The game's biggest problem still unresolved: Why the 'number of cities' penalty system doesn't work

By on October 15, 2013 12:10:03 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Apheirox

Join Date 04/2006
+3

I've formerly written and debated at length about this topic on the Steam Forums, but since it still isn't acknowledged by the StarDock team (or, it would seem, the community at large) how broken the current economic model is I'm going to give it another shot here in hopes of this issue getting the needed attention.

 

First, let's clear a few things:

 

1) I am not inherently opposed to a system the penalizes an empire for growing very large - in fact, I think it is a really good idea to stack odds against a such empire and give the smaller ones a fighting chance, and it [attempts to] create the interesting choice between building 'tall' or 'wide'. It needs to be done right, however. Civilization V is an example of doing it right. FE:LH is an example of doing it catastrophically, game-breakingly wrong.

 

2) Even if the Prestige model from FE was perhaps less-than-optimal in certain ways, it is still superior to LH's model by miles. However, unrest-per-cities isn't hopelessly unsalvagable and won't have to be abandoned completely, but it will require a major rework.

 

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With that out of the way, let's get to the question you are no doubt asking: what is the problem with the current unrest-per-cities model?

 

The current unrest-per-cities model fails in two major ways:

 

1) Unlike Prestige from FE, unrest-per-cities in LH does absolutely nothing to discourage early game city spam. The optimal way to play LH is to spam as many settlers as you can as early as you can and settle any location that is remotely safe from monsters. This is because when the number of cities is very low, so is the unrest penalty. Thus, any new city you found will only increase, never decrease, your gildar, population growth, research rate, mana income and - most particularly - your production. Many of you are probably familiar with the term 'ICS'... FE:LH's early game is 100% ICS, a model practically every other 4X on the market moved away from years ago for good reasons.

 

Again, this model stands in complete contrast to FE's Prestige system which meant settling any new cities would decrease growth rate in older ones, even with just two cities. While the old model was arguably overly restrictive (players should be allowed to expand more aggressively early to produce more interesting gameplay, managing a single city is watching paint dry), it still boggles the mind why the developers would move the game from a model that recognizes the problems with ICS and severely restricts expansion into one that completely encourages it.

 

ICS is bad for a 4X, but the much bigger problem with LH's model is:

 

2) Unrest-per-cities totally disrupts the flow of the game at a certain point. When you have 15 cities in your empire, any further expansion will produce absolutely crippling unrest: 15x3 = 45 percentage points of unrest, distributed amongst your most productive cities where it hurts the most. Adding a new size 1 city with its pitiful output is just not worth it at this point and will only harm your empire. Effectively, this means that beyond a certain point, the game completely prevents you from expanding. The early game is spent massively colonizing the land, but you then reach a point where it says "sorry, no go!" and become paralyzed.  It is a total paradigm shift that just murders the natural game flow, going straight from unrestricted expansion into total denial of expansion in one swoop. When you reach this point, the gameplay completely slows down and you'll be forced to sit on your ass and do nothing for the next 50-100 turns. Why? Because the only way to lift the curse of massive per-city-unrest is to tediously wait for your Fortress class cities to level up! Fortresses, to make matters worse, are the slowest type of city to grow, even if you do everything in your power to support their growth, such as doing the senseless things the current model encourages such as building Fortresses in high grain, low production locations supported with both your Tower of Dominion, Palace and Consulates and create a city that will never be useful for anything other than unrest reduction. Consequently, no matter how smart you play, you'll be forced to sit and wait for your Fortresses to grow to lvl 5 for literally hundreds of turns (it's that paint drying thing again... talk about tedious gameplay!). During the full length of this time you'll be unable to attack your neighbours or do anything else of interest, even if you could easily crush your opponents, because doing it will in fact weaken you. You have to sit and wait.

 

*

 

The problem, as we can then see, is that the game's only real options for unrest reduction (lvl 4 Fortress: Prison & lvl 5 Fortress: Onyx Throne) are locked away in the buildings that it take the most time to reach, with logical necessity creating a disruption of the flow of gameplay as you wait for them to unlock. Solutions to the problem could therefore be:

 

1) Dismantling the whole broken LH economic model and returning to the superior Prestige model... Which we know won't happen at this point, although the game would be better for it.

 

2) A ceiling on the amount of unrest-per-city penalty you can get. Beyond 10 cities, any more don't addtionally increase unrest. This has the weakness of still making large empires much more powerful than smaller ones, a speed bump instead of a blockade. Then again, this game is about dominating the world of Elemental, yes?

