I belive there is a bit of a misconception in the community that spawned after the 2.2 "Le Guin" patch that I'd like to clear up / at least start a discussion about. And that is the definition of a tall strategy as it relates to Stellaris.
Pre-2.2 the definition of tall was simple: a research focused empire. Such an empire would stay small enough to not incur excessive penalties to research, but large enough to maximize research output. This can be put in words simpler if we introduce the concept of effective research output: effective research output is total research output divided by the total research cost multiplier. So if one is getting 2k science and has a research cost penalty of +100% (aka double), then the effective research output is 2k / 2 = 1k. The goal of a tall empire is to maiximize effective research output.
Since pre-2.2 every planet and system other than the capital system contributed to research penalties, the only way to have no penalties is the one system challenge. This made the discussion easy, because it would be madness to suggest that the one system (or one planet) challenge has a place in the meta.
The complications came with the 2.2 "Le Guin" update. It introduced the "admin cap", which is a soft cap on empire size, aka it is possible to go over, but there are penalties for doing so. One of those penalties is a penalty to research cost. The problem with this admin cap, however, is that it is a very inviting target empire size to be considered as a maximum size for tall empires. This would be all fine if staying under the admin cap was a viable strategy in the meta. but it is not. The reason is simple: the penalties for going over the admin cap are not relative to the admin cap, but to the absolute amount of how much one is over that admin cap. In other words, if someone is over the admin cap by 100 points, it does not matter if their admin cap is 30 or 300, the penalty will be the same.
What needs to be noticed here is that if the base admin cap is low enough, and the penalties for going over the cap are also low enough, then it is actually beneficial for the effective research output to go over the admin cap. In simpler terms, if the sprawl value over the admin cap at which one is getting double research cost is higher than the admin cap, then it is beneficial for the effective research output to go over the admin cap.
For a non-megacorp empire, it takes 300 sprawl points over admin cap to double the research costs. Lets use and admin cap of 50 (30 base + 20 from Courier Network tradition) as comparison: if one expands up to 350 sprawl, the research costs are doubled, but the potential total research output is 7 times! That is a whopping 3.5x increase in effective research output!
This shows that it is not worth it to stay under admin cap. The story, however, is not so simple. There are technologies that increase the admin cap, most notably, a repeatable technology. And since the higher the admin cap, the lower the boost in effective research output one gets from going over the admin cap, there comes a point in admin cap where going over would be offset by the research penalty, and that point is at 300 admin cap (300 over is double cost, but double output, the two cancels out), and over 300 admin cap, it is actually detrimental to the effective research output to go over the admin cap.
The point I am making here that for a tall empire, it is beneficial to expand up to 300 sprawl, then wait for endgame repeatables to expand under the admin cap. Since the empire is research focused, one can get to the repeatables pretty quick, and research them quick, making this a non-issue most of the time. Since a tall empire also builds megastructures, it also needs a good alloy economy, but about 400-600 alloys a month should be good to build three megastructures continuosly, and less earlier to build habitats. Due to this alloy economy, it may be beneficial to stop under 300 sprawl, because that extra size may not translate proportionally into extra research.
Why do we need this tall strategy for the definition? Because this shows the difference between a tall and a wide empire. A tall empire would focus on research, and its alloy economy would be to support its internal development and defense, and on expansion only secondly. With a wide empire, a much stronger alloy economy is needed to support its expansion and internal development. A tall empire thus focuses on research first and alloy + economy second, while a wide empire focuses on alloy + economy first and research second. A tall empire expands over the admin cap until a point, then waits for the admin cap repeatables to expand further, while a wide empire does not care about admin cap at all. A tall empire starts getting repeatables while the wide empire is still researching tier 3-4 tech, but has much less economy to support a defensive war, so the two are roughly matched. A tall empire is weak early-game, about equal to midgame, and stronger at endgame than a wide empire, if both are left undisturbed.
Anyway, TLDR: tall =/= below admin cap, tall should go over early and midgame, wide completely ignores admin cap.
What are your thoughts?
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