These notes are addressed mostly to the players who already have some experience in VGA Planets. Since playing in expgames in some aspects differs significantly from that in regular games, the main goal of this article is to help the players who consider themselves as experienced persons, and for a first time found themselves in a company where ALL (well, most of) players are as strong and experienced. I hope that the article might be also a helpful strategical guide for intermediate players, and entertaining for experts. I’d like to express my gratitude to the beta-reader of this article, Tony Lambord (Blackbeard), Genya Tsentalovich (Siberian Snake), and Jan Klingele (Sirius).
1. GAME SETTING.
Typical setting for expert games is the following:
a) normal-rich universe. Usually, experts do not like rich universe, which makes the economical efforts less important, and gives some extra advantage to races with huge ships;
b) high-rich or extra-rich HW. That allows to speed up the dull initial part of the game;
c) customized map, often with Sphere and sometimes with Explore;
d) usually, no other adds-on are being used;
e) all other settings are mostly default, except Ion Storms=NO. Most of experts believe that Birds and Fascists need some additional economical help (enhanced tax rate, free fighters).
2. ROLE OF DIPLOMACY.
Skill in VGA Planets consists of three components: economy, fighting, and diplomacy. In regular games, all three components are equally important. If you are a good player, you can even win almost without diplomacy. At the expert level, the diplomacy plays the decisive role. You can find Bovi Unity at every second planet, you can build the strongest fleet and have the healthiest economy, but if you mishandle the diplomatic affairs, you don’t have a single chance against combined attack of 3-4 players. Moreover, if you have the strongest empire and don’t have strong allies, you should be happy to be attacked by 3-4 players only. The opposite is also true. A player with the limited economical development and fighting skill can hide behind the backs of his strong allies and come to a high place practically without fighting, at least without fighting at his own territory.
Alliances in regular games are usually rather stable. If the alliance breaks, it often causes cries about backstabbing. Experts are more cautious. Very often, they prefer "temporary non-aggressive treaty" rather than "alliance". The typical sign of the ultimate trust is the rst-exchange. Without that, you can never be completely sure in the loyalty of your partner. Of course, the direct backstab is very rare - experts value their reputation, nobody wants to be enlisted in a "black book". However, treaties always have loopholes, and finding loopholes is the thing where experts are especially good! Just a couple of examples: in one game, FEDs and Colonies agreed not to attack each other. A bit later combined fleet of few players, including Colonies, attacked FEDs. Colonial ships didn’t set PE=FEDs, they just swept MFs... In another game, FEDs promised to Privs never give away a Loki, and never attack them. They didn’t. However, Lokis under FED’s ownership followed Rebel’s fleet on their way to Priv HW, and brought a lot of pain to Priv commander.
The first diplomatic approaches start at the very beginning of the game. It is important to get access to alien technologies as soon as possible: at the expert level, the ship limit strikes very early, and you need time to clone the acquired MBRs, Fireclouds, SSDs. Besides, you would like to ally the most suitable races before they ally your possible enemy. A player who failed to make an early alliance is often a subject of the early attack. Somewhere around 10-15th turns, the primary alliances are already formed, and single players are already attacked. Ship limit is being reached at about 25th turn (that is with the normal-rich universe and typical setting! If the universe is high-reach, it should come even earlier), to this time there are usually 3-4 alliances, and 1-2 players have already left the game. Before ship limit, there is no major interalliance fighting: everybody is mostly concentrated on the economical development and shipbuilding. The real war starts right after the reaching the limit. Typically, if two alliances are fighting, the third does not participate in the war. They prefer to attack the fourth, or, even better, to wait and watch how their opponents weaken each other. The successful actions are very dangerous: if you or your alliance become too strong, the others can forget about their discords and unite to tow you down. Inevitably, that finally leads to the transformation of the individual game into the kind of a team game. Thus, many believe in necessity to decrease the impact of the diplomacy in expgames: veto on ship transfer, rst-exchange, and even the complete prohibition of the diplomacy.
Analysis of player’s actions at the different stages of game shows that the criteria for starting hostility at the early stage and in the developed game are completely different. During first 25-30 turns, the rule of thumb is "The weakest must die!" No one wants to be in odds with the strong opponent. Thus, at that time a good score is your best protection against being attacked. Sometimes, it is prudent to build a heavy carrier instead of more logical Merlin or SB just to show to your possible enemy that you are not defenseless. Situation reverses at the middle game. Most of the players still have a good chance to reach the victory, which at the expert level is the main motivation of all players. The most obvious way to get closer to this goal is to pull down the most dangerous race. Thus, in the second half of the game the rule is "The strongest must go down". If you had a bad luck of being at the leading position at 30-40th turns, you have to apply maximum diplomatic efforts to direct the other’s hostility at somebody else, and to strengthen the relations with your allies.
