This guide will cover the ins and outs of the Cravers, both for beginners and players looking to increase the difficulty level up to Endless.
Cravers, like all the factions in ES2, have several defining features that will heavily affect their game play, so we'll cover these first just so you know what you're getting into.
Quick note: I will refer to stages of the game as 'early', 'mid', and 'late' game. This roughly corresponds to the following turn intervals respectively on normal speed: 0-40 turns, 40-90 turns, 90-150+. Super late game happens after this, when tech trees are starting to get finished, but honestly, as Cravers, you shouldn't be reaching this point.
Population: Craver population are politically militarist, and generate 150% FIDSI from non-depleted planets (see next). This means that Cravers can get off to a blinding start compared to other factions, and you should expect to be top of the score board for most of the early game due to this population bonus alone.
Depletion: Cravers will deplete planets per Craver population on planets. The rate of depletion depends on the size of the planet, the number of Cravers on it, and the game speed, which can make faster game speeds a bit of a struggle if you get a bad start. Once depleted, a planet will only produce 50% FIDSI. This is a serious problem if your planets deplete too soon.
Slaver Drivers: This is your faction affinity, and it means that all non-Craver populations on planets with Cravers will produce 50% extra FIDSI, at the cost of 5 approval. To be clear, a planet with 1 Craver, and 10 non-Cravers will cause a -50 approval malus. If you move the Craver, the malus no longer takes effect, but nor do the FIDSI bonuses.
Autocracy: Cravers get their own government type - Autocracy. This gives you two starting law slots, as well as the force law, making it as good as democracy in early game. The law slots will never increase however, and you cannot change government. Importantly, systems will never rebel under autocracy, even with huge minus approval.
Eternal War: Cravers can almost never be at peace. There are two exceptions - 1: Pacifists in your senate (which means you voted them in) or 2: Forming an alliance if someone requests one (which is a little bizarre and may change). Unless you are roleplaying with pacifists, the chances of a peace are minimal in your games, and you almost always want to reject alliances as ultimately they will hinder you.
With these factors in mind, we can already get a picture of how Cravers work - it's going to be about population management, approval management, and warfare.
Early - Mid Game Population Management
Cravers as a population have double the growth of any non-Craver population. In effect this means that in a system with Cravers and one other population you will end up with a 2:1 ratio of Cravers to the other population. For most of the game, this is something you want to avoid. More Cravers = more depletion, and if most of your planets deplete before you are ready (more on this later), your empire will begin to fall apart.
So the priority early game to be to get hold of at least two other (not including your starting Haroshems) population types and distribute them as fast as possible on all your systems. With 3 minor pop types (2+starting Haroshems) this will ensure that your other populations grow faster than your Cravers at a 2:3 ratio. Find minor factions fast, and if you pick the better quest line (the one that gives you the ship) you'll be able to easily invade. Invest a little in troop upgrades to ensure quick victories, and don't bother sieging. It wastes time at this stage, and this isn't something you have the luxury of.
Even this won't be enough early on to stop rapid depletion, so we'll have to use other ways to keep our Craver pop relatively low. There are two ways of doing this. The first is converting the Craver population to manpower. You can ensure that it is the Craver pop that gets converted by checking what population will grow next in the system screen. The conversion will always be the population that is growing (see the left of your in-system screen). The second is designating a subpar system and dumping excess population there, and converting it to manpower. You'll probably need to employ both of these tactics. As a general rule of thumb, 2-3 Cravers per undepleted planet is a reasonable number.
At this point we should note the focus of the early game - find minor factions to declare war on, invade at least two to get the population types, and secure the first system upgrade both in terms of tech (2 tier 2 economy techs) and luxury income, to allow you to move population between systems. If all goes to plan, you should be sitting on four - six systems, with at least 3 minor faction pops on each, and ready to expand further by turn 30-50.
Don't slack on this trend as you expand and conquer. Make sure there are always at least three minor faction types in your systems, and move population as necessary.
Early-Mid Game Approval Management
With those minor pops, and slave drivers, your approval will plummet if you don't manage it well. Approval buildings don't give you a whole lot, and you'll be running against expansion approval as well, as you shouldn't dawdle in conquest. The ways to manage approval shift throughout the game:
Early game, minor faction war: Declaring war on minor factions with Jingoist Joy (miltarist force law) will give you +15 approval per minor faction you are at war with. Other than the two minors you'll want to conquer early, the others should be located, war declared on them, and then left alone. Minor factions tend to be concentrated towards the centre of the galaxy, so if you are struggling in your constellation to find them, send probes to the centre, make first contact and declare war. This will boost your approval to ecstatic for a fair amount of time, compounding your already early advantages. This won't last forever, as other empires assimilate those factions.
