Breaking out onto a new page here, as now I encountered quite an action-packed sequence of events. Not in terms of insta-conquering like I'd done in the other games, but in that I had to react to a lot of unexpected twists.
The first happening was that Gaia completed the Human Genome Project unusually early, on just turn 48. (In SMAC, you get these notifications even if you haven't met the faction.) Usually it takes around 60 turns for any AI to start completing its first projects. I could live without the HGP here, since it matters a lot more when you're expanding wide horizontally; I might have wanted it later on but it was a low priority. I was lucky this was the HGP and not the Weather Paradigm.
Immediately after that, so that I knew it would be the same Gaian base, they also started the Empath Guild. That's quite an interesting development. I was going to aim for that myself later on. You may have noticed that I had no coastal bases, so no way of building ships to go out and find the other factions. The Empath Guild is the backdoor shortcut: it gives contact with all factions immediately. However, you don't really have to build it yourself. Usually the owner of the Empath Guild will use it to convene the Planetary Council, which so doing automatically gives all factions contacts with all others. I hoped that would happen here, that Gaia would take care of that for me.
Holy crap, the Gaians finished that whole project in just ten turns! Man, that must be a monster base out there. And immediately after this, the Gaians also started the Weather Paradigm, so that's why I knew I had to hurry up on that one.
Gaia did indeed call the Council right away. I had enough to vote myself in, and actually didn't even need the UN faction special ability of double council votes. From the AI's point of view, this is actually rather a mistake; the AIs don't know how to buy council votes from each other, so anybody calling the council this early won't have the relationships to get much of any vote support from anyone else, as you see with all those abstentions.
But the important part of the council convention is being granted full contact with everyone, plus the governorship gives infiltration on top of that. Let's make the rounds.
I started with a peek at the University, who is indeed no less than six techs ahead of me in the military department (the (*) icon.) Tons of bait that I'll catch up on eventually with probe steals, but only after I can somehow deal with a hot vendetta in response.
My next chat was with Morgan. This was quite productive, as he approved of my Free Market economy. He traded me Doctrine Mobility (for my map in exchange, not even anything real to give up; the AIs will do that to cut you a break when they think the human player is behind on tech.) Then he offered a treaty which I accepted. Then I asked for a Pact as well:
And ran into this hilarious bug, that I've heard of but now finally saw firsthand: Morgan asked for NEGATIVE 50 credits! I took it, and did indeed get the negative cost added as positive cash.
Morgan then declined any more trading for this reason, which surprised me, I haven't (at least recently) seen the AI decline a trade specifically because of a secret project. (His "approaching completion" wasn't true at all, infiltration showed that the base was 30+ turns away.)
I spent Morgan's negative profit on this tech from Sparta. This might have been overpaying, for a tech I didn't need immediately, only as a prerequisite down the road... but I took it because the Doctrine Mobility trade had shifted the missing-tech modulus and was going to cause problems on my current beeline unless I also acquired some other tech somehow.
I then called up Morgan again to ask for a possibility that I'd forgotten the first time, an energy loan that he delivered. That was huge, because I spent it on this:
Stole that nasty University unit with a shockingly cheap bribe! Zakharov declared vendetta in response, but that single stroke made me fully ready to deal with the fight. I could build another gatling unit at home before any other University attacker would come near. The stolen unit immediately turned around and attacked the Climactic Research base next to it to kill its defender. I also bribed the other University unit there (south of the gatling, an ordinary 1-2-1) to enter and capture the base.
This temporarily takes me out of the five-city-challenge restriction. Classically, the variant allows this, as long as you get rid of the surplus base as soon as you can. SMAC has no option to raze, and obliterating is an atrocity, but you can peacefully get rid of a base by building a colony pod at size 1, so that's what I did here. I worked the mineral tile to do that. Sometimes the 5CC variant is written that you must turn all citizens into doctors in order to get the minimum benefit from the extra base -- but here I felt it was actually more in the spirit to get the colony pod done as soon as possible. I deleted the pod unit itself also.
Two turns later I bribed another unit, this time a 5-1-2 gatling rover. That added up to more than enough to completely turn the tide and conquer the next two nearest University bases shown in that picture. I disbanded each with a colony pod as before.
Before capturing that first base, I alertly first hit it with a probe for a tech steal. And jackpot, got Superconductor! OK, I don't need the tech itself with the captured gatling weapon available in the workshop, but this still skips ahead by like four prerequisites!
Then I parlayed Superconductor into this amazing trade from Morgan! Just as I finished research on Industrial Automation to start Ecological Engineering, Morgan offered the latter in trade! I hadn't even seen him researching it; I think Gaia did and traded it to him. Awesome, that jumped me ahead by five turns on my current real beeline goal. I realized later what happened here: once I finished Industrial Automation, Morgan no longer had to embargo his secret-project tech, so became open to trading again. That explains why I don't often see the earlier message, it only comes up if the AI has the secret-project tech but you lack it, and I don't often lack techs.
I kept hitting the University with several more probes for tech steals. The target I wanted was Advanced Military Algorithms, which would be the other half of skipping quite a few prerequisites on the way up to Fusion Power. Unfortunately, this time I wasn't quite so lucky: my probes got Optical Computers, then Nonlinear Mathematics, then Polymorphic Software, all of which did nothing. Finally on the fourth shot I did get A.M.A., though by then I'd filled in most of the skipped prerequisites anyway. I did happen to get A.M.A. just in time for a temporary SE swap to Power to inflate crawler value towards the Weather Paradigm.
I also picked up Secrets of the Human Brain and Centauri Empathy in trades from Gaia, completing my chronicle of this flood of techs, ten by trade or steal in the span of less than five turns.
There was also this amusing sequence going on. For each of those techs I stole, I kept getting offers from Morgan to trade it for a map of a new faction's territory. This is somewhat odd in the diplomatic interface - you can't request a map, you can only get such a deal when the AI offers it. But every time I called up Morgan, he kept offering a new map. First he showed me Believer territory, then Sparta, then the Hive. But what I really needed was Gaia's map, to get a look at the base that was cranking out all those secret projects. Finally on the fourth map trade here, Morgan finally offered the one I needed.
Surprisingly, that base didn't turn out to be all that special. Only one nutrient and one mineral bonus. It's just well-built and managed, with plenty of terraforming, plus recycling tanks and rec commons, and probably most importantly not crippling itself with mineral support. Still doesn't seem like quite enough to build both the HGP and Empath Guild in about ten turns each, but I guess the AI discounts for difficulty and your dominance ranking did add up to enough.
Nothing on this page had much of anything to do with my overall faction development, just events I wanted to chronicle for how much happened with the AIs in a short time. Now that I'd caught up on all their technologies and taken care of the University border fight, we'll resume our five-city challenge.