Stars!-R-Us Article

Advanced Joat Design and Play
by: Scott Phelps


This is a revised version of my original Joat article and covers the Joat from Stars! 2.0a through 2.6c/2.7a. Since I first published this article in late October 1996, I have seen far fewer newsgroup articles dismissing the Joat as unplayable. I would like to think that the article had something to do with that, but realistically, the change made to 2.6b, changing the Joat built-in scanners to 2x/x scanners, where x is the electronics level, probably had a bigger impact.

If you read the original article you may want to read this revision. The race itself has gone through some changes, as has some of the recommended play style. While I have begun to branch out and play other races, I still play the Joat a lot. Also, Tim Burnett plays Joats closely modeled on my design. He and I discuss and develop new tweaks to the race constantly. What you are getting here is the result of our having played with this race for almost a year now, constantly testing and refining it-and winning games with it.

A few caveats before I get into the meat of the article. Like the majority view on the newsgroup I regarded the HE race as being the most powerful race when 2.0 first came out. Then 2.0a came out and made 3 changes to the Joat race, two small and one major, which made me re-evaluate the Joats. I liked what I saw. I REALLY liked it. Yes, I'm opinionated. I think that the Joat is one of the strongest races in the game, from versions 2.0a through 2.6c. Well, a 4-7% HE with total environmental immunity, in acc. BBS games prior to 2.6c will probably beat my Joat. After 2.6c or in non-acc. BBS games, the 4-7% HE will still be very strong, but will require very careful play and I would generally prefer the Joat.

I believe one reason that the Joat PRT is generally overlooked is that most people start with it because it is easiest (and the default) and then 'graduate' to other PRTs once they get some experience. They forget to look back and see if they've overlooked something. The other reason is that the Joat PRT is geared to a hyper-growth race model that seems to be contrary to the general way races are played and designed-I expect this tendency away from hyper-growth races to change as people get used to the way acc. BBS is handled in 2.6c. Hyper-growth leads to more micro-management, which everyone tries to avoid. During race design many (perhaps most) people will pay for many of the neat LRTs they've bought and other goodies by reducing the growth rate of the race. Not a good idea for a Joat.

If you are one of those people who would rather be doing something else, anything else, other than play in a style that requires LOTS of micro-management, this race is not for you! You may wish to read on, just to see what your opponent is doing. To me however, this sounds like, 'I want to play (and win) I just don't want to have to work at it.' If you feel this way, please don't play in the same games I do - I prefer a challenge to an easy victory! The way of the Joat is hard but ultimately, very rewarding!

I will be covering a number of things that will apply equally to any race, especially a hyper-growth race. Please be patient with me if you're only interested in Joat specific things. It is necessary so everyone understands why I'm recommending particular LRT and play styles for this race. Also, if I mention something obvious, don't berate me for it. Just because it is obvious to you and me, does not mean that it will be obvious to everyone, I have been very surprised by the number of things that I've seen in this newsgroup where the (to me) obvious was missed.

I will be discussing one particular race design I have used recently with great success. This particular Joat design assumes 2.6c. I have also had excellent results in 2.0 and 2.5, but will address mainly 2.6c here.

I will also be discussing some requests I have for the Jeffs on minor alterations for Joats and which universe parameters are good or bad for this Joat design.

Let's carefully look at the advantages that the Joat PRT provides:

1. Penetrating scanners built into the hulls of all scouts, frigates (still referred to in the Ship Classes help topic as super scouts) and destroyers.

This ability is the Joat's single most important. The destroyer class was added to the list in 2.0a. It also dictates what 'thematic play' is for the Joats. By 'thematic play' I mean playing up to and maximizing those traits (themes) that a race is best at. Joats start the game with 2 scouts and 1 destroyer. No one else will have penetrating scans until they reach Elect 7 and SS are the only ones that even start close to that. So, why are penetrating scans so important, especially at the beginning of the game? After all, it is only a 60/30ly (minimum) scanner, big deal! Well it is a very big deal. By using the ships with penetrating scanners well, you can greatly increase the speed with which you scan planets. Early in the game, this means that you can find habitable planets more quickly than anyone else can. You can also scan planets w/o orbiting them, which is the easiest way to lose your starting scouts (not really likely in 2.6 against the default starting ships, unless you run into a WM, but quite likely in 2.0).

Scanning planets quickly, early in the game immediately suggests some things about how to design the race to play to that strength. You don't want to use a race that has either total immunity to all three environmental factors or even has such a broad range that you would do better just to send out colony ships with colonize orders and let your settler's reports be your early scouting. So you DO want to use a race where you need to pick and choose which planets you want to inhabit. OTOH, don't narrow the ranges so much that you still are unlikely to find a habitable planet in the first 10 years, even with more efficient scouting. Anything else you can do that will speed up those ships and/or extend their range and useful life would also be useful.

Once the initial exploration has been done, these cheap scanners that keep getting better as your electronics gets better, will continue to serve you well, just in different ways.

2. Joats get a 20% addition to the maximum population for all their planets.

Obviously this means that, all other things being equal, Joats will have more resources and they will have more mines to produce minerals. Of course, all other things are almost never equal so what this most often translates into is being able to achieve reasonable production levels while spending fewer advantage points to achieve those levels.

What I have never seen mentioned in the newsgroup about this advantage is actually the most important and what makes it rival the starting penetrating scans in importance. Since the maximum population is 20% higher than any other race, you reach the 25% mark, where population growth stops being exponential, later than everyone else does. Similarly, with the 33.33% maximum growth level. This means that once you pass the point where everyone else would have hit 25%, you will grow faster. In fact, a Joat can produce more colonists per turn on a single planet than any other race. (Theoretically, an AR can but this will almost never happen in practice). Most people believe that a high-growth Hyper-Expander has this trait. Not true! An HE planet can not produce any more colonists per turn than a normal planet of any other race. A high-growth HE will reach the point of maximal growth MUCH faster however, since HE grows at twice the speed and needs to grow only half as many colonists to reach his max point.

