Tackling the 4X Experience

Blue? Green? Red? Refuse? It's time to talk about rules for a new community edition of the VBAM rules!
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Tyrel Lohr
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Tackling the 4X Experience

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Fri Jun 09, 2017 7:56 pm

One of the major elements that has come out of Galaxies is that most of our core player base are most interested in the 4X "start from scratch" style scenario. Part of what I've been wrestling with has been how to shift the emphasis of the rules in this particular direction. There are some elements in the existing rules that play towards these strengths (exploration), but there's others that are a significant road block (tech advancement, population increases).

In trying to break down the problem for analysis, I looked back on my previous campaigns to see how long the games usually lasted. At most, I seemed to get about 10 years in before the campaign either fizzled out or reached a decisive climax -- and it's always more fun to play through the conflict than the subsequent reconstruction.

For that reason, I started assuming that most VBAM campaigns are going to last about 120 turns. This is an important measuring stick, as it gives us an idea for how the game should be balanced to go from a single system on Turn 1 to reaching a conclusion by around Turn 120.

In my experience, most 4X games can be broken down into three phases: Early, Middle, and Late Game. In the Early Game you're exploring and expanding to found your initial empire. There isn't much combat in the Early Game, and it is during this phase that raiders and other localized threats are the most concerning.

Once imperial borders are established and most (if not all) of the systems are claimed, you move into the Middle Game where players begin reinforcing their positions, both diplomatically and militarily, and engaging in the first major wars of the game. I think it's common to see about a 25-33% attrition rate of empires during this period as weaker powers are conquered and absorbed into the larger empires. The major power blocs become evident at this time, with players forming alliances to counterbalance the growing power of their most successful and aggressive neighbors.

Finally, the Late Game begins when these major powers finally kick off a galactic war involving all of the remaining players. Each player ends up taking sides, whether they want to or not, and this continues with on and off warfare until someone achieves victory -- however that is defined by your scenario.

This is in broad strokes, but it does provide some context. If your average campaign lasts 120 turns, then we can expect each era of player to last about 40 turns.

One of the first and most persistent issues we run into is one of colonization and population growth. Establishing new colonies is slow, and population increases are even slower. This was an issue in 1E, which is why I created the Quick Expansion Colony Fleet rules. However, even then all that it meant is that players with the most money could colonize the fastest, which didn't really "fix" the problem -- it just allowed players to effectively purchase Census with economic points in a roundabout way.

The solution that I've come up with so far requires a number of modifications. The first is that star systems have a reduced range of Capacity values. Originally we had 2-12 before modifiers, but my latest rules have it at 2-6. Next, Census is turned into a "fixed" resource like Productivity that cannot be moved from system to system. Instead, you simply build a convoy and move it into an uninhabited system and have it lay down a new colony. Each new colony then begins with 1 Census and 1 Morale.

These changes speed up the rate at which players can establish new colonies, which makes the Early Game more dynamic by allowing for faster colonization and territorial growth.

This still leaves the issue of population growth. The population growth in 1E/2E was largely predicated on the concept of players running established empires where population increases would be rarer. However, in a 4X game, population growth needs to occur more quickly.

The fix I have for this is to keep population increase checks as a once per 12 turns activity, but the roll is changed to being d10+Capacity with a system gaining 1 Census + 1 Morale on a roll greater than 10. The reason Capacity is used instead of Census is because this in turn makes high Capacity systems the best for population growth. This allows the concept of biosphere as I tried to make it apply to 2E work as an integral element of population increases. Importantly, it means that worlds with high Capacity values represent the Earth-like "garden worlds" that should be prized by players.

Once a system is fully inhabited (Census = Capacity), any additional population increases can then be applied to other systems at the player's discretion. This creates a game situation where as players max out Capacity of their inner core worlds, the extra population these worlds generate can be used to selectively improve your other systems that may not be as appealing due to their poorer climates.

Importantly, this die roll means that EVERY system will have a chance of gaining population at the end of each year. This eliminates the need for tracking population increase modifiers for each system, removing an element of bookkeeping.

NOTE: There's nothing stopping players from using d10+Census instead for population growth, and I would probably include that as an optional rule. Or we could switch over if that is deemed more logical

In any event, population growth becomes more reliable and within those first 3-4 years of game time a player can expect to be able to have a decent sized empire established. Compare this to classic VBAM, where it's not uncommon for an empire to go years without any population increases, and some new colonies could never experience a population increase during the entire game.

This combination of elements seems to make the Early Game run faster and gives players the ability to easily claim new systems fairly cheaply. Importantly, it also gives them lots of little colonies that make for good sources of conflict as the players begin bumping into each other.

Tech advancement is something else that has been a problem for us. The 12 turn cycle there is often seen as too slow, and many players ignore it as a result.

To try and address that problem, I've been experimenting with several tech changes. The first is to take a page from the original Master of Orion where you pay into tech investment and once your investment exceeds 100% of your tech advancement cost you then have an increasing chance of success each turn. For example, I have a tech advancement cost of 50 and have 60 tech investment. This is 60/50 = 120% of my advancement cost, which gives me a 20% chance this turn of earning the tech advancement.

The other change I'm testing is to divorce tech investment from economic points and tie it instead to Utilized Productivity. Your empire then generates a point of tech investment for each point of Utilized Productivity in your empire. Certain systems gain a bonus to this output. In the base rules, Ruins systems produce double the normal tech investment.

