These dynamics start coming into play when you hit the mid-game. After you’ve got your basic group established, as your borders and those of your neighbors start grinding against one another, you’ll have to find more creative ways to keep up the early game’s strong momentum. If you’re not careful, you can be boxed in by ancient and powerful civilizations. Grand strategy games often devolve into war at some point, but conflict with these giants is a quick path to eradication. Instead, it helps to build a multi-racial empire with several disconnected settlements. When one front stalls, you can push another and keep your populace moving so that there’s always something to do and someone to manage. It also helps to play on a map with few other empires so you can grow a quite a bit before you start running into problems.
It’s not easy, and it’s a bit strange that you have to finagle the game into maintaining a solid pace, but those problems also stem from some of Stellaris’ best decisions, even though they don’t always work out the way they should. For example, research in Stellaris works quite a bit different than in most 4X games. There’s no static tree you climb, moving from agriculture to calendars and then to crop rotation. Instead you’ll receive several “cards” from a deck of possibilities. Some, like sapient artificial intelligence, are rarer than others and represent major leaps forward in tech that can also help you break away from the pack.
Others are weighted to show up more often to give everyone the same basic tools to start with. In theory, this keeps any one game from feeling too similar to any other. That works to a point, but it also means that you can pass up some critical piece of infrastructure tech and you might not see it for a while, or if you’re unlucky, never again. It forces some tough decisions that, while engaging, don’t always make sense. There doesn’t seem to be any real reason that I have to lose out on colony ships for a better research facility. On balance, though it’s a welcome change, and I got more out of it than I lost.