Chapter 4:Exploration and Expansion

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In this chapter

You've created your race, tested it, and have determined that it’s perfect. Now it's time to play a real game! You start out on your homeworld with a few ships and (at best) knowledge of a few nearby planets. The game tells you that your people are ready to leave the nest… Are you?

The information in this chapter applies both to testbeds and real games.


It's time to expand your empire! Unless you've chosen to be immune to Gravity, Temperature, and Radiation, you're going to have to find out what the universe has to offer before you send your colonists away. Some worlds will be too big, others too hot, and still others will have flesh-searing radiation. Before you send your colonists out to brave the unknown, why not make it known? This is the job of your intrepid explorers, otherwise known as your scouts.

fig 4.1
Your empire in the year 2400.
All game snapshots in this chapter, unless otherwise specified, are taken in 'Planet Value' mode.

When you start your first turn, you'll see your interstellar neighborhood for the first time. Depending on your initial scanning abilities (as indicated by the colored circles around your homeworld), you will know either nothing or little about the nearby star systems. Never fear, your scouts are fueled up and ready to cross the universe to find your first claims.

Send Out Your Scouts

Your homeworld will start with some level of non-penetrating scanners (represented by the red circle), which cannot determine planetary attributes (or starbases or ships in orbit) for those remote worlds. The only way to determine the values of those planets is to send a ship (with a scanner) to orbit each planet.

If you happen to start the game with penetrating scanners then ships need only to travel close enough to a system that it falls within penetrating scanner range to learn the planetary attributes. Later on, if your home system has penetrating scanners and a neighboring system falls within range, its attributes will appear and be current from year to year. The effective area of penetrating scanners appears in yellow in the Scanner Pane when the Scanner Coverage Overlay (CTRL+7) is turned on.

fig 4.2
Beginning exploration with penetrating scanners.

If you don't have penetrating scanners on your ships, then you’ll need to visit every system. In the beginning of the game, you usually get one or two ships that aren't exactly scouts (sometimes you get a warship, sometimes a transport, sometimes both) but have enough scanning power to determine a planet's composition while in orbit. It is a good idea early in the game to use these ships as scouts until you know the neighborhood. For now, all ships with scanners will be referred to as 'scouts' even though they may be officially classified as destroyers or freighters.

In Figure 4.2, every ship with a scanner (this race, Jack of all Trades, starts with four) has been given a route to nearby systems, targeting as many of the nearby worlds as possible. Although a race with no penetrating scanners has to have a scout visit each of these worlds nearby in order to determine its planetary attributes, what will happen next year with penetrating scanners?

fig 4.3
The scouts, one year from home.

In this example, one scout has discovered a world, and another using penetrating scanners has discovered two more worlds, even before any worlds have even been reached! Races with penetrating scanners can take shortcuts through opportunities like these, deleting waypoints for planets that have already been scanned.

Notice that one of our 'scouts' is without a yellow circle. What's wrong? Nothing, he just doesn't have a penetrating scanner like the other three scouts. He'll still be able to see planetary attributes once he's in orbit of a planet, and non-penetrating scanners are the default for most Primary Racial Traits. Actually, each of these ships has a red circle around it which extends beyond the yellow circle; it just can't be seen due to each ship still being within range of the homeworld's own, more powerful, non-penetrating planetary scanner.

As you can see in Figure 4.4, the first waypoint for uppermost scout was deleted and the scout is now headed toward his second waypoint, since the planetary attributes for his original target have already been discovered. The left- and right-most scouts could now do the same.

fig 4.4
The scouts, two years from home.

In short, direct your scouts to the planets closest to your homeworld as quickly as possible. Once your scouts start exploring planets, you will next need to determine what use those new worlds will be to your future empire.

Read the Map

There are several things about the last map that make it more interesting than the plain map you see in the beginning of the game. First, (in Planet Value mode), the scanner shows red, green, and yellow worlds. Red worlds are so uninhabitable that you don’t currently (and might not ever) possess the technology to terraform them into submission. If you plan on using remote mining to increase your mineral supply, target these worlds with your remote mining fleets.

Yellow worlds are currently inhospitable to your race, but can be terraformed to become habitable using your current technology. As your Terraforming technology improves, you’ll see some of those red worlds turn yellow (in Planet Value mode), which means you possess the means to make them at least marginally inhabitable. The larger the yellow world, the nicer it'll be after terraforming (conversely, the larger the red world, the more hopeless its prospects).

The other two worlds in our map are green, meaning that your people can live on them quite happily without Terraforming. The circles are smaller than your homeworld, indicating that Terraforming would increase the habitability value of these worlds to your race. This early in the game, though, you should set aside Terraforming, and think about expansion. You need to find worlds that are ready for your people to inhabit, and these two green worlds are your best bets.

Most games start with at least one yellow world within a few years travel of home world.


Let's get the lead out and load those colonists in the wagons.

Choose Worlds with the Most Potential

Let's take a closer look at those two green worlds. Would anything make them undesirable? Here are their ratings:

fig 4.4
Example "green" worlds.

