Re-thinking 4X economics

By on November 8, 2008 2:11:31 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Frogboy

Join Date 03/2001
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One of the things in Elemental we've been thinking hard on is how the economic system in the game should work.  Elemental is, first and foremost, about building a civilization that happens to exist in a world filled with magic.

So when it comes to building things, we are trying to get away from the classic "N production units".  There are, for instance, no factories in Elemental. We want players to really understand just how big of a deal it is for a civilization to be able to produce mounted warriors who have metal armor and metal weapons. It's not just knowing how to build such a unit, it's being able to put together the infrastructure to produce such a unit.

Players don't research types of units, they research technologies. Players then design their own units and those designs require certain resources.  A basic soldier with a club is pretty easy. You take a guy, arm him with a big stick. A better soldier might involve same guy, armed with same stick but trained. Now he's much much better but it will obviously take longer to get that unit. It's not about production then, it's about time. 

A still better soldier might be equipped a bronze sword instead of the stick. But that bronze sword didn't just come out of nowhere. The metal had to be mined and then forged and then delivered.  Of course, the challenge from a game-design point of view is that you don't want players to be forced to micro-manage such things. It's supposed to be a strategy game, not an inventory management game.  And so, you make that issue something for your civilization to deal with - not the player.

A given land tile may have a metal resource on it. The player builds a mine on it. That mine then produces N units of metal per turn. That metal then flows to the keep's inventory (in the city). When the keep's inventory gets filled, it then starts getting sent out to other cities (little caravans start appearing on the map delivering this stuff). All of this is automated but evidence of a growing civilization. Players can build warehouses to store more inventory of a resource. A player can also build an armory which produces weapons which flow again into the keep's inventory and then into warehouses if built and then out to the country side to other cities.  Players can build roads to increase the speed in which these resources make it (and incidentally, these caravans only go out sporadically so the map isn't going to be full of these units running around and they're not true units, they'll be almost like decoration except when attacked).

So when I go to build a unit, the amount of time it takes to build that unit is going to be based on decisions I made -- what am I equipping him with. How much training am I giving him? And of course, since populations of "cities" range from 100 to 1 million or so, one of the resources units require are people. A village of 100 people obviously can't conjure up a legion no matter how much money and resources you have.

How will all this actually be implemented? That's where the open beta will come into play. Our development tools allow us to quickly implement many different concepts and UI's. that's where a lot of our work has gone into so that we can make changes like this.  Players saw hints of this in Galactic Civilizations where we could make dramatic changes to the game based on player feedback but it's nothing compared to what we've built for Elemental.

So for instance, do players want to prioritize where these caravans go? How much control do players want of this kind of thing? Would it be more fun to actually have technology branches dedicated to having governors (not AI, just bonuses to supply) that "manage" this.  These are some of the many things that players will be involved in.

The main thing I wanted to get across is that we are not going to have the traditional "N units of production".  Players will be able to design their units, design how much training (a small squad of elite soldiers or a huge mob of untrained brutes or somewhere in between?), decide how well equipped you want them to be and so on.  It's not about sending out a knight. There is no "knight" unit unless you choose to call a unit you designed that has a horse, a soldier who has been trained, plate mail, sword, helmet, etc. a knight when you save it.  How long would this knight take to create? Possibly very little time at all if you have the plate mail, sword, helmet, and horse ready to go. Then it's just a matter of the training time.  Otherwise, it could take quite a long time (the game will estimate the time based on arriving supplies). 

Hopefully this gives you a glimpse at the strategic depth we want to provide players. The choices for players in how they want to play this game are endless.

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November 8, 2008 2:30:37 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

So, we have a soldier building option akin to the ship building options in GalCiv. Awesome.

The beta can't get here soon enough.

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November 8, 2008 2:39:01 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Simply perfect. If that works out as described, it would be a compeltely new way to handle unit production. And a good one at that!

 

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November 8, 2008 2:45:43 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Nice. How do roads work? Will they be MoM-like (built by the player) or Settlers-like (appear when enough units have moved along the same path; at least I think this is how The Settlers works )?

