Stellaris – What Is Playing Tall and How to Do It

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The meta has shifted a lot throughout Stellaris’s life cycle and will likely shift a lot more in the future. A few years ago, playing tall was the only way to win, and beginner players were asking what this is and how they go about doing it.

Things have changed now, and playing tall is far from the powerhouse strategy it once was. That said, playing tall is still a powerful play style, if a little bit slower. Playing the game slower makes this an ideal strategy for beginners to learn the game and to see a play-through of Stellaris to its completion.

Recommended Read: How Many Megastructures Can You Build in Stellaris?

Playing tall may not be a valid strategy for every empire. Genocidal expansionists will want to shy away from this style of gameplay. Whereas pacifists, and isolationist empires, can yield great results from playing this way.

Playing tall in Stellaris is all about choosing to maximize your empire’s output with as few systems as possible as opposed to expanding to gain that resource output. Playing this strategy will require slow and methodical choices from the player.

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What is Playing Tall in Stellaris

In the Stellaris community, it is widely accepted that there are two primary ways to build a space empire. We call these two options; playing wide or playing tall.

Both of these play styles have their own strengths and weaknesses, and they juxtapose each other well. Where one is strong, the other is usually weak, and vice versa.

Playing tall is summarised as; an empire that deliberately keeps itself small in order to concentrate on maximizing individual assets owned by the tall empire.

Instead of spending resources on expansion, this empire will instead focus on upgrading everything it already owns. Rather than having many small assets, this empire will seek few large assets.

One of the primary goals of playing tall is to minimize your empire size penalties. The larger your empire is, the more empire size it will produce, and thus, further penalties are applied.

A tall empire should aim to keep these penalties as small as possible, thereby retaining an advantage over their larger opponents.

Strengths of Playing Tall

The benefits of playing tall are as follows:

  • Smaller empires are easier to manage. Making this a great strategy for beginners to try out.
  • Low empire size penalties mean that; your empire will be researching and unlocking traditions faster than your neighbors.
  • Tall empires are easier to defend from invasion. With fewer entry points, it will be easier to predict enemy movements.
  • You are likely to be at peace more, as you will not be invading neighbors to take extra territory. This means more allies and potential to form powerful federations.
  • Small empires are cheaper to run, making building an efficient economy much easier.

Weaknesses of Playing Tall

The pitfalls of playing tall are as follows:

  • Some people may find the slower, more peaceful gameplay style less fun. Playing tall is not for everyone.
  • You have to get lucky to get everything you need to create the best possible empire. For instance; your empire may contain no black holes, preventing you from building a matter decompressor.
  • If your tall empire isn’t very strong, the AI will not hesitate to run through your tiny empire.
  • If you change your mind late in a play-through, you are going to have to fight to get new systems.
  • Any losses to your empire will be much more devastating when playing tall.

How to Play Tall in Stellaris

As with most strategies in Stellaris, this one starts during empire creation. When deciding to play tall, you have a lot of options to improve its efficacy when you build your empire.

If you don’t build your empire right, the benefits of being tall will diminish a lot.

During moment-to-moment gameplay, there are some core tenets you want to keep in mind while you are playing.

Just remember, as long as you are doing your best to maximize output and keeping your empire as small as possible; you are doing it right.

Building for Being Tall

Below is a collection of some of the better options you can select when building an empire.

You won’t be able to take all of them, so choose which ones sound coolest and go from there.

  • Species Traits. Any of the traits that will improve resource/research production are great choices here. Agrarian, ingenious, industrious, and intelligent being the best picks. I would advise not taking negative traits for a tall empire, but if you insist; slow learners and sedentary are not too impactful.
  • Origin. As for your species backstory, there are some great picks, and some were designed with playing tall in mind. Ocean paradise and life-seeded are the front-runners here. You also cannot go wrong with the default prosperous unification, or one of the federation starts as well.
  • Ethics. This is a free choice, to be honest. They are all good choices, but I would recommend steering clear of militarist and machine empires. Xenophobe and pacifist would be my top two choices for this style of play.
  • Civics. There are so many to list that are good. Like traits, anything that can minimize empire size and resource production are the way to go. I would recommend considering; inward perfection, mining guilds, meritocracy, technocracy, and beacon of liberty.
  • Authority. None of the choices are going to help you all that much, so pick whatever you like. Avoid picking mega corp and machine intelligence, however. They both carry large penalties to empire size, and you don’t want that.

Gameplay Tips for Playing Tall

After building your empire, it is time to start playing. There is no definitive, one size fits all solution to playing tall.

It would benefit you more if I provided some general tips that all tall empires can use.

  • Do everything you can to keep empire size low. This can be done through research, not spreading out too much, and many other ways. Always be wary of your empire size, and ask yourself if what you are doing will be detrimental to it.
  • Get allies. Building tall is a slow burner. At the start, you may find yourself weaker than some potential threats out in the galaxy. Having allies, and, even better, forming a federation is one of the best forms of defense you can obtain. Later on, when you catch up to the wider empires, you won’t need to worry about allies as much.
  • Think twice before you colonize. The biggest hit to empire size comes from colonizing planets. Unless you are doing the one planet challenge, you should still be spreading to new worlds as a tall player. The only difference is you should think about whether that new colony is worth it yet. You want habitability to be very high to minimize penalties. Also, smaller size planets and moons are likely not to be worth your time.
  • Traditions. The big four are, of course, still on the cards when it comes to picking traditions. These are discovery, prosperity, supremacy, and expansion. I would leave the expansion tree until later on in the game, as only a couple of its bonuses are relevant to tall empires. The other good picks are domination, diplomacy, unyielding, and any ascension path tree.
  • Ascension Perks. The best ascension perks for tall empires are; mastery of nature, galactic wonders, hydrocentric, imperial prerogative, technological ascendency, and master builders.
  • Megastructures. The great enabler to playing tall is megastructures. You want to make getting them your number one priority when the late game is starting. If you can get them before your neighbors, you are well on your way to victory.
  • Secure choke points. The little expanding your empire is doing should be done with purpose. One of the most important factors is entrances to your empire via the hyperlane network. If you can keep these entrances to a minimum, you will give yourself the best chance against invaders.

Remember that when playing tall, you have the power to change your mind. All the benefits you take as a tall player are not worthless on a wide empire.

You may realize that swapping to a wide strategy is the best solution, and you are free to do that. You do not have this option when you play wide.

This is everything you need to know about playing tall in Stellaris.

If you have any questions or suggestions for this guide, please let us know in the comments section below. As always, have fun building the tallest empire in Stellaris.

Simon Neve

Simon lives in Northern Ireland with his wife and two children. When not caring for his family, Simon enjoys video games, board games, and tabletop roleplaying games. When playing isn't an option he writes about them instead.

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