Crash Course Starting Guide

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Space Empires V "A Crash Course in Game Play"


Alright. This is a crash course in how to play Space Empires V… an abbreviated tutorial, if you will. So, here goes… It’d be neat if you could print this out, but if you don’t mind Alt-Tabbing back and forth (which Space Empires doesn’t take very well), then by all means do so. At any rate, you could use this document as an actual tutorial, and follow along, or just read through it to get the concepts down – it functions equally well in both capacities.

Note: Running SEV in windowed mode should work very well, in case you want to read and play side-by-side.

First off, you’re going to want to download the Balance Mod, Here, and follow the mod’s instructions for installation. Space Empires V isn’t a very balanced game out of the box, but the Balance Mod helps tremendously to correct that, while staying true to the core game by not introducing anything new.

With the Balance Mod installed, go ahead and load the game, and hit the Quick Start button. Select the option to play with the Balance Mod, and then pick an empire of your liking. This will probably be the only time you ever actually use Quick Start – you don’t get to pick any of the game settings, and you can’t design your own empire, so a lot of the fun of the game is straight out. But, it’s perfect for learning how to use the interface.

Anyway, once the game loads, let’s have a look around…

Things to Notice


First of all, you’ll see your solar system, in all of its three dimensional glory. There are three things that should draw your attention – number one, the planets; number two, the warp points; and number three, your homeworld.

Planets are what you build colonies on, and colonies are where you build all the tools of your empire – ships to do things, space yards to build things, and resourcers to earn you points. You’ll notice some planets have little circles over them, either red or green. These are planets of the same type as your homeworld (rock, ice, or gas, depending on which empire you chose), which you can colonize. Red circles represent planets that you can colonize, but that have an atmosphere hostile to your race. These can be good colonies, if the planet is large enough – but they’re often not worth colonizing if they’re any smaller than “large.” Green circles, on the other hand, have atmospheres that are perfectly breathable by your people, and are prized by everyone, everywhere. If you ever find one of these, you should colonize it as quickly as possible.

The warp points appear as little spinning spirals, and function as connectors between solar systems. If you order a ship to warp through a warp point, they’ll leave the system they’re in now, and appear on the other side of the warp point, in a different system. These are your highways and byways, and also act as choke points for the defense of your territory. Can’t get in a system, except by warp point.

Finally, you should see your homeworld. You’ll recognize it because it’s flying your flag. It’s your only colony right now, but is one hell of a colony, nearly full of facilities and brimming with population. This is going to be the power center of your empire,. where you’ll send your colony ships from, and where most of your resources will be generated, for quite a while.

The Tool Bar

But, in order to get familiar with how the game works, the most important thing to have a look at right now is the row of buttons centered at the top of the screen. It looks like this:


These are, far and away, the most important buttons of the game. It’s from here that you’ll access the various secondary screens to really control your empire. So, let’s go over these, one by one, talking about what they do. I’m going to skip the ones I don’t often use, and go over the really important ones in the order I use them.



At the beginning of each of your turns (except the first one) a news bulletin will pop up, automatically, apprising you of what happened since your last turn. New research results, new constructions, etc., will all be sent to you via memo in this bulletin. Once you quit it, you can hit this button to go back, and have another look at the headlines.

Vehicle Designs


After reading the news, I’ll go to vehicle designs, to design some ships or units to meet my growing and recently well-informed needs. If a war just broke out, for example, I might “Create” some new warship blueprints, so I’m ready for construction later in the turn. Or, if my scientists have updated my weaponry, I might “Upgrade” an existing design – in which case, the computer will automatically replace all older components on the blueprint with newer versions. Or, if my research has yielded results that are beneficial to a design that hasn’t even gone into production yet, I can “Edit” that design to take advantage of the new technology, by replacing the components on the blueprint myself.

Anyway, the most important thing to realize about this window is that you’re not building ships here. You’re creating vehicle designs, blueprints that your ship yards will follow when you tell them to (which won’t be for another moment or two).

