Perhaps most importantly as soon as the chance arises you should research and build the civilian buildings as the game does tend to reward the player who thinks in terms of more than just conquest. However a lack of buildings designed to keep the populace happy can generally be countered by a low tax rate.
It's worth noting that the radar installation is especuially important - just because you can't see the enemy fleets it doesn't mean they're not doing something nasty, and radar installations are another target for enemy ground forces.
It's important not to underestimate equipment with less obviously militaristic uses. It's all there for a reason.
Cargo pods are cheap, relatively easy to research and are a vital addition to every flagship. The extra cargo capacity they add will make all the difference in any ground battle they transport tanks to. Incidentally, they should always be filled to capacity - sending a fleet in with less than its maximum troop support is asking for disaster.
Destroyers require a little more management than cruisers or fighters as they none of them come equipped with shields as standard. If you have the resources it's worth making the effort to tool these ships up as unshielded they're cannon fodder.
Research Colony ships as soon as you can. Weapons tech may be tempting but if you give the other races time to spread out among the stars you're going to fighting an uphill battle for the rest of the game. They're easy to use, just build one and send it to a world you know is uninhabited and click on the colonise button on the star-map. They can also make good multi-purpose scouts if you fit them with a good radar and have enough satellites to back them up. Remember though, because they fall into the flagship class you'll need an orbital factory to build them.
A good supply of satellites is vital to your progress through the game. They can be deployed on any planet which you have discovered and come into operation instantaneously. Without them you can't invade planets and can't get a good idea of the balance of power between the various empires and confederations vying for supremacy.
Cruiser IIIs are recommended as the ultimate goal of your research. Not only are they superlative ships-of-the-line in their own right but each carries a payload of four missiles and four bombs each. When you have these you'll find you have the payload to conduct protracted campaigns without refit and find the subsequent rapidity of your invasions invaluable. By the final stages of rank 5 I wouldn't have a fleet in operation without at least fifteen of these workhorses amongst its number.
Events are the milestones which mark your progression through the game and are often a do or die affair. Anytime you're told to do something unusual I'd advise saving your position in case your luck runs out. Click for help with;
Blockades: Violence is rarely the best solution to these actions. Any ships effected by the blockade will be marked, usually with a white border, and all such ships should be intercepted. Once intercepted the easiest way to deal with them is to pause the combat to stop them flying past and then communicate with them using the dialogue screen. With a little practice you'll find it quite easy to dissuade even the most stubborn independent to follow your orders.
The Virus can happen several times and without effective use of blockade tactics can be lethal. If you want to limit the effect of the virus then there are two things you have to do instantly: first you should build a hospital on New Caroline to cope with the spread of the disease; and second and more importantly you should send a message and report the virus to your commander. After your report he will send you some sensors keyed to the Garthog virus carriers which are the cause of the infection. Intercept and destroy these virus carriers and you'll limit the virus to one visit only and quicken your journey to higher ranks.
The Psyche Test: Failure to answer these questions adequately can get you thrown off the ship but only the most rabid psychopath is penalised so if this happens to you…you probably deserve it.
The Stolen Prototype: At first the odds in this battle seem overwhelming until you realise the Garthogs are only interested in the prototype's survival. If you manage to destroy the prototype then the engagement will be over so concentrate all your firepower on this one ship and you should be able to complete this section with even a minimal force.
The Pirate Duel: If you help the pirate against his enemies, he'll provide you with reinforcements at a later crucial battle which will see you go from rank 1 to rank 2 with reinforcements that will be directly under your control.
Flashbacks and Oddities are integral to the central narrative so I won't give to much away. Suffice to say the game is a lot more interesting if you follow the clues and hints the game provides you with. Most of these involve talking to fellow crew members in the bar or sending and receiving messages but one bit that easy to miss is when you see a figure run out from your cabin: when this happens you should go into your cabin and activate the record message button and you should be able to catch the intruder.
Promotion to Grand Admiral is the only promotion which is controlled not by an action of yours but by an event. As this event ties in with the story I'll keep that to myself but if things are looking a bit dicey at Admiral try the following to speed your passage. Equip a single flagship with limited ground forces and decent radar and send it to the top right hand corner of the star-map. Use your satellites to investigate any worlds you discover on your passage, (concentrating particularly on worlds in the corner if you're running low on material). Eventually you should find a green world: when you do, attack it. The result of this conflict should catapult you to Rank 5
Without money you're going nowhere so effective financial management is a must. The basic rule is to spend money to make money and any building which can help your later finances should be invested in at the first opportunity.
