As we have mentioned, the key to all 4X games is to keep a balance. And one aspect of this you see in pretty much all of these games from the first Civilization on is to keep your people happy and productive. It may look different or have slightly different mechanics in one game versus another, but you will probably find it is there in any 4X game. In Alpha Centauri, this takes the form of Drones and Drone Riots. Drones are the unhappy citizens, and they stop working and producing, which in itself is bad because they will eat your food and give nothing back to your base. Happiness can be affected by some faction-wide choices, but is always applied on a base-by-base basis. To see how this works, you need to go to the Base screen, and click the Psych button. This will show you how the citizens of your base stack up. Initially, you will only see a top line for “Unmodified”, which just gives you a look at your raw numbers before any modifiers are taken into account. Modifiers can come from Facilities, from your spending budget, from Police, from the game level, and from some Secret Projects. These can reduce or increase the number of drones, and they are tools that you will want to make use of. And if you are ready to pay a price, there is Nerve Stapling. Drone Riots will occur any time the number of Drones exceeds the number of Talents in a given base, so you can either decrease the Drones or increase the Talents to stop them.
- Genejack Factory – This increases your minerals by 50%, but you get 1 more drone and you are more vulnerable to mind control.
- Hologram Theatre – Increases your Psych rating by 50%, and quells 2 Drones. Note that Psych has an indirect effect as well. It can convert a Worker into a Talent, and some Talents can quell drones. Or if there are no Workers at the base, it can convert a Drone into a Worker. Hologram Theatre is expensive to maintain though with a maintenance cost of 3, so if you don’t have a deep treasury you might be better off finding another way.
- Paradise Garden – Two extra talents at the base.
- Punishment Sphere – Quells all drones at the base, but eliminates all Talents, and adds a 50% penalty to research. But can be useful in some situations.
- Recreation Commons – Quells 2 Drones, and only has a maintenance charge of 1, making this almost a mandatory build in every base. And you get it pretty early.
- Research Hospital – Quells 2 Drones, but with a maintenance cost of 3. So unless you have a deep treasury, think long and hard about this one. When looking at this or the Hologram Theater it is worth thinking about your overall strategy in terms of wide vs. tall. A wide strategy is to build a lot of bases and grow them slowly. In this case, putting high maintenance cost facilities in each base will cripple your economy. But a tall strategy of building fewer bases but making them huge (such as from using crawlers to gain added resources) lends it self nicely to using these facilities. With large populations they are really necessary, but because there are not as many the cost is less of a problem.
- Tree Farm – This gives you a 50% bonus to Psych, which indirectly reduces Drones as explained above.
Military units at your base can also function as Police, but there are limitations. First, you need to look at your base Police rating for your faction. You can see this in Social Engineering screen in the HQ menu. What you want to do here is be aware of how your choices affect your police rating. You will start out with a basic rating, which can vary by faction, and then you can modify that by your social policy choices. Police State, in the Politics section, is good for +2 police. Free Market, in the Economics section, hits you for -5 on Police. In the late game, when Future Society options start to appear, Cybernetic is -3 to Police, while Thought Control is +2 to police. You can then figure out basically how much you can do with Police using this list:
- -5, Two extra drones for each military unit away from territory
- -4, Extra drone for each military unit away from territory
- -3, Extra drone for each military unit away from territory after first
- -2, Cannot use military units as police. No nerve stapling.
- -1, One police unit allowed. No nerve stapling.
- 0, Can use one military unit as police
- 1, Can use up to 2 military units as police
- 2, Can use up to 3 military units as police!
- 3, 3 units as police. Police effect doubled!!
Also, as you discover new technology you can get the ability to construct military units that employ Non-Lethal Tech, which increases your Police capability.
There are a few conclusions one might draw from this. First, if you are planning a Tall strategy, (few bases but grow them large), going to war will be more difficult. You will want your units out fighting, not sitting at home pulling Garrison duty and policing your drones. And large bases generate more drones in the raw numbers, before modifications. A better strategy for war is to go wide, build lots of bases, and have each one only support a few units. And some factions are better than others for going to war. Santiago is an obvious one, but Yang is very good as well. His faction is oriented to a Police State type of approach, not to mention that each base he builds comes with Perimeter Defense, which will be useful as well. Miriam is also good because her followers are all fanatics, giving them very high morale. Morgan is a more difficult choice. He is a natural for Free Market economics, which penalizes your Police options. And Lady Dierdre is in the middle. She fits better with a Green economy, which has no Police penalty. Note that if you have too many units from one base and you get Drone problems, you can re-home those units to another bases as long as that base still have some room to support. Move the unit to the base you want to be its new home, then Ctrl+H will re-home the unit.
