I've seen many people struggling with megacorp to make a successful empire. I have been more successful than ever myself since it came out, so I thought I would share my strategies with you people.
First off: Administration cap does not matter, it is a guideline, a reminder, not a limit!
Bomb expansion, fast. Grab high value systems. Colonizing is not necessarily a priority but I can most often colonize as soon as I find a colonizable planet. You want to capture value territory before your opponents do. Again, admin cap does not matter, it matters most mid-game, if it matters at all. Resources shouldn't be a problem at this point. Making a few more science vessels will usually help you expand faster, I find I do well with 2 cons ships and 3~4 science vessels.
Your first few planetside buildings for the first 50 years will likely be civilian industries, consumer goods upkeep is harsh when your empire starts growing. Alloys aren't a priority for now, and as long as you keep in the positive, you'll be fine. If you have slots and don't need consumer goods, start thinking about specializing a planet into research.
You might be considering building tall at this point, but I don't consider it a valid strategy even for megacorps, building wide > tall in 99% of situations. Building tall only worked prior to apocalypse, for the old timers that remember the 1 planet science nexus rush. =)
Build fleets only if you need at this point ie: an event forces you to. I find I rarely need fleet at this point.
Make sure you grab every trade value you can. The way it works is that any starbase will pick up all the trade value in their host system, and with each trade port, the distance they pick up value extends by 1 jump. This means a trade starbase picks up trade value from up to 6 jumps away, and the travel between the colony and the starbase does not generate piracy. Only the trade routes between starbases do. This is especially important to consider early on as your trade routes can be a mess when you have 30+ starports. Try to lay down your trade starbases so they make the shortest and simplest path along your empire. Also important to consider that any system that has an upgraded starbase has very reduced to no piracy. Eventually when you have 4500+ trade value circulating along your trade route, you will want to upgrade every starbase along the way. Even massive patrols have problems dealing with that. I will touch on trade route management in the mid-game section. =)
Research, research, research, research, research. Maybe research tanks your early game economy, but it makes your mid to late game economy. You need as much research as you can get as early as you can, not to mention there is some benefits to being cutting edge. This is a common trait amongst all empires. You just can't get around research, mid-game economy doesn't keep up without it. Try to go for techs that will boost your research even more, even indirectly, like pop growth or such.
There is also a super neat policy... Not sure many players know about it ;)
Meeting Your First Empires
This is a bit more touchy, there's few different approaches you can take there.
If you have scaling difficulty on, your neighbours will be weakling, dumping excess resources into the market and quickly gathering a fleet and a small army is easy at this point, it's entirely possible to vassalize a neighbouring empire early on, which would give you a huge economical boost. This would be a considerable strategy for any empire ethics that are generally hated.
Addendum: Regular empires get 20% fleet cap instead, apparently, I just read. Though this is still an economic boost, it's much less worthwhile at this point than the 25% EC subsidiaries (megacorp vassals) give their overlord.
I find the best strategy though is to form a defensive pact with a neighbour, especially if you're a megacorp. This will really make any other empire think twice about attacking you, even if you have 0 fleets. This is an easy ticket for a burst of insane expansion.
If you're a megacorp and you manage to ally with neighbours, establish commercial pacts asap and build branch offices primarily on their main planet. First building in every branch should be the one that increases profits from the branch.
If you're a criminal megacorp, you want to target isolationist empires with your branch offices. You'll find that in diplomatic empires, as soon as you get your criminal office removed, a legit megacorp swoops in to establish a permanent branch office and you're cut off from reestablishing your own.
At this point, things will get a little more tense. Try to block the expansion of your neighbours with your own, even if it costs you 500 influence to establish a faraway starbase. The collective resources that you will get even from 4-5 systems with no colony is really worth enormously when you consider you're set to play for ~600 years and it ticks every month. Use gifts to tame unhappy customers, alloys and consumer goods work real well at this point. Paying 800 alloys to keep a neighbour from attacking you is better than paying 3000 for a fleet to defend yourself.
If you haven't started specializing a planet into research, if you don't do it now, your empire will fail.
It's also worth mentioning that you should specialize not just your research planet, but every planet you have. You get bonuses for it. Once you've specialized your first research planet, set a science ship to "Assist Research" on that planet.
