SMAC - Alpha Centauri: Strategy Guide

@author Kai Ruhl
@since 2007-09


Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (SMAC) is my favourite among the turn-based strategy games. It takes all the goodness of the Civilization series and and adds the unique capability to freely configure your (military and civil) units, adding some more interesting options. For some time, Alpha Centauri was also available in a Linux version, ported by now defunct Loki Games.

In the following, I will describe what I have found out about strategic gameplay (reading several texts myself, of course). This is necessarily an incomplete and subjective list, but includes issues rarely found in other guides, such as terraforming. Maybe you get some ideas while reading this. Enjoy.


All images taken from with permission. All copyright by Firaxis Games. Additional advice by gamespot. Useful description on Wikipedia.

1 Factions

Usually you choose your favourite faction according to your envisaged victory method and the terrain you play in (where "terrain" also includes humidity and native life choices). I recommend always taking custom rules and tailor them to your faction. Especially the "steal tech when conquer base" option is making the game more interesting.

University: Zakharov

The university is the natural faction to play if you want a long game, ending with ascent to transcendence. It is hard to survive the beginning, but once you got the technological edge (e.g. you will be the first one to develop jets) you can attack with superiour force. You will also get to better base facilities and secret projects earlier than the others.

You will very much want the Virtual World (automatic hologram theater for your (automatic) network nodes) and the Hunter Seeker Algorithm (immunity to probes, which you are prone to).

The university plays equally well on all kinds of maps. Set research to "Discover" at the beginning to discover Secrets of the Human Brain as the first faction, resulting in an research jump.

+2 Research
Network Node
Peacekeepers: Lal

The U.N. peacekeepers are also a faction for a long game. The favourite way to win a game is by election to planet governor, or by ascent to transcendence.

The talent knack means you can aim for a golden age in many of your bases quite often. For this, the Human Genome Project (+1 talent) and Clinical Immortality (+1 talent) are needed. Building the paradise garden facility (+1 talent) also helps. For increasing chances at governour election, consider The Empath Guild (+50% votes).

As for terrain, a map with much water is preferred, as this decreases the chances to be attacked.

+1 Talent / 4
Double votes
Gaian: Deidre

The gaians are another faction for a long game. They are best suited for slow expansion and eventual domination by ascent to transcendence.

You will very much want the Weather Paradigm (-50% terraforming time), the Pholus Mutagen (+1 morale for mindworms, fungus bonus for all combat units), and the Xenoempathy Dome (+1 morale for mindworms, fungus are roads). Later in the game, fungus will be the optimal choice for farming (3/3/3) so have many formers ready.

Choose a terrain which has abundant native life; the capture of mindworms will be your only military edge. Large worlds are preferred so as to minimise enemy contact.

+2 Efficiency
+1 Planet
+1 Fungus
Spartan: Santiago

The spartans are perfect for an early conquest victory. As soon as skunkworks can be built, their "no prototype cost" advantage vanishes; until then, set research to "Conquer" and do exactly that.

Preferred terrain is a small world with little water, so that the majority of enemy bases can be reached without a ferry. Low humidity is also good because the enemy cannot outgrow you fast and then use their superiour production capability.

When playing a game, set game option "steal tech when conquer base" to have more fun. Also, use a high difficulty grade so superiour military really pays off. And get the university faction under control, at any cost.

+2 Morale
+1 Police
Morgan: Morgan
CEO Morgan

Not played yet. The morgans are probably the best faction if you want an economic victory. You would need to make treaties and pacts with as many factions as possible, because you get more energy income from it than they.

No idea which specific techs are useful.

A land based terrain with good contact to other factions, as well as dry climate so that the others cannot outgrow you very fast, and rare natural life are probably beneficial.

+1 Economy
100 Energy
Trade Bonus
Hive: Yang

Not played yet. The hive can produce better than any other factions, and they are natural defenders, so "expand and hold" seems to be a good directive. Victory probably by conquest later in the game.

