How To Play Stellaris

Stellaris is a space based grand strategy game. It is a real time game that can be paused while you issue orders to your far-flung space empire. Getting through the game set up is the first step. This game is really not very hard to learn but it has a lot of different systems that interact with each other, which makes each game a unique experience. Paradox specializes in grand strategy games, and while most of those have a steep learning curve, this game eases you into the action and is much easier to learn than the others. It’s much easier to learn than the other grand strategy games from Paradox.

The best way to play Stellaris, at least in the beginning, is to treat it like a race against the other empires in the game. Work toward building up your mineral and energy reserves while exploring space with at least two science ships. Expand rapidly so you don’t get hemmed in, work on boxing other empires out of your potential territory.

Stellaris Game Start Up

The first steps are to either create or choose a pre-made empire and decide what type of galaxy you want to play the game in. You can also decide how many AI opponents you want to play the game against. The easiest empire to learn the game with is one of the human empires and typically four AI opponents is a good number to start with. For a detailed look at how to set up the game as a beginner read my Best Starting Settings For Stellaris page.

Like most other games of this type you need to take a look at your starting surroundings, which in this case is a sector of space. In Stellaris you know what’s in your home system when it comes to resources, but when it comes to the rest of the galaxy all you see is some stars with no other information. It’s not until you send out science ships will you know how resource rich a surrounding system is and how many planets it has, and if any of them are habitable.

Best Stellaris Resource Management During The Early Game

The first real decision of any significance is when it comes to resource management versus exploration. The early part of the game is best described as a race against other empires so you need to expand quickly before one of your neighbors cuts you off and hems you into a small sector of space. For that reason it makes sense to build a second science ship as soon as you can, even at the expense of building a mining station that can give a boost to some badly needed resources. Having another science ship will double the systems you can explore at one time, enabling you to discover resource rich areas and choke points.

There are a multitude of resources in the game but at the start the ones to be the most concerned about are energy, minerals, and food. In the long run energy is typically the resource in shortest supply. Unless one of the other resources is in very short supply I like to focus on building up my energy reserve first. Having a lot of energy resources available will mean you can buy whatever else you need on the open market, for a modest fee of course.

If you have the Ancient Relics DLC then having a third science ship makes sense. This is because the benefits of completing the excavation of a dig site can get you a significant game perk but doing that takes a lot of time, so tying up one of your two science ships you’re using for exploration is not a good idea, it’s better to have a third science ship dedicated to excavating the archaeological sites you run in to.

As a beginner it pays to “lie low” for a while and not stir up any trouble. Keep a small fleet handy with a lot of reserves built up in alloys. Build the fleet up slowly, just be sure not to incur economic penalties for having too large of a fleet. Keep good relations with your neighbors, even if you have to pay tribute every now and then. Doing so will prevent you from becoming a target by one of your neighbors due to your relatively low military strength.

Having a large stockpile of alloys on hand will enable you to build up a fleet quickly should the need arise. Placing starbases at potential flashpoints close to your borders will reduce the time it takes to get a fleet to the scene of a conflict.

Expand into areas rich in resources and habitable planets, don’t waste valuable resources and influence claiming mostly empty areas of space that are resource poor. The exception to this is to gain control of a chokepoint, which makes defense (and offense) a lot easier should a conflict erupt.

Early Planetary Management In Stellaris

For planetary management don’t clear tile blockers until you need to, the resources you use up can be invested in other things that are needed more. The only reason to clear a tile is when you need the space. Use the same line of reasoning for buildings and districts, don’t build them until you have the pops available to work them. It’s even a good idea to forgo building mineral and energy buildings and districts when you have the option to get those resources through mining stations instead since mining stations don’t need any pops to work them.

Aim for a modest surplus in energy, food and minerals during the early game. This will enable you to build up adequate stockpiles in case something unexpected happens and you need to tap in on your reserves to get through the spike.

Once the basic necessities are in good supply focus on consumer goods, then alloys. Consumer goods will keep your subjects happy and alloys will allow you to build those big fleets you need to “enlighten” your neighbors to a better way of life.

Planetary Management Screen

The screen you will need to be familiar with when it comes to planetary management at the start of the game is the Planet Summary screen. The Planet Summary screen is where you build districts and buildings. This is also the screen you use to clear tile blockers, examine the planet’s features, and find out how much trade value the planet has. You can also terraform at this screen and check out your planet’s stability. This screen is also used to resettle pops to new locations and to make decisions that affect that world only.

Read More: Need to get Stellaris up and running again?

Exploring and Expanding Your Empire In Stellaris

As mentioned earlier the early game is essentially a race against other empires for control of territory. One great option for expanding while preventing your opponent from grabbing all those resource rich systems is to expand along chokepoints, even if those systems themselves are of little value to you in resources. If you’re fast enough (your speed will depend entirely on your influence and how fast you can accumulate it) you will be able to block off large chunks of space for later exploitation. Even if your opponent manages to leapfrog over one of your chokepoints it will cost him extra influence points, thereby slowing down his overall expansion. The drawback to this is that it may cut off segments of your empire which results in increased penalties for empire sprawl.

One drawback to “playing nice” with other empires is that if you’re everyone’s friend you can’t declare a rivalry, which gives a big gain in influence. With a low supply of influence your early expansion will be slowed up. How much depends on other factors, like how much influence you use for migration treaties, belonging to a Federation, etc.

