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Sins of a Solar Empire uses three key resources as the basis of its economic model. Money is the first and most fundamental, as it serves as a fungible medium of exchange that can be traded for other resources and vice versa. Money is obtained by taxing the citizens of acquired planets and can also be awarded by rival empires if missions are completed.
Metal is the next most fundamental resource and is generally available in more plentiful quantities than crystal. It is also more heavily utilized and is the basic substance required to build virtually any planetary improvement or space faring vessel. Metal can be obtained via the black market but is acquired primarily by mining asteroids in orbit around the various planets on a Sins map. Some are even present in systems dominated by ionic storms or a nebula that do not have their own planets or around the wrecks of old spaceships. Metal asteroids tend to be concentrated around volcanic and desert planets, though some are usually available in terran planetary systems as well.
Crystal is the third resource and it is heavily utilized in scientific research as well as high technology applications - capital ships and cruisers especially. Like metal crystal can be purchased on the black market but all in all it is primarily mined off asteroids. Unlike metal, crystal asteroids are relatively uncommon and most planets only have one, maybe two in orbit compared to two and even three metal asteroids. The exception is ice planets, which may have as many as four crystal bearing asteroids and no metal asteroids. Ice planets thus tend to be highly prized in most games of Sins of a Solar Empire: home planets are sometimes moved to be closer to these key worlds.
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Expanding the Empire
Every strategy game must have an economic model of one form or another, but Sins of a Solar Empire makes economic competency of absolute importance. Instead of following the path taken by most Command and Conquer type real time strategy games, simply plopping down an expansion on a planet will not immediately begin to accrue benefits to an empire. Newly acquired worlds need to be developed before they can begin to help a faction's quest for domination, and will actually be a drain on resources until this development has been completed.
Sins of a Solar Empire home planets are fully developed from the outset, which means that a player will immediately have a reliable income stream to use. All planets acquired thereafter - including those seized from an enemy faction - must be subject to a heavy investment of gold, metal, and crystal in order to support a sufficiently large population that they can be effectively taxed. Until two or three levels of development have been completed these worlds will be a drain on the treasury even if they are actively providing metal and crystal from orbiting asteroids.
In addition the proximity of the faction's homeworld will influence both the amount of resources needed in order to develop a new world and the return on investment realized once upgrades have been complete. In the early game this is not usually of primary concern, as most acquired worlds are close to the home planet. As the middle stages of a game begin the siting of the home planet will be of the utmost importance.
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Home Planets Relative to the Empire
At the beginning of a Sins game your home planet has been selected for you and it is the only planet that will be immediately available. Few successful empires simply relax and develop their homeworld - while it is quite possible to pursue expansion very cautiously and to build a major fighting force before venturing deeper into a solar system, this tactic is inadvisable except perhaps on very small maps and in very short games. Although it does suck up resources to take over planets, in short order they will add significantly to the wealth of the empire and be worth the time it took to develop them.
Most players will expand early and often - typically up until the point where they are bumping up against an opponent. Some will even expand aggressively, only colonizing favorable planets and leaving asteroids or less desirable worlds for later. In this fashion they can spread across a large swath of territory and discourage an opponent from expanding towards them while they then develop seized worlds and reinforce choke point systems. Of course, whatever expansion strategy is chosen one important component must be addressed in any game of Sins of a Solar Empire: home planets and the choice of their location.
The homeworld in Sins is a center of culture and power, and the farther from it an occupied planet is the lower its loyalty to the central government will be and the less its population will produce relative to a planet closer to the homeworld. Most Sins maps start the player on the edge of a solar system and so most acquired worlds will eventually be four or five jumps from the home planet. Eventually moving this planet to be more central will be necessary to maintain efficiency.
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Home Planet Site Selection
Sins of a Solar Empire home planets need to be sited either as close to the geographic center of the empire as possible or as close to its economic center. The loyalty level of a given occupied planet will decrease in proportion to the number jumps away from the homeworld: one jump will result in a slight, maybe 10% reduction in loyalty, two jumps drops loyalty by 20% or so, and by the time 4 jumps distant loyalty on a planet is down to the 65% range. Try and colonize a world deep in enemy territory and base loyalty might be as low as 30% - if the planet is colonizable at all due to enemy culture!
