Before you get too excited, this article is about neither sex nor baseball. Keep your shirt on.
In both the early PBP and the modern PQ systems, it’s highly advantageous to construct a second starbase early in the game. Many players believe the best move is to use their homeworld to produce the needed minerals, loading them up on a Large Freighter and shipping the whole “starbase-in-a-box” kit out to the first prime native world they discover. It’s a solid move; it creates a potential source for new vessels early on, generates an advantage in the PBP/PP race, and provides an alternative homeworld in case the first one happens to die early on.
These are all positive results.
The cost, however, is quite high; in my opinion, it’s often too high. Depriving one’s homeworld of valuable minerals during the early exploration (and exploitation) phase of the game does more than delay shipbuilding, and far too often the apparent benefits are greater than the actual.
The Starbase-In-A-Box Gambit
As described above, this tactic involves producing enough minerals on one’s homeworld to produce a starbase on a nearby native planet in the early game, usually around Turn 5 or 6.
To perform the move properly, one must start on the very first turn by maximizing homeworld mineral mines. This permits starship production to continue through the entire process.
While the starting MDSF is out exploring, the player will construct two more exploration Large Freighters, followed by one LDSF dedicated to minerals. These LDSFs will both be used to continue exploration until a perfect starbase world is discovered — ideally either a Humanoid or Ghipsoldal planet with good climate and a massive tax base. Failing that, one could make do with a sufficiently populous Insectoid, Avian, or Bovinoid world; torpedo races may instead prefer a Siliconoid. The odds are about three in four that one or more of these races will exist in the average home cluster.
The moment the proper world is discovered, one of the LDSFs is immediately dispatched to load it with colonists while another is either constructed or moved to the homeworld to carry all the minerals a starbase would need. Given a small amount of luck, the new base will be ready by the start of the sixth turn.
The Down Side
First and foremost, the above gambit depends largely on luck. One game in four, there will be no suitable native within a reasonable distance; in a third of the remaining games, the planet will be climatically unsuitable or will have a poor native government level. In either case, the player’s tax base is going to be sub-par and the best course will be to pursue rapid expansion while simultaneously developing local factories in bulk in order to generate an alternative source of income.
But the mineral mines have already been constructed on the homeworld, which substantially reduces colonist happiness. This decreases new colonist production and tax collection at the very time and place they are most needed.
Put another way: Half the time, the player’s best bet is to not do this gambit, and there’s no way to know that in advance.
But even in those games where this method is practicable, I submit that the new starbase will be relatively useless except as a PBP/PP generator. Local planetary development will be limited by the movement of materials to a single point, so no real mining is likely to happen anywhere other than the homeworld. Most of the time, the new starbase will be over a mineral-poor planet. Further, the large number of Transwarp LDSFs produced in the early game coupled with the expenditure of 340 homeworld Molybdenum on starbase construction will greatly restrict homeworld ship production capacity.
This gambit becomes, therefore, a gamble with a fairly high risk and only a moderate return.
One Alternative: The Merlin Rush
In my Master Class games, I suggest that my players set themselves short-term goals in order to keep their empires moving forward as smoothly as possible at all times. The first goal is early exploration with an intent to spread large numbers of colonists out as quickly and efficiently as possible. In the process, they will hopefully discover and exploit native worlds, but just as importantly, they will fully exploit vacant worlds in the process.
Since this requires massive colonist production at the homeworld, the first goal requires only moderate mining there. I aim for 120-180 mines at most, though I make sure to maximize factories.
The initial MDSF, when it moves forward, can easily collect minerals using the Beam Up mission. These should either be dropped at a solid native planet (with the hope of building an early starbase) or collected for rapid return to the homeworld. In the second instance, Duranium can easily be collected in preference to any other mineral. Likewise, presuming the construction of a couple of other early freighters which do the same, it will be quite simple to collect enough materials to build a Merlin (with substandard engines, alas) by turn 11-13.
This, then, is the second goal.
The new Merlin will be sent to nearby worlds, converting supply stockpiles into starbase materials. Any world with even moderately decent natives should, if properly developed and managed, accumulate well over a thousand supplies before the Merlin can be towed there.