Early Game, Toys for Boys: If you are still struggling with finding minors, use Toys for Boys law, but only as a last resort. Players tend to use this law a little too much, but the 10% industry loss is not to be sniffed at. If you can even maintain content, then don't use this law, it slows system development down for you too much.
Early Game, Full on War: You should be looking for your first target ASAP, and as soon as you have a fleet ready, barrel towards their capital and declare war. It's only +15, but it's still good. Try to cripple your enemies, rather than outright destroying them, so you can stay at war for the approval. The most important thing is to take their capitals and any of their decent systems, leave the rest, and avoid truces for as long as you can.
With a mix of these, approval early game shouldn't really be a problem for you. If you need it shoring up, feel free to drop approval buildings down.
Mid Game, Us or Them: This is, without a doubt, your most important law that you need to be running. You get it in the third election, and it gives you a huge +20 per homeworld owned. This makes home systems of other players even bigger prime targets. The influence cost is high for this stage of the game, so you will need the influence wonder, and influence improvements to run it. With this law enabled, you can run an ecstatic to content empire all the way to the late game.
Mid Game, Shifting pop: If it gets really nasty on a few systems, shift the pop around so your Cravers are on one/two planets, and everyone else is elsewhere. You'll lose bonuses, and deplete faster, so it's at this point you'll need to think about making the late game shift (see section). Things not to do - Do not use Feeding Pits at this point. You will grow too fast, deplete even faster.
Late game - We'll talk about this later.
This gives us our further focus on the early-mid game. Early game - scout lots, declare war on minor factions. Mid game - get up influence, attack your neighbours, run Us or Them. Focus on getting homeworlds. If you can take 2 home systems by turn 60-80 on normal, you're doing well.
Cravers have excellent ships, only really rivalled by the Riftborn and to a lesser extent, UE. They have excellent troops, only outclassed by Vodyani, and they have the biggest fleets in the game. Big fleets is really where the magic lies, although the bonus wanes as the game goes on. It gives you +2 command points on fleet, which is huge early on.
Fleets should be built almost as soon as your first system has all the basic food, science and industry buildings. Your starting hero should also be used as a fleet hero for the entirety of the game, first as another scout, then as a full on commander. Craver heroes get bonuses to projectile damage. Unfortunately projectiles are nigh on useless right now - flak is too strong vs missiles, and short range slugs never get close enough to be decent. Have a single ship type (usually a support) for flak, one ship for fleet speed, and all the rest decked out with energy weapons. If you quested right, you also have the awesome infinity shield. Put this on every defence slot. Once you have this first fleet, head out to take a player capital. When you get another hero, pick a decent fleet hero (seeker/guardian), make them a fleet, stick them on it, go for the next. Upgrade and add ships to these fleets as you go along. This might divide opinion, but fleets without heroes attached are rarely worth it. You can play the game quite happily with 3-5 decent hero fleets.
You should be stocked to the rafters with manpower if you were managing your population right. If you conquer a system, you can disband a fleet to the hangar to refill it's manpower even if you are not in your influence zone. Just be careful not to get your lone hero ambushed during the refill.
Never stop taking good systems, and always focus the homeworlds as previously stated. This will stave off approval loss from expansion for a considerable amount of time. It's at this point you may need to start thinking about using Toy for Boys to ward off that approval loss.
Make sure to stay on top of troop upgrades, and whenever you have enough to build in your systems, grab more military tech to upgrade and add to your fleets. And remember - newly conquered systems need those three pop types too.
Other Mid Game Stuff
Most important techs for you in the mid game other than the influence and military techs:
- Industry - The +20 per planet industry tech, also give you adamantium. Excellent technology, and the building should be a high priority one.
- Science - The +30 +2 per pop science building will keep your science running smoothly
- Colonisation - Your first worlds might be edging on depletion by this point, so make sure you are steadily researching to colonise new planets in your systems.
- Strategics - Strategic resource tech is important to keep your fleets up to scratch. This includes mining buildings.
Don't worry about dust too much. The population bonuses will give you a lot of it, and you can sell on the market to stay afloat if needs be. Trade routes used to be the only way to go, but they are pretty lacklustre nowadays. You should still get them, but they are not super high priority. You will probably win before they get up to ridiculous levels.
Everything else is unnecessary/secondary. You don't build worlds, you conquer them. If you have places with nothing to build, make fleets in preparation for your next hero, or put infinite production on dust.
