I've wrapped up my current Fanatic Xenophile Pacifist run in Stellaris! I'm happy with how the game went down. I think I have a really solid grasp now of the systems and what to expect and plan for throughout the game. At the same time, there's a good amount of variety and some small surprises in how things unfold. This game was fairly different from my previous United Nations of Earth games, but those games prepared me well for this one.
As a Pacifist empire, getting into wars was considerably more challenging. Previously, I would Claim adjacent systems, then use a Conquest Casus Belli to trigger a war. To get the maximum Influence from my Pacifist Faction, though, I had set my War Policy to Defensive Wars Only, which basically means that, in most cases, you cannot initiate a war. (There is a cool option to support Ideological wars, which I'll write more about later, but the Faction doesn't approve of that.)
As noted at the end of my previous post, I had managed to rush my expansion, claim choke points, and had a lot of space reserved to gradually, peacefully expand into. After getting over an initial hump with excessive colonization, my population dramatically increased, and with it I vaulted up the Relative Power rankings, particularly in Economy and Technology. I'd neglected military techs for basically the whole game, but once I started reaching the end of the tech tree I went back and grabbed all those too, finally increasing my Naval Capacity and building battleships. My immediate target was the Ishni Shard, Militant Xenophones to my southwest.
I couldn't just declare war on Ishni, or even claim their systems. Instead I started building Outposts in adjacent systems. Xenophobes really hate this, and they demanded that I stop. I refused, our relationship plummeted... but they didn't attack. Until, like, a decade later, when out of the blue they suddenly declared war on me. I have no idea why, as there didn't seem to be any change in our circumstances between my provocation and their declaration.
Once you are in a war, you can Claim enemy territory; I'd been stockpiling Influence in anticipation of the conflict, and had close to the 1000 max at the ready. I wanted to be able to finish the entire war in one go; in my previous games, I would typically defeat a Fallen Empire in two phases, taking advantage of their unique tech and buildings in between; but starting a war as a Pacifist was such a pain to start with, and I was pretty sure they wouldn't attack me again if I reduced them to Pathetic power, so I wanted to get them all in one war.
As usual, their fleets acted bizarrely. After reclaiming one or two adjacent systems I'd settled, they didn't press further into my territory, or retreat to their citadels to defend. Instead, they headed south and east, disappearing from sensor range. I moved in with my full force of battleships and corvettes and just moved around, neutralizing their starbases and landing armies.
Near the end the Ishni finally popped back up, way on the eastern rim of the galaxy. I think they were trying to attack my allies in the Cirrulan Nation, fellow Federation members in The Nice Guys. I guess I can maybe sorta kinda see the strategy, since the Cirrulans were far weaker than me and the Ishni might have wanted to drive up our War Weariness that way; but the Ishni were just totally MIA for the entire war. I won without ever fighting a major naval engagement.
In previous games, FEs had surrendered once I had started but not finished my ground invasions of the home worlds. For whatever reason, this time the Ishni waited until after I had finished my conquest before surrendering. I'm not sure if this is due to them being the aggressors in the war, or the higher difficulty level, or something else.
The Pouz-Jak Progenitors Awakened shortly after this war; fortunately they were Fanatic Xenophiles and on the far end of the galaxy from me, so not a huge threat. I spent some time integrating the Ishni into my empire, which actually was a pretty smooth process this time. Crime had been a big problem in previous games, but here it wasn't bad at all. I resettled excess population off Boundary and Core, converted a few buildings into new ones with more Jobs, and put in a regular (not Crime-reducing) Governor.
Conquering Ishni also opened up a lot of new world to colonize, both in adjacent systems and in a rump cluster behind their borders. It took some time, but I terraformed all of them into Gaia planets and seeded them with various pops. This timing was great, since my original planets were just starting to hit their population caps around this time.
Like in my previous game, there were a lot of Shielded Worlds. In those games, lowering the shields gave me a Level X Admiral in each system; this time, it gave me some Escorts and Battlecruisers in each. It seems odd that there wasn't a mixture of outcomes between the games, but probably just another instance of RNG striking. I was initially disappointed at the "loss" of the Admirals, but over the course of the game I think the ships were probably better: even though they can't be upgraded, Battlecruisers are pretty awesome, and since I defeated the Ishni so early, the Admirals would probably have died of old age by the end of the game.
Next, I wanted to fight the Thek'Qlak Archivists. I'd been on good terms with both them and the Progenitors, agreeing to early requests for specimens and scientists, receiving gifts and open borders from both. Our relationship soured quickly once I declared Rivalries and insulted them. But unlike the Isolationists, there isn't a clear demand to reject from them or particular trigger for a war. I had catapulted up in the Power rankings after the Ishni war, but I was a bit concerned that, by getting too powerful, I'd make the FEs reluctant to start a war with me, so I held back from filling out my Naval Capacity, keeping them at merely Inferior rather than Pathetic in comparison to me.
