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The critique of Humankind's basic economic and city building system: the root of balance issues

Discussion in 'Humankind - General Discussions' started by Krajzen, Sep 1, 2021.

  1. Krajzen

    Krajzen Deity

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    I have decided to post this because I think a lot of the greatest issues of this game boil down to central IMO very flawed designs of the very basic economic system, and that connection is rarely made among various discussions about the game and how to improve it. I don't think it would be entirely impossible to fundamentally change this system, seeing how many strategy games have reworked their fundamentals during their life cycle with a benefit to gameplay. So I don't think this discussion is necessarily barren.

    The difficulty level I have played is 5th out of 7, and I have in no way optimized anything, mostly I have stumbled in the dark and hit game - breaking stuff accidentally. AI also randomly hits the hyper snowball against other AIs and human player if its lucky, so its not a matter of "good human player vs dumb AI" but a n issue of general game design.


    1) The exploitation of tiles and population mechanics
    In civ games in order to actually use terrain yields you need population units. You only get tile's output when you put a citizen on that tile. This does make realistic sense: a newly colonized land is useless until you actually have people to use it to produce goods. This system makes yields of a city tied to its population, which is a soft cap on how great city yields can get on different stages of the game, due to the fact there are many boosts to pop growth coming with later eras. This also makes historical sense: no city before classical era had more than 100k (maybe 200k?) people, no city beforr industrial had more than 1m, and no metropolis before late 20th had more than 20m inhabitants. This is helped by Happines mechanic frm civ5 and Housing + District Cap from civ6. The max population of a city is de facto limited by tech era, and with this come some range of limitations of city's yields. This helps to balance the pace and limit snowballing.

    In Humankind you need just districts and infrastructures you extract yields, and to build them you just need production (which they also extract). That one yield rules all, and builder cultures rule all cultures. The more production you get, the more yields you get, and there are basically no limits. No demography and almost no happiness/city caps to limit anything. One culture may reach an absurd advantage in production output vs other cultures if it hits the right terrain and culture, and then everything snowballs with no limit in sight. This is made much worse by...

    2) The territorial control

    Cities in civ can only work tiles they have reached with the cultural growth. You have to work and wait for that growth, or fasten the process with a ton of money, but anyway it's one more factor that limits yields of a singular city. There is also a hard cap of how much land can ever be extracted by a single city. I have always been annoyed at the ahistorical way borders work in civ, but I have to say, I prefer it greatly regarding balance than Humankind's alternative.

    In Humankind, once again, there are no limits in this regard. A single city instantly covers a **** ton of land in a region and is only limited by districts to exploit it (which are only limited by trivially easy to circumvent stability). But that's nothing. The real disaster to the balance lies in the fact you can add infinitely many regions to a single city. The cost of this is hilariously trivial; it's just the influence, which snowballs by itself and you get thousands of its stockpiles by the early medieval era. For that one time payment the city can instantly add dozens of tiles to its yield production, with no hard or soft caps, with no pop requirements, no administrative limitations, nothing. All % multipliers are also instantly applied and stack unto one another. The result is, it is incredibly easy to reach a state in Humankind when your city can build or buy any single thing in the game in one turn on the normal speed (3 - 5 turns for wonders construction), and at this moment all mechanics and challenge of the game break. There are no limits. Please keep in mind this is a failure of any sort of realism as well, when you can instantly and perfectly exploit gigantic areas with no people to work them.