When you build a base and your population begins to grow, at some point Drones appear. But when this happens is determined by the Game Level. Note that this is without taking into account any other modifiers:
- Citizen – 6 people before Drones appear.
- Specialist – 5 People before Drones appear.
- Talent – 4 people before Drones appear.
- Librarian – 3 people before Drones appear.
- Thinker – 2 people before Drones appear.
- Transcend – 1 person before Drones appear.
You can find a complete list of the game levels and their characteristics at the Alpha Centauri Wiki.
- Ascetic Virtues – +1 Police
- Clinical Immortality – +1 Talent in every base
- Human Genome Project – +1 Talent in every base
- Longevity Vaccine – -1 Drone at every base for Simple or Green Economics, -2 Drones for Planned Economics
- Planetary Transit System – -1 Drone at any base size 3 or less
- Self-Aware Colony – Counts as an extra Police at every base if you are allowed Police (depends on your Police rating, see above)
- Telepathic Matrix – Your bases never riot
- Virtual World – All Network Nodes count as free Hologram Theatres
Your Spending Budget is set in the Social Engineering screen of the HQ menu, and is divided into Economy, Psych, and Labs. What you do here affects all of your bases equally. You can use the arrow buttons to change the spending in increments of 10% of the total. Initially you will have your budget divided between Economy 50% and Labs 50%. And that is not a bad division in a lot of cases, at least early in the game. But as your number of bases increases, and each one gets larger, your Drone problems will also increase. If you have paid attention to building up a healthy “cash flow” from your energy sources, such as by building Solar collectors on every farm tile, you should be able by the mid-game to divert some of that to Psych. If your economy is really good, you can take the first hit from the Economy portion, making your budget 40-10-50 (Economy-Psych-Labs). If you need more, and you are ahead on research and generating lots of it per turn from your facilities, take another chunk from Labs and and set your budget to 40-20-40. It is only your “cash” (i.e. Energy) that you are spending here, not your minerals, so you can continue building facilities and units, but watch for Facility maintenance, which is paid for in energy! And if you need to, you can always set one or more bases to convert Minerals to Energy by setting your build queue to Stockpile Energy. This is a bad thing long-term, but OK as a quick fix.
This a procedure that instantly ends a Drone Riot, and stops it for 10 years. But the effect does wear off, and pretty soon you won’t be able to repeat it. It is considered an atrocity and will result in other factions putting sanctions on you. But if you have repealed the UN Charter you won’t get any sanctions, and if that is your aim, Yang will always be in favor. Personally, I avoid this, but it is in the game if you want to try it.
Even at the lowest levels you need to pay some attention to happiness and managing the Drone problem. But if you are just learning the game and starting out at the Citizen level, you should be able to experiment with these techniques without too much trouble. But at the Thinker or Transcend levels you will need to be laser-focused on this from the very beginning. Consider that you need to add bases to be successful, and that means building Colony Pods. And each Colony Pod reduces the base population by one. So just to produce your Colony Pod you have to get your base up to size 2. And at the Transcend level, a base with Size 2 will go into a Drone Riot, and stop producing anything. So you need to be very careful. If you have cash you can get the Colony Pod mostly built, and when the population grows and the Drone Riot happens you can Hurry the build (i.e. spend the cash to complete it), which should also bring your population back to size 1 and end the riot. Now that is the hardest possible level, but even at the middle levels like Talent or Librarian, you will need to be tweaking your happiness to prevent Drone Riots all of the time. So get to know how these tools work.
I hope this discussion inspires some people to check this game out. In my opinion it made some important advances and has a richness of gameplay that makes it worth a second look. I think of Alpha Centauri and Civilization III as basically two alternative paths to advance beyond Civilization II, and in some ways Alpha Centauri is the more interesting path. But Civilization III is also pretty good and we’ll look at that one as well.