Specific techs: No idea.

Sea based terrain is probably good for someone who can defend well and build colony pods and ferries faster than others. Also, small worlds might be better for inefficency reasons.

+1 Growth
+1 Industry
Perimeter Defense
Believers: Miriam

Not played yet. The believers will probably always be technologically inferior, so unless probes are discovered and the university is a neighbour, there is little chance. Maybe an ultra-quick conquest victory when the spartans are distracted by other engagements.

Any specific techs are probably illusory, since they must be all stolen. On the plus side, probe ability is superiour.

Believers probably thrive in a low natural life (less opponents) and humid (quick base and thus unit growth) environment.

+2 Support
+1 Probe
+25% Attack

Advice for the factions I have played is probably more accurate than for the other ones. In my opinion, the university is the strongest of the faction, and I would always recommend playing them if you not decided yet.

2 Base Location

The question of where to place your bases is one of the most difficult, especially considering the "farming" radius around them. In my experience, the following points should be taken into account when pondering base location:

The second question is how far to expand at first. This depends on your effiency rating. After a certain threshold (the in game help even tells you the formula) you get a energy penalty. In short, as long as you have a healthy energy income, you can expand. Normally, the first 10 bases or so should be possible without penalty.

When expanding, I recommend to build a former, then a soldier, then the colony pod. The former can start building roads toward the new base location, the soldier can protect the former on its way out of the radius of the producing base, and finally the colony pod follows. Building the colony pod first would be more efficient but I deem it too dangerous.

3 Landmarks

Landmarks are valuable to inhabit, especially the ones with minerals or nutritient bonuses.

Landmark: Garland Crater

Garland Crater

The garland crater with +1 minerals in inner squares is the most valuable landmark. A base build in its center can become a prime secret project builder, as well as an excellent prototype builder.

1 mineral
Landmark: Monsoon Jungle

Monsoon Jungle

With +1 nutritient, this is the most important landmark at the start. Monsoon jungle never has mineral bonus fields, but you can start a special tactic: Build forest. Each has 2 minerals and 2 nutritient, so you can grow fast and still have good mineral supply.

1 nutritient
Landmark: Mount Planet

Mount Planet

Only the 9 fields surrounding the top are interesting. While they do wonders for mineral and energy, you cannot plant farms or forest on them, which restricts their usefulness. In rocky terrain, mines can be good. Later, any thermal borehole is better than this.

1 mineral1 energy
Landmark: Ruins

The Ruins

Each of the monoliths is a 2/2/2 provider, but it can get hard to get to the center at first, where you should plant a base. Good until late into the game, when extended wood farming or fungus farming is possible.

Landmark: Freshwater Sea

Freshwater Sea

Conferring +1 nutritient in each square, this advantage vanishes when the sea is opened to the ocean through terraforming. The spot is only interesting for bases that happen to be at the coast, as the sea is no good for any military purposes.

1 nutritient
Landmark: Pholus Ridge

Pholus Ridge

The +1 energy on the ridge is only a minor advantage, but the west side has good humidity and usually access to a coast. You can build your primary marine coastline here.

1 energy
Landmark: Uranium Flats

Uranium Flats

Again a +1 energy bonus, and flat land. Share among several cities; one can never have enough energy.

1 energy
Landmark: Geothermal Shallows

Geothermal Shallows

Even less interesting than the uranium flats, since you need a sea base, which costs more to produce a colony pod for. Plant a base into the middle if that makes military sense.

1 energy
Landmark: Sunny Mesa

Sunny Mesa

The sunny mesa is just very high. If you do extended condensing with farm/solar combinations, this can be a good spot to get energy. Share among several bases.

Landmarks are good reason for war. You should really have them, and the others should not. If you make an invasion and must later negotiate, try to keep bases in and around the landmarks (at least 3) in case of a blitz invasion from there later on.

4 Terraforming

Depending on your faction, your research progress and your base facilities, the way you terraform could have several goals: Technological forming, forest forming (later) and fungus forming (much later).