This does two things: it makes it impossible for players to do the Turn 12 tech investment spend, and it varies the rate of tech advancement in interesting ways. An empire with a lot of low output but high Productivity systems are going to earn comparatively more tech investment than an empire with high output systems. This effectively makes those garbage 2 Capacity / 1 RAW systems into research bases that generate relatively more tech investment. For example, if I have a 4 RAW system, then each Productivity is going to raise my tech advancement cost by 8 (2 x output) and generate 1 tech investment per turn. A Productivity point in a RAW 1 system is going to raise tech advancement cost by 2 and still generate 1 tech investment per turn. The first system has a tech efficiency of 1/8 versus 1/2 for the second system.

One of the interesting side effects of this rule change has been that empires that get stuck with a lot of largely worthless unimportant systems is going to end up researching faster than their opponents. This isn't a great trade off for being economically weaker over all, but it can provide enough of a boost to keep them competitive.

As an empire finds itself losing systems to an enemy, too, its tech advancement cost is going to drop because its total system output has dropped, and this might reduce their advancement cost enough to let their accumulated tech investment "catch up" and give them the next tech advancement they need a bit quicker than when their empire was actually doing well.

You'll also notice that as empires expand and take on more lucrative systems, their tech advancement costs are going to surge and their tech advancement rate will start to slow down. This in turn allows their weaker neighbors a little time to catch up.

In the games I have played with this tech variant, players can expect to earn a tech advance about every 6 turns on average. Assuming the 120 turn game, this means players could expect to get about 20 tech advances over the course of the game. This aligns well with the number of units we were including on the force lists before. If each force list includes 6 units per Tech Level, then it will take about 3 years per era to advance technology. This keeps new units being unlocked at a reasonable clip.

What we do lose is the ability to invest economic points directly into tech, but you still have some avenue for doing that when it comes to colonizing those unimportant systems and turning them into de facto research bases for your empire. Finding and controlling Ruins systems is also of a high priority for players that want to get their tech faster.

# # #

I am going to have to end this post there, but I'll provide some examples of how this works this weekend. I'd love to find some players that are interested in taking this for a test run, too, to see if we can't work out the kinks and compare and contrast it against the existing Galaxies rules.
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Re: Tackling the 4X Experience

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sun Jun 11, 2017 6:25 pm

Okay, let's say we're starting a new game. I'm going to setup a single player game, just because it's faster and it gives a better introduction to the concepts.

We start with a single home system -- we'll call ours Nova Sola -- and put it on the map with its three jump lanes connecting to random nearby systems. In this case, I rolled 1, 6, 6. This put jump lanes in directions 1 and 6, but the duplicate 6 then went to a position 6 that is 2 hexes out. I'm including that diagram to make it clearer what I'm talking about.

Image

Image

Nova Sola is a major system (6 Capacity, 3 RAW) with a Native Biosphere (+2 Capacity) and Rare Metals (+1 RAW). This gives us final stats of 8 Capacity and 4 RAW. Our starting population is 8 Census, 7 Morale, and 6 Productivity. Our home system generates 24 economic points per turn. It is fully populated, which means any population increases it receives can be applied to our future colonies -- accelerating early growth.

Each player starts with 1 shipyard, 1 supply depot, and 1 convoy in their home system. They also start with an amount of starting forces based on their total system output. This number is something we're still trying to narrow down, but it's likely to be between 2-4. My last game I started with 2x and I seemed to be low on units but there was a constant need to keep building new units that made the first few turns more interesting. However, it's likely that something close to 3-4x is going to be better overall.

We'll get back to our starting forces in a bit. For now, let's talk about our tech situation. We begin with a number of universal designs (available to anyone) plus six designs at Tech Level 0 for our starting forces. We may end up needing more designs, but for right now that is what I've been trying to limit us to. The universal list exists to give us access to the "standard" array of campaign units that we might want to build, but nothing fancy and they're mostly support units. For example, we'd likely have a basic base and fighter, a few different ground forces, and some atmospheric patrol ships and scouts. Units that we can use, but they're not as powerful as anything that each empire can build. Anything we develop from TL 1+ is going to be better.

What this does is give us about 12 generic units + 6 empire specific units to start out with. Then we have 6 empire specific units per tech level that we have to research before we can research units from the next Tech Level.

For the purposes of this example, we're just going to fill in some sample designs that I think we're going to be using. I'll put an asterisk after the name of any class that is universal list fodder.

Macedon CT*
TL -1, Cost 1, Maint 1/6, DV 1, AS 1, AF 1, CV 0, Atmospheric

Phalanx DD
TL 0, Cost 2, Maint 1/4, DV 2, AS 2, AF 2, CV 0, Atmospheric

Icarus FF
TL 0, Cost 4, Maint 1/3, DV 5, AS 2, AF 2, CV 1, Atmospheric, Scout

Crete CL
TL 0, Cost 4, Maint 1/3, DV 4, AS 4, AF 2, CV 0

Demeter CA
TL 0, Cost 6, Maint 1/2, DV 6, AS 3, AF 2, CV 3

Minotaur CA
TL 0, Cost 6, Maint 1/2, DV 5, AS 6, AF 2, CV 1

Hydra LF*
TL -1, Cost 1, Maint 1/10, DV 1, AS 1, AF 1, Atmospheric

Militia LT*
TL -1, Cost 1, Maint 1/8, DV 2, AS 1, AF 0

Republic Marines MT
TL 0, Cost 2, Maint 1/4, DV 3, AS 3, AF 0, Marines

This gives us a good picture of what exactly we have available to purchase with our starting forces. Let's roll with 4x system output for starting forces right now. That gives us 96 points to spend.