So, a few notes about ship design, then:

  1. 1. When you go to create, upgrade, or edit a design, you drag components from the window in the lower-left corner to the blueprint in the center of the screen.
  2. 2. Each component weighs a certain amount. The sum of all components you put on a ship cannot exceed the weight of that ship.
  3. 3. There’s a warning box in the upper-right corner that tells you what you need to do to make this blueprint viable. If there are any warnings in this box, you won’t be able to save the blueprint.

And that’s all there is to making vehicle designs!

For now, I suggest you make a colony ship, by hitting the “Create” button, following up with the vehicle type “Ship,” and selecting the ship size “Colony Ship.” On your colony ship, you’ll want as many engines as the game will let you have, plus a colony module and a basic sensors, in addition to the required bridge, life support, and crew quarters. This is as fast a colony ship as you can have, but it’s also capable of scouting for you – ideal for frontier operation. As soon as it comes into contact with another empire, set it down on a nearby planet to establish the border with that empire.

After this, you might want to design a spy satellite. Hit the create button again, but this time, choose the vehicle type “Satellite,” and then select the vehicle size “Small Satellite.” Instead of a bridge, and all that junk, satellites only need a computer core. So, go ahead and add that, and a basic sensor array. And that’s all – the spy sat is done. Once launched, it’ll keep an active eye on the space around it, expanding your view range greatly. Plus, it’s super cheap, so you can easily afford to have one in orbit over every one of your planets.

See, the great thing about satellites is that they – like fighters and mines – are “units,” not ships. For a planet to build a ship, it needs to have a space yard, which is a major investment. But any planet can build units – any planet at all – without any investment other than the resources required to found the colony itself. They’re pretty sweet, and are by far the most effective early game defense.

So, since units are so sweet, you should probably go ahead and design a fighter, as well. Just the requirements, engines, and a small rocket pod makes a bomber – a vicious little war hound that is cheap, brutal, and easily mass produced, even on border worlds that can’t build real warships. A squadron of bombers, when placed against an equivalent resource-cost ship, will tear that ship apart.

Another unit you’ll want to design is a weapons platform. These are planet-based defenses that shoot at incoming enemy starships. The great thing is, since they’re planet based, the enemy starships can’t shoot back at the platform unless they actually destroy the planet’s population. A weapons platform, in combination with some fighters, is a very difficult nut to crack in the early game.

Finally, you should design a space based space yard. Create another design, this time a base, and put nothing on that base but the required components and a space yard. Once you build one of these, you’ll have a whole new place to build ships in orbit of your other yard, albeit at a slower rate than that (planet-based) yard. A common strategy is to spam these kinds of bases in the first few turns, as opposed to spamming colonizers, to achieve a production advantage a little later on, at the cost of a smaller domain.

Anyway, these are all of the designs you’ll need, for now. Note that you can also make troops. Troops, if dropped on an enemy planet, can capture that planet for you. They’re also great at defending against such drops, if they happen to be stationed on a planet that is facing invasion.



Now that we’ve got these sweet vehicle designs, you’ll want to order them built. By hitting this button, you’ll be taken to the mother of all construction queues. On this list is every planet- and space-based yard you own. By double clicking on one of these listed locations, you can add items to that construction queue.

At this point, you should only have one yard, though, which would be your homeworld. So, double click on it. At this point, you’ll be taken to a screen with two columns. On the left, there are the things you can build at his location. On the right are the things that this yard is currently queued up to build. In the upper left, notice the construction rate for this yard, marked in blue, green, and yellow (for minerals, organics, and radioactive resources). In the upper-right corner, you’ll notice several tabs: “Facilities,” “Ships,” and “Units,” are the most important options, here. Click on ships (if you’re not already there) and you’ll see the colony ship and construction yard designs you created earlier. Double click on the colony ship, and one colony ship will be added to the construction queue.

Next, hit the “Queue Settings button, in the lower right corner. Check the “Repeat Build” and “Emergency Build” boxes. Pay attention to what happens to the build rate of the yard when you accept the changes… it’ll go up by 50%. This is emergency build. For up to 10 turns – one year – this yard will build at a much higher rate. And, thanks to repeat build, it’s just going to churn out scout colonizer after scout colonizer, which you can send all over the galaxy to claim as much territory for yourself as you can. The downside to emergency build is that when it’s over, this yard will go into “Slow Build,” and will produce at 25% of capacity for however many turns it was on emergency build. You can turn emergency build off whenever you want, but once the yard goes into slow mode, it can’t be put back into emergency mode until it’s recovered from its last round of emergency build.