    Far reaching consequences
    a) Due to the fact there are essentially no limits to how mighty a city can get in this game, in a lot of games some player, human or AI, eventually hits an event I call a Singularity. Your yields in a city or several cities skyrocket to the degree breaking game mechanics, making you a super snowball runaway nobody can catch up (except war - which is almost impossible to win against big enough runaway in this game), creating gigantic disproportioms between economic levels between players. Disproportions which are very hard to reduce due to the fact there are no limits for runaway economies, they just increase with no stop or slowdown, and the stronger they are the faster they increase (due to the fact the more territories and districts your city has the more it gets from every bonus modifier for the same cost). This is made even worse by the fame system, which essentially favours only Large Economies, so the larger economy you have - the faster you get fame stars, and have guaranteed best (usualy builder) cultures to take from the next era, making you even more OP. I say 'you' but AI also does it, so the AI that dominates classical era is almost guaranteed to dominate forever. In one of my first games, with almost no conquest involved, I have reached economy output larger than the rest of the world combined by the early modern era, and 10x larger than rest of the world in the modern era. I have never managed this level of snowball in my 1000 hours of civ5 - because this game had sensible limitations to growth. In other games its reverse, and you have no way of beating runaway AI which has insane economy and fame, because this is a problem wider than "challenge vs AI", it is a problem of fundamental balance.
    b) For all the greatness of Humankind's combat system, it is too ruined by the way economy works. Gigantic disparities of yields make some nations have much bigger armies than others, and ironically for all the greatness of HK's combat system it actually reinforces runaway untouchability. Unlike in civ, where it is easy to repulse larger armies (which are not that much larger) in very rough terrain, in Humankind it is very easy to blitzkrieg through anything just by the virtue of putting few armies next to each other and crushing everything via sheer numerical superiority.
    c) Due to the way city building in this game works, there are few cities on the map, which means you can very quickly siege down even large country if you just have numerical superiority in soldiers. That actually makes very limiting war/peace system a desperate balance necessity, which wouldn't be the problem if that system wasn't despised by seemingly like half of all people who played this game.


    "But Krajzen, isn't it realistic that there are no limits to growth?'
    As I said, historically there were "soft" tech limits to population density, urbanization, administration of large territories etc which made different IRL pre civilizatons not have THAT big differences in power levels when compared to how gigantic disparities can exist in HK between kingdom A and kingdom B. Civ's various methods of limiting city growth and modifier stacking are closer to reality than Humankind's medieval industrial superpower cities covering half of continents and increasing forever, orders of magnitude higher than their neighbors capitals.

    "What should be done in your opinion"
    Less radical take: Introduce various soft or hard caps to city economic growth on different stages of a game.
    More radical take: There is no way this game will ever solve extreme runaway and yield inflation problems if you can attach a lot of territories to a single city with 100% eficiency and no cost. There is no way to prevent a city eventually building everything in 1 turn as long as it can exploit so many tiles at once.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2021
  2. Aristos

    Aristos Lightseeker

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    Honest question: If you dislike it that much, why are you here?

    (This is a question that is always thrown at me in the civ 6 forums whenever I dare to criticize that game, and without consequence to the questioner, so I assume it is also a legitimate question here)

    I mean, you go to lengths trying to argue rationally, but in the end, my impression is that your real opinion is:

    So, are you interested in this game or not? Do you like it or not? Is your argumentation based on liking it and wanting it to become better and succeed, or do you just want to bash it because you like civ 6?

    Honest questions... I want to understand where you are coming from, because I have seen many of your posts and frankly, I don't know... once I understand, it will be easier to engage in debate. Or not.
     
  3. Krajzen

    Krajzen Deity

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    I disliked almost everything in Civ6 and really wanted Humankind to be a viable rival that would motivate civ's devs to create a better Civ7, and I have especially hoped they'd succeed in the pacing and snowballing department (which was devs intention as stated in dev diaries), so when they have utterly dropped the ball here - I am analyzing what went wrong.

    I am also the fan of Paradox games which are often Theseus ships of games unafraid of overhauling everything and anything, down to the basic economic engine if it doesn't work, just to preserve the broader game and its good working features, so I don't care how holy and essential fundamentals of a game I criticize - everything can be reworked by devs of games like this, if they decide it has failed, and Humankind as a franchise is worthy of survival and prosperity.

    To put it into different words, I simply see no conflict between wanting the game/franchise to prosper and criticizing its fundamental elements of design.