At the same time that all of this was going on, I was gradually building up my Federation. I'd initially planned to sign up with the Neborites, who liked me a lot and were second in power; but our differing War Philosophies imposed a daunting -50 to Acceptance. I kept trying to build up our Trust and otherwise get within striking distance of "Yes", but eventually started worrying that, by waiting too long, I wouldn't be able to level up the Federation enough to get the Crisis damage bonus in time for the Crisis. Instead I hooked up with the Cirrulean Nation, a large but peaceful neighbor to my south. They were Xenophiles, Pacifists, and Spiritualist, being generally compatible with my outlook, and they quickly agreed to join up.
In my previous game, I joined a mature Federation started by some Federation Builders late in the game, by which point it was already Level 5 and it was just a matter of votes to form it to my wishes. In this new game, I came to see just how slow and tedious it is to level up a Federation from scratch; I felt like I started it relatively early, but still was just barely to Level 4 by the time the Crisis hit, even when trying to max out Cohesion.
Soon after starting The Nice Guys federation, we were dragged into a war. I forget now exactly what sparked it, but I think the Elaamind Blessed Mandate may have invaded Cirrulan. Fortunately I had my navy all built up for my desired Archivist war, so I was able to move into Cirrulan space and help beat back the attackers. While I'd gone to lengths to avoid wars early in the game, by this phase they were actually a strong positive for me: I was getting late enough in the game that I had many of my final fleets and Admirals in place, so earning easy XP against mundane foes would put me in a much better position to take on the Crisis when it rolled around.
And there was a secondary benefit, too. After I was fully committed to fighting Elaamind, the Archivists surprised me with an abrupt war declaration! Like the Ishni, we had been at terrible relations for a long time before they declared war; but here, the reasoning seemed a little clearer, and I can definitely see why the AI would prefer to join the fray after I had already been bloodied.
I hadn't stockpiled as much Influence for this war, but still had just enough to claim all the Archivist systems. As with the Ishni, the Archivists seemed to focus most of their energies on the Cirrulans instead of me. This is the first time I've been involved in multiple wars simultaneously, and I had to keep an eye on the War Weariness for the Elaamind war while also seeing how things were progressing against the Archivists. Since Elaamind had attacked Cirrulans, I wasn't able to dictate the conclusion of that war, but wanted to make sure it wouldn't unduly harm my ally.
I left the Cirrulans to focus on Elaaminds while I tackled the Archivist fleets. Fortunately they weren't Awakened and didn't have too much resistance, especially thanks to the Dark Matter deflectors and reactors I had reverse-engineered from the Ishni. Despite the multi-front war, the Archivists fell pretty easily.
Oh! A quick note on ground invasions. In my previous game, I rarely maintained a standing army. Whenever a war started, I would recruit armies from every one of my planets. They would all pop out around the same time, then we would join together via the Gateway network and invade whatever needed invading. If another war wasn't imminent, I would mothball the armies after the end. Minerals have been plentiful in all of my games, so it's easy to re-raise them later.
In this game, though, I've been more cognizant of unit XP, something I didn't really even understand in my Earth game. When specializing Starbases, I make sure my Shipyards also include Fleet Academies, so all new ships start as Experienced with a 10% damage boost. I also designated a particular planet as my Army Planet and built a Military Academy to receive a similar bonus to my Armies. Then I just had that planet regularly churn out armies in peacetime until I had enough for the game. This does mean higher ongoing maintenance costs, but it isn't all that much, and it can be nice to start deploying ground forces at the very start of a war instead of waiting a month or two.
We triumphed over the Elaamind as well, which was great, but also set off a chain of annoying events. First, the Cirrulans fully embraced their Xenophile Ethic, and in the process lost their Pacifist leanings. From here, they started aggressively pushing for liberation wars against their neighboring systems. I voted them down - there wasn't a real benefit to me, and fighting mundane wars tends to be highly tedious and unrewarding. But they kept asking, over and over and over again. I think that, next to the "Ships upgraded!" message being read out every single time a Defensive Platform updates, Federation diplomacy AI is the most infuriating part of the game. To wit:
- Disagreeing with federation members on votes incurs massive opinion penalties, on the order of -100 for voting against War and -50 for opposing other votes. A single disagreement can instantly wipe out more than a century of bonhomie.
- These penalties decay absurdly slowly, too, at a mere +1 per year. I can't think of anything else in the game which is that punishing. Xenocide? Sure. Slavery? Whatever. Vote against my war? You are terrible and we will never forgive you.
- And they won't take "No" for an answer! Expect tons of spam, as any failed vote will be put forward again, and again, and again, and again.
- And each of these deal stacking penalties. It's crazy to me that, say, Insulting someone will just reset an opinion malus, while voting down the exact same dumb-ass resolution is a fresh wound every time.
- So, if you want to keep your relationship alive, you have to vote for whatever idiotic thing your fellow federation members want. But, it isn't reciprocal! They'll just as happily vote against anything you want. If you spam them, you're back in the maelstrom of collapsing Opinions.
- The most important votes are the votes to declare war, or to expand the Federation by inviting another member. But, these are the only votes that don't support spending Favors! It's extremely frustrating!