I've played 3 games to ~2400 by now, at which point they slow down too much for me to enjoy them anymore. I've been having a blast, but there are some issues with how the economy works now. So following is a bit of an essay/analysis of the new economy system and how it compares and contrasts with the old one, as well as some consequences for playstyles, etc… Mostly I'm writing it to put my thoughts down. It's probably too long, you don't have to read if you don't want to.
The world before 2.2
The economy system hasn't changed much since 1.0. Pops grew by themselves if they had access to food, and squatted on tiles. Tiles had bonuses. You could keep some of those bonuses if you built a building matching it. It was pretty simple in a way.
At first there was no real concept of going "tall" – your pops grew at the same speed on each planet. Fewer planets, fewer growing pops, and there was little consequences for growing except higher tech costs. But there was also relatively little point in growing except to increase the number of tiles you had access to / the number of systems you could lay claim to (remember pre-2.0, borders grew as a function of population? Pepperidge farm remembers). Pop growth was a huge advantage very early on to gear up your economy, but you'd usually hit a point in the late early game where you were filling up your new colonies relatively fast and you were just waiting for buildings to keep buildings, new techs to allow access to upgrades, rinse and repeat. The growth of your colonies was mostly a very early thing for pop growth, then a late-game run of upgrades, and that was it.
Robots were there since 1.0, and they allowed you to grow twice as fast. They were an early game bonus, essentially. They were also a late game bonus, because synths had major bonuses, more than genemod could give you (remember the limited affair that was genemod before traditions?). But they were very skippable – they just got you to the point where your planets were all filled up waiting for upgrades, faster.
Likewise, slaves were a bonus and a liability. They were unhappy, but would keep your xenophobes happy. But they also stole your pop growth, so they werent as much of a bonus as the robots, unless you picked syncretic evolution or planned to use them to colonize planets you had no access to.
Refugees, when they were introduced, were mostly pointless. They tended to have traits you didnt really want, and all they did was help you slightly in the early game filling up your planets, while being a liability later with having suboptimal traits. Plus they would emigrate everywhere or anger your xenophile factions if you turned migration off. Their only purpose was maybe for early colonization of other planet types.
Back in the good old days, you couldnt terraform an already colonized planet, there was no ring worlds and few gaias, and your pops simply couldnt colonize the wrong type of planet. So your conquered species were good for that – you could double the access to planets in the early/mid game. Near the end you could terraform everything or genemod yourself into different alternate forms so it wasn't as important.
The world after LeGuin
Like I said, I've played 3 games till 2400 in the new patch. It's a very different affair from before. Your colonies keep growing and growing and growing, and unless you make a point of arresting their development early (and why would you?), it takes a very long time before they stop growing. If you're pretty diligent about applying most possible +pop growth bonuses, your starting size 16 planet will probably grow until around 2350-2400. It's the late game until your colony is "mature".
The cycle is typically this: Early game, you focus on districts, as they give you the main 3 ressources you need and some housing. Once in a while you run out of housing and buy a city, but it's not often. When you get a building, you build an advanced building – the unity monument to keep going on traditions, then alloys or research depending on if you're playing wide or tall, or consumer goods if you need them.
Most other buildings are useless. You don't need police or stronghold or entertainers or anything, your city districts and your capital will probably keep your guys awash in amenities. If anything, I sometimes build the gene clinic which gives amenities and +pop growth.
You spend most of a young colony's life waiting for growth to take you to your next building, which you desperately need for advanced resources. But then something strange happens – at around early mid to mid game, the jobs you can provide on your colony start to vastly outstrip your population growth. Upgraded buildings give 4, then 10 jobs. Instead of waiting for growth to unlock building slots, now you have 5-6 empty waiting for growth.