Finding researchers that match the kind of research you want to head for is also a very good idea at this point. I love using kinetic weapons, so I often try to find a researcher with propulsion early on. It makes propulsion techs more likely to appear (which means thrusters, afterburners, kinetic weapons, missiles, etc..). Ofc if you like to go lasers, finding a physics researcher who specializes in that is also great. If your economy is your focus, find an industry researcher or such, yanno.
I also like to find a society researcher early, which gives me access to techs for building that generate unity. Ascencions are really key to success.
Another thing to consider is lifespan. If your researcher can get to level 10 but don't live long enough for that, there's no point. Also when a researcher dies and you replace him with a level 1, it's always going to be a nerf until the level 1 ... levels up :D So sometimes, having an extended lifespan leader is better than having a genius leader.
This is the toughest part, the part where you're most starved for resources. The market greatly helps here. Dump your excess resources into it and fill up on resources proactively. You don't need to need minerals to buy them, but you're still a winner if you buy them cheap. Having developed research early game is key here, as you will have access to the rarer resources and will start having access to level 2 production buildings. I usually struggle with minerals here.
Federating if you have an ally at this point is a major advantage if your economy is stronger. Yes, you lose 20% of your naval capacity, but if you're the federation president, you gain it back as federated fleet, plus your allies' 20%. This can quickly go up to 2~300 when you don't even have 200 yourself with the right ally. =) Also, federation fleets don't have fleet limits and don't cost upkeep (not 100% sure on the latter but the UI does not mention upkeep).
Surely you're going to start conquering, and it might seem tempting to claim all that valuable land your enemy has.... But do you really need it ? Consider this carefully: Vassalizing costs you no influence and grants you many benefits based off your subject's economy, and you can eventually integrate them relatively easily. Claiming could cost you low thousands in influence for a small to mid empire, and could potentially take you multiple wars. Both strategies are valid, depending on what you want. If you want to get rid of a roadblock quickly without hassle, vassalize. I usually only claim very small empires, fallen empires (since you can't vassalize them) and very strategic systems.
I've heard many people struggle with credit at this point, for me it is always minerals. The only suggestion I can make towards that is this: Never, ever build anything you don't need. I've seen this one particular guy complaining he's starved for energy, but 2 paragraphs later, says he can conquer anyone 8 times over with his fleet. Fleets have upkeep in alloys and energy, if he can roflstomp an empire 8 times, that means he's paying 7 times too much fleet upkeep. Also if you build 30 mining districts that have 1 energy upkeep each, and you have no one to work the district, you're wasting 30 energy/month and you wasted the resources to build the districts. It's simple, if you're starved, there's many ways you can downsize, and downsizing is often preferable to letting it snowball and saltily rolling a new empire/making a whine post.
Managing trade routes at this point becomes important as well. As I've mentioned in the early game, you want one trade hub per clusters, and you want them as close as possible to each other. It's also worth mentioning that at this point, all your trade routes will point to your capital, which makes it a clusterf---. You should set them up so each trade route goes to the next starbase until you reach your capital. It's worth noting that the game won't let you create a trade route if it doesn't circle back to your capital, so always start off with the starbase nearest to your capital, link it to your capital, find the second starbase, link it to the first, etc... This makes piracy much easier to deal with. At this point, you're also likely gonna need patrols. =)
To manage trade routes, in the lower right, click the trade route overlay, then in your galaxy map, left click the starbase icon besides the system's name, and then right click the destination hub. You can also manage the path they use by blocking off systems. You do this by clicking on the system so it zooms into it, and then at the bottom, besides the system's name, there's a button for it =)
Technological ascendency should always be your first pick if you're looking for performance.
If you've really focused research or couldn't build wide, it's entirely possible you have access to mind over matter and such specializing perks by your second, otherwise, Executive vigor 9/10, Mastery of Nature 7/10, One vision 6/10.
Third perk should always be your specialization perk. It often happens I have to leave it hanging until I have the necessary research.
