M. L. Maurer
Many guides exist on the Net for the various races of VGA Planets (created by Tim Wisseman- Thanks, Tim!), but I've found that the Crystals are often overlooked, or even worse, ignored.
This is an overview of strategies, advice, hints, and tips that I've collected from as many sources as I could find, with some personal experiences and experiments thrown in. I'm not even trying to cover situations that you will find in the many add-ons available for the Hosts: the points made here will have to be adapted for each new game you play.
ARE THE CRYSTALS THE RACE FOR YOU?
Who plays the Crystals? Well, for one, those players who like to use strategy instead of brute force. You will have to be careful, and efficient. You will be the Spider, spinning your webs, and enticing flies into your proverbial parlor! If you like a style of play which allows you to mount offensive forays early on in the game, or prefer a very aggressive strategy involving fleets of Carriers, then the Crystals probably won't be the race for you. If, however, you enjoy carefully laying traps and out-thinking and out-maneuvering your opponents, then you may well enjoy what the Crystals have to offer. The Crystals are a thinking player's race: you must have twice the forethought as the other players, and the satisfaction of outwitting your enemies is twice as sweet. There's nothing quite like sending a strike force against an enemy made up of ships that were previously theirs!
The Crystals are justifiably famous for one thing: Web Mines. They are the blessing and curse of the Crystals, for not only do they provide their major defensive and offensive weapons, their creation will drain from the Crystals a huge portion of their money and resources. The key to using the Crystals is to set up a healthy economy, and the use of that economy to create sufficient Web Mine fields. The fields must be placed and used carefully, or you will be wasting precious resources that will be needed elsewhere. As you can see, the effective Crystal player must be a master strategist and economist at the same time!
When you place your web mines, your best tactic is to create small overlapping fields instead of one massive one. The reason for this is straight-forward: many small fields are much more difficult to detect and sweep, and enemy ships caught in overlapping fields will lose 25 kt of fuel for EACH field that they are in. To place overlapping mine fields, just place the ship that is laying the web mine field close the edge of an existing web mine field. If you lay the mine field inside an existing one, you will only make the existing one larger by adding your mines to it. If you have two ships laying web mines at the same time, make sure that they are far enough apart that they will not be in the same mine field.
Web mines are in some ways more effective than the regular version, because they have a better chance of hitting an enemy ship (the Host default is 5% per light year travelled). A ship hit by them only takes 10% of normal mine damage, but the ship hitting them loses 50 kt or 1/6th of their fuel (whichever is greater), and will set the ship's speed to zero, so that they lose another 25 kt of fuel at the beginning of the next turn for simply being in the field. Cloakers will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage, since they run the same risk of hitting a web mine cloaked as uncloaked. The damage that they sustain from a web mine hit will usually damage the ship enough to prevent re-cloaking anyway. As an added bonus, web mine fields will drain the fuel from a ship even though that ship is in orbit around a planet! Enemy ships trying to sweep your web mines must be within the web mine field, if the Host leaves the default setting.
WEB MINE PLACEMENT:
Now, where to put your web mine fields? Around planets to stop sneaky cloakers from waiting there in ambush, and to hinder attacking forces. In main trade routes to protect your ships, or in an enemy's trade route to disrupt their shipping. The disrupting power of a well placed web mine field plopped in the middle of an enemy's territory can be frightening (hence the need for a good cloaking ship or two!) It is a good policy to lay them in your territory, place the web mine field, wait a few turns, scoop them up again, and then move the field somewhere else. Keep your opponents guessing where your web mine fields are located, especially the cloaking ones. You will need to have a couple of web-tending ships to keep your webs in good shape and to capture fuelless ships, especially if fuelless ships are configured by the Host to be able to move. Remember the overlapping mine field trick! If a group of enemy ships come charging through your territory while Mine Sweeping, they will all sweep the nearest mine field. They might sweep one small field away, but they will then hit the one directly behind it.