In general, I let the base manager decide on how to use the workers, so I can see quickly which fields surrounding the base are most worthy of farming. I deactivate all unit and facility options in the manager, as they tend to be misguided.

Be aware that on some fields or facilities that seem just too good, they are - at the beginning. You are restricted to 2/2/2 maximum until you discover the following:

Particularly, thermal boreholes (0/6/6 at most) make no sense at all before you have discovered the necessary techniques.

4.1 Technological Forming

The first kind of forming, which I refer to as "technological", is effective in the beginning, but causes more and more environmental damage later on. Based on farms, solar collectors, and mines, and augmented by condensers and echelon mirrors, this is the method to go at the start.

The general strategy I recommend is building farms and solar collectors on all fields that are "rolling & moist" or "rolling & rainy". If something is arid (no nutritients) or flat (not minerals), plant forest. Use condensers to make a patch of moist patches rainy (it is usually not worth doing that for arid fields). In rocky fields, build mines and roads. You will see with the help of the base manager whether you actually want to use the mines.

The following base farming values and improvements are possible:

Field: Arid
Arid field, no nutritient. Build forest.
Field: Farm A farm increases nutritient by +1 1 nutritient. Suitable for "rolling & moist" or "rainy" fields. Can be combined with solar or mine.
Field: Moist Moist field, 1 nutritient nutritient. Consider a farm when field is also rolling. Also consider using condenser to make field rainy.
Field: Condenser A condenser increases the humidity (and hence, the nutritient yield) of its own and all surrounding fields by +1 1 nutritient. Use on or at moist squares.
Field: Rainy Rainy field, 2 nutritient nutritient. Prime candidate for a farm.
Field: Mine A mine increases minerals +3 3 mineral in rocky squares when combined with a road, but it reduces nutritients to zero. Bad for farming, but very good for supply crawlers.
Field: Rolling Rolling field, 1 mineral mineral. Build forest when arid, otherwise consider farm and solar collector.
Field: Solar A solar collector increases energy by +1 1 energy, and additional +1 1 energy per full thousand meters. Can be enhanced by an echelon mirror.
Field: Rocky Rocky field, 2 mineral mineral, +3 with mine and road, but those will reduce nutritient to zero. Cannot build farm here. When rainy, consider flattening to reduce to rolling.
Field: Echelon Mirror An echelon mirror increases the energy of all surrounding squares (not its own, unlike the condenser) by +1 1 energy.
Field: River River, 1 energy energy. Good bonus if you happen to nearby; faster military movement on rivers is another bonus.
Field: Borehole Thermal boreholes, with 6 mineral6 energy yield, are the best friend of any builder but cause massive environmental damage.
Field: Monolith Monolith, 2 nutritient2 mineral2 energy field, cannot be enhanced by formers. Good to have nearby, especially in the beginning.

In the beginning, you need to build as many farms as possible on all moist and rainy squares: Growth really is key here, as two workers just farm twice as much as one does.

In the question of where to place condensers, I would recommend planting them anywhere where possible, as the condenser field itself becomes also more humid. Regarding echelon mirrors, the situation is different; they do not generate more energy on their spot. I tend to put them between two bases, so they can provide energy bonuses to solars of both.

Mines on rocky squares appear very attractive at first but are only useful for farming if the nutritient supply is stable and the base already has at least 3 workers; otherwise I would always put priority on growth. If you have supply crawlers, the situation changes completely: Crawl the minerals off the mines and farm nutritient squares from the base.

Thermal boreholes should be used sparingly, as they raise the risk of global warming considerably. I recommend building only one per major base. If you must build many of them, consider the U.N. initiative for global shade to counteract them. However this is very unprecise and many new land bridges may appear and humidity could change rapidly. Only do this if you have changed to a forest or fungus based farming style (having Tree Farm and Hybrid Forest in most or all bases).

