So you want to play the Missing Colonies of Man, eh? Well, here’s a few basic things you might want to know if you’re just starting out, and I daresay there might be a trick or two in here that even experienced commanders may have missed.
If this is your first-ever game, the Colonies are one of the best choices. They’re one of the easier races to play, and they’re very forgiving if you end up making a few dumb mistakes (which you will; even I do, and I’ve been playing forever). They’re quite powerful even in the end game, so if you play them properly, you’ll have an excellent chance of making it all the way.
The basics of Planets are simple: explore, colonize, expand, build starbases, build ships, and repeat. In the beginning, you’ll need to move fast while staying efficient. There are four races with cloaking ships, three with Hyperspace probes, three with very fast defenses… and you. Your early advantage? You generate free fuel with the Cobol Class Research Cruiser, which isn’t huge compared to these others unless you do it right.
Now, in the beginning you’ve got one neighbor to each side of you, and there’s a good chance you won’t have the slightest clue who they are. You’re in a race with them to grab planets; at the same time, you’ve got to build your early defenses up or you could very well be toast. This is a tough balancing act, and every decision you make might well be the wrong one — but being indecisive will surely kill you, so you’re going to have to make a choice and commit to it, even if it happens to be the wrong one.
Rules Of Thumb
On the bright side, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see anyone strike your homeworld within the first five or six turns (and more often for quite a lot longer), so you’ve got some time. Use it well! Every ship should move every turn. Your starbase should build one useful ship every turn, and when you get a second starbase, that too should start constructing.
The Very First Turn
First things first: Build factories and mineral mines. I usually build just as many factories as the planet can hold, but I like to build fewer mines; the more mines, the less happy my people are and consequently the less taxes I can get out of them.
Then you’ll need to tax your citizens. My suggestion is to set a massive tax on the first turn, around 45%. The important things here are to (1) make sure your population doesn’t drop more than 30 points of happiness and (2) don’t forget to reduce taxes next turn. If there’s even the least chance you might forget, you should instead set taxes to something your citizens can be content with for a long time, say 10%.
You’ll want to send out your Medium Deep Space Freighter to explore; if you’ve never done this before, pick a nearby world (81 LY distance or less) and set Warp 9. Bring Colonists, Supplies and a little cash.
You might consider having your starbase build a Cobol; it’s cheap, has some basic armament, and has more cargo space than a Medium Deep Space Freighter. Better, it never has to stop for fuel. Best of all, it can detect natives on nearby planets by setting the Bio Scan mission. Early in the game, the Cobol is invaluable, so even if you don’t build one first thing, be sure to build one right away — I recommend Transwarps and Mk4 torpedo tubes for your first; be frugal on beam weapons.
The Rest Of The Opening
Early exploration with a MDSF is a pain. Your hold will contain mostly colonists, and you won’t know what’s waiting for you until you get there. You’re unable to beam down cash in small amounts unless you stop and wait, so you’ll have to carry a fair number of supplies. The best you can reasonably expect is to colonize two planets and immediately return. The Cobol, on the other hand, can carry 50 more cargo and it doesn’t have to stop to refuel between planets. These two factors make it practicable to colonize one more world each round trip.
Another advantage that a Cobol has over a MDSF is that it has two engines — and therefore can tow another ship, one that won’t need expensive engines early in the game. Some players like the automatic cash generation available on the Lady Royale; I do myself, early in the game. On later turns, you may find it more profitable to build a Super Transport Freighter to tow behind your Cobols. Bear in mind that a Cobol used for towing cannot simultaneously Bio Scan.
The upshot of this is that, on the third or fourth turn, you may want to remember to build a vessel for your Cobol to tow around. Make a note.
Also: Each new colony, even those too cold or hot for comfort, should end up with at least 50 colonists to start off and at least 101 to 150 in time. (These are magic numbers; remember them. I’ll explain down in the footnotes.*)
We’re also playing in a low mineral environment these days. Early in the game, you’re going to have to save up enough minerals to build a Merlin in order to compensate for this. Go to your starbase and start to build one; figure out the minerals you’ll need for the cheapest possible and write those numbers down — that’s your goal. If you can also afford to put guns on it, so much the better, but since you can tow things with Cobols you can scrimp a bit on engines.
You’ll find the one thing you lack the most for this project is Duranium. Every freighter (and most Cobols) that goes out can snag some off each planet it visits, but that won’t be enough. On the other hand, if you build too many mineral mines on your homeworld, it’ll slow down the growth of your population (by reducing their happiness). The trick here is to keep some ships moving around between the nearby worlds, moving cash and colonists out and minerals back in. The second turn, you might want to build a Large Deep Space Freighter for just that purpose; it can move out and meet your returning MDSF and Cobol with enough colonists that they never actually have to go all the way back to the homeworld — kind of like a bucket brigade.
