Space Pirates and Zombies Tips
This independent RTS/action/RPG title from MinMax Games can be really difficult, especially with the random population of stars - which can sometimes hide good equipment upgrades or put them beyond difficult gates - but with a few solid strategies, you'll start destroying Large and eventually Huge ships with barely any effort.
In SPAZ, you'll have three hangars to use throughout most of the game - the tutorial starts you at two, then it quickly goes to three for a long time, and in the late game you get four hangars. In each hangar you'll house one ship with a custom set of armor, shields, engine, reactor, and hard-mounted weapons and utility items. Each ship must use a particular hull design and you've got a couple dozen choices, all of which are broken up into five sizes: tiny, small, medium, large, and huge. Each ship hull has a unique set of stats that govern its crew and cargo capacities, speed, hull integrity, and more. Choosing the right ship for the right job is key to winning in this game. In general, you usually want to have the biggest possible ship in each of your hangars, although there are a few hull types that, for some playstyles, will likely prove to be kind of terrible and may not be worth using at all. Don't be afraid to switch out your designs! If you're mining Rez, go for cargo capacity. If you're hitting a Science base for its upgrades, get lots of beams to take down its considerable shields. If you're farming Goons at a "Cheap Motel" event, go for hulls that maximize crew capacity.
For each ship, you can set a desired amount of "excess" crew which are used to repair its hull after taking damage, or for other special uses. 0% means that you're running a barebones crew that barely repairs the hull, and 100% means you're full to the brim. I've found that running 0% or 100% is usually a bad idea, and that for your biggest ship, the sweet spot is usually right near the middle in that 40-60% range. You want to have some crew available to keep your hull repaired, but you want to have enough space in crew quarters to pick up fresh dudes - and add them to your stack of Goons (more on them later) when you get extras.
Keep in mind that if your smaller ships die almost immediately after getting targeted, having any excess crew might just be throwing away Goons. Also, try investing in some cloaking and low-power weapons (or reactor boosters) so that they can fire without the cloak winking out.
Always be at least a few levels higher than the system you're fighting in. Level means a lot in this game, and unless you've found a very, very effective combination of upgrades and ships, you're going to have much more success (and a hell of a lot more fun) fighting stuff significantly lower level than you are. If you're too low level for a place you want to be, start racking up the Data through trading and lots of kills; this guide will show you how.
Rez is the raw material you use to build and upgrade your ships. If one of your ships is destroyed, you'll pay Rez to replace it; to upgrade an existing ship with expensive parts, you'll also pay. (You'll also get refunds for returning ships to the hangar or configuring a cheaper ship.) When you buy ship upgrades from black market shops, you'll be paying in Rez, as well. You collect Rez by mining asteroids, trading Goons for it at Civilian stations, completing missions, or by collecting it from the scraps of exploded enemy ships.
It's important to point out the difference between ship crews and goons. Crew are the people you have in your little fleet that you fly around. You don't need any crew to fly a ship, but having a crew allows for faster repairs to your ship's hull, and a larger crew repairs faster. When you pick up derelict life capsules in one of your ships, those become crew, and your Desired Surplus Crew slider in your F3 menu determines how many of them will become Goons once you pop through a beacon or head back to your mothership.
Goons are excess crew that you don't actually need to fly your ships. They sit at the mothership and do nothing until you lose a ship; then some Goons are used as extra crew to fill in whatever you set for Desired Surplus Crew in your ship. Goons are a valuable, trade-able commodity, and you should always be looking to pick them up when you can, either so that you can go into a tough battle with ships full of dudes (to repair your hull) or so you can trade off excess Goons for Rez or Data.
Data serves as SPAZ's experience points that allow you to gain levels. Data can be found in cargo containers and artifacts, and destroyed enemy ships will leave data behind. If you pay to respec one of your upgrade paths, you actually pay in Data - as in, de-leveling yourself. Early on this seems like a terrible price to pay, but it becomes much more sensible as the game goes on.
Your weaponry falls into several categories in this game. Beams are great against shields, while launchers and cannons usually work best on hulls and armor, and you can only get to the hull once an enemy's shields are down. There are also mines, drone fighters, bombs, and other types. It's important to use the right weapon for the right situation; if you're taking on a high-tech space station with a ton of shields and not much armor, load up on the beam weapons. And if you're taking on a tough ship with a ton of armor, pack launchers and cannons so that you'll finish it off faster. And don't be afraid to send a couple of your ships off to refit weapons in mid-fight, especially against a tough space station. Ditching your beams for cannons once the shields go down can turn a loss into a victory!
It might be tempting to play with the new technologies like shuttles, bombs, drones, mines, and the like as soon as you get them, but I found that this generally leads to wasted points. These technologies are great at the end of the game, but the initial versions of these technologies aren't as amazing. Admittedly, the bombs are much better now than they were in pre-release Beta versions of SPAZ, but you'll have to deal with using some pretty weak ships to take advantage of them. And the respec costs may seem high early on, and that's all the reason to stick with stuff you'll use in every fight on every ship, but eventually that cost becomes more reasonable and you can start experimenting. Early on, though? Stick with the mainstream stuff.
Shields absorb damage that comes from any side of the ship, and once they're depleted, your ship must spend several seconds taking no damage in order to bring the shields back up. If you keep taking damage, your hull starts to weaken, and your armor only mitigates some of it; armor is split up into four sections, though, so if you're taking a pounding on one side and need to survive, turn another side to your attacker and keep fighting. This can be difficult to do, though, if the particular hull you're using doesn't allow for turrets. (It also takes some practice on the controls to keep a ship faced in such a way.)
