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From having played a few dozen hours so far it seems to me like Stellaris suffers the same problem as most 4X games in that the optimal strategy seems to be to ignore the other empires whenever possible in favor of investing all your resources in growing as fast as possible. The reward you get for playing optimally is to get huge, and have a huge amount of micromanagement to do.

So with all that said it seems like the sensible choice is not to play optimally. Let's make conquest a goal in itself, and not ask whether war is sensible, but rather wether war is possible. Does anyone else want to see the galaxy burn?

Meet our protagonists, the Haahn. They're desert dwelling bird people who are thrifty and industrious, but slow breeders and sedentary.

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For government I went with science directorate, because the +1 tech alternatives cuts down on the impact of RNG. That means we have to be materialists. Militarist seems an obvious second choice and, since we want to make all the galaxy part of our big happy empire, I put the last point in xenophile

Starting weapons are missiles and ftl method is hyperlanes.

I chose an elliptical galaxy to avoid the boring possibility of starting in an area of empty space, and small to keep the number of names and places possible for readers to keep up with.
 

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Our home system ended up being roughly half way between the galactic core and rim, on the western side (I'm using compass directions for ease, even if it makes no sense). There's dense clusters of stars to our north east and south east. Hopefully there will be some colonizable planets here that will add several stars to our borders. Otherwise there will be good locations for frontier outposts here. We have to additional star systems in our starting borders and two more close enough they'll be added soon. That's a pretty good start from what I've seen so far.

On our home world two of the random tiles turn out to be mineral/food tiles. Since we have the slow breeder trait, and extra food doesn't contribute that much growth to begin with, I don't care that much about the food part. I'm starting a mine on the 2 mineral tile right away. I'm waiting a bit with the other to see what kind of station possibilities our science ship finds. It might be that I'd rather clear the tile blocker from the two energy tile and build a power plant.

I do a standard opening of having our science ship survey our starting system with our constructor ship following it to be close when the science ship finds something to build. The starting fleet gets split up and sent in different directions looking for colonizable planets.

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In technology colony ships in biology research is an obvious choice. In engineering our choices are upgraded minig networks, which I don't expect to have the minerals to build, plus they're really inefficient 90 minerals for +1 mineral per month compared to 60 for +2 for the level 1 mining network or 80 for +2 for most mining stations. Second choice is engineering labs, which also cost 90 minerals and I don't expect to be able to afford them. Next option is fusion missiles, which would boost our ships' damage by ~15.5% and increase their cost by ~21%. Since minerals are scare early on I wouldn't use them even if I got the research for free and this tech is twice as expensive as any of the others. The final tech option (told you science directorate is good) is powered exoskeletons. It gives +5% army damage and +5% minerals. The mineral bonus is just straight up really good and takes effect from the moment the tech finishes research, an obvious choice.

In physics our first choice is Solar Panel Network. This space port upgrade give +3 energy per month for 60 minerals. As good a deal as a level 1 power plant on a planet without needing a pop to work it, and a far better deal than the vast majority of energy mining stations. The only problem is just having one space port to put it on. The second option is fusion reactors. These reactors give more power per slot, freeing up utility slots on our ships for other things. Since reactors are the only thing we can use utilty slots for with our current tech they are completely useless to us right now. Like most (all?) ship upgrade tech they're also less cost efficient than their lower tech counterparts, giving 15 power for 10 minerals compared to the starting reactors' 10 power for 5 minerals.

The third physics option is deflectors. Most people seem to like deflectors, but I don't see it. Unlike hull points shields recover by themselves over time, but in my experience ships tend to focus fire, so most ships that take any damage tend to take a lot of damage. On the other hand increasing your ships durability by 1/6th with shields increases their price by a quarter. I'll pass. The final physics option is physics labs, which work exactly like engineering labs that I talked about earlier. So solar panels it is. Let's go green!

CC60DBDCAB4FE105C208CD0CEE3713F42EB8C1F9
 

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6 month update:

Six months might be bit short for an update, but it seemed appropriate since we just ran in to our first alien empire, straight to our east.

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That's a bit unfortunate since we haven't found that many colonizable planets and there's a gaia world at Tiblia (where our ship is) that's almost certainly within their borders. I'd really like that planet though. There's a desert world just south east of Tiblia at Quadji and we could settle here to try to push our borders onto Tiblia before they settle it, if they make contact before we can steal Tiblia. Alternatively we could try to build a frontier outpost at Qadji and push our borders in to settle Tiblia directly.

If we can't get Tiblia I'd prefer to go for Thaaram at the very top of the screenshot where there's another gaia world. Since everyone can colonize gaia worlds there's a much greater chance of the AI snapping these up than desert worlds. In terms of desert worlds there's one at Cebelrai, which is within our borders already but might be able to push them out to Durbafur. There's also one in the northwest at Quannaga, but that one's too isolated to add any additional systems to our borders.

