Sins of a Solar Empire:
Opening Moves

By Shamus
on May 12, 2008
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I finally managed to work in a few game of Sins. I think I’ve played enough times to be able to say that this is not going to be one of my enduring favorites. It has all the right ingredients, but this particular formulation of those ingredients just isn’t doing it for me. I need to give this more thought.

I often get Google searches for people looking for tutorials or help in various games. They arrive here only to find long-winded analysis and opinion without any real information.

But here is an actual walkthrough for the opening stage of Sins of a Solar Empire. I do not claim this guide is optimal. This is merely a guide for lost newcomers frustrated with the school of hard knocks which most Sins players attend. This is what I wish I had handy on my first game.

Here are my opening actions for a new game. Once you’re done with this you should have a pretty good idea of your next move. For your starting game, I suggest turning pirates off. It’s just another thing to worry about while you’re trying to learn. I also suggest playing against an “easy” AI on a small or medium map. Once you have the basics down you’ll probably want to play on a large map with smart foes and active pirates, but if you’re reading this I’m assuming it’s because you don’t want to learn through repeated defeat:

  1. The first step is to build the metal & crystal extractors for your home system. As with any other RTS, getting your economy going is step #1.
  2. Build three scout frigates. (If you’re on a really big map, consider making one or two more.) As they emerge, right-click on their auto-explore button and they will begin filling in the map for you. (If you left-click, they explore once, which means they will go to an adjacent system and sit there until pirates kill them. Not that I did anything stupid like that. I’m just saying I heard it happened to a guy once.
  3. Build a Civic Research Station. Even if you want to focus on military research in the long run, you want to do a little civic research first, because it will improve the rate at which you mine crystal and metal.
  4. Build five or six Light Frigates, followed by a colony frigate.
  5. Time to expand. Thanks to your roaming scouts, you should now have an idea of what nearby systems hold. Note that it’s generally easy to grab a mining-only area (no inhabitable planet) first, because you can grab those resources right away without worrying about colonizing a planet first. They will be lightly defended and your small group of frigates should be able to clean the place out for you. Once it’s yours, send the colony ship over and “capture” the mining stations.
  6. Having picked up a new source of income, bring up the research panel (F2) and get started on improving your metal gather rate.
  7. Now you need another planet. Things to note when choosing which planet to claim:
    1. The usual 4X strategies apply, in that you’ll probably want to expand towards the enemy and grab the good stuff first, then fill in the less valuable systems later once you’ve secured the borders.
    2. Terran planets are very valuable and you should make it a priority to grab those before your enemies.
    3. Make it a priority to grab the “choke point” planets leading into your empire.
    4. You can’t grab volcanic or ice planets right away. You’ll need research before you can claim them.
    5. You can’t colonize gas giants or clouds, ever.

    Once you have a planet picked out, look at whatever force your scout identified on his way through. Build something larger than that, and take the system. Send in your colony ship to claim it. As soon as you have the resources, upgrade the planet quality.

By now you should be ten minutes or so into the game (depending on map size and game speed) and you should have your homeworld, a mining-only location, and a second planet. How you proceed from this point depends on your desired strategy. Just note that you need planets, because each planet can only hold so many orbital improvements. You’ll want civic stations for doing civic research. Military stations for doing military research. Broadcast stations for spreading culture. Other structures for building frigates and cap ships. Designing your empire means planning when and where you build these structures.

As you expand, I suggest scuttling ship production facilities on the inner planets of your empire and replacing them with research stations. Build new production facilities on the edge of your empire or at the choke points so your ships won’t have to travel very far to reach the action. Moving between systems takes a while, and you don’t want your ships to spend most of their time simply traveling to the front.

That’s it. Not expert advice, to be sure. Don’t expect to beat any humans, but this should be enough to get you rolling. Good luck.

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20828 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. Solka says:

    Good advices, Shamus. But I would add that you try to use planets as choke points to your empire. Why? They have higher military structure points, so you can fill them with stationnary cannons and fighter bays.

  2. I’d do this a bit differently.
    I would first buy 200 crystal. Then I’d upgrade my planet 1 level of “infrastructure”. Then I’d build a capital shipyard (The first capship is free. I always nab the one with colonizing ability), crystal asteroid, and 2 metal asteroids. Then 2 scouts. I’d build 2 light frigates and send them + the capship to the nearest “asteroid” grav well. Then I’d build up the infrastructures on the newly acquired colony.