YOU AND YOUR SHIPS- USING THEM CORRECTLY:
The ships available to the Crystal player range from the tremendously effective to the dismally useless. The main bonus of the Crystal ships is the comparatively massive cargo space- ideal for all of those torpedoes that you will be shuttling about. The backbone of your fleet should be the Emerald and the Ruby, along with accompanying Opals. If these ships are your backbone, then the Diamond Flame and the Crystal Thunder will be your fists. In a Shareware game, the Emerald is one of the more powerful ships available, as well as being one seriously armed freighter. The Ruby can lay one heck of a mine field, and with its two engines, can be used for tow-capturing as well (explained in greater detail later). Many careless players have ignored the disruptive capability of a single Ruby, to their later sorrow. To be effective offensively, you will need to beg, borrow, or steal a good cloaking ship. The Privateer's Meteor Class Blockade Runner is ideal, due to the Gravatronic engines, followed by many of the Bird's cloaking ships (like the Resolute). The Lizard Class Carrier also makes a decent ship for you. The threat of a cloaking web mine layer will make most players sweat! When you get cloaking ships, be careful, for you are then susceptable to the same problems that plague the cloaking races- especially enemy mine fields!
To effectively take out enemy planets with a starbase, full fighters, and high defense points, you will need at least two non-torpedo carrying Sky Garnets followed by a Crystal Thunder Carrier, although it will still be costly for you in Fighters. If you can, use captured Carriers to do this job- an Instrumentality would be marvellous, especially if it was loaded with fighters when you captured it!
When building your scout ships, consider putting X-ray lasers on your ships. You will be using the beams mainly to capture enemy freighters. To knock out enemy fighters, X-ray lasers are just as effective as a Tech 10 beam, and a heck of a lot cheaper! If you feel that you need more power in your scout's beams, use Disruptors. For your larger torp ships, consider Disruptors: They are very cost effective, and will serve you well enough if you need to mine-sweep.
Opals make good scouts, especially in the early turns- use them to drop 1 clan per planet until you find a really rich planet to colonize properly. The planets with single clans on them will additionally extend your radar range, and let you know if anyone is sneaking through your territory. As well, Opals can drop smaller yet effective web mine fields, as long as they have at least Mark 4 torpedo tubes (if not Mark 4, then use Mark 7). Opals will be an important part of your web mine laying Battle Groups as well.
Don't bother building the Topaz. They have no Torp tubes, and their crew size is far too small for the ship, allowing it to be easily captured. The main way it might be useful would be if another race captured it, and started to clone it! Of course, if you're up against a player that stupid, you're going to win the game anyways! :)
A ship with mixed and specific usefulness is the Sky Garnet. With 7 beams and 1 Torpedo tube, it has some uses which are immediately apparant. It is an ideal mine sweeper if outfitted with at least Disruptors, and although it can only carry 30 Torpedoes, it can lay successful web mine fields, especially if accompanied by a loaded Ruby. As well, the 7 beams are effective against swarms of oncoming fighters. In this capacity, it is most useful against Small Carriers, able to destroy the Q-tanker and the Red Wind Carrier by itself. When used in groups of two, they can strip a respectable 30-40 fighters off of larger Carriers. Two or three Sky Garnets make a good front-line of defense against Medium Carriers sent to harrass your Starbases. If you send them against enemy planets *without* Starbases, they can destroy them if they have a defense of 84 or below (Heavy Blasters), and can strip all of the fighters off of such a planet no matter what the defense level. Against an enemy Planet *with* a Starbase, with a planetary and starbase defense of 101, and 12 fighters on the starbase, it will destroy all of the fighters and survive to fire 3 or 4 torpedoes. Don't forget that two Sky Garnets will also strip 30-40 fighters off of a starbase with maximum fighters, softening it up for your major invading ship. When being used in this way, equip the Sky Garnet with Tech 1 beams, no Torps, and Tech 1 engines (minimum cost)- tow it to the enemy Starbase with your attacking Captial ships, and send them into combat first by using the appropriate Friendly Codes.
