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War! What Is It Good For?
Military accomplishments have always been a driving force behind victory in turn-based strategy games. Galactic Civilizations II is no different. Even if you're a relatively peaceful player, you'll need to have a strong military to back up your pacifists goals. The AI in Galactic Civilizations II is not lazy, and will quickly move to overcome any player who fails to keep a fleet that could at least stand a chance of victory. Military ships will also be needed during various random events, which can cause hostile factions to suddenly appear.
More than anything however, war is the easiest way to expand. Using influence and even trying to bribe enemy empires out of planets can slowly overtake your enemy. Certainly, there are reasons to pursue influence and diplomacy as strategic goals. When it comes to simply subtracting enemy worlds and resources from their ownership and adding them to your own however, war is the most straightforward solution. Because of this, you'll likely be involved in a few major wars during the course of any campaign.
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Prey On The Weak
It is nearly certain that you'll be declaring war on an enemy civilization during any campaign. You very nearly have to. If you don't attack the weaker civilizations, your can bet that the AI will. The early stages of the game often begin to look like vultures hovering over corpses, as the civilizations with the weakest starts are gobbled up by their militarily stronger foes.
Don't hesitate to get in on the action, but make sure you go in with a plan. Early wars should ideally consist of short, decisive actions against nearby, weak civilizations. You'll want to have as much firepower available as close as possible to the war-front, and you'll want to make sure that you have enough troop transports that you can capitalize on any hole put into enemy defenses. It does you no good to take out enemy ships if you can't take over the planets, because they'll simply build more.
The ideal early war will probably last no more than twenty turns before the enemy surrenders, and you should position your forces so that - upon the declaration of war - you can take several planets within the first five turns. The basic strategy is to load up your main battleships on the future front-line, and then - when you're ready - drive as far into the territory of the enemy as possible. Sometimes they'll catch this and declare war before you reach your target, but most times you'll be able to perform a surprise attack. Focus on the enemy strongholds - mostly worlds with a rating of over 8. The home planet - if in reach - is a must-have prize. Once you decapitate your enemy by taking his best planets, you may not even need to challenge the smaller ones. The influence you gain from the better planets may force the smaller ones into revolt, resulting in a quick, clean victory.
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The 100 Turns War
Once the weaker civilizations have been gobbled up, you'll probably end up with a galaxy that has half as many potential foes in it as it did before. Those foes will be much more powerful however, which means that fighting them will no longer be a matter of swooping in and destroying critical planets in a handful of turns. Critical planets will likely be too numerous for this to be possible. There will be so many targets that by the time you've placed ships near all of them, advances in technology will make most of those older vessels obsolete.
War therefore, will become a long grueling affair. The idea of sweeping in with a sudden blitzkrieg still remains valid, but you'll no longer be able to guarantee that your forces can attack without being harassed, or that you'll be able to destroy your enemy before they get around to sending mobs of troop transports at your worlds. This means you'll need to set up a solid front line, which is thankfully simple, since space is a 2D affair in Galactic Civilizations II. You'll need plenty of heavily armed and armored capital ships, for use in fighting off the bulk of the enemy forces. But you'll also need to build scouts and interceptors. These units should have a wealth of sensors, so that you can ensure that no ships are passing by your mob of death undetected. It only takes one troop transport to take a low-population planet, and nothing is more disruptive to your strategy than having to pull ships and troop transports from the front lines simply because your opponent is taking down your back-water worlds.
When fighting a long war, be sure to pay special attention to enemy starbases, and immediately destroy resource starbases of the military variety. A single fully upgraded resource starbase built on a military resource can boost your enemy's ships by over 20%, and taking that starbase out will instantly revert all of the enemies ships to their normal stats. Also take out economy and morale resources, as these will reduce your enemy's income.
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Keeping The Hoards At Bay
Oddly, one of the most important military goals accomplished by your armed forces will be stopping wars before they start. The AI in Galactic Civilizations II considers military strength of possible enemies in all of its moves, and if your military is extremely weak, you'll soon find other races declaring war on you - or at least demanding tribute. In general, you should at least keep an average sized army, so you don't have war suddenly thrust upon you. Being taken off-guard by a sudden declaration of war by a powerful enemy can mean certain doom, as the AI's army sweeps in to take over your poorly defended planets with barely a fight. The moment you start losing a significant number of planets, you may as well load one of your old save games.
Should you have war unexpectedly declared on you, your first goal should be to cover all your planets. Planets not protected by ships in orbit are free game for any troop transport than wanders by. Nothing is worse than losing a good planet simply because you forgot to put a fighter around it, and an enemy troop convoy just happened to come by. You also need to defend your resource starbases, as you can bet your enemy will gun for those, and losing them can have serious, empire-wide consequences.
If you find yourself unable to hold back your enemy, you can always try to turn the tables by convincing a friendly civilization to attack your opponent. This can take pressure off you and give you a chance to regroup. But if all else fails, don't be afraid to swallow your pride and sue for peace. The less-aggressive civilizations will typically let you off the hook. This will give you the chance to re-organize your forces and counter-attack when you have ships in position to take down key enemy worlds.
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Hard And Fast
The tips above are general ones, but they are applicable in nearly all situations. Follow them, and victory should be both easy and swift. Never treat your opponent lightly in this game, because the AI is smart and brutal. If you choose to go about war in a lazy, hap-hazard fashion, taking down planets one at a time rather than in a single swift wave, you'll risk losing starbases and planets to surprise counter-attacks. A defeated enemy is a harmless enemy - go in hard, fast, and early.