Game Systems Analysis: Creating a Competitive Pacifistic Build in Stellaris

With Covid-19 we are all spending a lot of time at home, and have taken up many hobbies. But it can’t all be fun and… never mind, sometimes your professional appetites leak in. To that end I’ve been trying to do a deep dive on a highly complex game Stellaris. If you haven’t played Stellaris, it is a 4X game about space based empire building. It’s a really wonderful game and one of the best offerings from Paradox (imho), however it certainly isn’t for everyone and that is largely because it has a ton of systems all intertwined and takes a long time to learn, and even longer to “get good” at.

One of the things that bugs me about playing Multiplayer in Stellaris is that the dominant builds are all tech rush war builds (and often xenophobic slavers). Honestly I don’t find war that interesting, especially in a multiplayer game where I want everyone to have fun. I also want to play closer to my personal preferences in terms of civics and ethics. To that end I have been trying to create an effective Pacifistic, Xenophilic, and Technophilic civilization that can compete against things like crazy Slaver Materialists and their ilk. It’s been largely an uphill battle with some builds performing ok, but most ending up at the bottom of the pack and getting exterminated by warmongering empires that (sometimes literally) want to eat my people. 

However I have had great success recently with a build I created that exemplifies all the traditions of openness, inclusion, and discovery I want, but also is highly competitive. I’d like to walk you through this build and why it is competitive in both multiplayer and against Grand Admiral AI. Please keep in mind that this empire model is effective in 2.7.1 (and 2.7.2 test) and if you are reading this later on it might be nerf’d. A note before reading further, this is not a beginners guide to Stellaris by any stretch. This blog assumes you have some experience with the game or at least are willing to read up on its systems. If you’ve never played Stellaris, I recommend you go play a bit, or watch some beginner tutorials before reading further.

The Build: Rogue Servitor Remnant Pacifistic Technologists

This is a machine empire build with an organic civilization that produces tons of unity for you. Only the civilization you will use is not strictly organic because early game you will only have one Bio-trophy civ to take care of and they should be Lithoids (rock eaters). 


The thinking: This build makes for a simplified and powerful economy that is easy to ramp up early game. You can take a long term lead in certain tech (which you can boost by clearing remnants on your homeworld), and can afford to ignore food focused technologies early game since you won’t need them. Your super awesome economy can just out perform everyone else, allowing you to play tall (even though everyone else has to play fairly wide in the current meta).

Let’s walk through the traits, government, and ethics:

First off you are a machine intelligence so straight out the gate you have no choice (Gestalt Consciousness and Machine Intelligence are the only ways you can go. But, you do have some choices when it comes to your Civics:

Rogue Servitor: This Civic is the backbone of this build. It gives you biotrophy pops you can spread across your civilization and as long as they are happy they create a bunch of unity for you. Your empire will have massive stability and if you embrace Lithoids as your starting bio trophies, you can just focus on a mineral and energy based economy with no need for food. Later in the game you can quickly ramp up food production as you open your borders to the scattered masses of organic pops that will be desperate for a new home after all your neighbors start going to war with each other. At that point you should be technologically dominant (or at least one of a few tech super powers) and it will be a simple matter for you to ramp up food production for those organics.

You have two choices now for a second Civic. I like Maintenance Protocol for its boost to early game unity, but another viable choice here is Rapid Replicator. Either choice will give you awesome pop growth and great unity, the only question is which one of those you want to maximize. Population growth is very dominant but getting through the Discovery and Expansion traditions super quickly will arguably give you just as much of an edge (and sometimes you just won’t be able to colonize quickly enough to make use of maximized pop growth early game). Again this is dealer’s choice, but you really need to go with one of these two civics. 

Next, let’s talk Traits: I’ve gone with Emotion Emulators, Mass Produced, and Superconductive. This is a pretty standard set of traits for this type of empire and I don’t want to deep dive all of these too much, but you do have a choice here. You could swap out Superconductive for Logic Engines. This will make the power of your economy less of a given (because you are sacrificing a big boost of energy credits) but it will definitely increase your ability to tech rush, and (again) early game you can ignore food and agricultural techs so a maximized tech rush can also be very targeted. Either way you should be able to get ahead of most, if not all, empires in terms of military tech and be able to defend yourself effectively through the use of suped up star bases and an advanced but fairly minimum defensive fleet.

As for the negative traits: High Bandwidth is pretty much a given especially with this build, since you will ideally play tall and empire sprawl is just not that big of an issue. The ROI is high as it gives you 2 points to use for positive traits. I’m happy with Repurposed Hardware, to free up the other point you need for this build, as a slow gain of leader levels isn’t that big of a deal. However robot upkeep is also going to have low impact on your civ so High Maintenance is also a good way to go. Personally, I feel like you have to think about it more, and this game gives you a lot to think about all the time already. So, if you aren’t the most experienced player in the world the leader leveling is very much a passive system and I recommend going that route.