The process can be made more efficient by constructing a cash ferry on turn 4 or 5. The primary purpose of this ship is to move megacredits to new planets, permitting them to build a large number of factories as early as possible. Likewise, since factory-colonist parity exists up to a count of 101, each nearby planet should have at least 101 colonists as soon as is convenient.
The disadvantage of this method as compared to the first is that it’s slow, even cumbersome. The Starbase-In-A-Box gambit permits a second starbase on Turn 6; this makes it unlikely until Turn 13-15. However, it seems very likely that the third starbase will follow shortly upon the second, and that the fourth and fifth will appear soon after. Additionally, the increased colonist count will drastically improve a player’s resilience and financial well-being throughout the early game.
In a highly competitive game — a championship, perhaps, or some of the Senior Officers settings — this move as stated will be far too slow. Instead, I would advise in those cases only the change of building a far higher number of mineral mines on the homeworld.
The Headshot: Classic Homeworld Rush
As an alternative to either tactic, some players like to create an all-or-nothing early drive against their neighbors. If, for instance, one is playing a Lizard, one can send three Mk4/TW LCCs to go, cloaked, to fight an enemy homeworld. They may arrive as early as Turn 9 or 10, and unless the homeworld is well defended (Evil Empire has an advantage there), it will likely fall and the defending player will be unable to recover. Simple variations on this gambit exist for Fascists, Birds, Privateers, Robots, Crystals, and Rebels, and it’s quite possible for even the larger, slower races to accomplish this sort of thing in only a slightly longer time. The goal, of course, is to build a productive starbase on your opponent’s homeworld — and that’s your second base.
Of course, the massive expenditure of resources required to perform any of these maneuvers is prohibitive; then too, what happens if your neighbor is doing the same to you, and you strike each other at the same moment?
The important thing here is to leave enough resources behind (in terms of freighter capacity as well as minerals) to continue development while the fleet is enroute. It’s also vital to send colonists along with the strike fleet so the planets up to or even beyond the halfway mark can be explored and exploitation can begin.
For the purpose of this guide, however, we’re mostly concerned not with making “The Headshot” happen but instead preparing to face it within the context of the first two alternative gambits.
The “Starbase-In-A-Box” method provides a solid defense against “The Headshot”, as it will have a second starbase built as well as a solid exploration ring. In and of itself, it’s probably not enough, and the player would be well-advised to produce a medium garrison ship (with torpedoes) to assist in defense.
The “Merlin Rush”, on the other hand, will likely leave a player vulnerable to “The Headshot”. This can be countered by investing heavily in planetary Defense Posts, but even here it’s advisable to maintain a garrison of sorts. The concentration of a player’s entire wealth at his homeworld makes the “Merlin Rush” moderately risky.
It deserves emphasis that the Evil Empire has a tremendous defensive advantage in these cases due to their “free fighter” production. It would be likewise a simple matter to defend Colonies, Rebels, or Robots in the same fashion. Crystals could lay some web fields, but anyone can lay minefields. The important thing to note is that some defense probably ought to be attempted.
The Redshirt Defense
This doesn’t really deserve its own section, but it’s worth mentioning.
As any self-respecting Star Trek fan knows, putting on a red shirt and beaming down with Kirk is a good way to die. Only two men managed to survive being a Redshirt: Chief Engineer Scott and a guy named Leslie. (Leslie was promoted to run the transporters as a result.)
In defending against “The Headshot”, one thing to remember is that any early strike will involve cloaked torpedo ships, which will only have a very limited amount of ammunition. The torpedoes of the first ship in line can be reduced by interposing a number of small unarmed vessels, usually SDSFs but here called Redshirts, in the orbit of one’s homeworld. Placing a defensive garrison torpedo ship in combat order behind two or three of these will give it a tremendous advantage. Additionally, the number of Redshirts can sometimes be increased by one by setting the homeworld’s starbase mission to Refuel.
The Bottom Line
In any situation complex enough that no person has all the data, there can be no single best move. Planets is chaotic enough to qualify. Nevertheless, any of the three opening gambits shown above seems superior to an opening with no set goal, no plan but to blithely explore and expand.
Whatever you choose, I advise you keep that second base in mind. And… keep your shirt on.