I feel like some of the strats described here might go against some role-play but it could be argued that it depends on how ruthless is the org that you’re role-playing. Also it might be fun to just discover all that stuff on your own so this post is intended more for discussion, but also could be read just for tips.
Early Game Strategy
The game has few settings that greatly affect difficulty. The difficulty setting that afaik gives +2/0/-2/-4 mods on all the rolls, the lesser number of factions makes game easier since there’s less competition for resources and less agents to target you if you’re doing well.
But the latter could be debated. The number of asteroids/planetoids in the system makes game easier since it gives you more resources, so there will be less need to fight for them.
I think Russia and Khazakhstan are the best targets to grab early since they let you stockpile enough boost to be first to the Moon and Mars when they become available. Also they give you expendable boost to put up some stations early to help with early research and to trade to the other factions letting them spend their boost to supply an empty station while giving you something valuable in return. France and Germany is a great source of research to make you a research leader so you could steer 2 or 3 world projects simultaneously effectively locking out any undesirable or poorly timed research. It helps to get smaller neighbouring/allied nations while you’re going for a bigger ones but try to get the ones that could be easily unified with the big ones and don’t be afraid to abandon them if they couldn’t be easily integrated – it’s always more profitable to go for the bigger, more developed ones, at least from a strategic standpoint.
In Europe I’d try to avoid Southern Balkans since pacifying them would take more than it’s worth (there are some options for border shenanigans in the Eastern Europe but I couldn’t figure out all the effects) and I would also abandon Mexico after taking US for the same reason, you could retake them later if you get around to getting the unification research for them. It’s a race against time and you should expect that the whole federalisation + unification process would take you around 2 years under normal circumstances, the time that could be spent to save you from a hostile org taking roots in countries with big militaries.
I’d suggest looking out for China since it’s very hard to fight it without invoking a nuclear holocaust. At last the US, you should try to take it once you’ve established in any part of the world since the access to its military will secure your interests and it’s a pretty low maintenance nation in my experience. Please comment with other notable nations, that I missed.
Early reveal is a gamble since I had a couple of runs where I had lots of 90% roll failures which I suspect might be a result of my agents being compromised, so I would suggest not to do this if you have access to some influence generation through other means. In different parts of the game you’d need different skills on your team so expect to switch out the ones that you feel are not getting enough missions for their profile anymore.
Also I rarely get any useful orgs during first 6 months so I would suggest investing in Persuasion on counsillors, especially the ones that you are considering to switch out to get early crackdown and purge specialists. Otherwise it’s generally better to level Administration, to get more orgs and to get better at stealing them. I also find it useful to try to keep all the engineering orgs (that give boost to faction research) on one or two councillors with high security and espionage, since they’re the only ones who could leak those projects to other factions.
There’s a bunch of cheap techs that could help you get your heavy equipment into space if you’re short on boost. Advanced Chemical Rocketry and Solid Core Fission, give you engineering projects like Reusable Rockets and Nuclear Freighters that will help you in boosting your mining and construction bases. Also try to get High Thrust Probes to get to pick the best mining sites first. The Moon might be great for an early base since it will help you to stockpile resources in space while you prepare you mission to Mars and inner planets.
But it could also be poor in which case it might be better to go straight to Mars with your first mining operation. The Main Belt is a great source of resources like water, volatiles and noble metals – look for water on Ceres, metallic asteroids for metals and carbon ones for volatiles. There’s a table in the Intel tab that will help you to sort out your prospecting choices. Also the orgs could be a great source of early boost and they could help you in raising the efficiency of your mining ops, so try to grab the ones you see from the market or by trading or stealing. The mining and mission control become more valuable as the game progresses so it might be worth it to switch out of boost orgs at some point, same with funding priorities.
Stations and Ships
I’ve found that the most things the stations could do could be done on bases with the added benefit of mining for resources and helping in supplying themselves. Afaik even probes could be sent from the on-site construction modules so the only purpose for early stations that I could find is building ships. Which is fine for war, but I couldn’t figure out how to use a ship for expansion so far, since the game simplifies the initial phase of inspecting and colonising bodies. It’s available much earlier and generally cheaper then ships. Maybe rushing an engine and hab kit tech so you could slow burn a ship to bodies before they’re available for probing so you’d have a ship in place just in time when the probe arrives, that could be an interesting experiment.
Otherwise I think there’s use for colony ships in the asteroid belts since they could be resupplied on a forward base to quickly survey and colonise a bunch of closely orbiting asteroids. Another interesting strategy I’ve seen on a YT channel PerunAU is to use Mercury orbits for it’s abundant solar energy and put your mission control stations there, which doesn’t make too much sense from a real world standpoint since the signal delay from Mercury would be too long for anything useful but it’s a usable strategy for now in the demo.