This is a very strong Build/Guide I have been working on. I hope you guys like it. Most Machine empires are probably still stronger but they really need to be nerfed.
Traits main species:
Lithiod: -25% Pop Growth, +50% Habitability, +50% Army Health, +50 Leader Lifespan
The Pop Growth penalty is painful, however +50% habitability is huge. Any planet you colonize within the same climate has 100% habitability right from the get go. Every 1% of Habitability under 100% increases the Pop Upkeep and Amenity Usage by 1%, reduce their job output and Pop Growth by 0.5% and happiness by 0.25%. This is a massive bonus. The Lifespan bonus isn't really 50 years because your leaders start older but it is still about a 20 year bonus which is really all you need because by the time they start dying from old age you will likely have found ways to increase their lifespan even further. The Army Health doesn't matter much in Stellaris but I'm not complaining.
Intelligent: +10% Research from Jobs
Research is always important and in this build you will very rapidly increase your Population and depending on your start you will either add 1 or 2 very early research labs. Each lab increases your research by a base of 24, this is almost 50% of your total science output at the beginning of the game. Seeing as you want your Rocks working only as Specialists or Rulers there aren't that many traits you can choose from. One potential other choice would be Charismatic but we have a better solution to generate Amenities.
Volatile Excretions: Each pop creates 0.01 Volatile Motes
0.01 Motes with only 12 starting Pops is almost useless however it does let you buy Motes in the market (something you can't do for many years unless you find the Mote Trader). This is very very powerful and we will get back to this later.
Weak: -2.5% Worker Basic Resource Output, -20% Army Damage
You don't want your pops doing worker jobs and Armies don't matter in Stellaris so this is a free trait.
Decadent: -10% Worker and Slave Happiness
As I already said your Rocks will barely do worker jobs so this doesn't matter.
Serviles: +10% Happiness, +10% Resources from Jobs, Cannot be Leaders, Rulers or Specialists
These are all great bonuses for Pops you want working as Chatel Slaves.
Strong: +2.5% Worker Basic Resource, +20% Army Damage
A small but helpful bonus for all Basic Resources
Industrious: +15% Minerals from Jobs
This plus Serviles plus Strong means your Miners will be producing +27.5% Minerals right away. Lots of Minerals early is very important for this build.
Slow Learners: -25% Leader XP Gain
They won't be leaders so a free trait.
Fleeting: -10 Leader Lifespan
Same as above a free Trait.
Governing Ethics: Egalitarian, Xenophobe, Militarist
Egalitarian is only really chosen so you can later access Utopian Living which is too powerful to pass on with such a fast growing Build like this. Shifting Ethics is too difficult in Stellaris right now so you really have to chose the Ethics you want to end up with.
Xenophobe lets you be Egalitarian and still use Slaves. You also get access to Livestock which can be a very effective way to deal with excess Pops you will pick up.
Militarist gives you access to the No Retreat War Doctrine something you absolutely need if pursuing early aggression.
Civics: Syncretic Evolution, Mining Guilds
Syncretic Evolution gives you the extra species with the Servile trait. Having specialized worker pops really helps you hit the ground running.
Mining Guilds gives you +1 Minerals from Miners. This may not sound like much but it is essentially a multiplicative 25% bonus. Almost all bonuses in Stellaris are additive meaning they don't really stack, having multiple 10% bonuses still only increases Mineral production by .4 per Pop per bonus 10%. Mining Guilds multiplies all of the bonuses you can add up by 25% which is HUGE. Having specialized Mining pops now really pays off and you will be swimming in Minerals very quickly.
Phase 1: Before unpausing the first thing you want to do is build a Monument (Lithiods start with extra Minerals and you can do this right away), +6 Unity is a 50% increase and you are going to want get your first Tradition ASAP! Next remove your Governor and Enforcer, by waiting one day you will have enough crime to Negotiate with Crime Lords, +10 Stability is amazing. It is important to do this right away because after the first month its difficult to get Crime high enough to do this. Next start building a Science ship in your Shipyard. Then go to the Ship Designer and create a new Corvette design that is completely empty. Get your ships to upgrade to your new design after the Science ship is finished giving you 132 Alloys. Sell all your Food and Consumer goods. For Physics Research focus on things that increase research speed or Energy production. For Society Planetary unification is your first choice because you want to use Campaigns early and by the time it finishes researching you should have a strong enough economy to enact one or two. Engineering research is a bit more complicated. If your galaxy is going to be crowded or you really like early war then make Coilguns your highest priority. This lets you access Auto Cannons and Kinetic weaponry will be the first weapon style you use. The next best choice is Powered Exoskeletons which gives a small Mineral boost and also lets you access Robots sooner. After this its a tossup between Research speed, Miner output and Station output. Send your Science ship out exploring, pick a direction where they can quickly explore far away from your home system. If you see any near by Black Holes prioritize them because they are more likely to have ruined Megastructures, L-gates, and Enclaves. Now you can unpause for one day to enact the Crime Deal and restore your Enforcer and Governor.