 

3) More unrest-reducing improvements for cities. Halving the cost of the 'Bless City' spell in v1.3 works a bit like one and has reduced the issue somewhat by allowing one to better convert mana into unrest reduction, but it wasn't enough - especially since not every city will have a slot for essence, and it remains an extremely costly spell. A real new building(s) is needed - City Hall? It's fine to let these new buildings be expensive - even put a gildar upkeep on them - they just have to be there.

 

Many other solutions could be thought up, but something needs to happen. Current gameplay is: expand like mad, wait 100+ turns doing nothing, expand - and it is not good.

 

Thanks for reading!

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October 26, 2013 3:39:27 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I have two screenshots to contribute to this thread.

Disclaimer: I don't know if AC Year count is actually a turn for a year or not. I can't find turn timer anywhere. cuz if it is then it been 70 turns until I built Onyx throne..? Or 140? Dunno!

My current 1.4 game.

 

The very first turn of game, AC 165. Gaze upon the splendor of my riverside village which eventually became a Town!

I name it Rose! My subjects rejoice!

 

And it is now turn AC 235.


A onyx throne has been constructed! For my rebellious subjects to learn how weak they are and prostrate before my might!

This is my third city I built! My second is a conclave in a isolated but protected location.

Zanber Fortress has selected Strike Garrison, Prison, and Onyx Throne. And it is built next to river which boost it's food limits while the tile yields the fortress is built on has exactly 5 grain and 3 production and 0 essence! As you can see, the fortress have 115 production. It's growth is 5. I did get lucky there and shaved a whole bunch of turns off because of a temple of forgetting. Its my first time getting it to be honest. Otherwise I would've built 1-3 extra constabularies for the fortress. Oh and it is currently production growth but its done now because it got the Onyx and is now back to building any leftover upgrades and soldiers for armies. This fortress alone has produced five armies so far and the said armies is protecting all my fronts and subjugated Imperia Wildlands to the south and became part of my territory. 

 

While I am aware that Essences is like OMFG. But dude, Riverside fortresses is way more important if you want to have Onyx up fast. Because of the Pier line improvements boost food income plus the final upgrade the watermill also boosts production and the Zanber fortress did manage to nab The Great Mill wonder as well. And is next to forest. I chose that location over settling on 3 food and 3 production and 2 essence but that tile isn't next to river and forest but is however right next to a swamp which means horrible production.

 

It cranks out a light plate armor soldiers every two turns with 115 production. The time that onyx thrones require is just about right I think. If it came even faster, my soldiers will be crashing headalong into even more powerful monsters before they're ready and interior still isn't fully stabilized with bunch of quests to be done still.

 

Oh and Vergas cast tremor on my Caravan. I thought that got fixed in 1.4 Or was it just for wither?

 

If you settle fortresses in low food but high essence tile locations, just suck it up like a man and acknowledge that the fortress won't get level 5 any time soon but late game it will its the price you pay for grabbing delicious high essence tile otherwise it would be too overpowered and it at least give times for opposing factions to squash your fortress before it got that ultimate level 5 stuff up. But hey, that 1 food 5 production and 5 essence tile means you can build the fortress upgrades very fast and switch to cranking ubar enchanted soldiers right away just build another fortress in different location which will be intended to build a onyx throne in relatively fast time.

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October 26, 2013 11:26:14 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

To find the turn timer, just hover your mouse over the year and it will tell you the turn number.

And I never felt essence is the most important attribute when it comes to settling a city. I find a lot of my more useful cities do not have essence (but then again I might not be using the magic correctly)

I like the picture, but from 165 AC to 235 AC, we have roughly 280 turns (observe the seasons next to the year) each season is a turn.

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October 26, 2013 11:28:20 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

70 years are 280 turns AFAIK (each turn is one season, i.e. each year is 4 turns). TBH, most of my games (except the few times i played on epic tech pace) are decided after about half of that time. they may not be finished yet, but the outcome is clear, so it doesn't really matter if i get more cities or what percentage of production my empire loses to unrest.

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October 26, 2013 1:03:31 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Ah sweet thank you two. It's true that I think I already have this game won Azunai. Only because I think the AIs isn't capable of fielding invasion army. Like five big armies at minimum and launch them at anywhere on my borders.

