I made this as a comment on a post about struggling against the AI in both expansion and pop size, but the post got deleted 5 minutes later and I put in like 15 minutes effort typing this up. So I felt like I would post it, as to not waste the effort. Feel free to add anything else in the comments that adds onto what I've stated.
- Run extremely adaptive as a species trait.
- Early game expansion is imperative. But not just expansion, smart expansion. Expand in lines down hyperlanes towards choke points to cut off other empires. (Play on 0.25 hyperlanes in game settings for practice). To be more successful, go into the expansion tree first and complete -> prosperity… always. Take interstellar dominion as your first ascension… always (I think that's the name for the influence cost reduction)
- You have two options for pop rushing, robots or cloning. I heavily recommend cloning. Build gene clinics, upgrade them as your gas production can handle it, on every planet and after interstellar dominion, move towards the cloning vats ascension perk.
- It's all about the alloys. Science doesnt matter, maintain enough consumer goods to survive but focus entirely on alloys. Build up your minerals until plus 50, build alloy foundry as building everywhere when you can after gene clinics, and then repeat until +50 again. Build civilian industries as needed, no more than +15 consumer goods.
- Early game military might. Early game, stay at your max starbase capacity and in every starbase build two anchorages, hydro farm, resource silo. Staying at fleet cap is difficult, but push your limits until you can constantly achieve it.
- Once you've achieved a strong economic foothold, you can move towards science. But for the first 40 or so years, alloy foundries are the only thing you should be focused on.
- Fighting, taking out another empire early is huge. Being able to conquer and get another species pops early leads to an insane advantage later. This is due to the exponential growth of pops, use your military might to achieve this. Practice this on 0.25 habitable world in game settings.
- Slave market, once minerals is past about +120, focus on energy credits. The galactic market, once established, is a very very good way to get pops (you can literally free them once you buy them if your empire doesnt like slavery). This is a very strong way to make your pop stars go through the rough. Note: this does not work with xenophiles, so builds should not include this ethic if you plan to utilize the market.
- Using the above strategies, I've hit 1500 pops in the first 100 years with 0.25 habitable worlds and 0 guaranteed.
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