Angry Robot

Sid Meier's Starships: A Strategy Guide

Been digging on Uncle Sid’s latest treat, Starships. It’s Civ Rev meets Ace Patrol, with a turn-based space squad combat game tied to a 4X-lite empire builder. It’s pretty fun – although at the default difficulty level, it’s a bit of a breeze. But if you want to play on “Hard” difficulty or above, some strategy is required. So, here we are!


Starships has different victory conditions, and they require different strategies. Here are the types of victory:

It’s important to keep in mind that the resources in Starships each apply to a separate improvement category:

The other important things are your affinity and leader, both chosen at the start of the game. Here are the affinities and the bonuses they get:

And here are the non-catchily-named leaders:

Depending on the victory you are going for, you want to choose a matching leader and affinity, and concentrate on certain resources. Here are some ideas:

Population – choose Purity (a good all-rounder) and as a leader try Barre or Hutama. Focus on food production and build lots of cities. You will also want to expand, as adding systems to your federation will also add to your population.

Wonder – the wonder victory is perhaps the easiest. You will want to make a lot of metal. Choose Kozlov as a leader and supremacy as your affinity, for the free Wonder. Upgrade your planets’ metal production first, then build Wonders wherever you can. Some are better than others (more on that later). Wonders in systems you take from rival civs count toward your seven wonders, so don’t play too defensively.

Tech – this is a hard one as the tech upgrade prices seem to increase at a faster rate than the wonders. Definitely take Sochua as your leader. Affinity doesn’t really matter. Concentrate on science production. As for the techs to upgrade, some are cheaper than others (torpedoes, stealth, sensors), but the more expensive ones (shields, lasers, armor, cannons) have a more direct effect on ship combat ability. I particularly like stealth and fighters – again, more on this in a sec.

Domination – I haven’t actually won this sort yet, so this is speculative, but go with harmony as your ships are gonna get battered. Elodie and Hutama would be good leaders. Focus on energy production, and to a lesser extent science and metal and use the metal to amp up energy facilities and to build some combat-improving wonders.


No matter which victory you are trying for, you will want to expand as much as you can in the early parts of the game. Not all systems are created equal, so focus on systems that have advantages you want, whether in the rewards for missions or for their production boost in one resource or another. That said, you will also want to favour those systems that your neighbouring federations are closer to.

The default map size is pretty small and with a high default number of competitors, you are going to bump into them right quick. If you like that, great! If not, the largest map still isn’t that big, so pick that and maybe also drop your number of rivals down – although this does make the game a bit easier.

In terms of the missions you have to do to win favour, green are easy, orange are medium and red are hard. If you are going science you should bend over backwards for the free tech upgrade missions.

A big help in expansion, and also in the defence of your systems, are the warp nexus improvements. Normally travel decreases your crew morale until you have to take a shore leave, aka end your turn. However, travel between systems with warp nexuses (nexi?) doesn’t hit morale at all. Building these things lets you scoot around the galaxy much faster.

Also, let’s say a neighbouring civ decides to attack you and your fleet is on the other edge of the galaxy (it will happen). Normally, you start that battle with one or two ships from your fleet, plus whatever megabots you have built. The rest of your fleet shows up after a number of turns that correspond to the distance of your fleet from the system you’re defending. If you have tons of warp nexuses, you could drop that number to zero. So it’s better to build them than putting money into megabots.


Since expansion is a must, so is combat. Some general pointers that you’ve probably figured out: use cover. Try to get behind your enemy. Impulse power lets you move an extra hex, or turn to face a better direction, but usually means you can’t attack. Where possible, you want to attack from the open, but save a few movement points so you can get behind cover for the enemy’s turn.

And, again, you’ll need to specialize. On easy you can just upgrade all parts of your ships without thinking too hard about it – but on hard, you don’t have that luxury. You can build specialist ships, and you’ll want some of that: fast ships pair well with plasma cannons, slow ships with lasers; you can have carriers, torpedo boats, etc. But you will also want to tailor your fleet as a whole to match your other improvements. Wonders and science are important to consider.

Take stealth, for example. At its highest, your ship is undetectable unless the enemy is in a neighbouring hex. There is a Wonder that automatically engages your cloaking device every turn. Plus, the stealth-related technology improvements are cheaper than some of the others. All these bonuses stack to make your fleet a squad of mysterious ninja ships, caring not for cover, stepping out from the shadows to blast the enemy, only to vanish again.

Also consider fighters. You may have discounted them since a base model fighter is essentially a one-shot kill for your opponent, and it takes a turn to deploy them. Think again. Upgrading the fighter technology gives your fighters random improvements: some will get extra armour, some extra guns, etc. The more you upgrade the better your fighters will be. By the end of a recent game my fighters typically had 90 armor – that’s basically a destroyer, and each of your ships can have eight of them! The wonder that gives you two actions per unit per turn means that your carriers can discharge two fighters a round. Some other handy wonders for the fighter enthusiast are the one that allows passage through almost any asteroid hex, one that lets your fighters move immediately upon deployment, and the one that lets you make three moves on impulse power. Finally, let’s not forget that even when the enemy takes your fighters out right after they deploy, it’s still to your advantage. The rather crappy AI tends to target fighters, and that’s good, as you can use them as decoys. You don’t have to pay to have fighters repaired like you do with your capital ships.

I also must give torpedoes their due. They can be frustrating since you can’t be sure of hitting anything. However, even a single vanilla torpedo is useful in that it strongly discourages the enemy from entering part of the board. Given that asteroid fields often constrain available paths, this can be hugely helpful. Again upgrades can make them much more menacing: you can use science to up the damage they do, which is already substantial, and certain Wonders can make them undetectable or faster, with longer range. If you manage to get stealth torpedoes, equip them on several of your ships and start your turn firing torpedoes down every path the AI is likely to take to get to you. Even without stealth this is a good tactic; I’ve won a battle using only torpedoes this way.

Final notes

Not only do you have to win, you have to do it before your opponents do. Keep an eye on what’s going on during their turns, and while the diplomacy aspect of this game is mostly useless, you can get your rivals to brag about both their achievements, which can keep you appraised of impending science and Wonder victories, and their fleet, which can let you know if it’s wise to attack them or not.

Positioning is important. You may want to take your Shore Leave in a system a rival is likely to attack. You can also decide by their fleet’s position, and by the visible buildout of warp nexuses, when and where to attack them.

If you do fight a rival civ and win, keep going. Often they can’t or don’t repair their ships after a fight, and you can take a few systems for the price of a few tediously one-sided victories. Also, if you move into their system when they are weakened, hit the ‘negotiate with…’ button to see what they’re offering. Tech upgrades are a possibility, and they may be worth giving up on a system for.

Any comments? Stuff I missed? I am @dsankey on Twitter, hit me up there.