On it's own, The Sky Garnet is very effective against most small Scouts, Frigates, Escorts, and Cruisers. Where they run the risk of being captured is when they are engaged in combat against ships with a lot of X-ray beams and a high mass, such as the Merlin Class Alchemy Ship or the Neutronic Fuel Refinery Ship. Medium sized ships with 4 to 6 X-ray beams and 1 or 2 Torpedo Tubes will similarly capture a Sky Garnet; these ships include the Banshee, Catspaw, Cobol, D7-Coldpain, Fearless Wing, Firecloud, Iron Lady, Lady Royale, Onyx, Sage, Saurian, and the Tranquility. Avoid these ships. Ships with more than 4 Beams and 2 Tubes will quickly destroy the Sky Garnet; it should not enter combat with these ships, as only 4 Mark IV Torpedo hits will finish it. This is generally not a ship to send into enemy territory on its own.
(Quick Anecdote- I sent a loaded Crystal Thunder towing a Sky Garnet equipped with Lasers and tech 1 engines to attack an enemy planet. When I hit the planet, it turned out that there was a Starbase there! The Sky Garnet took out a mess of fighters before being destroyed. Then, the Crystal Thunder destroyed the Starbase, after receiving 95% damage! Without the Sky Garnet, I would have lost the Crystal Thunder.)
The Ruby Class ship is useful mostly for it's transport, mine-laying, and tow-capture abilities. It is excellent as a web-tender, maintaining existing web mine fields and capturing fuelless ships ensnared within them. It is successful against scouts and smaller torpedo ships. They are not bad for taking out planets with 84 or fewer Defense posts. Don't bother sending them against starbases. You should outfit them with Disruptors for mine-sweeping. When intercepting and capturing wayward freighters, use the Friendly code NTP to avoid trashing the freighter with your torps. As for Torp tubes, outfit Rubies with Mark 7 or Mark 8 if you are using it in a Battle Group (see below). Remember that Mark 7 Torps are almost as effective as Mark 8's, and cost less. With their 370 cargo space, they are excellent armed freighters, and can carry a pile of torps!
The Emerald Class Cruiser is a very capable warship. It is able to destroy other Medium Torpedo ships, but does not fair well against Medium Carriers, even when outfitted with Mark 8 Torpedoes. Outfitted with Disruptors, they make good minesweepers. To wipe out a planet with no starbase, the Emerald is all you need, able to clear away the oncoming fighters quickly before unleashing the torpedos. Against a planet WITH a starbase, a few fighters, and a decent defense rating, you will find that it will quickly becomes overwhelmed by the fighters before it has a chance to fire any torpedoes. You may well want to try sending in a sacrificial Sky Garnet first.
Don't forget or ignore the Onyx. Your race loves hot planets, the hotter the better; 100 degrees is ideal. Don't use the Onyx singally, or it will take forever to raise the tempature of a planet. Use them in groups of at least five, with an Emerald and a web mine field or three to guard them as they do their work. If you find useful Natives (like Bovinoids) on a planet stocked with tons of minerals, just cook it. Not only will it be better for your own colonists, but if you lose the planets, other races will find the planet almost useless.
The Diamond Flame is a fairly good ship, but suffers from similar limitations to the Emerald. It has limited use against the Large Carriers. It is a relatively strong ship, but is most deadly when coupled with a loaded Crystal Thunder. In such a combination, with the Diamond Flame attacking first, you can take out most other ships. When the Diamond Flame is configured with X-ray beams and Mark IV Torpedoes, it is effective as the leading punch; putting Mark VIII's on the ship doesn't seem to help all that much, nor does using beams more powerful than Blasters. The Diamond Flame will take down the enemy ship's shields, and the following Crystal Thunder will mop it up. Be careful with your Crystal Thunders- you don't get to make free fighters, and a full carrier is a huge investment of resources. Use the web mines as your main weapon against the biggest carriers. If you absolutely must take on something like a Biocide, use a Diamond-Diamond-Crystal combo; you lose the first 2 ships, but you get to keep your carrier and some valuable fighters. Don't be reluctant to try some battle sims, using the WinPlan VCR Sim, or any of the other available sim programs. You will find that your two Big Ships are nothing to sneeze at (although expensive in Moly). When you create your battle groups, don't forget to set the friendly codes properly on your ships to set up the appropriate battle order.
