SMAC: Terraforming Guide
From: Gus Smedstad <>
Date: Mon, 08 Mar 1999 19:10:07 -0800

Here's my thoughts on terraforming.  Reprint as you wish, so long as you
give me credit :).

Early in the game, your options for terraforming a square are farm /
mine, farm / solar collector, or forest.  If the square is rocky, you
have the additional choice of mine / road, or you can level it to
"rolling" to get the other choices.

Solar collectors are highly variable.  Early in the game, they often
produce as little as 1 energy each.  However, later it's quite easy for
them to produce 3, if the elevation is 1000+ meters and you have a
mirror adjacent.  Even lowland collectors can produce 3 if you have two
mirrors adjacent.  For purposes of discussion, I'll assume they produce
1-2 each.

Like Civilization, the key concept in land use in Alpha Centauri is
food.  Most squares produce just enough food to support one worker, and
many squares produce less.  Every borehole, mine, or forest you work
costs you some of your surplus food.

Before you discover Gene Splicing, the food shortage is even more
severe, since the city square is the only source of surplus food when
other squares have a cap of 2 nutrients.

Generally, then, you must work squares which produce 2 food each, enough
to break even.  For much of the game, the normal square you work will be
a moist, rolling square with a farm and a solar collector.  That
produces 2 food, 1 mineral, and 1-2 energy.  Rainy, rolling squares are
even better, but not common.

By "spending" some of your surplus food, you can work squares which
produce more than 1 mineral and 1 to 2 energy each.  For a cost of two
food and 2 workers, you can work:

1 borehole and 1 moist, rolling square with solar collectors, 7 minerals
and 7-8 energy

2 forests, 4 minerals and 2 energy

1 rocky mine with road and 1 moist, rolling square with solar
collectors, 4 minerals and 1-2 energy

2 moist or arid rolling squares with mines, 4 minerals

Boreholes are the clear winner, but they aren't available until you get
Ecological Engineering.  They also have placement restrictions, so you
can only build a limited number of them.

Forests are the next obvious choice.  They're also very easy to create,
just 4 turns compared to 10 for a farm / solar combination, or 12 for a
farm / mine combination.  They're superior to rocky mines, unless you
have to give up a moist, rolling square which produces 3+ energy.
That's highly unlikely, so clearly you can ignore mines if forest
squares are available.

Once you have Gene Splicing, you can get 3 food from rainy squares and
sea squares with kelp.  Without spending food, two workers can use:

1 sea with tidal generator and 1 forest, 2 minerals and 4 energy

1 rainy, rolling square with solar collectors and 1 forest, 3 minerals
and 2-3 energy

1 rainy, flat square with solar collectors and 1 forest, 2 minerals and
2-4 energy

2 moist, rolling squares with solar collectors, 2 minerals and 2-4

2 rainy, rolling squares with mines, 4 minerals

2 seas with mines, 2 minerals

Working a sea square plus a forest gives you a slight edge in energy
over working normal squares.  This is probably your first choice, once
you can build and afford sea formers.

Working a rainy, rolling square and a forest gives you a slight edge in
minerals over normal squares.

Working a rainy, flat square is generally a break-even proposition,
unless you use the extra food to work a borehole.  It requires less time
to create, however.  Two normal squares take 20 turns for a former to
create, and this combination takes 14 turns.

Working rainy rolling squares with mines gives you a moderate edge in
minerals, but sacrifices 2-3 energy for the extra mineral.  Not

Mining sea squares is also a poor choice, but may be the only source of
minerals for a sea base, or for a land base which has run out of land
squares.  Once you have Advanced Ecological Engineering, this becomes 4
minerals, but is still a relatively poor choice.

In addition to the basic terraforming options, there are mirrors,
condensers, and aquifers.

Mirrors are fairly easy to figure out.  Whenever you intend to build a
solar collector, and there is already a collector adjacent, build a
mirror.  It takes more time, but you'll get an extra energy point.

Condensers prevent you from gaining any extra minerals or energy from a
square, beyond the basic 1 point for rocky or rolling terrain.  For this
reason, you should place them in a square you don't intend to use for a
long time, generally a flat, arid square that isn't suitable for a
borehole.  A square that isn't in any city's radius is even better.

If your city has enough moist, rolling squares, the benefits of a
condenser are somewhat small.  You'll build it so you can use more
forests, and get more minerals, without halting growth.  You should put
off building one until you've built improvements on all the squares the
city is using.  Do build one once you have a former free if your squares
aren't already rainy.

If your city stops growing because its nearby squares are all arid, a
condenser becomes a high priority.  However, if sea squares are
available, kelp is a better solution to food shortages than a condenser.

Aquifers basically add energy to your squares.  You can be guaranteed +1
energy in the square you start, but the other squares are somewhat
random.  Deciding on when to drill an aquifier depends on how likely you
think it is the new river will flow through squares you're using.

Now you know what to build.  So what should you build first?

In decreasing order of time efficiency, your former can build:

                                              Minerals  Energy
Improvements                        Time      per turn  per turn

Forest                                4  turns 0.25     0.25
Borehole                              24 turns 0.20     0.25
Kelp + tidal harness                  8  turns          0.37
Farm + mirror, 3 adjacent collectors  16 turns          0.25
Farm + mirror, 2 adjacent collectors  16 turns          0.22
Farm + solar collector (1km)          10 turns          0.20
Aquifer, adds to 3 squares            18 turns          0.16
Farm + mirror, 1 adjacent collector   16 turns          0.12
Condenser + 3 newly usable forests    24 turns 0.12
Level + farm + collector, rocky (1km) 18 turns          0.11
Aquifer, adds to 2 squares            18 turns          0.11
Condenser + 2 newly usable forests    20 turns 0.10
Farm + solar collector (sea level)    10 turns          0.10
Kelp + mining platform                12 turns 0.08
Level + farm + collector, rocky (0km) 18 turns          0.05
Condenser + 1 newly usable forest     18 turns 0.05
Aquifer, adds to 1 square             18 turns          0.05

(apologies if the chart doesn't format correctly for you).

Using the time chart as a guide, then, your first priority should be
planting enough forests so that all of your workers are earning 2
minerals and 1 energy.  Plant arid and moist flat squares.  Plant arid,
rolling squares if you don't think you'll build a condenser soon.

Next, build boreholes, if your city can afford to spend the food to work

Next, build farms and solar collectors on the moist and rainy rolling
squares.  Building them adjacent (so you can build mirrors) is more
important than building at high altitudes.  Build mirrors as you go.
Level rocky squares last, if you have to, in order to build farms and

Next, build condensers so you can use more forests, or to allow your
city to grow if food is tight.

Finally, add new rivers via "drill to aquifer" to add more energy
output.  Season to taste. :)

Eventually, your city will probably build a tree farm.  Once you have
one of these, it's probably worth replacing collectors that are
producing 1-2 energy with forests.  If the city builds a Hybrid Forest,
you should probably replace all of your collectors with forests.

- Gus
  AI programmer and general handyman on Heroes III
  New World Computing
  Time wasted on SMAC analysis is my own, not New World's.