    Also you didn't really comment on my criticsm of game's mechanics, just on my personal motivations.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2021
  4. henry296

    henry296 Chieftain

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    I think Stability was intended to be the limiter of cities with multiple territories but that rarely seems to be an issue and could be a 3rd option to re-balance.
     
  5. Aristos

    Aristos Lightseeker

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    Me neither, that is why I wanted to know. And I wanted to know before engaging your critique, because why waste your time and mine if the motivations are different than what I now understand better?

    Yield inflation is a common problem in 4X, and I think you are basically referring to that issue. Civ 6 is a maremagnum of yield inflation, as you probably know already. It is no different with HK; the limits, at least for me and in general terms, seems to come (or intended to come) from the huge availability of "things to build", from districts to infra to units. That limit, of course, is relative, and might be a little soft right now (the framework is there, check the tooltip for production cost and you will see an exponential formula ;) )... but it also depends on how you decide to play the game. I am always playing "overcrowded" maps (as if there were something like that in HK, where the maps are truly immense thanks to the territory system), in the sense that I use at least the max number of players recommended, but also the minimum land proportion (30% I think?).

    That makes for a "rightly crowded" map, as opposed to the undercrowded defaults that maximize yield inflation, and for a very different game. "Overcrowding" makes for a real pressure to get or fight the land, and for that, you need units, and their population, and cannot build infra and districts a piacere... that combo is probably what the devs intended, to put real pressure on production decisions, but right now feels a little lose unless you do things like "overcrowding".

    But in terms of comparison, even now, I don't see any difference between the egregious and well known yield inflation of civ 6 late game with most modes enabled, and HK in its present state.

    Oh, and I completely disagree: there is no ball dropped here. The baseline is very good, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Balance passes will come, and en masse, and contrary to their FXS colleagues, these devs really engage with their audience, listen to it, and react as quickly as they possibly can. I am very hopeful that this game will shine high and bright, and I already consider it a "de-throner"...

    Honestly, I am more worried about the audience itself than about the game. This one is out of balance now, but if the player does things to "counterbalance" (like the overcrowding trick), it shows its true nature, and is much more nuanced and relatively difficult than civ 6 ever was. Once it starts to show its nature to everybody, and becomes harder, I wonder what the reaction of said audience will be, given that most of it has been spoiled into thinking that Deity should be winnable by anyone no matter what...
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2021
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  6. ost

    ost Chieftain

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    I agree with a lot of the criticisms, snowballing severely damages the fun of a game. Contrasting the early game (not just humankind but almost every 4X I have played) - where every turn counts and forgetting to reallocate resources can drastically alter your fortunes (i.e. extremely fun), with the late game - where you are just clicking next turn and you can completely neglect whole areas of your empire (i.e. feels like a chore). As @henry296 said, stability was supposed to be the "brakes" to runaway yields. I think the economic system needs to make better use of that, with larger penalties for unrestricted expansion (perhaps connected to your current population relative to max population capacity - a sort of utilization rate). But also I think it would make sense for monetary upkeep costs start to play a role in the Industrial and Contemporary eras for districts and improvements.

    I actually think Amplitude has done a good job introducing really interesting and neat mechanics - they just need to interact with each other a bit better. I don't think that a radical redesign of the economy is necessarily needed, just a few small and clever tweaks (too clever for me to devise...) and I think the system will fall into place.

    Reminds me of a lecture I saw on numerical modelling used for climate change projections. The addition (or removal) of an individual process can make a complex system flip from a positive feedback (runaway) to a negative feedback (self-limiting), or vice versa. I think perhaps a single change to the system could provide the type of negative feedback to yield growth that would keep the late-game interesting and challenging.
     