As a general overview, you will be using your own ships for web mine laying, and for defense as necessary. For offense, you will be using other players' ships that you have captured, especially in the middle and late turns of the game. Do not waste your precious resources on ships to invade your neighbours. This is not a wise course of action for the prudent Crystal Player, who will instead use those same resources to capture twice as many ships, and send them out against those same enemies. The ships you build can repulse most Torpedo ships, but Large Carriers are your biggest threat: stopping or capturing them is paramount to your survival. As a last resort, retreat is always preferable to annihilation! Be willing to retreat in order to regroup and gain the time you need to set out new web mine fields.
If you follow the wise strategy of having standardized Battle Groups, a good choice is 3 or 4 Opals with a Ruby or an Emerald. This Batle Group configuration will be used primarily for the quick and efficient laying of web mine fields. The Opals will have a Mark 4 torpedo tube, while the Ruby or Emerald should have Mark 4, Mark 7, or Mark 8 tubes. (Mark 7 is a good choice, Mark 8 if you need LOTS of mines) The idea is this: the Emerald or Ruby will be able to carry a pile of torpedoes, which it transfers to the Opals as needed. The Opals take short runs away from the main ship to lay their small, overlapping web mine fields, afterwards returning to the main ship for more torpedoes and fuel. If the main ship has Mark 8 torpedoes, so much the better- it can lay a large mine field, which can be scooped up by the Opals to be laid elsewhere- the Mark 7 or Mark 8 torpedoes will thus be converted to a much larger amount of Mark 4's. Naturally, the latter tactic is useless for the Shareware player; another good reason to Register! When the Opals of your web-mining group drop their mines, make sure that they are at different locations far enough away from each other to achieve the overlapping web effect. You may want to throw the occasional normal mine field in the middle of your web fields for that extra punch.
As stated previously, if you need to tackle planets with high-defense Starbases, use a battle group consisting of a couple of Sky Garnets leading a Crystal Thunder carrier. Against Large Torpdedo ships, use the Diamond Flame followed by the Crystal Thunder. Thus, as an offensive Battle Group, send out 2 or 3 Sky Garnets with a Diamond Flame and a Crystal Thunder, plus another ship for extra fuel (like a LDSF or a Neutronic Fuel Carrier). As an added bonus, you can use the Sky Garnets to lay small web mine fields similar to the Opal/Ruby Battle Group as described above, and if you are towing them, they can carry more extra fuel for you.
For excellent specific info about weapons, hulls, and engines, check out the Infoloist at:
The Crystals (as well as the Privateers) have the wonderful ability to board a fuelless ship by towing it (note that you will probably need a ship with two engines to do this, depending on the Host configuration). This will allow you to take immediate possession of any ship caught fuelless (in your web mine fields or not), so that you do not have to tow it back to the nearest Starbase to force a capture. If your web mines take the last of a ship's fuel, you will receive a message that the ship is now harmless and out of fuel. If you tow-capture repeatedly with the same ship, watch your crew numbers. When you tow-capture, the crew of your towing ship will be divided to provide the crew for the new ship. Some races will have a percentage of their crew turn traitor and join you: 100% of Privateers, 90% of Feds, 70% of Colonials, and 40% of Empire crew members will stay on the captured ship. If you let your crew numbers of your ships drop too low, you run the risk of being easily captured in the event of a battle. Replenish your crews at starbases, using the Fix Ship function. As the game hits the ship limit, being able to capture enemy ships gives you a distinct advantage!
If an enemy ship runs out of fuel within the 3 lightyear Warpwell of a planet, remember that you must intercept it at Warp 1, or you will be dragged to the planet.
