Browsing through the forums I noticed a lot of people mentioning how the felt rushed in single player and felt Sins was lacking in the grand campaign. I agree that out of the box Sins does lack that feel, but wanted to share my thoughts on it.
I spend a lot of time on Sins single player, as I travel frequently for work. So it's just me, my laptop, and a seat in business class from America to China. As such I've developed a love for longer games and figured I'd share my setup for a grand campaign.
First off I tend to play TEC. In Rebellion I've found I like Loyalist more than rebel scum, but really either TEC is enjoyable in that it you can do economic focus and end up with a lot of money to throw around (messing with black market prices, bounties, etc). Advent also works well enough since they're turtle friendly, but the voice acting for Advent annoys me (personal preference, it's not bad,it just hits that pitch I hate) so I tend not to stick as long with them.
By the way, this is long. If you want to see the main selling points read the "Map Setup" and "Grand Campaign Feel" sections, then decide if you want to read the rest.
You'll want to make a custom map. Set the number of warp lines to the minimal, set the warp line length to the longest.
I tend to play one star maps with loads of planets, but if you like multi star go for it. I also recommend going down each planet group and setting them to be planets. That way everyone gets more logistical and tactical slots to play with. Right now I'm running a 110 planet map with 100 of them set to full on planets. Yay resources (also none of those annoying storms that prevent fighter launch!).
Now then go into preview and jump some ships around, down one of the longer warp lines. Sit around and wait. Get a drink, whatever. If you're on 1x speed it could take awhile. Basically here is where you decide how patient you are. I like super long lines because I can launch a fleet, leave the game on 4x, give the steward my drink order, and have the drink in my hand to sip before my fleet hits the hostile system. Play with the line length and speed until you find a combo that feels good.
Warp lines are the key though as they are what controls if you feel rushed or not. Not number of stars/planets. I tend to see people think a lot of systems means a long game. If it is only 30 seconds between systems, then it doesn't. On the default maps the game provides I can have my fleet on one side of some large map and still jump it over to the other side of my Empire in fairly short order. So that kind of setup encourages zerg like fleet movements. You want a high warp transit time relative to time to move through a gravity well to put the brakes on everything.
You know the drill, spawn your scout cruisers and send them out. Pop out a capital ship and get it some escorts. You also might as well fill up the space around your homeworld with research stations because it is going to be awhile before you get a lot more space. I tend just to pick a direction and blind jump my fleet that way since I tend to finish the fleet before my scout cruiser arrives.
When my scout cruiser arrives I see if I need to research to be able to colonize that planet or not and then queue up that research.
One thing to keep in mind as you colonize is you need a frigate factory everywhere you go, at least at first. On the shorter warp line maps I'll stick frigate factories only at choke points or every 3rd world. Here though if you have to wait for your constructor to move two or three warp jumps, you're going to wait a long time.
With your second planet finish off whatever labs you need and start getting a trade network going. I tend to ignore defense since I pay the pirates to go hit other people (TEC having money after all) and no one else is likely to attack me soon.
Even though you have fewer planets you'll want to expand your fleet early. The maintenance upkeep is a major drag yes, but with how long the warp lines are you want a couple battle groups out there colonizing. With TEC I'm not too exotic with the battle groups. Just an Akhan (with colonize), a handful of corvettes, and a handful of Lancers. Other ships aren't worth it early in the game as you're only going to be fighting local defense forces. As a side note, one of the beauties of going all planet is you don't need a stupid Protev tagging along to do crew extractions.
What you do need to do is shift your thinking. Corvettes and Lancers aren't spammable anymore. When you drop into a system you have what you have. New production isn't going to make it down the warp line to influence this battle. So rather than getting a variety of hull designs, I get the Corvette, Lancer, and Starbase. Then I focus on research for them (better armor, shields, missiles, etc).
By the time you have three (or maybe 4 planets) you should have a pretty good idea where the regional chokepoints are. Move your colony fleets to rush those chokepoints and take them. Build a frigate factory and a capital ship factory at each of them. Get your standard defenses up and your stabases. Make sure you do full military on the bases, even if you're TEC:L and get two starbases.
See this is where the game starts to get interesting. If the enemy shows up at a choke point you are fighting them with:
1. Whatever you have there.
2. Whatever you can build there.
This to me is where the game gets interesting. With the long warp lines you are not doing reaction fleets. You can't park a fleet one level back and jump it to whichever outer layer system gets hit. Something knocks on your door and you're fighting it with whatever happens to be in the well.
Grab the chokepoints to create an outer perimeter, secure them and then worry about taking out any neutrals left inside the perimeter.
On chokepoints that feel safeish (as in I'm not seeing a hostile scout them) I don't build anything. On chokepoints where I'm seeing enemy ships sticking their nose into the system I tend to build 1 to 3 capital warships and train them up. No frigates though. Park the capitals with the starbases and tell them not to move.
Instead just keep 50 to 100 of your support points open. When a fleet drops in, order the frigate factories to go to work the minute this happens. If you have early warning techs of course you can see this coming and get a leg up on production. If you're rich you can also pump out some more capitals.
After you hold the choke point, you want to scrap out your frigates and your untrained capitals. Because for all you know, the other side of your empire is about to get hit and you need the support points over there. You don't want to be jumping back and forth between a battle and another system where you're giving scrap orders to open up support points.