One of the integral assumptions of the game is that there is a virtually infinite supply of colonists waiting to move into the planets you've groomed for them. In common with most sim games these colonists are attracted by cheap, spacious living areas, and its important to keep a low tax rate on your planets as well as keeping up the amenities. If you avoid the obvious temptation of high tax rates early in the game you'll find this pays dividends with the cash you get from your expanded populations later in the game.
The money you get from trade will support your empire. Apart from a low tax rate to encourage a good market it's vital to have the infrastructure to support trade. At first this involves having a trading spaceport on every planet - you literally can't afford to be without one. Then, when you've got the money, it's worth trying to get a bank and trade centre when you've researched them, on your high population worlds as the added corporate backup will make all the difference in the long run.
There's no going back from ground combat so take as many tanks in as you can. Also try not to fight any battle you can't win: there are fewer compulsory battles than you might think.
An important feature of the game is the ability to pull tanks off a planet into a central pool and redistribute them instantly. Manipulation of this feature can be the key to managing your supply of vehicles. The most obvious use of this is to pull your tanks off of a world before the enemy attacks so he'll take it with minimal effort and you can retake the world without suffering massive damage to your colony. Also if you keep an eye on enemy fleet movements you can reinforce before an attack or even scare an enemy away if he's got his heart set on an easy target.
Mass your troops. If your tanks aren't firing then you're wasting your guns. It's also best to meet your opponent on an open field, (and stay there) - if you get involved in a scrappy battle in the city streets you will almost certainly lose all your tanks unless you outnumber your opponent fivefold. You'll find the A key very useful for such actions as you can quickly select all your tanks and use the mouse to direct them quickly to their targets.
When you do attack choose a target and keep all your mobile force attacking it until you kill it - a damaged tank still has the same punch so the sooner you cut down on the number of guns aimed at you the better.
Leave enemy fortifications 'till last. Your most pressing concern is your enemy's mobile troops and although you'll have to destroy the guns eventually they're not going anywhere. A well defended world with many fortifications can often be a tough nut to crack on the first attempt but the good news is that if you send in a second force quick enough you'll find the enemy still depleted. One last thing - don't be afraid to destroy habitats and hospitals that are blocking the line of fire from your rocket sleds to enemy gun emplacements: war is hell.
Gun emplacements are about fifty percent effective when deprived of a power supply. Theoretically this could make all the difference and the destruction of power plants is a tactic you'll find the computer using a lot. In practice though this is very rarely viable: while there are still tanks out there they should be your target and the enemy plants are usually well covered by the guns you're trying to limit. I'd recommend ignoring this aspect of combat and taking advantage of the enimies obsession with this method in your own colony defence battles.
Even if you win, a large scale ground combat can wreak havoc on a well built up colony. There are certainly times when you have to defend a colony but there are times when the best choice is to pull your troops away before the enemy attacks and allow him to take the planet. Most of the races, (and this does vary) will only leave a minimal garrison on a freshly taken world and if you act quickly you can usually retake the planet with fewer losses than you would have had if you'd chosen to defend. Not for the cautious player perhaps but falling back before an advance can prove one of the most effective tactics within the game.
Damaged ground vehicles can be repaired quickly and will be fully functional by the next action. Buildings however may require more attention. There are three ways of handling building damage: the first is to select the auto-repair box in the options screen, a good option when you have a lot of money but it can be a real drain on your finances and I wouldn't advise this until the later ranks; next is to handle these repairs manually, nice but fiddley; and the final option, which can be used in conjunction with the other two, is to put a fire station on the planet - this will actually deal with damage as it happens during the combat, repairing, for free, any damage up to fifty percent. Very useful when you can afford it but be careful where you place them as these are also targets for enemy ground forces.
Rocket sleds are the only exception to the rule that massed formations are the best tactic. Their long range is lethal when used in a fire support capacity for your main body of tanks but they have light armour and are vulnerable to enemy weapons fire. Four or more of these placed behind your tanks and left to support your attack force will make a sizeable difference to your offensive capabilities; especially if you're fighting in the open. Enemy rocket sleds are equally as effective as your own and removing them should always be one of your first concerns.
All races have their own special tanks: for you, and the other human races, this is the Behemoth. This is really just a tooled up heavy but the vehicles of your competitors, (such as the minelayer, special forces and kamikaze tanks to name just three), tend to something a bit different. The basic rule here is to destroy them as quickly as you can although you'll learn from experience that some are more of a threat than others.
