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Subject: Advancing research tracks in the opening rss

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Olaf K
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I'd like to share a discussion in our local play group with the forum.
The topic fits also well to the recently started "stratfiying" thread.

Some of our guys think, that the faction design is too one-dimensional in the sense, that with the exception of the Baltaak's it is mostly advisable to advance either on the econ or on the knowledge track in the opening. It is indeed difficult to find a faction, which should advance in another track. For some factions (Ambas) one bump in nav might be worthwhile, others use one bump in TF to get 2o. But after that you mostly move to econ or knowledge. GF is not needed in the beginning due to the limited number of transdim planets (for Terrans I consider early advancing of GF actually a trap). The AI track is maybe under-utilised by our play group, here I lack any experience. Does anyone use the AI track in the opening?
 
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Jon Kern
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I have a pretty detailed and nuanced view of tech track advancing now and would consider very little fixed and standard.

1. When opening with an Academy, I will most often utilize Terraforming level 1 for 2 additional ore. This typically allows you to hold onto your QIC for a temporary navigation boost. This is important for ending round 1 with A+2M.

2. I find tech tile locations are often more important than any given tech track when a tech tile is on anything other than AI. If my faction needs a particular tech tile early game and it is on AI, I won't choose that faction. Terrans, Nevlas, and Taklons all love the charge 4 tech so I typically do not choose those factions when Charge 4 is on AI.

3. A useful income tech tile or the Ore+QIC tech needs to line up with Nav for any of the mine spree openings to be successful.

4. The strongest level 1 tech steps are Terraforming for having a stronger overall opening and Gaiaforming which allows you to use power tokens, often bowl I power tokens, to generate habitable planets. Gaia Planets also have the most always present scoring synergy with the 3VP per settled Gaia tech and the top spot of Gaiaforming providing points per Gaia planet.

5. The strongest level 2 tech steps are Economy and Navigation. Economy provides equivalent income to a Mine and Trade Station. Navigation provides the needed range to save multiple QIC over the game and often helps you settle planets that your opponents may take and settle later.

6. The strongest level 3 tech step is Terraforming which will net you 1 ore per terraforming step you dig for the remainder of the game. The problem is that you need a source of Ore to benefit from Terraforming 3. This is why the Economy track is often taken early game and later players will transition into terraforming. Level 3 Research/Science is fairly strong as well and often when obtained will allow you to have 6+ knowledge income making it likely that you can take 2 tech steps from knowledge each round for the remainder of the game.

7. Level 4 Economy tends to be stronger than 4 Research/Science and level 5 Research/Science tends to be stronger than level 5 Economy. Level 5 GF, AI, and TF are all great scoring opportunities. Level 5 Navigation is situationally strong, but taking it can often be a trap as well. I now weigh the cost of the green fed token against the lost planet and make sure that other lines of play will not score more.

8. Advance tech locations should most often dictate which tracks you focus on past level 2.

In summary, I don't think that Gaia Project tech tracks are "one-dimensional" at all. I in fact, think that properly utilizing the tech board to be one of the harder aspects of the game because focusing on Economy could cause you to lose the race to the top of another track where you desire the top spot or the advance tech.
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David Jones
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I think Jon has pretty much nailed everything I was thinking of and then some. That said, I think item 3 is of particular importance. I have won games because rapid early expansion allowed me to box another player in who wasn't doing anything with NAV. It really sounds like there is an element of groupthink going on where everybody you are playing with is trying to build tall and nobody is building wide. I don't see how you are planning on getting around the board if you overinvest in the income track. Exempting Hadsch, you cannot buy nav, QIC, or science points.

