Right now, colonization in Stellaris is, except for random events, not very interesting or fun. The main issues I see with it are:
- It's all or nothing. Either a planet is worth fully colonizing, and you spend a lump sum of influence to assume direct control, or it sits there doing absolutely nothing except maybe hosting an orbital station.
- It's entirely directed by the player. Colonization happens when and only when you say it does, regardless of how overcrowded your core worlds are or how valuable an unoccupied planet is.
- There's no ability to contest another empire's colonization attempts short of declaring war- once a station is built, everything in that system is theirs forever.
I would like to see a colonization system where worlds that people would actually like to live on are colonized in a gradual and organic way, and where colonization can be a long-term source of tensions between empires. Here is my suggestion:
Split the colonization process into two stages: outposts and full colonies.
Each terrestrial body within some distance of any colonized planet of yours receives a desirability score, with heavy penalties for molten and toxic worlds (and maybe just a straight -infinity if you don't have the right tech), smaller penalties for frozen and barren worlds, and bonuses for high habitability and valuable deposits. Outposts can be randomly founded on any planet with positive desirability, with MTTH governed by the desirability, empire migration speed, etc. Multiple empires can have an outpost on the same planet. Empires can forbid settlement on particular planets, or ban founding outposts altogether- this greatly reduces but does not necessarily eliminate desirability.
An outpost consists of three numbers: loyalty, population, and population growth. For each valuable deposit on a world, outposts will generate research, unity, or strategic resources in proportion to their population, with a penalty for low loyalty. Population growth is increased by high desirability, lack of migration controls, and low happiness on full colonies. Loyalty decreases over time due to immigration from planets with low happiness, and increases over time due to immigration from planets with high happiness, the presence of an owned station in the system, and military presence on/around the planet. Outposts on planets which are not supposed to be colonized receive large loyalty penalties. Ground troops can dismantle them, but risk rebellion.
If an outpost's population becomes large enough, and larger than any other outpost on the planet by a substantial amount, it becomes a normal colony, as they currently exist in the game. Depending on the loyalty of the outpost and the military strength of the colonizing empire, it may demand full independence, vassal status, or just join the empire outright. If the colony wants autonomy or independence, the colonizing empire will have the chance to go to war to annex the colony- if another empire has an outpost on the planet, or owns a station in the system, they will have a chance to intervene to secure the independence of the colony or annex it themselves.
At any point, a colonizable planet with or without an outpost can be colonized as normal by building a colony ship, which will immediately annex it into the colonizing empire. Again, if another empire has an outpost on the colonized planet, they will have an opportunity to go to war over it.
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