In the early game barracks and fortresses are at first glance the most attractive buildings for their guns - they're autoaiming and a lot more powerful than anything you'll get in a tank - but in the end their lack of mobility ensures you'll find them a lot less useful than they first appear. By far the most useful feature of these is the room for extra tanks they give you. Add two barracks to a planet's surface and you'll double your tank capacity from 8 to 16 which should be more than enough to deal with initial scouting attacks. Guns are useful but be careful where you place them. Apart from the guns themselves your enemy's main target is going to be your power plants so placing the guns in a position to cover them has to be a good idea, if they can also cover the outside of your city, then all the better.
Without new technology you're going to get outpaced and outmanoeuvred so as soon as you get the chance get your boffins working and as soon as you've finished one start another. The research screen in the information section can be useful for planning your research strategy - so don't ignore it.
Research centres: These are one of the more difficult aspects of the game to handle, especially when first encountered at rank three, and careful attention to their use is vital to a smooth progress through the later ranks. First on this subject is a hint for ranks one and two which is simply to turn them off at these ranks - during this time they are effectively useless and the power they consume would better be used elsewhere. Then at rank three you get the chance to research and realise this is absolutely tied into the use of the research centres. Each project can only be completed if you have the requisite number of centres of each type and you can only have one centre per planet. The secret is not to be afraid to demolish a centre to replace it and set up a new combination. And don't worry you will get some of your money back as the centre is dismantled. Apart from this the only way to expand your research opportunities is to take more planets and the need for bigger and better technologies will probably be your main thrust for expansion. One final note on this topic: you may find a couple of alien worlds have more than one research centre in place when you capture them, (one of the only circumstances when the computer cheats) - under no circumstances should you destroy any of these as you won't be able to build extra centres to replace them.
Research prerequisites: Watch out for these. If there's a crossed item you want to research then find out what you need to research first. A coherent research strategy can ensure you get the technology you dream of much earlier than the more haphazard researcher.
Space combat can be fast and furious, often involving more variables than ground actions, so don't be afraid to pause the game and take stock mid combat because I assure you the computer's reactions are faster than yours.
Don't attack merchants. There's nothing to be gained from futile attempts at piracy and after all - these are the people who boost your trade income.
Defending merchants: The most important thing to remember in these actions is that you have direct control over any allies in the combat. This means you can direct the merchant behind your own fleet while your fighters destroy the would-be pirates. As long as you keep the merchant moving you should be fine.
Retreat: Ships are retreated by sending them off of the left hand side of the screen, (and all space combats are left to right except planetary defence actions), and this can be done individually or as a whole. Unless desperate it's a good idea to move very damaged ships to the back of the action, if not off the screen altogether, so they can live to fight another day. In the event of a full scale retreat it's best not to use the retreat order button until you've retreated your slower flagships first; using any ships you can sacrifice to provide covering fire. The full scale routs the retreat button tends to invoke can be very costly indeed.
Fighters: In the early stages this will be your main craft and you'd be advised to take direct control of their movements and target selection. Later in the game though it's easy to ignore them but you'd be well advised to get as many fighters as you can into each fleet. You'll lose several each battle but they're a cheap screen for your flagships and have enough AI to be able to look after themselves.
Never have less than three flagships in each fleet and never send them in unprotected. These are powerful ships but they're vulnerable to swarm attacks and they're the transports for your ground forces. If you lose a flagship you don't just lose the ship but the troops it contains and even if you win the space combat the effect this will have on the subsequent ground action could prove devastating. If you seem in danger of losing a flagship then simply retreat, it is after all the better part of valour.
Unfortunately spaceships don't repair as quickly as their land based counterparts and after a battle you'll often find that your craft are a little the worse for wear (indicated by red and yellow status bars on individual components). They will repair themselves eventually but it is important to note that there is nothing you can do to speed this process up. The only thing to do is sit and wait and if your fleet is looking a bit shabby it's usually a good move to hold off on that attack you've been planning and dry-dock the fleet until the ships have brought themselves back to operational capacity. Something that won't repair though are guns and lasers which have been destroyed in the action and it's worth checking every now and then to make sure you're not sending your favourite flagship into battle armed only with a measly pea-shooter.
Attacking ground defences: Make sure you have plenty of bombs because these are the only effective way of getting past a heavily defended planet. Your first target should always be the inversion shield or it's equivalent as this device provides shielding for every planet based gun. Any shots or warheads fired at these guns before you've destroyed the planetary shield is just so much wasted firepower and you should wait on attacking them until you've completely destroyed the shield.