The other interesting argument I have seen is that the tech track actually has diminishing returns. You spend four science to go up one level on the tech track. If you do this on round 1, there are five income phases left in the game, so you are gaining five science at the cost of four, making a net gain of one science, and that gain doesn't even come back to you until the last round of the game. If you advance in round two, you have broken even (spending four for four) and after that its a losing proposition. Unless you hit the top of the track and get the nine science and/or advanced tech tile is really powerful, this is a wasted track and I have hard time understanding the posts here on the forum which advocate going up on this track. Considering how important early growth is in the game, the short term benefit of other tracks is going to be much more beneficial than a one science point gain at the end of the game. There are times when the science track is good, but in my experience this is a situational strategy, not a "normal" one.
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Jon Kern
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davypi wrote:
I think Jon has pretty much nailed everything I was thinking of and then some. That said, I think item 3 is of particular importance. I have won games because rapid early expansion allowed me to box another player in who wasn't doing anything with NAV. It really sounds like there is an element of groupthink going on where everybody you are playing with is trying to build tall and nobody is building wide. I don't see how you are planning on getting around the board if you overinvest in the income track. Exempting Hadsch, you cannot buy nav, QIC, or science points.

The other interesting argument I have seen is that the tech track actually has diminishing returns. You spend four science to go up one level on the tech track. If you do this on round 1, there are five income phases left in the game, so you are gaining five science at the cost of four, making a net gain of one science, and that gain doesn't even come back to you until the last round of the game. If you advance in round two, you have broken even (spending four for four) and after that its a losing proposition. Unless you hit the top of the track and get the nine science and/or advanced tech tile is really powerful, this is a wasted track and I have hard time understanding the posts here on the forum which advocate going up on this track. Considering how important early growth is in the game, the short term benefit of other tracks is going to be much more beneficial than a one science point gain at the end of the game. There are times when the science track is good, but in my experience this is a situational strategy, not a "normal" one.


This is absolutely correct on the Science track. The advance tech/top of the track is the primary reason to move up this track at all. I look at the AI and Science tracks as providing a discount on the corresponding advance tech because the 4 QIC action allows us to take the advance tech without building a RL or Academy and the advance tech on the Science track can be taken with less than a 16k investment.

Therefore, I rarely move up the Science/Research track on rounds 1 and 2 and am at the point where I never move up the AI track rounds 1 or 2.
 
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Space Trucker
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davypi wrote:
The other interesting argument I have seen is that the tech track actually has diminishing returns. You spend four science to go up one level on the tech track. If you do this on round 1, there are five income phases left in the game, so you are gaining five science at the cost of four, making a net gain of one science, and that gain doesn't even come back to you until the last round of the game. If you advance in round two, you have broken even (spending four for four) and after that its a losing proposition. Unless you hit the top of the track and get the nine science and/or advanced tech tile is really powerful, this is a wasted track and I have hard time understanding the posts here on the forum which advocate going up on this track. Considering how important early growth is in the game, the short term benefit of other tracks is going to be much more beneficial than a one science point gain at the end of the game. There are times when the science track is good, but in my experience this is a situational strategy, not a "normal" one.
Economically that's correct. Starting with round 3, science lvl 1-4 will grant less knowledge income than one invests to go up.
When you advance in round 2 and the result is even, knowlegde-wise, the outcome can still be positive, because you'll have more steps in the end (more vp due to steps > lvl 2, more power due to level 3 threshhold), access to the base tech tile at the bottom of science), access to more advanced tech and the strong level 5.
If a lategame with advanced science works out nicely, scores can be very good.

Later in the game it's sometimes a question if there are actually other tracks left that will grant better outcome.
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Olaf K
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@Jon: Thanks for your detailed thoughts. I agree with most of your points. However I fail to see, how they counter my initial claim.

Yes, there are pivotal landmarks on every research tracks you want to reach eventually. But most of them not in the opening (R1 & R2) but later on - after you have advanced in knowledge or econ.

A faction-wise breakdown of usual advances in the opening:

GF: Baltaak (the exceptional faction)
Econ: Geoden, Firaks, Itar, Nevlas, Ivits,
Knowledge: Bescods, HH, Taklons

For Terrans I am not entirely sure, but it is certainly Econ or Knowledge. For Lantids any advancement is futile :-|
For Gleens and Ambas it might be Nav, but I've seen people doing this, performing an impressive initial mine spree, and then falling behind in the last two rounds. I had more success with Ambas on Econ.
I admittedly can't assess Xenos, maybe they could start on the AI track.