Tony Lambord (Blackbeard) wrote:
Goals of diplomacy-
To acquire allies (and/or trade ships) to provide a balanced fleet. Ideally, your overall fleet want to have some cloakers, some decloakers (at a push, web mines), heavy carriers (for fighting), and base killers (may also be heavy carriers, or SSDs). On top of this, some special ships are highly desirable to most any race - fireclouds, MBRs, cobols for example). Some parts of the fleet can be neglected for some races (or alliances), for example fascists, lizards and rebels can deal with at least some bases using ground combat or racial missions.
No one race can provide all the desired assets, so deals must be struck with neighbours (or perhaps, with a distant race: Borg are best for this, though anyone with HYP ships can manage it to some extent).
To ensure all wars are fought away from home. No one wants to be fighting at home, having their own economic base eroded by losses. In general, it’s easier to defend than attack, but except in rare cases (privs attacking xtals, say), losses make it ultimately unprofitable.
To bring victory. The manner of victory will depend on the game setup - often, it is simple: an alliance must suppress all opposition, but it can be much more complicated. There may be an economic victory condition (some score at some specified turn), in which case being the strongest race may not help. Borg or Evils may have overwhelming strength, but lay some way from the lead in score terms (say, if the scoring system rewards past military activity, and they haven't fought much). Too bad!
In score games, it is necessary to be very careful in selecting wars. If the score doesn't reward fighting, then fighting should be left to others (or pick a target unable to do much harm: say, privs, assuming you have a solid way to avoid robbery). For scoring systems rewarding combat, the opposite applies - fighting is essential, but fighting xtals or privs must be regarded as a last option: both cases will lead to a rather tactical war, with limited opportunity to make the kills needed for a competitive score. Far better to roast evils, or robots, or Borg - your own losses may be greater, but the kills scored on the opponents heavies will maintain superior scoring.
3. RACE CHOICE.
The common opinion is that the Lizards are the strongest race, followed by fighter races. The Birds, Fascists and Xtals are considered as the weakest. Borgs are believed to be very weak at the beginning and invincibly strong at the end. All that is not correct at the expert level. Generally speaking, all races are equally strong. In the first expgame organized (by personal invitations) by Genya Tsentalovich (Siberian Snake), the winners were Lizards and Evils, in the second - Fascists, Xtals and Colonies (the rules allowed to declare an alliance as a winner). In the first game Borgs and Fascists were defeated within 30 turns, in the second the same disaster happened to Birds and Robots. By the way, in the second game Borgs were leading at 40th turn, and were completely defeated at the end. Some peculiarities of the different races are collected below:
a) FEDs: if the ESB is 40-50%, this race is extremely strong. Double taxes. FEDs crew bonus. Superrefit. The last is probably the best possible item one can offer to his ally. After about 35-40th turn SBs are not very important: everybody has a lot of them, and the ship queue crawls very slowly. If you want to be strong, your fleet should be already completed by this time. Refit allows you and your allies to build many under-equipped ships. Besides, you’ve got a perfect anti-carrier combo - Thor+Kitti: they can kill any carrier for the price of only 2 PBPs! Please note that I do not mention the price of the ship itself - it is much less important than PBPs. More about that later. If ESB=0, forget of Thors, you should substitute them with Missouris. Additional advantage of the FEDs: due to the FED crew bonus, very often your allies will give you their ships for battles, so you will earn both PBPs and TONS points. Your biggest ship is Nova. Do NOT build many of them! This ship drinks fuel like an alcoholic, it does not stand against carriers, and, most important, it gives to your enemy too many PBPs (again, more about that later). Diplomacy and Missoury should fight against planets and SBs, Thor and Kitty against large ships. The only good use of Nova is attacking the full-armored SBs, so you really need only few of them. The best allies for you are cloaking races, they will pay any price for your superrefit, for your financial help, and for the diplomatic neutralization of your Lokis. Buy under-equipped DW and clone it as a hell till the very ship limit! This way, you can have more DWs than Birds themselves. Your worst enemy are Lizards.