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November 8, 2008 3:07:03 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

That sounds great.  It sounds VERY ambitious.

I have a question about the 'Training' component of unit creation.  I've noticed from the screenshots that all units have level ratings.  Would the 'Training' component cause the unit to start at a higher level or would it just increase the base stats of the unit?

Sammual

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November 8, 2008 3:25:08 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

This sounds fantastic.  I am especially intrigued by the caravan idea.  For example, it could force you to police your realm in order to eliminate raiders before they attack your caravans.  Perhaps include a caravan escort option in order to assign soldiers to protect your caravans going from certain cities, or send heroes and/or troops/ships to raid the caravans/convoys of other nations (anonomously of course).

Then there is the whole business management aspect of it, should Stardock choose to pursue that route.  Form trading companies in order to increase commerce and tax revenue, or perhaps even build these aspects into your hero system (give a hero a certain amount of money or goods and some limited direction as to how to spend it, then cut him loose to build an empire).  Or likewise, give a hero a certain number of soldiers and then send him to an area to enrich himself on enemy trade caravans.

Perhaps a certain amount of revenue based on the number of caravans or the bulk of goods being carried on them (economic success is built on the exchange of goods and services, therefore a significant amount of trade will enhance the overall wealth of a nation and the prosperity of its citizens).

I do very much approve of more than a "build a unit, wait a set number of turns until its done" system.

 

One other question.  Naval units and combat... will be included or not?

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November 8, 2008 3:48:13 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Perfect.

About the caravans : they are just pictures but when can you attack them? They need to have a real unit. Another thing : will the warehouse really be full to expand the goods to other towns? It would be good to have some sort of control over it. For instance a town receive 10 units of coal. You keep 5 then send the 5 to another town. Waiting to have a full warehouse is a little counter productive .. because you won't build bigger warehouse or you would stop supply to your other towns !

Maybe instead of creating the caravan at the start, create it at the end of the "line". You tell to the game thaht the town Blablabla needs coal, then the game create the caravan from the nearest town, and if the town can afford to let the coal go elsewhere. That would be easier to track the needs.

About training : will there be a way to learn "special moves" to soldiers? Like a simpel awarrior with club could learn the special "bash" attack. And a unit can only have as many special attacks as their level (a unit level 5 could have 5 attacks). As you said it, training a soldier is a matter of time but also of what they learn. How to break a shield? How to take cover against AoE spells/Abilites? How to fight certain kind of ennemies (like.. hum.. dragon?)

 

EDIT: Oops ... Forgot to say that .. You gals and guys rocks. 'Nuff said.

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November 8, 2008 3:58:55 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Sweet! This is exactly what I was hoping for.

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November 8, 2008 4:13:28 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Sounds like Kohan with the vector and surplus/shortfall.

 

Will you be able to buy the things you're short of with your gold like Kohan?

 

This is something i would not want to see overcomplicating things to be honest, but it can be a reall good addition.

 

 

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November 8, 2008 4:35:00 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I have a some comments and questions.

1) N units of production: It doesn't sound like you can completely remove the influence of the N units of production system. You at best change things into a supply and demand system where N units of production influences supply. If the demand is higher than the supply, then what ever units you are making will have a production time = to the time needed to produce/acquire the last piece of equipment.

2) "Instant create" system: Your alternative sounds like an 'instant-create' way of making things. If all the needed people are trained, and the required equipment is ready, then will your units will have a production time of 0 when you decide to make them right?

3) Training time: Will units train at a constant training rate, or will certain kinds of barracks allow for faster training?

4) Equipment production speeds: How quickly does it take to make equipment (assuming all supply demands are meet)? Will the quality of the "factories" (black smiths for instance) affect anything, such as the rate of production?

5) Dispand units: When you dispand units, will you gain trained civilians and equipment? Could you then use the equipment and trained civilians to instant create another kind of unit(s)?

6) Supply Governors: Would it be possible to have governors to get other towns to deliver resources to a given city? For instance, if only 1 of my citys can forge items out of adamintine, it makes little sense for the mines to deliver to anywhere else but that city. What about get resources from a list of mines/towns/cities? Having a set number of iron mines suppling a city (and not anyone else) would help to ensure that a desired rate of production is meet.

