Putting pops on the map... for the economy


Jul 31, 2017
Minnesota, USA
An Economic Concept for some Civ-related 4X game :mischief:

The core design goals are:
  • Economic output :)c5food::c5production::c5gold::c5science::c5culture:) is heavily tied to pops. Tiles are worked by pops; resources and specialists are fully realized by pops.
  • Thus, the primary balance between empires is number of pops. What you choose to do with them - work land, specialist slots, etc - is up to you.
  • Cities should feel like they grow organically.
  • The player has a good deal of freedom in building cities.
  • However, building cities should not be so free as to allow a positive feedback loop of spamming construction to infinity.
The major innovation being added to achieve these goals is to put pops on the map. People have proposed this before but, I think by simplifying a few things we can actually realize it in a way that isn't mentally overwhelming.

Terrain and getting yield from it
I feel that the way players interact with terrain economically is one of the most important parts of 4X games, but it doesn't get enough love to fully explore what even simple tile systems allow. I like districts, but Civ6's implementation is too restricting - with only one of everything per city, they are too homogenous. Humankind introduces a lot of fresh ideas - many of which I will borrow - but it completely removes the aspect of pops working terrain, and in its current state becomes a simulation of how fast you can fill the map with your stuff. Too much the other way.

First, some remarks for context:
  • I am mostly assuming the Civ style terrain system of things like grassland, plains, hills and woods stays.
  • Tiles have yields from whatever is on them as per usual.
  • I am using the Territory system from Humankind rather than tile-by-tile acquisition from Civ.
  • The general scale of the map is ~2x-3x what we have in Civ6. (Units move faster too so it's not a huge deal.)
  • The absolute number of pops would be higher to account for that.
Okay, with that out of the way, general hierarchy of terrain and stuff on it is as follows:
  1. Basic terrain - the tile itself. Only provides yields.
  2. Improvements - increases yield and can extract resources
  3. "Rural" Districts
  4. "Urban" Districts
Because I am using the territory system from HK, the rules for placing stuff and working tiles need to be changed. (If you aren't familiar, in HK the world map is carved up into blobs of tiles. You can build an outpost in a territory to claim it. Outposts can be developed into cities. One city can annex more than one territory.)

In order to work a tile, it must be within range of an appropriate district. When you first build a city, you can work any land tile within 2 spaces. If you were to build some districts next to that city, that extends to anything within 2 tiles from them. Anyone who works this out would realize that will lead to snaky cities. Bad.

In order to work tiles away from the sprawl and out in the territory, you need to build a village. When you place one, you can work any adjacent tile. While most urban districts have to be placed next to other urban districts, villages can be freely placed. But, they have a progression. Using civ4 terminology, you first place a hamlet. This can hold 2 pops. Once it's full - meaning you are working two adjacent tiles- it can be upgraded (via direct action) into a village, which can hold 4. Once that's full, it can upgrade into a town; towns can hold 6 pops, and they can also reach 2 tiles. "But wait Sostratus!" you say. A two tile radius is 18 tiles. How can you work all your tiles with just 6 pops? Well, you have to build more towns in the area.

The goal of this song and dance is to create organic growth. Fertile areas with lots of yields will get worked intensively, and they will end up with more towns by them. Areas that don't have much going on (perhaps a desert oasis) will just have a tiny hamlet. Eventually, these areas will be able to merge with the city blob.

An example of what this might look like:

The city can work blue-marked tiles. The town can work Orange ones, and the village yellow.

Being able to work a tile simply means you can assign a pop to work it. I will refer to this class of pops - the ones working land - as "Laborers." Now, in order to put constraints on this, the Labourer has to be able to be housed in the right spot.

Before you roll your eyes at the complexity, it's this simple: any Labourer working a tile in range of a city blob (urban sprawl) can live anywhere in that connected blob. Housing totals would be displayed over the city center of that blob. (Annexing a territory allows the former outpost to act like a mini city center, and it would establish its own blob. If you connect the two with districts, it becomes one big blob. The blob does not cross between territories owned by different cities.) Visually, your brain can easily track this if it's clearly presented.

Likewise, villages and towns are needed to house those laborers working nearby. They cannot freely move around the blob, though. So on the map, you'll see a handful of things like this if you've clicked on the city:

It would be visually obvious if there was overcrowding, with color changes if there are workable tiles in range but no space. And of course, the city management menu would be able to tell you. You are not literally placing pops; you can direct tiles to prioritize but almost everything is automatic. Your job is to supply the housing tiles.

Many of these numbers and effects could be modified by civilization attributes, policies, wonders, tech, etc. The defining split for what a rural district is: it does not transmit the blob and you cannot build urban districts off of them.