Let's assume a normal race (non-Joat or HE) and a Joat. Both have 20% growth rates and both are on 100% planets. The normal race will be able to produce 50,000 colonists when it has 250,000 colonists on the planet and will hit its maximum growth of around 53,000 when it hits 333,300. The Joat will also grow 50,000 colonists at 250,000. But then at 300,000 it will grow 60,000 and when it reaches 400,000 colonists (1/3 of its maximum population) it will grow over 63,000.

I can't emphasize this point enough - when used to grow colonists the 20% addition to the maximum, means that you grow colonists faster than any other race, once you have reached the 25% population point for any planet you inhabit (assuming that you compare similar habitability %s).

3. Joats start at tech level 3 in all fields and for each field where they take costs 75% extra and check the starts at tech level 4 (3 for other races) they get tech level 4 - and so do all their starting ships and their planetary scanner.

So a Joat always starts with the Scoper 150 planetary scanner. Also a Joat will start with one Stalwart Defender (DD), a mining ship, two scouts, and a medium freighter or Privateer. So you start with an early tech advantage that can be used in a number of ways to help your hyper-growth efforts move forward. I always take the 'costs 75% more' in all fields and then take the starts at tech level 4 checkbox so that I start at tech level 4 in all fields. More particulars on using this advantage later.


So which LRTs should you take and which should you avoid with this race? Let's look at each one. Yes or no enclosed in parentheses indicates that this was the choice I made for this particular race, but I do not see that choice as being 'thematic' for either the Joat in particular or hyper-growth in general.

Improved Fuel Efficiency - Yes! If you take this all of your starting ships will have the Fuel Mizer engine built-in (well not after 2.6b, if you start at Prop 5, you get the Daddy Long Legs 7, yuck!). This greatly increases the ease with which your starting ships can get out there and find your habitable planets.

Total Terraforming - Yes! For this race design, definitely. For Joats in general, probably, but not absolutely essential. Look at it this way - since habitability % affects both the growth rate AND the maximum population (except for AR, which only experiences the growth rate effect), when growing colonists on a planet that is near the 25% habitability level, each 1% change in habitability results in a change in the actual number of colonists grown that is proportional, not to the new effective growth rate, but to the square of the habitability %. So being able to change the habitability % more quickly and further is a very good thing for a hyper-growth race. One thing that is often overlooked about total terraforming is that you get to start out terraforming 'yellow' planets to 'green' ones. For a race that does not start at tech level 3 in bio, you can only do 3% in any one area. If, like the Joats, you start at tech level 3 (or 4) in Bio, then you start with Total Terraforming +/- 5%.

Advanced Remote Mining - No. Anti-thematic because it conflicts with 'Only Basic Remote Mining'. For more, see 'Only Basic Remote Mining'.

Improved Starbases - Yes! I can think of a few race designs where this would be a waste of advantage points, but very few! Most of the discussion of this LRT has centered around Ultra Station and Death Stars. Even in 2.0 the cheapness and ability to build light ships of Space Docks was almost certainly underestimated. In 2.5 and better Space Docks become essential. Can you say 'gas station'? Good! A Space Dock will automatically refuel all of your ships that dock there. It can also build colony ships, scouts, medium freighters, privateers, minelayers, destroyers and frigates. All the things a hyper-growth, rapid expansion race needs and at a fraction of the cost of a full starbase. That reduced cost means that you can produce a Space Dock much sooner on a new colony than you could build a Starbase and take away fewer resources from the early development of the planet - the time when you can least afford to divert resources from development. A Joat can start at tech 4 in construction, which means you have the ability to build Space Docks from the beginning.

Generalized Research - Irrelevant. (No) Generally I recommend not using this. In solo games or one-on-ones against human players it will work ok, as long as you want tech in all 6 fields. But any game where you might wish to ally with another player and do tech transfers, this will cost you.

Ultimate Recycling - No. I like this in general, but you have to stick with those things that play to your race's other strengths. This does not.

Mineral Alchemy - (No). I also like playing with this, but currently prefer to invest the points in more/better mines. Generally you will have little from remote mining and, if this race does well, you will have more resources than you know what to do with. So, it can also help you across some initial problems early in the game. Especially an Ironium shortage, where you need Ironium for your colony ships and for the very mining ships that could bring you more Ironium. Still, I think the mines are probably a better investment.

No Ram Scoop Engines - (No) Definitely debatable.

Cheap Engines - No, never! This race is designed to grow well in medium to large universe settings. In a small to tiny setting, I might think about it, but I like to speed around and just hate it when some of my fleet doesn't make it to an important battle.

Only Basic Remote Mining - Yes. This is thematic because it gives you an extra 10% to your max population. Put together with the Joat's built-in 20%, this means you can house 32% additional colonists on any planet. It also means that when growing colonists around the ideal levels, you grow 32% more colonists per turn (well, 10% more than you would w/o this LRT)

No Advanced Scanners - Yes! For a Joat since 2.6b this has been a real no-brainer. You get points, your normal scans get doubled and the only things you miss out on are the penetrating scanners for ships and planets. Generally a scout will be both cheaper and better than any of those ships scanners would have been. The planetary ones are better, but if you're out laying mines around your planets with frigates or scouts, the overall effect will be superior to a planetary penetrating scanner. You start with 160/40 ly scanners on all your scouts, DDs and FFs (with tech 4 in Electronics).