Both worlds contain a reasonable amount of Germanium, providing plenty of building materials for factories. The first world is low in Ironium, which could cause some big problems later on, when you need to build starbases and ships. It is also low in Boranium, which probably won't prove to be much of a problem.

More important than mineral content are the current and potential habitability ratings. One world has a value of only 16%, but can be terraformed up to 25% given your current technology. The other world is already at 29%, and can be Terraformed to 39%. Because the latter world also has a high Ironium content, it is much more desirable as a colony.

If you colonize the Ironium-poor world later on, you‘ll have to consider how to get Ironium to it when the time comes for that world to build its own fleets. Perhaps this world lies near a red (uninhabitable) world that you could remote mine. Ironium could also be shipped in from your homeworld. Watch out though: don't rely heavily on your homeworld to supply your fledgling colonies with minerals. Colonies need to fend for themselves as much as possible, leaving minerals on your homeworld for the production of more scouts, colonizers, and warships, all of which require Ironium. Your best bet: is to find nearby red worlds to remote mine.

Determine the Colony Size

It's obvious that the second world (with its higher value and Ironium content) is the more desirable world, and you have decided to colonize it first. So, how many people should you send to this world?

As a general rule, you should send as many people as you can afford. While this sounds simple, there are many things to consider:

  • Early in the game, try to avoid moving people from a world if it will cut into the planet's ability to run its existing factories. Otherwise, these factories will sit idle until until your population is once again large enough to run them. Later in the game, you may change you mind and decide to leave some of those factories idle for a few years in order to gain more resources in the long term. For example, if you're mounting a huge expansion effort later in the game, pulling colonists from many planets, you'll initially see a huge drop in resources for a few years. However, because you've decreased the population capacity of those worlds, they'll actually repopulate at a faster rate (unless they were already under 25% capacity). With the new planets coming up to speed, you'll actually increase both resources and factory production at a higher rate than if you'd waited to expand until after your resources exceeded your factory production.
  • During early expansion, try to keep the population of your homeworld between 25% and 40% of full capacity (normally 1,000,000). Above 25% capacity, population growth rate starts to decline. This means that, all things being equal, the population above 25% would reproduce faster on a world at less than 25% population capacity. However, population growth rate is a combination of the current population size and the planet’s habitability value. On a world rated at 50% your people will grow only half as fast as on your homeworld (where the value is 100%). So the recommendation here is to allow your homeworld to grow a little beyond 25% capacity before you start any serious migration efforts, unless you discover a rich world (with a habitability value of greater than 80%) that's begging to be settled. This will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter 6.
    You can learn the capacity of all of your worlds by checking the planet report with F3.
  • A world with a low habitability value (40% or less) and good mineral concentrations will never produce a large population on its own. These worlds should be grown to the 25% population capacity, if possible, to create and support thriving and necessary mining industries. These worlds typically have a low priority early in the game.
    Don't forget that colonist growth on higher value worlds is more important early in the game.
  • On the other hand, a highly inhabitable world (80% or greater value) with poor minerals should be given enough colonists to reach 25% population capacity, then given enough minerals to build a starbase or a space dock. This type of world can be referred to as a breeder world, which has the sole purpose of creating colonists to seed other systems at the maximum rate possible. Two important tasks for a breeder world are the application of Terraforming to increase colonist reproduction, and the building of mines so the world has enough raw material to produce colonizers and transports. These worlds should be considered a high priority.
  • A world with both high habitability and good minerals will eventually become one of your production centers, where you will be able to build your war fleets and other ships. At first, these worlds serve the same purpose as the breeder. Later on, when all nearby worlds are up to speed, they should be filled with people in order to mine at an increased rate. These worlds should have the highest priority on your list.
  • Worlds with poor habitability values and low mineral concentrations should be put off until all other worlds are colonized. In a large multi-player game, it may be a good idea to establish very small colonies on these worlds just to stake your claim; many races will not want to anger their neighbors by invading a populated world (but also keeping in mind that invading a weak neighboring planet is an easy way to gain tech early in the game). After this initial small investment, however, the world should be left to its own until all the better worlds are taken care of. In any case, these worlds should have the lowest priority.

Design Colonizers

The colonizer you start with is small, and fast, with a long range. However, sending 2500 people halfway across the universe to colonize a planet is not a good expansion strategy.

The two most important aspects of a good empire are Compactness and Homogeneity. A Compact empire uses every world within its borders, or at the very least protects those it cannot use. A Homogeneous empire shares resources and minerals between worlds, making each world as productive as possible. Sending a small colonizer to a far off world goes against both of these ideas: your initial colony will be small, which means you'll need to send several transports full of colonists to your remote world just so it can ramp up, with perhaps one or more warships that must be dedicated to guarding the new colony, when you could have put those resources to better use building up or remote mining the worlds closer to home.

So the original colonizer is fine for settling nearby worlds that can easily be shipped additional colonists and minerals, but why stop there? There are various freighter hulls that would make better colonizer hulls, either to make fewer return trips necessary, or to get enough out of the original design that no immediate return trips are necessary.