Anyway, your homeworld will, for up to one year, be pumping out colonizers like there’s no tomorrow – which is a good place to be, in the early game.



This is, without a doubt, the single most important element of the game. When you click on this button, you’ll be taken to the research screen, where you allocate your research points (earned from Research Facilities, which are built on planets) to various research projects. By clicking on the slider in any of the tech fields you see, you can allocate whatever percentage of your points to that field that you’d like, and receive a report on how long it will take to reach a breakthrough with current research allocation in that area.

The great thing about the Balance Mod is that it takes all of the previously unbalanced tech areas, and makes them all either vital or viable. So, your best bet here is to experiment a bit, or to start a new game with all of the technologies researched right from the get-go, to see what you like.

At any rate – there might not be any “right” research path to follow, but there are definitely wrong ones. There are technologies that you’ll need in order to survive against other humans, and to play optimally – to list the most important ones, in order of importance: scanners level three (more efficient scouts), point defense level six (to stop vicious bombers and seekers), reasonable weapons research (to blow up ships), physics level two (to gain access to shields), and medium hull construction level one (to build mobile space based construction yards, or space yard ships). Fortunately, this leaves plenty of wiggle room to experiment with, especially if you don’t place optimal play as a top priority.

End Turn


With the above steps complete, all of the things you need to do in your first turn are done, so you can hit this button to end the turn. In the future, however, you’ll have other things to do – most notably, order your ships around. Anyway, when you click this, the next turn will generate, and you’ll be faced with the news screen, informing you that you’ve built a new colony ship.



Now, with your new turn generated, turn your attention to the lower-left corner of the system interface – see the quadrant map? Well, just above it is a row of buttons that looks like those I’ve pasted here. The most important of these buttons are the first and second ones – when you click on one of them, you’ll be taken to the next ship you own that doesn’t have any orders. This should be the newly constructed colony ship, which is now selected.

There are three ways to give ships orders.

  1. 1. The first is somewhat convoluted, but easy enough once you get used to it. There is a bank of 18 buttons in the lower right corner. The organization of these buttons doesn’t make much sense, but once you get used to what all the buttons do, and where they are, it’s simple enough, I suppose. This is the method I use.
  2. 2. If you have a ship selected, and you right click on a hex, a dropdown menu will appear with all of the orders you could perform at that location displayed. This is pretty easy, too.
  3. 3. Finally, you can learn the hotkeys for all of the orders you use a lot – you can find an order’s hotkey by hovering over that order in the lower right corner.

Anyway, here are the buttons you really need to know about…

Load Cargo Remotely

CargoTransferSEV.JPG UnloadCargoSEV.JPG LoadCargoSEV.JPG

The first thing you should do when sending a colonizer out is to order it to load population from the planet on which it was built. Your first instinct would be to use the button displayed to the left, on the top: “Transfer Cargo.” Do not use this button, as in simultaneous multiplayer games, it does not always function. Instead, click on the middle button: “Cargo Orders,” which will take you to a more useful sub-menu, where you should select the order on the bottom: “Load Cargo Remotely.” Then, click on the planet where the colonizer was built, choose to load cargo from the planet, and then choose to load population. Now, your colony ship has people to colonize with.



Solar systems, much like in Master of Orion, are connected by warp points. When you click on this button, you will be prompted to select a warp point through which you wish the selected ship to jump. It will then move to that hex, and warp through the point. You should order your colony ship to do this now.

Survey System


Once your colony ship warps to the new system (probably in subsequent turns), you’ll want to take full advantage of that sensor array you equipped it with. So, click on the “Additional Orders” button, shown to the left and above. Then, click on the “Survey System” button, also shown to the left. The computer will now calculate the quickest route for this ship to explore the new system in its entirety, and issue the proper move orders to this ship. Once this survey is done, the ship’s orders window will be blank, and you can issue it further orders.