 
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Kester J
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I don't really disagree with your general point, although I think that you're overestimating science openings and underestimating navigation. Generally I'd say that for the majority of races it's usually a choice between two steps on nav and two steps on economy, with occasional deviations into the other tracks as necessary. The only one I don't really want to take a step on in the first round is AI (as you've identified), but even then I'll do it if it has a tech I really want underneath it: you can always find a use for a QIC, even if it's just using it as an ore [and you get a headstart for the late-game race up AI that often happens].

I'm not quite sure I understand what issue you're trying to get at here though. Would you like an exclusive commitment on any track in the opening to be equally viable (at least in some proportion of games)?
 
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David Jones
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nimogoham wrote:
Yes, there are pivotal landmarks on every research tracks you want to reach eventually. But most of them not in the opening (R1 & R2) but later on - after you have advanced in knowledge or econ.


So, first, you've not really countered the arguments we've given regarding the lack of return with going in early on knowledge. Other than Trucker's comment about some end game points for being further above the line, I still don't see the value in this track. And even then, I would argue that I get some of those points in other ways with early resource generation. If you're going to ignore hard analytical analysis, then why should anyone bother replying to you at all? It sounds like your mind is already made up about this.

Similarly, you've not really addressed the mine spam issue. And the problem here is that mine spam is not a faction specific strategy. Its something that you either do as a player choice or as a necessity based on game setup. I've been in lots of games where a specific planet is critical to the long term growth of me and another player. If you're going to dawdle on something other than NAV, I'm more than happy to get there first and leech your power because you've been blocked out and forced to upgrade rather than expand. This can be even more critical in games where either of the "number of building" end scoring tile is in play. But the real point I want to make here is that you seem to have your thinking locked into this idea each race has to be played a specific way. The choice of science tracks is just as much about strategy as it is about race. If you can't understand or are not willing to accept this concept, then this conversation can't move forward. In particular, I think for some race, as you'll note below, specific tech tiles are more valuable than specific tech track. If you are going to do a mine spam strategy, you're not going to be short on ore. Picking up the four money tech tile with an opening RS is going to get you more money than the income track will. Sure, income also gives you power and I'm not discounting that, but if you have a healthy ore/money income engine, power income is less critical, particularly if you have a wide presence on the board and are getting more leech opportunities.

Quote:
A faction-wise breakdown of usual advances in the opening:


I'm not really sure why you put HH in the knowledge track. If anything, they are the race that needs it the least. Yes, it would cost them more to buy the science than what they get from the corresponding track, but if I'm playing HH, I would rather buy 4 QIC for a tech tile before I pay for science.

I typically only take Gleens if Gaia planets are an end game condition. And at the point, you've pretty much committed yourself to grabbing all the gaia plants you can. My typical opening with them will be to take my opening game bump on Nav and then picking up the 3 points for gaia tile regardless of which track its on. Five points for a gaia settle is much more powerful than the extra points you'll get for tech scoring by going up knowledge. Its hard to address your comment about the Gleen falling behind in later rounds without seeing the games being played. This sounds more like a problem of not knowing how to execute late game strategy than a failing of it as an early game strategy. My only guess here is that mine spamming still requires careful management of income and maybe this isn't being handled correctly. There also a couple of threads on the forum about Gleen being one of the less powerful races overall and they really require specific conditions to be in play for them to shine, so the problem could be that you are taking this race in sub-optimal conditions and the problems you are seeing have nothing to do with tech advance. Anyway, I would tend to agree that econ is a good supporting track for them, but Nav 4 is my primary goal.

Xenos are another race where I tend to favor Nav, but I'm not really committed to it. One possible strategy with them is that if you get an early PI unlock and your Nav is at 2, you can hoard your QIC income for tech tiles which I would argue is going to be better than science income from the knowledge track. I have also played games with Xenos where I hit the AI track early. Going this route, you are basically substituting QIC income for Nav and, similarly, trying to save extra QIC for tech tiles. In particular, if the advanced tech tile at the top of the AI track is a powerful one, Xenos are a great race to take if you want rush an early federation to grab the tile. But as with a lot of things in this game, this is a situational strategy rather than a typical one. All that said, I find Xenos to be a really flexible race and I'm going to shape my tech advances around whatever strategy is needed based on the game setup.