The Late Game Shift
You have a big empire, closing on conquest or supremacy victory, but approval is now starting to sting, and your probably losing population on your planets due to depletion food loss. Getting your systems up to lvl 4 and building the approval offset building will take too long. This is where we hit the kill switch for Cravers and end the game.
Before doing so, make sure you have enough fleets to feasibly defend and attack, the invasion techs in the economy tree (top right), and if you can, enough influence to run the final militarist law (although not entirely necessary). Once you're ready - queue multiple Feeding Pits on all your systems that aren't producing fleets, never stop making it, and lay waste to all your remaining undepleted planets by shifting the Craver population over.
Why? All about the 50 population bonus Cravers get - 1% dmg and 1% troop dmg per depleted planet. Feeding pits will rapidly increase your food, while killing off minor population. This means your worlds will deplete extremely quickly, giving you even more of a bonus. Furthermore, the approval means you can drop Us and Them, for Deadly Intent law. By this point you are probably sitting on 40-60 planets. Depleting even 3/4's of them makes your fleets and troops truly monstrous. Do all just before you are going to head out to those final systems to conquer, and keep going while you are warring. Declare war on any other player that won't get in the way of your final push, even if you don't plan to attack them. This will bump that approval even further such that everywhere will be ecstatic no matter what.
Enemy systems don't need to be sieged, with your bonuses and techs you will wipe them in 2-3 turns (even the Unfallen). Enemy fleets, even if they are of equal size, stand little chance. This is the final push that lets you secure a solid win. It's also extremely fun to do.
It should be mentioned that this move is effectively committing suicide if it doesn't work, so all the payoff is in the planning. That said, if you don't do this, you're empire will eat itself anyway, but you won't have the planned power spike that prevents other players from catching up. The whole point of this move is to swiftly end the game before depletion and approval become too difficult to manage, such that your science and industry begins to slump and others surpass you in military tech and fleet size negating all your advantages. In many ways this is Cravers in a nutshell - you're on a time limit, so every advantage needs to be pressed fast and to the fullest extent to keep your head above water.
The questline deserves a brief mention both in terms of how good it is in some ways, and bad in others. There is pretty much only one way to go with the questline that makes sense if you want to win at higher levels
- Choose intercept the ship - gives you a T2 Cruiser, lets you invade minors easily. The bonus for the other line of this is a building that gives you more line of sight - it's expensive, it's awful, and you have to build it to progress.
- Choose Infinity Shield over the hero - Infinity shield is too good to pass up. Reyaryn Cious is pretty middle of the road as heroes go anyway. Infinity shield comes after you invade two minor faction systems which, guess what, you should be doing anyway!
- Less imperative, but choosing to search 1000 dust curiousity leads to Insatiable Maw, which means you can ignore force truce costs (which DO happen after a few turns even if you ignore them). This is a really nice bonus, as you don't want to be influence bled by all the force truces you will get. You do need to kill the Wasp fleet to get it, which may be a good reason not to bother.
So the bonuses are great, shame there isn't a bit more flexibility in the choices, but the other awards and bonuses really don't compare.
That said, if you want to play around with the other parts of the questline, by all means enjoy! Just bear in mind that you might be losing a big advantage, but if things are going well anyway, then why not?
Lots of the focuses for various parts of the Craver play style roll together such that one will happen anyway if you focus on another. For example, managing Craver population properly leads to more manpower, which supplies your fleets, allowing for more invasions, all of which you should be doing anyway. However, as a summary of things to focus on:
- Scouting for minor factions, immediately declare war on them.
- Invading two minor faction systems (you have to do this for your quest anyway) to get the population types.
- Upgrading systems to lvl 2 (for spaceport) and shifting the population around.
- Keeping your Craver population low by turning it into manpower.
- Getting your first fleet up, and ready to take some quality systems off someone else.
- Influence buildings and Wonder to enable Us and Them
- Taking more homeworlds off major factions
- Building/Upgrading fleets and giving them heroes
- Getting strategic resources, finish colonising all the planets on your systems
- Keep pushing military tech when your building queues are 3-4 deep (laser weapons mostly, until projectiles get patched)
- Get some T2 Science and Industry buildings
- Trade Routes if absolutely needed
- Feeding pits - deplete worlds rapidly by drastically increasing Craver population, keeping up approval, shifting to Deadly Intent rather than Us or Them
- Finish troop upgrades/techs
- Finishing touches on current fleets (upgrade/reinforce as needed)
- Taking the remaining systems for conquest/supremacy
- Winning the game