The Crystal People are generally known as a race “not for beginners”, because they need a good start by someone who knows Planets economics, and they require patience to play due to their defensive nature. You also have to be a bit tricky with your minefield tactics to catch prey in your webs.
- Web mines: the best defensive measure in the game (5% hit chance instead of 1% per ly)
- High-temperature preference, with a terraformer to heat up planets. Every planet can be a good planet… in time.
- Low-temperature tolerance – Crystals can have decently large populations on all worlds except 0 degrees.
- Battleship and Carrier available (although both quite small)
- Tow-capture fuel-less ships
- Second-best tech-6 torpedo ship in the game (Emerald Battlecruiser – Resolute could be argued to be slightly better because it cloaks, though it has less cargo space).
- Megacredits and Molybdeum. The Crystals need lots of both, and they don’t get bonus taxation or mining.
- No large carrier, and smallest of the battleships
- Cannot clone ships
- Tend to rely on minelaying rather than minesweeping
There are two basic openers for the Crystals:
1) Build 2 Emerald-Class Cruisers (or one Ruby and one Emerald), and send them opposite directions. Anyone you meet has to deal with one of the best mid-level warships in the game.
2) Build LDSFs and start your colonizing right away, and as fast as possible.
Obviously, option 2 is riskier but slightly faster, and you would follow-up with LDSFs to bring clans to the best native worlds, and to develop the best mineral planets as quickly as possible. However, there is little downside to an early Emerald, because of its 510 cargo space (larger than two MDSFs).
There is a great video series of a walk-through on the first turns as a Crystal player, made by Spacesquid, a reknowned planets player. I’ll summarize his points here:
- Turn 1:
- Build an Emerald with Disruptors, Mark 7’s (if possible, otherwise Mark 4’s)
- Send MDSF out with 150 clans and 50 supplies.
- Turn 2:
- Send out Emerald with Clans and Supplies, but no money or torps. Both will be made later using resources from native planets.
- Build an LDSF as your second ship.
- Turn 3:
- Send out LDSF with clans and supplies
- Build a Ruby with one Torp tube. This is a ship for exploration, minelaying and scout patrol, not for combat.
I would recommend making it your #1 priority to get clans to the first decent native world that you find. You NEED tons of money, and you need it ASAP. Your second major economic priority, aside from rapid colonization, is to build a Merlin – your ships needs tons of Moly, and you’ll need the Merlin unless you’re remarkably lucky with Moly-heavy planets with high extraction rates and massive reserves.
Note that the Onyx should NOT be used to overheat planets with good natives. These planets (other than Siliconoid) should only be heated until 50 deg, such that the natives can multiply quickly.
Planets that are already near-100 degrees can be heated to 100 for breeder-planets, to increase your own colonist population.
Yes, planets can be overheated to deny them to the enemy, but to me, this is a strategy where you think you will lose ground rather than gain it. If you are going to invest a significant amount of time in terraforming, I believe it’s better to invest that time into planets you intend to keep…
Because of the need to build up economy to lay and sustain your webs, as the Crystals, you really need to stay hidden at the beginning of the game. Giving away your location either by revealing your ships in open space, or through a slip-up in early diplomacy can both spell your downfall. Ensure to planet-hop, even to the point of avoiding colonizing of planets if necessary, or traveling to them via a longer route, until you have a minimum amount of economy to protect yourself with webs.
Laying Web Minefields
Webmines drain 25kt of fuel for any ship that starts the turn in the webs, and 50 kt or 1/6 of remaining fuel, whichever is greater. This may not seem like much on the surface, but due to the 5% chance of hitting a webmine per ly traveled, once a ship is in a web minefield, it will lose a lot of fuel before it can get out. Even if it does not become fuel-less in the webs, there’s a good chance that it will no longer have enough fuel to get to its destination.
Although 25kt of fuel for being in a web minefield isn’t actually all that much, if you can trap a ship inside multiple, overlapping minefields, even the minimum fuel drain quickly adds up. When laying a new field, ensure that the center of the new field is slightly outside the existing minefield, and then they can overlap.
It is worth noting that a ship that hits a web mine will actually lose at least 75 kt of fuel: 50 kt for hitting the mine (minimum), and 25 kt for being in the web at the start of its next turn.
You want to start by laying minefields in the path of any enemy scouts, or on the most likely approach path of enemy forces, especially cloakers.
DO NOT drop minefields only around important planets! This type of mine-laying is like a big flag saying “here are my most important planets, come attack me”!
It costs a LOT of money and minerals, but the slow advance of the Crystals can be very deadly. The main problem is that ships have to be INSIDE the webs to sweep them, and there’s no guarantee that more webs won’t be laid right on top of a minesweeping ship, keeping it in the webs for longer than anticipated.
By using two ships, one to scoop and one to lay mines, you can shift your minefields around such that opponents may get caught off-guard. You can also move large minefields (>81 ly radius) a longer distance than a ship can travel in a turn by having one ship scoop the mines from one edge of the field, and lay them down the next turn (after movement). See the Planets magazine article on moving minefields.
Just because you have these nifty mines that are hard to sweep doesn’t mean that you can’t fall prey to the minefields of others. Do not neglect beams on your own ships, or enemies can easily protect their own ships by overlapping your webs with minefields. If the enemy forces you to begin laying normal mines to counter their minefields, they win. Sweep their mines, and lay more webs!