7) Controling caravans: Will we be able to control caravans in any way? What happens if an enemy army takes a city, thereby block a supply route, and the only alternative is for them to detour through monster infested lands? Can you make the caravans group up and travel with an army so they don't become monster food?

That should be good for now.

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November 8, 2008 5:00:21 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Sounds really great, Brad.  Very strategy oriented.  It sounds like:

GalCiv freighters = Caravans

GalCiv ship building = unit building

Civilization resources will be implemented, although more of an integrated function

My fear, as expressed by others, is that it will be too micromanagement oriented.  This will greatly depend on how easy it is to obtain resources, produce them, and then manage them.

I'd also love to see some really cool and useful pre-built units, so you don't have to "roll your own" as much as in GalCiv2.  Of course, user generated content can make this better or worse.  Better in that you have more options.  Worse if there's too many options to consider strategically.

I'll be excited to provide feedback on this, and am really interested in seeing how this concept evolves and hopefully becomes really a fun element and not overly realistic.

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November 8, 2008 5:04:06 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I drool.

 

Doling out these details several months before the first beta test.  It's inhumane!

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November 8, 2008 5:08:05 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

As a baseline , this sounds wonderful. Great flexibility, strategic depth, unlimited types of units ...

But some warning flags, where you have to be careful:

- The game is called War of Magic, and we have been promised populous-like, global havoc. So, in such a game you don't want to spend more than half of a campaign trying to achieve the capability to produce a basic warrior with a blunt bronze sword and no mount. While the overall approach seems great, it shouldn't turn the game into a low-life, ultra-realistic thing. After all, if you are calling down meteors from the sky against your enemies, you would appreciate not having to micro-manage and tear your hair out just to produce a couple of knights going against the dragons.

- Too much micro-management will certainly be a risk. For me, starting to decide where the resources will slowly have to travel seems about the limit.

- While I fully agree with the tech tree approach + training, it can also be said that in a fantasy game you can have any number of magical / mystical ways of improving your units or create new, unique units.  For example, for me it seems much cooler to reserach astrology and be able to produce especially deadly warriors thanks to the right alignment of the heavenly bodies, instead of only dealing with realistic research and resources like iron smithing. I think a combination of both would be best: the realistic techs as a necessary basis, but then you have to go further to develop the fantastic skills.

If this is just taken into account the game would be amaaaaazing!

 

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November 8, 2008 6:15:33 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Ah, this seems to bring two things I yearn for to the game. It brings a certain sense of uniqueness to a city if it is the main contributor of a certain resource, and as such probably the place that uses those resources the most. "The heaviest armor in our Kingdom comes from Armouria." That kind of stuff.

And the second, which is quite important, is that you can't always just build the best unit in masses. Like in Civilization, once you've researched Knights, you'll just build 30 units of them and crush your enemies. I'm hoping that this system limits the amount of super-elite units you can get, forcing you to use a lot of "trash folk". Sauron's armies were mostly made of orcs, after all, not mountain trolls.

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November 8, 2008 6:28:12 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Tiavals,
Ah, this seems to bring two things I yearn for to the game. It brings a certain sense of uniqueness to a city if it is the main contributor of a certain resource, and as such probably the place that uses those resources the most. "The heaviest armor in our Kingdom comes from Armouria." That kind of stuff.

And the second, which is quite important, is that you can't always just build the best unit in masses. Like in Civilization, once you've researched Knights, you'll just build 30 units of them and crush your enemies. I'm hoping that this system limits the amount of super-elite units you can get, forcing you to use a lot of "trash folk". Sauron's armies were mostly made of orcs, after all, not mountain trolls.

You hit the nail on the head.  What this system will do, in practice, is bring a more realistic and more fun way of playing the game - just because you have the technology to build something doesn't mean you can realy build it.  Just because you can now, theoretically, train elite guardsman, who ride griffins, are armed with magic swords, etc. doesn't mean you're going to start cranking these things out.  Do you have access to griffins? Has your sovereign imbued one of his armories with the ability to create magic weaponry locally or do the arms have to be shipped from across the world? 