    This seems to work fairly well for a fast start.

  3. Derek K says:

    Anyone have a plan for building those choke points? Gauss cannons? Fighter bays? Roving tacnukes? The plethora of options bewilders me….

    • Rendarfan says:

      A really strong build no matter what race you are but especially TEC is to have at least two rep stations in range of each other. it is easy to research and it gives your fleet a massive advantage if attacked. Guass cannons are “holy crap” defenses you throw up on the fly, use them to encircle asteroids and dwarfs only to stave off siege frigates. once you get a starbase with decent hp it’s tough to kill and shield generators are needed next your strongest defense. It draws in the enemy to one spot giving you time to ambush and destroy the fleet.
      When i got besieged by two vasari with finished titans at my choke points starbases with (healing)booms, 2+ rep stations and shield generators were enough to hold off the assaults and keep my economy intact to eventually push. got my cap ships fast experience too. Keep in mind that once you spend money on d the only way it pays for itself is if it is attacked. So most of my d also serves as supply centers.
      tec starbases are amazing for creating long trade routes, more links you have the more money you make. They also give you some map control to delay raiding parties or bait attacks that you can ambush. As far as strike craft go, fighters counter frigates, bombers take out cruisers on up. Black hole/asteroid field starbases need bombers!!!! siege cruisers ruin your day! on planets it’s better to have more fighters to take out the planet siege frigates and enemy bombers, let your starbase(s) kill caps. Mines suck against the computer and they kill allied trade frigates last i checked so don’t use them.

  4. Tango says:

    I’m slightly disturbed that you’re taking over the neighborhood after only 10 minutes of play…

  5. Some random tips to add to the helpful guide:

    Don’t forget to take advantage of the Black Market. Whenever you have a surplus of one resource and a deficit on another, selling off what you don’t need and buying up the other can help get past the initial growing pains.

    Also, I started with Pirates on from the get-go. Figuring out how to bribe them and when really cut down on the potential competition, though this had something to do with having a full player list (all AI) and watching the constant bidding wars over pirate bounties.

    … Finally, unless something changed since last I played, interceptors are actually better for taking out Siege Frigates than bombers, something to think about when designing your planetary defenses. It’s an armor-type damage compatibility thing.

    The AI likes to move its ships in either big invasion fleets or small raiding parties–back before the first patch, Siege Frigates were strong enough that raids oft consisted entirely of the darned things. I like to do the same. Ideally, one would keep a watchful eye over where and when the enemy’s big fleets show up–specifically so one can send one’s own fleet around them and scorch their planets behind their back. Combine this with one’s own Siege-raiding parties, to take advantage of the enemy reacting to the ruckus in their backyards, and that should take care of that.

    In smaller games, anyway.

  6. Luke Maciak says:

    Another good advice would be to do couple of the first “missions” your enemy gives you – be it giving him crystal, iron ore or money. Once they like you enough (close to 50%) you may try to offer a trade alliance meaning that they will leave your trade ships alone if they cross his territory.

    This of course doesn’t mean you can’t raid his planets or take out his frigates if they enter your territory. But it will cut down on your losses.

    Also, if you keep in good relations with your enemy you can sometimes avert disaster by offering cease fire at a crucial moment. Once I had a huge fleet of ships raiding my home planet. They outnumbered me 10-1 and my 3 other fleets were to far away to make it in time. What did I do?

    I gave the guy the 200 crystal he was asking for for the last 20 minutes, which improved our relations to 80% and I offered cease fire. He accepted and the enormous fleet suddenly stopped bombarding my planet, and left my system. I then had time to regroup, improve defenses reorganize my fleet deployment and then exact my revenge. :)

    Re: pirates – I found out the hard way that they attack the player with the highest bounty on their head when the counter runs out. So you van divert them towards your enemy by increasing their bounty at the last minute.

    Then again, pirates are good opponents to train your cap ships. Since you are fighting on a well defended territory (usually a choke point planet) their raids should only be a minor nuisance but your ships will gain valuable experience from them.