 

I ran into that Giant Skeleton dude, he was accompanied by a couple of skeleton units and dark sorceror and what was that other unit? I forgot but it looked awesome lol Felt like an undead army for once Even when it was mulch cuz it attacked my sovereign.

 

280 turns feels about right for huge map for when onyx thrones come online for me. Because at this point i'm battling the wildlands and about to start expanding further as made evident by the screenshot lol.

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October 28, 2013 9:43:18 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

EDIT: I should know better than to respond to inflammatory posts like this one, by now.

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October 29, 2013 1:22:35 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I still don't think this is a huge issue. The biggest problem in my experience is not the number of cities penalty it's the occupation penalty. My own cities have manageable unrest of about 40% on a low tax rate (with shrine + town hall), but when I conquer an AI city it can be 100% plus because of the occupation penalty, which makes them unusable without using a Commander/ Bless City/ Rushing buildings. However at the point where I'm conquering one AI town every turn or two the game is practically over anyway, and it's still possible to build mana or gold.

In addition you will almost certainly be able to use at least one city from each AI you kill because you should capture one that has the AI's Tower of Dominion (probably their capital). Towns can get an upgrade (I think it's the Embassy) which has the same effect. Bless City is effective, if quite expensive in mana, as is getting Fortresses to high enough levels (although my games are usually over before I get a level four or five fortress).

The one thing that did come out of this discussion for me is that there could be more buildings to reduce unrest, especially when playing on larger maps. On reflection it is a bit strange that (for example) Entertainment doesn't give you an unrest reducing building. E.g. "Theatre" reduces unrest by 15%.

The other thing that could be done is to create a building specifically for reducing Occupation unrest; for example Prison or Secret Police or whatever you want to call it, which comes from a late researchable tech (probably Economics, could be Warfare) and e.g. reduces occupation penalty by half. Either or both of those would presumably be simple enough to mod in. They might make a better game, I'm not 100% sure, I personally quite like the fact that you can pretty much ignore the cities you capture at the end of the game, there's less micro-managing. But the obvious thing to do is mod it in and see if people like it.

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October 29, 2013 2:13:27 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The occupation penalty only lasts 5 turns, then it goes away and acts like a normal city in your empire. If you want you can change that yourself in the elementaldefs.xml

 

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October 29, 2013 6:21:56 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting parrottmath,
The occupation penalty only lasts 5 turns

Yeah I thought it was something like that. In that case a building which reduces occupation unrest is pointless unless it's a global reduction. (Perhaps the Prison could reduce this globally?)

I guess I notice it because by the time I get to the stage of the game where I'm taking AI cities I'm taking one a turn, so that means at any one time I have five cities which are nearly useless. The game probably only lasts another twenty turns after that anyway, so I never get to the point where they become particularly productive.

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October 29, 2013 7:55:48 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The last thing we need more of is unrest reducers that only show up really late into the game.

If we are going to have another unrest reducer, I would suggest it comes maybe around turn 100 in the average game.

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November 1, 2013 6:55:36 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting merlinme,

I still don't think this is a huge issue. The biggest problem in my experience is not the number of cities penalty it's the occupation penalty. My own cities have manageable unrest of about 40% on a low tax rate (with shrine + town hall)

 

...

 

Quoting parrottmath,

The occupation penalty only lasts 5 turns, then it goes away and acts like a normal city in your empire. If you want you can change that yourself in the elementaldefs.xml

 

Unfortunately, that's not how it works. The 5 turns in the XML refers to the number of turns until the unrest starts decaying. It decays at 1 point per turn from 50 to 0, meaning it will take 55 turns(!) for conquered cities to start acting like a 'normal' city. This conquest penalty makes the unrest-per-city problem even worse (by making it extremely unattractive capturing enemy cities instead of settling your own, despite their better development).

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November 1, 2013 7:32:42 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Apheirox,
Unfortunately, that's not how it works. The 5 turns in the XML refers to the number of turns until the unrest starts decaying. It decays at 1 point per turn from 50 to 0, meaning it will take 55 turns(!) for conquered cities to start acting like a 'normal' city. This conquest penalty makes the unrest-per-city problem even worse (by making it extremely unattractive capturing enemy cities instead of settling your own, despite their better development).

Oh, it usually went away from my cities after the 5 turns. But that was on version 1.3, so it might have changed. I didn't realize that it would take 55 turns before those cities became viable. I'll have to check this again next time.

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