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November 8, 2008 7:08:05 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,

do the arms have to be shipped from across the world? 

So I suppose the distance these caravans have to travel play a role in the manufacturing speed?

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November 8, 2008 7:27:44 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Zamul,

Quoting Frogboy, reply 14
do the arms have to be shipped from across the world? 
So I suppose the distance these caravans have to travel play a role in the manufacturing speed?

The unit can't be built until everything that is needed is in the town. so indirectly yes.

I am going to have so much fun raiding caravans.

Sammual

P.S. Brad, if I raid the caravan containing magic swords for my opponents griffin riders can I use them even if I don't have the tech to make them?  Can I use them to gain that tech?

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November 8, 2008 7:35:14 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Sammual,

The unit can't be built until everything that is needed is in the town. so indirectly yes.
I was thinking more like this:

Can you click to produce a unit in a city without the proper resources in store, and then have to wait while some caravans come to drop the resources off, or will you have to tell the caravans manually to stop by that city before you can start producing? The former would be great, as long as there were some estimates on how long it's going to take even before you click. It would remove some unneccesary micro-management.

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November 8, 2008 7:39:15 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I've always liked the Settlers mechanic (the original game, I haven't played any of the sequels) for resource distribution.  You've basically got supply sites and demand sites.  So, for example, say you have a city that harvests Wood.  If there is no demand for Wood, it just gets stored.  However, if a different city has a demand for Wood, such as constructing a unit/building that requires it, the resource would automatically start being shuffled towards that city.  The user doesn't need to do anything, it just starts happening as soon as there's a supply/demand imbalance.  If there are two cities requiring it, then it gets shipped equally to both.

 

If you have a city that doesn't currently require Wood, but you know it will soon, then perhaps you could click a toggle in the city's warehouse to create an artificial demand for it at that city.  It would act just as though the city had an immediate demand, and the Wood would begin shipping there.  Wood stored in warehouses where there is no demand would also act as supply sites until the warehouse was empty.

 

Perhaps infrastructure, which is what would spawn these caravans automatically, could also be finite.  There can only be a certain number of caravans out dispatching the resources at any given time.  You could invest more in building up your infrastructure, thus allowing you to have more caravans.  If your infrastructure is low (few caravans) and your roads are poor (they move slowly) you could easily overload your empire's ability to redistribute resources.

 

I don't think it would add too much micromanagement, as it would all be handled automatically by the game in order to satisfy any demand in your empire.  All that would be required for the player would be a single screen listing all their cities so they can toggle on the demand for particular resources at the city warehouses, as well as an empire-wide setting for investing in infrastructure.  The player should also protect the caravans of course, as the loss of one would lower the number of caravans available until the player invested more in infrastructure.

 

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November 8, 2008 7:46:21 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Sounds very very nice and I hope it will work out well.

Can you click to produce a unit in a city without the proper resources in store, and then have to wait while some caravans come to drop the resources off, or will you have to tell the caravans manually to stop by that city before you can start producing? The former would be great, as long as there were some estimates on how long it's going to take even before you click. It would remove some unneccesary micro-management.

I guess something like that would need to be included at a minimum to make the system work.

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November 8, 2008 8:20:45 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

When implementing such a system (which in itself sounds pretty nifty by the way) you should be careful to change the usual system of production queues. You have to make sure the item on top can't block everything just because one resource is missing. So production should be parallel and not sequential (with the possibility to emphasize perhaps) although then you have to avoid the possibility of a production item on lower priority "stealing" a limited but needed resource from the higher one. Maybe all needed resources for an item could be reserved until that item is finished. But then you could encounter another unneccesary delay in your production because reserved resources, which are although limited but obtainable at a higher rate than the "critical" missing resource of the high-priority production queue items, might hinder production of further items. Also under this system it should be possible to create masses of untrained clubwielding townfolk provided you have the enough population and big sticks.

