Pick first and second branch cities by sending a recon ship to it and try to get 4 of a kind resources. Try to balance resources and four of a kind of sandstone will be very helpful in the early stages.
My fourth city had five lakes to start so that terraforming to eight lakes was not too difficult.
My fifth city I terraformed to all forest without researching terraforming skill. My sixth city I terraformed to 4 farms and 4 mines (just what I needed to balance resources.) My seventh city I researched gemology to 3 and got 8 deserts including 2 crystal deserts (30% more resources.)
I train most of my Archons for shadow skill to speed factories up and get more by selling parts (after researching tech that reduces material needed).
Most of my factories are now level 5.
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