Low Starting Population - No! About as anti-thematic as they come.

Bleeding Edge Technology - (No) I could be wrong on this one. You get points. But I do not like the increased costs for building stuff as soon as you get it. I like to build a LOT of tech level 3 and 4 stuff early in the game and before I've done any research.

Regenerating Shields - (No). It's only 10 points. Other than that I'm kind of ambivalent about it.

If you have been following along in the race wizard then you should have a total of -175 points.

Habitabillity Ranges

Time to move on to page 4 of the Race Wizard and set up the habitability ranges. For this race design I wanted to improve the speed with which I could develop a planet w/o making habitable planets too scarce or spending the farm on points. In 2.0 there was a trick you could use here, where you would take immunities in two areas and then narrow the third range and slide it to one side or the other. The result was a race that could inhabit 1 out of 4 planets w/o terraforming. The worst green planet for such a race had a habitability of 41% and each point of terraforming produced for a planet improved its habitability by more than 1%. Total cost in advantage points? None! Jeff^2 realized this was not good and fixed 2.5 so that such a race would now have to pay over 400 points. By taking one immunity you can get several similar benefits, but for a much more reasonable cost. Initially, I chose to take immunity to Radiation so that the Radiating Hydro Ram Scoop engine would not kill colonists. Since then I have found that I'm not using that engine very often, so I've tried redesigning the race taking the immunity in one of the other two areas and found that it always seemed to cost me more points.

Gravity 0.18 to 1.04 with 0.56 ideal Temperature 4 to 156 with 80 ideal Radiation immune

Worst possible green planet is about 15% habitable. Each 2 points of terraforming yield about 3% in habitability, And only one in 5 planets are habitable. Really that's 1 in 5 are green with about 1 in 4 being green or yellow from the start and about half the planets being green or yellow by the time you hit Bio 17. Cost in advantage points: a gain of 130 points. The point total is now -45.

Now let's spend those points and then some! Move the growth rate spinner up to 16%. That cost 75 points. Now go to 17%, that cost 75 points. 18% costs 74 points and 19% costs 75 points. 20% costs 149. What?! That last % cost twice what each of the other ones cost. Was it worth twice as much? Not in my opinion. So I settled for a 19% growth rate.

Why increase the growth rate at all? In fact, many people lower the growth rate to buy other things. The single most important change you can make to an exponential growth curve is to increase/decrease the base - in this case, the growth rate. A 15% growth rate allows your population to double every 5 years. A 19% growth rate allows the population to double every 4 years. So after 20 years, the 19% growth planet will have twice as many colonists as a 15% growth planet (five doublings for the 19% and only four doublings for the 15% growth planet). Of course, in games where 'Accelerated BBS play' was selected' you'll be out of the exponential growth phase before the second doubling, And w/o 'Acc. BBS play' you still will get fewer than 4 doublings before leaving the exponential growth curve. Still, the doubling time is a very useful way of visualizing the difference between different growth rates.

That leaves quite a deficit in advantage points. I already mentioned that on page 6 of the Race Wizard, the research page, I take 'costs 75% more' for each field and then check the 'starts at tech level 4' box at the bottom. Do that and your point total is now positive 56.

Now on to the production page. To grow your resources at a maximal rate, you want to build factories first (as long as you don't have to resort to mineral alchemy). The more factories and colonists you have once you start to build mines, the faster you will be able to build mines. Your factories will also help you to terraform more quickly, so you can build to your optimal growth sooner. As soon as you run short of Germanium, start building mines, but make sure to build all the factories and do all the terraforming you want, before building mines each turn. I'll come back to the bit about terraforming later.

I leave the 'one resource is produced for every x colonists' alone. Making colonists inherently produce fewer resources is anti-thematic. While having colonists produce more resources is horribly expensive.

I raise the cost to build a mine up to 15 to get more points. (Now at 272). I'll spend those points to check the box for 'factories cost one less Germanium to build'. This is very thematic if you are trying to achieve fast growth and not much use if your goal is maximizing total resources or minerals per planet. Basically this translates into having to build only 75% as many mines to achieve full factory development and/or 75% as much Germanium shipped into a developing colony.

I also increase the factory efficiency to 12 and number operated to 11, while lowering factory cost to 9. Both the cost and efficiency changes will help speed up your growth, while the efficiency and numbers of factories operated will improve the overall economy. Strictly speaking, to achieve maximal speed, I should crank the cost as low as I can, while increasing the efficiency, at the cost of total numbers of factories operated. This would result in being able to build the most factories in the shortest time and for the least cost. But I think that that would cost too much in the long-term-each planet would produce a lot fewer resources.

Similarly, I increase mine efficiency to 11 and number of mines operable to 13. Remember earlier when I said that I would increase the efficiency and numbers of mines to compensate for not taking mineral alchemy? Well, here it is.

The cost for mines is the most debatable of all these choices. Taken by itself, increasing the cost of mines is not a good thing. Further it is anti-thematic in that it slows down economic development, especially on the homeworld. I recommend it only for this race and only with appropriate play designed to minimize its impact. Actually an IT could do a better job of minimizing the impact by gating Germanium to developing worlds. I can't find a better place to get the required points from and so I settle for expensive mines.

If I were to take 'no ramscoop engines', I would most likely spend the points here on either factory efficiency, mine efficiency or factory cost. If I wound up with left over points, I would spend them on improving my hab ranges or on surface minerals.

That brings the advantage point total to two left over. I can find nothing useful to spend those points on so I go back to the first page and at the bottom of the page make sure that my leftover points will be spent on surface minerals. This will give me at least a little extra Germanium at the start.