I do not cover sea farming here since I consider sea vastly inferiour to land. While it can produce more nutritients, minerals is a major flaw. Always build with some coastline in farming range, where you can build a thermal borehole to get your basic mineral needs.

4.2 Forest Forming

Consider building forest on all bonus squares (nutritient, mineral, energy). You get (1/2/1 +2), a total of 6, which you can only be bested by a "rolling & rainy" square with farm and solar (3/1/1 +2) and a total of 7 points. Usually I prefer having a high mineral yield wherever possible, so I always go with forest.

At the start, the 1 nutrient is pretty bad, so forest is only a good idea in arid fields (where you really do not have much of a choice) or in the monsoon jungle. Forest becomes better later on:

Field: Forest 1 nutritient2 mineral1 energy Natural production. Use only on arid or flat fields or when you need minerals.
Available at start.
Field: Forest 2 nutritient2 mineral1 energy With Tree Farm base facility. Better than farm/solar or farm/mine combinations at this point of time.
Environmental Economics (B5)
Field: Forest 3 nutritient2 mineral2 energy With Hybrid Forest base facility (which is kind of expensive). Even better than monoliths at this point of time.
Planetary Economics (B6)

The Tree Farm facility really is the tipping point. Once you have it, you can stop building farms (except when you want to grow really fast on rainy squares) and build exclusively forest, combining them with drilling for rivers to raise energy yield (remember that you cannot drill adjacent to a river, though).

4.3 Fungus Forming

The number one thing to remember for fungus farming is that fungus cannot have bonuses. This applies to both nutrient/minerals/energy bonuses and to landmark bonuses. The second thing is that fungus becomes useful only pretty late in the game:

Field: Fungus No yield Normally, fungus is useless, except when you are Gaian, then it has always +1 nutrient 1 nutritient. Available at start.
Field: Fungus 1 nutritient Still useless at this point of time, except when you are Gaian: Then this is better than arid fields.
Centauri Ecology (E1)
Field: Fungus 1 nutritient1 energy Still useless.
Centauri Meditation (E5)
Field: Fungus 1 nutritient1 mineral1 energy Still useless, except when you are Gaian: Better than "arid & rolling" fields.
Centauri Genetics (E7)
Field: Fungus 2 nutritient1 mineral1 energy Now we are talking. If you do not have Tree Farm yet, this is a real alternative to forest.
Centauri Psi (E8)
Field: Fungus 2 nutritient1 mineral2 energy Not making it much better; also appears much later in the game.
Secrets of Alpha Centauri (D12)
Field: Fungus 2 nutritient2 mineral2 energy Serious forest replacement at this point of time, unless you have Hybrid Forest.
Matter Transmission (B13)
Field: Fungus 2 nutritient2 mineral3 energy Unchanged situation.
Temporal Mechanics (B14)
Field: Fungus 2 nutritient3 mineral3 energy Finally worth more than forest even with Tree Farm and Hybrid forest, if you value minerals more than nutrients.
Threshold of Transcendence (E15)

In summary, unless you are Gaian, you will probably not use fungus as a farming method on your own squares. What you can do, though, is use fungus for some interesting military options:

All in all, fungus appears not as useful to me as it could be, especially when compared to forest.

4.4 Additional Terraforming Advice

You can do some pretty mean things with formers, especially on enemy territory. Raise land to bring your base to the west side of a mountain (more humidity). Build an armored sea former and lower sea level before your enemies base (this is considered hostile, and you should do it if you are unable to conquer an enemy base). If you do not know what to do with a former, drill for rivers.

In general, armored formers are very expensive. Do it only if you expect mindworm trouble or if they are part of an attack army. Always build formers with either fungicidal tanks or better, super former ability. Later on, make them clean units. When building new bases, consider sending a former ahead to build a road and some terrain facilities.

5 Base Enhancements

When tending to the enhancement of your bases, I recommend considering the following factors:

In general, you should determine for each base what its purpose is (e.g. military producer; secret project producer; general purpose base), and then customise it towards this purpose.