b) Lizards: in expgame, they are not as strong as in regular one, due to the simple reason: since ship limit strikes very early, you just don’t have enough time to build all these 100+ hissers. Thus, you should pay more attention to your economy - poor Lizards look ridiculously. In offense, GA is your main weapon, in defense against carriers you should use combos T-Rex-Madonzilla.
c) Birds and Fascists: the main problem of these races at the initial part of the game is the contradiction between desperate need of money and lack of economical advantages. Fascists can somewhat improve the situation using self-pillage, Birds do not have even that. Carrier races can upgrade torps at few SBs only, you need to reach tech 8 at the most of your SBs. Thus, you must develop your economy as fast as possible. I read many times that the Birds should always stay hidden, that they should use Fearless Wings and Resolutes for colonization. Even in regular game that is too slow, in expgame this way is certainly a road to disaster. Build LFs and send them off - your position will be known to everybody very soon anyway, but if you promptly colonize some good planets, manage to build a few Resolutes and send them hunting enemy’s trade lines, you can destroy him before he even start thinking about attacking you. From the very beginning Birds and Fascists should play very aggressively, in this case they have a good chance to beat a potentially much stronger race.
If you succeeded in the initial part of the game, you are still in trouble. Odds are against you: three Vickies or three DWs for one carrier is a very bad balance. The truth is that Birds or Fascists alone can beat anybody, but they cannot beat everybody. Sooner or later, the war will come to your own territory, and carrier races will overrun your fleets, unless you allied one of them. If you did ally, your future is provided. In attack the mixed fleet of carriers and cloakers is awesome. In defense, DW or Vicki will drain the shields of the enemy carrier, and your partner will kill it for sure. Some Bird and Fascist players build special "battle" types of Victorious and DW - with one beam only. Indeed, in battle with carrier this modification of the ship gives more damage to enemy. However, the difference is very small, and the carrier has more fighters left after the battle. Besides, one beam makes your battleship completely helpless against SBs.
d) Privateers: your gravitonic ships make your movement twice as fast as anybody else’s. In the short time before ship limit you should have more planets and build more bases than others. The important point is to keep the proper balance between quantity and quality of your ships: you need as many MBRs as possible, even with w6 and proton torps, but the significant part of your fleet should consist of MBRs with M7 and BR5s with HDs or HPs. Your diplomatic state is a bit unusual: everybody would like to ally you, but your main diplomatic task is to neutralize your "natural" enemies. There are three races which are the most dangerous for you: Xtals, FEDs, and, worst of all, Lizards. From the very beginning, you should pay special attention to these races, and make a solid decision: if you can bond their hands with any kind of treaty - do it. If you can’t - you should ally someone with the strong muscles, give him MBR and whatever else, but the primary task of this alliance should be elimination of the nasty adversary.
A special remark concerning to your flagship, Bloodfang. 4 bays, 80 cargo hold - an absolute boy for beating compared to other carriers. Indeed, against Colonies, Robots or EE this ship is completely useless. But what the heck? You know very well how to deal with the carrier races! The problem is how to fight Birds, Fascists, Lizards. The idea is that Bloodfang fights pretty well against torp ships; besides, usually enemy does not expect anything stronger than MBR in hands of privateers (except the captured ships, of course), so it might be a nasty opposition for sneaking on you Resolutes and D7s.
e) Borgs: by unknown reason, nobody likes you. In all ages, killing the Borgs was considered as highly honorific action. Thus, you should compensate the common dislike to your race by your personal kindness. Do not wait for the invitations to join an alliance - send them yourself. Even if the terms are not very favorable to you - accept them. What you need is time and space. Time to develop you economy to Cubes, and space to plant your seeds in the different places of the Universe. The best ally and the worst enemy for you are Privateers: with the use of the "dropped-tow", MBR+2FCC can move ANY fleet with the speed 160 LYs a turn, for the price of 50 kT of fuel. However, if Pirates decide to improve their fleet by some FCCs and cubes, you can make very little to avoid that. Thus, the best if you offer your friendship and cooperation to privateers at the very first turn. Except Merlin, Refinery, and freighters, you’ve got only three ships worth building: Probe B200, FCC, and Biocide. Don’t build Annihilations - they may and will become a good source of PBPs for your enemies. (Note: Genya Tsentalovich (Siberian Snake) remarked that in the individual raid Anni is better than Bio: deep in enemy territory, she can restore the torp stock using mkt, whereas Bio cannot build fighters in space. I cant agree with this point - even in regular games, raid of the lone heavy ship is rarely a good idea, in expert game this ship will be lost before it can bring any significant damage.)