6 Macedon CT (6) [1]
8 Phalanx DD (16) [2]
6 Icarus FF (24) [2]
3 Crete CL (12) [1]
2 Demeter CA (12) [1]
2 Minotaur CA (12) [1]
10 Hydra LF (10) [1]
8 Militia LT (8) [1]
4 Republic Marines MT (8) [1]
1 Shipyard (24) [2]
1 Supply Depot (24) [2]
1 Convoy (12) [0]

Our total maintenance (in brackets) is 15 economic points per turn. That leaves us with 9 points per turn that we can spend on other things. Which is one reason why starting with 4x starting forces kind of constrains your economy, but it does give us a solid fleet to work with at the start of the game, so it's a trade off.

On our first turn, we're going to have set our tech goal. This is the next item on our force list that we're going to be researching. This is required because units are grouped into Tech Levels instead of following the classic ISD-based progression as before. In this case, since I'm winging it, I'm just going to design a TL 1 unit and say that is what we're researching.

Zeus DN
TL 1, Cost 12, Maint 4/2, DV 10, AS 13, AF 4, CV 2, Gunship

Go big or go home, right? It's hideously expensive, but it has enough firepower to do some real damage. I gave it to the Gunship trait, too, which doubles its AS for the purposes of bombardment. This means that one Zeus dreadnought can generate 26 bombardment value per turn.

On the first turn of our game, we review our economy. The convoy is trading, so it is generating an extra 6 points of income for us. That brings us to a total of 30 income, and 15 maintenance, for a total treasury of 15. We're going to be optimistic and purchase a second convoy for 12 points, and then leave the last 3 points in the treasury for next turn.

For movement, we are going to send out our scouts to explore. We'll create three exploration fleets, each containing 2 Icarus FF. Each scout gives a flat +1 bonus to the exploration roll. Advanced rules will introduce Explorers that provide bonuses based on their construction cost or size, but we're making a conscious effort to move most of those sorts of rules off to the optional rules in order to keep the core rules very slim and easier to use.

Each of our exploration fleets will get a +2 bonus to the scout roll, for a 20% chance of success. That isn't great, but we don't want to put all of our eggs in one basket in case we roll poorly and end up in peril (always a 10% chance of that happening!).

The exploration rolls are 4, 3, and 1. No successes, and the third fleet ended up in peril. The entire fleet takes damage, so the 2 Icarus FF are now crippled.

There are enough military forces in Nova Sola that we don't have to worry about raider attacks. We need at least 16 ships present to meet that "full patrol" requirement. We currently have 27 by my count (including the scouts, which are technically still here until they actually successfully explore and move out of the system). The ship count requirement makes it so that the cheap police corvettes are the best investment for patrolling a system, even if they are ill-equipped to deal with enemy warships.

The turn rolls on, and we complete construction of our new convoy using the planetary construction capacity in Nova Sola, as convoys are treated like atmospheric ships for the purposes of construction.

Now we total our tech investment for the turn. The 6 Utilized Productivity in Nova Sola generates 12 tech investment. Our current tech advancement cost (the minimum we have to meet before we have a chance of getting an advance) is 24 (total system output). This may end up being doubled, but for right now it's what we're running with. It will be at least Turn 5 before we'll have enough tech investment to have a chance of a tech advance.

It's been an uneventful Turn 1, barring the poor scout roll.

Turn 2. We start with 3 points in the treasury and earn an additional 15 points, for a total of 18 points. We are going to need to repair those Icarus FF. We order them into the shipyards for repairs. The total cost of units being repaired is 8, so we take 8 x 25% = 2 points. The shipyard has 12 construction capacity (currently a fixed value for the shipyard, sized so that a single yard can build a ship up to dreadnought size in a turn). The repairs will take up 2 points, leaving us with 10 construction capacity remaining.

I need to get some more scouts. Luckily, they're atmospheric capable so really I could build or repair them both at a system or a shipyard, wherever there is available construction capacity. I am going to spend 16 EP to build 4 Icarus FF. If I build them on the planet, that still leaves 8 points of construction capacity available there.

The last 2 points are carried over to next turn.

I'm going to change our exploration strategy and have our 4 Icarus FF that aren't crippled all explore together. That gives us a +4 bonus to our d10 roll. The roll is 2 + 4 = 6. No success, but at least it wasn't a failure. We're just not exploring very fast.

Construction completes on 4 new Icarus FF (now up to 10 total), and the 2 crippled Icarus are now repaired.

Tech investment increases to 12 / 24.

Turn 3. We now only get 13 points per turn, as our new scouts have increased our total maintenance costs to 17 points per turn. I am going to double down on scout production, ordering up 3 more Icarus at Nova Sola (12 points). That leaves 3 point in the treasury.

I split our 10 Icarus scouts into 2 x 5 scout fleets and send them out. The modified die results are 14 and 12 -- both successes!

One change to the Galaxies/Rebirth build has been that players now choose which lanes they explore on a success. This was a concession to speed play and give players a bit more control over where there scouts are going. In this case, I am choosing to explore the two systems in hexes adjacent to Nova Sola.

The first system rolled (Sentinel) is an unimportant system (2 Capacity, 1 RAW) with Rare Metals (+1 RAW) and 2 jump lanes that is just north of Nova Sola. This gives Sentinel 2 Capacity and 2 RAW.

The second system northwest (Atlas) is a minor system (4 Capacity, 2 RAW) with an Adaptable Climate (+1 Capacity) and 3 jump lanes. This gives Atlas 5 Capacity and 2 RAW.

Here is a look at the updated map:

Image

We've got a major lane heading to Sentinel, but only a minor lane heading to Atlas. However, given that we can move across one major lane per turn in addition to a minor or major lane, our fleets can move from Sentinel to Atlas (or vice versa) in a single turn. Unless the ships are Slow, at which point they are limited to a single jump per turn (and they can't cross restricted lanes at all).