What we have now is a race that is designed to grow fast, very fast. To achieve that I have accepted a few handicaps/limitations. First of all, this race will never profitably inhabit more than about two-thirds of the planets (still you can turn this into a limited advantage through good diplomacy). This race is going to have to throw lots of resources at research to get anywhere after the 'free' start at level 4. This race will never be a super-productive race - planets max out at 3,062 resources per turn (with current settings for factory efficiency). The race also has a number of advantages which, I think allow it to more than compensate for those disadvantages. It grows on any decent planet very quickly. It can locate and settle decent planets very quickly. It can convert planets easily into near homeworld quality worlds. It can lay mines and build Space Docks from the very beginning. Because of the skewed habitability ranges, it can easily negotiate with other races for cohabitation of controlled areas in a galaxy. Also, because you and your neighbors are less likely to be racing for the same juicy border planets, you are less likely to get sucked into an early, debilitating, border war.

I have recently been playing with a variant of this race that I will go into in more detail near the end of the article where I discuss the changes I would like to see the Jeffs make to Stars! for playing the Joat.

How to play: The early game

At the start of the game I set my research % to zero and the field being researched to Weapons with the next field set to Construction. I may change the fields before I spend a single resource on research, as circumstances dictate, but this is what I start with. I set the production queue to auto-build at least 200 factories, followed by a similar auto-build order for 200 mines.

The first thing I do is (re)design some new ships. I copy the long-range scout, rip off the engine and put on a fuel mizer and then remove the scanner. This gives me a cheaper, lighter ship, with both greater range and speed than the original. I then take the colony ship hull and put on a fuel mizer and colony module (or copy the Santa Maria and replace the engine with a fuel mizer). While I'm in the ship design wizard, I'll go ahead and build a privateer hull with fuel mizer and three fuel pods.

Now for the start of the micro-management:

I take my starting armed probe and give it a series of waypoints that map out about 12 or so stars I want it to visit. Then I give another set of waypoints to my long-range scout. This one generally gets about 30-50 waypoints depending on universe density. Then I assign waypoints to the Stalwart Defender (DD hereafter). For all the ships except the long-range scout I try to stay in within about 150 ly of my homeworld (300 ly if they have fuel mizer engines).

Next I look to see if any of the paths that I have just plotted, either miss a nearby planet entirely or make it take a serious 'jog' out of its way to cover a particular planet. I try to identify 1-4 such planets. If one of them is within about 50 ly and away from the others, I will send the cotton picker (miner) there. For the others I plot out waypoints with my Swashbuckler (privateer), being careful to get it out to those planets and back to the homeworld in the fewest number of years. I also return to the ships with penetrating scanners and delete from their waypoint list any planet that I sent the privateer or miner to instead.

Now for the messy part. I return to the ships with penetrating scanners and zoom in to 400%. Now I move along the path, starting at the beginning, and move the waypoint away from the first planet. If there are 2 or more planets that will be covered by the 40 ly penetrating scan then I put a waypoint in a place that will scan as many of those planets as I can, deleting waypoints for each of the planets that I will get to scan from that point in space. Even if I will only be able to get one planet in the penetrating scan, I still move the waypoint away from the planet. I try to do this in such a way that I can reduce the time and fuel spent to get a scan on the target planet. I go along the line repeating this for each remaining planet waypoint until they have all been done.

This is not a precise process at all and I certainly wish for better tools to do it with, but I find the results sufficiently rewarding to warrant the effort. You can use intermediate waypoints that take you from a given point in space to a particular planet and then shift the waypoint in space around and read the distance off the fleet waypoints window to get the waypoint within 40 ly of a target planet. This gets more complicated as the number of possible planets that can be included in a single scan goes up. As to setting the speed so as to minimize your fuel used, just set your speed so that you will get to the waypoint in the fewest number of turns and then choose the slowest speed that will get you there in that amount of time. It helps to remember that for each warp speed the total distance traveled in one year is no more than the square of the warp speed in ly plus 0.99. That is, warp 9 can take you as far as 81.99 ly in a single turn. Your scanners however, get no truncation or rounding, if you are 40.01 ly away from your target then you won't scan it. So if you find yourself getting to a waypoint that has its target planets well within scanning range (each is say, no more than 35 ly from the waypoint) and that waypoint is 83 ly away from the previous waypoint. You would get there in 2 years at w7 or higher (don't risk w10). Move the second waypoint back 3-4 ly so that it is within 81.99 ly of the previous waypoint but still less than 40 ly away from all of the target planets. Now you can reach that waypoint in 1 year at w9.

Repeat the entire process for each of the 3 ships with penetrating scans. Try to have the armed probe and DD on a sort of looping course so you can send them back to the homeworld when done so you can scrap the armed probe and scrap or refuel the DD.

It is possible that one or more planets will begin within 40 ly of your homeworld. I've had as many as 3 show up in a clumped game. If this happens then you will have a penetrating scan of it/them on 2400. If it's green, colonize it. If not, then send your miner there, unless the mineral concentrations are truly pathetic. You may relocate the miner later to a better site, but meanwhile its free minerals. The only reason not to send it to a scanned red/yellow planet with single digit concentrations of Germanium is that you expect to find another, better planet next year and waiting might save you a year of transit time. Do not just sit and wait for a 90%+ concentration planet to appear. Just take the best thing you can see in the first year or two of scans. You can always relocate later, but a little more Germanium early is just too valuable to pass up.

