Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri - The Lord's Believers

Back home, I was continuing domestic development as well. Much of this happened at the same time as the wars, but it's easier to follow the threads separately.

First order of business: repeal the U.N. Charter and start nerve stapling. I had one missing-tech step on the beeline to Applied Relativity that couldn't be filled by any available prerequisite, so diverted to Advanced Military Algorithms instead to get this done. This is why I wanted Lal's submissive vote. Morgan also came in on my side for a steep but manageable price. Gaia refused (this was just before our war.) Zakharov and Santiago each wanted similarly exorbitant prices. I had to hope that someone would vote my way anyway, but Santiago and Yang both did.

One minor mistake: I carelessly stapled the captured U.N. bases and didn't realize it until a few turns later, and the original owner still counts that as an atrocity against their people, so Lal broke out of the submissive pact. I intentionally stapled the Hive bases since I didn't care about him and would shortly eliminate him anyway (he never offered a surrender pact.) But I decided to take care of the Gaian bases without stapling them, which meant they needed police units and rec commons and the Virtual World. That wasn't really worth the hassle, I should have just eliminated Gaia and stapled the bases.

With stapling in place, I diverted from Applied Relativity once more, in order to do Planetary Economics first, for the Ascetic Virtues secret project, to raise the habitation limits to 9. This was contingent on the charter repeal for nerve stapling; I couldn't manage any more drones without that, I was already riding 30% or 40% on the psych slider. But once we applied the stapling, then I knew I could go for this boom.

So now I bounced my economic SE setting around a lot. First I switched into Planned for one turn to staple (can't in Free Market's police penalty), and also took advantage of that one turn to boom a few of the undersized newly conquered bases. Then back to Free Market. Then I finished the Ascetic Virtues, but now the booming couldn't be done with Golden Ages, because nerve stapling cancels talents as well as drones. So again for two turns I flipped economics, to do the boom by the classic way of Planned + Democratic + creche, then back to Free Market yet again.

Now my cities were building... not much of anything. Their mineral productivity was as little as 4 or 5 per turn, after all that former support, and without any mineral improvements on tiles; forests were by now mostly replaced with energy park components. But I was making a lot of cash, particularly during the turns in Planned where the inefficiency unbalancing penalty made me keep the sliders at 50-50. I had the bases limping along building network nodes, and then rushed a batch of them during one of the turns I spent in Planned's industry bonus.

Then most bases started building hab complexes. I nicely interleaved multiple threads together well here. Ten turns after the first nerve stapling, I had to switch out of Free Market again to apply the second round. That put me in Planned, where I could use the industry discount to buy the hab complexes, then stay there for several turns to boom everything up to the max size 16.

And I found the food for this boom easier to come by than I'd expected, even without orbital satellites yet. The energy gridiron was providing a surprisingly ample amount of food, with 2 from each moist farmed tile or 3 from rainy, plus nutrient bonuses here and there. But then the real solution was condensors, which paid off quite a bit more than usual. Often a condensor affects only its own tile because all the rest are forest or boreholes... but here I could place one condensor to extend its moisture into the range of several bases, racking up 5 to 8 food total.

Here's a look at my HQ with its energy grid fully developed. (That one empty square just got eco-damaged.) And the Supercollider, the first of the labs doubler projects. Not yet as spectacular as the energy park in the U.N. game, but also further from overflow truncation.

I had a few supply crawlers working for this base (about 4), but it wasn't right to go crazy with them, as any tile they worked for energy would be stolen from another base that wanted to work it for the food. Also I couldn't find minerals to build the crawlers! As mentioned, my other bases really couldn't build much, and the HQ also became tied up with building supply rovers as upgrade shells for each of the projects.

Speaking of projects, one toy I got to play with was the Xenoempathy Dome, with the effects as shown there. Usually I never get to Centauri Meditation tech until much too late to matter, since it's not on any important beelines until Secrets of AC. But this time Gaia had researched that tech for me to steal. So I got to do the X-Dome, which nicely smoothed out the work to develop the energy park onto fungus tiles.

And another fun aside. This was the isolated base that the U.N. had ceded to me upon demand. It developed nicely on its own, except for this moment when it made a mess of eco-damage and I didn't have any rover here to deal with it. Yikes... but my solution was to upgrade the former the base had just built to an armored Trance model to defend! I totally didn't do this just to have a unit named Trance Formers, no not at all, really.

Anyway, here is the big huge overview showing my spectacular energy park.

That's what I wanted.

Although I have to say the results were somewhat less spectacular than I had hoped. The matrix only really got fully completed for the six or so bases closest to the HQ. More of the bases looked like this one here. It's on the fringe of the main grid, partially filled with solars and mirrors, but not really all the way. It wasn't for failing to push hard enough on formers - there aren't minerals to build or support any more. (My tech path never went to clean reactors, maybe should have.)

The problem with this idea is that the energy park only really works on half of the squares, the solars. Mirrors aren't really worth working, just 2 or 3 energy at low altitude. I never spent former turns on raising terrain, since they always had more solars and mirrors to build outwards rather than upwards. For a base like this, which was most of them, the energy park never really became any more productive than boreholes would have been. The other problem is the interruptions to the matrix: bases themselves, plus the occasional condensor and sensor array, and also eco-damage destructions. Each solar collector missing for one of those reasons costs 6+ energy, and so does each missing mirror for its lack of contribution to its adjacent solars.