Phase 2: Once your Science ship is built, higher a Scientist. If you have crappy researchers (especially Engineering or Sociology) higher a better one and switch him with your researcher. Send this Science ship in a different direction but with the same priorities as the first. You should check if you Governor is an Environmental Engineer, if so you are in luck if not no worries check if there is one available for hire if so keep this in mind, if not check back regularly to see if it changes. Now build a 3rd Science ship with the Alloys you get from downgrading your fleet. You should also be able to build Mining Stations in your home system. Keep selling Food and Consumer Goods. Once you have enough Influence enact Map the Stars. You will probably want one more Science ship for the beginning. Now you just wait on your first Tradition. Go ahead and hire an Environmental Engineer Governor if you don't have one and have found one in the leader pool. One or two months before getting your first Tradition start buying Motes. You will want to have 30 Motes saved up and its cheaper buying them spread out. Don't be afraid to sell Artifacts, Consumer Goods or Alloys to fund all this, its important you have the money right away. For your first Tradition choose the Domination Opener. This reduces the cost for removing Blockers by 33% and being Lithiod you have 4 Lithiod Monoliths that create one Pop after being cleared for 1000 Minerals. The Mote Land Clearance Edict reduces this another 25% and makes it 25% faster. If you were so lucky as to find an Environmental Engineer its another 25% cheaper and 25% faster. This is now 83% cheaper and 50% faster. First clear the Slums because it goes fastest. Once finished you should have 25 Pops and can build another Building, I recommend first going for a Research Lab because you still haven't committed to one strategy yet. If you are playing Multiplayer and know there are many genocidal players or you have already scouted an opponent very near you then an Alloy Foundry is better. After finishing the Building you want to continue clearing the Blockers. You should also look for an adjacent System that is high in Minerals, Energy or Trade, send your Construction ship here and start building Mining stations (even while clearing Blockers you should have enough Minerals to do this).
Phase 3:You will now soon have a 30 Pop Planet with super efficient workers less than 5 years into the game. The Building you get after reaching 30 Pops should almost always be an Alloy Foundry (although if you know its a fairly empty galaxy you might choose an extra Research Facility, if you do this go into Discovery before Supremacy). Its 5 years in and you have 50% more Unity, about 50% more Research and almost doubled Alloy production all while keeping a healthy supply of basic resources. In Phase 3 Alloys are very important. For you now have 4 main goals: Colonize a new Planet, Find a Relic World, and Find an enemy that has Pops you can abduct (not Hivemind stuff) all while saving up for a fleet. You want to keep selling Food but save your Consumer Goods now and when in need sell Artifacts (500 energy is incredible). You should now be able to afford a few more Science ships use them to fill in the scouting holes left from your early Science Vessels. If you see an Archaeologist this would be a good time to pick one up especially if there some nice Archaeology sites near by. Depending on your Economy you want another 2-4 Science ships. Once they are done build a Colony ship to colonize the nearest best Planet you can find. This will slow down your Pop growth on your home planet but you already have 30 Pops which should be enough economic muscle to defeat any of your neighbors. By now you should have found your Precursor. If you got the Baol, Cybrex or First League its GG. The Baol gives you Gaia worlds with 4 free Pops you can make into tasty Livestock. Gaia worlds are amazing and the Livestock Pops create tons of food which can be sold, they take 1/4 the housing and they can be cheaply moved to your new colonies to quickly get over the 10 Pops needed to lose the Colony malice. The Cybrex gets you early Megaengineering and with how strong your early game is you will snowball in no time. Also creating robots faster means you can sooner let your Rocks live a life of luxury with Utopian Living and focus on Science while the Synths do the real work. The First League gives you the Relic world you so badly want. Being so good at clearing Blockers early and producing tons of Minerals means the only thing between you and an Ecumenopolis is Anti-Gravity Engineering which you can start Bee-lining for as soon as you realize you will get the First League. Even the Zroni is almost an auto win. You can Ascend super early giving you a giant military and science boost and eventually you can get the God-Emperor which frees up your Syncretic Evolution Civic. The Vultan are not bad but you will want to want to use your Relic to push for early aggression before anyone else can really