Before ending the first turn, look at the paths you have mapped out for exploration. Are there any really nice clumps close by that you just couldn't fit in? Hopefully not, but if there are, then insert one of those cheaper long-range scouts into the production queue. The number of such scouts you feel it is necessary to build will vary depending on universe size, density, and your geographic position (you will need fewer if you are backed into a corner or flat against an edge). If you are near the center of a medium or bigger universe, then you will likely need at least one or two extra scouts. I've actually built as many as 6 extra scouts in the first few years. If you decide to build more than one extra scout, I recommend spreading them out and building 1 per year. I'm not certain that this is best, but it seems to work well for me.

If you start near a corner or edge, so that a region is somewhat blocked off for your own private use, explore that area last. You want to leap out and be the first one to find and inhabit planets that would be taken by someone else if they got there first. You may not get to hold all of these early acquisitions, but whether you lose them or not, you will gain a lot of useful info on your opposition, including how war-like they are. Don't delay exploring the private area for long, wormholes, SS and the like will let unwelcome visitors in. Perhaps even a neighbor who has read this may think to steal a march on you by exploring it first.

Once the scout's reports start pouring in, start sending your colony ships out to inhabit the green planets (ignore the yellow ones for now). Colonize the one's with the highest habitability %s first. Favor near ones over far ones. Build just enough colony ships each turn to successfully colonize every green planet you see, except those already targeted by your colony ships. Once the colonies you are trying to establish are about 150 ly or more away from your homeworld, you will probably want to build a long-range scout to go with the colony ship as a sort of poor Joat's fuel transport.

There will likely come a time when you want to build more colony ships, but your homeworld has just run out of Germanium. Just wait a year or two and you will build enough mines to start building colony ships again. Do not clog up the production queue with ships that cannot be built in a single year! There are occasions where you will need to have something in the queue that takes 2-3 years, but those should be rare, exceptional and only for good cause. The earliest case you will see of this in most games is building that bare Space Dock on a developing planet. You should usually go ahead and do that just after finishing the terraforming for the planet. If the gas station (bare Spaced Dock will take more than 2 years, then I advise waiting until you have more mines built or can ship in enough minerals and just build factories and mines until then.

Once the homeworld population exceeds 140,000, start building those privateers we designed earlier. In the first edition of this article I suggested using medium freighters for this purpose. In some cases without acc. BBS play you may indeed prefer the medium freighter. Otherwise the privateer is preferred. Why? The privateer costs more minerals and resources than a medium freighter. The privateer does cost more minerals, but less Germanium. The privateer design I gave uses 2 Germanium for 250kt of cargo. This is just awesomely cheap. Further, with the fuel mizer, 650 mg built-in fuel tank and 3 fuel tanks, you will usually be zipping around at w8 and frequently at w9, even while loaded. So you get a very efficient means of moving colonists and Germanium around for a very small cost in Germanium. The low Germanium cost is important because at this stage of the game, available Germ/3 = factories. Further, you will be sucking your Germanium dry while building up your infrastructure. Even with a high Germanium concentration and 400kt on the surface, you will soon be reduced to only as much Germanium on hand as you can mine in one turn. A low Germanium cost for your ships means that you can afford to build one or more a turn w/o having to block the queue for more than the current year or resort to mineral alchemy. If your Swashbuckler has returned from its scouting mission, use it instead of building a privateer or medium freighter. With acc. BBS play under 2.6c, you should reach that population by 2401. These privateers will hold 25,000 colonists. Ferry full loads of colonists out to your nearest, highest habitability planets, go out as fast as you can and still have around 100mg of fuel left (you'll burn a lot more fuel going out than you will coming back), then return as quickly as you can. Build as many of these as you need to to service all of your new planets, but no more than 1 per turn and don't plan to build one when an existing privateer (freighter) is due to return the same year the new freighter would be built. The idea here is to develop your new colonies as rapidly as possible, while allowing your home planet to continue to grow and develop. Try to never take more colonists off of your homeworld than the planet summary says you will grow that year.

Given all of this, why would you ever build a medium freighter instead of a privateer? Ironium! The privateers cost 72 Ironium each (57 w/o the fuel pods). Whereas the cost for the medium freighter in Ironium is 1/3 to ¼ as much. This could be caused by a 30% concentration of Ironium on your homeworld or, in non-acc. BBS play, by a very successful colonization program. So if Ironium is dear and needed for colony ships as well as your freighters, choose the medium freighter with a fuel mizer and cargo pod instead.

But wait, if the privateer costs so much Ironium and Ironium is always in short supply once Capital Missiles start being built, shouldn't we build the medium freighter from the start rather than the privateer and save that Ironium for later? No! Building 15 such privateers would cost no more than 1080 kt of Ironium (less if some propulsion or construction tech is gained). With those 15 privateers you should be able to bring a dozen worlds up to full production much more quickly than w/o or with the slower medium freighters (which, because of Germanium costs, would also depress your economic growth). That should let you secure many more additional planets over what you would have had with slower expansion. But suppose, the difference only let you get one additional planet at say, 90%? That 1080 kt of Ironium was less than the average cost of one BB, but such an additional planet is worth a LOT more than a single BB. Besides, the whole point of this race is to get out there and grab territory NOW…FAST!

In the first few planet reports you should find a good planet for mining. Don't worry if it isn't perfect; just pick a red one that has a reasonable concentration of Germanium. Then send your miner there. Depending on how desperate you anticipate your mineral situation becoming (after you have built as many mines on your homeworld as you can operate), you may want to build some extra miners. If possible hold off on that until year 2410. I've been in a situation where the Ironium shortage was so bad, I had to start building extra miners by 2404, but that was an extreme case and version 2.5 (no homeworld minimum concentrations of 30%).