You can also use cloaking systems to stay off enemy scanners, and this works like a shield does; your cloak gives you a very weak shield and it works as long as you don't take damage, but if it's dropped to zero, the cloaking system is temporarily disabled. Many of the stealth-based and timed missions are easiest when you use a tiny, cloaked ship; experiment to see what works best for you.
SPAZ allows you to upgrade your fleet of ships in several ways. Leveling up allows you to spend Upgrade Points, picking areas like Beams, Reactor, Crew, Subsystems, Bombs, and more. You can also unlock new weapons and parts for your ships, and blow up enemy ships in order to steal the blueprints; get enough of them for a particular ship, and you'll be able to build that ship yourself. (That's actually how you unlock nearly every ship in the game.)
I've already talked about sticking with the meat and potatoes when deciding on offense and defense, but it's definitely worth, at some point, going ahead and getting things like your crew, engines, and reactor up to two or three. Still, major point outlays should go into your direct combat capabilities. There are plenty of points you'll get in the later game that allow you to focus on some of the crazy things.
In every system, the UTA and Civilians are fighting against each other. Every system is a separate "faction", and each one is cut off from the rest, so you can be best buddies with the UTA in one system and sworn enemies with them in the next. In general, I've found that being friends with civilians is better than buddying up with the UTA, because the civilians can trade Data/Rez/Goons, and they usually are the ones selling blueprints. On top of that, even if you're friends with the UTA, you still have to bribe them with Goons in order to get through the warp blockades. You'll have to waste time collecting a ton of Goons up for each bribe when you could just blast your way through the blockade in about a minute.
It's also a valid strategy to just make an enemy out of everyone and only blow up enemy space stations to take your upgrades by force, but it's likely that some stations will just be too powerful for you to be able to take them out without a ton of upgrades from the mid-late game. Trading will be difficult, too, so do keep a few powerful Civ friends around at the least.
It's vital to keep a stock of Rez at your mothership. If you come out of a battle with very low reserves, don't start another big fight and let it get to zero; use what Rez you have left to put together a solid mining-friendly fleet and get your reserves back up.
Each tier of ships, beyond the Tiny ones, has a hull that has good cargo capacity. Load up with as much cargo capacity as your fleet can handle, and head to a Mining system with friendly civilians that's as high level as you can get (preferably with the most Civ strength, too). Go to the Civilian base, and if you're in a Mining system, that base will be mining an asteroid that never decays, and pieces just keep breaking off of it. All you have to do is help them mine what pops off of the big asteroid and take as much Rez as you can! When you fill up the cargo capacity, don't fly back to the beacon; just switch ships. As long as your ship was 100% full, the AI should automatically fly back to the beacon to offload the cargo. In the meantime, you're in one of your other ships, tractor-beaming up resources much faster than when the AI controls that ship.
I've found that going with as many tractor beams and engine upgrades as possible works best, but if you're going to do a setup like this, you might make sure to only build it once you are safely near the friendly space station. You don't want to get hit by an enemy surprise attack while you're in cargo freighters with little to no weaponry onboard.
If a system is selling an upgrade that you want, you have a few choices for getting it. You can just fly right over and buy it if that faction already likes you, and if not, you can either do missions to get your reputation up, or you can go in with guns blazing to blow up the station and take the upgrade. Note that the Civ/UTA strength in the system - seen as a number out of 3 in the top-left of the system map - dictates just how tough the station will be to kill. And even if you have the reputation needed, maybe you don't want to pay the Rez, so you blow up the friendly station anyway.
If a faction is just too tough in one particular system, sometimes you can do missions to reduce their strength in that system - then you can take on a weaker version of the faction's space station. Keep in mind, however, that making enemies out of the Civs (the side where, in most systems, most of the gear is sold) in too many places will make it tough for you to trade Rez and Goons away, since nobody will trade with their enemies. Strike a balance, take what you want, but keep in mind that having at least a few trading partners is a good thing.
I found that one of the most reliable ways to gain XP is by farming Goons and trading them for Data in Science-based systems. Blasting your way through UTA-defended gates is a great way to farm Goons and get regular level-ups with Data, but you can also take advantage of Cheap Motel events when you see them (get high-crew ships loaded up once you drop into the system!) and even find crates full of potential Goons just floating in space - often near space stations. You'll have to travel back to Science systems often to trade, and it helps if you're friends with the ones that have 3/3 Civ Strength since they'll build up to the largest amount of trade-able Data.
A few missions out there will require you to use a single ship with a cloaking device on it in order to win, but you can actually win quite a few missions with a ship like this. Remember that you're actually visible to your enemies when you're firing, so don't be surprised when you shoot a toxic barrel and the UTA ship that's nearby notices and starts firing in your general direction. As soon as your cloak is back online, though, they'll have lost you again (unless they have a scanner, and you can see it put a white beam on you if one's nearby). In general, if you keep moving and you're not running out of power by firing weapons too often, you'll be fine. I'd say that learning how to use a tiny, fast, cloaked ship is pretty much a requirement by the time you get to the endgame, so you might as well get some early- and mid-game practice.
Since the release of v1.0 of the game, I haven't been able to play SPAZ much so I haven't seen all the missions, nor have I confirmed that some of the more difficult or just downright un-winnable missions from Beta are now possible to complete, but it's important to point out that you should really only be doing missions in the context of a particular goal. The galaxy is too big and there are too many productive things to do for you to just keep chasing the same old missions over and over, so make sure you have an objective in mind. Whether that goal is higher levels or more equipment, it's important to point out that most of the Data you'll be getting comes from the ships you kill and the Goons you trade (assuming you're doing that) than the Mission completion rewards. Of course, building a solid trading network and working towards unlocking the game's more advanced parts are important goals, so any missions you do should be building towards stuff like that as well.