The recent discussions on 1.3 in the dev journals (about limiting the number of buildings you can have by settlement level, and increasing the citizen costs of buildings exponentially in this journal https://forums.elementalgame.com/408950 ) have got me thinking once again about the biggest problem with elemental, to my mind.
In elemental, settlements (like characters) have levels, which they achieve by crossing certain population thresholds. These allow you to build certain new special buildings with a level prerequisite, choose a level-up bonus, give you some free housing and (if you have the technologies) upgrade your research or housing buildings to superior versions that produce twice as much per head.
However, we also have a second system, whereby population allows you to construct buildings (and i know it sounds like i just said this above, but bear with me) through the citizen system. Every research or materials producing building has a citizen cost (usually 5), that stops you from building anything new until your population is 5 greater than the current number of citizens already accounted for.
While it makes sense that buildings require people to operate them, the sticking point is in numbers. While a settlement at the beginning of the game may have around 20 people, a settlement at the end of the game has around 1000, a 50 fold increase. Population increases at an increasing rate and this is why the gaps between level requirements increase each time. This means that it is impossible to charge a fixed amount of citizens per building without either 1) making buildings prohibitively expensive in the early game or 2) resulting in the potential for around 200 (1000 / 5) studies per city at the end of the game. To escape this fact, Brad is now proposing that citizen costs of buildings increase each time (5 for the first, 10 for the second, and so on). So the costs now grow exponentially like the population. Aside from whether this will work or not (or whether it makes intuitive sense, which it clearly doesn’t), essentially, this allows the game to take one step forward for the one step back we just took by introducing citizen costs.
What’s more, we have many other ways of limiting how many buildings you can support. Firstly, you have to pay to support them, and in the early stages of the game, this is almost always far more significant than the citizens required to run the buildings. By the end of the game, you’re more likely to be constricted by the tile limit. Essentially this is a hard-coded engine limitation that stops cities from getting too huge, taking over the map and slowing performance. It is not supposed to be a gameplay feature, and that players should ever run into it is evidence of BAD DESIGN.
But assuming the system is working. This means that, as well as building things when a town levels up, every time my cities population increases by 5, i should go back and build another freaking study to add to the 20 I have there already. Essentially, it’s the equivalent of getting another ability point every time i gain 20 xp AS WELL as adding points every time I level up. The whole point of a level up process is that it breaks up the allocation of points so you only have to do it now and again. The idea that population gives you levels and these give you buildings is fine, and this is an established staple of strategy. But then adding to that by saying that population allows you to build buildings, is just a pointless, redundant way of saying the exact same thing twice.
And the list of problems go on. Because we have a system where the number of buildings is (supposedly) proportionate to population, but their production PER building is based on settlement level (ie, you get super studies at level 3), we get ridiculous situations like your research production doubling when you reach level 3 settlements, at no extra costs. Worse still is the catch 22 of not having enough housing to increase your population to level 3, so that your hovels can become houses – ie, you can’t increase your population BECAUSE you can’t increase your population.
In short, the citizen system is totally redundant that just adds confusion and micro, when it even works at all. You’re never going to be able to make fixed costs / building that will work at all stages of the game. And even if you could, what would it possibly add beyond limiting you in the same way twice, and forcing you to build a new study every time population went up by 5?
There is no point increasing the citizen cost of buildings exponentially when we already have something that increases exponentially: settlement level requirements. The only way settlements can be ultimately fixed with the best overall system is to ditch citizen costs and just limit the number of buildings by settlement level directly. So level 3 settlements get up to 7 buildings, level 4s get up to 9 and so forth. Add more levels with smaller gaps if necessary.
That way you can make sure the player never gets anywhere near the tile limit, and the player can queue up all his buildings after levelling up instead of coming back every 5 turns to build another goddamn study. Instead of using level to determine the production of buildings (ie, super studies at level 3) and population to determine the number of buildings (which is ridiculous when population varies between 50 and 1000 and you thus go from 1 to 50 studies), use levels to determine the number of buildings, and use population to determine the production per building (ie, 0.1 research per study per person). That way you can still get the benefit of population after you hit the limit on buildings.
Elemental is not a game about city management. They should just be the means to fund our armies and adventures. At the moment however, the city system is full of redundancy, flawed concepts and pointless micro. As a result the game has become a contest to cheese the system and get decent cities first, rather than about a war of magic. Ditch citizens and limit buildings by level, because citizens are what give you levels. That is all.