However, having now played them a couple of times, I begin to see their shortfalls.
First, the racial benefit of being able to get two technologies for each research action only pays off if you can afford to buy the two technologies (with your Science resource). While it might be easy in the first turn (picking up a couple of 2 science cost techs), in later turns you find that you don’t have enough Science to buy two.
More on the cost. The cheapest you’re going to fill all 3 tracks for is 102 Science resource. In a 9 turn game, that means you need your production of science resource to average over 11 Science per turn. Given you start producing 4 (which in itself is a good starting position), you need to expand quickly and get lucky with worlds that produce science. You ideally need to get 4 more science worlds in the first 2 turns, which is no easy task.
The other thing with the racial benefit is that it can lead to you buying technologies you don’t really need to make the most of your ability (e.g. taking 1 tech you want and another just to make use of the ability). That doesn’t really sound too bad, after all it means you are filling up your tech tree. But, the problem there is you can end up spending your Science resource on stuff you don’t really need, then finding in later turns you can’t afford the stuff you do.
Also, you are somewhat reliant on the technologies being available! Technologies are drawn at random each turn, and you can often find the technologies you want to continue your tree are not there. Also, there are less of the more advanced technologies (only 3 of the most advanced), so you can’t count on what you want being available.
But all of these are keyed off your motivation. The driver seems to be fill up all the technology tracks, get 15 victory points. When you examine that closer, you find it is not necessarily the best way to win. Most games I’ve played in you need at least 30 points to win. So even if you somehow fill all your technology tracks, you’re only half way to the minimum victory points you need to win the game.
What I’ve found in most games is that I might fill one track (5vp), and maybe have the other two quite full (2-3VP in each), so only really getting 10VP from my focus on science.
So what is the best way to win?
Lets looks at the VP you can gain in more detail. Science, the maximum is 15VP. Discovery tiles I think you’d be hard pressed to get more than 5 in a game (given the need to fight pesky ancient ships), so let’s say a max of 10VP. Systems, if you’ve somehow managed to hold 5 systems plus the Galactic Centre, you probably have 13VP (4 for GC, 3 for your homeworld, 2 or 1 for each of the others). Holding more than that is pretty expensive.
They key seems to be battle. The races have different Battle Glory tracks. Some can hold up to 5 tiles (so, max 20VP). They Hydran, however, are limited to 3 Battle slots (plus 1 ally), so their max VP from battles/alliances is 13VP. So, my focus on science, which has earned me 10VP, has also reduced my max VP by 7. Hmmm, maybe that focus on science wasn’t such a great idea.
The other issue the Hydrans seem to run into is a lack of minerals. By focusing so much on Science, they tend to be short on money and minerals, meaning that they can’t actually take as many actions or build as many ships as your opponents.
So, the lessons I guess I learned in terms of playing the Hydran are:
1) Try to get lots of Science production early.
2) You don’t need to research too much early on, you are probably better exploring to get more resources, knowing that you can “catch up” on technology later more easily with your racial ability. Money will let you explore faster, and minerals can be converted to money or science once you unlock the Orbital technology, so explore!
The lessons I learned overall are:
1) Science is a tool, not a legitimate path to victory. You are better off saving your Science and buying a few key technologies, and maybe trying to complete 1 tree rather than all 3.
2) Battle Early, battle often. Fights will get you victory points, plus the system you claim will get you victory points, plus (if it’s ancient ships) the discovery tile will earn you victory points. Move, battle, claim the system and you could get 5-6 victory points in a turn. As all the battle VP are drawn from the same pool (and excess discarded), you have the best chance of getting a high number early (as other people will not discard the high numbers).