  7. KrikkitTwo

    KrikkitTwo Immortal

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    I think this is key. Stability would be excellent as a balancer if stability penalties were not so limited. (pretty much only "more districts" and "more territories")
    (mega cities do have a problem, but it is really exclusively due to EQ)

    If HK players & Amplitude can get OK with the idea of a big empire collapsing, (it being OK because you got your 1.5 eras of fame out of it). Then they could make it really interesting.... empires with large numbers of total attached territories, total districts, etc. could have stability penalties that increased over time, and would only be reset by massive territorial collapse, or couple eras of pausing and treading water.
     
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  8. Taefin

    Taefin Prince

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    I agree the game probably shouldn’t snowball so hard when you are unopposed, but I echo the suggestion to try game settings that seem conductive to avoiding/delaying that situation. Overcrowding makes influence a bit less impactful, since everything is part of a city quickly enough, which helps. I think you have to play an AI difficulty that at least buffs them to having an economy/early military to rival yours. You’ll figure out how to boost pass that AI too, but hopefully we’ll get balance patches before that gets old. I agree stability and exponential district cost both have potential for tuning. Also, city cap may be too generous, rather than spending influence upkeep for more cities.
     
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  9. CoconutTank

    CoconutTank Unapologetic Warmonger Supporter

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    Ignoring stability does get kind of bad eventually; a city with 30% or less stability stops building anything besides Garrisons, Common Quarters, Wonders and Holy Sites. But pushing cities to that level of instability takes awhile, and imo it's really not a huge setback to mass build Garrisons and CQs anyway. Maybe that revolt/mutinous status needs to happen at an earlier threshold (40% stability? 50% stability?).

    I'm curious about how folks are getting so much influence though. Early game sure, I'm not hurting too much for influence to make another city and to join up to 3ish regions to each city. But claiming Wonders, bribing and assimilating Neutrals, enacting Civics and eventually merging cities starts getting really expensive, esp the city merging. Like yeah I'll have like 45k-ish influence by Early Modern or Contemporary, but merging cities will will cost upwards of 250k influence!
     
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  10. Elhoim

    Elhoim Iron Tower Studio Dev

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    This. So. Much.

    The main problem with the current design, IMO, is that stability sources are too easy to get and "infinite" (there's no limit to stability producing districts). If the idea is to keep the current stability system, the game needs to cut down on per city sources (the luxuries most importantly), and focus more on playing the map with sources unlocked by techs (like infrastructure or new, limited quarters), plus add new sources of instability. Or another way would be to re-work the district cap to be it's own stat, increased by different unlocks and keep stability as a meter of how your empire is doing. Maybe making it like a "soft cap" like the city one, in which you can go over but the stability penalties per district over the cap increasing more and more.

    Also, the problem is not so much the "single OP city", as the per city stability allows mid game cities to have unlimited stability, cheaper districts (as their cost scales with the number of them), and you can expand on lots of locations in tandem.
     
  11. fortydayweekend

    fortydayweekend Warlord

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    I understand what you're saying but a lot of this goes away on HK level, nothing snowballs unless you really focus on it. Influence especially is limited the whole game and you don't get to do everything you want. I think it's the difficulty levels that need tweaking first and then see what needs fixing - stability and influence could be a lot more limited on lower levels to stop snowballing without necessarily making the early game any harder.

    Even if you do manage to carve yourself out a nice big territory and keep the AI at bay, pollution will end the game around T200 if you let them industrialise. Sure you might be snowballing but it's a real race to get ahead in fame or finish the tech tree or whatever you're aiming for. Or you can use all that industry to plant trees which restricts your growth.

    That said, it's true that there is no cap to industry. You can always build more, and it's always useful because it lets you build more districts. Every other yield is capped, either hard or soft

    Food- with 1000 food surplus you get 0.95 pop per turn, with 50 surplus you get around 0.5/turn. Extra food adds very little to growth.

    Money - is essential for upgrading and supporting military, but the rush buy costs scale up with the industry cost of the thing you're building, and unit costs scale up along with your snowballing money production. For cheap buildings it costs around 2.5 Money per Industry which is cheap and a good use of all the hoard money you pick up. At the end of the game it's more like 7 or 8 times or more and it's better to just use more Industry. With units, try upgrading a few stacks to muskets or infantry or rifles, you burn through huge reserves of cash very quickly.