Once your first colonies reach the 80,000 mark, stop sending loads of new colonists there, and switch to another planet. Those first boatloads of colonists can shave 10-20 years off of the time it takes to develop a planet. Once the population hits the 80,000 mark the growth will be pretty rapid. That extra 25,000 colonists would only help out such a planet by 2-4 years. So take your colonists where they will do the most good.

Design a Space Dock that has nothing on it. I call mine Gas Stations. As soon as you can build one in a single turn on a new planet, do so. Now you can build scouts, colony ships, freighters, minelayers, etc. here. All of your ships can refuel here. Redirect some of your returning privateers (freighters) to this planet for refueling and colonists. At this point the planet should be well enough developed that you can grow more than 25,000 colonists a turn, so loading the ship won't set you back any colonists at all.

Soon you will find that you are no longer using your homeworld to supply colonists for new colonies. The routes from your first colonies to the new colonies will be shorter and your ships can refuel at the now developed colonies as well as pick up new loads of colonists. About the same time, you will also find that you have built as many factories and mines as your homeworld population can operate, so you will now have leftover resource points which will automatically go into research. I like to get Weapons 5 first so I can build a Beta torp equipped starbase, Then propulsion 5, mainly as a prerequisite for the first stargate. Then construction 5, for stargates, and construction 6 for frigates. This is when I usually start bringing out minelayers.

It is very important to try to anticipate when your factories will reach the level of what your colonists can operate. This is the point at which the planet becomes a net exporter of Germanium. Try to be sure to have some freighters on hand to start carrying excess Germanium to your developing colonies as soon as it starts piling up on the ground. When things are going VERY well, my first loads of Germanium will arrive at my developing colonies at the same time that those colonies finish their terraforming. This means that I can pump all of the resources at those planets straight into making factories, while my population (and resources from population) grows at the best possible rate. Only when that Germanium is exhausted and /or (hopefully not until) the factories are up to the number operable by my colonists, will I go full bore into building mines. Done this way, the number of years you spend building mines will be greatly reduced. This is the only way to make those expensive mines pay off for you, get the benefits while minimizing the costs.

You should watch the resources produced per year of your developing planets. As soon as a planet reaches 70 resources, put one unit of auto-build max terraforming at the top of the production queue. To see why, refer back to the section on total terraforming and to the paragraph above about minimizing the cost of expensive mines. When it reaches 140 resources, add another max terraform to the same line. Keep doing that every time your available resources on the planet passes a multiple of 70, until you have done all the terraforming that can currently be done at that planet. Meanwhile, keep auto-building what factories and mines you can afford AFTER terraforming. Just make sure to do the factories before the mines. Do not build defenses!

At this point, if you haven't already, put up a space dock, preferably with a stargate. If you can't afford to put up the dock with a gate in one year, put up a bare space dock if you CAN do that in one year. Then convert it next year to the model with the stargate. Again when you can afford to do so in a single year, convert the space dock to a starbase.

Once the homeworld reaches about 900,000 population, you will notice your growth rate really start to deteriorate, at this point it is a good idea to start ferrying colonists from the younger, faster growing colonies, back to the older ones, being careful not to overpopulate. Whether you ever max out your older planets or not is really unimportant, except for your homeworld! (Or for any homeworld you capture). That extra 29% mineral concentration should be used to the max.

Mid to late games:

To me the mid game begins when you first establish contact with another race. This is not the same thing as you scanning their ships or them scanning yours. By contact I mean either negotiations or conflict. When negotiating/conflicting over a particular planet or region of space, I would tend to concede those areas that are closer to one of his starbases (not orbital fort) than to one of yours. While distance to homeworlds is not completely irrelevant, it is close to irrelevant and should be treated that way. Unless your opponent is playing in a similar style, you SHOULD have claims to planets that are closer to his homeworld than they are to yours, but a the same time are closer to your nearest space dock than they are to one of his space docks/starbases (if he has any other than his homeworld!). The point is that you can make ships, refuel and repair ships and gate in reinforcements to a space dock. Any planet that is closer to your space dock than to his gives you the advantage of shorter supply lines. Don't let your opponent talk you out of this, fight him if necessary. If he insists on fighting, just 'think of it as 'evolution in action'.

Once an alien has been sighted, if not before, start erecting minefields along your perceived border. If you later ally with him, just set him to friend and he will appreciate the fields. If he is not friendly, then the minefields will slow him down. If you are still negotiating, be careful not to get 'over-enthusiastic' with the minefields. People get upset when their transports traveling in THEIR space get blown to bits by mines!

Having said all of that, by all means negotiate. Make friends. Influence people. You can usually even afford a little generosity. (Interesting psychology note here: It is usually easier to get people to like/work with/help/trust you by asking them to do a small favor for you, than by doing a favor for them. If you do the favor for them, they're always unsure just what you may ask for in return later. Uncertainty makes them nervous, then anxious and then sometimes nasty. If they do you the favor, then they know you 'owe' them and so they are much less anxious that you will hit them with some request (demand) later that seems reasonable but is really not appropriate for the favor that was originally rendered.) This does NOT apply to large favors.

Allies can provide technology-even if they are at -50% everywhere and you are at +75% with equal economies, you still both gain if you concentrate on one or two fields and he does the rest while the two of you trade. Allies make wonderful sticks to threaten unruly neighbors with. They can often do things your race can't and vice versa (every WM needs someone to lay minefields for him). And the more of them you have the better-for a while.

