While Hasbro had Microprose and was building Test of Time, the team that created Civ had moved to their new company, Firaxis, and they developed Alpha Centauri, with Brian Reynolds again serving as the lead developer. But this is not just “Civ 2 in Space”. There were some very real improvements worth checking out. I have the CDs for Alpha Centauri and Alien Crossfire, but these were designed for Windows 95/98, and in Windows 10 they won’t work. But I found that Good Old Games has them together in the Planetary Pack, and that it runs in their platform GOG Galaxy, which is designed to run older games in Windows 8 and above. And it was only $5.99, a bargain. So that is what I used to compile these tips.
The first of the differences you should find is the relatively sophisticated Governor system for your settlements. You can micromanage as much as you like, but if you prefer to hand off some of that Alpha Centauri is ready to help. And it is pretty fine-tuned in letting you pick which things the AI will manage and which ones you want to manage. I would suggest that if you are new to the game you turn over a lot to the AI while you learn the other aspects, then as you get some experience you can decide to take some of the management back. You can find out more about Governors at the AlphaCentauri.fandom.com site. But the basic idea is that you can tell the Governor to focus on a specific area when building units, projects, and buildings. The four choices for the Governor are Explore, Discover, Build, and Conquer. Explore will make the base focus on Scouts, Colony Pods, and Transports. This is useful for expanding your territory in the beginning. Discover will put the focus on science, and results in building Network Nodes, Secret Projects, and so on. Build will focus on infrastructure and growth, and result in Formers and facilities. And Conquer will lead to military units, which you will want if you are under attack, or preparing an attack yourself. You don’t have to use Governors, of course. You can turn off the Governor in the Base screen and micromanage to your heart’s delight, but they do a decent job. Governors work off of a list of suitable items to build, but you can go to Advanced Governor to fine tune this even more (and also in Base Operations in the HQ, see below). I like the Governors in general. I can always override what they pick in the Base screen, but if I am on the attack and my bases are cranking out my best units automatically, why would I object?
Another development is that there are now more ways to achieve victory than just Science and Conquest. Alpha Centauri added Economic victory and Diplomatic victory. And the Science victory here is called Transcendence, but it is essentially what you get from researching a bunch of stuff, so it is best thought of as a Science victory. Conquest is the usual “wipe out all opposition”, but an interesting difference is that you can have allies; up to three factions can join together to share a conquest victory if they are “pact brothers”. Diplomatic victory happens if you get 75% of the vote in the planetary council, but if any factions refuse to accept this they have to be wiped out before you win. Economic victory comes if one player gets enough energy reserves (energy is money in this game) to control all of the cities; they can then corner the energy market, which takes 20 turns.
The next important thing to keep in mind is that your choice of faction to play really matters because they have different strengths and weaknesses. This can show up in terms of starting techs, unique units they have, and so on. Here is a discussion of these differences on the Civilization Wiki. But to give you a flavor of what we mean, here is the first entry:
True to its namesake, the militaristic Spartan faction places the highest priority on strength, discipline and combat readiness. Colonel Corazón Santiago, a survivalist from Puerto Rico, and a UNS Unity Security officer, leads the faction, and led the initial mutiny aboard ship. Spartan units receive morale upgrades (making them better fighters) and their disciplined society is naturally tolerant of martial law, allowing two military units to help suppress a colony’s drones. The Spartans’ skilled military expertise allows them to build prototype units without extra mineral cost. However, the society’s devotion to military imposes a 10% penalty to industrial production. The Spartans prefer the Power social engineering choice and may not pursue Wealth, all the while remaining wary of those who don’t choose an emphasis on Power. They make Planetfall with the Doctrine: Mobility technology. The Spartans are likely to press vendetta against the University.https://civilization.fandom.com/wiki/Factions_(SMAC)
The Alien Crossfire expansion added 7 more factions, two of which are Aliens (Manifold Caretakers and Manifold Usurpers). And one of the new factions, Nautilus Pirates, is a sea-based faction.
The point is that from the start you want to have a strategy that fits your faction. If you are going for a Conquest victory, that will be a little easier with the Spartans. But if you are playing Lady Dierdre of the Gaian’s you have a skill no one else has, which is that you can sometimes capture a group of Mindworms and develop them into a very formidable fighting force. And the Lord’s Believers have an advantage from their fanaticism, which results in a 25% attack bonus, high morale, and the ability to support up to 4 units from each city without incurring a mineral support cost. On the other side, they don’t do well with research. So can you win with any faction? Sure, you can win, but you should adapt to each faction’s strengths and weaknesses. I have seen some interesting discussions online about which faction is best, but there is always disagreement. Still, in 1999 this was a major step forward, and in the Civilization series I don’t think we got this level of differentiation until Civ 5 or Civ 6. Note that while the Alien factions in Alien Crossfire are pretty strong, they are also constantly at war with each other, which can be a bit of a handicap.
This has a lot of stuff you should get familiar with. You get there by going to the Menu button on the left, and then HQ. In that you will see:
- Social Engineering – See section next page, there is a lot here.
- Set Research Priorities – This is the screen that occasionally pops up where you can choose which areas to focus on. If you don’t want to wait until the game shows you this screen, just go here and make your changes
- Design Workshop – Similarly, this is the screen that comes up when you get new unit designs to look at. You can also design your units here. We’ll discuss this further on a subsequent page.
- Data Links – This is the equivalent of Civ’s Civilopedia, i.e., the system that will explain what all of the units, buildings, advances, and so on are. If you are ever puzzled by “What does that mean?”, you should consult the Data Links
- Laboratories Status – Here you see how your research is coming along. In the lower left you can see what technologies you have already learned, and how each of your Bases is doing on generating research. On the right you can see your progress in researching in the 4 areas: Explore, Discover, Build, and Conquer. And on top you see what is currently being researched.
- Energy Banks – Energy functions as the money in this game, so this is where you will see how much you are generating, and where it is going.
- Base Operations Status – This is where you see at a glance what each Base is doing. See more on on a subsequent page.
- Secret Project Data – Secret Projects are like the wonders in Civ. Here you can see which ones have been built, and by whom. And you can also see which ones are under construction.
- Orbital and Space Status – You can research up to achieving Space Flight, and that will let you build Orbital facilities, and this screen will help you manage them.
- Military Command Nexus – This is where you get a summary of all the units you have running around.
- Alpha Centauri Score – You can see your current score here. This mostly matters for computing where you will be in the Hall of Fame, and how good of a leader you were.
- View Monuments – You get a monument for being the first to do something in the game, or sometimes the first time you do something. On this screen you can review the monuments you have earned by clicking on any of the symbols you see on the stone edifice.
- View Hall of Fame – You can see the top scores you have achieved here.
- Communications and Protocol – Here is where you can initiate a conversation with any of the other factions.
HQ has a lot of important information and options for running your faction, in other words.