Neither of these are particularly exciting systems, but they're not horrible. Atlas is probably going to be our colonization target right now.

We have 3 new Icarus FF (now have 13 of them!) and our maintenance is now up to 18 points per turn.

Tech investment is now at 18 / 24. Slowly filling up.

[NOTE: Whether this automatic tech investment ends up panning out or not, I'm not sure. But I do like the idea of being able to get tech faster, so even if we go back to player-driven investment, I would still want to try keeping this faster tech development style, just to keep the game more dynamic.]

Turn 4. We have 15 points to spend this turn. I am going to build another convoy (12 points) so that we can colonize both systems. This leaves 3 points leftover.

For movement, I am moving a convoy and a selection of escorts (1 Minotaur CA, 1 Demeter CA, 1 Crete CL, 4 Phalanx DD, 4 Hydra LF) to Atlas to establish a new colony.

Meanwhile, the scout fleets in Sentinel and Atlas (5 x Icarus each) will explore, and the Icarus fleet in Nova Sola (3 x Icarus) will also explore.

Sentinel fleet rolls 14 (success), Atlas fleet rolls 13 (success), and Nova Sola fleet rolls 12 (success). Really good luck this time around.

Sentinel fleet explores to an unimportant system (2 Capacity, 1 RAW) that has Strategic Resources (+3 RAW) and 2 jump lanes. This system is designated Moria (2 Capacity, 4 RAW).

Atlas fleet explores to a major system (6 Capacity, 3 RAW) that is in a Nebula (+1 Capacity). There are 6 jump lanes connecting to this system. This system is designated Nexus (7 Capacity, 3 RAW).

Nova Sola fleet explores to a minor system (4 Capacity, 2 RAW) that has Precious Minerals (+2 RAW) and 2 jump lanes. This system is designated Rhodes (4 Capacity, 4 RAW).

Image

The colony fleet moves to Atlas. Since there is now a convoy here, we have to check for raiders. We need 5 ships to fully protect against raider, and we easily have that. Good! And Nova Sola is still safe. At the end of the turn the colony is laid down, and the system gains 1 Census and 1 Morale. The New Human Republic is starting to grow!

Our new convoy is built at Nova Sola. There are now a lot more potential colonization targets for us.

Tech is now at 24 / 24. That's 100% investment, but our chance is that percent minus 100%, so next turn will be our first chance of maybe getting a tech investment.

# # #

This should demonstrate how the first few turns rolling into the first year of the game would end up going for players. The early game is all about exploring and grabbing territories to start building them up. I haven't encountered any aliens yet (only a 1/36 chance per system right now of that happening), but when I do they would still likely represent a significant roadblock to expansion (if hostile).

Looking at the systems that we've discovered, we can see that the range of maximum output values is much tighter than previously encountered in the game:

Nova Sola: 8 Capacity, 4 RAW = 32
Sentinel: 2 Capacity, 2 RAW = 4
Atlas: 5 Capacity, 2 RAW = 10
Moria: 2 Capacity, 4 RAW = 8
Nexus: 7 Capacity, 3 RAW = 21
Rhodes: 6 Capacity, 4 RAW = 24

What this ends up meaning is that those unimportant systems are actually economically useful, at least most of the time, while major systems are not quite as powerful as they were before. The rubber band has been contracted to help better control the economies.

It would not be unreasonable for the player to have all of these systems colonized by the end of the first campaign year. Adequately patrolling all of those colonies while still buying convoys for expansion is not going to be as easy, and pirates can be a real problem if they become entrenched.

One of the reasons that fast colonization is less of a problem is that changes to bombardment will make it easier to destroy those colonies. Bombardment value is now based on ship (not flight) AS values. The amount of bombardment value required to reduce a system's Census or Productivity by 1 is then equal to 10 times its current value. For a 1 Census colony that is only 10 AS.

What this means for the player is that it is relatively simple to move in and bomb off a new colony. This allows for more fluid border conflicts between players without necessary pushing things to an all-out war.

After reading through BroAdso's diplomacy notes for his campaign, I can see the diplomatic model being such that you would add the cost of the bombardment (or some percentage thereof) to your Tension, much as you would with other ship/ground combat. So bombing off a 1 Census colony world might bump Tension up by 10, but killing a Census from a 2 Census system might increase it by 20.

I'm still working to resolve a workable diplomatic model that provides better feedback and structure for players while still playing well for automated NPE rules. Tension does seem to be the best model, with breakpoints set at which players can enter into certain treaties. For example, 60 might be the minimum for Non-Aggression. At 60 or below, players can freely enter into this treaties. For NPE, there would be a variable treaty chance based on the base value (60%) minus Tension.

I am also thinking that the rule from WAP that says when Tension hits is maximum value (100 in this case) the empires automatically declare war is probably the best. That provides a natural endpoint that when someone comes in and engages in enough combat / bombardment to push Tension that high it just forces the issue.

Another element that I've been working around here are the custom empire traits for diplomacy. I want to make sure that they are equally applicable to both the players and NPE this time around, so that having your empire negotiate with the Charismatic Asari or the Repulsive Pak'ma'ra means something. With the Tension examples above, it could be as simple as Charismatic empires getting a +20% treaty chance bonus while Repulsive empires have a -20% treaty chance penalty.

# # #

What I want to do in the coming months is assemble a group of players that have the time to run through a 5 or 6 player game, with turns running every few days during the week. The early game flows faster, so we could probably clip through a year in the first 2-3 weeks.