For Terrans, power token management is critical or you end up losing power income and this is very difficult to pull off even with the two extra tokens this race starts with. Unless you get your hands on the two token income tile, getting that second step on gaiaforming during round one is the only way you can control your power usage. If there is any race that addresses the complaint you have in the OP, its clearly this one.

For Nevlas, I think having the four power tech tile is more critical for them than which track they go on. Clearly being able to convert four power income into two science is superior than the one science you get from the knowledge track. I'm more likely to go RS than PI with this race on round one for this specific reason. After that, if you want to spend your four opening science points on income I'm not really going to argue against it, but this is the race that is going to get the best ROI off of early investment in the knowledge track.

Itars, I think, are situational. One of the tricks with Itars is that their PI ability can be triggered by placing gaiaformers. You don't have to trigger this through burning alone. How you go about pulling off this strategy depends a lot on where the tech tiles are placed and other setup factor, but I've been in games where taking two bumps on the gaia track on round 1 with an RS opening has been very powerful for them. You typically need the four money or four power tile to be on the gaia column or in the bottom row to make this work as you need some way of getting the income you need to rush your PI out by round 2. Admittedly, this is a situational strategy, but when it works its pretty cool.

Taklons live or die based on how frequently they can cycle the brainstone and that basically puts them in the same position I described with Nevlas. The four power tile is more valuable to them than either knowledge or income. In fact, your claim that knowledge is their best opening makes no sense at all. Four power income is essentially worth two power in bowl three. If you can cycle the brain stone and a second disc into the third bowl, you can just convert it to knowledge as a free action. So the four power tile itself is already equivalent to one step on the knowledge track, but power is more versatile as it can be used for other things. What makes this even better though is that you control when you get that four power. So typically what you want to do with this race is get your brainstone into bowl 3 during your income phase, spend it right away, and then use your four power action to cycle it right back in. You can even pull this off on the first round of the game if you're getting good enough power leech from your opponents. So RS and the power 4 power tile is typically the only opening move I will consider with this race and I'll adjust my strategy based on what tech bump the 4 power tile forces me to take. As far as the starting four science are concerned, I'm more inclined to put them in econ as the one power income is going to help cycle power since I've not unlocked my PI. Taklons is also a race where I am more likely to consider a mine spamming strategy. The more buildings you have on the board, the more opportunities you have to leech power. If I'm not bumping Nav on round 1, I'm going to start looking at it in round 2.

Ambas, admittedly, were are hard race for me to figure out how to play and I still have difficulty with it. The key strategy with this race though is that using their PI ability doesn't destroy existing federations. So by moving your PI and refederating every round, you can use federation tokens as a substitute for income. So this strategy isn't exactly the same as a mine spam, but its very similar in that you need to get two new mines and a marketplace upgrade nearly every round of the game. You can't do this without early NAV and you likely need terraforming steps well. I'm probably not going to play this race unless the tech tile that boosts your PI to four power is located where it will support bumps on these tracks and I'm likely going to eye the four money or four power tile next so that needs to be in a good location as well.


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Olaf K
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@Kester: The question I am trying to answer is, how correct such a claim (strong preference to econ and knowledge in the beginning) made by a member of our play group actually is. Just taking our games into account that claim is not so far stretched. And apparently it is not so easy to really counter his impression, that esp. econ is the track to go. Even if some points towards nav were already made here.

Normally I take the knowledge track with factions, which do not have other options to gain knowledge or climb research tracks or have inherent vp generations (eg. Gleens). This is esp. true for HH & Taklons, which are economically strong.

@David: I don't know how you got the impression, that I am not willing to accept, that advancing certain tracks is locked into factions. I wouldn't ask here, if I'd do this.

I am not sure, if I understand your remarks regarding the 4c tile. Grabbing that tile and doing a mine spree all in the 1st round seems with most factions either difficult or pointless (Geodens). I could see this only working with Ambas.

Gleens: TBH, I've never played it. Others in our group have played it with mixed results. Indeed they can have the most impressive starts, but fall short esp. in the research area.

