Most wars are won or lost long before the fighting starts. This series concentrates only on those critical few turns leading up to the Ship Limit as a key to achieving long-term goals necessary for victory.
The Crystals have one of the worst ship lists in the Echo Cluster. They share the record for weakest battleship (the Diamond Flame) with the Fascists, but they do supplement that with an inexpensive third-rate fleet carrier. A wide variety of minelayers, tenders, scoopers, sweepers, and tow ships all contribute to the primary Crystalline mission of covering the Cluster in a continuous field of vibrant Web.
Crystal fleets lose in standard fleet battles against equal numbers. Their preferred battlefield lies elsewhere: entrapping enemy vessels and overextended fleets, draining them of fuel, and using them against their own builders. The Crystals are unmatched at the art of spatial control, and the threat of unexpected web fields is enough to make even the hardest-driving commanders sweat bullets.
Unfortunately, the recent Crystal nerf restricts the use of their web technology on behalf of other factions. In a race with a stronger or at least broader ship list, this would not be a critical deficit. However, the Crystals have very few ships worth trading until they can capture those of another, and very few diplomatic partners are willing to work on spec. This is a truly crippling disadvantage.
For Crystal commanders to be effective late in the war, they must seize a massive advantage in the opening turns. Before the Ship Limit hits, they should have constructed three or four alchemy ships, several freighters, a large number of low-numbered scoop ships alongside several Emeralds and Rubies, and as many heavy warships as practicable, all while generating multiple starbases which they must use to clog the Queue. For the Crystal to have a fighting chance, the Ship Limit should be reached before Turn 35.
Rules Of Expansion:
Although one can’t manufacture good natives out of thin air, they aren’t the only income available. Every commander should start by building 100+ factories at each neighboring world, of which there will be at least three. The price of a factory is repaid after four turns of production, so it’s a foolish general indeed who fails to build the maximum as soon as practicable — including on their own homeworld.
The Crystals are at a significant disadvantage in terms of colonist growth, since only desert habitats are ideal and lesser temperatures provide a linear rather than gradual decrease in production. Because of this, the homeworld is of exceptional value, and raising the temperature on other worlds is required for long-term expansion. A Crystal commander must therefore be cautious to balance colonist growth, particularly on their homeworld, with tax requirements.
The scattered nature of Crystalline income will demand dedicated vessels on a regular route to collect and deliver supplies (converted to MegaCredits) to your early starbases. The only existing hull that can travel indefinitely at high speeds without burning fuel is the Neutronic Fuel Carrier; you’ll want at least one early on and more as things progress — though to be sure they can be built easily with banked PBP, particularly immediately after the Ship Limit.
Because you rely on top-level engines for your NFCs and freighters, you’ll want to seek out a nearby Ghipsoldal world for early production. A rather more distant Humanoid starbase can be invaluable for the construction of pre-Limit alchemy ships. In Classic, one might profitably send engines between them on recyclable NFCs, particularly as Diamond Flames only need two engines. Finally, even low-tech engines are no real hindrance to dedicated lightweight scoop ships like the Opal and Sky Garnet, so long as the torpedo tubes are a reasonable tech level.
(Remember that in Classic, one can bank a maximum of 20 PBP before the Limit.)
One final note: Many commanders waste their early funds on nonessentials, such as excessive mines on mineral-poor worlds and Defense Posts where they’re not needed. While a degree of secrecy ought to be maintained by concealing your expansion from your neighbors, if you move with sufficient celerity, you ought to be able to both claim territory and land a powerful early strike before you are detected even without resorting to such expedients.
- Economic: Your best bet for early success is rapid expansion in every direction. Therefore, using your initial freighter as a scout, one of your next two builds should be a Large Deep Space Freighter. If your first scout wasn’t your guaranteed ‘good’ natives, the first LDSF should be sent out to one of the others; otherwise, it can drop a large number of colonists where they can do the most good: Earning you taxes.
LDSFs should be sent out with at least 100 Supplies and 300 MC, enough to instantly construct 100 Factories on the target planet. 200/600 is often more to the point (when not playing Classic); the freighter can circle back by way of the first world colonized by the Medium and drop 100 instant factories there before heading home. Then, the first to return can go back out with an instant Starbase-In-A-Box kit so as to start generating PBP at the earliest possible convenience — or, perhaps better still, Opals.
- Headshot: It is within the capacity of an aggressive Crystal commander to land a deadly headshot against a vulnerable neighbor in the form of a massive web field. The attacking vessel, either an Emerald or Ruby, can travel outward as a colonizer; torpedoes can be laid back at the homeworld and scooped in order to provide a long development window.
A truly ambitious Crystal might construct these vessels on turns 3 and 4, sending one in each direction. The most effective use would be diplomatic: Most races would prefer to pay a forfeit in exchange for a long-term alliance instead of spending a dozen turns with their homeworlds buried under overlapping webs.
- Queue Dominance: There are two races which win exclusively through control of more ship slots than any other. These are the Crystals and Privateers. To a lesser extent, they share this goal with all five other torpedo races. Early diplomatic agreements with the others can result in an extremely early Ship Limit, which will, first, strongly limit the number of heavy carriers and battleships in the game, and second, will make it unlikely that any race will be able to construct the massive numbers of Heavy Phasers required to properly resist encroaching web fields.
Remember the initial goals: three to four alchemy ships, several freighters, low-numbered scoopers, multiple minelayers, and as many combat-effective battleships and carriers as practicable. The first Merlin is almost a simple matter if one hoards Duranium and hauls it back on empty freighters, but acquiring enough cash for torpedo and engine tech in order to build combat-worthy Diamond Flames early on will be extremely difficult.
Clogging the ship queue is of vital importance. In Classic, one can spam SDSFs at secondary starbases, but either there or in Standard, setting up a Ghipsoldal freighter factory and a Humanoid base to produce the remaining low-tech alchemy ships is of vital importance. Most of the minerals will be too far from the homeworld for all construction to take place there, even if one could build multiple ships per base per turn — which one can’t.
It’s possible to profitably construct lightweight scoopers and tenders with low-grade engines at secondary bases, and in tight-knit clusters it’s perfectly reasonable to use freighters with a max speed of Warp 7. For the most part, though, it will be necessary to overtax natives, tax outgoing Colonists, and above all be extremely lucky in order to survive the opening phase of the war.
The Crystals are perhaps the most difficult race to manage, much less win with. One must begin with a highly aggressive expansion program, and attaining vast income sources is of vital importance.
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