New Player Tips
Here's my thoughts on early game development, I had written up for a possible planetsmag article in the future. Many will disagree with some parts, but it's the general method I follow.
1. Priority #1 is building a second base. If I don't have another base by turn 10, I feel behind. Think about it, a second base literally doubles your ship production. Load minerals for it from your HW if you need, but get it built. Even if it's a...
2. "Junk" ship base. Every race has small, cheap ships that you need, and that you can build with little economic impact. Terraformers, probes, small cloakers, mdsfs, glories, patriots, etc. You set this base up and it churns them out. You only rarely go back with more materials because they don't take much. Skimp on every tech you can to keep the cost down (a coldpain with x-rays and no torps can still pillage and ground attack, for example). The idea is that these ships can provide you some use and help your development, but you don't want to waste a build at a good base on it, because you should be building something better there. You should especially not be building these junk ships at your HW, because...
3. The main purpose of your HW base is to export clans. And therefore ships that do that well are all you should be building there. LDSFs obviously, but other high cargo ships (ie, emeralds, resolutes, etc.) are good too if you can afford them, and have a lot of freighters already. But it is not the place for building your expensive, mineral hungry ships. I rarely get my HW hull tech up to 10 until very late. Early on, the HW is not the place to build your big battleships and carriers, because...
4. You should focus on expanding outwards, not dragging stuff back. Your HW has enough minerals and supply/cash production that it can maintain a flow of useful freighters and mid-level ships without much help. Find those other good native planets and put bases on them. Again take minerals away from your HW if needed to speed things up. You want to keep your supply routes short by putting bases near the minerals and cash, so you're not wasting time gathering it and shipping it all somewhere else.
5. Early merlin: No. You want to have 1, or better yet 2 before the ship limit hits. But put it off as long as possible. Even with the new reduced minerals settings, you can get ships out without them by getting your planets mineral production going. You can't afford the supplies to make a merlin worthwhile anyways, because you need to spend it on planet development, and bases/tech/ships. Even if you find that early bovi, just look at the supplies as extra cash.
6. Transwarps come from the HW, and are only for 2-engine ships. You should absolutely push your engine tech at your HW up to 10 on the first turn. And every ship that comes out of there should be a transwarp, 2-engine ship. But you can't afford to be teching up engines on other bases, and even if you can (or find a ghpisoidal), you cant afford the engines in cash or moly for ships with more than 2 engines. Take advantage of the towing rules and have ships with good engines move those that don't.
orymus en za'er
For newcomers to stay, they need either to win, or understand why they've lost. In other words, they cannot lose without understanding why.
So why are newcomers losing? My theories, and how they can be used:
1 - Ship Construction / Customization Let's face it, we're dealing with a ship system that has a very strong impact on a player's economy.
1a - Torps While most of us have read Donovan's supersite or have calculated things on our own, we all are well aware there are only really 4 types of torps. They each serve a purpose, and this is something we've learned early on and is an integral part of our strategy. Why not let newcomers in on the secret? Highlight these 4 in the lists, and add a short descriptive text in some shiny color so people understand: "Gamma is used only to capture ships and does little to blast these shields off!" "mk4 is a good bang for your bucks!" "mk7 is your all-purpose torp!" "mk8 is costly as hell, use only when you know what you're doing!"
1b - Beams Beams are a bit less straightforward, but there are constants: Disruptors and x-rays are good for capturing, blasters are good to fight, etc. Highlight them and give a descriptive text as to why each one is good.
1c - Engines Most ships should have Transwarps. It is a shame there are so many engines when so little are actually useful, but it is part of the game, and part of the learning curve. But if you want newcomers to stay, they can't fall prey to the "I'll build whatever I can afford". A ship with Level 3 engines may be an Eros, not an LCC. Perhaps highlight the Transwaps, consider them standard, and mark the others as iffy. Add a prompt the first time a player builds a ship and selects a different drive.
1d - Hulls That's a lot more complex. But most hulls have their own hidden agenda, and we all know why we like our ships. A series of numbers (cargo size, fuel tanks, beams, etc.) gives us all the info we need, but to newcomers, it is hard to tell ships apart. Let them have it easy! Give some descriptive comments about each hull: Nebula? sweet cargo, all-purpose ship, can help you lay mines, etc. LCC? Remember, you are a Lizard, your ground force is strong... maybe that cargo can be used for something else than carrying minerals? etc.
2 - Early game Economy We all have our own agenda, but generally it involves spreading to a bunch of new worlds fast (I'm looking at you Borg!) and remain undetected. Players understand the need to colonize, but they don't understand it really. They don't tend to have a good understanding of what resources they'll be lacking first and why. As a result, they don't really know how to determine what worlds they should conquer first. Similarly, they don't understand the need to stay hidden, and quite frankly, they may not know that being in orbit means you are hidden from other players for the most part.
Single player missions help them figure some of that out, and prevents them from miserably failing on their first game, but perhaps the above needs to be experimented a bit more with during the first single player mission or companion tutorial?
3 - Each game is different... We have mentors vs midshipmen. That's great as this will provide them with good feedback. But what about other games? Wouldn't it be our duty to tell the novice players we defeat why they were defeated? It would show our sportsmanship than to teach them how to get better. If you are like me, you certainly don't appreciate squishing weaker opponents when you know they don't stand a chance, correct? I often refrain from striking down a weak opponent early game because I feel that would be a cheap shot (putting me in difficult situations sometimes). Probably some of you already do so without realizing the value of this, but telling players why they fail is critical. It is what helps people stand back up and try to find a solution instead of just going away. Get rid of your pride: everyone knows you are a good player, you know it. No need to tell them you were simply better. In most situations, your opponents have made critical mistakes: it doesn't hurt your pride to point them out gently and suggest solutions or alternatives you would've chosen yourself.
All of these are low hanging fruits; simple modifications to the system that should be invisible to us, but give newcomers a fighting chance to do better on their very first game. Perhaps this will create a new problem (players sticking to what is written and forgetting to look at the numbers and think outside the box) but that will at least have moved the problem further along the learning curve.