You are the CEO of your settlement. Besides building the right letters in the right places, you are in charge of managing the following essential activities:
With few exceptions, newly constructed buildings are powered off. Unpowered buildings do nothing for you. Powered buildings do their job automatically. You will rarely have enough power to have everything lit up. One of the most important decisions you can make is how many, and which ones to power up.
For example, you may have five A's in your settlement. Your economy needs only three. You should power only those three out of the five A's that are in the best location (closest to K and T in this case). When your settlement is small, this is easily done by hand. Click on any building, and bring up its control panel:
The control panel tells you everything about a particular building - power status, repair status, factory stocks and performance...etc. It will contain all the necessary devices to operate the selected building. For instance, the pro(J)ector control panel has instruments for charging and targeting particle beams upon the enemy.
Click on the power button to toggle the building power status. If you do not have enough power capacity for all the buildings you've turned on, some of them will be put in standby. They will not operate, and their power indicator will be yellow. The more buildings you have on standby, the lower your voltage will drop. Therefore, do not power more buildings than you have the capacity to support.
As your settlement grows, you will find that operations are more easily managed using your settlement circuit breakers. This control board allows you to power entire industry chains as a group, and see their workings in aggregate.
When you use the Industry Control Panel to leave some buildings unpowered, your robot subordinates will decide which ones to turn off. On average, they do a pretty good job - but you can always fine-tune things by hand if you think you see a better arrangement.
The dashboard is a good place to check out for shortages and clogging (another one is the View Filters). It is the best way to balance industry chains, services and utilities in a large settlement.
Your robot subordinates do the detail work for you. The problem is that usually there is more work than workers. In this case, they will follow the strategic priorities that you have set up in the Priority Control Panel. It is the place to go for a quick response to a situation, or for optimizing your overall productivity.
There are four ways to set priorities: by operations, worker task, material and military targets. The first three work together to determine what job is done first and where. In the Operations tab, you set priorities for powering and servicing buildings by group (extraction and refining, production, services, utilities and military). In the Tasks tab, you choose which pending tasks get the most attention (mining, transport of goods, construction, and maintenance). In the Materials tab, you decide which industry chain receives the most attention from your workers (e.g. parts vs plastics).
The Priority Panel has also a War Mode master switch, which can quickly flip your peacetime priorities to a pre-programmed combat setting (and vice-versa). This is very useful should your opponent make a dastardly surprise attack on you.
Depending on your island riches, it may be a good idea to not build too many robots. There is no harm in having some backlog of work to do, as long as your settlement grows and produces more than it consumes. In normal cases, mining and transport should have the highest priority, and a task backlog of about 20% is fine (you can see the current task count and backlog under each slider). There is no golden rule however. Use the reports and control panels to check periodically how your settlement is doing, and rely on your grasp of the situation to make decisions.
The thresholds where buildings call for maintenance and robots go recharging themselves are set in the buildings and robots control panels respectively. You can (and should) set these thresholds by building and robot type separately. As with priorities, the default settings are ok to get you started.
The thresholds are important and they should fit the situation. If you set your peacetime thresholds too high, your robots will run to the (I)nfirmary or to do maintenance all the time for not much extra benefit. On the other hand, it may be a good idea to make sure all your assets are in tip-top shape just before you attack...
Likewise, thresholds for some building types should be higher. The amount of power your (S) and (G) produce is directly related to their repair level. Because power is so important for your settlement operations, their thresholds should be usually higher. The best setting is the one that minimizes power fluctuations without sending your robots scurry all the time to maintain solar panels. You can see the number of maintenance jobs required under each priority slider.
The Trade and Inventory Panel Can-Do tab shows you what can be accomplished with your current resource levels. Quite often, you will find yourself looking at it and saying "I have everything needed to build that word except some parts."
This is where trade comes in. Click on the Trade tab, select a resource you have in surplus, select the resource you need, decide how much of the first resource to trade, and click on execute. There is roughly 50% waste in trading, but sometimes it is ok to sacrifice your surplus in order to build faster.
Trade can help you also when there is a critical shortage of goods for maintenance. Such situation should not be allowed to persist for too long, because your economy will stall from generalized disrepair. Use trade to convert surpluses in badly needed maintenance goods, and examine the root cause of the critical shortage before it is too late.
Some of your subordinates have done internships on Wall Street, and will enthusiastically trade on your behalf if you turn on "Automatic Trading" in the Options Panel when there are shortages of maintenance materials. This will free your hands to focus on other things. Just make sure you check periodically your overall goods balance. Because of its intrinsic 50% waste factor, excessive trading can run your economy into the ground. The bottom line: trading can help you a lot at the right time, but it is not a substitute for good long-term planning.
Worker robots are manufactured in a (R)obot factory. All you need to do is to power the factory up. Workers will bring the necessary materials to the factory, which will power itself off after producing a new robot. If you want to make multiple robots, you can repeat this manually, or use the AutoMaker tab on the Robots Control Panel to schedule automatic production. Make sure you build an R reasonably early in the game, so that you can grow your workforce in sync with your settlement.
Do not overpopulate your settlement with idle robots in peacetime. They just sit around on the grass, costing you resources and doing nothing. In most cases, an embryonic settlement does just fine with 30+ robots, and a 100-letter settlement may need 70 robots. There is no golden rule however. You need to find the optimal number based on your island resources, and on the activity level in your settlement. The Robot Control Panel above is the place for that. You can see at a glance what your workers are doing, how much backlog there is, and what is the overall charge status of your workforce.
Economic stall occurs when maintenance consumes more goods than you can produce. Your mines, factories and robots fall in disrepair, and production drops even further. This in turn makes it even harder to repair them back to a functioning state. Your settlement eventually comes to a standstill.
On an island of average riches (~4 mines per player), economic stall becomes a threat when your settlement reaches about 80 letters. Military defeat is also often preceded by economic stall. Whatever the cause, there are several actions you can take to recover from economic stall:
You need to check out your Reports to detect incipient economic stall. The budget report (in Word War III version 2.7 or later) is also useful, although it has a lot of numbers and aggregates results over 30 days (by which time it may be too late). You want to make sure that your total maintenance consumption plus trade losses does not exceed your production. If this happens, you are in trouble.
Last but not least, check your mail by clicking on the letter icon. When it blinks, there may be an important alert waiting for you (such as telling you what did the air raid siren you just heard means...)
Many alerts are tools to keep the novice player out of trouble, not substitute for shrewd thinking. Consider the first alert you will see in a new game ("Your settlement is not viable...etc."). This alert will clear once you've built an the average minimum viable mix of letters (several S, one letter from the basic extraction and refining set). In some plays however, you can get an early advantage by building a refinery and generator instead of the several (S) needed to make a viable settlement.
Another example is the military weakness alert ("You are significantly weaker than your opponent...etc"). A low-aggressivity opponent will not attack you first if you have no military assets whatsoever. In such cases, a better strategy is to build a very strong economy first, and then build your military in a rush. Of course, if your opponent has an aggressive personality, this would not be a great idea. How can you tell? Look at the mix of letters the other side is building...
The Alerts Report also provides you with advice on which letters you need, and hints on words you can build. As with game alerts, these are pretty useful for new players. As you gain experience however, you will quickly see there are shrewder letter and word mixes to play.
Now, all this knowledge is fine when the world is peachy. But how do you beat the other robots off your island? What do you do when they decide to attack? The answers to this and more is on the combat page.