In the late mid-to late game, your planet is reaching somewhere around 100-150 pops, you're starting to optimize your building slots for maximum jobs, and prioritizing cities over resources in the districts (by this point you've specialized your planets into one resource type). This is typically where trade becomes king – trade is a bit too job intensive for its benefits early game, but later game you will make the majority of your income from trade from the +5 clerk building (and its improvement). It's just about the only building your chattel slaves can work in (and droids, but not robots). At some point you finally run out of cheese at the same time as you run out of nachos, and you decide to call it quits. If you don't turn off pop growth, pops will eventually get tired of not having jobs and homes and will emigrate to other planets, boosting their pop growth.
Pop Growth is king now. You can do a lot of stuff to improve it. Choose good traits. Spend the 1000 food on the planetary decision (tedious to remember to do it). Change the food policy. Research techs. Build a genemod. But that's about it otherwise.
One of the two most important things you can do otherwise – build robots and accept refugees.
Robots: You've heard robots have been nerved. They really have. They no longer have any bonuses to anything, except synths who have a 10% flat bonus. They take 50 months to build apiece. You only get a couple robomodding points. The AI ignores your bonuses anyway. So why bother? Well, 1) It's one of the only want to increase your pop growth, and popgrowth is king. 2) They only take half the housing and amenities, and they produce about as many ressources. My runs where I've built robots have been much more succesful than the ones where I haven't.
Refugees: Popgrowth is king, so what's not to love about extra pops? The growth algorithm is kind of wierd right now, and it seems to want your empire to be a cosmopolitan society of equal weights of all races, so unless you micromanage the growth anything you accept will end up all over the place. I suggest genemoding to make a few useful races from the refugees. Either way, though, extra refugees means an accelerated movement towards your mature colonies.
Note the two above don't really count slavery. Unless you move your slaves back to your core planets (which I find gamey plus its expensive in the early game when you would want to), slaves don't help as much as you would want them to. When you take over their planets, they all get demoted to workers, and your main species has to take over the ruler/specialist jobs (which there can be dozens of on their homeworld). Throw in a different planet preference, and that can be pretty tough. If you don't turn off natural growth for your new slave race you will start building the slave race on your home world (it is trying to escape unemployment) where it's the wrong world type, etc… it's a mess honestly.
In this new world, playing tall is no longer really an option. You get the same pop growth on every planet, so the less planets you have, the slower you are growing upwards as well as laterally. This is very different than before where the total number of tiles was most important, so a lifeseeded start with the bonuses and avoiding expansion maluses could still be viable. Here, without your other planets, you just don't grow enough pops.
This brings me to habitats. They are awful for playing tall now. They cost a whopping 5000 alloys (which is not bad on a wide play, but prohibitive on a tall play). More importantly, they're awful in terms of administrative cap efficiency.
In principle they shouldn't be – according to the devs, they have better districts than planets, and as such they should allow you to get more bang out of your buck. It's true to an extent – all of the habitat districts offer 3-5 jobs. The problem is that most of the buildings are gone. Habitats are like early-game colonies that can never claw out of the early game, because they don't have access to research or trade buildings with 10 jobs. You still have access to the alloy buildings, but by that point you have (or could have) an ecumenopolis that would do the job one hell of a lot better. Two of the districts offer you things you don't need – entertainers on a colony doomed never to overpopulate, and clerks, which is not bad but without other trade buildings you just can't specialize enough. The trade districts aren't awful, but they're not great either.
So each habitat costs you some 8-10 admin points for around 40-45 pops, whereas even a size 10 colony will cost you 12 admin points, can reach >100 pops and reach economies of scale with the better buildings, even if the districts are inferior.
So what good are habitats then? Well, they're not bad if you're playing wide. Remember that popgrowth is king. Well, habitats are just about the only kind of colony that "maxes out" early, allowing its full popgrowth to emigrate to another colony.
In my game, my ecumenopolis was receiving a pop growth of >15/month (default is 3/month) from 3 habitats feeding into it, plus the usual bonuses. If you went nuts and prioritized them, you could probably build a whole bunch of "feeder habitats" that you would fill up just enough to trigger the emigration bonus, and then just see the rest of your empire explode in population growth. But you'll need a wide economy to support it.