When you are travelling towards a captured enemy warship sitting helpless in your web mines, you must consider setting your mission to Mine Sweep as you approach. When an enemy sees that they have no chance of getting out of the webs, they will frequently drop their torpedoes into a protective mine field, hoping to slow down or destroy any of your capturing ships. You may have to drop an opposing mine field to destroy theirs if you are in a hurry to capture the enemy ship.
HINTS TO THE WISE:
One flawed tactic that will lose you the game quickly is to be too aggressive early on in the game. The Crystals need to be patient and careful, in order to develop their economy before tackling other races. Don't reveal the location of your homeworld or location for as long as you can- hop from planet to planet in one turn jumps, avoiding being caught in open space. When your location becomes general knowledge, the weaker cloaking races will generally tend to steer clear of your territory, as they will have much easier prey elsewhere. Your general strategy will be: build up your economy to lay your web mines and establish trustworthy allies. Use your web mines to capture non-allied players' ships. Use those ships to conquer the Echo cluster and bring the other races to their knees. Easy, huh?
Don't forget to raise the defense on your planets to 26 wherever possible. This will shield your planet from detection (except the Evil Empire's Dark Sense), as well as provide some small safety against lightly-armed scouts. Raising them more than that is not really cost effective- if a lowly Sky Garnet can take out a planet with a defense of 84, the extra supplies and MegaCredits spent for the defense are wasted. Your money is far better being spent on web mines as your primary means of defense. You probably won't have to place more than 25 mines on your planets either. They should produce minerals at a quick enough rate, and more mines may cause unhappiness with theplanet's inhabitants.
There's a quick way to find out if there's an enemy ship waiting for you on an enemy planet- pop a web mine field around it, and see next turn if there's a message saying that there's a ship in it. Remember that any ship around the planet will still lose fuel in your web mines field. If there is an enemy ship there, be sure to check to surprise enemy mine fields popping up!
Placing a web mine field around an enemy Homeworld is seldom as dramatic as is hoped for- most enemies will quickly produce a multi-beamed ship with the Starbase set to refuel, and they will sweep them away. If they have lots of freighters sitting in, or trying to go through the field, you may cause them to lose several hundred Kt of fuel as well as interrupting their freighter lanes for a turn or two. If you are playing with the Starbase+ Add-on, you will find that this tactic is next to useless, since the Starbase itself will be able to sweep your mine field away. If, however, you pop a web mine field or two around a Starbase low on Fuel, the effects can be devastating. For example, I have done this to a Robot Starbase, and ended up with 2 free fully loaded Instrumentality carriers!
When the time comes for you to expand, I personally use the following strategies: Load up your battle group with the appropriate torps, along with a few freighters full of clans and some supplies, and perhaps a Neutronic Fuel Carrier. Be sure to bring along some money as well, so that you can beam up minerals and make new Torps away from your Starbase with the "mkt" friendly code (registered only). If you think that there's an enemy ship waiting for you at the planet, then use the aforementioned ploy of throwing a web mine field around it and waiting for a message the next turn. You especially want to find planets with high temps. If you find one, drop a pile of your colonists, and throw up a few web mine fields. Make more torps with the "mkt" code, and keep expanding that way- drop web mine fields to secure the area, then move in. You will also be keeping an eye open for advanced Bovinoid planets.
Bovinoid planets are critical for you- you need those supplies! If you find one such planet, build a starbase around it. Tow a Merlin there, or build one there if you have to, and start converting those supplies into minerals. If you need one, get a Neutronic Refinery ship there too. As well, tax those bovinoids to get the money you will need to build your new ships. Studies have shown that the best way to tax is to keep the rate at 0% for three turns, then at 25% for one turn- it will allow maximum growth and money. Use this tax strategy on the bovinoids. If you need to, heat up the planet with your Onyx class ships- not only will your own colonists thrive, but other races will find the planet much less useful if they happen to take it.