I need to finish working out the major bumps here, but I'm getting closer and closer with each iteration. I'll share the rules once Geoff and Jay have finished providing notes on what I have so far.
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Re: Tackling the 4X Experience

Postby BroAdso » Mon Jun 12, 2017 2:08 am

Tyrel Lohr wrote:For that reason, I started assuming that most VBAM campaigns are going to last about 120 turns. This is an important measuring stick, as it gives us an idea for how the game should be balanced to go from a single system on Turn 1 to reaching a conclusion by around Turn 120.

In my experience, most 4X games can be broken down into three phases: Early, Middle, and Late Game. In the Early Game you're exploring and expanding to found your initial empire. There isn't much combat in the Early Game, and it is during this phase that raiders and other localized threats are the most concerning.



This is a realistic and perceptive analysis. One of the only things I'd like to preserve, though, is that VBAM is sufficiently universal and flexible that it can portray "historical" scenarios, that start us right a the Late Phase, with well established colony worlds and some advanced tech, for example. Too strong a pivot to a full 4x model might inhibit that ability, especially if we're assuming a kind of "hard cap" at about 140 turns.

Tyrel Lohr wrote:One of the first and most persistent issues we run into is one of colonization and population growth. ...The first is that star systems have a reduced range of Capacity values. Originally we had 2-12 before modifiers, but my latest rules have it at 2-6. Next, Census is turned into a "fixed" resource like Productivity that cannot be moved from system to system. Instead, you simply build a convoy and move it into an uninhabited system and have it lay down a new colony. Each new colony then begins with 1 Census and 1 Morale. ...
The fix I have for this is to keep population increase checks as a once per 12 turns activity, but the roll is changed to being d10+Capacity with a system gaining 1 Census + 1 Morale on a roll greater than 10. The reason Capacity is used instead of Census is because this in turn makes high Capacity systems the best for population growth...Once a system is fully inhabited (Census = Capacity), any additional population increases can then be applied to other systems at the player's discretion. This creates a game situation where as players max out Capacity of their inner core worlds, the extra population these worlds generate can be used to selectively improve your other systems that may not be as appealing due to their poorer climates.



This has a lot in common with how I'm running my Trek campaign, AND it takes out the onerous element of moving census "units" between systems with transport fleets. Overall, I think this is a further improvement on existing systems you have and would embrace it. However, it might be worthwhile to not automatically include the MOR increase with the CEN increase, so that players have to strategically spend on Propaganda Intel missions in their own empire to keep up with expanding population.

Tyrel Lohr wrote:Tech advancement is something else that has been a problem for us. The 12 turn cycle there is often seen as too slow, and many players ignore it as a result. To try and address that problem, I've been experimenting with several tech changes. The first is to take a page from the original Master of Orion ...For example, I have a tech advancement cost of 50 and have 60 tech investment. This is 60/50 = 120% of my advancement cost, which gives me a 20% chance this turn of earning the tech advancement...Your empire then generates a point of tech investment for each point of Utilized Productivity in your empire. ... What we do lose is the ability to invest economic points directly into tech, but you still have some avenue for doing that when it comes to colonizing those unimportant systems and turning them into de facto research bases for your empire. Finding and controlling Ruins systems is also of a high priority for players that want to get their tech faster.
[/quote]

Hmm. I really like certain elements on this system, but am wary of its not allowing players to invest. However, the more I think about it, the more that's probably fine. Players see tech advancement as a de rigeur spending item anyhow, so it isn't really a huge choice (most of the time) to invest in an upcoming tech advancement or not each turn. I wonder if introducing SOME element of player control - a class of civilian structure like Shipyards and Depots that increases the tech investment rate, for example, could give us the best of both worlds?

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Re: Tackling the 4X Experience

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Mon Jun 12, 2017 3:35 am

BroAdso wrote:This is a realistic and perceptive analysis. One of the only things I'd like to preserve, though, is that VBAM is sufficiently universal and flexible that it can portray "historical" scenarios, that start us right a the Late Phase, with well established colony worlds and some advanced tech, for example. Too strong a pivot to a full 4x model might inhibit that ability, especially if we're assuming a kind of "hard cap" at about 140 turns.


Yes, we'd need to be able to still handle historical scenarios, and for that reason it may be prudent to set the tech advancement rate a bit higher to help push it out a bit longer without going overboard. Originally I was testing a tech advancement cost equal to X times the empire's total system output, but Geoff pointed out that this makes the cost of later tech advances a bit too high.

I don't see a true hard cap on the rules, at least not for freeform play, but for a more competitive environment where players are interested in "winning the game," then I could see 120 turns being a good point to call the game. But I never play to win and just play to have fun and see what happens, so I'm a really bad person to ask about victory conditions.

I have found a pretty good setup for deciding how much population a system should have. Take half the system's Capacity, round up. This is the system's Morale value. The Census is 1 point higher, the Productivity is one point lower. For example, a 5 Capacity system would have 4 Census, 3 Morale, and 2 Productivity. I've added in a lower threshold to make sure that inhabited unimportant systems at least have a decent population level, however, on the off chance that you run into one of them that is inhabited.

BroAdso wrote:This has a lot in common with how I'm running my Trek campaign, AND it takes out the onerous element of moving census "units" between systems with transport fleets. Overall, I think this is a further improvement on existing systems you have and would embrace it. However, it might be worthwhile to not automatically include the MOR increase with the CEN increase, so that players have to strategically spend on Propaganda Intel missions in their own empire to keep up with expanding population.


