When you first explore a planet, decide whether that planet will be a candidate for a starbase, a seed world, a planet for fast development, or whether you’ll just drop 1 clan and pull the minerals off the surface with the first empty freighter that passes by.
Exploring with a Warship
The main reason to explore with a warship is that as you explore further from your home world, you will eventually meet an opponent. When you meet that opponent, you’d probably prefer to have a warship than a freighter, especially if the opponent turns out to be hostile, and immediately destroys of captures this valuable early freighter. Worst of all, with no forward-placed warship, your new enemy can easily destroy the fledgling colonies you just built, requiring you to start from scratch. The warship approach also gives you more information about how you should load the follow-up Large Deep Space Freighter (LDSF) – if you find a good native planet, load more clans. If you find lots of abundant mineral worlds, load more supplies and mega credits (MCs, or money).
Exploring with a Freighter
If you are exploring with a LDSF, when you find a good world, you can immediately drop the clans and resources to make the planet productive immediately. In addition to the risks described above, a further downside is that these heavy freighters use lots of fuel when loaded, and you might waste quite a lot of fuel before the freighter arrives at a planet where it can drop most of its cargo.
Exploring with an Escorted Freighter
Frankly, it’s not very efficient to explore with two ships together. The sector is a big place (500 planets), and you need to find good worlds as quickly as possible. If you are hiding your waypoints (see Movement), not being too predictable with your freighter routes (more on that below), and have a forward-placed warship, you can probably risk sending your freighters without a close escort.
Freighter Routes and Patterns
The bidirectional linear route
I intend to do a re-write of this concept, originally presented here: http://www.circus-maximus.com/empire5.htm
Whether you explore with a freighter or a warship, you can use the bi-directional linear freighter route.
You’ll generally choose this route when you have a string of planets that looks like this:
If you’ve explored and dropped a clan with a scout or warship first, your LDSF that’s following up will drop clans as appropriate for fast development, and with any extra space it will gather minerals on the way, to be dropped at your next starbase location.
When you reach the end of your route, or run out of clans/supplies to drop on the route, your freighter turns around and heads back the other direction, picking up minerals as it goes. You should try to avoid bringing money (MCs) back to your homeworld / initial world when possible, because your new frontier starbases will need the cash for tech levels and ships.
What you’re trying for is a Starbase at each end of this bi-directional route. The Starbase should either be on a good native world with a tech bonus and a fair climate, or at a good mineral world with good climate. Either way, you need a Seed World nearby, so that to create your next bi-directional route, you don’t have to keep going back to the Homeworld for more clans.
Thus, each pass your freighter makes, brings minerals to a starbase, without having to re-trace its steps.
On your new Starbase / Node / Seed world, you should park a warship there, and add some defense posts, until you can build a Starbase there. Once you build a Starbase, you should max the defense posts on the planet fairly quickly, especially if you’re close to the Lizards or Fascists, who could easily Ground Assault the planet and take over the Starbase from cloak! You want to make it more difficult for them to do this, by reducing their ground assault ratio by adding Defense Posts.
Trimming clans: the colonists on most planets will grow over time, and you generally don’t need more than 100-200 on mineral worlds. On native worlds, you only need enough clans to collect the maximum “safe” tax. This means that as the game goes along, there are colonists to be gathered and moved to frontier worlds, without having to return to your homeworld! Any extra space in your freighter cargo holds should be used for this purpose, transporting a few clans here and there, heading towards seed worlds at the edges of your empire.
Note that this write-up describes the theory – in practice, things are much more complicated; enemy attacks, planets running dry, and freighters being diverted for other tasks tends to make reality much different!
The Clover Freighter Route
Ideally, you want freighter patterns where one freighter runs back-and-forth along a linear route, and other freighters gather minerals from other nearby clusters of planets and either pick up or deposit them along this route for the back-and-forth freighter to pick up and move (closer) to a Starbase.
A Flexible Supply Route
Sometimes you will need to alter your supply route due to enemy harassment or other dangers. Try to move your freighters in unpredictable patterns, and also in patterns that can be changed to alternate routes without a massive increase in fuel, or without having to end turns in open space.
A seed world can be thought of as a secondary “clan pickup spot” that is closer to the planets you want to develop than your homeworld. You create these worlds so that you don’t have long freighter routes back to your homeworld to gather more clans. You build the populations of these planets even further by trimming off excess clans from other nearby worlds and adding them to the seed world (the one with the highest growth rate).
To create these worlds, you need a planet that is conveniently located along an existing ship route, and that has a really favorable temperature (as close to 50 as possible). To feed a LDSF with 800 more clans every 4 turns, you need at least 4000 clans on that world (max growth rate is 5%, in case you’re wondering). This is a really good use for Super Transport Freighters (STFs), who could accomplish this in two trips. Otherwise you’ll have to shuttle at least 4 full LDSFs to the area (usually you’ll want at least some supplies in your LDSFs, meaning you’ll frequently carry 1000 clans and 200 supplies).
It is worth mentioning that if you intend to seed multiple worlds, you should also leave your homeworld tax rate at 0% as much as possible, as you will seriously deplete your homeworld clans if you move a lot of them away while trying to sustain a high tax rate.