The AI is in the unique position of being able to win a solo – in theory. It is important not to allow this possibility to distract the AI player from the core strategy of finding an ally and working with them. An overt campaign to destroy the economy in pursuit of a solo is likely to lead to a human coalition until the AI solo threat has been contained. The solo option should be reserved as a backup plan: if the Kepler economy is struggling, and the means of survival are being destroyed by war, the AI is the only faction who doesn’t face extinction.
In pursuit of an allied victory, the AI brings a number of strengths to any prospective partnership. It has a low need for food and water, because it can run its military without humans, so the alliance can, potentially, invest more in expansion and less on feeding and watering their population. The AI has an input of 4E every Industry Action, enough to muster 4 Infantry Units (on average), and none of them need to be fed. If the AI manages to expand into the C or B zones, it can field a large military at low cost, and this should be one of its major aims.
The AI also starts with a clear advantage in RnD – it is top of the Crypto Track and the leader in the Tech Track, with the prime choice of the Crypto and Tech Cards for most of the game. Some of these cards are very strong, and the AI can use them to advance militarily or pass them along to an ally. Before choosing an Action, the AI should always read every exposed Skill Card carefully. As long as the AI remains top of the Crypto Track, it also gets access to discarded Location Cards during every Explore Action. Some of these could be enough to tip the balance of power in critical regions.
The AI also has the strongest piece of military hardware in orbit, the starship. Although the starship can only launch one Missile per Round, inflicting no more damage than a Bomber, it has the advantages of being movable and shielded. Unlike a Bomber, the starship fires at the start of each Mil Ops Phase, when the positions of its victims are known. This capacity should not be wasted on well-shielded targets, which have a relatively low chance of sustaining damage.
On the diplomatic front, the AI has to contend with human paranoia about the AI solo option. An early anti-human stance is likely to be punished. In terms of potential allies, UE is a tempting choice, because UE can provide the E to bulk up the automated AI forces, but the two of them have poor access to Water. Also, if the AI is totally reliant on UE, and does not secure its own E supply, it will be at the mercy of UE in the end game. If the AI is not positioned to contribute population to the AI+UE score, it could find itself dumped when UE adopts a more populated faction in the closing Rounds. One way to combat this would be to position Units within striking distance of critical UE infrastructure.
If AI does not manage to secure an alliance with UE, then it must secure an arrangement with SF to keep UE in check, or it will be the odd one out in that triangle (UE, AI, SF). If it finds itself in conflict with UE and SF, then its best hope is to work with the southern factions (FF, Cr) to weaken the UE+SF combination. Those southern factions are likely to welcome such help, because a UE+SF faction could set up a viable independent economy as soon as it spreads south and obtains water.
Conversely, if the AI player wants to ally with either of the other two southern factions (FF, Cr), it will face an E shortage, because none of those factions has ready access to E. Pushing north will be difficult until the AI (or its FF ally) builds up sufficient E to be able to build its military. The problem is that, until it pushes north, it has no easy access to E – apart from the slow trickle of 4E each Round from the Fusion Reactor. This is the central challenge of playing as the AI faction: each of the two things it needs (E and access to the north) depends on the other, and may be difficult until one of the two has been achieved. Careful use of Skill Cards, diplomacy, the Black Market and a few well-placed Missiles can be used to get enough E for the northern push, but a concerted resistance by UE can make this difficult. If the UE player can be kept hungry by a water and food embargo, their ability to thwart the AI will be reduced – UE needs to man their military and cannot Recruit military personnel without F. A simultaneous push by SF could also help, by dividing the UE forces – the best option will require a careful assessment of the balance of power.
If all goes well and the AI looks like being part of a winning pair, the AI’s potential partner in the victory may demand the AI’s Kill Switch, to avoid being dumped at the last moment as the AI claims a solo. This demand is reasonable if the other three factions have been crushed so completely that the AI and its partner are the only candidates for victory. It is not reasonable if other combinations still appear viable. If the AI decides to hand over the Kill Switch, it should insist on something substantial in return, and should demand proof of commitment from its ally, including attacks on competitors.