If you are running your slow or damaged ship away from a large enemy carrier, and you have reinforcements on the way, you should consider playing cat-and-mouse in the Warpwells that extend 3 lightyears around the planets. Any ship with a waypoint in a Warpwell must have a speed of Warp 1, or the ship will be dragged down to the planet right after the movement phase. If you get into the Warpwell before the enemy ship, you can travel indefinitely around in the Warpwell at Warp 1 in the area a little less than 3 light years away from the planet. As long as your ship is more than 1 light year away from the pursuing ship, a single pursuing ship will not be able to successfully intercept your ship without being dragged to the planet. They will be forced to either chase you around the planet indefinately until your re-inforcements arrive, or send in more of their own enemy reinforcements. Naturally, if there's a web mine field around the planet, they may decide not to chance running out of fuel as well. You should consider hiding in Warpwells if your ship has low tech engines, is damaged, or is low on fuel, and not able to escape. This is a good trick to keep in the back of your mind- it probably won't win the game for you, but it may get you out of a jam or two!
You will probably not want to play the Crystals in games where regular mines are able to destroy web mines, if players can mine-sweep your fields at a distance, where your homeworld does not start at 100 degrees, or in games where the Colonies are allowed to fighter-sweep them away. Playing the Crystals effectively is challenging enough without these handicaps.
Timo Krieke sent me this little gem:
>You'll have to agree that the fact that the Crystals (and the Privateers)
>can't clone captured ship is a disadvantage.
>Under Host.exe, it is possible for you to make this disadvantage smaller.
>You can do this by filling the 500 ship slots as fast as you can: as you
>know, no race can clone ships when the 500 ship limit has been reached.
> In general, in a mineral-rich game, you'll build your second starbase at
>turn 10 - 15. The ship limit will hit at turn 30 - 40. Between turn 15 and
>30, use every starbase you've got to build a ship. If you can't build a
>decent ship, build a SDSF with tech 1 engines. Such a freighter will cost
>you almost nothing.
> Your stack of these useless, harmless freighters are protected by your web
>mines, and can't be destroyed by marauding enemy cloakers.
> When you notify the Privateer player in your game about this plan at the
>beginning of the game and he/she agrees joining you, the ship limit will be
>reached even sooner! (This can also be a base for a good relationship,
>remote cooperation or even straightforward alliance!)
> When the ship limit has been reached, recycle the SDSF again to receive
>Priority Build Points. Use the regular recycling techniques.
> [The use of building large numbers of SDSF before the ship limit is
>questionable for all other races, but for the Crystals (and Privateers)
>this specific angle of speeding up the ship limit is only a good thing.]
What will help your game immensely is your choice of allies. Yes, you need allies: a game in which you have 11 enemies will be a very short one. Your major drawbacks can be offset with a good ally, whether they can provide you with cloaking ships, free fighters, cloning ships for you, etc. You can offer your ally the service of having web-mine fields laid for them. Web mines laid in another race's ID will not drain 25 kt of fuel per turn, but they will take fuel if someone else blunders into their mine field. Best of all, should an alliance go sour, you cannot be hurt by web mines that you have put down for someone else- you are always immune to them and their effects! If an ally turns on you, remember this little trick: if you lay web mines inside a field that you laid for another race, it will turn into one big mine filed that belongs to you! Since it will usually be in their territory, they will have a huge problem on their hands! Because of this, don't be afraid to lay web mines in an ally's territory- you can always take control of the field later.
When possible, try to diplomatically arrange for the downfall of neutral and enemy Carrier races. Not only is it a good excuse for you to capture some much-needed carriers, but having fewer freely roaming carriers out there can only benefit you.
Cloaking races are not bad allies, if you can convince them to go against the Carrier races. The cloaking races will primarily want to ally with you to avoid having your web mines used against them. If an alliance goes sour, you can defend against cloaking races better than any other type.
Torpedo Races are generally on a more even footing with the Crystals. Their ships will not be as beneficial to you as a good carrier or a decent cloaker. Still, don't look a gift horse in the mouth!
Now, on to Individual Races:
The FEDS make a good ally for you, as they can clone your ships, and take those ships, Super-refit them, and then return them to you. The Feds are also usually grateful for web-mine protection against cloaked ships, especially Lizard ships, which are immune to the effects of their anti-cloaking Loki ship. They will generally be interested in trading Medium ships for Web mine fields.