The economy of Borgs heavily depends on Merlins and FCCs. Cubes require a lot of minerals, and your assimilated planets produce a lot of supplies - for successful converting supplies into cubes you need an established transportation system. Borgs is an exceptional race which needs probably as many STFs as LDSFs - for supply and clan transportation. Very often, Merlins also should be used as transport ships.
f) Xtals: this race is commonly underestimated. Wrong. By no means are Xtals the weak race, it is just the race which requires an experienced commander. Actually, your race has only two moderate disadvantages: the need in money and the need in Molybdenum. As soon as you solve these problems, nobody can beat you. Even alone, you can hold at the bay the strongest fleet of the strongest players, even if they do not make mistakes. A single mistake, and you will become a proud owner of new ships in your collection. Just an example from the recent team game: Lizards, Birds, Xtals, Evils and Colonies (Team 1) fought against FEDs, Fascists, Borgs, Robots and Rebels (Team 2), all players in both teams were experts. The map used in this game was not very convenient: the IDs of the planets went from West to East, one of the teams was placed at the western half of the map, the other at the East. As a result, after the ship limit the queue stopped at the eastern half of the map and for VERY long time only Team 2 made regular buildings. During that time, Team 2 managed to build about 100 carriers, mostly Biocides, Golems and Rushes, and refitted them to Heavy Phasers. Team 1 had only 3-4 Gorbies and 3-4 Virgos, the majority of their fleet consisted of LCCs, Resolutes, Emeralds, SSDs and Cobols; but they transferred most of the minelayers to Xtals, and erected unpassable web barriers. When the queue finally came to the western planets, Team 2 made the last attempts to break through the border, and two groups of their ships were captured without losses for Team 1. The fleet of the Team 2 was still a lot stronger, they controlled more planets, but the desperation to achieve any positive result was so strong that Team 2 surrendered, to some surprise of their opponents.
Now, we’ve come to your relations with other races. Xtals, along with Privateers, are the most attractive ally for almost everybody. You give the safety jacket, the guarantee of the solid defense. No one race is especially dangerous for you, except, probably, FEDs: refit can significantly increase the number of Heavy Phasers on the board. (Note: as Blackbeard noticed, Borgs are also very dangerous for Xtals: using FCCs, they can bring a heavily equipped fleet right into heart of the Xtal empire, and continuously support it with fuel and new sweepers). At the same time, your alliance with almost any race can make wonders. Cloaking races: the access to cloaking weblayers is only the most obvious advantage. Xtals and Privateers - you drain ships out of fuel in space, he robs at the planets. Xtals and Lizards - access to unlimited cash and minerals for webs. Xtals and Fascists - for sweeping webs, enemy has to keep his fleet together - a perfect possibility to detonate a few glory devices. Xtals and Colonies or Xtals and Robots - complete control over mine fields. And so on... Just one warning: do not rely on Rubies and Emeralds only. Sometimes, you have to kill overfueled ships - combos DFlame+Thunder will do the job.
g) Evil Empire: before 3.20 Host version, EE was one of the weakest races: no economical advantages, no cloakers, most of ships are ridiculously heavy or else just useless, and "free fighters at SBs" are certainly worse than "free fighters in space" are. Gorbie and dark sense are fine, but in total EE fleet looked somewhat awkward. The newer Host versions give to EE probably the most valuable addition - Imperial Assault, which immediately transforms the ugly Super Star Destroyer into one of the most desirable ship. It is difficult to overestimate the possibility to capture enemy’s SBs without fighting, just by dropping 10 clans. SSD works most efficiently in combination with cloaking ships (MBR the best), but SSD and cloaker should belong to the same owner. Imagine that you managed to place a SSD and a MBR within 170 LYs from enemy’s HW. Turn 1 - MBR tows SSD to the point near HW; turn 2 - both ship go to HW with their own engines, MBR cloaked, SSD ends without fuel; turn 3 - MBR transfers fuel to SSD, SSD drops 10 clans, and HW is taken. The only counterplay against this tactics are Lokis, Glory Devices, and MFs. Thus, the most desirable ally for EE is one of the cloaking races. One should keep in mind that EE has probably the slowest development, so the peaceful behavior at the initial part of the game is the best way to achieve the good results.
