that weren't were constrained by food as the limiting factor. My recent games hadn't had that problem: the Believers' energy park involved farming all the tiles, Gaia used supply crawlers for their 2-food fungus tiles, the Peacekeepers 5CC had many nutrient bonus tiles at the small number of bases, and Morgan didn't even try to boom until the Cloning Vats after plenty of time to build farms.

Now I applied the third round of nerve stapling on my last turn in Planned. Then switched back to Free Market to, same as before, reap the income without spending anything on drone control. And the efficiency of Democratic + Knowledge meant I could run the labs slider as high as 90%. All this drastically improved my research rate, now up to half a tech per turn. Which was about the same as the other games at this stage, after the first round of pop-booming to the early habitation cap.

Another ten turns later, in 2192, I switched back to Planned for one turn again to apply yet another round of nerve stapling. I wasn't quite sure if the game allows that a fourth time in each base; you start to get the message that the drones have built up an immunity, but repeatedly trying to nerve staple turned out to work in every base except one. Maybe Sparta's +Police rating helps that, I'm not sure. Anyway I also took advantage of that one turn of Planned to boom by one size all the bases that had lagged on food earlier, and to rush all the remaining network nodes with the industry discount.

The limitation on booming any higher was food. There are two big food breakpoints in the midgame, tree farms and orbital satellites. But my blind research ended up going everywhere but that. I was only two techs away from tree farms, but the blind research just never turned up Ecological Engineering to get there.

An important source of food was Recycling Tanks. Every base built one right after its creche. Throughout these games, I've always been questioning how worthwhile those are, the 1-1-1 yield always seems just slightly worse than more formers and colony pods. But rec-tanks are at their absolute best when the 1 food immediately results in one more boomed population (between the tanks and one more worked forest), so I'm quite convinced they were the right choice here.

I did not build supply crawlers for food. There just weren't any tiles for them to work for it. At this point in the game, every decent land tile was being worked anyway. All a supply crawler would have done would be bump a laborer into being a specialist instead. That's not worth it, 30 minerals for a specialist yielding only 1 or 2 labs more than the laborer would have. Network nodes were more important to build.

The available source of food that I should have used was rainfall condensors. (Weather Paradigm enables them before reaching Ecological Engineering tech, and I did have Gene Splicing to uncap food production.) But I actually kind of forgot about them early on. I ended up filling in one or two condensors per base towards the end of the pop-boom, but didn't get great use out of them. I should have but didn't plan ahead to arrange one condensor to power several rainy farms, but instead most condensors ended up haphazardly isolated by fungus and forest and rocky tiles. In hindsight, I should have gone all-in on condensors instead of doing 80% forest, since the time horizon to tree farms was so unknown. Well, this is why these games are experimental fun and not trying to be dedicated for speed.

Back to the chronicles of Blind Research. I might be overcommunicating the details about tech acquisition here, but it really feels that's the most key point of most Civ games and particularly SMAC; if you can acquire the technology you need, then all else tends to follow.

I was desperate to advance towards either tree farms or orbital satellites to get food to pop-boom all the way up, but it just wasn't happening. But this is why I chose to stick with double-blind research for this game; normal blind research would let me approximate the usual beeline targets anyway, and would only frustrate me more on the occasions that the right target didn't happen. I was still playing it chill with the double-blind to just take everything as it came.

The blind research went like this, after Adv Military Algorithms:

Foreign research also mattered, quite a bit. I was trying to synchronize my progress with the University and Gaia, who were both researching well next to me. They were each researching at intervals of about ten turns, just good enough for me to keep track of and let them stay around to supply me techs. It turned out that the University and I both researched Cyberethics on the same turn and I couldn't do anything about that duplication. Their research bar showed red next, so I deliberately gave them the Conquer techs of Superconductor, High Energy Chemistry, and Adv Military Algorithms, until their bar turned a color (white) that would indicate something I didn't have.

Bingo, that message means they got Pre-Sentient Algorithms. Of course he wouldn't trade it with that secret project in progress. But also of course I had a probe ready to steal it right away. Also of course the University declared vendetta in response to that. But also of course I had the impact rovers from the earlier wars positioned over here and ready to roll.

I was prepared to go wipe out the University, but to my surprise, after conquering just one base Zakharov asked for a truce and even offered a significant bribe for it. OK, I'll take that and let him live as a research partner, just as long as he keeps supplying me useful techs.

After getting P.S.A. from the University, then my own white-bar research turned up Fusion Power! Like with A.M.A., I had inadvertently picked up all its prerequisites which are typically lower priorities. But Fusion Power was less productive than usual here. Engineer specialists are great, but only if you have some good food source to grow and support them, which I didn't yet, all the population needed to be working the food we could get from forests and farms. And fusion labs are great only when you have the minerals to build them, for which it did take a while for the boreholes to ramp up.

Meanwhile, Gaia also helped me. Now I caught a break when Gaia researched a green Explore tech, which might have been Centauri Empathy but instead finally became my access to Ecological Engineering. I had a probe in place to steal it, but she just traded it the easy way. Finally I could use boreholes; they had been enabled all along by Weather Paradigm, but they'd be useless to work before the mineral yield became uncapped at Ecological Engineering. I now did build and work a couple dozen boreholes for just the minerals before the energy yield also came uncapped.

Although one detail was that Sparta Command was poorly situated for boreholes. Thanks to that elevation peak on the selected tile, half of the base's land was slopes on which boreholes can't be built (that can be fixed, but it takes even more former turns.) And boreholes on the lowlands to the west and north of the base would interrupt that river and lose significant energy production from it. Finally, my formers weren't near Sparta Command and hadn't been for a long time, after improving all its tiles early then moving outwards. So there wouldn't be any runaway super-science-HQ in this game, but there didn't really need to be, boreholes would work just about as well for other bases anyway.

Gaia also researched Centauri Meditation next, and wouldn't trade it because of the Xenoempathy Dome secret project. So I stole that with a probe. Same as with the University, I was prepared to wipe out the faction if necessary, but they signed peace after I took just one base.

At intervals of two turns per tech, my research continued:

I gave Fusion Power to the University since I knew that was the only possible outcome for their current white bar. That bumped their research to red, which turned out to be Superstring Theory. Another weapons tech that wasn't helpful for me at the moment, although at least they easily traded it with no secret project attached.

OK, I did get use out of Superstring Theory here: the Believers on my northwest border declared war, so I built a couple chaos fusion rovers to crack that down. I could have easily stomped through all of Believer territory with them, but really didn't want to bother managing the bases that would be a very marginal gain on research rate.

The University's next tech was white, which I hoped would be Orbital Spaceflight to take by trade or steal, but it was Applied Relativity instead. But then finally at long last in year 2201 I had a yellow research bar that yielded Environmental Economics, to enable tree farms, so I could finally get my cities up to size on food.

Turn the page for the next surprise.

Next >