There are many ways to exploit the power of Neutrality Learning Centers, the one I'm setting down here might not be the best but I have used it to win up to maschostic with no problems at all.
Basic ideas Edit
Neutrality Learning Centers (NLCs) are very powerful because each building generates an amazing 22 research points. Start with a Class 21 planet with inherent research bonuses due to ethnic choices, build a Technological Capital and Omega Research Center on the planet and fill the rest with Neutrality Learning Centers. Construct two Economic starbases to pump up production and research, and you will be practically a precursor race!
That said, a typical mistake is to decide that you want to play a research race, customize your race with huge research bonuses and then go straight for Xeno Ethics and up the research path until Neutrality Learning Centers is ready while ignoring other techs.
The reason why this won't work is that NLCs are expensive. Without a strong economy backing you up, as well as high production rates, it will take almost forever for a new colony to build a NLC from scratch. And none of them will start producing any research until it is fully complete, while a lower tech opponent would pull ahead since his cheaper improvements come online earlier.
Also, for the most part, while NLCs are unbeatable given a fixed amount of tiles, in the short run, they are inefficient. You can build 2 research Academies for the same cost as 1 NLC, and come up 2 research points ahead! In the long run however, NLCs are superior because you have a limited number of tiles of course.
These two factors together combine to ensure that it is wise to develop slowly, and space out your tech improvement upgrades. It is in fact usually wise to let at least some of your colonies complete a substantial amount of research Academies before researching NLCs.You don't want to be caught in a situation where your Basic Lab spends 30 turns upgrading to NLC while producing nothing but the basic production of 6 research points.
A large part of NLC strategies involves deliberately ignoring military techs and military defense, while focusing on building a technological and infrastructure lead, so you have to be familiar with the ways and means of deflecting AI attacks. This will be covered later.
Basic settings Edit
If you are a new player, I recommend you choose medium map, 3 or 4 opponents, abundant planets, stars and habitable planets. Leave the rest at default.
Almost any race should do, but I prefer to use the following with Dominion of Korx as a base
- Economics Bonus: 15 - Fixed
- Trade Bonus: 2 - Fixed
- Courage : 10 - Fixed
- Logistics Bonus : 6 - Fixed
- Social Production Bonus : 30 - You need it for fast building of expensive NLC
- Research Bonus: 10 - Not strictly necessary but shouldn't hurt.
- Population Growth Bonus: 30 - combos well with high PQ planets.
- Military Production Bonus: 10 - A little extra to help in the beginning
- Morale Bonus : 10 - You will have a fast growing population so morale bonus is necessary.
Choose The Federalists to get another 20% to Economics Bonus. This build is fairly well balanced. Getting Xeno Ethics early will instantly upgrade the Planet class of all your colonies which will lead to a quick population boom and this combined with your other population growth and economic bonuses means a strong economy.
The inherent Trade bonus, comes in handy when you start using trade to deter aggressors.
The first few turns should involve a normal colony rush strategy. You don't need to control the largest portion of the galaxy, but a reasonable amount say 6-8 star systems at least is preferred.
Don't forget you start with Ion Drive and should design accordingly. One reasonable start is to buy colony ships and factories for the first few turns, and continue building factories normally. Depending on the existence of morale/economy resources and the luck of finding cash from anomalies you can be more or less aggressive. You should also build an Entertainment Center early on on your homeworld for 100% approval.
As per normal, try not to overheat your economy, specialize, build Trade Centers on high PQ planets, ear mark quality planets for research worlds etc. Spread out your research of planetary improvements among factories, labs so you don't research say 2 lab improvements in quick succession etc.
If your economy is overheating, it is time to research Xeno Economics, Interstellar Republic, Xeno Entertainment etc., build a few Trade Centers on colonies with high tax incomes or mine a few economy, morale resources.
A bad sign is when your reserves are in the red, and you can't create a positive cash flow without using a tax rate that causes approval to drop below 50%. You should try to avoid this.
End of colony rush phase Edit
At around the time your homeworld runs out of tiles for building, you should start considering getting Xeno Ethics. You should have chosen the evil choices earlier on in response to ethical dilemmas, and then pay the 2,500 fine to choose neutral. Don't worry if you don't have enough reserves, you get to pay a fine of 10 credits a week for 250 turns which is a small price to pay. That's is at zero percent interest by the way!