h) Robots, Rebels, Colonies: these three races have much in common: big carriers and free fighters, which is good; absence of cloakers and economical advantages (except the self-RGA of Rebels), which is bad. In offense, the presence of cloakers in your fleet is vitally important, so your primary diplomatic task is an alliance with one of the cloaking races (Privateers - the best). However, nobody will help you to solve your economical problems - you should develop your Empire at the highest speed. You should build a Merlin as soon as possible. At the ship limit (approximately 25th turn), you ought to have a couple of Merlins and at least 4-5 big carriers. Besides, you’ve got to pay a special attention to your torp ships. For Robots, Cat’s Paws with M7 torps are obvious, but for Colonies Cobols are as important. Not only because they make fuel; Colonies, even more than Robots, are the main pretenders on MF control. Fighters will sweep enemy’s MFs, but you need a sufficient amount of Cobols with good torps for laying your own mines. Since the cargo hold of Cobols is not very large, and Colonies do not have 4X advantage, M8 torps look like a good idea.
Very often Rebel and Colonies players build many Patriots. This ship is very good, but only at the initial stage of the game. At the second half, they become almost useless - most of the acting at those time ships will kill it without breaking the sweat. In this case, you can send Pats before Rush or Virgo against strong enemy SB. It will die for sure, but it will take into the grave a lot of SB’s fighters and make the job of your main carrier much easier. Just the same, Pats might be used to defend SBs against heavy carriers - even if it just nicks enemy shields, a battle will be a lot easier for SB: base usually loses when it runs out of fighters. For Robots, an absence of base-killers (Golem fights perfectly against ships, but it has too few beams for fighting the fully-armed SB) is the strongest disadvantage at the late game. Sometimes, they should sacrifice an Instrumentality for killing the important base, but very often the best they can do is to bypass the strong points in enemy defense.
4. STARTING THE GAME.
There are two main possibilities to start a game: a) at the very beginning, build 2-3 scouts and send them off, followed by LFs with clans, supplies, and money; 2) start with LF from the very beginning, using them as both scouts and colonizers. The first approach looks better: first, you know where LFs should be sent to. Second, initially the natives have 80% of happiness, and before colonizer arrival they have time to become happier and allow heavy initial taxing. Third, you do not have problems with beaming down the exact amount of MCs from LF onto already colonized planet. Finally, a small scout with 20 clans can colonize 20 planets; 3 scouts will colonize 60 planets - you will have a lot of outposts, an exact knowledge on the most promising directions of your development, and on your neighbors.
Very often, you can see that someone builds a second base at 3-5th turn, using the resources of the HW. It makes sense, especially for Lizards (they need a new base for hisser production, and they don’t have problems with minerals), EE, Borgs and Rebels (for production the hyperdrive jumpers). For other races, it is not so obvious. For example, FEDs might want to have an early second base for building empty hulls, but the shortage of minerals can prevent it: Merlin looks like more promising invention. However, you should always look for this possibility. If Birds find a Gyps. planet 1-2 jumps from their HW, they should erect a base here at the soonest possible time and build a lot of SHs. In general, if you want to show the good result, the second SB should be built not later than around 10-15th turn.
From the very beginning, you should start collecting the info on other players. Everybody tries to develop at the maximal speed. It means that nobody can afford building 15 DPs at every planet and move only planet-hopping. If one sees a Small Freighter with low ID moving at w=7 from one planet to the other, it is not too difficult to estimate the position of HW. This information spreads around the players immediately, and at about 8-10 turn the approximate positions of all races should be known to the most of the players. Knowing the other’s position is important, but not sufficient by far. During the whole game, you should seek the answers on questions: how strong is every player, and how strong is his empire? What are the relations between your neighbours, neighbours of your neighbours, and between races at the other part of the map (with Sphere, it is not an option - EVERYBODY can be considered as your closest neighbour)? What are the intentions of this player and that alliance? Which planets are the best at the territory of your enemy? For getting this information, you should use all possible ways. Watch the ship movement. Watch the score. For example, VGAPTS score system gives information on total ship mass. You can keep the log and calculate which ships are in possession of all players! Even usual score gives very valuable info on buildings, exchange of planets, bases and ships, and so on. The most efficient way to gather the information is the diplomacy. As soon as you learn something on your neighbour, you can trade this information, and you can do it a few times. For example, you determined that HW of Fascists is Rodu 9. You can tell it to Robots, and he will tell you that HW of Colonies is Antilia. Now, you can trade that to Privs and get the position of Birds and FEDs... Be sure that everybody acts the same way. Thus, if you have to reveal to your partner anything important about yourself, always set the confidential conditions.