5.1 Citizen Growth

On "transcend" difficulty level, citizen growth must be taken into account very early on:

In particular, this means you should find the Believers as early as possible and trade their research on Recreation Commons.

5.2 Facilities

The question of how you would want to enhance your base is really taste dependent, and I cannot really say that my method is particulary good. However, this is my standard procedure:

When thinking about how I do it, I am still not sure about the order, as I can find arguments for one way or the other. You need to experiment.

When I enhance a base towards a special purpose (e.g. military unit builder), I usually inject a Command Center (C2) directly after Recreation Commons; same for Naval Yard (E4).

On a final note, as soon as you can build satellites, build mineral satellites (Nessus Mining Station) en masse. This will help your newer bases to get on par, so that they can start building military units efficiently too.

5.3 Secret Projects

Whenever possible, you should build the secret projects that give all your bases some facilities, as this is exceptionally valuable in saving build time. The following base facilities can be gained by secret project:

It may be worth changing to Planned Economics while you build secret projects; every mineral bonus counts in the race with other factions. Also be sure that Recreation Commons (and later Hologram Theaters) are in place before starting, so that no drone riots occur.

6 Unit Design

Military (and civil) units are freely configurable and one of the most fun parts of the game. Designing units who have it all is prohibitively expensive, so one should specialise. In the following, I present my favourite units.

Keep in mind that bases can generally only support 2 units (unless you have specific advantages) for free, more will deduct 1 mineral production capability. The clean reactor (B5) ability remedies this situation partially, but especially at the beginning mineral availability may be critical.

6.1 Fast Base Defenders

Base defenders have little weapons, but the best armor possible. With only a little more cost, you can given them rover (E1) or better, tank chassis (B8). All bases should have at least one of them for basic police, the outermost ring of your empire two or more. The extended mobility allows the units to drive to the next base within one turn.

Now somebody, at some point of the outer ring, attacks. Considering your defense cars or tanks as a network, you can shift the whole tapestry in one turn towards the enbattled base - while drawing def cars from the next base, get reinforcement from the bases behind that, and so on. This is true rapid deployment of defense forces.

One could think that fast base defenders become useless as soon as magnetic tubes connect your cities. However in this later stages, you will be able to build clean def tanks with ease, and can now also defend non-base squares by moving your tapestry.

Later in the game, when your empire is more stable, upgrade one unit per base to having the police (E3) ability, especially in the inner bases, where the threat level is relatively low.

6.2 Super Former Car or Tank

Formers should have either fungicidal tanks (E4) or better, super former (B7) ability. Clean formers cost a lot so I prefer making my military units clean instead. As long as you have fast base defenders, armor is not necessary: Be sure to send a def car with every former that works adjacent to fungus. Always use the fastest chassis (car/tank) available, simply because a turn spent moving could be a turn spent forming instead.

On oceans, I recommend to give sea formers armor. This way, when somebody attacks your coast base, you can use them as def ships. Armor is cheaper on ships as it is on land units, so it is pretty affordable.

Never disband formers, instead upgrade them to clean (B5) units (later on, this is comparatively cheap). Sometimes I consider giving these formers the air drop (C6) ability, this is useful if you have a lot of small islands when playing in a ocean terrain.

6.3 Supply Sentry

Supply (B3) crawlers (and cars or tanks) are a valuable addition to the welfare of a base. They become even more valuable when outfitted with deep radar (C4); this way, they serve as a mobile sentry in the outskirts of a base. If you can afford it, provide them with armor: A first line of defense to block the roads for incoming opponent forces.

Do not be afraid to build supply crawlers due to the increased cost for the base: Each crawler planted on a forest square brings home two minerals per turn, while costing one; with mines, the ratio is even better.