Cancel Orders

ShipOrders2SEV.JPG CancelShipOrdersSEV.JPG

Often, however, you’ll want to stop the survey before it’s complete – as soon as you find another warp point out of this system, you’ll want to take it, so that you can continue to expand your territory as quickly as possible. To do this, hit the “Settings Orders” button – then hit the “Cancel Orders” button. The ship can now be given new orders, and should be told to head through that new warp point.



Expanding as quickly as you will with this strategy, you’ll run into another empire soon. When this happens, cancel any orders the ship may have, and hit this button. You will be prompted to select a planet to colonize – pick the nearest decent planet in the enemy system. Once the ship sets down here, you’ll have a newly established colony, complete with a construction queue. I’d recommend building one of those spy satellites, a weapons platform, and some fighters to defend the planet in case your new neighbor decides to be aggressive.

Once these basic defenses are complete, you’ll want to start building facilities here. Facilities are the meat and potatoes of your empire – some facilities generate resources, some do research, and some build ships, just to name a few. For now, it’s probably a good idea to build a shipyard, so that this colony can more effectively defend itself and help with the colonization of the systems it passed through to reach the enemy.

Eventually, though, you’ll found a colony where you’re not worried about defending yourself – where you just want to produce resources. To do this, you should build resource facilities: mineral miners to produce minerals, organics farm to produce organics, and rad extractors to produce radioactives. Not all planets are intrinsically good at producing these resources, though… When you’re in the construction queue, right click on one of your colonies, and a window that looks like this will pop up:


Note the “Planet Value” line. This colony only has 11% for mineral production, and 9% for radioactive production – which means that, if I build miners or extractors here, they’ll only produce at about 10% of their capacity. Horrible. But, if I build farmers here, they’ll actually produce at 125% of their capacity. So, if I ever start coming up short on organics, I should build some farming facilities here. But I’ll never build miners or extractors on this planet.

Sometimes, you’ll run into a planet with less than 100% value in each area. These planets are still valuable, though, as research centers. When you go to build resource facilities here, build nothing but research centers, and your tech levels will go through the roof.

One thing that’s very important, however: in order to receive a planets’ production of resources, you must have a “Space Port” facility somewhere in the planet’s solar system. It doesn’t have to be on that planet, just in the same solar system, somewhere. So, if you plan for a planet to be heavy on resource production, the first thing you should build is a space port somewhere in that system… maybe on the planet itself.

Launch Units


Now that you’ve got some fighters built on that colony of yours, you’ll want to launch them, so that you look threatening and can more easily defend your new colony. Do this by first selecting your colony, and then clicking on the “Launch/Recover Units” button. Then, click on the hex that contains your colony. In the screen that pops up, double click on each of the fighters currently grounded on your colony, and then close the window. They’ll now launch into space.



Now that you’ve made contact with another empire, and have some space born attack buggies, you might just be wanting to attack your neighbors. To do this, select the fighter group that was just launched, and hit the “Attack” button. You’ll now be prompted to select a target. Try attacking an enemy colony, if you can see one – or, failing that, a ship. The fighters will now proceed to engage the designated target, destroying it, if they can. Once that target’s destroyed, move on to the next, and the next, until the system is cleared of the enemy presence.

Move To


Since the system is empty except for yourself, you’ll want to move to keep it that way. The best way to do this is to park a defense force at all of the warp points leading into the system, except for those that lead deeper into your empire (obviously, threats shouldn’t be coming from that direction). To do this, select the fighter group that’s been attacking the enemy empire, and click on the “Move To” order. The game will prompt you to select a destination, so order the fighters to move to one of the warp points whose destination in unknown. Now, if any enemy ships come through that warp point, your fighters will attack them.

Some Miscellaneous Notes

That’s really just about all you need to know to play. Continue the process outlined above for each colonizer you produce, constantly expanding your empire and coming into contact with new races. These are just the basics, though – Space Empires is much more complex than that. But to fully experience that complexity, you’ll need to get into the game, and experiment for yourself, which isn’t a process that can be outlined in a brief tutorial, such as this.

There are, however, a few pieces of parting information that will be useful:

The AI Stinks in Stock

The AI packaged with stock Space Empires is truly pitiful. The AI of the Balance Modis considerably better, however, and with a significant enough bonus, can even be a challenge. When you’re setting up a new game, you should give the AI at least a small bonus, if you want to keep it competitive.

