Noncombatant

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When an empire has no online players, it falls into a noncombatant state. A noncombatant empire will have its worlds protected from attack if they have a military base.

Harvesters, trade operations, and manufacturing continue to function. Units and cities will interact with players who are online as usual.

Diplomacy tab of the Governance window shows this status by color coding the empire name. A tooltip on the name explains the meaning of the color.

Protection

All buildings on worlds with a military base will be invulnerable to damage. And the world cannot be claimed by another empire while the military base is present.

The empire military surface defenses will be able to fire at enemy units in range.

Safe Harbor

All spacecraft and space stations in orbit of a world with a military base belonging to its empire will get noncombatant protection.

The spacecraft affected by noncombatant protection will remain stationary and attack enemies in range. They also cannot be captured.

State Change Delay

The noncombatant protection activates 15 minutes after the last avatar in the empire has gone offline. This means that going offline while being attacked likely won't save a world from capture or destruction.

Tactics

A few common tactics can be employed to help defend or attack empires using the noncombatant protection system.

Defender Advice

It is recommended to as a minimum construct a tiny military headquarters on colonized worlds. Military weapon systems should be constructed on important worlds, so enemy units can't simply wait in orbit for noncombatant protection to deactivate.

Spread out military buildings across the whole world, so a single enemy unit can't sit in orbit and target all military buildings without moving.

Attacker Advice

Scout your target and learn locations of military buildings. Knowing where units can be without being targeted by military weapon systems can be vital when waiting for noncombatant protection to deactivate.

Take note of buried military buildings that might need to be uncovered using explosive weapons. These buried military buildings can be uncovered while noncombatant protection is active, so do this before leaving units in wait. Buried military buildings are as of yet to be classified as an exploit or bug.[1][2][3]

Quotes from patch notes

Related patch notes
2022-01-13 FYI
  • Noncombatant State of Empires
When an empire has no players on line, it falls into a noncombatant state. A noncombatant empire cannot be attacked and its units will not attack anyone else.
Harvesters, trade operations, and manufacturing continue to function. Units and cities will interact with players who are on line as usual.
Diplomacy tab of the Governance window shows this status by color coding the empire name. A tooltip on the name explains the meaning of the color.

RE: 2022-01-14 FYI

  • Empire becomes noncombatant 15min after the last avatar in the empire logs off. It is complicated to check all avatars on the same account and a player could easily sidestep this by using multiple accounts.
  • Units within orbital range of worlds with an empire military base are immune to attack; they will defend that area but they will not pursue enemies outside the area. Thus they become invincible defenders but their range is limited; otherwise someone will put a big invincible station somewhere bad, like near an intergalactic wormhole. The presence of a military base insures that no other empires have cities on the world, to prevent an invincible defense using an alt empire.
  • All other units continue to attack and defend as normal without immunity.
Harvesters continue to operate. Officers and crew execute their missions. Manufacturing processes grind away.