Cities and Districts
The above is just working terrain. Labourers are only one type of job! There are specialists too! In a large city, most of the jobs are specialists. The city center itself provides housing, but so does a district I will presently call the "Neighborhood" for familiarity, but is actually a "generic urban extension." A lot of a city would be composed of these districts; you can build as many as you want, but they can only be placed adjacent to a City Center (or Administrative Center from an annexed outpost) or another urban district. Neighborhoods, specialty districts, and a few other special cases comprise the urban districts.

Villages and Towns fall into rural districts category, as do the things you build on luxury and strategic resources - but more on that later.

Specialty districts work a little bit differently than what we are used to - you are limited in how many you can build by pops, but you can build multiple copies of them. Specialty districts include the usual suspects - yield generators like Campus, Theater, CommHub, IZ, Harbor, and Holy Site. These districts do 2 things: they provide specialist slots, and they have specialty building slots.

Districts and Buildings
Districts, like ogres, have layers.
Almost all districts - specialty and urban- have at least one slot that can fit something. A specialty district like an Industrial Zone would have 3 slots for buildings tied to it specifically - your workshop and factory etc. A neighborhood's slot is for a collection of things:
  • buildings which boost the neighborhood itself in some way (think food market, shopping mall, etc)
  • city management buildings - things like the stadium, police station, and hospital would live in these.
  • Some wonders have to be built in cities - EG sistine chapel or big ben. They also consume this slot.
  • Utility items like the Airport and Train Station.
Specialty districts contain their own copy of their buildings, which primarily affect the district itself. So you can have 2 IZs with 2 workshops. They would also add more specialist slots.

District Adjacency
I really like adjacency as a mechanic, but in this type of implementation it needs to be modified. Some districts can have things like "is on a river" or "next to mountains." But I think for evaluating things like proximity to improvements, I might go with adjacency being a larger area effect- 2 or 3 or more tiles, depending on what it is. Neighborhoods would give a tiny gold benefit for being adjacent to districts, to further nudge you to build organically. As do villages and towns.

The adjacency values would mostly start out fairly low, but they would get boosted over time by unlocks and choices the player makes. By the later game, though, specialists should be providing the bulk of the output, while leaving a respectable space for adjacency to still be a real nice to have.

Civil Works
Every knows I love my Canals, aqueducts, dams, and so forth. I think having them be their own districts was okay for civ6, but these things should live in their own layer of the tile. This way, you can actually have an aqueduct crossing from a further out water source into a city center, or dig canals through your city like the real world. There is nothing wrong with otherwise empty tiles having the same layer - I probably wouldn't allow them through wonder tiles though, just to keep art assets reasonable.

Improvements go on top of tiles and enhance the laborer's output from that tile. (Duh.) You can only build them on tiles you can actually work.
They get bonuses from many things, including each other and being in range of certain buildings. This is to create tension with urbanization. We cannot have it that players just pave the world with no consequences, now can we? :)

There are three categories. Bonus, Luxury, and Strategic. However, all resources share a unique trait: their tiles can support multiple pops. This doesn't necessarily happen at the start of the game, but it makes them very strong and worth having.
Bonus resources are improved. Luxury and Strategic resources require a type of rural district to extract them. This is because they can hold a building. Initially this simply gives you access to the resource. Later, strategic resources gain another pop slot around the industrial era (to allow more production) and they can get buildings like a forge, oil refinery, etc to produce even more resources and yield.
I still tinker with this idea, but Luxes would have something similar happen to them around the renaissance - with luxes going from merely something you want access to, to fuel for global trade and corporations. Thus, they too could be "upgraded" and allow access to larger quantities.

This design also leaves room for something like a "rich deposit" which offers extra jobs for even more output. I generally refer to this class of pops as "extractors" or "artisans."

What does all this actually look like?
The things I've mentioned so far would combine into something like this:

The city has a few specialty districts and a wonder, and works some farms and mine outside the city. It also established a village earlier to take advantage of that Iron, and placed some IZs to pick up adjacency from a hilly area of mines. The village needs to be upgraded to a town in order to grow, and the city itself may need to consider further expansion around that group of mines carefully. Should it try to keep them in place? Perhaps grow enough to get a third IZ in the mix?

I've also tossed some icons on the relevant tiles to show how many citizens are employed there out of the total. Just as an example.


I'm not trying to be exhaustive in this post, I just felt like writing a little. With the right set of numbers, I think this system could provide a balanced experience between city growth, player agency, and game progression and difficulty. We don't want to punish players so they have to sit all game looking at small cities that cannot grow at all, and we don't want to create yield fountains that trivialize the rest of the game.

There are a ton of things you can do around culture, war, loyalty, diplomacy, etc with pops actually being on the map like this though. And it allows space for more rural/nomadic civs to express themselves, as well as urban ones.
Top Bottom