Multiplayer is Huge Fun

Although the complexity of Space Empires makes it difficult to program an effective AI for the game, this same complexity makes play with other humans – especially with the Balance Mod – incredibly rewarding. Head to Play-by-Web, and sign up for an account – it’s free, and once you figure out how everything works, you can join some of the awesome games there, where you’ll really be tested.

Multiplayer is Run Using Simultaneous Turns

Almost all of the multiplayer games, though, run using simultaneous turns. Normally, in single player, you play using consecutive turns – i.e. one player takes his turn, then the other player takes his, and so on. But this would take way too long with so many human players, all playing on different schedules. So, instead, games are run using simultaneous turns, where players upload turn files in which they issue orders for their empire. A host then downloads all of the players’ turn files and generates the next turn, making it available online so that the players can download the next turn, and submit another turn file, which the host downloads to generate the next turn, and so on. It’s a bit difficult to explain, so the best way to get used to it is to start a new single player game using simultaneous turns, and to ask around in the gaming community – Space Empires Main Website, for example.

The biggest difference in game play while playing simultaneous turns is that when ships are given orders, there is a one turn delay before those orders are actually acted upon. This can take some getting used to for long time players of regular single player.

Ship Strategies are Important


You may have noticed, while designing your vehicles, that you had the option of assigning them one of various strategies – the default being “Optimal Firing Rage.” These strategies govern how your ships will behave in battle – whether to run or not, how to run when it comes down to it, and what kinds of ships to fire on in the meantime, for example. These strategies are very important, especially when playing with simultaneous turns (since you won’t be able to take direct control of your ships). Play around with them, to figure out what works, and what doesn’t. Strategies are listed at the bottom of the left-hand scrolling window in the “Empire Options” menu, which is reached by pressing the button shown to the left, placed in the upper-central bank of buttons.

Don’t Neglect the Combat Simulator


Also while designing ships, you might have noticed the combat simulator, which is reached through a button in the lower right corner of the “Vehicle Designs” window. Here, you can pit any designs that you have knowledge of (including your own) against each other, to test comparative effectiveness.

Fleets are Useful

While messing around in the combat simulator, you might notice that you can make fleets. Fleets are useful, because you can use them to organize your massed numbers of ships to work together, in formation. When using mixed, specialized forces organized properly into a fleet, you’ll have a distinct tactical advantage over a player with no such organization. Play around with fleets to get used to how to use them.


Well, that’s all you need to know, really; the rest you can learn best by experimentation. So all I can say is “Have, fun!” Before I go, though, here are a few useful web sites:

Malfador (Game designer) The home page of Malfador Machinations, the developer of Space Empires V. It’s one man, actually, if you can believe it – one man made this entire game. Props. Go here for the latest patches.

Space Empires Main Site This is the home of the official Space Empires V community. Go here if you have a question about the game, or just want to talk about it. You’ll need to register on the forum – but it’s free, and easy.

Play by Web This is an excellent web site that hosts multiplayer Space Empires V games. If you want to play multiplayer, this is the only place to go. Accounts are free, fortunately, which might be why they have a monopoly. See the PBW article for more information.

Mods, shipsets, neat stuff This has been a hub for the Space Empires series for a long time, now. They’ve got a lot of neat things posted here, including many custom shipsets that you can download and use, for free.

Wiki A wiki about the Space Empires series. If you’re curious about the history of the game, or just want to cruise what’s here, you should come on by. Who knows, maybe you can even improve upon it.

Balance Mod Home Page The homepage of one “Captain Kwok,” a longtime contributor to the Space Empires community, as well as the writer of the awesome Balance Mod. You’ll need to go there to get the latest update to that fine piece of work.

BBS for Geeks This is a very smart and determined message board with a fairly active Space Empires V community that plays regularly on Play By Web. Topics of discussion also include whether or not Star Trek is better than Star Wars. …it totally is, by the way.

So, good luck, and see you…***blasts off*** …in the stars...!

~ Donald Orr a.k.a. “Kingside_Bishop”