I've spent the last month or so experimenting with a variety of Gestalt Consciousness Machine Empire/Synth strategies, trying to find one which is incredibly effective out the gate. Granted, this game becomes remarkably easy with experience but I thought I'd put together something comprehensive for people who just want to see the
PART ONE, CREATION
The only one that really matters is Mass-Produced (which is free,) since your pop growth is a short- and long-term issue which has very few solutions. I also like to take Efficient Processors for that universal 5% for the whole game which really adds up. For negatives, Bulky is a no-brainer, and I like Luxurious as well. Big, fancy death bots. A runner up is Streamlined Protocols: if you're going to get it, sub out Efficient Processors. The Empire Sprawl bonus will really help early game, but after early game it becomes irrelevant (so you can adjust your species later on to grab EP if you go that route.)
World type doesn't matter. Machines get 100% habitability everywhere – one of the reasons they're so suited to warfare. Pick whatever you think looks best.
Resource Consolidation is nice, it gives you a little head-start on where you'll want most of your worlds to be anyway. The extra ~50 minerals you get from the special district comes in handy for early expansion too, so this is recommended. Alternatives would be Prosperous Unification for extra pops, Galactic Doorstep since you'll want a gateway in your home system eventually anyway (but this does nothing for you early game whereas RC benefits you all game long,) or Relic World if you want a slightly more interesting home-world. Because of how nicely it enables early expansion, RC gets the nod.
Gov & Ethics:
Gestalt Consciousness / Machine Intelligence is a given. And your picks are Determined Exterminator (ungodly!) and Maintenance Protocols. Here's why: MP gives all your Nexus/Maintenance pops Unity, which helps hit those early traditions. Those traditions are force multipliers, especially the first one (Expansion) and will let you shoot ahead easily. Determined Exterminator has everything it says on the tin: 30% cheaper outposts right out the gate, better & cheaper warships, higher naval cap, etc; but it also has a "hidden" benefit that won't be obvious to anyone who hasn't played them. You don't need influence or claims to take territory. That's right, you can declare war without casus belli and without spending any influence to claim systems. Once you control a system (by removing the starbase and (if necessary) occupying the planet with ground forces, it is yours. Don't have to wait for the war to end. Don't have to get concessions. Control changes to you immediately.
Not only is this the single-largest influence saver in the game (I occasionally had 900+ influence in the early game which I was hard-put to spend before it capped. I was actively searching for alternative influence dumps.) It's also a huge economy booster. With the barrier to taking systems (mostly) removed, boiled down to simply the amount of force you can bring to bear, all that effort of developing colonies that your enemies are doing all of a sudden becomes YOUR stuff, without all the work.
Once you get an extra Civic point to spend, Rapid Replicator is the obvious choice, for the same reason we take Mass Produced as a trait. Pop growth is the basis of a strong economy. You want every source you can get. We don't take it earlier because the Unity is much more important in the early game, and our building slots are precious as well so we can't turn them into Unity very easily early on.
PART TWO, THE FIRST FEW TURNS
Important: NEVER GO ABOVE ADMIN CAP. With all the expansion we're doing this can be tricky. I write below about how to specialize your homeworld to maintain high admin cap and technologies to take, but as a machine empire your admin cap rises quickly and the cost of going even marginally above the cap is enormous. You need to make sure you have enough uplink nodes or other sources of capacity to keep yourself within the cap, or you will fall behind in tech. This isn't hard to do, but does take some specific planning.
