I have successfully completed some more maso games now, and have come across some situations and thoughts that I'd like to share/discuss.
* It looks like sometimes it's very hard or nigh impossible to befriend a certain race. In my last game, I suspected from the beginning that the Torians would be the Big Boys and tried to befriend them, but never succeeded to improve relations to better then warm. When later in the game the Arceans, Drengin and Yor were dead already, I had all of my ten trade routes to them - and relations oscillated between cool and neutral. I boosted the routes with trade bases - nothing changed. I built up my military to a rating of about 150 - no dice. I allied up with their allies, the Altarians - didn't help. I then paid them to attack the only minor race left, the Scottlingas, and the gave the Scottlingas my whole fleet of about 30 Excaliburs (and rebuilt them, of course). This reduced the Torian's military from strongest to weakest, and they even came to be asking for help because the Scottlingas with their one system would slowly destroy their civilization of about 12 systems (that was hilarious!) - but they remained neutral towards me. When later a random event brought the Altarians into a war against them, I became their sole trading partner - but that changed nothing either. Hrmpf.
One potential problem was that they turned out to be neutral while I was good, but that hadn't hindered me in past games from getting close so I'm not sure what the deciding factor was. Maybe it was their "strongest" economy, but when I later flipped their planets to me with cultural terror stars, they only improved to warm even with one system left. Strange!
* Above game also showed that I still don't understand exactly how the economy system works. When I had about a dozen systems all still growing, I could have been able to research "Evolution Control" in 11 turns with a spending rate of about 80%, making no deficit. But since The Terraformer had been built already, I switched off research for several years, concentrating on building bases, inducing wars and whatnot.
Later, I had about six more system in about the same state my other systems had been when I had shut down research, and my other system were now maxed out, at 100% morale and 1000000 pop. Without making a deficit, I was able to run 100$ spending on military, about 70% spending on social projects, but only 10% on research! And this would have gotten me Evolution Control in about 250 turns now! Huh?
I know that all my Galactic Research Centers and whatnot were wasted because they only increase the research potential (right?), and so I could spend a lower percentage of my income, but more absolute money than before. Especially with more systems, a higher population and a better economy, shouldn't it be easier or at least not harder for me to research now? I had higher maintainance costs than before (bases, military, buildings) but also a much better economy, and I actually was able to spend and produce more on military and social projects, but why research had gotten harder for me I have no idea.
* Because I had tried to befriend the Torians for so long, and because I had experimented with several other things as well, that game was extremely long - I finished in June 2297... But it was interesting to watch the AI over such a long period. What's up with them building empty star bases everywhere? And I mean *everywhere*, ten or more in every sector, most of them unimproved. First, upkeep cost should ruin their economy (but apparently didn't, as they also had a huge fleet), and second, why don't they obey to the new minimum distance between star bases rule? And it gets really ridiculous when war breaks out: Both opponents use the first months of war just to destroy all these empty bases, actually helping the enemy with this (reducing upkeep). That's silly!
* The AIs need serious improvement when it comes to invading planets! They have problems doing so in the early or middle game, but they are completely unable to inavde late-game planets with planetary defenses at 1000000 pop. For years, the Scottlingas had such a planet sitting there void of defenders, but all the Altarians and Torians managed was to send one combat transport per year. I needed about 50 combat transports using tidal disruptors to get that planet - the AI must be improved there. If I wanted to wage war, I could have let all my planets exposed because with their high pop they were invulnerable anyway.
* Military resources are overpowered in my opinion. I seldomly see balanced battles, because most of the time one civ has more military resources than the others and thus gets nearly impossible to beat unless their opponents manage to destroy the star bases mining the resources. I haven't done the exact math yet, but the way the combat system works, an increase of 100% in military power won't get you an advantage of 100% (a loss ratio of 1:2), but a lot more since attack and defense value get doubled, meaning you dish out more damage while receiving less. When I once had three fully mined resources, one of my overlords wiped out the entire fleet of one of my opponents.
And here's another field the AI needs serious improvement: Protecting resources. If you park warships or install cultural star bases near enemy planets, they will complain and declare war on you. But they won't get suspicious if you park an overlord and 20 constructors near their unguarded(!) resource? Come on, give me a break!
Despite this rant, I really like this game.
The tech estimate is buggy as all get out when you are fiddling with the sliders. I've learned pretty much when I can trust it and when I can't, but I still get fuzzied now and then.
If you go a turn, though, the estimate becomes reliable at the current slider setting. That is, it straightens out, until you change the sliders again.
Call it Stardock's homage to the Diablo II LYING CHARACTER SCREEN.
What you can do, first of all, is always sort your techs by cost. Keep an eye on your actual research spending number (in the upper right). That is the only reliable number you get, and even there, you need to "touch" the horizontal global budget slider (one tick left or right) every time after messing with the vertical sliders, to resort the actual spending. (Sound tedious yet?)
With your actual research spending, if you know about how much you need, you can adjust or do your own estimates. And you will learn to spot when the estimate is "a little off" or "way out in left field". I'd say the estimate you got for Evolution Control was the latter. Play one turn of full research and watch it correct itself back to what it should be.
Gosh. I have spent way too much time in Descent and Diablo "playing the lag". I have no problems ignoring false or misleading displays and following the parts of the feedback mechanism that are more reliable, but I sometimes forget that this is a hard-won skill most players don't have.
I hope they fix the bugs with the sliders, but until they do, there are ways to cope.