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The Long Haul
Sins of a Solar Empire is not a game that is finished in twenty minutes. Or an hour. Or sometimes, even five hours. Depending on who is playing, even the smallest maps (2 v 2 maps) can see games last for three or four hours before a victor is clear. This means that Sins of a Solar Empire is the direct opposite of a game like Dawn of War 2. That is not to say tactics do not matter, as it is possible that a masterful tactician could repeatedly upset a more strategic player. But it would be far more difficult to win in that way, as the tactician would be playing against a player who over time could build more units with better technology.
What matters in Sins of a Solar Empire is goals, and this basic strategy guide tackles the subject of general game strategy from a goal-oriented perspective. If you start a game with a solid idea of where you want to go, you're likely to end up somewhere useful, even if you are not so well versed in the game that you can detail every single step you will take along the way. This guide briefly explains three specific goals which are often used by players in Sins of a Solar Empire, including the economic, offensive, and research oriented strategies.
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Thanks to the snails pace of Sins, investing in your economy can reap massive rewards over time. The rewards become larger and larger as you invest more, and they eventually become so large that an economic player can field a seemingly endless number of units. The goal of the economist is always to maximize economic growth and efficiency, even when faced with pressure by an offensive player.
For new players, the largest roadblock that will be encountered in executing this strategy is fear of being left unprotected. Economists will generally spend as much of their income on new structures and on economic research as on ships, if not more. This means that the economist is fighting uphill whenever a battle is numerically even. Offensive players will likely use their warships better and more aggressively, giving them an advantage in combat, while research oriented players will have ships of a far higher quality. In the early game, this is a problem. Like any investment, putting money into your economy takes time to pay off. Placing resources into research of more efficient mining techniques can put you into a superior position half an hour later, but does nothing to combat a hoard of frigates knocking on your door right the hell now.
This means that the economist has to keep his morale high and keep enemies delayed. This requires the economist to be unpredictable and quick on a strategic level. Sins is a game with many possible avenues through space, and this means there is often more than one way to strike an enemy. Gamble. If an aggressive enemy is trying to knock out your outer colonies, hit them back. Remember that as long as you can keep alive, and as long as you can keep your enemy from gaining dominance in terms of territory, you are winning. All other things equal, a battle between an offensive player and an economic player with the same number of planets will tend to favor the economic player, as that player will eventually be earning more resources. Always keep this basic fact in your mind. It can be tempting to throw up your hands in frustration and start dumping every last dime into frigate upgrades when your enemy begins to pressure your outer colonies. Remember that giving in only plays into your opponent's hands.
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While games of Sins do tend to last a long while, rushing is not a dead concept. In fact, the relatively free nature of space and the many jump nodes that connect systems favor players who think aggressively. In addition, the 4X-like pacing of Sins makes the colony-rush stage extremely important. Once a planet is claimed, it takes time to swoop in and win it back.
The offensive player knows this, and goes straight for the kill from the start of the game. The staple of the early offensive game is tons and tons of missile frigates. These lovely, high-damage, high-range units can be countered effectively, but not until players do some research, and that research takes time. Until then, missile frigates can run amok, killing structures, capital ships, and other frigates. The goal, however, is not just chaos. While wreaking general havoc is important, the offensive player must remember to target anything that can colonize, and to strike enemy empires which look to be expanding quickly.
As the game begins to unfold, the offensive player should never take his foot off the gas. While enemies will be able to research better units and better defenses, they can't stop the fact that a small, well positioned force of frigates can run around or through nearly any defense in the game. Once behind enemy lines, these small fleets can quickly destroy a few mining structures and then jump out just as the enemy fleet arrives. For the offensive player, the name of the game becomes initiative. As long as your opponent is reacting to you, you are in a good position.
Ultimately, the offensive player should be aiming to reach a critical mass where enemies, no matter their level of technology or the value of their economy, can no longer resist your assaults. This would mean large fleets led by battle-hardened capital ships and a large number of planet-killers. By skipping through or around the strongest enemy worlds, an aggressive player with the ability to take out a planet in a few minutes can chip even the strongest enemy down to their homeworld.
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The research trees in Sins are complex. They involve numerous upgrades to ships, buildings, and defenses, and these upgrades ultimately result in vessels that are far better than those of an enemy who has not been placing resources into research. In addition, all three races have technologies that can be used as game-enders. The goal of the researcher, then, is to gain victory through constant application of knowledge useful in battle.
In the early game, the researchers tend to face the same problems as economists, although on a lesser scale. While a player going for a research strategy will likely be a little better off than a player going heavy into economy, the offensive player with his large fleet and constant attacks is always troublesome. The researcher can counter this, however, by building better ships and ships which defeat whatever the offensive player seems to prefer. Within the first thirty minutes of the game the researcher can deal a major blow against an offensive player by spending resources in the research of carriers, giving the researcher the tool needed to defeat hoards of missile frigates.
As the game moves on, the researcher must constantly move forward. Because the research trees have many possible outcomes, and even research oriented players can't reach all of them in a reasonable amount of time, the researcher should find priorities. This may include the desire to upgrade all ships with the best possible armor and shields, or the desire to research all ship types, or the desire to gain access to the end-game technologies such as Returning Armada.
Nearing the end of the game, the researcher should close in by keeping technological research moving forward at a rate the enemy cannot overcome. If you can gain an advantage in terms of territory against your opponent, then you will be in a good position. All things being equal, a researcher is in a good position against other players, including economists. The dedicated researcher can tech up to the end-game technologies in an hour if left un-harassed. Such technological superiority will leave enemies with no option but to surrender.