We found no colonizable systems at all further west. Mostly our area seems to have ocean and arctic worlds, with some arid and tundra.

Only resource we've found in our home system so far is a 2 energy source, so I'm going to build that second mine.
 

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12 month update:

At the end of the first year we found our second AI empire to the south. I don't care as much about these though as I haven't found any good planets near them.

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Found another gaia world at Thradd (right of the screenshot) which should put several systems within our borders. The planet straight to the right of it is a desert world. I've explored most of the area around me, except straight north, so there should be a bit less to update on for a while. Still haven't found any resources other than the one energy source in our home system.
 

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3 year update:

Our first attempt to put a frontier outpost at Tiblia failed as the nearby aliens sent their fleet to blow up our construction ship. It was on 99% progress to jump to hyperspace when it got attacked, but that immediately reset its jump progress to 0% and it got destroyed. Making another construction ship and trying again at the slightly safer Qabji.

Just beyond our southern neighbors we found another AI empire. Hopefully the proximity of these two should mean they'll choke each other of resources and be easy conquests.

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To the north we found a fallen empire. Some colonizable planets too, but too far away from us, and any potential planet stealers, that they're not an early priority.

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Even though Quabji is definitely outside their borders they still attacked. This time they gave chase and eventually killed my science ship. I've never seen an AI this agressive before.
 

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Im enjoying this AAR. Keep up the good writing. Shame they pursued and destroyed your ships.. perhaps they are a Xenophobic Militarist AI race?
 

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Thanks for the positive responses!

-------------------------------------

After last turns events I change plans. I'm going to go for the gaia world a bit further south first (Thradd) and then after that one of the desert worlds to the north that I said was too far. The fallen empire are holy guardians and I don't know if the gaia world halfway between us is close enough to them to piss them off, and I don't want to know. Once I have three planets I'm going to prepare for war with the bastard aliens.

Just after the events at the end of last update series the first engineering and physics research finished. In physics my new options were power plants 2 (really cost inefficient, especially given how little minerals and how much power I have), power hubs (that's the +10% on planet building) which is good but not critical given how much energy we have, gravitic sensors (+15% survey speed) and research AI (+5% research speed). Since non of the others are that good I'll go with the AI to have the extra research start stacking up.

In engineering our options are defence platforms (can't afford), spaceport upgrade (can't afford), batharian stone (rare resource that enables a twice as good power plant) which is a complete gamble and robot pops. I think robots are the clear winner there, even though the research is more expensive.

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A just after this the bastard aliens appeared in the southern system within my borders. I'm starting to decode their language in the hope that making contact will force them neutral, but I might have to fight.

After killing my construction ship (again) and destroying my mining station they pass through my capital system chasing after my new science ship, which I sent north to keep it safe. However we establish communications and as expected they are forced to neutrality before they can catch and destroy it.

We also make contact with our southern neighbors and apparently they were an advanced start AI rather than two close AIs, so no hope of easy pickings there.

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Here's our southern neighbors. I set up an embassy to hopefully keep them off our backs:

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Bad news pile on bad news as a primitive civilization is already inhabiting the gaia world I wanted to colonize. I reroute my science ship to the nearby desert world instead. I don't like how far from my home system I'm having to range by now though.

The southern aliens build a frontier outpost right next door to us. Space is starting to feel very crowded now, and I might have to make a frontier outpost to the east of them to keep the hyperspace lanes to the south open to us at all.

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After colony ship research finishes my new options are genome mapping (+10 years leader lifetime +10% food), hydroponics farm 2 (same problem as the other building upgrades, expensive and low effect, orbital hydroponics farm (only have one space port slot and I think I prefer the solar array) and galactic ambitions (+20% border range). I think I'll take the last since it'll put several new systems in our borders, even though the tech is 2.5 times as expensive as the others.

After my colony ship is built I quoue up 4 military ships. I'd much rather have another colonizer, but the age of piracy event is going to fire quite soon and I really don't want to lose the frontier outpost I'm building at Taramada.

While my colony ship was enroute in AI research finished. Two of the new options were shield and reactors that I've talked about before. The other two were combat computers (good, but I'm just finishing up my military construction for the time being) and +25% colony development speed. I took the latter as I feel we're lagging and really need to catch up.

Just after the frontier outpost at Taramada I notice that the Kimmarians (the advanced start aliens to our south) are an ocean world species, and that there's an ocean planet at Durbafur, between Taramada and our capital. Taramada's influence doesn't reach there, and I don't think that of a colony at Cebelrai would either, but I know if you have influence area near each other they'll stretch out a little to meet up. I'm therefore putting my current colonization plans behind colonizing Cebelrai, to avoid having my empire split in two. The Kimmarians have actually colonized a new planet since we met them, but luckily it was one between their starting worlds. On one hand it's scary to think how bad a position we'd be in if the AI was a little more aware of the value of controlling space resources, but on the other hand it probably means they won't get another colony ship out before I do.