Fourth perk is where it starts to get a bit more freeform. When I play materialist empires, I usually don't go for synthetic evolution, it just hurts my soul to turn all my empire into robots, so this one is free then (usually it goes to world shaper), when I play other types of empire, this slot is reserved to transcendancy and such. =)
Fifth perk for me is usually arcology and equivalent - at this point my main planets are all overflowing with pops, and arcologies give them more space to expand, as free planets are starting to get thin.
Sixth perk, if you want quick access to megastructures, it should be voidborne. If you can wait for the mega-engineering research, and have a ruined megastructure, master builders. If you can wait for mega-engineering and don't have a ruined megastructure, galactic wonders. Yes, you may have to wait on all of these.
Seventh perk, if your sixth was voidborne, then master builder is non-negotiable. Otherwise, Galactic wonders.
Eigth perk, if you took voidborne at #6, this one should be galactic wonders, otherwise if you haven't taken voidborne at this point, it is an excellent choice but the slot remains free. I can usually do without habitats, and I find that master builders > voidborne, even if you don't have/plan on taking voidborne.
I usually make corvette 4:1 battleships, that means 4 full fleets of corvette and one full fleet of battleships. I also highly recommend using federation fleets to build an high-impact, long range, massive stack.
This is sort of an odd case, but psi-shield are so powerful it's hard not to abuse them. This is why I need the reactor booster. Considering my evasion is already capped at 90%, if I did not need power, I would go for a targeting computer there.
Reasons for this setup: It has no weaknesses except range. It's very general purpose, the autocannon tears through the shield at the same time as the missiles tear through armor. Missiles provide enough firepower to fight battleships and such too. This make it so you can use this design for pretty much everything.
How to play corvette fleets: Corvettes are very agile. Cruisers and Battleships have problems dealing with them. Also, they are very fast, so you can react very fast to threats, much faster than most. If I did not have crazy thrusters, I would also consider afterburners to increase my speed potential, but since I am capped evasion, I lose half of the afterburner's utility.
If you have only corvette fleets, you want to ambush your enemies. This means predicting their path and placing your army right where you assume they will land before they do. If you can skip the part of actually getting to them, you have no weakness.
If you have a supporting artillery fleet, you want to use corvette fleets to go lock enemies rapidly while your slow battleship fleet lags behind. Locking an enemy so it cannot retaliate to long-range attacks is key to a healthy, long lasting battleship fleet. =)
Why kinetic artillery over proton launchers ? Point is to be able to deal efficient damage at all stages of a ship's life. Also the problem with proton launchers is they are inefficient in the first salvo, since they hit shields. Kinetic artillery has bonuses against shields, so it makes your first salvo very deadly, and opens up your opponents to be melted by the tachyon lance.
Again, these are personal choices. The takeaway here is as much as you would specialize your planets, specialize your fleets. Also use corresponding admirals. Evasion/speed for corvettes, range/damage/firing rate for artillery.
Strategy also matters here. With a bit of luck and manoeuvring, you can take a fallen empire with a 120~150k fleet. The trick is to massively overwhelm each fleet. Yeah you might have 150k and the fallen might have 400k, but if they trickle down their 95k fleet one by one into you, and you fight them in optimal conditions, you might be surprised of the results. =)
Also remember to use war performance edicts, like focusing crystals. If you use missile, the volatile explosives one can 1.5X your fleet strength.
- Conquer Fallens. Keep their two main planets, even if you have to expropriate peeps. Salvage their chite for powerful shields techs, thruster techs and other shenanigans. =)
- Do the Leviathan dance! The dimensional horror can give you quick access to jump drives, I believe, the enigmatic fortress give you top of the line auxiliary computers, etc...They all have considerable bonuses. Also consider doing the lesser spaceborne aliens too, like mining drones.
- I perform generally better on the war level with spiritualist ethics and transcendence than materialist ethic and The flesh is weak.
- If you play spiritualist, make sure to give residency status and soldiers only status to other pop, so all your leaders are from your main pop. This makes it so every leader is psychic, and that trait is very strong.
- Trade is enormously powerful in this version. Make sure to develop it as much as possible at all stages of your game.
- Diplomacy can often save you a huge war. 500 alloys to buy your neighbour's opinion is cheap if you can't afford defenses.
- Make 3 titans with 3 different auras in a federation fleet. Make 3 different titans in your own fleet. Boom, you now have all the titan auras.