Other early ships you may want include a Gemini or Saggitarius so you can build a few fighters for home defense; they also double nicely as local freighters. If you’re short on quality native worlds in the immediate neighborhood, you might want a Lady Royale or two; be careful, though, since these require quite a bit of duranium and you’re low on that as it is. Later, you should build more Cobols, and once you’ve got your Merlin, you’re probably ready to start popping out the occasional Virgo, Iron Lady, and Cygnus.
A Bit Later
Planets exist in clusters. Where there’s one, there’s bound to be a couple of others nearby. This is especially true for homeworlds; every homeworld in the game is required to be near at least two or three other planets.
Once your home cluster is ticking along nicely, you’ll want to send ships out to colonize new clusters. Bear in mind that your neighbors may be there already, so use a bit of caution. It’s often useful to send a small (disposable!) ship in first to use the Sensor Sweep mission and make sure you won’t have to fight until you’re ready.
On the other hand, too much caution is worse than too little; sometimes it’s best to rush in blindly and take your chances. Use your own judgment; I can’t play this for you.
The Ship Limit
Somewhere around Turn 30, the number of ships in the game will start approaching the limit, 500. During the time leading up to this, you should have been expanding rapidly, building starbases on any colony world that can support one (and a few extra that can’t). And each of these new bases should have been building ships — useful ones if possible, SDSFs if not. (For more reading, I recommend this article.)
You should be able to see the Limit coming a few turns out if you’re paying attention. Make sure that, by the time the Limit arrives, you’ve got a few Virgos, a couple of Saggits or Geminis for fighter building, several Cobols and at least one Merlin (more is better). You may also want a handful of Cygnuses and Iron Ladies kicking around — good torpedo tubes if possible — and maybe a few freighters and NFCs. The rest of your ship list is pretty useless except in special cases, at least in my opinion; the Patriot, for instance, is pretty useless against anything bigger than a Meteor.
Once the Limit hits, you’ll need to worry about the Queue and Priority Builds — which are beyond the scope of this article. As a general rule of thumb, though, I’ll just mention that you’ll want to build Virgos (and Merlins) when you can do so in the Queue; your Priority Builds should probably all be smaller ships like the Cygnus, Saggit, and Iron Lady.
The End Game
We’ve just skipped over all the tactics and strategies you should be using in the mid-game. Why? Because, first, that’s not what this article is about, and second, it should be different every single game. Otherwise, you’re doing it wrong.
Once you’re at the end game, you’ll either be attacking or dyi– I mean, defending. If you’re attacking, your goal is to capture as many planets as possible as fast as you can without losing your fleet; if you’re on defense, your goal is to keep your planets, destroy the enemy fleet, and somehow pull a reverse out of thin air. Attacking is easier, so we’ll start with that.
The Virgo is your primary weapon here. Of all five supercarriers, it’s one of the most effective against starbases due to its configuration, but even so you’re likely to lose approximately three Virgos for every ten fully-defended starbases you hit — and that’s assuming there’s no enemy ships in orbit. It’s an expensive way to play, but you do need those planets. Personally, if I know in advance that what I’m facing is massively defended starbases with no garrison ships, I prefer to send in an Iron Lady as an initial sacrifice; while it’s unlikely even to scratch the paint on the defending planet, the 24 fighters that it kills are usually enough to let a Virgo survive to finish the job.
Now, if you’re defending, you’ll probably already have your starbases loaded up to the 60/200 point, preferably with large colonies underneath to defend them. (If not, you’ve been doing it wrong.) One method here is to simply let your enemy immolate himself on your fixed defenses for a while and only then come out with your own fleet to sweep up the damaged remnants. This can work; however, in the end game you’re often getting rather low on planets. One way to increase enemy casualties while slowing his advance is to plant a sacrifice ship in advance of some of the defending starbases; usually, an Iron Lady works well against carriers, while a Cygnus does a decent job scratching the paint on invading battleships.
But the bottom line here is that, if you’re in this position in the first place, the game’s almost over for you. Your best bet now is to try diplomacy; if that fails, make him bleed for every inch he captures. Don’t forget to remove your fuel, minerals, and money from the endangered planets — no sense letting the enemy have anything that’s at all useful.
We’re Done Here
Well, that’s about it. You now have the sum total of all my Colonial wisdom… Nah; just kidding. There’s TONS to this game and we’ve only just scratched the surface. Heck, we haven’t even covered fighter minesweeping, and that’s one of the greatest advantages the Colonies have! We also haven’t discussed playing the Colonies in a Campaign setting — and I should just mention that the new Iron Lady Class Command Ship is a marvelous invention.
But I’ve given you enough food for thought; we’ll save all that for another article. Until then: Good hunting!
* The “magic numbers” actually have very simple reasons behind them. 50 clans, for instance, is the lowest number that can be reliably taxed for 1mc every turn (at 10%) without lowering the colony’s happiness; 150 gets you 2mc. For 101, that’s the number that maximizes factories per colonist; 101 colonists permits 101 factories. To permit 102 factories, you need 104 colonists, and so on. Every world is different, mind; on some, you’ll need more colonists so you can collect more native taxes or supplies. The “magic numbers” are useful minimums, but feel free to drop more.