start tech/eco booming. The only two you want to avoid are the Irrasians and Yuhrt. Although you could use the Pox Bombardment to quickly get devastation on a planet and start stealing pops before the enemy has time to react and the Yuhrt are pretty good at booming, you can pretty much colonize every planet and get the Expansion tree to start each Colony with 3 Pops. Now depending on your Precursor you can adapt your style from here but I recommend in most cases being militaristic. That means now going down the Supremacy Tree. If you really think there is no one near you, you might want to Open Discovery and take To Boldly Go before switching back to Supremacy. That way you can scout even faster. If you happen upon Crystal traders it might be smart to purchase some Crystals (this will let you buy them from the market and you can enact the Crystal Sensor Edict which will help you tremendously with scouting). Going down Supremacy will give you +53% Fire Rate ( 10 from being Militarist, 10 from Overwhelming Force and 33 from No Retreat Doctrine), increase your Fleet Limit by 20% and Fleet Command by 20. You can also use the Market to buy Motes and get 25% bonus Attack and 25% bonus Armor. This should be more than enough to destroy any neighbor you might find. If you are so unlucky to run into a Militarist Fanatic Purifier that Unity rushed Supremacy you still should have a way stronger economy and if needed you can build a couple anchorages and field a fleet of up to 40 ships vs their smaller fleet. Now all you need to finish Phase 3 is to hopefully find your Relic world and find your abduction target. The Rubricator is a good shout for finding a Relic world and with so many scouts you should have a good chance of getting it. Finding an enemy shouldn't take long either.
Phase 4: You now should have a few other nice planets to colonize as well as a nice empire to plunder and if you are lucky a shiny Relic world. Once your first Colony has almost reached 10 Pops you can start sending a Colony ship to another suitable planet. You can send the pops above 30 from your Capital to reach 10 pops quicker. You want to begin stockpiling Alloys and hopefully start researching Auto Cannons. You want to time it where you have about 2000 Alloys shortly after getting your 4th Supremacy Tradition. This way you can start building your fleet and have 24 ships at about the same time as you close the Tree. Don't forget to update your Ship Design and use Kinetic weapons. Despite being able to improve your Armor with an Edict its still probably better to have 2 Shields and 1 Armor because your Shields can heal between fights. If you found a Relic world, colonize it right away. After it has been colonized you can get your Blocker clearing bonuses running (remember to switch Governor if you have found one) and start by clearing the Blocker that gives you Research Jobs. Fill this planet up quickly and get a Scientist to Assist Research. Keep an eye out for Weather Control Systems and Anti-Gravity Engineering Techs if you have a Relic world this should be your highest priority, if not Auto Cannons. As your first Ascension Perk take Nihilistic Acquisition. At this point you should be ready for war. Make a claim on the target's Capital (this way they will never accept War Demands and you can take your time plucking up their citizen to work as slaves). Recruit an Admiral and gather your fleet. Buy some Motes and declare war. Before moving in remember to enact Volatile Ammunition and if it is going to be a difficult fight get Reactive Armor as well. Now just go straight to the Capital (most empires will have their only Shipyard on their Capital if you capture this you won the war). You should be able to walk all over them no problem but if fighting their main fleet caused more than a few casualties, go back home repair and reinforce before going again. You should have both a stronger military as well as economy don't be afraid to use both. Once you take out the Station on their Capital wait on the station to repair and then heal your fleet up. Once back to full health move to the Planet and use Indiscriminate Bombardment until they reach 20% Devastation now switch to Raiding and start abducting their Pops. Change the Slavery type of the abducted pops to Domestic Servitude. This will fix your Amenities problem as well as prevent you from having unemployed Pops (the unemployed Pop events are really annoying and can get expensive). The abducted Pops will also fill your colonies very quickly helping you get 10 pops nice and quickly. After abducting around 20 Pops you can look to make peace.
Phase 5: You should now be in an excellent position to dominate the galaxy. The only thing to decide now is what Ascension path you want to take. I recommend Biological because its fun to min max the different slaves you have, however all 3 are more than viable. I hope you enjoyed this Build/Guide and that it wasn't too long. If you have any questions feel free to ask!
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