Available at all times is the Small Freighter hull. Placing a colony module in this hull provides you with almost three times the payload of your initial small colonizer, for only a few additional minerals. However, the fuel supply on a Small Freighter is small, so a colonizer based on this hull will have only short-range capability. At Construction Technology level 3, a Medium Freighter is available, which has much more capacity (three times that of the Small Freighter), but has the same fuel problem.

The colonizer hull of choice for the early game is the Privateer. While it doesn't have much more cargo space than a large freighter, and requires a few more resources in construction, it does have the following going for it:

  • With a Germanium cost of only 2kT, you don't have to sacrifice your early homeworld factory production to build colonizers.
  • There are three extra slots for either cargo, fuel, or colonization pods, compared to only one for Freighters. While a Freighter-turned-colonizer cannot have any extra fuel or cargo space, a Privateer can have both.

Only two races can start the game with the Privateer. Jack of All Trades races (who have specified that Construction costs 75% extra and have elected to start all expensive technology fields at level 4), and any Interstellar Traveler race will get this hull. All other races will have to research up to Construction level 4 to be able to build the Privateer hull. Many times, gaining this hull is the first goal of research. Races that have chosen Improved Starbases will also have the benefit of gaining Space Dock technology at the same time as Privateers. Ideally, Construction level 4 should be reached the year before major colonization is to take place, to give your homeworld the extra year it takes to build its first colonizers. This timing is one of the many things to attempt to achieve in your testbeds.

A very effective Privateer colonizer design has a good engine, a colonizer, a cargo pod, and a fuel pod. You don't need to use its shield/armor slot for a colonizer. They won't protect you from a serious attack, and will use resources that could be put to better use in building more colonizers.

For longer-range colonization, either because you have a poor habitability range, or because you lack Improved Fuel Efficiency, you could place two fuel pods on the ship to give it extra range. Likewise, if you have a broad habitability range and find more green worlds closer to home, you could include increase the payload instead of fuel by adding two cargo pods instead.

Expansion Strategies

In the early years of the game, you need to both establish new colonies and make those colonies productive as quickly as possible. You can't rely on your homeworld to seed and support all of your new colonies. Eventually, these tasks must be handed over to your breeder worlds and other production centers, so you can turn your homeworld to the task of ship production and research. How you make this transition, and how you decide which worlds to colonize first, will determine the rate at which your race will begin its journey into the universe.

Any basic expansion strategies need to be tailored to your particular race and universe. Every strategy has the following three elements that deal with colonization and ramp-up: Picking the worlds to colonize, Feeding the new colonies, and Creating breeder worlds.

Pick Your Worlds

As you explore, create a list of which worlds to colonize first, ordering them according to their importance to your growth strategy. At first, you may only have a few worlds to choose from. As your scouts report back about the surrounding star systems, however, the list of potential colonies will grow.

Habitability, mineral concentrations, distance from the homeworld, and potential nearby remote mining worlds are all factors in deciding which worlds are desirable and which can be put off. As a general rule, Habitability is most important. Any world with a value of over 80% should be colonized if it can be reached. Any world with a high mineral content should be colonized, especially if it is high in either Germanium or Ironium (or both). Of course, a world with both high habitability and high mineral concentrations is always the most desirable candidate.

Feed New Colonies

Once you colonize all the nearby attractive worlds, the homeworld should begin transporting additional colonists to them. This can be done one at a time or in waves. Here are factors to consider when choosing which colonies to build up first.

Races that benefit from high growth should generally feed all worlds at the same time (to take advantage of the 25% capacity cutoff), while races that rely more on factory production should try to build up each world one by one (so the worlds most able to build factories grow first).

Also consider which worlds are poised to seed new colonies. A world near the edge of your empire has more attractive colonization prospects than one next to your homeworld (because you have already exhausted that area). A world near a neighbor's border is less attractive for colonization purposes (but perhaps more attractive in terms of defense) than a world that seemingly has no neighbors.

This is also the period in the game where extra minerals, especially Germanium, should be shipped from the homeworld to the nearby worlds, to help their factory production. If you plan on remote mining, you should also start building your mining fleets, The worlds that have been chosen for remote mining sites should begin production as well.

Create Breeder Worlds=

Once breeder worlds reach 25% population capacity, they should start building colonizers to send to nearby attractive worlds. At this point, the homeworld can turn its attention to the less attractive worlds, either colonizing them (if they have not already been colonized), feeding them additional colonists (if they were sent a 'claim stake' colonizer earlier) or remote mining them if they are mineral-rich.

Eventually, the homeworld will run out of places that it can send people to, and can be allowed to grow to its full potential. Most of your breeder and production worlds will go through this same cycle of colonization, feeding, and growth. Soon you will have the strong core of an expanding empire, surrounded by growing worlds and fleets of transports moving people and minerals around. By then, you will be solidly into the middle game.

On to Ship Design Basics...