It's now the middle of the 9th year, and a good place to end the second update as the first Haahn colony in space has just been established. After all the trouble getting here at least it's a great planet:

A408110D2BF67C0065998EDF8DEC76479A454B13


*Sobs quietly*
 

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The planet in the Cebelrai system turned out to be a much nicer world:

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I briefly considered putting the colony on the 2 food tile to get started faster, but the 1 extra resource that can't be collected by any other building I know and the one extra adjacency tile made me place it on the mineral food tile.

The plan to secure our souther passage succeded. Cebelrai's and Taramada's border areas reached out to touch each other preventing the Kimmarians from sneaking in a colony in our hyperlane route.

C779CD4509299D0EBF903F656AADE65B84CDAA17


As a bonus it's got some pretty nice resources too, as have the eastern systems we got.

The age of piracy event fired in 2211, but the pirates didn't spawn anywhere I could see them.

After the thruster technology finished research I got the options to choose spaceport upgrade or defence platform (still can't afford either). The third option was armor, but armor reduces damage by a percentage for a flat cost, so they don't make much sense for a small and individually weak ship like the ones we have the tech to make. The last option was batharian stones. Since we're no longer running a big energy surplus I try my luck on it.

I finally got a bit of a lucky break when astroids were observed heading for our eastern colony. I almost didn't get there in time:

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I did however and got about 500 minerals for cracking open the asteroid. Since my third colony ship was finishing at around that time and, I promised I'd start a war after that, I invest the minerals in spaceports for our two colonies.

Our third colony ends up being solidly mediocre, if a bit remote.

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After finishing my starports, and building solar panel arrays to be able to afford the upkeep, I start building towards the fleet limit. The bastard aliens (who call themselves the Tuxkan Republic) still haven't expanded beyond one world and a frontier outpost, so a decisive strike on their space port should end the war quickyly.

While I'm building up my fleet an anomaly results in a very technologically advanced derelict warship that we can repair and put into use. It's very strong, roughly 2.5 times as durable and with roughly 2.5 times as much damage output as our own ships. But on the other hand it costs 6 times as much maintanace. If we weren't building up for a war I'd probably scrap it, but as it is it gets pressed into service.

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When my navy build up is almost ready the border expansion tech finishes and I get several more systems within my borders. After the war I'll probably build another science ship to help survey it all, plus my hopefully conquered space. The next set of options is three different tile block clearers and +10 navy cap. i'm not waiting for the last so I take the one that's on the most and best tiles on my colonies, but that's still just two tiles. There were definitely better techs I could have rolled.

Batharian stone also finishes researching and I find i've been very lucky, having two sources in so few planets. Once the war's over and I can replace a couple of power plants I won't have to worry about energy for a long time. I choose space torpedoes, mostly because they bypass shields (which the AI loves to use) out of a fairly weak field of mostly ship upgrades + engineering lab (again).

We reach the fleet cap in the middle of 2215. I wanted the fleet to assemble at Quabji, for symbolic reasons, but it's just barely within enemy borders. The system next to it will have to serve as a surrogate.

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On the eve of battle the diplomatic display calls their fleet power inferior and I've started building ground troops in anticipation of victory in space. I've found that I can actually reqruit armies from the natives in Ginnog and they've got +20% army damage. Maybe that planet is good for something after all. Since they use hyperlanes too (I noticed when they were hunting down my poor innocent land grabbers) I'm not too worried about them slipping around me.

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Arriving in the enemy home system we find their space port and nothing else. Gladly taking the opportunity when offered we immediately attack. Only a single corvette ends up being lost taking out the station.Their navy, which was 7 ships last time we saw it all those ten years ago never makes an appearance. The army recruitment turns out to be unnecessary as with their space port destroyed and their only world being bombarded the enemy surrender.

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Garuda

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Long live the Haahn!!

Enjoying this so far.
 

Pro

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Thanks. One thing I forgot to mention is that the natives I was recruiting are pre-sentient, which is why I was surprised I could recruit them. Apparently a flock of snake-monkeys throwing sticks and stones are better than my armies.
 

BPM

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A nice swift victory. Well done! looking forward to the Haahn holding dominion over the galaxy.

In my opinion, i think you have pretty much hit the sweet spot when it comes to the mix of text vs images! (I forgot to mention it before but..... subbed!)
 

Pro

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Sitaution update and goals:

Since it's year been 15 years since the game started and we've just finished our first war I think it's time to review our situation.