The other problem is mineral production. My bases were all producing as little as 5 net minerals after supporting their formers. It took forever to build any research multipliers; I rushed network nodes a while ago, but most of them just barely limped along to the research hospital by the end of the game. And same as in the Morgan game, the low mineral production was also a headache in building the assorted utility stuff like crawler shells for projects, empath rovers, prototypes for higher armors. And I got virtually nothing out of the Stockpile bug.

Still, I wasn't doing badly at all. This is right after building the Theory of Everything to complete the labs quadrupling at New Jerusalem. That got my research to one tech per turn, actually still even twice what the Hive game had at this same date. (I amusingly had my Believers doing basically everything that Miriam complains about in the quotes.)

This is also after getting out of Planned economics for good, so I could have the efficiency to run a high labs slider. Leaving Planned meant the end of pop-booming for now, even though the bases didn't quite reach the max of size 16. But they were now truly out of food and couldn't get any higher; we'd finish off the last few population points later with orbital food and the Cloning Vats. To cover it analytically: Was one more turn of pop-booming worth it? The differential between Planned and a more efficient option would be about 700 labs, to add about 10 population, assume that's all labs specialists at 3/turn with +100% multipliers. That's 60 labs/turn, so over 10 turns to pay back the sacrifice... that was a bit too long, so yes switch now.

Which alternative to Planned? It turned out that Free Market and Green were just about equally productive overall. I would shortly have fusion engineer specialists for enough income to cover all expenses to run 100% labs slider. Free Market would mean +2 overall Efficiency rating, meaning a small unbalancing penalty that just about exactly matched its added yield, compared to Green at +4 with no penalty. So when Free Market and Green are equal, and Green's growth penalty doesn't matter because the bases are already up to size, then of course Green is better for the +Planet convenience and also the ability to use police units in non-stapled bases.

But now I knew I'd be stuck at this rate for a while thanks to overflow limitations, same as in the U.N. game. When one base produces more than half of your overall labs, it is not possible to achieve any research pace fractionally between 1 and 2 techs per turn. The big base completes one tech, but then if all the non-HQ bases combined can't complete another, then the big base does that tech on the following turn thus wasting any overflow.

Fusion Power came next, but that was only a minor waypoint this time, without the minerals to build fusion labs. The home stretch began with the real beeline to Digital Sentience, same as in the Gaia game, and this time with a chunk of the prerequisites up to Monopole Magnets already taken care of. I knew Cybernetic Future Society would be my only ticket to breaking past the one tech per turn overflow barrier.

I did sidetrack just slightly on the way to Digital Sentience. There was one unpluggable missing-tech hole, so I went for Orbital Spaceflight to toss up a few food satellites. Then I intentionally diverted one more tech to Advanced Spaceflight, so the council could do the solar shade to counteract a recently-triggered sea level rise. (I really didn't want to start losing energy-matrix components to the "washing" effect.) Also bought a few energy satellites, though didn't have the minerals to build any or the cash to rush more than a few.

Cybernetic is always huge, but it's even particularly bigger for the Believers than any other faction. For most factions running Knowledge at this point, Cybernetic boosts research from 120% to 140% of normal, a relative gain of one-sixth. For the Believers, who can't run Knowledge and have the inherent penalty, Cybernetic goes from 80% of normal up to 100%, a relative gain of one-fourth, considerably more.

And on top of that, Cybernetic reaches paradigm efficiency without needing Green, so we can go back to Free Market's added energy yield too. I was surprised to realize that combination hadn't happened yet in this series of games: Hive and Gaia can't make use of Free Market; the U.N. got brickwalled by overflow truncation; and Morgan had +2 economy by way of Wealth alone. With this combination plus some research hospitals finally completing, I now did get up to two techs per turn; New Jerusalem could complete one all by itself and then the other bases also all added up to another tech. I never got beyond that; the tech costs increased as fast as I could keep building more matrix components, and also 90% labs slider was as high as I could manage without losing money.

It was a smooth coast to the end from here with nothing of note happening. The last significant tech goals were Biomachinery for the Cloning Vats which did add some population and specialists to the conquered bases, and then of course Secrets of Alpha Centauri for Transcend specialists. At that point I stopped commanding the formers every turn and just clicked through to the end. The window of nerve stapling ran out, so I had to do something for happiness, and resorted to simply going 10% psych slider; often happiness at this point is managed entirely through Transcend specialists, but my bases didn't quite support enough of those with few food satellites.

One last detail: I came up short of money to do the crawler upgrades for the Voice and Ascent secret projects. Got that by scrapping the hab complexes in every base. (I could have done this much sooner in bases that had reached the size cap; that's a trick I forgot about in each of these games.)

The timing came out nicely sharp in the end. I had just enough labs to complete the last two techs on the last turn just ahead of those last two bases in upkeep processing order. So as usual, I pre-filled the production boxes with 600 and 2000 minerals worth of upgraded crawlers, then used F4 to jump ahead during the production phase to assign and complete the Voice and Ascent projects in order.

Hah, this was only the second time I ever finished a Believers game. Victory came in year 2218, actually just one turn slower than Gaia, and actually a better research performance considering this needed to overwhelm the faction's penalty. Turns out that the research performance stayed strong anyway even with underwhelming mineral production and science multiplier facilities. This felt a lot like some of my less impressive Civ 5 speed runs, where city infrastructure would lag (aqueducts, workshops) and it felt like I was barely cobbling things together... but the finish date was still good as long as the labs numbers stayed up. Eyes on the prize, only one of the many currencies ultimately matters.

I'm not saying this will be my last report here...