Generally speaking, at the early stage of the game one should avoid military activity, due to two main reasons. First, you must concentrate all your forces on development; second, the losses in one over one war are usually greater than winnings, even if you do win. One can say that while you are developing, the others do the same, so you can’t become stronger than others by just peaceful activity. It is incorrect. The others WILL fight - I have never seen a game where the fighting wouldn’t start at 8-12th turn. The best you can do - wait, build your fleet, watch the result of other’s fighting, and strike the right target at the right time - when YOU are ready to do that. The only excuse for an early attack is the good possibility to make a fast kill. For that, you should unite with at least two other races, and strike suddenly and simultaneously. The target should be carefully chosen: it has to be one of your "natural" enemies, and he should not have time to get help from his possible allies: the kill should be really fast. This style demands very accurate strategical planning. The most important is to determine how many resources you can deliver for a war, and how much will be left for development. Keep in mind, that your success will be a red rag for other players: an alliance of three players already killed poor Birds (Robots, Borgs...) and is getting too strong! Kill ’em!!! Don’t even dream of lazy collecting the spoils of the successful war - a new one is already at your door.
When one chooses his allies and his first enemy, the following "list of the natural enemies" might be useful. It shows which races are especially inconvenient to fight against for every specific race:
Birds - EE, Robots, Rebels, Borgs
Fascists - Robots, Borgs, Lizards, FEDs
Privateers - Lizards, FEDs, Xtals, Birds
Borgs - Privateers, Rebels
Xtals - FEDs, Borgs, Robots
5. SHIP BUILDING.
Independently on race, all ships can be classified by their use:
a) Freighters. Almost exclusively - LFs with w9 engines. Sometimes one can see MFs, STFs and fuel carriers, but these ships are the minority (if any) of a decent fleet. The total amount of LFs in your fleet in developed game should be no less than 8-10 and no more than 15 (unless you control the half of the Universe).
b) Planetary ships. Merlin, Refinery, fighter builders, terraformers, hissers. Unless you are extra rich, don’t put anything better than w6 - these ships are not supposed to run around. Never put x-rays on Merlin or Refinery - beams should be either lasers or, even better, blasters. If you want to know why, try the sims of Merlin versus MBR.
c) Scouts. Typically, a ship with one engine, cargo hold of 20-70 kT, and fuel tank of about 150 kT. Usually they are equipped with w9 engine and x-rays, although sometimes the lower tech engine will do. For most of the races, the good use of scoots is restricted by the initial stage of development, so do not build too many of them.
d) Raiders. Small warships equipped somewhat better than scouts, usually with cloaking devices. The only goal of these ships is deep penetration inside enemy territory and marauding his freighters and undefended planets. Every one of those ships should be able to act alone, so w9 engines, decent beams and torps are must. The Birds is the typical raider race - most of their ships from SH to Resolute can act as raiders. Very often, blasters and M4 are the better weapon than disruptors and M7. Deep in enemy territory, you would rather prefer to kill a LF or a Merlin than to capture it: the captured ship can be easily taken back, and you even will not get the Priority Build Points.
e) Minelayers. Middle-class ships with M7 or M8 torps and large cargo hold. Cloaking device is a nice addition for a minelayer. In defense, minelayers may have weak engines, but typically they have w9.
f) Minesweepers. Low- to middle-class ships with a lot of high tech beams. For most of the races, professional minesweepers are unaffordable luxury, they should use minelayers and warships for sweeping.
g) Warships. The battlefleet mostly consists of your best ships; usually the hulls are tech 7-10. The other components can differ significantly: you can not build all your ships with w9 engines, Heavy Phasers, and M7 torps. However, you should always try to improve the quality of your ships: underequipped ships should go in battle first, and at the second half of the game all new buildings should be the ships with the sophisticated weapon.
Ship building program is probably the most difficult subject in VGA Planets. The typical mistake of newbies is building some strong warships at the beginning of the game, which leaves them without resources for the development. I’m not going to explain some well-known statements (that w9 is the highest priority at most of the bases; that M5 and M6 torps are not worth building; that for most of the races Merlin should be built as soon as possible, and so on), we’ll talk about more general point.
The ship building program includes three stages: before ship limit, the first round after ship limit, and the second round. VERY IMPORTANT: after the second round, the game is usually over! It means that every base will be able to make only two regular builds after the ship limit. The building strategy at the every stage changes significantly.