Moving the homeworld is then key to maintaining an empire, as a centrally sited homeworld may well be within 3 jumps of all owned systems while the original homeworld could have been 6 from the farthest owned worlds. As mentioned, geographic centers are good places for home planets, but if a player notices that the majority of highly productive planets are clumped in one part of the empire, it may be worth siting the home planet closer to this economic region to maximize its efficiency, leaving distant asteroids accepting a lower base loyalty in the hopes that capital ships or star bases stationed in these border regions will maintain sufficient loyalty to the empire.
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Cultural Issues in Sins Games
If you've played much of Sins of a Solar Empire, this has probably happened to you at some point: while busy managing an epic space battle fought in the gravity well of a key enemy planet, you suddenly hear an announcement that you colony on some distant ice planet has been destroyed. Naturally, you zoom over to the planet in question, a border area that had been quiet for some time due to the presence of a relatively passive neighbor. You examine the system, and nothing seems amiss - the star base is still there, looking imposing as ever, and the attending cruisers and orbital defenses are fine. But when you click on the planet, there's no colony information. What could have happened?
What happened was your opponent's culture slowly undermined your own, and the planet rebelled against your continued domination. It is a slow acting process, cultural overthrow, but pervasive and insidious nevertheless. Opposing it requires that players pay close attention to the loyalty levels on their border worlds - if numbers seem to be dropping slowly but inexorably, another faction's culture may well be to blame. Mitigating this cultural assault is one option, whether by launching attacks on neighboring culture structures or stationing capital ships in planetary orbit. But there is another way. In Sins of a Solar Empire, uping culture can be a necessary defense measure as well as a path to victory in its own right.
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Combating Cultural Attacks
Culture is easily overlooked because it seems like such an innocuous mechanism. Building cultural structures like propaganda centers sucks up logistics slots which could otherwise be used for factories, trade centers, or research stations. Culture acts slowly, and primarily undermines loyalty - loyalty that can be protected by stationing capital ships on border planets to repel enemy culture. A faction cannot rely on culture to protect it against physical attack - so a good offence ought to be the best defense, right?
Unfortunately for aggressive types, culture's long term effect acts as an incredible force multiplier that can be applied by savvy players to completely undermine a more powerful neighbor over time. Deploying capital ships to every border region means that they can't be present somewhere else either for attacking or defending. Building starbases with loyalty inducing subsystems can help, but every upgrade dedicated to culture on a starbase is one less that can go towards its combat systems. Simply attacking a culture-based opponent will of course work - except that more aggressive enemies on other fronts will take advantage of the lapse in defenses to launch attacks of their own.
When confronted by a culturally superior opponent in Sins of a Solar Empire, uping culture in your own empire is the best means of defense. Border systems should be ringed with culture structures, and secondary starbases behind the front line should also maintain one or two culture oriented upgrades. Periodic raids that target an opponent's culture structures can be helpful. And if Sins Diplomacy is being played hiring another empire's services in aiding these attacks can be effective as well.
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Advantages of Uping Culture
For different factions in Sins of a Solar Empire, uping culture can provide different long term effects. Advent players, for example, can research an upgrade that will allow them to be able to see the details of any world where friendly Advent culture is significant. This effectively turns the population of an enemy world into ready-made spies, providing early warning of potential threats or weaknesses. Advent also has access to the Deliverance Engine - it provides a one time, massive boost in Advent cultural influence on a planet. Loading up rear worlds with Deliverance Engines can forcibly spread Advent culture throughout the solar system.
TEC and Vasari factions are less interested in culture, the Vasari to the point that their cultural moves should be made simply to protect against cultural intrusion in planets they occupy or to destroy an opponent's cultural structures. TEC on the other hand can positively benefit from uping culture because with sufficient research the TEC can inspire guerilla movements in any planetary system where TEC culture holds sway. These movements will launch small fleets of TEC ships into orbit which will attack ships and structures in the planet's gravity well. Several of these insurgencies running at once can open a border area up to TEC attack.
Regardless of faction, culture cannot be ignored. The most powerful empire can be brought down if it neglects the importance of culture. Often the only warning of cultural degradation is the fall of one or more border worlds, and by that time the tide of hostile culture may be nigh impossible to stop. A coordinated cultural and physical assault may break the strongest solar empire.