The Earth was devastated. You need to survive on the hostile Mars, and to terraform it for 10,000 human settlers. You carry the last candle of humanity. And if you do it wrong, it takes just a few game days to snuff it out.
In UFO Afterlight's strategic game, you expand and dig your territory to gain resources, so that you can research and produce better tactical equipments and skills for the soldiers, allowing them to defend or conquer territories and to capture artifects and prisoners.
The cycle repeats until Mars is a safe home for the settlers - or until you failed.
Becareful not to trade away resources in early to middle game, as it can easily block future progression.
Mars is split into unit of lands called territory, and the human starts with three. A territory contains resources, and can be claimed by building a GeoProbe station, which will also reveals other site of interest such as Excavation Site.
Once a territory is claimed, it is possible to build mining and military stations on it. Building stations does not need any resource, but a team of people will need to be committed and sent out of base.
Building stations is like heartbeat. Slowly and steadily, it pumps blood to drives everything forward.
Mars cannot support many human, so only a bare minimal crew exists. There are 20 adults when the game begins. That is all. Do not expect much reinforcements; the settlers cannot be awakened in time or individually.
The people are separated into three classes: soldiers, scientists, and technicians. They can fight, research, produce, and construct new buildings and stations. Characters can also be sent to schools or hospitals. A few people are dual class, allowing great flexibility, but still can only be at one place at one time.
The people can be managed in different screens, but at people screen it is able to see and change everyone's assignments, useful for short term strategic plans.
Research is the head of the strategic game. It opens up new possibilities for all other activities.
Unlike most similar strategy games, the research in Afterlight is dynamic and responds to events on Mars. For example, mine enough fuel and scientists will take notice, opening up its research. Or, after territory has been invaded, military installations can be researched.
With over 120 technologies and several hundreds of buildings, equipments, trainings, and events, research will never be boring.
Without a factory on Mars, humans need to produce their own tactical supplies, including guns, ammos, suits, medicines, goggles, and even battle robots.
Production is mainly constrained by resources, time, workshops, and available technicians. Being able to research something does not mean there would be sufficient materials or facility to produce it.
Production is like adrenaline; it directly support the fighting forces.
Time is the resource that governs all activities major and minor.
Events happens in time, vehicles take time to travel, stations take time to build, trainings take time to complete, and many tactical missions has limited response time.
The enemies are also gaining strength with each day. Different factions gain strength at different speed, but all factions will eventually get strong even after excluding other factors.
If that is not enough time pressure, at a certain point the settlers will be awakened from their sleep. It will take a relatively long time, but if the Mars is not ready by then, they will all die.
The people need specifc buildings to research, to produce, or to heal. Some buildings can directly generare or increase resources.
The Base was not designed to serve as a fort under siege, and its initial facility is very limited. As more and more technologies are developed or adopted to Mars, it will be possible to construct new buildings to do more things.
Building space can be expanded, and is typically not an issue, but the time and staff cost of expension can be.
Training will noticeably improves the characters' efficiency at various activities. There are trainings that improves production speed or construction speed, or allow soldiers to fight better.
Technology research will open up new trainings for the characters to learn. For example researching Firearm will allows training in gunman and weapon production.
Keep training character is critical to maintaining efficiency and ensuring success.
Lightly injured soldiers can carry on usual activities (if multiclass) and let the wounds naturally heal. On higher difficulty this will takes apparently forever (easily months), and badly injured soldiers must be sent to hospital and cannot do anything other then resting.
When soldiers spend time in hospitals, they quickly recover their health, usually fully recover in a few days.