So discussing reforms to the war system, especially for the purpose of doomstacks, seems to be popular right now. Here are some problems I've seen and some ideas to fix them.
Right now, the war system pretty much demands you send your whole fleet in one big unit to fight the whole enemy fleet in one big unit. Fleet capacity has made it so that, instead of one big unit, it's technically like five smaller units travelling as one, but that isn't really a functional difference. In practice, the bigger fleet just wins. I've seen a lot of solutions to this problem, but none of them really seem to address a big factor in war: defensive advantage. Historically, if two armies are equal, the one acting in offense will generally lose because removing someone from a fortified area is much harder than keeping someone out. That's why you don't just slam your army into a garrison and overwhelm it; it just takes so much more force to do that. Instead, you win by attrition. Deny supplies, keep them trapped in the castle for a few weeks or months, and eventually they'll be severely weakened to the point that your armies can just walk in and claim it. But doing that requires you to maintain a certain level of control over the area and spread out your army. You can't just conquer an area and leave, you have to stay there and occupy it.
Additionally, armies need supplies of some sort. Usually they would seize food and such as they conquer areas as well as maintain supply lines from home. A single massive army would fall victim to all sorts of supply-line shenanigans, again unless it devoted resources to maintaining them.
That's basically my solution to doomstacks. If there's some attrition element, then doomstacks are no longer viable for an offensive war. While your massive fleet moves through the enemy territory, their handful of smaller fleets would be constantly liberating the areas you leave behind. This wouldn't necessarily be a huge deal, but fleets could also have a supply mechanic so that they get severe penalties if they lose connection to the supply line for too long. This way, the invading empire would send a doomstack that would slowly shrink as it occupies more territory, allowing smaller empires not to "win" the war but at least to control the losses.
It's kind of BS that a giant battleship can just emergency FTL and get away from a full-scale space battle. Combat disengagement should be removed completely. If two fleets meet up, they both fight until only one is left. To maintain levels for admirals and ships, instead have an "escape" system. The ships in the fleet are gone either way, but emergency FTL life pods can save a lot of the crew and the admiral. The next ship of that type built will get the rescued crew, so it starts with however much XP that crew had. Once trained crews are depleted, ships start at 0 again, or 100 if you have a fleet academy.
This way, doomstacks can't just bulldoze through a ton of defense platforms. Without disengagement, they'll take a much larger hit. And if the smaller fleet manages to pull off either a surprise victory or at least a very narrow defeat, the larger fleet won't still be at like 75% of its size because half the ships just noped out instead of getting destroyed. And as an added bonus, the extra lost ships makes the larger empire vulnerable to invaders.
This idea could also come with some more ways to manage war supplies. Maybe the maintenance cost for ships is related to operation and the crew, so you can build hundreds of ships and just keep them in a "hangar" starbase where they cost no upkeep but also aren't operational. There's a toggle when you build ships to build only the ship for X alloys or build a ship and hire a crew with it for X alloys and X energy. An escaped crew automatically activates a crew-less ship of the same type, or you can go to the hangar and choose to activate the ships by just paying the energy cost and waiting a month or so. Unlike shipbuilding, there is no "width" for hiring crew. If you have 200 empty ships, you can hire all 200 crew at once, then wait a month and you'll have all 200 ships ready to go. This allows smaller nations that don't necessarily want any wars to maintain a defense stockpile on the cheap. No need for naval capacity, no need for maintenance of like 200 ships, etc. This doesn't really make their fleets stronger since they can only really have 40 of those ships active at a time, but it does mean that they're resistant to attrition. The powerful invaders can steamroll their weak fleet, but then it'll be replaced immediately and ready to fight again. The invaders, on the other hand, have to slowly rebuild their destroyed ships. This sounds like a lot of micro, but it really wouldn't be. Just keep some inactive ships lying around and they'll automatically get activated after battles. If you run out of inactive ships, the game just sticks the spare crew in the next ship of the appropriate type that gets built. The player doesn't need to think about where to assign crews or anything like that since it's automatic.
It sucks. Transport fleets are not realistic at all. You wouldn't have a totally defenseless ship with an escort of proper warships. You'd invade using the crew from the warships. I suggest that every ship be able to hold 1-8 armies by default, depending on size. This doesn't take up an extra space and make the ships weaker, because every ship has the army space. Maybe add the option of expanding the army space if the enemy empire might be hard to invade. If attrition mechanics do get added, it could also be that a ship without an army gets a resistance to attrition, since that storage space could be used for supplies instead.
Additionally, I think it's silly that it's so unbelievably easy to invade a planet. It would make sense that a trained army just destroys two little defense forces, but it wouldn't make sense that the entire planet only has two little defense forces. I think that every pop on a planet should automatically spawn one defense unit. Make it kind of difficult to invade a larger planet, so the invading force actually has a hard time grabbing those planets. Also make it so that a decent force has to be left to hold the position instead of the whole army leaving and the planet just… deciding to stay occupied. This should scale with population too, so the force required to occupy a fringe colony is less than the force required to control a capital.