A) Before ship limit (1-25th turns). At the first turn, all your resources are concentrated at the single planet. Your primary task is to distribute these resources around and to multiply them by the development of your planets. Even if you act very efficiently, all resources - money, fuel, minerals - remain scarce till the end of this stage. At the beginning, you have no battle fleet at all, you should create it in rather short time. Thus, you should pay more attention to tech levels of your first SBs rather than to the amount of SBs. It is much better to have 4-5 bases that build mainly real warships than 10-15 SBs producing countless scouts. Even then, high-tech engines and weapon are very expensive both in money and minerals, so you should carefully balance your income and upkeep. Two Virgos with w7 engines and x-rays are often better than one with w9 and heavy blasters. Your bases should be specialized: if you have a base over humanoidal planet, you should produce here mainly Merlins, Gorbies, DWs, whereas the Silicanoids will help you to build a fleet of minelayers. The majority of your noncombat fleet - LFs, scouts and Merlin - should be created during first 12-15 turns. That allows the fast economical development, and after 15th turn you can completely concentrate on your warfleet. If some of your fresh SBs are not able to produce anything worthy - build w1 Small Freighters, later you can colonize them for PBPs. Note: in the newest Host version 3.22.026 the colonization does not bring PBPs anymore!
B) 25th turn - the ship limit struck! From now on, the new buildings will be possible only when the old ships leave the board, which can be the result of the following events: intership battle, the Glory Device explosion, colonization, mine hits, planet versus ship battle. From the viewpoint of the ship building, these events have very different outcome. A winner of ship-to-ship battle gets a full bag of PBPs, as well as the owner of Glory Device - the last gets PBPs for the destroyed ships AND for the explosion of the heroic D19 or Saber. The colonization gives only one PBP per ship - doesn’t matter whether you colonized Small Freighter or Merlin (again, that is valid for Host 3.22.025 and older). The ships lost in mine fields and in battles with planets (or SBs) do not give the PBPs at all. Even if we presume that all ships are being destroyed in ship-to-ship battles, the destroyed Resolute gives 2 PBPs, whereas the building of a new Resolute costs 4 PBPs. It means that the regular building queue will go at least as fast as the priority buildings. In practice, taking into account the other ways of the ship losses, and that one needs to collect 20 PBPs to start the priority building, at the beginning most of the new ships will appear due to regular buildings.
At that time, the struggle for ship slots is especially fierce. One should try to combine two things: develop his old SBs, and simultaneously build as many SBs as possible, preferable in front of the rolling queue. One should take into account that 25th-40th turns are the time of the first large battles. Weakests are going down, and lose a lot of ships - queue moves rather fast. You should try to erect new SBs just before queue passed the planet, and build here at least an empty hull (FEDs), a hisser (Lizards), a scout (Birds), a hyperdrive jumper (Borgs, EE and Rebels), or, at the worst, a Small Freighter with w1 - for colonization in future.
With this tactics, you will eventually become an owner of a number of useless Small Freighters with low engines. Colonize them wisely. There are two good reasons to perform the colonization: a) you have 18-20 PBPs, and you desperately need a new warship somewhere. You should colonize as many SFs as you need to get 21 PBPs, and set the FC of the chosen SB to PB1. Building is provided. b) You want to push the queue, which stopped somewhere at enemy planets, and does not go to your prepared SBs. If you colonize a number of ships, it can be completely unexpected by others, and they would not prepare their SBs in front of the queue.
C) 40-50th turn till end of the game: "riding the queue". You survived the first battles, you have built a decent warfleet, and you have a good number of SBs. You are in alliance with 1-2 other players, and you are aware of other alliances. 2-4 races are already history, or close to that, the rest are as strong as you are. It means that almost a half of the planets have SBs, and the regular queue moves very slowly. Your planets accumulated significant recourses (minerals and money), and some of them can easily build the strongest (all-ten) ships. Of course, you can use PBPs for doing that, but first think what will follow. For example, you are playing Robots, and in hard battles you earned 17 PBPs. You can colonize 4 Small Freighters, and build a w9 Heavy Phasers Golem using PB1 friendly code at your best SB. After that, you’ll have only 3 PBPs left in your valet, and for the long time will not be able to make any priority buildings.
