I won on Orthin Hard, then Orthin Brutal. Then I read the Humanity thread on Steam, tried Humanity Brutal Huge (88), and won on my 5th attempt. So I tried to duplicate that method, and started a Humanity Brutal 99. On turn 1311, it's an utter crushing win; I have 42 votes and the #2 AI has 16. Basically, as soon as I deign to force alliance with either the Phidi/Phidi coalition or the Imperial/Yoral coalition, I win on votes. Or I might just go conquer #1-miltary Orthin, and win on votes by myself.
Yes, Humans start out wimpy, and cannot fight an early war. Yes, you get outraced to every nearby system, Tyr/Gaia, and Ephelos. Yes, you're way behind in population and productivity. Play the long game, and win anyways.
My general approach is:
1. Appease your 2 nearest neighbors. Do whatever it takes. Overproduce food and metal, and always cheerfully accept every disaster-plea they bring you. If they want your system, give it to them. If 2 of them want 3 of your systems, give them up. (It's OK to cart away as many pop as you can and raze every slot before you accede. You can even accept the war, counterattack their nearby system for 1-2 turns, and wait for them to invade, take the planet, and auto-truce.) You're playing to be strong around turn 200 and win by turn 280, and 1 early system isn't worth your worry.
Corollary: If a neighbor AI declares an outright war on you early (and it doesn't want 1 system), that's game. Quit and restart. That's how I lost the first 4 attempts. So now I put early appeasement as the #1 priority, trumping absolutely everything else.
2. Remain neutral as long as you can. The AIs are actually at the mercy of the pitiless Global Event Generator
(gasp), which yanks, jerks, and kicks them around. They can't hardly go four turns in a row of galaxy-wide peace before some event forces them to recall ambassadors, which quickly spirals into wars. When they invite you to join wars, say no (and take the diplomacy hit). Let them beat each other up, chase each others' fleets around, reformat each others' planets, etc., while you produce things and keep all of your production in play.
3. It's perfectly viable to have only 5 blah systems, in a long skinny chain, for 150+ turns. As long as AIs are too busy fighting each other to fight you, you're safe. Later on, systems will open up (see below). When you finally do join a war (that you're ready for), you can beeline straight to an AI's systems and capture them like popcorn, and never fight its uber-fleet. So you'll have 4-6 blah systems for a long time, and then pow, you'll have 10+ systems, and be even stronger for the next war.
Having your neighbor AIs friendly to you is crucial. Buy their approval every single chance they give you. (It's only a few turns' worth of metal, you can make more.)
4. Go for +population and +infrastructure (food, science, labor, metal). You cannot out-fleet any AI (ahem), but you can out-plan them. Around turn 150 or so, I'm just getting to be #1 in every metric except military. I typically get Cloning for the awesome +100k pop per planet per turn, then finish the infrastructure tree for tier 2 mines, labs, and factories, then go back for Habitat Domes, then Fleet Base + Space Habitat for 2-pop 2-science orbitals.
5. Build just enough ship and weapon tech to not-suck. I get to Advanced Turbolasers, Fusion Torpedos, and Battleships, and basically stop there: I win the game before I ever need to go back for more weapons (and so I've never actually researched anything past those). You can eventually beat AI fleets just with turbolasers. Other weapons may work equally well, so do that if it works for you.
There is a bit of a learning curve to judge the proper pace of building combat ships in the early game. You can't spend all
of your early game building colonizers, outposts, and slots. At least one planet should go for Space Station moderately early (after it finishes its slots, of course), and thereafter build your heavy cruiser type non-stop, just so you'll have a few of them in play when an inevitable skirmish arrives. I eventually have at most 1 Shipyard of my own (not counting the ~6 or so I've captured) + 1 Space Station, and those two planets build Battleship / Heavy Cruiser non-stop, while all other planets build transports for trading, or troopships to overwhelm early ground defenses.
Gradually, you can amass one single fleet that's moderately big -- large enough to crush neutral Marauder bases, or small Star Harpy infestations. You will not have two fleets, and so you cannot defend anything, but you can attack and invade 1 system. It's perfectly fine to be dead-last in military strength for 150+ turns; that's normal. (I also play Endless Legends on Endless/Normal vs. 7 AIs, so I'm used to being last place in every metric, and winning anyways. Human growth is a parabola, AI growth simply isn't.) In fact, I remain at only ~33% to 50% of the #1 military AI essentially all game long; I can win a crushing victory on empire size and votes and still only be #4 in military. (I tend to win efficiently, when I do.)
6. Bide your time until one of the inevitable wars presents you with a juicy target.
- In my H.B. 88 game, Gremak AI somehow antagonized about 5 of us at the same time -- and then declared war on a sixth
. I joined that war and sent my 1 fleet straight for its systems, and conquered 5 planets in 4 systems, including its homeworld, without fighting a single fleet. (I don't count a 2-ship skirmish, where the AI promptly retreats, as a fight against a fleet. Gremak's big fleet had ~20 ships, but it scampered around the warp lanes and never fought anybody.) In earlier games, I didn't appreciate overproducing troopships, so I was not ready for this situation when it arose; and so I learned to do that.
- In my H.B. 99 game, around turn 160, Imperials 2 (Kairullin?) demanded a system adjacent to its sector of space. I underestimated AI's (near-infinite?) command range, so technically I misjudged its response time -- but I figured I could dogpile its home systems before it even captured my 1 system. So I said no, swiftly counter-invaded, and sure enough, I wiped it out by taking all of its planets before it ever fought me for the 1 system it wanted. Soon thereafter, Colonials (Yunki), #1 in military (tied with Orthin's Gunships), declared a real war, and again I went straight for its planets and took 4 of 8 systems. I finally arranged a showdown battle -- my first big fight all game, my 31 (4 BB, 8 HC, bunch of captured ships) vs. its 59 (4 Fleet Carrier, 17 Escort Carrier, others). I blew up all 17 Escort Carriers in 3 rounds, lost 4 small ships total, killed or captured 54 (and later got the other 5), and won that fight. Which basically rebooted Yunki to 0 military presence (from #1 to last), and so now I get the rest of its systems at my leisure. And I was #1 in every metric before this little war, so I'll be around 60% of votes after I digest it. 211 turns is just about long enough to build up one fleet to that size, and then decent human tactics will always kick the AI around in any dogfight. I still don't have a 2nd fleet anywhere, so the rest of my vast empire is basically naked.
This was actually the largest fight I've ever
seen in StinSh (so far). Other threads on Steam complain of carrier spam
, but evidently 59 ships isn't spam. No other AI in this game has a fleet that large, nor the infrastructure to build up to it (before I take N-1 of their planets away, hehe), so there probably won't be another 30-vs-50 fight, even if I choose to drag the game out. I'll be a zookeeper, leave them all with 1 planet each (and periodically nuke them from orbit), and finish the tech tree for that achievement. I've never researched (not counting Ephelos loot RNG), nor faced an AI who researched, anything in the entire Force Field/Super Dreadnought column of techs, nor ever colonized a gas giant, nor seen even 60 ships in one fleet.
And that's Humanity Brutal 99, and it worked twice in a row. Try this on Hard, and it'll probably work the same, but somewhat faster.