There are problems though. The biggest problem is just what to do with those allies as the game approaches its conclusion. Sure, you can have an 'alliance' win, as long as the host allows that. But even then, that soon becomes old. So how do you end the alliance? The longer and stronger it has been, the more your former allies will revile you when you turn on them. No problem? Fine, unless you want to play in other games. Sooner or later you will build up a reputation and it will follow you. No simple advice here, just remember that 'breaking up is hard to do'. Don't forget, your allies are probably thinking along similar lines…

There is a real danger in forming too many alliances in a single game though, especially early on. The danger is that you will ally yourself right out of expansion room. The ideal would be to always have one clear enemy that you are at war with and whose territory you can expand into. The problem comes when your only expansion routes lead through an ally.

Don't count on wormholes or safe passage through an ally for this. You need a region of space that is close to an established colony with a space dock (preferably a starbase), preferably more than one such colony. These will be your bases of operation and forward routing points for new ships built further back in your empire. If you make allies to the point where you have no such route, you have just screwed yourself and face a number of unpleasant choices.

You also need to be careful when accepting a potential ally that having you as an ally does not box in the ally. He will eventually have to strike out at somebody….It also pays to make sure that both the expansion you and your allies do does not box any of you in-until you're ready to take on a (former) ally that is.

OTOH, I have never had to go out of my way to create enemies--some people say its my wonderful personality coming through. :-) Seriously, there has always been someone out there who really wanted to attack me SO bad, that he was even willing to do it when it was to his obvious disadvantage.

A devious player could deliberately tempt an opponent into an unwise first attack, by deliberately removing defenders from a closely guarded border. In this way an opponent can be lured into an unprovoked attack. You let them win a battle, maybe two, and then with the (verbal) support of the rest of the galaxy, 'teach him a lesson'.

Joat Scanners.

First a few questions, mainly for the Stars! Authors.

1) Why would a Joat ever put a scanner on a scout or destroyer? And a little calculation will show that the gains from putting even 5 scanners on a frigate aren't worth the cost, either. So why in the world do the Joat starting ships include scanners?

2) Why would a Joat NOT take 'no advanced scanners'? You can make some arguments for not taking this, but when you look at the cost of building a single scout and figure how many scouts you would need to equal a penetrating planet-based scanner, they really don't hold up!

3) Why is it that the Joats get a technology dependent ability that retroactively affects existing ships? The AR get a production boost for each Energy tech level, but the growth there is less than linear. Joat scanner range growth is linear with Electronics levels and affects ships already in use.

I played in a game where an SS player complained about the Inner Strength special item, the Tachyon Detector, being able to negate the Super Stealth sole advantage (actually SS does have a few other advantages, but I digress). Think about this, it takes Elect 14 to get the Tachyon detector, which then costs 1 Ironium, 4 Boranium and 59(!) resources to build. Each Tachyon Detector yields a 5% reduction in the effectiveness of cloaks. So to be useful, the IS player has to build Tachyon Detectors into a hull AND add scanners, plus the cost of the hull, engine, etc. Now consider a Joat at the same Elect 14 and assume that he has done the automatic thing and taken 'no advanced scanners'. This same Joat can build a scout, with engine for a cost of 2 Ironium, 1 Boranium, 2 Germanium and 4 Resources! Such a scout would have a built-in scanner with 560/140ly range. Since the best possible cloaking (according to the help file) is 98%, such a scout could see even the best possible cloaked ship if it were within 11.2 ly. It is possible to then construct a 'net' of such scouts and use them, with appropriate backup to sweep away even the most cloaked of ships. To completely cover a grid 100ly by 100ly you need fewer than 150 of these scouts, spaced about 8 ly apart (with some clever alternating of patterns, you can cut this down to about 120 scouts). Total cost for 150 such scouts? 300 Ironium, 150 Boranium, 300 Germanium and 600 resources. About what you would spend for 1 good galleon or cruiser. The human cost to the player in terms of micro-management is another matter. But if you think that part of it is bad, think about how daunting it is to play against. Since each scout is within 8 ly of at least 2 other scouts, any cloaked ship that kills one will be seen by its neighbors and so can be targeted for destruction. Yes, there are ways around that and ways around those workarounds. But what happened to the SS ability to come and go as they see fit, unseen? Not into the center of that net, they're not! And as the Joats skill in Electronics rises, the mesh of the net gets bigger, needing fewer ships and/or covering more area, but for the same low price. Imagine, if you can, having to play against THAT!

Please excuse the extended example, but I wanted to show just how powerful the ability to build such plentiful cheap scanning ships is. There are some important limits however, the 512 fleet maximum being foremost.

Taking/losing planets and the need for close allies:

The decision to give the possibility for tech gains from the capture of planets may have a greater impact on the way Stars! Is played than any other change in 2.6c, including the 'fix' for the split/intercept problem. The reason for this is that it provides an important alternative to alliances for gaining tech other than researching it (as well as providing another, potentially cheaper, method for allies to exchange tech). Taking planets has two important advantages over the combat or scrapping method, which is that the only requirement to have a chance to gain tech is that your opponent be superior to you tech-wise in some field. And the tech advantage does not have to be expressible, or expressed, by some item. An important disadvantage is that you cannot target some particular area that your victim has superior tech in to get your tech build from, as you can when an ally is giving you tech via scrapping or combat. Further, you may not even know whether the guy you're taking planets from has superior tech to yours in any field.

The main point is that you now have an alternative way to build tech. Note that you cannot receive more than one tech build per turn from the combination of taking planets, winning combats and having ships scrapped at your starbase. So getting tech from taking a planet happens INSTEAD OF other types of tech xfers (or one of them happens instead of the build from taking a planet).

The main point here is that it is now possible to get tech xfer benefits very similar to those you would get from an ally, without allying! In other words, who needs allies? This makes it much easier and rewarding to 'go it alone' than it has been in the past. Even if you ally with others or plan to, you need to be aware that your opponents may not.