To start with we got a new addition to our empire at the end of last update:

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They're xenophobic and hate us for being alien and spiritualists and hate us for being materialists and for allowing robots. After the recently conquered malus disappears in about 25 years they'll be up to 25% happiness and I beliee 30% is the limit for rebelliousness. Needless to say I won't be keeping it. The plan is to settle Teblic (the system I previously referred to as Teblia, because the names of unsurveyed systems can be hard to make out). That'll keep it and the area south of it within our borders when we release the bastards as a vassal.

As for our state otherwise we've added three colonies over the last 15 years. Our Haahn population has doubled from 7 to 14. We produce around four times as many minerals. Our society research has trippled, mostly thanks to the last system our capitals borders expanded to. Mestros gives us 6 society research from an anomaly and 3 from an observation post on a pre-ftl species. Our engineering research has doubled, but our physics research hasn't increased at all.

To our east we made contact with another empire at some point without me noticing. I simply noticed a colored blob in a screenshot at some point:

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The Usanace control the only two hyperspace lanes leading east from us. From beta Caeli and all the way out to the rim there's one long gap in hyperspace network. They're also desert dwellers and all three of the systems just above their homeworld contain desert worlds. I'd really like to conquer them before they settle those. Since they're xenophobes too I'll take the same approach as with the Tuxkans and settle two or three of those worlds north of them before releasing them as a vassal. Because of my military build up for the Tuxkans they're listed as inferior and I plan to attack as soon as I can settle Tiblic and release the Tuxkans.

To our south the Kammarians have continued expanding to four planets. They're getting hostile because of the threat generated by me conquering the Tuxkans, but for now my embasssy is enough to counteract it. After conquering the Usanace that might change though. After our military build up they're no longer listed as superior to us in fleet power, but they still are in technology.

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The border increasing technology also allowed us to see what space based resources other empires have found. That shows that Arrakis, the system near our capital that they grabbed with their frontier outpost is the best system in our capitals range. I'm somewhat annoyed with them for that. In the case of war with them destroying that outpost is the number one priority. With our increased population and tech our borders should cover it and prevent them from rebuilding there. Our second goal would be to "liberate" escant. That would create a Kammarian empire sharing our ethoses there. With the capital happiness and ethics divergence bonus they should be able to convert their population. To our west there's a large region of space uninhabitable to us, but not the the Kammarians. Having this area settled with pops following our ethoses should be a boon in the long run.

I also discovered that there's a planet modifier visible if the fallen empire considers a planet holy, so I can check if any of the gaia planets between us are safe to settle on.
 

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Tiblic II turned out to be a very nice place to settle:

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I wasn't planning on releasing the vassal until my colony had developed, but when I had to spend 200 influence because they were 90% of the way to rebelling before my colony ship even arrived I realized that would be impossible. That means I'll have to get my colony ships out before the war against the Usanace finishes. That means I'll have to build some extra energy generation capacity to be able to afford the upkeep on atleast two colonization ships.

Here's the our new vassal. They hate us, but I don't really care:

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After our first tile blocker finished researching we got the option of frontier clinics. Between giving more food than the basic farms and +5% hability increasing pop growth those are really good.

As we were preparing for a new war the Usanace finished their first colony. Disappointing, but liveable I think. With just 1 pop it shouldn't be as hard to control as a capital world. If the Haahn weren't sedentary I'd try to use the land of opportunity edict to make them outnumbered by immigrant Haahns. That does mean that I only need one colony ship though and can move up my time table.

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While starting to recruit armies at home (and starting construction on that colony ship) I quickly move my navy to the border of enemy space and declare war. Just like before I don't see any enemies before reaching the enemy home system, but unlike the Tuxkan's the Usanace have a fleet ready to help defend their space port. On paper at least their fleet and space port combined outgun me, but I feel I am committed to this, and the Tuxkan's spaceport fell more easily than it's power rating would suggest.

3D2D4EA6A7F4E866019975CBCDF4EE4FB8CD8FED


I'm not sure how much it mattered, as the enemy had missiles as well, but at the start of the battle our range allowed us to draw the enemy fleet a little way from the space port. At first we were losing ships at the same pace, however as we started with over twice as many ships as the enemy that was obviously unsustainable for them and it didn't take long for their fleet to be routed. All told we lost 9 ships to their 11 plus space station. But our losses included that high tech resource hog we got from the anomaly, so parhaps they should be counted as slightly higher.

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78DF4C08FF6BA823BE1DAC28461E1BDAD8E1FA9D


As the Usanace have a second planet they don't immediately surrender after their navy and space port were destroyed, but they might as well have. They do nothing as our armies arrive and their planetary fortifications are bombed down. In early 2221 their homeworld of Sanacan falls and they surrender a few days later.

6A7D7C2246B204BE7E88DFB50E474B62F2F65842
 

sebas379

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Nice going, I like your approach of looking for conflict :)