6.4 Fast Probe Cars and Ships

Probes (D2) should always get the fastest chassis available. One turn really decides your fate. I also recommend building probe ships when going to explore, because you can do spionage on any opponent base, however far away, and return immediately home afterwards. This is one powerful way of one-way teleportation if you happen to need your probe ships at home (e.g. for defense purposes).

6.5 Fast Attackers, Fast Defenders

You can do large-scale attacks two ways. The first one is classic: Build slow, heavily armed, and heavily armored troops. This works well if you have time, and when you want to swarm the landscape, because they can defend themselves. If you manage to get them elite, they will also double their movement, equalling them to cars.

The other one is to build fast attackers, fast defenders. A fast attacker is a car or tank with optional artillery (D2) and little to no armor. The fast defender is one of the def cars/tanks described above. Additionally, you should always have a def car with AAA (C4) ability as soon as the enemy has aircraft. The disadvantage of this approach is that you need to have them always on the same square, allowing collateral damage if the enemy attacks successfully. The advantage is that now, you really can do blitzkrieg.

6.6 Attack Copter

Copters (C6) are the backbone of any strong attack in medium stages of a game because they can attack multiple times, making them ideal for taking out probes and formers before attacking the original target. I recommend to land them at the end of each turn, and therefore design them with maximum weapons and no armor.

In sea based terrain, fill a carrier (E8) ship with one marine (E4) infantry (for taking an enemy base directly from the ship), two air superiority (E5) copters (more if the opponent has strong air forces), and the rest with attack copters. Flank the carrier ship with at least one attack ship.

In the middle term, this strategy will force the opponent to build many AAA (C4) units. If this has sufficiently progressed, change back to a land based attack strategy and deploy the copters to destroy enhancements and civilian units.

6.7 Air Attack, AAA Defense

Personally have not tried it yet, but found it intriguing when reading on (german). You need two aircraft and one AAA defense unit to pull that trick:

Should be nice.

7 Military Campaigns

Planning and conducting a military campaign depends on the enemy, but there are common elements to each large-scale attack:

To begin with, a decent infantry (or the "fast attackers, fast defenders" approach described above) are the backbone of any attack. Keep in mind infantry can move two steps when in elite rank. As a side curiosity, do not change the support base of an elite infantry: This will subtly decrease their rank from (+) to (-)(+), reducing their movement to one step. You need to have one full step in reserve when attacking: Otherwise this will count as hasty attack (at least -33%).

Artillery is a must before attacking enemy bases, and to destroy any sensor arrays (+25%) if the enemy has some. When building artillery, only attack value is necessary, and no armor. Car based artillery is worth its (high) price if you build them in your home bases; if you start to build in conquered bases, I recommend taking infantry artillery instead, as they will be ready much faster.

Only land-based artillery can fight to the death; sea based will stop after a few shots. If the enemy has an artillery in the base, do not stand within its reach when attacking; even if you attack e.g. a land field around the base, they can shoot back. The same principle applies when attacking land enhancements from the sea.

Use agents to destroy base facilities of your opponent. Especially recreation commons and hologram theaters are good targets, because the resulting drone riots will hinder the base from producing military units effectively. Also have sea probes for ocean bases and for subverting enemy naval units when in danger.

Speaking of which: Achieve naval superiority by having enough sea tanks (weapons and armor). Your whole attack is probably doomed if the enemy can destroy your ferries. Destroying enemy ferries is also the cheapest way to decimate his military. If there is a situation where you lose a section of the sea, rather use sea probes to buy the enemy ships than losing control over the sea.

Aircrafts make everything harder, because they are so very flexible. If you can foresee aircrafts will be researched soon, build at least half of your military units with AAA tracking. In case you are the lucky guy with aircrafts first, you will have a fun 20 years of total air superiority. This is the best time for a large-scale attack.


With some luck, you might have been able to get a few good ideas while reading this article. If you happen to discover a neat trick or two, I would like to invite you to contact me using smac at the above domain as email. In any case, thanks for leaving a part of your attention span here, and have an alpha day!

EOF (Sep:2007)