New to The Fermi Paradox? Here’s what you should know – with minimal spoilers – on playing the game and having fun with it.
This is a newcomer’s guide to The Fermi Paradox, which is one of the best indie games I have played in 2021 IMO. It’s goal is to clarify some game mechanics that might not be obvious to a new player and to provide some tips to best enjoy the game. This guide is up-to-date as for the v0.64 Mars update. It’s based on my personal observations and understanding of the game’s mechanics, and it’s possible it contains some inaccuracies (meaning I’ve been playing the game wrong all this time!). I keep spoilers to a minimum so you can discover what various event outcomes are on your own.
What Is the Game About?
This is an emergent storytelling game: you make choices, and interesting things – good, bad or catastrophic – happen to alien civilizations. Although there are light strategy elements, playing this game like a strategy game in which you attempt to reach the most optimal outcomes will prevent you from seeing a lot of the game’s storytelling potential. So don’t hesitate to make awful things happen to an alien species you love! Rooting for an underdog and seeing how they’ll end up bouncing back from disaster – or not – is a big part of what makes The Fermi Paradox addictive.
Synthesis is the Cosmic Gardener’s resource. You accumulate it by clicking on solar flare icons or by selecting outcomes that are usually negative during events. You can spend synthesis to select an outcome that is usually the most positive during events. The most significant events cost up to 60 synthesis to have the most positive outcome occur or to avert catastrophe, so there is a risk when you dip below that threshold. But what’s cosmic gardening without taking a chance here and there? Resource crises and first contact events present you with two event choices in a row, and obtaining the most optimal outcome in these cases can cost up to 120 synthesis.
Galactic View and System View
Galactic view shows you the entire galaxy at a glance: system names, the names of the civilizations living there, their respective tech level (based on how filled up these stars are), where radio waves are traveling, and where colony ships are headed (these can be hard to notice at the moment, but you can click on them to see their status). You can collect flares on this screen and collecting a flare the pops next to a settled system will impact the civilization there if this flare type impacts civ stats (see below).
In system view, you can view a specific system, see the stats for the civilization that’s there, and collect solar flares that can impact that civilization.
In the current version, there doesn’t seem to be benefits to collecting flares from uninhabited systems besides the synthesis these provide.
Science usually increases on its own each turn. Selecting event outcomes (not solar flares) that increase or decrease science seems to impact that turn-by-turn rate permanently. The civ’s tech level increases when the science bar reaches 100%. Having a really high science growth rate is important in the endgame. Science flares bump the science bar up or down slightly.
Population in many ways is this civilization’s hit points. Wars and certain catastrophic events deplete it and these will wipe out your civilization if they reduce its population to 0. A larger population consumes more resources and doesn’t seem to provide extra benefits besides being a buffer for catastrophes. The game requires a certain population level to complete the Final Tech research that triggers the game’s final event (this requirement might not prevent the Final Tech event from occuring in the current version due to a possible bug). Population flares and events that impact population increase or decrease its growth (or attrition) rate. Be careful of high population growth rates (usually above 20%) as they are more difficult to reign in when resources become scarce. Population also determines how many people a civ ends up sending into space on a colony ship or fleet.
Resources are the civilization’s planetary resources; its population consumes and needs these to survive. When a civ reaches scarcity (when the resource bar is between 30-50%), this triggers a resource crisis with major effects on the civ. When the resource bar is depleted, this triggers an even worse crisis which can lead to extinction. The estimated time before the civ reaches resource scarcity/depletion is based on its current population. Resources get a bump up whenever the civ reaches a new tech level. Events that impact resources seem to have a much more permanent effect on their resilience or fragility than resource flares. Mess with a civ’s resources at your (well, the civ’s) own risk.
Harm is a percentage level that can impact some resource crisis, first contact or final tech outcomes. It is unclear if it impacts the likelihood of wars breaking out. The harm bar does not reflect that percentage. Instead, it displays how much of the civilization’s current population a war could wipe out. A full bar means a military conflict could exterminate this civ. The potential damage this bar represents seems to be determined by the harm percentage and the civ’s tech level – higher tech enables greater devastation. Harm flares have a higher impact on the harm percentage the higher it already is; events that impact harm increase or decrease it by 1% per icon. Increasing harm can be a good way of scoring some quick synthesis with no short term effects, but it can bite the civ in the arse down the road when it gets too high (above 10%).