Terrans I wouldn't take if it is not likely, that I get the two token income tile. Nevlas opening is similar to Firaks: 1st turn RL, 2nd turn PI, always pushing econ. Difference: with Firkas the 1c1k tile should align with the econ track, with Nevlas the 4pw tile (as you pointed out).

With Taklons IMHO you have to identify the sweet spots on the map and build tall there, not wide. The problem with a Taklon mine spree is, that unlike in TM you get only 1 power even if multiple mines could participate in leeching. I once did the AC+X opening with them pushing knowledge hard and ended with 187 points (my fomer Taklon scores weren't that great simply because I didn't know how to play them).


So far I have learned in the discussion, that two factions (Gleens & Ambas - esp. with map tile 7) should consider an initial navigation bump. But I am still under the impression, that most (too many?) factions want to econ early on.

 
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Dave C
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Nav openings can be strong for basically any faction that has good map placement for it. If you can get at least 4 mines, it sets you up more nicely for early feds, scoring, and map positioning, even if the economic benefit is slightly less than econ.

Ultimately, if you spend tech bumps on econ (or any track), but can't leverage the advanced tech/level 5 into points and lose tempo on other tracks, it means econ was probably a bad choice. With Knowledge this danger is especially common because you can cede a lot of territory and fall behind in tempo on federation forming while other players grab the most valuable advanced techs.

I think your ideas are a little too rigid on how factions should go up tracks. A lot of factions can be played in a variety of ways which is heavily dependent on the setup. But if too many people are going up econ or research early on, they can and should lose out on valuable advanced techs on other tracks against good players, as well as map control on the board. Econ is just a very generically strong opening, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but I don't think most factions in most games should start by going up econ.
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Jon Kern
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PROJ wrote:
Nav openings can be strong for basically any faction that has good map placement for it. If you can get at least 4 mines, it sets you up more nicely for early feds, scoring, and map positioning, even if the economic benefit is slightly less than econ.

Ultimately, if you spend tech bumps on econ (or any track), but can't leverage the advanced tech/level 5 into points and lose tempo on other tracks, it means econ was probably a bad choice. With Knowledge this danger is especially common because you can cede a lot of territory and fall behind in tempo on federation forming while other players grab the most valuable advanced techs.

I think your ideas are a little too rigid on how factions should go up tracks. A lot of factions can be played in a variety of ways which is heavily dependent on the setup. But if too many people are going up econ or research early on, they can and should lose out on valuable advanced techs on other tracks against good players, as well as map control on the board. Econ is just a very generically strong opening, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but I don't think most factions in most games should start by going up econ.


This is right. The more players who start moving up one track the more competition there will be for that top spot and advance tech. This makes going up that track less valuable the more people who are competing on that track.
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Jon Kern
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nimogoham wrote:
@Jon: Thanks for your detailed thoughts. I agree with most of your points. However I fail to see, how they counter my initial claim.

Yes, there are pivotal landmarks on every research tracks you want to reach eventually. But most of them not in the opening (R1 & R2) but later on - after you have advanced in knowledge or econ.

A faction-wise breakdown of usual advances in the opening:

GF: Baltaak (the exceptional faction)
Econ: Geoden, Firaks, Itar, Nevlas, Ivits,
Knowledge: Bescods, HH, Taklons

For Terrans I am not entirely sure, but it is certainly Econ or Knowledge. For Lantids any advancement is futile :-|
For Gleens and Ambas it might be Nav, but I've seen people doing this, performing an impressive initial mine spree, and then falling behind in the last two rounds. I had more success with Ambas on Econ.
I admittedly can't assess Xenos, maybe they could start on the AI track.



In general, you want to either open Econ2 or Nav2. Either of these openings Nav or Econ can be coupled with Terraforming1 for additional ore to achieve an overall stronger opening.

That said, if Ore+Pwr, 4c, or Charge4 is on the research track and I am playing a faction that wants that tech, I don't mind taking 1 step in Research and during the setup, I may even plan a more research oriented strategy as a result of the tech setup.