    @Derek K: to me, hangar bays seem a bit more effective due to their unlimited range. The gauss cannons can’t move and have limited range so the enemy ships will usually only be in range or one or two of them (depending on how you place them). Fighters and bombers on the other hand will move where the enemy is.

  7. Sharpie says:

    I have finally, after much trial and error, won a game. Small map, easy opponent, with pirates.

    I know what you mean though, a game like this, I am surprised to say it is not a favorite. Very difficult, and I dare say there are some balance issues (the AI can come in with 20 siege frigates and destroy a planet regardless of defenses, which is just irritating.)

    It seems more like a chess game then anything.

  8. Binks says:

    Hmm. My opening strategy is completely different, though my friend does use something like that. I always go for the capship (after mining), get the battleship one (first option), grab 1 scout and 1 colonizer along the way and then research everything I can. 1 Capship can take on a lot of militia forces on its own, as long as you don’t go to a Volcano, Ice, Desert or Terran world in your first couple of jumps you don’t need any light frigates, which means less cost (and lost resources).

  9. Luke Maciak says:

    Btw, did you guys patch the game? First thing I did was to apply all the patches I could. I never really saw these siege frigate fleets and I was playing on normal difficulty. My enemies seem to be hell bent on attacking with large but varied fleets with lots of carriers, few cap ships and all kinds of frigates.

    Perhaps they evened out the AI in one of the patches.

  10. Bogan the Mighty says:

    Don’t forget to mention that you have to get a planet’s infrastructure up and running when you take it over so its not taking your credits from you.

  11. Stu says:

    I play NetHack – ‘repeated defeat’ is my bread and butter :-D

  12. Kilmor says:

    As was mentioned earlier, always get the free battleship, preferably one with a colonize feature, they can single-handedly clear out systems with those random hostile forcing, letting you colonize away.

    Hanger bays, hanger bays, hanger bays. This is almost all I used for defense, its a beautiful thing to see a swarm of those little guys decimate any incoming pirates. The one good thing about pirates is that they’re regular food for leveling up your battleships, and if you can afford it, an easy way to make proxy war against your enemies.

    (Note I havent played in about 2 months now, having discovered warcraft 3 & dota ).

    But yeah, it took me about 10-15 games to really get the hang of what to do, mostly by playing easy maps against 1 AI.

  13. Veylon says:

    Yes, those siege Frigates…. The AI had a tendency to send them in packs of 1-10 without any support. They’d realize that my defenses far out classed them and run away. Then they’d turn around and come back. Over and over and over….

    Also, I’ve noticed that the AI seems to never retreat if they have at least one capital ship, no matter how badly you outgun them, allowing you to pretty much wreck their entire fleet.

  14. Solka says:

    @Kilmor
    I mostly take the Carrier-Capital ship (all of them, with 1 pure-combat abilities as a tank in the front). For the TEC, they have a nifty stationnary missile platform that can become really handy over time. Colony ships aren’t that much of a big spending.

  15. Aufero says:

    I’ve finally started winning on the default small map settings, but I didn’t realize you could set scouts to auto-explore or capture mining-only area mining stations with colony ships. I’ll have to try those next time.

    I like Sins a lot, but what really impresses me is the engine. I look forward to what they do with it next.

  16. Stark says:

    Definitely build a capital ship factory and take that free capital ship as early as possible. It makes colonizing the neighboring systems much easier and saves you quite a bit of resources at the beginning stages. If you can manage it, without having to up your fleet capacity early on (which eats 9% of your resource income), build a second cap ship as soon as possible. I recommend a pure battleship and a colonizing cruiser. With these 2 ships and a supporting fleet of a couple light frigates and missile frigates you can do enormous damage to any early fleets that may attempt to colonize your hard earned planets.

    Also, one nice little trick if you find your fleet in an overwhelming odds kind of situation where even getting away is proving tough (ships don’t jump if they are being attacked) is to sacrifice a colony ship. The AI places a premium on colony ships and will cease attacking anything else in the system if a colony ship is present. This can give the rest of your expensive battle fleet time to jump away and regroup.

  17. JFargo says:

    Sounds like a game I’m going to have to pass on. I don’t know, just seems tedious.

  18. @Sharpie: If you’re seeing packs of siege frigates, you have not patched the game. This was one of the early bugs, and is pretty much stamped out by now (1.04)

  19. Luke Maciak says:

    @Punning Pundit – yep, I patched the game right of the get-go and never saw this behavior.

