Each planet in the game is labeled according to category. Some are self-evident; some are not. Many players may find it helpful to know what's what, so here's a quick run-down on the various categories and their significance, in alphabetical order:
Cathedral Planet: exceptionally well suited for research projects, almost a quarter of these worlds' surfaces will be composed of blue (research-favorable) squares.
Chapel Planet: Expect about 40 percent black squares (unusable until they're terraformed); of the remainder, blue squares may outnumber other types.
Congenial Planet: About 80 percent of the surface will be suitable for development, with a random scattering of red, green, blue, and white squares.
Cornucopia Planet: These are rare but exceedingly valuable worlds, with no black squares at all. A typical Cornucopia Planet will comprise about one-third red, one-third blue, and one-third green squares.
Eden Planet: Good for general, balanced development, these planets will have no black squares, lots of white squares, and a smattering of random specialty squares.
Husk Planet: As the name implies, these are dead worlds (all black squares). They are often sites for alien artifacts, however, and so may be worth a visit. Also, in the more advanced stages of the game, they can be terraformed, although they will usually be of only marginal worth even then.
Mining Planet: while almost half of these planets are black, the remaining squares are usually red and white, favoring industrial development.
Primordial Planet: A "yin-yang" kind of world: half black, half white. Having a colony here is better than not having one, but if there's even a marginally better world in the system, and you only have one colonizer module, pass these by.
Rich Planet: Thirty to 40 percent black squares, 30 percent white squares, the rest pretty evenly divided among red, blue, and green.
Super Mining Planet: These planets are at least 20 percent red squares, and about 20 percent black; the remainder is mostly white.
Tycoon Planet: Almost 50 percent of these worlds comprise bonus squares of red, blue, and green, usually framed with white. Little, if any, dead space.
Hey, Bud, Let's Party!
Some of you may wonder, as I did, if there is any purpose, other than the sheer hell of it, for instituting "Endless Party" on a colony. Well, obviously, if your colonists are having fun, their "prosperity" rating increases. But there's a subtler factor at work, too. If a colony's population is stagnant and you can't figure out why, try throwing an "Endless Party" for a few weeks. The resulting planet-wide hanky-panky may cause that population curve to start rising again.
Research, Research, and More Research
Obviously, balance is the key to success in Ascendancy -- in the three prime areas of research, industry, and prosperity. But I would suggest plunging into research early and pushing it hard; harder than the other two areas. That's because a seemingly small, insignificant, lag in research can grow exponentially as certain types of game unfold. When warfare breaks out, you can't afford to have, say, a "plasmatron gap" between you and your opponent. Of course, numerical superiority in ships can offset inferior weaponry, but given the time and expense of building a large fleet, that's a risky and improbable circumstance.
"Well, Isn't That Special?!"
One of the game's most interesting features is the "Special Ability" given to each species. It's fun to use your special ability, because it makes you feel, well, special. But note well: the game informs you when your species has accumulated enough SAPs (Special Ability Points) to do the hoo-doo that you do so well, but you don't have to use it at that time. In fact, for many species, timing may be a critical ingredient of a winning strategy. For example: Take the Chamachies. Their SAPs permit them to complete any currently-feasible research project in 24 hours. If you're playing this species, and the game notifies you that your SAPs are on line, immediately consult the Research Tree. You may be 30 days away from reaching your current research goal, but farther down the tree, you see a quantum-leap discovery that's, say, 240 days away. Just be patient and let the clock run out on the current project, then evoke your Special Ability. You've just saved yourself 210 days of research time. Analogous situations will arise for other species.
Hey, Buddy, What's the Hurry?
Sure, it's fun to vaporize enemy ships, invade their colonies, and plunder their technology, but there's a lot to be said for a passive, laid-back strategic posture. Exploration ships are not likely to draw hostile attention; heavily armed warships carrying invasion modules most certainly will.
Don't worry if your empire ranks second or even third in the number of colonies. Your more warlike neighbors will not perceive you as a threat, and quite often you can sit back and watch the bigger empires tear each other to pieces without risking your own precious colonies. Later on, if you're of a mind, you can pick up some of the pieces at greatly diminished risk.
And don't go planting colonies in a system that some other species has already colonized, unless and until you're able to back up the perceived threat with lots of firepower. Even in a "Peaceful" or "Neutral" atmosphere, claim-jumping arouses suspicion and dries up potentially fruitful diplomatic opportunities. A passive posture invites diplomatic contact and a more liberal exchange of information -- particularly in the research area.
Keeping a low profile, of course, doesn't mean being weak. Strong defenses, a good mix of Surface Mega Shields and Long Range Orbital Whoppers should enable to you decimate and repel any invasion force smaller than the Spanish Armada. Once you've given a would-be invader a bloody nose and vaporized half-a-dozen Enormous-class ships, you'll probably be left alone for a long, long time.
The Zen-Garden, or "Navel of the Universe," Strategy
We have it on good authority (from a source close to The Logic Factory) that it's possible, under certain rare circumstances, to win the game without ever leaving your home planet. We just wanted toss that in as a teaser, because it might well be the ultimate challenge for the Ascendancy addict who's looking for a very strange and unique gaming experience. Lotsa luck.