But on smaller maps I have the hardest time. I think I use tech advantage as a crutch too much. I like to build infrastructure and a tall empire before going to war with developed colonies, stuff like +50 population and robotic controls 4 with max factories... mmmm.
So how to adjust to a harder difficulty and a more crowded map?
I think one of my major flaws is not building a large enough fleet. Is there a certain fleet strength rating that deters rivals from attacking you? And how is fleet strength calculated? Is it better to build as many cheap ships as possible or less of the more expensive/larger/more advanced ones?
Then the other issue I have is early warfare. If a rival does colonize a planet right next to me like a really good jungle 80 pop one or something how do you get through bases early? Early game slow ships with nuclear bombs suck. They get shredded by any bases. I don't like to attack until I have at least 3 movement, I forget which engines that is, maybe ion, but it's like 3-4 techs into propulsion. Maybe missiles are better cus you can launch at range into bases?
What about ship vs ship design? Lasers early? Battle computers? Hit and run with missiles? I know the late strats fine like getting repulsor beams plus energy focus so people can't hit you or kiting with max engines and torpedoes or getting black hole generators plus sub space teleporters for instant strikes. Late I have no issues with my ship configurations but early it's just hard to do damage. What do you recommend, like hard beams or fusion beams? In general I'm not sure how aggressive to be vs ai and whether to only go with tech advantage or just swarm them with ships, but when I choose the former they all just seem to die without doing much damage.
How much do you focus research early on? Ship range tech seems essential for expansion, at least 5 range but that's a big investment. Do you only do it when there's a planet in that range right away? Do you tech engines at all to save turns getting there? What about cheap but effective techs like +10 population or 9 bc cost factories? I mean +10 pop can be a 10-20% population increase for a few hundred bcs.
The other thing that throws a huge wrench into my plans is if I accidentally expand too fast and take second place I always seem to get ganged up against in the vote. Like if an AI has second the vote is usually split right down the middle, but as soon as I get to second they all vote for the other guy. Is there a way to keep AI happy other than just gifting them tech?
I know there's a lot of questions here but just in general wondering how to play better. It's an old game so there aren't a ton of guides around, not nearly as many as moo2 anyway.