The LIZARDS can make good allies, as they can provide you with cloaking ships, can back up your offensive efforts with their high ground-attack ratio, and can use their Hiss mission to help you squeeze the last few tax credits out of your colonies.
The BIRDS can offer you cloaking ships, as well as providing the much-needed stealthy Information you sorely lack. The Crystals can always use a few good cloaking battleships, whether they trade for them, or capture them. The Birds will prefer to trade them for protection against more powerful races. They can clone for you as well.
The FASCISTS have cloaking ships to offer you, as well as the famed Glory Device ships, which may come in handy in case any enemy cloakers get past your webs. They can clone for you, and get rid of some pesky Amorphous natives for you. All in all, not a stellar ally.
The PRIVATEERS have good reason to respect you- next to the Lizards, you are probably their most feared enemy. A few of your web mines can put a serious wrench into their plans- heck, most races that you ally with will be looking at your web mines to protect them from the Privateers! They can't hover long around planets in a web mine field, and they run a good chance of hitting a mine field every time they enter one. However, as allies, they are very useful. Best of all, their Meteor Class Blockade Runner is second to none in the covert mine-laying department. Together, the two of you could strip every other race of any ship you want! Cloaked Privateer ships can tow enemies into your mine fields for robbing- if there's some fuel left over after being robbed, the mine fields may be enough to finish draining the fuel away!
The CYBORGS have their HYPerdrive ship, which can zip right past your mines to whatever planet they have in their range. Note that this is one more good reason to have those rotating small web mine fields around your planets. The Cyborgs can offer you cloning, and that's about it, unless you can talk him out of a chunneling Firecloud or two (fat chance). Not a great ally for you.
The EVIL EMPIRE can help you. Yes, they can clone, but better still, they can provide you with free fighters for those Crystal Thunder carriers. As well, their Dark Sense can give you vital information, as well as having HYPerdrive ships, should you need to expand your empire more quickly. Beware of having the Empire as an enemy, especially in the early game- their carriers can quickly cause you a lot of grief if you aren't careful. With their tendancy to build lots of starbases, they can be a tough nut for you to crack.
The ROBOTS make very good allies, and fearsome enemies. As an ally, building fighters in space has obvious benefits for you, and they can clone ships for you. Best of all are their Mine-laying abilities. Picture this- they lay mines for you, you scoop them up, and lay web mines for them. Lots of free mines floating around out there... cloakers, beware! Together you can make the Echo cluster a very, very hazardous place. If the host is configured allowing regular mines to destroy web mines, this is an added incentive for you to stay on the Robot's good side. Since you are weakest against Carrier racers, allying with the Robots is also a wise move for you for obvious reasons.
The REBELS are a good ally as well, thanks to their ability to build fighters cheaply. They can clone for you, as well as using their Rebel Ground Attack to soften up enemies for you. They have a HYPerdrive ship too.
The COLONIES are good allies with their fighter-building capability, as well as their cloning ability. If your host is configured to let them fighter-sweep web mines, being on their good side is an obvious plus. They are also your best ally against the Robots, should they not wish to co-operate with you.
As a summary, remember these important points: Stay hidden as long as possible at the beginning of the game. Establish an excellent economy. Build effective battle groups, laying small, overlapping web mine fields. Don't be too aggressive too early on. Get a good ally or two, preferably with cloaking or carrier races. Be sure to read the guides for the other races to know your enemies; forewarned is forearmed. The DreadLord Battle Manual is a good place to start.
Most of all, have fun playing the thinking man's race, and be sure to thank your gracious and generous opponents for all of those free ships!!
Many thanks to Timo Krieke and Donovan for feedback and information that went into this revision of The Guide!
This compilation was assembled by M. L. Maurer, in March, 1998. For comments, suggestions, questions, or outright flattery please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please feel free to distribute freely, but do not make any changes to the text. Thank-you.