Stars!-R-Us Article

"Designing a coherent race"
By: Michael C. Martin

NOTE: This article is intended as a primer in race design for the novice. Advanced players probably won't find much of use in this, but comments are greatly appreciated.

OK, so you've tired of the canned player races and decided to try your hand at race design. Maybe you looked at the 50+ options you can twiddle and your eyes glazed over. Maybe you've whipped up a sentient species or two, but had them blown to space dust by the AIs or by unforgiving human opponents. If you're finding your races aren't especially good at anything, read on. This is for you.

Step 1: The Big Picture

Race design is the first part of your strategy. Your race should be designed with specific goals in mind, depending on what kind of game you're going to play. Your race should be tailored to be good at what *you* are good at. Even the Jack-of-All-Trades can't afford to be a master of none.

Decide how you're going to play this race. Are you going to be offensive and win by destroying your opponents? Defensive and win through research or production? Or a more fluid game that will shift between attacking your enemies and sitting tight? Even your choice of PRT is less important than this choice.

Step 2: General planning

What is it important to be good at? What is it OK to sacrifice? Your choices are:

  • Sheer Numbers of People
  • Production Capacity 
  • Mineral Availability 
  • Technology 
  • Starting Speed 

    These are interrelated traits. Production Capacity and Mineral Availability are both partially based on Sheer Numbers of People (to operate the factories and mines). Technology is strongly based on Production Capacity (you need resources to get the tech). More on this in Step 3. 

    Things like Destructive Capability and other things of interest to attack-oriented players are usually based on Production Capacity and Technology. 

    Step 3: More specific planning 

    There isn't anything directly relating to Sheer Numbers of People or Production Capacity. Now that you know basically what you want, get more specific. 

    Your Sheer Numbers of People are based on habitability range, growth rate, and planet capacity. You don't have a lot of control over planet capacity; see PRTs and LRTs in steps 4 and 5. A good habitability range will let you live on many planets. A good growth rate lets you throw colonists around more easily. 

    Production Capacity is based on colonist efficiency, factory efficiency, and the number of factories that your colonists can operate. The last one there is a function of how many colonists you have, so this is influenced by the Sheer Numbers of People as well. 

    Mineral Availability is based on mine efficiency, number of mines operatable per colonist, and on the Mineral Alchemy and Remote Mining LRTs. 

    Technology is based mostly on the sixth page of the Custom Race Wizard. However, since these indicate how many resources are required to research them, Production Capacity has a strong affect on this. 

    Starting Speed is based on everything and affects everything. It costs to get everything up to speed swiftly. Starting Speed is improved by higher growth rates, cheaper factories (both in resources and minerals), cheaper mines, and the "costs 75% extra starts at level 3" checkbox. It is hurt by Low Starting Population (you're behind the curve), and Bleeding Edge Technology (hard to build new warships). 

    Tweak these values in the race wizard to the way you want them. You shouldn't have huge numbers of points left by now; you won't be able to spend more than 630 points on PRT and LRTs and you won't be able to make back more than 383. (IT with all advantages, plus starred traits, for max spending; SD with all disadvantages, minus starred traits, for max point recouping) 

    You've got the meat of your race now. Time for the bones and the skin. 

    Step 4: Selecting PRT

    You have ten options for PRT. The "Bottom Line" section applies directly to novices; a "good" PRT is being defined as one that a beginner could make shine without being overwhelmed by details. 

    Hyper Expansion
    This PRT almost requires that you be playing offensively; the halved planet capacity makes continual expansion a must. (Hence the name...) This has a negative impact on your Sheer Numbers of People, but since your growth rate is doubled, you can sacrifice growth rate while keeping it competitive, and gain oodles of points. These can be used to increase Production Capacity or nearly anything else. The extreme case of this is the 4% HE which sacrifices growth rate for *everything* else. 
    There is one additional disadvantage that the HE has that isn't mentioned in the race wizard: terminal Public Relations. Many players worry if an HE is their neighbor because they feel that border wars will be inevitable. 
    Bottom line: The HE is fairly uncomplicated; the novice can use it well with little difficulty. 

    Super Stealth
    The SS are a sneaky race, excellent at cloaking, piracy, and navigation through minefields. The SS is primarily an offensive race; played properly, they can't see you coming and they won't be able to effectively muster defenses against you. Super Stealthers get a technology bonus from everyone else, too. 
    Bottom Line: A powerful, and expensive, PRT. However, taking full advantage of it can be an involved proposition. It is probably not the best choice for a novice. 

    War Monger
    The WM are the most blatantly offensive race of all. Their kick-start in Weapons technology make them extremely dangerous at the beginning, and agressive play can make them a formidable opponent. You can't be WM and play a defensive game; their defenses and minefields are crippled or nonexistent. 
    Bottom Line: The War Monger is an excellent choice for the mayhem-minded player. Lack of defenses and minefields are a disadvantage, but that's also two fewer things for the player to worry about.

    Claim Adjuster
    A highly flexible PRT, the Claim Adjuster is a master terraformer. CAs have a large advantage in the Sheer Numbers of People department. They terraform planets for free; there's no such thing as a "Yellow planet" for the CA. Thus all planets are moved to optimum capacity immediately, and for *no* resource investment. In addition, the ability to remote terraform can make the CA a diplomatic juggernaut; Claim Adjusters make friends about as easily as HEs make enemies.
    The CA is best for a mixed game, with a balance between attack and defense. They're decent at both, with no particular advantage or disadvantage either way.
    Bottom Line: The CA is, in this author's humble opinion, the best PRT for a novice. The player does not need to worry about terraforming, and brings huge boosts in planet values without the player having to think about it. An excellent choice.