Scouting: If you can manage a network of cheap, expendable fighters to intercept enemy fleets and discover their composition you'll have a major advantage over the less prepared player. Even better would be single destroyers or cruisers as these can be fitted with radar and might last long enough to retreat. One warning though - don't do this early on in the game as you really can't afford to lose the material.
Ground defences: The secret of this is if you're going to do it at all then you have to do it properly. They can be very effective but they consume power and are costly. A couple of unsupported ion cannons are going to be destroyed by even the most paltry alien fleet and you'd have been better off spending your money on a trading spaceport or a bank. On the other hand four or five plasma cannons complete with inversion shield to protect them and space bases to support their fire can make a mess of your average Sullep or Garthog attack force. If you've got to the stage of space bases it might even be worth adding a few fighters to the garrison but here again effective use of your production pool will add to the effectiveness.
Fleet planetary defence: As you always retreat from the left hand side of the screen and in these actions you start on the right don't retreat. Alien invasion fleets tend to be quite meaty so unless you've scouted the fleet, and have serious back up from your planetary defences, make sure all your ships, (especially your flagships), are as far away from the battle as possible.
Missile and bomb use: The effective use of these two weapons is the difference between a successful attack and an embarrassing debacle. Due to the speed of combat I would advise pausing the combat before firing to select the next ship to fire a salvo. Once you have a ship selected unpause, (as a fire order when paused will launch only one bomb or missile), and fire a full salvo at no more than two targets before pausing and repeating the operation. As with all combat in the game it's better to destroy a few targets quickly than damage many and let them all keep firing at you.
Once in combat the guns and lasers will look after themselves but it's important to remember that the bombs and missiles will never be fired by the computer and consequently always need to be targeted and fired manually. It is never a good idea to send your ships in with empty weapon slots so it's wise to check your fleets every now and then to make sure you ships are fully tooled up - an Equip spaceships with bombs/missiles automatically selection in the options screen will prove invaluable in this task.
Although the temptation is to concentrate on one part of the game it's important to remember that the successful Imperium player employs a total strategy to complete the game - letting any one aspect of the multi-faceted gameplay slide is only going to damage your performance in other areas. Take it slowly and cautiously: it's like war, slow periods but the action won't leave you wanting when it happens.
Diplomacy: This aspect of the game is only enabled at rank five and you'll be grateful for it when it arrives. The more species alive at this point the better so it's not a bad idea to curb those genocidal instincts early on if at all possible. Once you do have access to this screen just remember that any race is more amenable if you've buttered them up with a little money. The crude way to achieve this is a simple cash donation but beware of creating a dependency on your funds in your allies. More subtle, and ultimately more effective, is an improvement in trade relations which will help both your economies and instil in your potential ally and understandable desire not to kill you.
Production: If there's nothing in your production queue then there should be. You will never be able to produce enough equipment to be really secure even on one world, let alone across your empire, and it's the choices you make regarding what to produce and when which will present you with some of the most taxing strategic problems during the game. The key to production is factories and although the program makes it clear that you need a certain factory to produce certain items its quite easy to miss the fact that that the speed of production is directly linked to the number of factories of each type. The ideal of course is to have one of each factory on each world but even when that's not possible it's best to make sure your core worlds have the full complement.
Colony management: As the number of worlds under your dominion increase they can be more and more difficult to keep track of. A simple trick to deal with this is to use the + and - keys on the keypad to scroll through your colonies - keeping the build screen up with the building you're checking for while you do so: most of the important buildings are limited to one-a-planet so will be crossed out if already present. This should make placing those trading spaceports down a relatively hassle free procedure.
Messages: Never miss a message; although all are recorded for later playback they often require immediate action. Every message is important: whether as a cry for help from some beleaguered merchant, an order from your commander, or part of the flow of the story. Message warning are delivered through the computer's voice and the message box which is always in the bottom right of the screen and a mouse click on the latter will take you straight to the message screen wherever you are. It's also worth paying attention to the scrolling secondary messages which are an ever present feature of your command view as these continuously update you as to colony status and potential military threats.
Reinforcements: The message box has more uses than just receiving orders: it can also be used to send for help. The key to asking for reinforcements is only to ask when there's a flap on. If you ask for help continually you'll only annoy your superiors; much better to wait until just after you've been given an important task as your chances will be much improved.