So, what can be done?
I really really enjoy the new economy system, but it has a few quirks that should be ironed out.
First, population growth should probably be a little faster accross the board. Your starting planet should be entirely developed a bit earlier, and maybe some of the other colonies too. Right now that point is in the late game, if at all. Mostly I abandon my games before my homeworld has all its districts built up and filled out.
Second, pop growth should probably be balanced so that it is not always an overwhelming advantage to spam colonies as fast as you can build them. Perhaps new colonies could have a low growth rate until they are bigger, and rely on emigration from the homeworld for longer? True, new colonies grow at half speed until you get to 10 colonists and build a new capital, but that only takes 10 years or so and it can be gamed fairly easily by resettling which only costs 150$ per settler. For 1500$ you can jumpstart your new colony, build the new center, and rinse and repeat. It used to cost influence to move settlers – why not go back to that?
As part of that, emigration is kind of wack right now too. Unless unemployed/unhoused or very low amenities, your pops don't emigrate (sole exception: new colonies will draw in colonists from the "core worlds" – a mechanic I love), but despite that as soon as you have a single alien pop, somehow your entire empire starts prioritizing building more of it. I like the system, but something's off about the balance.
Third, habitats have to be entirely re-balanced. Perhaps different versions of buildings can be built there, more efficient buildings? The districts should definitely be rebalanced. If the ecumenopolis can give 10 metallurgist jobs (and that only costs 20 000 minerals – about the same price as a single habitat), habitats can give at least 6 researcher jobs or 10 clerks on a district. They still wouldn't be as good as ecumenopolises, but they'd be a bit more viable.
Fourth, crime is out of whack. I really enjoy the system, it's fun, but it almost never comes in play. Basically the only time I've seen it is playing my slaver game where I took a planet where the whole population was demoted to workers and there was huge unemployment due to it. Truth is, most pops are always happy, and unemployment is hard to come by. It might make police and entertainers slightly useful?
Fifth, probably need to rework ringworlds as well as habitats. Right now they're essentially just a big bread-maker for your ecumenopolis. I've never bothered building more than 1 section of a ringworld (at size 50 that takes FOREVER to fill). Ringworlds can't do minerals, and technicians are starting to give way to trade at the point of the game where you have access to them. They're size 50, which means you kind of have to build all farm districts since you really won't need many cities at all, and you won't have the building space to take advantage of the large population even if you did. All in all, ringworlds used to feel really cool and now they're pretty lame. Megastructures (and everything else) is kind of prohibitive now that we're paying for them in alloys too. By the time you can afford them, you don't need them anymore. The Ecumenopolis is way cheaper and way better.
Sixth, the habitability thing is just kind of annoying now. There's no easy way to take over enemy planets. The natives are all enslaved, so they cant do any of the specialist jobs, but my own species hates their planet so won't willingly migrate there unless I turn off population growth for the slaves. I could just purge all of them, but then my species start migrating by default and I end up with a 20% habitability planet I don't want. I'm also finding it difficult to get a good grasp on what the increased upkeep really means in practice. I enjoyed the system more before. We went from "you can only land on one type of planet and have to research other types and genemod yourself" to "ok you can colonize three types of planets but 2 of them will make you unhappy and you'll have slow pop growth" to finally "you can go wherever you like lol we don't care" and I don't think the game won for it.
Seventh, and I'm going off-topic here – but I noticed the AI doesn't build any defensive structures, and there is no longer any "fortification" bonus that requires me bombing. I've just been dropping my troops in naked and taking planets without a fight. I'm not sure if it's a mechanics change or just the AI being dumb, but perhaps there ought to be free soldier jobs based on population (like crime and merchants) to spawn militia armies. I shouldn't be able to take a planet with 100 pops on it with 4 attack armies without any bombing.
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