    Inner Strength
    Also highly flexible, the IS can pull stunts that other PRTs only dream about. They have excellent defenses, and their colonists defend better than usual. But that's only the beginning; the ability to cart around *huge* numbers of colonists, and the fact that colonists grow on their freighters, produce an effect known as the "IS population bomb" or "Oh my god, did he just drop 3,000,000 colonists on my planet?" (It's only 10 super freighters...) This also means that the IS can have a guaranteed growth rate of half their max just by having a freighter in orbit. Any planet less than 50% can take the spillover with no problem.
    Bottom Line: A little more difficult to use than an HE, CA, or JoaT, but still very playable, and extremely powerful, even in only moderately competent hands. A decent choice for the novice.

    Space Demolition
    This is the ultimate defensive race. Its superior minelaying capability makes it very difficult to attack these folk. However, don't underestimate the effects of tiny exploding minefields scattered throughout enemy territory. Defense is easier, and this PRT costs the least of all the choices.
    Bottom Line: The SD race is a difficult race to make shine. For a defensive game, the SD can work simply. Making them a powerful offensive force is possible and effective, but could be very difficult for the beginning player.

    Packet Physics
    This is a specialist PRT, and the second most expensive. You receive two planets, and you get mass drivers from turn 1. Eventually your drivers will let you inflict mass destruction... or transfer minerals almost swiftly to where they are needed. A Packet Physics race must have excellent Mineral Availability, but isn't given anything like that by the PRT. If you have minerals to burn you don't have to spend planetary resources on terraforming; just pound it with mixed mineral packets to remote terraform before colonization. You'll have a good mineral base too. Just make sure nobody beats you to it...
    Bottom Line: The PP races are difficult to master, but there aren't a lot of surprises. These races are hard to test, too: They can have great success against the AI's (who aren't terribly bright about defending against packets) and can be blown to smithereens by a handful of humans who know how to defend. There are better choices for a novice race designer.

    Interstellar Traveller
    This is another specialist PRT and the most expensive. It gets the highest technological kick-start: Tech 5 in Propulsion and Construction. Their specialization is stargates, and a well-entrenched IT is almost impossible to attack; they have instant mobilization everywhere in their network. Their only disadvantage is inferior mass drivers, but the ability to gate cargo more than makes up for this.
    Bottom Line: All around a good PRT. The novice IT designer may face a challenge, but the payoff is high.

    Alternate Reality
    This PRT changes all the rules. Production capacity is now based directly on Technology and habitability range (planet value); there are no factories to worry about. Minerals are a function of remote miners and population. Energy tech is a must for your production. Travel kills your colonists. Losing a starbase loses your population.
    Bottom Line: This is a bad choice for a novice. The AR races are a completely different paradigm; what you learned with other races will bite you here, and what you learn here will bite you elsewhere. They are very powerful when played right, but that's difficult to do. Certainly don't play a fresh-off-the-press AR in your first PBEM game, unless you're a sucker for punishment.

    Jack of all Trades
    This race can be designed to do almost anything. They get 18 tech levels to start; more than any other. They get penetrating scanners in their scouts even if they take No Advanced Scanners. Their planetary capacity is increased, and they have no real disadvantages. This PRT is completely flexible. And you've played them before, too; at least, you did when you were running the tutorial.
    Bottom Line: A good choice for novice and master alike. Knowing exactly what you want to do with your race is critical when designing a JoaT--the novice race designer might be overwhelmed by all his options, but just concentrate on what you want your race to be able to do and everything should work out fine.

    Step 5: Lesser Racial Traits 

    There are 14 LRTs. Some are advantages (cost points), some are disadvantages (give points), and some depend. Starred traits are disadvantages unless you have lots of other LRTs selected.

    Improved Fuel Efficiency - advantage: improves your mobility and range.
    No Ram Scoop Engines - disadvantage: earlier mobility, lowered range.
    Cheap Engines - disadvantage: lowered mobility. 
    Total Terraforming - advantage: effectively increases habitability after Bio 17; this brings a loss in Production Capacity or other technologies as you research this high.
    Advanced Remote Mining - advantage: improved mineral availability.
    Only Basic Remote Mining - disadvantage: reduced mineral availability, increased planetary capacity.
    Improved Starbases - advantage: With light ships it will speed your deployment of forces. Don't take this advantage without a specific reason for wanting Star Docks or Ultra Stations. "Huh-huh-huh, Ultra Stations are cool" doesn't cut it.
    No Advanced Scanners - disadvantage: More intelligence on fleets, less on planets or minefields.
    Generalized Research* - Gives you more total resources in research, but specific breakthroughs take twice as long.
    Low Starting Population - disadvantage: lowers your Sheer Numbers of People and also your Starting Speed.
    Ultimate Recycling - advantage: Lets you recover resources from scrapping ships; lets you invest your Production Capacity or receive it from others, effectively increasing it.
    Bleeding Edge Technology* - Decreases Production Capacity for new ships, increases it for older ones.
    Mineral Alchemy - advantage: Increases Mineral Availability in the late game.
    Regenerating Shields* - Better shields, worse armor.

    Step 6: The Balancing Act 

    By now you're probably a few dozen points in the hole, or else you have a few points you don't know what to do with. The latter isn't a problem; buy some improvements in important fields, or just put them into factories or mineral concentrations. If you're in the hole, you may need to add some flaws to your design. When picking disadvantages, just remember to never *never* *NEVER* select a disadvantage that hurts you where you want to shine.

    Congratulations! You've created a coherent race. It might not stand up to an expertly designed race. It probably won't win in a game that's "my curve can beat up your curve." But you now have a race that's good at what you're good at, and one that you can effectively command. That's a good place to start.

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