You expand your empire’s borders through the use of construction ships. Once a system has been explored by a science ship a construction ship can be sent to the system to build an outpost, provided you have enough influence on hand to build it. The farther away from your borders you construct an outpost the more it costs you in influence, so generally speaking “leapfrogging” sectors is not usually a very good idea. The two most obvious exceptions to this are systems that can be used as chokepoints and resource rich sectors. Once you ‘ve built an outpost that system is yours and can essentially only be taken from you by force.

Stellaris Colonization Strategy

Once you have control of a system you can colonize it if it has at least one habitable planet. When you first colonize a planet you’ll get 2 pops at the most as colonists. Although it’s good to build districts they shouldn’t be built until you have enough pops on hand to work them. If you don’t have enough pops at the colony the districts simply sit around and are idle, it would be a better to invest resources into something else, of course unless you have a strategy in mind.

If you have the resources you can “seed” a colony by first building a few districts even though you don’t have the pops available at the colony to work them. If the colony has an abundance in one raw resource, like minerals, concentrate the districts on that so you can get the Mining World designation, giving miners a 20% output bonus and a 25% gain in Mining District build speed. Other designations have similar bonuses. Once built you can resettle pops from another planet to your new colony to work those newly built districts, giving your colonization efforts a great kickstart. If you can’t resettle pops you’ll need to go to the Polices screen, choose Resettlement and switch it over to “Allowed.”

Also, almost all experienced players recommend getting the Expansion Tradition tree started first. By adopting this tradition tree you can reduce the cost of influence for a starbase by 10% allowing you to stake your claims in space a little more rapidly. Another big bonus this tradition tree provides is one additional colonist for your newly founded colonies. There are other benefits to this tradition tree but these are the two most immediate ones available.

Another method to achieving rapid colony growth is to build Robot Assembly plants if you have the required technology available. These can double your colony’s population growth since robot workers are added to your organic population growth, the biggest drawback is the increased energy costs to maintain them.

The other critical building to construct on new colonies is the Civilian Industries building so your pops will be happier. By getting their PS 5s or Xboxes they will be entertained and not want to resort to crime or even revolt. Don’t take any other shortage too seriously since upgrading your Reassembled Ship Shelter will take care of most, if not all of them. Upgrading it to a Planetary Administration building provides an increase of 5 in amenities and housing which should be enough to wipe out those initial deficits.

Always colonize worlds with the highest habitability rating first. The higher the percentage the closer they are to your home world conditions, which means less penalties for things like population upkeep. Planets with 50% or less are not good candidates at first. Unless you have a good reason to colonize them don’t until you can terraform them or establish a migration treaty with another empire whose race will be better suited for the planet.

What Are Stellaris Outposts And Starbases?

As mentioned before an outpost is how you stake your claim on new territory and these are actually just low level starbases. They cost influence to establish so some long-term strategy is advised. Try to colonize along chokepoints so other empires don’t beat you to the colony rich systems you’ll eventually want to claim. Also don’t go more than one sector away from the nearest outpost (leapfrogging) because the influence costs skyrocket the further away you go from the nearest outpost. Outposts have a few meager defenses but aside from claiming territory they don’t really do much else, like give you the ability to repair or build fleets in that system.

Outposts can be upgraded all the way up to Citadel status providing you have the right technologies and structures in place. For example, even if you have all the necessary technologies in place you can’t upgrade an outpost directly to a Citadel, you first need to build all the preceding structures before it first, like upgrading a Starhold to a Star Fortress and then a Citadel.

Starbases give you the ability to repair and build fleets, and the more advanced your starbase is the more modules you can add, like shipyards, so you can build fleets faster. You can also mount a lot more defensive platforms on a starbase than on an outpost.

Does Controlling Empire Sprawl Really Matter?

As you play the game you’ll notice that your empire sprawl number usually gets worse the more your civilization expands. But is it something to worry about? Definitely not in the early game since the penalties you incur can more than be offset by the systems you gain.

Empire Sprawl should not be your main concern, especially in the early game, and it can be safely ignored unless it gets totally out of control. In the screenshot below my total empire sprawl is 275 and my administrative capacity is 157 for a difference of 118, which is then multiplied by the game penalties, like a .4% increase in tech costs per point, which results in a 46.8% increase it tech costs (research). To make a long story short, these penalties can be more than offset for a net gain by building certain planetary buildings (as one example) like research labs, plus the basic planetary production itself often outweighs the penalty for the additional sprawl.

Don’t let yourself be hemmed in by worrying about empire sprawl, it’s better to expand and live with the penalties, which are often offset by the expansion anyway. Once you get to the point to where you have the resources to work on bringing it down, you can build Administrative offices that create Bureaucratic jobs, which assigns pops to work on the administrative tasks needed to reduce empire sprawl. Visit my Stellaris Administrative Capacity Guide page to find out more about empire sprawl and how to control it.

Stellaris Outliner and Navigation Bar

One last technical thing to touch on when learning to play Stellaris is the User Interface. I’ve read a lot of pros and cons about it but as far as I’m concerned it’s a very good interface for such a complex game. Through the use of menus and submenus almost all major information and decisions are just two or three clicks away. It has five basic components, map views, a top menu bar, side menu bar, bottom bar, and an outliner, all of which can be minimized so you can have an uncluttered map view.. Paradox does a good job of both keeping the menus out of your way while allowing a lot of menu customization.

Rich Gallien

I've always liked board games like chess and PC games, especially space based strategy games, which lead to the creation of this site. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it and updating it with new games!

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