    I think the patches somewhat fixed the unfair AI behavior. I started on a huge map with 2 enemies on Normal and Pirates without doing any tutorials and managed to survive long enough to forge a formidable empire despite the fact that one of my opponents ended up in the same damn system and was being a nuisance from the start.

  20. Phlux says:

    Thanks for the guide! I have been regretting my Sins purchase, but maybe this will work out for me. I really want to like the game but it just didn’t grab me the way that homeworld or GalCiv2 grabbed me.

    I played the tutorial and part of a mission and haven’t picked it up since. I haven’t really given it a fair shake, I know…but it just wasn’t very much fun.

    I have a long car trip coming up on wednesday, and my laptop is beefy enough, so I’ll try your steps and see if they help.

  21. Fenix says:

    Just to let everyone who may or may not know, an expansion is in the works which will expand the tech tree, add new units for each race, and will add 1-2 new races themselves. Also it will be adding a campaign mode so we wont need to just play skirmishes. I think that all that will increase the life of the game considerably and solve some of the issues Shamus seems to have with the game. I’m not positive if the expansion is a free patch or if it costs anything (I expect the latter).

    http://pc.ign.com/articles/864/864651p1.html (expansion details after the image)

    http://pc.ign.com/articles/864/864052p1.html (and a little other info)

    I remember finding another more recent article detailing it better but I can’t seem to locate it. I hope these two links will suffice.

  22. Mistwraithe says:

    The engine is by far the most impressive part of the game. I’m watching my way through the new (OK, 2003, don’t know how I missed it when it first came out) Battlestar Galactica TV series and everytime I get an urge to see spaceships duking it out, (ie frequently) Sins provides the perfect dose of medicine.

    Currently the gameplay is good but I admit it doesn’t grab me quite as well as say Civ 2 did when that came out. BUT the awesome part of the game is what COULD be done with the engine. I’m thinking stories, scenarios, campaigns, etc.

    However provide me with a Battlestar Galactica style scenario leading a refuge fleet through space, or running a rebel alliance (ala Star Wars), or even trying to build a coalition to survive against more powerful neighbours (eg Star Trek, would need more diplomatic options I think) and I would be in sci-fi nirvana.

    I realise that getting the IP rights to build scenarios in the universes of any of these TV/Movie franchises is likely to be too expensive to happen BUT that doesn’t stop them making scenarios based on similar ideas.

  23. Rats says:

    Just a note for those who have had the same trouble as me – occasionally you will start the game with one planet on 25% allegence and not upgraded at all (this depends on the map). If this is the case upgrading it to be your captital planet (in planet developments) will mean you start gaining instead of loosing money.

  24. lightpagoda says:

    My starting point is this: first build the mines. next cap factory and queue up the colonizing cap ship. 1 scout which I manually send to all nearby planets by shift-left clicking on them in order, then I activate the auto-explore. After that its just queue up frigates until my cap ship is done and send the fleet off colonizing. Resources then go directly to researching vulcan/ice planet colony techs since my mini fleet is usually enough to clear one by the time the research is done.

  25. Mirage says:

    This game is so good I can’t wait for an expansion (which I just heard about thank you posters). Build scouts (shift-click them in order), Build mines, build cap ship fac then make the battleship capital class, build labs, build colony ship and 3-4 light frigates, take as many nearby worlds as I think I can then send the colonizer in after the fleet leaves

  26. Ben says:

    I don’t mean to come off condescending here, but what has been so tricky to understand about Sins gameplay? It’s more or less standard strategy fare – first resources, then scouting and expansion while developing. What contributed to the ‘school of hard knocks’ feeling that a number of people have obviously got from the game? The hardest learning curve I’ve experienced was in Homeworld 2 and this was nothing on that.

  27. sebcw1204 says:

    i love finding older games that play well. i will definately be purchasing this game because unlike many games with good visuals THIS GAME DIDN’T LAG. the performance was smooth. that goes a long way to making a game playable. smooth and stable performance ALWAYS beat stunning graphics in my book EVERY TIME. and this game managed to have BOTH! the tutorial gave me a sense that this is similar to AI wars (another game currently in beta) but runs a lot smoother, looks nicer, and seems to have less focus on number crunching.

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