Exploration: We need to explore so we know where we can settle. Send your first science ship away immediately. You'll want to start building another science ship immediately, and buy a scientist to crew it as soon as it pops out, then send it in the opposite direction. IGNORE ALL ANOMALIES FOR NOW. As soon as any of your survey ships can even SEE a dead end, have them explore away from the dead end. Your goal is to find where other civilizations are ASAP, build starbases in a line to the nearest choke point you can, and hold those chokepoints until you're ready to go to war. This lets you "backfill" to expand inside the systems cut off by the choke points. As soon as you have too many "branches" for your current science ships to explore quickly on their own, build more! Liberally build them, they're cheap and easy. Staff them with survey traits when possible. Usually the AI won't declare war (even on "murder machines!") for the first 100-200 turns, and you can extend this if you keep your fleet near capacity and on your borders. This gives you a giant window of opportunity to use your cheap outposts to claim a massive swath of the galaxy and establish favorable borders while you get your economy online. Once your survey ships are blocked from further exploration or don't have anything to do, THEN you can start researching the anomalies you've found. And it'll go faster anyway, since your survey ships will have gained a ton of XP just by exploring.
Traditions: First tradition tree is Expansion. With starbase influence cost reduced by a further 10%, you have a total 40% reduction, taking it from 75% (base) to 52 (Determined Exterminator) to 45 (Expansion: Signal Ready Stations.) At 45 per outpost, you can run two constructors claiming systems non-stop if you spend the time to build the mining and research stations on the systems they capture. Automated Colonization Units giving an extra pop per colony is also great to get your early colonize up and running sooner, which will be critical to get that alloy production you need. When you finish the Expansion tree, you take Interstellar Dominion as your first Ascension Perk which gives another 20% reduction to the outpost influence cost. This brings your total outpost cost to 30 (!!) and allows you to run 3 constructors claiming systems nearly-nonstop (especially if you're getting bonus influence from anywhere like first contacts and some anomalies) and have OTHER constructors bother with creating the resource stations behind them. For your second and third traditions, I like Domination for Modular Depots and Synchronicity for Integrated Preservation. Both of these will massively improve your ability to maintain your admin cap and more or less obsolete the issue. For your second and third Ascension Perks, one of them should be Synthetic Age (depending on when you get the requisite techs.) For the other, I actually like Master of Nature since you end up swimming in influence with this strategy, even though it's considered "not good" with other strategies – that's only because of the influence cost! Eventually you want Master Builders, Machine Worlds and Galactic Wonders, the others are mostly up to you, but note the game might not last much longer past those. 🙂
Planet Buildings: I've tried a wide variety of build orders. To be honest, I'm a technophile, and so I always want to max out research. But it turns out that for this strat, you want one Alloy Foundry right away. And after that, your home planet builds nothing but uplink nodes. This is the only way to support your massive expansion potential early on, and it helps to specialize planets. Subsequent planets always want machine assembly plants as their first building, followed by spamming out their specialty buildings. Your second and third planets should be forge worlds mass-producing alloys to support your army (unless they have modifiers which strongly favor a different specialty.) Your FOURTH world can be a tech world, or a generator world. Your fifth should be whichever of the two your fourth is not. You absolutely need two or three fully producing alloy foundry worlds as soon as possible, or you won't be able to keep up with your own expansion (and ship production.)
Planet Specialization: All planets should be specialized to have their pops only doing one things – with exceptions. I leave the basic first research station on my home planet until I have a strong, dedicated couple of tech worlds that have taken over for it. (I usually make tech worlds the ones with special districts and/or planetary modifiers which give good boosts to tech.) OR when I need the uplink node that badly. With careful management, I've been able to ensure that ONLY my homeworld needs to build uplink nodes (usually by the time I start needing a second world, I have found the tech to upgrade those nodes and that is sufficient.) That really frees up your other planets. GENERATOR WORLDS are special: They want both generator and agriculture districts. Since there aren't really a lot of buildings that benefit producing energy aside from energy grids, you build bio-reactors and power them with agri-bots. If you're having trouble keeping up the food production to power the reactors, you can build the occasional agri district on other planets – it doesn't take up a building slot and you usually have more than enough districts.