Ethics determines whether the extent to which a civilization leans towards utopia or dystopia. Ethics impact resource crisis, first contact and final tech events. This stat plays a major part in determining which of the multiple endings you will get. Ethics flares bump this bar one way or the other by 1%, but events that impact ethics have a dramatic impact on the stat in the current version (at least 5% per icon, sometimes more).
Basic flares give +1 synthesis.
Positive stat flares (stat icon is white) increase the stat matching the flare.
Negative stat flares (stat icon outline only) decrease the stat matching the flare and provide +2 synthesis.
Question mark flares may at random increase or decrease (with no synthesis compensation, unlike negative stat flares) one stat or provide a significant number of synthesis (5 or more). The text box provides a cue on what changed. Their effects seem to be positive more often than not.
Events present you with three possible outcomes. Typically, one is more positive and costs synthesis; one is middle-of-the-road and costs no synthesis; and one is negative but gives you synthesis. Event costs have a certain element of randomness: at times the best outcome might cost less synthesis or be free (the neutral outcome might even cost synthesis in that last case), or the negative outcome might provide a much smaller amount of synthesis. The randomness seems to depend on past choices you have made for this civilization.
The game tends to deter making the same choice over and over for this civ through this mechanic, and occasionally gives a freebie to a civ that might be struggling. Possible event outcomes usually display a number of resource icons (white or in outline) indicating how these stats will shift for the civ; shifts are much more drastic with events than with stat flares (and with more permanent impacts for science and resource changes through events).
The more symbols are shown for the same stat, the greater the impact (for example, expect triple to impact or more if an event option displays the same icon 3 times). Some additional information on the event might appear at the bottom of the screen, usually a population loss from a military conflict. Resource crisis, first contact and final tech events have some options that involve a die roll (usually based on the Ethics and Harm values of one or more of the civ involved); the roll’s probability of success also appears at the bottom of the screen.
Evolution events spawn a new alien species in a system. You can spend synthesis to spawn a more enlightened species, or gain synthesis by spawning a more violent species. The violent species are cooler IMO (although troublesome). Evolution events happen more frequently in the early game but in this version, they can happen throughout the game, and a system where a species was wiped out might even see a “second chance” evolution occur there.
When a civilization reaches the industrial tech level (or its equivalent for some alien species), it can start having a chance for a radio signal emission event to happen. The neutral choice sends a signal towards a single system; the positive choice sends it in all directions. Signals do not benefit the emitting species, but they can provide a significant bonus to species they reach centuries later if you have the synthesis to capitalize on this then. Species that are aware of another seem more likely to send ships or fleets towards that system.
Colony Ships and Fleets
A civilization that has reached the nuclear tech level (or equivalent) can begin sending a colony ship or even a whole fleet (with half the civ’s population) towards another system. The ship or the fleet becomes a different civilization altogether – it starts with stats based on its homeworld population, but evolves in complete independence from it. Expect a fleet (or even a single ship) originating from a civ with a high population but scarce resources to have a resource problem very early on. Science progression will slow down drastically for the colonists during space travel. When a ship or a fleet reaches a system, it will attempt to settle it if it’s uninhabited, or go through a first contact event if another civ is there already.
To trigger the Final Tech event that can end the game, at least four civilizations must be at the singularity tech level or above, and one of these (in the current version) must reach the superluminal tech level. The game triggers the Final Tech event (requiring synthesis for a shot at the best outcome) when a superluminal civ fills up its science bar. Science progression sometimes comes to a halt for a civ at the singularity or superluminal stage.
This will happen when you have rarely selected outcomes during events (not solar flares) that boost science, or selected too many that decrease it. It’s difficult to reverse course for the science progression of a civ that is stuck at that stage, so make sure you invest in their science progression through events (new tech level events in particular) before they reach the singularity age. It might be easier to attempt to research the final tech with a different civ that has strong science once it reaches the superluminal age too (even if it’s not there yet) than with a civ that’s stuck at that age with no science progression.
Know that both the ethics levels and harm levels of the civ that discovers the final tech and of the other civs at singularity age or above can end up impacting the outcome of the Final Tech event, which determines what ending you’ll get.