I don't know if anyone can make sense of the gibberish abouve - I doubt I can after a good night's sleep - but the message I tried to convey is if you make these ambitious changes to the "usual" 4x economy it's mighty fine by me - just think it through please. And if it turns out to be realistic but no-fun-at-all, don't hesitate to throw the idea out of the window. There are to many half-baked good ideas in some games which sound nice but ruin gameplay (MOO3, anyone?) But I tend to trust your instincs on this one, anyway.

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November 8, 2008 8:45:05 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Sounds cool. Providing the combat stats weren't so rigid as GalCiv. With the laser vs shield and missile vs PD etc. Hopefully it won't be sword vs armour type A and bow vs something crazy else.

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November 8, 2008 9:01:42 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

One option I would really like to see is when you have a unit design in the list of available units a city can produce, have an option on that unit's info in the build options list to divert the necessary items for that unit to the currently selected city (and emphasize their production if they don't exist yet, so you get the swords you need instead of a bunch more plowshares, but only if the swords will otherwise hold up production) and start training men if you can without the other items so that you can build up, say, enough materials for 15 elite guards for you to recruit in a hurry, and something that would go hand in hand with this is being able to design units using tech a step above what you have, so if you know that you're going to be able to make steel swords in a few turns but already have steel mining, the mining town will send steel to the foundry so that it won't be held up. This last bit is just an idea, but it would be nice to have your economy primed for what you know is coming without having to do it manually.

 

Short version: I want to be able to say that I want to be able to recruit a given number of a unit and have the computer emphasize making the requisite items available to that city over mundane production, and even unit production in other cities, but in the second case only if it will not slow down the actual order. If I'm making a bunch of elite footmen with swords but want to gather the resources for sword cavalry in case a second enemy attacks, I could tell the computer to get the resources for the cavalry together as quickly as possible without worrying about its impact on the footmen production, because it will only send swords to the cavalry city when it knows that another sword will be produced before the next footman is trained. That would be an amazing feature, and add a lot of flexability.

EDIT: Wahngrok, I think I get what you're saying and have already emphasized it in my idea. You want to be able to set a priority queue for all production and have the computer try to get the first unit out first, but if it is waiting for a resource that won't be available for a long time, send the other needed resources to lower priority projects until doing so would cause a different resource to delay production, which boils down to seeing if the resource will be the last one to arrive for that particular project/instance of the unit order, and if not, seeing if sending the turn's production elsewhere would delay the higher priority order. I think I explain it decently in the paragraph above this one.

 

I also want to have the game use the caravan travel patterns to determine what would speed up deliveries the most so I can see what effect building a certain road would have would be nice.

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November 8, 2008 9:10:46 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

When implementing such a system (which in itself sounds pretty nifty by the way) you should be careful to change the usual system of production queues. You have to make sure the item on top can't block everything just because one resource is missing. So production should be parallel and not sequential (with the possibility to emphasize perhaps) although then you have to avoid the possibility of a production item on lower priority "stealing" a limited but needed resource from the higher one. Maybe all needed resources for an item could be reserved until that item is finished. But then you could encounter another unneccesary delay in your production because reserved resources, which are although limited but obtainable at a higher rate than the "critical" missing resource of the high-priority production queue items, might hinder production of further items. Also under this system it should be possible to create masses of untrained clubwielding townfolk provided you have the enough population and big sticks.

 

Make it so things trickle down, with 'reservation' on a percentage basis.  E. G. I'm making:

10xSwords at 2 iron 1 leather each;

15xLeather Armor at 2 leather each;

5xSpears at 1 Iron 1 Leather each;

 

If I have an income of 2 iron and 2 leather per 'turn', and production is instant once resources are available (probably a bad idea overall, but just think of it as having the hands to handle 5 of each on each turn -- so I've got an excess of production to resources).

Anyway, at the indicated resource rate I'd be able to make 1 sword the first turn, with one spare leather.  I have the resources for a second sword on the second turn, and 2 spare leather for a leather armor.  So I have

1 Sword

1Sword 1 Armor

1 Sword

1 Sword 1 Armor

...