The best you can do at that time is to switch to the tactics that I call "riding the queue". For simplicity, let the next planet in a ship building queue is a planet ID 1. Forget about SBs with the high IDs, and concentrate on planets between IDs 1-200. Try to build the best possible ships at planets with IDs 1-100, and prepare planets 101-200. An example: you are playing Robots, and have two neighboring planets; one of them (ID 350) is warm planet with bovi unity, has SB and enough minerals/MCs to build a Golem, the second (ID 59) is a desert rock populated by amorphous worms. Building a Golem at planet ID 350 would be a bad mistake; good player will move all resources to planet ID 59, quickly erect a base, and build a Golem (or at least an Instrumentality) here. You have a lot of time to restore the resources at p350 before the queue comes to it.
At the same time, do not forget about priority buildings. Great battles take place from time to time, where you lose your ships, but gain many PBPs. As it was mentioned above, you would not like to spend them on heavy ships (unless your position desperately requires ones). SBs which are just behind the queue are perfect places for priority buildings: you recently invested a lot of money to rise the tech levels of these bases, and all you need is to add some modest amount of minerals and cash to build 2-4 PBPs ships, and set FCs of these SBs to PBn. If your stock of PBPs is near 20 (and it should always be near 20!), and you expect a heavy battle with many PBPs at the stake, you’ve got to charge the priority buildings at many SBs. If you cannot build the desirable ship - build Small Freighters. The main advantage of this ship is that it "stores" the PBPs: you spend 1 PBP on building SDSF, and you get 1 PBP for colonizing one.
Summarizing the building strategy at the second half of the game: build SBs in front of the queue at every planet; use the regular building for making your best ships; build small to medium (below 200 kT) but useful ships with PBPs. Some examples for different races of the regular/priority buildings: Lizards - T-Rex/LCC; Birds - DW/RCB (or SH); Fascists - Victorious/D7 (or D19); Robots - Golem/CP; Colonies - Virgo/Cobol.
There is a famous Japanese game called Go. In this game, players put stones on a board. If the opponent stones surround a group of stones, they get captured. The main idea of this game is the balance: every time you put a new stone on the board, it should improve the connections between your stones, and weaken that of your rival. In most cases, player cannot calculate the best position for his stone - he has to absorb the current position, and be absorbed in it, and he will feel which place is the best.
In VGA planets, the balance also plays a key role. When you build your fleet, your should balance your warships with the sufficient amount of non-combat ships. At the initial stage of the game, one should carefully plan which resources should be invested into development of the new planets, and which should go to the ship building program. When your empire becomes large, your freighters and moneycarriers should be distributed in such a way, so all needed resources (mins, money, fuel) could be delivered to the desirable points as fast and as safely as possible. When building a war fleet, you should balance the quality and the quantity of your ships, depending on resources available and on enemy in mind: against Birds, you would prefer to build two underequiped Virgos, whereas against Xtals a single Virgo with HDs is a better choice. All that is the economical balance.
When you fight a war, you should always think about the tactical balance. Which ships should be sent in attack and which are to be left for defense? Are your battlegroups well balanced, do they have a sufficient amount of scouts, minelayers, minesweepers, battleships, fuel, torps, fighters? Do your attacking ships have enough clans to recolonize the new-acquired lands? Does the strength of your attacking fleet fit to the task set? It is bad if your fleet cannot override the defense lines of your enemy; but if you send the majority of your ships to fight over remote unpopulated cluster leaving your own territory bare, it might be even worse.
At the expert level, the most important balance is the strategical one, and the only way to keep it is the diplomacy. You primary task is to win the game, and to do it you have to climb up yourself and to pull down your opponents. The best way to climb up is to fight the weakest enemy - you have a good chance to heritage his planets with already built structures and extracted resources for relatively small price, and to earn PBPs and TONS points. However, someone can do it even better than you can - because he had a better starting position, or weaker neighbours, or (very rarely!) because he played better. Moreover, this ugly fellow leads a pack of loyal allies, crushing the other races one by one. Now, it is a time to start a great diplomacy game: you should try to unite all survivors against the common enemy, and simultaneously to split the winning alliance. That is the only way to shift the strategical balance in your favor. It is not easy, but neither is it impossibly hard: the followers of the leader understand that if the game rolls as it did, the best they can pretend is the second place. After some while, the situation can be reversed: it will be you who lead, and others try to pull you down... During the game, the alliances are formed and abolished, the strategical balance shifts a few times from one group to the other. It is very rare in expert games that one player holds the lead from the beginning to the final victory. The winner is usually a person who manages to keep the proper balance in all three components - economical, tactical, and strategical. Absorb the position, and be absorbed in it - and you will know where are your weak and strong points, and what you have to do to reach your goal.