Been playing through a new Shoulders of Giants run, after some discussion of its strengths on here, and it blows origins like Propsperous Unification out of the water.
Prosperous Unification gives you 2 districts (worth, at most, 600 Minerals), 4 pops, and a modifier. That's strong (and fiercely competitive with origins like Lost Colony: which gives a slightly better modifier and, powerfully, Advanced Empire of your own species it's easy to ally with) but Shoulders is even better.
There is simply no question the full empire modifier Shoulders gets in the mid-game is much better than Prosperous Unification's planet modifier, especially on wide playthroughs in huge galaxies with high planet settings. But the argument usually given for PU is it is better due to its early snowball.
Nothing could be further from the truth- as Shoulders gets a much better snowball due to its many free archaeology sites in its home system.
The sites produce Minor Artifacts (1-5/chapter, though in my experience after a certain point it's usually 5), each with 4 chapters (the last chapter of the first site gives 100-500 Minerals instead, the 3rd site has only 2 chapters, and 4 chapters give a free random technology. One chapter also gives 350-2000 Minerals, and the final site has a chapter with 250-1000 Exotic Gases). There are 6 sites, and the last gives you a weaker empire modifier until the mid-game (where a series of special projects improves it).
So, you get 21 chapters that give 1-5 artifacts, 4 free techs (the same number as you get from clearing tile blockers starting on a Relic World), 450-2500 Minerals, and 250-1000 Exotic Gases. I haven't looked st the code, but the Minerals and Exotic Gases are probably both tied to your monthly income: so they synergize very well with wide playthroughs, like everything else about this origin…
Prosperous Unification may give you 600 Minerals of districts (not necessarily the ones you would have chosen, either) 4 pops, and a modifier that probably makes your capital 12-16% more productive overall (not that good before long if you have a lot of Migration to colonies and/or Resettle pops off your capital), but Shoulders gives a median of SIXTY-THREE Minor Artifacts (a distribution that seems to be right-skewed, with a HIGHER average, or somehow tied to the size of your econony/ level of your scientist), 1475 Minerals, 625 Exotic Gases, and 4 free techs.
Since the LEAST valuable thing you can do with Minor Artifacts is sell them to Private Collectors for up to 500 Energy (tied to your monthly income, so usually worth holding onto the artifacts until you have a use for the Energy), and I've personally never had to sell them for less than a bit over 350, that's a median value of at least 22k, and up to 31.5k just from selling the artifacts (and due to the extreme value of Influence, destroying them or celebrating diversity is usually better for Xenopobes/Xenophiles, respectively)
On top of that, 4 techs worth at least 4-7k each (early-game you should be blowing past your Admin Cap, as it improves your tech rate more to simply run extra labs instead of Bureaucrats, up to a certain point…), 1475 Minerals, and 625 gases (which, early game, typically sell for 43-56 Minerals each, in direct trades, for a median value of about 49) means a TOTAL value of at least 54.1k or so, median (if it's random, rewards will usually be close to the median: but in my experience some are tied to income and so substantially outperform the median if you run your economy well, and expand it aggressively early-game…)
That's far, far beyond what Prosperous Unification can do for you: 4 pops producing an average of 30 value/month (that's generous, as pops have upkeep and some will need to work in support roles like Clerks/Entertainers at times), plus maybe 45 more from the planet modifier if your capital averages 40 pops over the early-game.
75 value/month would take 721 months (over 60 years) just to produce 54k value, and substantially longer if you don't sell your Shoulders artifacts the moment you get them (I based 54k value on selling artifacts for only 350 Energy each- you have control over when you sell them), or are producing substantial volumes of Exotic Gases by the time you are digging the 6th archaeology site. With less conservative assumptions, you could easily produce enough value it would take PU starts 86 years just to produce an equal amount!
And, of course, the Shoulders value is front-loaded: the only thing limiting how fast you earn it is how quickly you dig the archaeology sites (get an early Archaeologist and train them to level 2 or 3 before starting, and the sites will proceed VERY quickly…) Which means this tens of thousands of value is all available in the first 20-30 years or so, and due to compound interest/investment (starting from the moment you get your first artifact) is easily producing more than 85 value/month long before a PU player's capital hits 50 pops.
So long as a Shoulders player plays well for the first 10-15 years or so, focusing on economic management until they get a good number of artifacts, they will snowball ahead of a Prosperous Unification player. PU players then NEVER can catch up, as the Shoulders player also gets a powerful empire modifier that exceeds the value of the PU planetary modifier by quite a lot if the Shoulders player is playing wider than the PU player (which they should be doing: you have to play to the strengths of the origin you actually choose… You CANNOT compare PU and Shoulders players using the same strategy, as each origin lends itself to a different play strategy…)
I'm sick of hearing how Prosperous Unification is the best origin in the game for all situations. It's not. It's narrowly worse than Lost Colony for Xenophiles (who can ally with the advanced empire, and benefit from the Habitability bonus when they bring aliens to their "homeworld") or some multispecies slaver builds. It's worse than Doomsday or Void Dwellers for some early-rush strategies relying on massive resources or tech advantage. And it's far worse than Shoulders of Giants for an exploration-heavy (greatly raises odds of getting a good Archaeologist early), wide playthrough: especially if you take Egalitarian and/or Materialist for Shoulders (Egal helps you push through the eatly specialist resources shortages until you start selling artifacts, particularly combined with Meritocracy, and also synergizes very well Governing Ethics Attraction from the empire modifier; Materialists do well to spam science-ships and gain a tech lead early on to keep their faction happy, both of which Shoulders synergizes well with: benefitting greatly from the availability of experienced scientists from exploration, synergizing with taking the Discovery tradition very early for this reason, and letting you run more research labs and Bureaucrats instead of factories, by selling artifacts to buy Alloys and Consumer Goods, and later free Exotic Gases for advanced labs; Shoulders also gives a research bonus with its empire modifier…)
TLDR: The artifacts and other bonuses Shoulders of Giants gives means Shoulders players should have no problem staying ahead of Propsperous Unification players with their many tens of thousands (54-78k) of extra resources. Then, they get an awesome empire modifier that ensures they keep ahead of Prosperous Unification players the rest of the game, if they played smart and use their early extra resources wisely, to aggressively build their economy, tech up, and expand; all at once so far as selling/using the artifacts allowed…
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