The effect of game parameters:

All hyper-growth races are penalized by Acc. BBS play. Why? Because if everyone started at 25,000 colonists and left them on their homeworld for 10 turns, a race with a 19% growth rate would have 140,000 colonists at the end of that time, while a race with a 15% growth rate would have 100,000 colonists. Even with the change to Acc. BBS play in 2.6c, this is still true, but the effect has been greatly reduced.

With starting penetrating scans the Joats advantage is greater the greater the density of the universe. In a sparse universe, a Joat will gain small time advantages when scouting by reducing overall trip length and time. But in a dense or packed universe, a Joat can expect to scan more than one world on his path, each turn! In packed universes a Joat with tech 4 in electronics and a good engine (fuel mizer) can EXPECT to scan 3-4 planets per turn, per ship (and scans of 6-8 planets on a single turn are not uncommon)! The only way for another race to equal this is to build a lot more scouts, which will slow down their development other ways.

Slower tech advances tends to favor the players who took the +75% research disadvantage AND checked the 'starts at tech level 3 (4)' box at the beginning of the game. This is because at no extra cost to that player, the costs for everyone else to catch up to you just doubled. Again, this is an early advantage that will go away later in the game. With all tech costing double, the amount by which that 'costs 75% extra' holds you down will also increase.

Universe size is the hardest one to explain, but basically the fewer the number of opponents per planet or per ly, the better for the hyper-growth race. The best way to see this is to imagine yourself in a 16-player game in a tiny universe. The race I've just described SHOULD get crushed! There's nowhere to expand to and the other races that spent their points on being effective early, but have crippled their long-term growth, should do well.

Along similar lines, it should be obvious that the farther apart the starting positions are, the better for the hyper-grower. However, those scanners together with 'no advanced scanners' may really let you take advantage of an unsuspecting neighbor. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man would be king.

Changes I would like to see the authors make to Stars! for Joat and hyper-growth play:

Put fuel mizers back on the starting ships when the 'improved fuel efficiency' LRT was taken and starts at level 5 in Propulsion.

Along those lines I would like to be able to define the designs used for the starting ships. I have never liked the scanners built into Joat starting scouts and DD. Nor have I cared for the scanner on the Miner. I also don't like the design of the DD, 'Stalwart Defender'. It's not really good at anything!

Also for the Joat in 2.6a and higher, I would like to see the scanner slots on the scout and frigate hulls either disappear entirely (with a corresponding decrease in cost and mass) or else made more versatile, so that other parts could be put there.

Joats being able to get points for 'no advanced scanners' is silly after the scanner changes in 2.6a. I will take the points (and longer scanning ranges) as long as they are offered, though.

I would also like to see more help with micro-management tasks. I suggested to Jeff McBride some time ago making the Stars! program an OLE server, so that people who wished to could write their own assistant programs (or use one someone else developed and published or sold). Barring such 'hooks' being made available to the Stars! community, I would like to see the Jeffs provide more automation and reporting info.

I mentioned earlier casting a 'net' of scouts to catch cloaked ships, This strategy can also be extremely useful when trying to tear out minefield defenses. I would like to see a way to mark a region (rectangular would be fine) on the map and give each ship (or each ship of a certain design in that region) the same orders (waypoint tasks). This would necessitate some additional waypoint tasks such as--move in x direction for y light years, then [standard waypoint task here]', 'converge on some planet/object/coordinate', or even 'fan out'.

I would also like to see shipbuilding added as an automatable production task. I would also like to see conditional tasks, such as 'if resources > 70 then do 1 unit max terraform'.

Let me go back to that first point about those truly horrible w7 engines that go on the starting Joat ships when you start with propulsion 5. I played Joats for several months with those ships, griping and bitching every time about how I couldn't push them to w9 (some wouldn't even get anywhere at w8!) and about how quickly they ran out of gas. Once they run out of gas, you are reduced to w1.5, while the fuel mizer 'coasts' at w4 (averaging out to about w5 over several years. I finally tried a variant of my Joat that got around that and started with the Fuel Mizer engine instead. I like it. I'm still not sure if it is better than the one I gave earlier or not, but you may want to give it a try, if for nothing else than to see how much more useful those starting ships can be with the right engine on them.

To get the Fuel Mizer on my starting ships, I had to reduce my starting tech level in Prop. Not taking Improved Fuel Efficiency would reduce starting prop to 4, but it would also take away the fuel mizer! So I did the only other thing I could do, I reduced the research cost for Prop to normal. Here are all the changes I made to the race:

All LRTs remain unchanged, as does pop growth rate. 0.17 to 0.92g 8C to 168 C Immune to Radiation. This gives sitll gives 1 in 5 planets habitable instead but is very close to 1 in 6. The other version is very close to 1 in 4. The only change I made on the factory and mine production page was to reduce the number of mines operable to 12. Then on research, I took prop at normal cost. This leaves 0 points.

I really do not know which form of the race is superior. There are certainly some long and short term costs. Do they outweigh the starting fuel mizers and the cheaper prop research? Unclear. I think that it is an interesting commentary on how poorly I think the w7 engine measures up to the fuel mizer, that I am willing to recommend such an un-thematic change to the race.

Well, I think that is it for now. Thank you for bearing with me this long and I hope you found this enjoyable and useful.

To those of you with websites that house Stars! strategy articles, you are welcome to post this article on your site. I ask only that you: 1) Credit me as the author. 2) If you make any changes, that you clearly mark them and supply the original text. 3) Email me with the address where I can view it or refer others to.look for it.

Scott Phelps

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