You'll pretty much be running one large force for offensive operations since you only have one Titan. Scout out your enemy of choice and drop a big fleet in his backyard. I tend to rush up a warp chain as fast as possible (not that fast really) and take one of the hostile systems I can secure as my new choke point. With minimal warp lines you'll have chains four or five systems that only have two connections before you reach a nexus.
For the first system I jump in with a pair of constructors as part of the fleet. As soon as I can, I get both star bases built. If it looks the enemy is going to counter me heavily I militarize those starbases. If not I do them for economics/culture. Now that in theory I'm through the defensive perimiter I just shoot up the warp chain. At each system that only has two lines I detach a group of torpedo cruisers and siege frigates to wipe the system out. The main fleet keeps the gas pedal to the floor and heads for the nexus.
Take the nexus, pop a pair of starbases, fill your tactical slots up, and get those starbases up to full military potential. You can then turtle back up for a bit while you digest your gains and refill your striking fleet.
As a side note here, strategic bombardment weapon are now a lot more valuable since their payloads move quickly. Especially the Terran cannon. You can really make it easy to walk up the warp chain if you grade the road with the canons. I've actually found on the longer warp chain maps the cannons really feel overpowered (since their payload travels so fast) and tend to mod my game to deny anyone the ability to make strategic weapons. Personal choice though.
The Grand Campaign Feel
First off, economics matters more now. Logistical slots are very, very precious early game since it takes for every to get multiple planets. So you do multiple economic plans. Basically:
1. A frigate factory and then all laps for internal systems.
2. Starbase construction. Demo a few labs to make room for a trade network (the demoed labs are offset by new lab construction on recently colonized planets).
3. Research complete, shift to a full trade network. Get rid of the frigate factories at some point as well.
Diplomatically things matter a lot more too. Reaction fleets are mostly a thing of the past. That means:
If your Titan fleet is running around on the northern end of the map, you want to be friendly with the guys on your other flanks so their Titans don't knock on your doors. With shorter warp lines I tended to completely ignore diplomacy and just crush whoever dares set foot in my Empire. Now with my transit times so high, even the AI can sometimes figure out how to wreck me before I can respond.
You also can draw enemy fleets away. If you manage to get a good strategic picture, you can bribe the guys two doors over to attack your neighbors. Thus ensuring your neighbor's Titan is a solid hour at 1x speed away from your systems. So as TEC I'll sit there and instigate wars during fortification phase. You can have lots of fun monitoring the progress of the war and supplying both sides to keep it a happy little stalemate. If one guy gets too strong, sic the pirates on him and ship aid to the weaker party.
Militarily things feel less rushed.
Early in the game you still have to land grab. The nice thing though is you only need to landgrab up four to six (possibly more if you set number of war lines to higher) key chokepoints. Then you have to babysit starbase construction at the chokepoints. After that you can secure the systems inside your perimeter at your leisure.
Offensive operations take on a grand feel. Longer warp lines reward grand fleet over unit spam. You're only fighting in one gravity well with one force. I break my giant fleet down into multiple fleets (different classes of ships on different hotkeys), zoom way in and really get into the tactics. Assuming you're doing your diplomacy right no one else should be attacking your other choke points, so you can devote a lot of time and care to one single operation.
You do have some moments of panic. I was well over the Arctic Circle on my fleet, onto my fourth drink, and a missed a pirate bribe. I also had been ignoring one of my neighbor's missions since he was trying to get me to attack an ally. I forgot to bribe him with cash to make him happy again. So suddenly I'm in mid offensive operation when when my neighbor's Titan fleet pops up at one of my choke points. A couple minutes later the pirates hit another chokepoint. So I ended up running three battles at the same time. Such occurrences are a bit more rare though. You're not shifting reaction fleets around and spamming production to reinforce your attacking fleet(s).
Some Other Thoughts:
Remember if you have hostile TEC out there, they have that faction tech where you end up with insurgency problems. The insurgents can pop up randomly, so make sure to have hangars even in your internal systems. I know I sound like a broken record, but reaction fleets don't work on long warp lines. I prefer hangars since the bombers can also zap any scout ships that wander in, but you can also just do a hardpoint of turrets to protect your orbital infrastructure as well.
In general conventional logic for Sins is that you don't want to have too many capital ships in your fleet. With long warp lines I tend to disagree. Your enemy is NOT jumping a reaction force in you in short order, so you can do longer system battles. I'll often drop into a system and send bomber waves and my capital ships at some key targets (shipyards and hangars). I'll have my units fire off all their special abilities to basically try to one hit those targets. Then I'll fall back to the edge of the well and let the cool downs expire before coming in for round two. In a sense DPS isn't as key since you're not on the clock to get the job done before the counterattack arrives. So I focus on minimizing losses. In all honesty you could be less concerned about your personnel and feed your frigates into the grinder, but I tend to draw combat out.
The part above also lets you do a lot more with carriers. Launching fighter attacks while cruising around the edge of the well works well. You'll have plenty of time to repair damaged units, deploy multiple missile batteries off your capital carriers, and generally be patient in terms of choosing exactly when you wade in to hit the turrets and the starbase.