Economy: You need a ton of minerals for buildings and a ton of alloys for ships and starbases. You start with a ton of minerals, and most of your additional minerals will be coming from outpost stations as you expand, so I rarely if ever need to build mining on worlds. (If I have a planetary modifier for +% miner output sometimes I'll build some districts, but that's about it.) There's also a trick here: Since most of your mineral output is not coming from pops, you can actually let your energy credits run to zero during your expansion phase for no penalty. The only downside is that it penalizes your ship's combat capabilities, BUT, there's a trick here. If you are in combat (e.g. your ships are already in a system with a hostile force and about to start fighting) you can sell just enough minerals to give you 2-3 months worth of energy credits on hand. That will last you through the fight, and give your ships full fighting strength for the duration. I have saved literally hundreds of thousands of energy credits by simply letting them go to zero for about 100 years, and buying 100-600 w/ minerals as needed.
Starbases: You only really need two or three major hubs building ships, usually on your extreme borders. They should be staffed almost constantly (occasionally skirmishing with random aliens within your borders preventing your expansion.) Nice thing is you don't have to worry about pirates. Anyway: upgrade the shipyard-starbases to Starholds ASAP. Producing and upgrading 4 (or 6) ships at a time is a huge benefit when you're waging war. Aside from your major shipyards, you can help your economy out by building starbases dedicated to solar panels. Obviously don't do this if you're using the negative energy credits trick above, but once you're ready to get your economy up and running, 3-4 starbases fully decked out with solar panels can make a BIG difference. One thing to keep in mind is you never want to exceed your naval capacity once you're running positive energy credits (It's a HUGE cost multiplier.) In that case, creating some bases that serve purely as anchorages is a great way to keep your fleets large without a huge cost. I like to put anchorages around black holes, since black holes can't support solar panels.
PART THREE, TECHNOLOGY
Engineering: Anything that gives you ship capability early on is great. Reactors, afterburners, coil/railguns, drive systems and armor. Reactor booster is sometimes helpful if you don't have enough power for higher level shields/weapons early on. You want to tech up your ships and your fleet capacity pretty early, so you're ready to build fleets when you need to (basically once you've encountered empires on your borders and you can start planning who to strike first.) You also want Starholds ASAP, so you can produce four ships per starbase. As soon as you see Destroyers, take it, although you shouldn't need to rush Cruisers. Destroyers will be enough to win by 2300-2350. Any time you can't research those techs, you want things that improve your research or economy. Prioritize research boosters since they will be more beneficial the longer you have them. Anything that improves your Alloy Production is also very strong.
Notably: avoid missile techs, they're useless. Also most mineral techs aren't great, with the exception of Improved Servomotors for midgame population optimization (it leads to Machine Template System which gives you a mod point.) Don't take this over any of the primary techs above, but it's a good option if they don't show up in the shuffle.
Physics: We're primarily here for Lasers, Shields and Energy Credits. Energy credits will get their own section, but suffice it to say that you run on energy and will need all the help you can get. Basic & Advanced Combat Roles also help a lot. If you see Survey Speed options come up, take them. They will help you secure chokepoints, and I prioritize this even over ship upgrades early on. For filler, take research boosters or unique resource exploitation. Notably: for the majority of the game you only really need the "main" Laser techs (Blue Laser, UV, X-ray) the others are just distractions which you won't get much bang for your research buck out of.
Society: Very early on you can get a tech that adds 2 to your monthly Unity. This is great, and can accelerate the game enormously. You want Admin Capacity here when you see it. There's not a lot in this tree which directly helps expansion, but Admin Cap is one of them and you won't be able to build a ton of buildings early on, so the 5-10% here and there can help a lot. Aside from this, Fleet Command Limit is always a welcome (and priority) option. Research boosters Tile Blocker techs as filler really help you get the most out of your planets. In some cases, taking Food Production techs can help you make more energy (via Bio Reactors,) so consider that if your energy is very problematic.
That's pretty much it.
The longer term strategy is just to conquer your foes, control chokepoints, and improve your tech/economy as you're able to. But with the principles above it should be easy. I "won" my last game by 2300 and just had to wait out the actual endgame. Post any questions in the comments, or anything I missed or didn't think of!
My next effort will be perfecting a genetic modification run with a bio race, and I'm not sure what government I'll be going yet, possibly fanatic egalitarian!
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