 

Untill I'm done.  Then the armor takes up ALL the leather untill its done, while iron builds up.  Then work through spears.

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November 8, 2008 9:41:23 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Although there won't be 'N units', I assume the real meaning is there won't be some arbritary scale (like civ3) where a knight is 45 units, a horse man is 20 units etc..  But instead the player free-form designs a unit, and the sum cost of all it's abilities determines the cost, which the economy then produces at whatever rate it is able.

But will there be a scaleable and realistic sense of economy though?  For instance can I get a city with 3x economic capacity of one of my designed units, and result in 3 units made per turn? Will different unit abilities consume different resource stockpiles, and are there varied, limited ways to specialize the economics of the city to generate the varied resources?  For instance, by a combination of location, infrastructure,  building, and training can I get one city to be the iron capital, while another city will be the agricultural capital, and another city would be the military capital (basically a fort and armory) for training and equiping the troops?

Most 4X games abstract the economy as distracting from the war and diplomacy and city-building, and usually they stick with the 'N units' compromise to do so. So will Elementals have a strong supply-side economic model?

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November 8, 2008 9:56:12 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

10xSwords at 2 iron 1 leather each;

15xLeather Armor at 2 leather each;

5xSpears at 1 Iron 1 Leather each;

 

those are some odd sounding swords, I must say, and the spears sound even wierder.

 

now for an example of my idea with a bit extra because I realized that keeping a decent reserve stock of items that are being produced in surplus in all cities that will need them is good because of the possibility of declining production or raids:

 

Priority queue:

10x armored sergeants - 1 sword, 1 shield, 1 armor, 2 weeks training

20x footmen - 1 sword, 1 shield, 1 week training

10x knights - 1 lance, 1 shield, 1 armor, 1 horse, 3 weeks training

100x cavalry archers - 1 bow, 1 horse, 1 week training (a lot, but the example needs them to be produced constantly)

Weekly production - 2 shields, 1 sword, 1 armor, 1 lance, 1 bow, 1 horse

Production would look like this at first assuming all resources can be shipped in a week:

1 footman, 1 cavalry archer, both are sent their required materials. The town producing armored sergeants is shipped a shield, and the town producing knights is sent a lance in case supply is cut off (it's the only place that needs them, but if the resources for the lances can be better used elsewhere, no lance is made yet)

1 armored sergeant, 1 cavalry archer. The surplus shield is shipped to the town making footmen so it also has a backup stock, and the lance is sent to the town making knights.

1 footman, 1 cavalry archer, shield is sent to the town making knights (or should it be footmen, keeping stocks proportional to the number queued?)

This continues until the town making armored sergeants has enough shields stockpiled to continue the production run, at which point all shield shipments cease and it keeps building on its stockpiles (because the newly made shields are better off being used to ensure that knights and footmen can be made).

When all armored sergeants are produced, knight production begins and training has been started so once the materials are available, knights are produced (will you be able to train a unit before the prerequisite items arrive, and will you be able to have a trained unit sit around and wait until their equipment arrives? These will change things slightly). Shield production drops in priority for resource allocation once production is guaranteed.

Next, once 100 bows have been built up, bows also drop in resource priority and other items that need wood are produced in greater quantity. This raises the question of what should be done with production after the item is no longer needed. Should it still be produced in enough quantity that another production run wouldn't be delayed or just remain silent? I think that production going silent after reestablishing a minor amount of stock is the right idea so that materials aren't wasted on producing obsolete items.

 

But will there be a scaleable and realistic sense of economy though?  For instance can I get a city with 3x economic capacity of one of my designed units, and result in 3 units made per turn? Will different unit abilities consume different resource stockpiles, and are there varied, limited ways to specialize the economics of the city to generate the varied resources?  For instance, by a combination of location, infrastructure,  building, and training can I get one city to be the iron capital, while another city will be the agricultural capital, and another city would be the military capital (basically a fort and armory) for training and equiping the troops?

I'm pretty sure that that's the case, that you will have resources to extract, which are then shipped to the production centers where they are made into items that are then sent to where they can be combined to form a unit. At least that's the impression I got.

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