    Influence is hard and soft capped, there are very limited ways to increase it and the costs to use it scale rapidly.

    Research isn't capped except by it not being much use if you can't build the things you're researching.. so you need industry as well as research.

    So industry is the thing that let's you get all the other yields quicker (apart from influence) and it's not capped. But on the higher levels you can't neglect the other yields, you will need to upgrade units to crossbows, you'll probably need to pick an influence culture at some point if you want to merge cities later on, you'll need good research to keep up etc. It really does become a tradeoff between building more industry or building all the other things that you need immediately. On lower levels (anything lower than Civ) you have plenty of time to set up a strong industry base in the early game that then lets you snowball later.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2021
  12. kaspergm

    kaspergm Deity

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    I agree very much with much of what you say in this thread. Ironically, I think Humankind improved on Civ when it comes to special yields like science and gold - humankind relies much more on specialist working the districts to give this yield, rather than flat yields from districts and buildings (as in Civ6), and I think this is the right way to go. I also really like how humankind ties military units into population. But then when it comes to food and production, they seem to go in the opposite direction and offer a lot of "free" yields which I agree currently is very poorly balanced.

    As I mentioned in another thread, I also think the fact that buildings has no gold upkeep is a problem, this would help with the endless building spam you can do as a builder civ.

    My hopes for Civ 7 is that they will take the best of both worlds, as long as taking some inspiration from Civ6 | City Lights mod project:
    • A city can build districts where specialists work for "special yields" (gold, science, culture, faith, maybe also additional food and production in buildings like granery, bakery, watermill, workshop, factory ...). [Humankind]
    • A city can be linked to "sattellite towns" - farming towns, mining colonies, fishing villages, lumber camps [City Lights] - but instead of being cities of their own (like in City Lights) they should work a bit like an inbetween the humankind farming/production district and the humankind villages you can settle. These "sattelite towns" will allow you to have people work farms/mines/fishing boats/lumbermills for food and production that the channeled to the city centre.
    • I like the idea of regions, and I think if city growth is limited by things like housing and happiness (like in Civ6), and if you can't spam infinite specialist districts but only one of each per town (like in Civ6), things will be much better.
     
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  13. fortydayweekend

    fortydayweekend Warlord

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    I went Soviets in latest game, spammed Arms Factories without thinking about the stability penalty, pollution rose a level and a bunch of trade routes got cut. All my cities went to 0 stability - but I was able to get out of it by slow-building Commons Quarters. That's maybe the perfect storm for bad stability and it was trivially easy to fix.
     
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  14. Don Andre

    Don Andre Chieftain

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    I remember civilization call to power had a different system that took population size into account, but was free from micro managing tile assignments. Still, in my opinion it bases on the concept of expanding city influence in all directions equally. While in HK you're free to control and expand city in any shape and direction you like.

    I think what HK needs is just some late game challenges, respectively a challenge for leading cultures. I think pollution is quite a challenge, although you can just avoid it by not building any polluting infrastructure. I think it should creep in for everybody that advances the tech tree. Like techs that cause districts to generate pollution so that you can't avoid it. And stability would be affected most by polluter rank. E.g. top polluter has highest impacts on stability. That way you penalize slightly those cultures that race the tech tree and exploit the powers. You cannot research airplanes and then not have any airports unless you just plain ban the technology (in which case you shouldn't have any airplanes either). People get upset if they don't have access to the latest technology that is being researched. Standards of living rise and people want to take a share of it.
     
  15. KrikkitTwo

    KrikkitTwo Immortal

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    Well District Industry cost does balloon significantly, so getting 20 districts is going to be a lot worse in cost:benefit than 10 districts and 10 specialists to work them.