Typically this also marks the phase where the colonising stage is running down, so this works out nicely anyway.
Colonies that were producing colony ships should switch to producing constructors to grab economy/morale/research and military mines in roughly order of importance.
Shift your sliders, so there is less focus on military production and more on social and research.
Don't forget to check the colony management screen every few turns for colonies that have stopped growing because of insufficient food production.
As mentioned before typically you don't want to research 2 of the same type improvements in rapid succession, although this is less important if you can focus say >50% to social production.
Once you achieve neutral learning centers, you should start looking for prime spots to build crazy research worlds. These worlds, will generally be large, have bonus tiles and/or inherent bonuses as a result of ethical choices.
By now you should be making fairly respectable cash inflows, so you shouldn't be afraid of giving these worlds a head start by buying straight off NLCS, in particular those on bonus tiles. Once they have 2 or 3 NLCs, they can produce other NLCs using focus on social production in reasonable time.
Holding off the AI Edit
Depending on the difficulty level and/or the skill in which you played, eventually the AI will start making threatening noises given that you have no military. If you played well, this should be after the point in which your NLCs are coming online and your research production is starting to skyrocket.
At this point, start researching the whole branch of diplomacy tech, ending with Total Majesty. You should be able to do it fairly quickly. Pick your largest industry world and get it to build Spin Control Center. While it is being built, start researching or trading for Miniaturization techs and/or Medium Scale Building. You should also leapfrog to a good weapon by trading for a top of the line, or nearly top of the line weapon with a minor race or if none exists the weakest AI opponent. You can trade anything really, but choice techs to trade would be Sensors (AI doesn't use them well), Life Support (worthless most of the time), Trade (you want to encourage trading). You can also trade planetary improvements of course. But do not trade diplomacy related techs!
You can trade Xeno Ethics to empires that are netural leaning like the Terran Alliance it's fairly easy to acquire them as an ally if you add trading. If you do, you will find them less reluctant to trade weapon techs.
Once the Spin Control Center is built, you can start building and designing ships and station them in orbit around the colony. Note, they have to be 'inside' the colony (the shield icon) to count. Each ship stationed this way projects 5 times its usual power, so it is a greater deterrence to the AI.
You should design these ships to project maximum power, so just fill them with weapons, no engines. Typically you can use the industry world that produced the spin control center to build these ships so no movement is required. If you own any military resources, this is also the time to max them out.
My first such small ships typically have around 10 attack points (prior to bonuses), and 10 of them around a colony with spincontrol center is typically sufficient to take me off the endangered species list.
At tough and lower levels this basically all you need to do to keep the AI off your back, while you research your way to victory. Periodically you might want to acquire new miniaturization or weapons, and upgrade the fleets to keep up.
At the highest levels, this might not be sufficient.
I recommend that you also establish trade links as soon as possible with the AI empires that are particularly hostile. You might even want to grab a few trade techs so you can get more routes.
You might also want to grab other techs like Good and Evil or Balanced Vision which are typically useless when you play neutral just to get the diplomacy bonuses. Building galactic achievements and trade goods like Galactic Showcase and Diplomatic Translators will help too.
If you are playing against an evil militaristic empires like Dregin that managed to gain a dominant position on very high levels, you might even consider not going for xeno ethics before you get your spin control center in gear, because you go from evil leaning to neutral, which gives the Drengin an excuse to hate you.
Going for technological victoryEdit
Once you have achieved the breathing space necessary to focus on development, you can pretty much easily win in any way you like once the NLC effect kick in. You can race ahead and surpass the AI on weapons and defense, influence the heck out of the enemy etc.
Going for technological victory seems a natural goal though. Typically this means ignoring any galactic achievements except for Omega Research Center obtainable from researching Discovery Sphere. This achievement only gives the bonus to the colony it is built on though and is not an empire-wide bonus.
Once you decided to research techs from Deeper knowledge onwards, you can start giving those techs away to pacify aggressive AIs, the AI will be really impressed by the high Research cost but it doesn't do them any good at all!
At the highest difficulty levels, you probably will need to do this quite a bit.