Gaiaforming is a bit tricky and I need to be able to access 2 Transdimensional Planets without Nav2 to consider taking a tech on the Gaiaforming track round 1, but if the map does cooperate it can often be a good approach to advance Gaiaforming in the opening and delay Navigation until round 3.

The main point is that the tech tile locations matter a lot more than the specific tracks most of the time. The goal in the early game is to get the either the best income that you can or get the best map position that you can. This varies from game to game due to the random nature of the setup.
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David Jones
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I suspect that what we are ultimately running into here is just an inability to effectively communicate how to execute specific strategies. What I can say here is that I win more than half my Gaia games (against four players with scores typically in the 140-160 range) and I'm probably only taking sci or econ in about half of those wins. So I can assure you that these are not necessary tracks.

nimogoham wrote:
I am not sure, if I understand your remarks regarding the 4c tile. Grabbing that tile and doing a mine spree all in the 1st round seems with most factions either difficult or pointless (Geodens). I could see this only working with Ambas.


So first, based on other comments you've made, I get the impression that you've simply not seen a mine spree strategy work succesfully, otherwise you wouldn't be push back against this. In games where either of the two end game building scoring goals are in play, number of locations is going to be more valuable than the power of locations. This means getting into other planets first is more important. This can be critical if you and another player are adjacent on the color wheel as some of your cheapest planets are even cheaper for them. This is a race for territory and whoever gets there first wins, and you can't get there first without good Nav.

The other point here is that you've not actually justified why you think income in round one is necessary. You've said that its the way you prefer to go, but you've not compared it to anything else. So, straight up, here is my challenge to you. Why is an income bump on the first round more valuable than the 4c or 4p tech tile? 4c tech is better than the 2c from the income track. The 4p income I can convert to 2c as a free action, so I'm almost at a break even point here, and I would argue that power is going to be more versatile than money. If either tile is under Nav or Terraforming, I've already solved my income problem and I'm getting my race moving on other tracks that have critical break points. The main reason I might not care about 4p as a starting tile is if I plan a round 1 PI.

Something else that I see frequently in losing games is players often want to federate early in the game and, typically, this leads to building tall rather than wide. If you are targeting a tech tile, then you obviously need to do this, but otherwise federating early can sometimes lead to mismanagement of how you group your buildings. I've seen players who could have made three federations in a game if they had arranged the federations in a certain way, but because they federated early, they locked some building into a federation that prevented this configuration. I tend to prefer to wait until round four or five to federate so that its clear to me what planets I will be on and how I need to arrange my upgrades. While this doesn't require a mine spree, it similarly requires playing wide early and going tall later. I wouldn't argue against a round 1 income bump since the money will help with expansion, but you need to get to nav 2 by round 3 at the latest.

Quote:
Terrans I wouldn't take if it is not likely, that I get the two token income tile.


If you really believe this, then you are being too limiting on strategy. There are many threads on BGG talking about the fact that if only one race is in gaiaforming, they have a huge advantage over other races. They need less Nav since they can hop through trandsim planets and they also don't need terraforming since they have planets they can colonize without ore. That said, Terrans a very powerful race even if they are competing for transdim as they essentially get free power for gaiaforming. You want to be using them when there is a lot of trandsim near blue and/or Gaia is an endgame scoring. The two token income tile probably makes this race easier, but it is not even consideration for choosing this race.

Quote:
With Taklons IMHO you have to identify the sweet spots on the map and build tall there, not wide. The problem with a Taklon mine spree is, that unlike in TM you get only 1 power even if multiple mines could participate in leeching.


My claim with Taklons is that the frequency with which they gain power is more important than how much power they get. Even with getting just one power here and there, this race can afford to burn power tokens once the PI is unlocked. Gaining power multiple times in a round gives you more opportunities to cycle the brainstone. Gaining all your power at once only allows you to cycle it once. I admit there is more of a balancing act here because you really need two power income in order to push the brainstone into bowl 3, so marketplaces are more valuable than mines. So maybe "mine spree" isn't the right strategy here, but I typically want to build wide to have more leech opportunities but upgrade into markets in the sweet spots like you describe.
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