It really makes no sense that we could move Census around when we couldn't pick up and move Productivity, too. This also simplifies colonization considerably as you no longer need to pick up and move a Census to colonize a system. Just move the convoy into an uninhabited system and land it to form the new colony. This means faster colonization, but it is going to take longer for populations in new systems to be built up, and most population growth is going to be centered in systems with the best planetary conditions (highest Capacity).

Good point on the free Morale point. I had quite a few players back during 2E that really had issues with systems not getting extra Morale along with a population increase, but as long as Intel can be used to assist with that then it should keep it moderated.

One element I've run into with Morale is that there are a lot of ways to lose it and not a lot of ways to gain it, so there is an incredible downward pressure on the resource. I'll try playing it without the Morale gain on population increase and see how it works out.

BroAdso wrote:Hmm. I really like certain elements on this system, but am wary of its not allowing players to invest. However, the more I think about it, the more that's probably fine. Players see tech advancement as a de rigeur spending item anyhow, so it isn't really a huge choice (most of the time) to invest in an upcoming tech advancement or not each turn. I wonder if introducing SOME element of player control - a class of civilian structure like Shipyards and Depots that increases the tech investment rate, for example, could give us the best of both worlds?


I'm on the fence myself. This was an attempt to prevent players from doing a one-term investment on one hand, or being forced to count Utilized Productivity each turn to see what their investment limit is. But now that I look at it they have to count Utilized Productivity to get the auto-tech investment, anyway, so there is nothing stopping us from maintaining the player investment and just having free investment from Ruins systems.

I think if tech advancement is more dynamic, then players will feel a greater sense of urgency when it comes to investing in it. For example, with the starting setup, a player could then choose to spend 6 points towards tech investment rather than building a new heavy cruiser every turn with the intent of unlocking a more advanced unit by about Turn 6 that could outclass their opponents existing military units.

One element I had sketched out for the optional rules was to allow actual specialization of colonies to improve their output. I had Mining, Industry, Research, and Agriculture as specialties, IIRC. Mining gave a bonus to system output, Industry gave a bonus to construction capacity, Research gave a bonus to tech investment, and Agriculture gain a bonus to population increases (making it the most subtle bonus). In return, IIRC, they more or less sacrificed everything else. Working from memory, a 4 RAW / 2 Productivity system set to Mining would produce 16 economic points per turn (instead of 8), but it would have no construction capacity, and couldn't be used to invest into tech. I could also see it taking a population increase penalty, as no one really wants to live there in those conditions.

I'd toyed with a special Research/Hot Lab facility to boost tech investment output, but I'm rather leery of introducing too many special types of infrastructure this time around. I think I went overboard in 1E with too many specialty facilities, and I would rather try to integrate as many of those functions into the existing stats as I can. :?
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Re: Tackling the 4X Experience

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Tue Jun 13, 2017 2:08 am

In working through the outstanding issues with the game, I ended up stripping the rules back to absolute bedrock. I kept the basic system generation scheme from Galaxies but removed almost everything else -- shipyards, supply depots, you name it. From there, I started iterating on basic mechanics and then slowly adding features back in to see how they could be implemented while still adding to the experience. It's incredible how often we end up adding complexity for its own sake, and I think VBAM has been suffering from that for awhile -- and I just haven't been able to put it into words until now.

The first few games were fairly simple exercises. Systems have a construction capacity equal to their system output (RAW x Utilized Productivity), and they could use this to build whatever they wanted. It was simple, but it worked. I wasn't worried about supply, and instead focused more on early exploration and colonization.

Once I had that down, I moved on to piracy. One of the problems with raider checks up until this point is that they have required you to do a lot of unit counting to figure out percentage chances. This is a flexible approach, but it's also time consuming and slows the game down. Worse, it isn't *FUN* to have to count the number of ships and flights present, see if there are Police ships present, etc. Then you figure a percentage chance and roll against it, possibly for a lot of systems.

That is part of the reason that I ended up simplifying it down to more or less a fixed 10% chance per system per turn, with a simple binary "raids or no raids?" check. You still have to count units, but as long as you meet an arbitrary "safety" limit then just don't need to roll there. That may not survive long term contact with the enemy (er... I mean players! :D ), but it's better than calculating and rolling against percentages.

Eventually I added shipyards back in and began balancing them. We've tried lots of different construction capacity models for shipyards in Galaxies, and the flat bonus seems to be best. That way a shipyard has the same construction capacity no matter where it's built -- so players could build them in out of the way systems and still use them to build things. Originally I gave them a flat 10 construction capacity, but as the Rebirth variant percolated I identified that it would probably be better to have them be able to build up to the largest size ship that would normally be encountered in the game (the 12 EP dreadnought class). So I raised the construction capacity to 12. This has worked fairly well, as it is enough to build 2 x 6 EP CA per turn, or a combination of units of varying sizes.

Supply was the next item I've tackled. I started with the Galaxies rules of building a supply depot in a system to turn it into a supply point, and then giving them the classic 2 jump range. This worked for awhile in a test game, but then I noticed that it would be hard to push supply out very far. That's when I revisited the 1E rules where a good order system with 3+ Utilized Productivity is an automatic supply point. I then dusted off a 2E version of the supply depots that makes a system a supply point if it isn't, or gives the system an extra jump of range if it is. This helped to address some of the issues I was facing in my tests, but I'm still not 100% sold on it.

The reason why I'm entertaining returning to the 1E rule is because systems now have less Capacity and you can't move Census around. This negates the usual 1E strategy of moving 3 Census to a new system and rapidly building it up to turn it into a supply point. Now, it's going to take quite a lot time for a system to get built up to those levels.