Merlins and Supplies
Even without a Bovinoid planet, you’re going to need a Merlin, and you’re going to need supplies. You will make the supplies into basically nothing but Moly. The Crystals use ridiculous amounts of Moly just for their hulls, and then you need even more for high-tech components on top of that. When gathering minerals with your LDSFs, if you run out of Moly to mine, you’re going to have to do a ratio something like 200 Dur, 200 Tri and 800 supplies, with every run. Trust me – you WILL need the Moly. The other minerals you can transform into fuel with a Refinery if you wish.
Enemies and Allies
The Crystals’ best allies are those that can keep them alive early in the game, or boost their economy such that they can get their web minefields up and running more quickly. While it’s nice to have someone who can build big carriers on your side, the Crystal People are more than capable of stealing even large carriers for their own use. They also like it when their ally can clone ships that they steal.
Best Allies & Worst Enemies:
- Feds (high taxation for minefields, super-refit allows all their ships to eventually have Heavy Phasers, which is inconvenient for you to play against).
- Lizards (Hissing for money, cloakers with large cargo holds, strong early game)
- Fascists (Cloakers and Glory Devices are excellent tools for your arsenal, strong early game, high-beam-count on their ships)
- Robots (good ally – minefield dominance, large carriers with big fuel tanks)
- Colonies (good ally – mainly because they have lots of fuel and you don’t want them as an enemy)
- Privateers. Once the Crystals nab an MBR, and thus have cloaking, accelerated minelayers, it’s much easier to go on the offensive. If the Crystals can prevent the Pirates from having a mobility advantage, things start going really badly for the Privs, especially with their low-beam-count ships
- Rebels. The Rebels do not have very good beam-counts on most of their warships, and the Iron Lady is a minesweeper-only ship (useless for other tasks). Falcons are easily stolen if they jump into Crystal webs, and their primary medium warships have small fuel tanks (Patriot and Cygnus).
Birdmen are a mixed bag, and it really depends who is playing them. If the Bird player is very aggressive, you should expect an early strike, and plant a few webs to slow down his attack, or even just to make him think twice about it. The Birds’ strength is their ships, and if you can steal their ships, you can be even more annoying than they are with their super-spy. While I don’t think they make the best ally because of their lack of economic benefits, they are a great trading partner if you can get them to give you any cloaking minelayer (White Falcon or better). Try to trade an Onyx in exchange, as the Birds have no terraformers.
Cyborg. Although the Crystals aren’t really an early-aggression race, they can get away with it against the Borg because the Emerald is such a good medium warship, and early webs can really shut down Cyborg shipping. If you wait until they have multiple cubes and a full Firecloud network, the Cyborg become MUCH harder to beat. Fireclouds (in any race’s hands) are very annoying to the Crystals, because it can give an entire fleet a “get out of jail” option at any time.
Evil Empire. While the Crystals will typically have trouble destroying the Empire’s many starbases, the Empire takes a long time to get going, and some of their most useful ships, like the Super Star Destroyer (SSD), have very small fuel tanks.
Robots. While it really depends on the player, the Robots can be very vulnerable to webs in the midgame if they haven’t invested in high-tech beams on their low-beam-count ships. They are much harder to deal with later in the game once their big fuel tanks are full and they have Heavy Phasers on every new build.
Versus the Crystals
Never send a ship off alone into Crystal territory… ESPECIALLY a cloaker. Pair all your ships. Use one to tow the other. Put most of the fuel on the one being towed, so if the tower hits a web mine, less fuel is lost. The ship being towed should have the best beams, set to Mission: Mine Sweep, both should have good engines, and at least Disruptors. If you find your pair deep inside a web field, stay stationary, and have both of them sweep. Carry at least enough supplies to repair at least 1 web mine hit, especially on cloakers (or they won’t be able to re-cloak and are very vulnerable to intercepts).
Try not to carry more than 300 fuel on any ship that’s moving. The minimum web-drain if you happen to hit a mine is 50 kt, or 1/6 of remaining fuel (300 / 6 = 50). Don’t lose more fuel than you have to – transfer the fuel off the towed ship only as you need it. If you want to be able to hit a web mine and still fight next turn, you need to carry at least 76 fuel on any ship that’s moving – you will lose 25 kt from web-drain before movement, and at least 50 kt fuel more for the web-hit.
Move slowly. Don’t rush your conquest – even small gains are good against the Crystals. Bring LDSFs or even STFs with starbase-building materials and clans – if the Crystals counterattack, they will not enjoy having to fight into fully-stocked starbases.
Whenever you’re attacking the Crystals, and especially when you’re inside a web field, you should be laying your own mines to prevent your ships from being intercepted singly (especially if your fleet has been dispersed due to web mine hits while moving). Crystal ships aren’t that strong, and are much more easily defeated if they take a mine hit first. Crystals also hate fighting, and hate losing their own capital ships, because they are so expensive to build.
I personally prefer starting “minefield wars” with the Crystals AFTER the ship limit, when the Crystals will have trouble building lots of ships with decent beams (usually, they will have invested a lot of their resources into torps, not beams). If you’re planning to take on the Crystals at any point, you need to have prepared your fleet with Heavy Disruptors or Heavy Phasers. You should put supplies on all your warships, so that they can fight with weapons fully charged and loaded, even if they hit a web mine.
It is worth noting that there is no “safe” amount of travel within a web field, compared to a regular minefield. It’s tempting to take your chances and make a dash for the edge of the web, but each time you take a web hit, you’re losing at least 2 turns of fuel that you could have used for sweeping. Make the Crystals work for their prizes, and make them spent the resources on torpedoes. Make an honest assessment of whether you’re likely to lose the ship, and do as much damage as possible to the webs before you lose it.