People have suggested that the ships in Stellaris should be able to level a planet in days. I just disagree. This would be true for pre-FTL civilizations, but an empire that has access to laser weapons would surely have built some kind of basic planetary defense system on a colony, right? Plus, since space ships are built in space, it's possible that they are extremely vulnerable to pressure. Maybe they can't enter a planet's atmosphere or they'll be crushed. They have to blow stuff up from space, which is much more difficult than just flying down to ground level and blasting things.
There is NO REASON I should be forced to make peace with an invading empire just because it captured one planet and a few outer systems after a long war. That just isn't how war works. If I know I can get that territory back and win, then I should be able to. And if the AI calculates that it can do the same, there's no reason I should just be able to stall until it gives up. If resources run out, that's a totally different situation. Sure, IRL two nations might get tired of war if there's no progress. But if one nation suddenly starts pulling ahead and claiming ground, the other nation can't go "LOL nah we're both tired of this shit we call dibs on what we got see you in ten years." The forced peace system should be modified to account for progress. Victories shouldn't just increase the enemy's exhaustion, they should lower yours.
I find it really strange that the people of your empire don't seem to care about the genocidal maniacs who want to kill them all. During WWII, the civilians did their part as well, and I think Stellaris should reflect this idea. Maybe add some wartime policies or edicts. Things like asset forfeiture for authoritarians, where you can just take "free" resources at the cost of decreasing empire happiness. Or war bonds, where you can take out loans from the people but your energy/month takes a hit after the war as you pay them off. Maybe a wartime ration, where all pop upkeeps decrease but happiness will take a hit if the ration goes on too long. IMO it would be cool if each ethic had its own associated wartime edict.
The ship designer kind of sucks. There shouldn't be an "ideal" build. I think it would be better if war-related tech was more random. Instead of every empire having about equal shield and armor, equal kinetic and laser weapons, etc. it would be more interesting if there was variance. Some empires might have better shielding tech, so they focus a little more on shields. Then it might be better for your empire to retrofit its ships with kinetic weapons, even if your kinetic weapons aren't that great. And maybe if your kinetic weapons aren't that great, you'd think twice about invading an empire with good shields even if they are weaker than you. I'm not sure how best to implement this idea though.
Dismantled ships and stuff shouldn't be wasted. If I have a fortified starbase and capture further territory that also need to fortify, I should be able to dismantle the first starbase and recover at least some of the alloys. Right now, I don't always want to build a good defensive citadel because I know I'm gonna build a new one when I capture more territory. Why can't all the resources used to make those defense platforms be recycled? I understand them not being fully recoverable, but not at all? Additionally, destroyed ships should be salvageable too. Not fully salvageable, of course, but a few alloys at least. Clearly they aren't vaporized, or we wouldn't be able to recover tech.
Wartime edicts for different ethics.
Militarist – War bonds. During a war, you may sell up to five war bonds per citizen pop and one per resident pop. Each war bond gives 100 energy immediately. After the war, a new energy upkeep is added equal to the number of war bonds sold, lasting for 120 months. If you fail to pay the upkeep for a month, you get -2% pop happiness globally and increase the length of the upkeep by one month. Each successful payment removes a -1% pop happiness penalty from previous missed payments.
Pacifist – Make do and mend. Pop upkeep is reduced by 20% for citizens, 10% for residents for the duration of the war. Every six months, there is a global -1% happiness penalty. After the war, -5% penalty will be immediately removed and an additional -1% will be removed every month after.
Xenophobe – Superiority. For the duration of the war, members of your species get a 5% increase in all production. Resident members of other species get -3% happiness and -5% upkeep. Slaves get -10% happiness and -80% upkeep. The bonus to your species increases to 10% after the war. All bonuses and penalties cease 60 months after the war.
Xenophile – Comrades in arms. For each species within your empire (subspecies count as members of the parent species) and for each species that has a hybrid in your empire (hybrids AB, AC, and AD, would be four. AB, AC, CB, AD, BD, and CD would also be four, etc.) all pops get +1% production, up to +15%, for the duration of the war.
Egalitarian – Do your part. For the duration of the war, higher-class pops will take lower-class jobs. They will not demote and will return to their original status after the war.
Authoritarian – Asset forfeiture. For the duration of the war, this edict is available to be activated as many times as you want. Each activation disables all upkeeps except ship and army upkeeps for one month. It also gives a global -2% happiness, which will be reduced by 1% every three months.
Materialist – I can't think of anything…
Spiritualist – Divine mandate. All spiritualist pops have -100% upkeep for the duration of the war.
Source: Original link
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