I'm still not 100% sold on this concept, however, as having supply depots serve exclusively in the supply origination role is easier to explain and has fewer exceptions. At the same time, I worry that relying too heavily on dedicated supply depot units for supply might make it too easy for an opponent to knock a system out of supply when its local industry should be able to support it.

I'm going to have to continue to experiment with that and see if I can find a happy medium. Maybe systems are in supply if they are in good order and have 3+ Utilized Productivity, but otherwise you have to rely on supply depots when operating in other systems?

# # #

Later in the week I'll progress the example game a bit and add in an opponent for us, so that we can begin to iterate on diplomacy and combat.
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Re: Tackling the 4X Experience

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sat Jun 17, 2017 2:06 am

As an update, tomorrow I'll be getting us caught up and go over some more of the concepts for where Galaxies might be able to go based on the testing of the last few months. This week simply wasn't conducive to much creative output, which seems to be the larger problem with VBAM's recent development.

One quick comment I did want to make is that I have been revisiting the idea of having special abilities be unrated like in 1E, but with the ability effects scaling based on a unit's stats in some fashion. Scout and Assault are the two that I've been working the most with in my tests. For Scout, it comes down to giving the Scout a +50% bonus to one of its stats (a simplified version of the command actions that we have in Galaxies now).

For Assault, it was deciding to give them the ability to carry X number of troops. My early tests with Assault had it based on DV (1/2 DV to be precise), but as development continued I hit upon the fact that it would make more thematic sense in most settings if carrier value (CV) was used to move both flights AND troops equally. There are some settings where this doesn't make sense, but there are more examples where carriers are being used to ferry around troops. Star Wars makes heavy use of this concept, and even in the case of Babylon 5 you have the Nova dreadnought carrying around marines (specifically their Condor transports) in GROPOS.

The advantage to using CV for troop movement ties into this new take on special abilities. By scaling the effects of a special ability against one of the unit's existing stats, we can have the ability improve over time as the unit's other stats improve without having to worry about spending construction points to improve specific special abilities. This in turn makes it easier to design new units, as you only have 4 stats to worry about in most cases.

I'm sure we'll encounter other special abilities that may give us a problem in this regard, but it is a consistent approach that I think has some merit.
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Re: Tackling the 4X Experience

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sat Jun 17, 2017 9:22 pm

Picking up where we left off at the start of Turn 5, here is where I think all of our forces are:

Scout Fleet 1 @ Moria
5 Icarus FF

Scout Fleet 2 @ Nexus
5 Icarus FF

Scout Fleet 3 @ Rhodes
3 Icarus FF

Patrol Fleet 4 @ Atlas
1 Minotaur CA, 1 Demeter CA, 1 Crete CL, 4 Phalanx DD, 4 Hydra LF

Home Fleet @ Nova Sola
1 Minotaur CA, 1 Demeter CA, 2 Crete CL, 4 Phalanx DD, 6 Macedon CT, 4 Hydra LF

Nova Sola Defenses
1 Shipyard, 1 Supply Depot, 2 Convoys, 8 Militia LT, 4 Marines MT

Turn 5
Treasury is at 3, system income is 24, trade income is 6, and maintenance is 18. This gives us 15 points in our treasury.

Before planning what to do with our spending, I'm going to revert back to us requiring economic points to be spent on tech investment, but the max we can invest is equal to our total Utilized Productivity. That makes it an active choice to invest in technology or not, which is ultimately probably a better decision. I am reverting us back to 0 tech investment as a result of the rule change.

Okay, now back to our spending. We want to get new colonies up and running quickly, but we also want to get Atlas producing for us. We decide to spend 10 economic points to purchase 1 Productivity at Atlas. The final 5 points I am going to invest into tech.

Here are what the systems look like that we've explored so far:

Nova Sola: 8 Capacity, 4 RAW, 8 Census, 7 Morale, 6 Productivity [Native Biosphere, Rare Metals]
Sentinel: 2 Capacity, 2 RAW [Rare Metals]
Atlas: 5 Capacity, 2 RAW, 1 Census, 1 Morale, 0 Productivity [Adaptable Climate]
Moria: 2 Capacity, 4 RAW [Strategic Resources]
Nexus: 7 Capacity, 3 RAW [Nebula]
Rhodes: 6 Capacity, 4 RAW [Precious Minerals]

We have a convoy in Nova Sola that we can move to colonize one of those systems. The best candidate appears to be Rhodes, as that is going to give us the best economic return on our investment. We'll form a new Patrol Fleet 5 containing 2 Crete CL, 2 Phalanx DD, and 2 Macedon CT and send them with Convoy 3 to Rhodes with orders to colonize.

This does leave Nova Sola with an insufficient number of ships to properly patrol the system and dissuade raider attacks. We'll need to build up some more cheap escorts to patrol the system and keep the pirates at bay.

Scouts are still in supply and continue exploring.

Scout Fleet 1 rolls 3 + 5 = 8. No effect.

Scout Fleet 2 rolls 3 + 5 = 8. No effect.

Scout Fleet 3 rolls 2 + 3 = 5. No effect.

The raider checks for this turn would have resulted in a pirate attack against the convoy in Rhodes, but we have just enough ships to prevent the attack (9 ships in a 6 Capacity system).

Our convoy lands in Rhodes and forms a new colony and the Productivity in Atlas is increased by 1 during the Update Asset Phase. The New Human Republic continues to expand.

Image

Turn 6
Treasury is 0, system income is 26, trade income is 6, and maintenance is 18. Current treasury is 14. Current tech pool is 5/26.