Now for your Bio-trophy pops:

As I said you are going to want to go Lithoid to simplify and streamline your economy early game. Lithoids also can live pretty much anywhere so they are less of a problem to spread around your empire and get all your colony worlds producing tons of unity for you. After that Conservationist and Traditional are the best choices here. These are best because the first will allow you to really not worry about consumer goods (you can in fact sell your consumer goods early game), and the second will just boost your unity more. I have been running Natural Engineers as my final choice because Engineering technology is the most dominant in the game (given the current meta) and a slight boost to this early game can pay huge dividends late. However, it is a very slight boost, and it is perhap just as good to go with a two point trait here. Good choices include Intelligent (for the tech bonuses though I honestly wouldn’t spend the extra point as Natural Engineers will get you what you want without the extraneous fluff) but maybe a better choice is a Lithoid specific trait: Volatile Excretions. This trait will give you access to motes in the early game and allow you to clear remnant blockers on your homeworld earlier, those blockers will give you tech boosts in turn and the overall effect of that can be huge.

One note here, if you use a 2 point trait you will need to pick up another negative trait for your bio trophies. A good choice here is Deviants, though you could also scrap Decadent and go for Repugnant which gives you two points. I personally would just not add more negative traits because while their impact will be minimal they will counter some of the good choices you made earlier. That is why I opt for Natural Engineers, even though it means slower exploitation of my remnant world (but slow and steady ramp up wins the race). 

Some last notes. You really need to focus on alloys early game so you can expand (so build up alloy production before a research center on your home world). Unlike with most empires, go with Discovery over Expansion first in the traditions. The bonuses are better for a tall technophilic empire. Finally, all your star bases need strike craft so you don’t get pulled into the early wars. Your fleet power will be low otherwise and all those militaristic empires will start thinking of ways to carve you up. But, if you rush strike craft and star base technologies, you will be able to fight defensive wars effectively with a small peace keeping fleet (provided you secure your choke points).

That’s it for now. As the Vulcans say, “Peace, and long life.”

Musings on Improved Efficiency During COVID-19 Shelter in Place

Does a time come for every business when the CEO thinks, ‘We really should just get rid of our offices…’? Right now, I’m hoping our CEO is thinking something along those lines. Maybe not getting rid of our offices entirely, but just paring down to a nice place to show visitors and a storage space for all the stuff we can’t really store in the homes of our various employees. I imagine our boss showing a group of investors around a plush meeting room and saying, “This is the magic of MiniBrew.” Inevitably someone will try to look behind the innocuous little door in the back – beyond which lies a storage space that looks like the walk-in closet of a mad inventor or a child who likes to take apart the consumer electronics his parents left him alone with – and my boss with throw himself in their way. “Nothing to see here.”

The company I work for, MiniBrew, like so many companies, has given a “work from home” order in response to the emergence and rapid dissemination of the coronavirus (soon to be re-branded as the Bud-Light virus). It isn’t the first time I’ve worked from home, but it’s the first time I have really noted the stark contrast in terms of what I get done in the office, and what I get done in the same amount of time at home.

In his book, The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, Eliyahu Goldratt posits the idea that in a truly efficient work environment there is downtime. Basically: if you are constantly working then there is something wrong with your operations management. I read the goal recently and I have thought a lot about this idea ever since. Because, at the office, I’m constantly working and I have done many things to make my processes more efficient and optimize my work life. It never really goes away. The problem is mitigated, there is less stress sure, but I always run out of daylight.

However, in the last few days, I have noticed a very different paradigm emerging. I have time left over. One thing I started a while back, is at the end of a week I look at my tasks for the following week and try to time-box them in my calendar (leaving some wiggle room to shuffle things around, deal with unplanned for challenges, and pick up the odd last-minute meeting). Since I started working from home, I’ve noticed I get ahead of my time boxing (which I’ve gotten really good at estimating). In fact, I am typically done with my planned for tasks by 15:00 (3 PM). I then take a look at what I can do with the last few hours of my day and knock that out.

So, what’s changed? Well not that much. I’m still working the same way, I’m still engaging in the same meetings and scrum ceremonies. I’m still facing the same hurdles, in fact in some cases getting over certain hurdles (like getting a back-end developer to run down a latency in our alpha environment) actually takes longer and that’s mainly because I can’t just walk over to a developer’s desk and say, “Could you help me resolve this issue real quick?” But, guess what? No one else can do that to me. That’s where the difference lies. 

On any given day I must get interrupted somewhere between eight to ten times on average. Most of the time it’s just for a “quick chat.” A hardware developer wants to know what I think about testing a new prototype with users, a software dev needs to understand requirements better, or a customer service rep wants insight on when to tell someone to expect a new app feature we are about to roll out. But it breaks my stride, I have to stop what I’m doing, pay attention to that person, then re-engage in what I’m doing. If each of these quick chats take between five and ten minutes (building in some time spent getting to a good stopping point, switching my focus, and then getting back into it): I’m probably spending around… a ton of time each day breaking my focus in an unstructured way.

When people tell me they hate Slack, I think, ‘Well I don’t, but they’re entitled to their opinion.’ However, honestly, it’s the best. It isn’t like people have stopped hitting me up to have a quick conversation. They just aren’t sitting next to me. I’m not rudely ignoring them if I finish what I’m in the middle of before I respond to their inquiry. And that makes all the difference. 

Sure some people call me and interrupt, but usually, what they’re calling about is pretty important. Most of the time, they are kind enough to send me a quick note first saying, “Hey, can we chat for a minute?”