The first thing we do is spend 10 points on 1 Productivity in Rhodes. The other 4 points will be spent to purchase 2 Phalanx DD @ Nova Sola. These ships are atmospheric so we could have built one of them at Atlas if we had so chose, but for now I'd rather have them at our homeworld.

Treasury is 0 once again.

Scouts continue to explore.

Scout Fleet 1 rolls 9 + 5 = 14. Success! The fleet jumps into an unimportant system with Ruins (2 Capacity, 2 RAW, 1 Productivity). The system has been named Tashkent.

Scout Fleet 2 rolls 5 + 5 = 9. No effect.

Scout Fleet 3 rolls 3 + 3 = 6. No effect.

Tashkent is only accessible via a restricted jump lane, which is going to make it slower to move units out there. It's also a dead end, which means that particular jump chain doesn't go anywhere. Still, that also means we don't have to worry about protecting it.

No raiders this turn. They really are only a problem when you become overextended and can't probably patrol systems.

The Supply Phase finds Scout Fleet 1 out of supply. Their AS/AF are halved, and they earn their first out of supply level. These ships have 5 DV, so they can be out of supply for 5 turns before they are lost. Still, that's not great! They'll need to move back home to get back in supply.

(NOTE: I've been considering more draconian rules to get away from the out of supply level tracking, but I haven't gone that far yet. Specifically, this would mean having out of supply ships take damage -- becoming crippled if at full strength, or destroyed if already crippled. I think that's a bit too draconian, however, and we may have to live with the out of supply levels as a bandaid fix).

Our new destroyers are completed in Nova Sola.

Turn 7
Treasury is 0, system income is 30, trade income is 6, maintenance is 19, and tech is at 5/32. Current treasury is 17.

I want to get some more patrol ships out, but I'm going to go with the cheapest option -- our corvettes. I am going to build 3 Macedon CT @ Nova Sola and another 3 Macedon CT @ Rhodes (6 points total). I am then going to spend my max of 8 points of tech investment. This leaves 3 points to carry over to next turn.

Scout Fleet 1 moves back to Moria. That is its only move for the turn.

Scout Fleet 2 explores and rolls 2 + 5 = 7. No effect.

Scout Fleet 3 explores and rolls 10 + 3 = 13. Success! The destination is a major system with Strategic Resources (6 Capacity, 6 RAW).

No raids this turn.

The ships in Scout Fleet 1 are back in supply. However, one rule I want to pursue is that the out of supply levels do not get removed automatically and ships have to instead be repaired to perform a maintenance refit to get them back up and running again. That means the fleet is due to return back to Nova Sola for repairs.

Image

# # #

I will have to finish the rest of the year later this evening, but this should continue to give you an idea of the direction that I'm heading in.
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Re: Tackling the 4X Experience

Postby BroAdso » Sun Jun 18, 2017 2:34 pm

I'm really liking the new flow, and looking at how well tech advancements integrate into the new economic system reduces my worry about not letting players invest directly. They can do so by choosing to ramp up investment in PROD, or by choosing low-EP potential planets to settle, which will return proportionally more Tech investment each turn. Now that I've run 5 or 6 tests of the new CR-less Rebirth battle system, I'll see if I can find time to mirror your "year 1 of a lonely empire" and see how that works out.

One thought on the new Tech Advancement model: could players get more choice by having two "options"? One would be the model you are working from - reach the goal of your total EP, then the % chance goes up by amount over. The other would be "cheaper" - the same model of investment, but the goal would be half your EP, and the tech unlock is just another ship design in one given area at your current TL. This would give players an option to get a new ship design quickly if faced with something way out of left field, and would also mean players who have a very high EP and low-ish Utilized Productivity would still be able to get new ships if they need a new design, just not at a higher tech level.

By the way, I don't think harsher Supply rules would be out of line. It makes Supply ships more important, means that buying new Supply depots on the edges of the player's space or across Restricted lanes would be more important than ever, and so on. It would also mean a player would have to be careful when committing their big ships - a Battleship that's hard to get at in actual space battles getting auto-crippled out of supply because the enemy cleverly knocked out the nearest Supply Depot is a great strategic moment.

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Re: Tackling the 4X Experience

Postby BroAdso » Mon Jun 19, 2017 11:09 am

Here's the set of tables I'll be using to generate systems in my shot at testing out the same "year 1-2" model of exploration and economics! Should post the results this evening, long boring day stuck in front of computer today.
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Re: Tackling the 4X Experience

Postby BroAdso » Fri Jun 23, 2017 7:02 pm

Whew! Finished up the new exploration rules for a full year.

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The new economy moves things along at a nice clip. It's very easy to get a couple initial colonies up and running in the first few days, and setting the number of ships + flights you need in a system at Census + Raw + Prod + Trade Income makes figuring out the likelihood of raids MUCH easier. I started with 3x my initial income, and felt a lot of pressure to crank out CTs to keep up my protection the whole time.

I also like the new rules - I really wanted a smaller Scout than my Columbia CLs, so I pushed hard and overinvested in the Daedalus DD, which I got on turn 6 and had already built one full maintenance group of by the end of the first year.

I did roll one Raid, which seriously messed up my forces in Sol and ate probably 15 EP in income after 1.8, and when I initially discovered Proxima, it was via a Restricted lane, meaning my ships (which were carrying Sparrow FLTs rather than Shuttlepods) were out of supply, and I had to respond by moving them all the way back to Sol for repair, since I went with "being out of supply makes you crippled".

One thing I might do is abandon the Month-Year format for turns. To keep with the desire for greater dynamism and make the game more broadly approachable, you could go to a population and morale shift check every 10 turns instead. With the speed of colonizing, it definitely felt like I was waiting a long time for my new colonies to grow their population.


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