    However, the problem of not enough rebellion at low stability is a big one, if low stability only means... well now its time to build stability boosters, then its a problem, but if you had multiple forms of stability drain (besides just more districts) AND "No more districts" also meant you are dealing with rebels, then it could be better.

    Also they should "uncap" some of the other yields

    Population Growth (or drop) should be multiplied by 1+Population/(10 x Era)
    Money should have a fixed exchange rate for production
    Influence should have better things to buy (maybe Commons Quarters can only be built with Influence, not Industry)
    etc.
     
  16. Cakeathon

    Cakeathon Warlord

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    As some have pointed out civ/hk difficulties are like playing a different game, I'm not sure why the jump in difficulty is so huge. So it is hard for people who play on those difficulties to relate to some of your points regarding what is "best" or what are the economic bottlenecks.

    I'd be curious to see the actual yields of your cities. Because a lot of it right now is just subjective assessment and the only point of comparison is a weak AI.

    I think a big part of the runaway really just comes down to the fact that there is no downside to expansion and the countless bonuses you can stack.

    Not to say there isn't a problem but usually, apart from some unbalanced civs like Khmers it's really a problem in later eras and a lot of it has to do with yield increases that come with later techs/civs and just stacking so many bonuses from so many sources. Industrial/Contemporary is pretty wierd right now as the jump in research around that time is out of control and pollution goes from non-issue to game ending when you increase the difficulty just 1 notch and in my opinion sort of ruins the late game experience on higher difficulties.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2021
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  17. Aristos

    Aristos Lightseeker

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    Because pollution should never be game ending. That is one big bad decision that I am sure they will adjust.

    Pollution should be a game-harder-to-end-ing factor, that's for sure. It should also play into diplo in the late game, as in clean accords or similar (if only in order to check on those out of control polluting AIs :) ).
     
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  18. fortydayweekend

    fortydayweekend Warlord

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    True, but it stops rising after you get to around 2,000 per district. So it slows down early growth but allows the later snowballing.

    I'd rather they added a cap on industry, which could be as simple as keeping the district cost increasing.

    Personally I like the food cap the most - it's never made sense to me why more food = more growth, beyond a certain limit. It should be about having *enough* food for a specified maximum growth, which this game approximates. It's probably the main mechanic limiting even crazier snowballing.

    I just had a game end T203 because of pollution. It seems that the only way to avoid this would have been:
    - attack the main polluter (who was also the largest AI, and basically unreachable due to mountains & other AI - I would have had to declare on the second largest AI to reach him, or send my troops on a hugely convoluted path across water and through allies to get to him.)
    - plant a lot of forests

    Planting forests would have significantly affected my growth but at -10 pollution each and the main polluter producing 500/turn it would've only needed 20-30 forests to really put a dent in that.

    Like a lot of things in this game you need to be looking ahead 1-2 eras - you need influence and industry in ancient to be able to build & expand in classical. You need to set up a money economy in classical to afford the medieval units. You need to focus on food at some stage to be able to get big cities in early modern. You need to be adding research almost all the time. And maybe you need to plant a bunch of forests in Industrial.

    I feel like pollution could use a bit more flavor rather than just negative food and stability. More events, and terrain changing would be good. I don't really have a problem with it ending the game though, the late game is much less interesting than the early/mid game, and it gives a clock to race against if you want a Mars/tech/conquest win. Maybe some more ability to control other culture's pollution other than planting forests, e.g. if you beeline renewable energy tech you could have the option to share it with the rest of the world.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2021
  19. Taefin

    Taefin Prince

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    I’d be curious to see food/gold uncapped. I’d also be interested to see production soft capped as well. Khmer is good sure, but it’s just a multiplier on industry per MQ (why aren’t these industry/builder/production quarters for a unique acronym). If district cost increase was more steeply exponential, then a flat multiplier (eg +6 industry per MQ) would increase the number of districts you could build by a linear amount rather than opening up a path to building districts sub 1-turn, where you can boost industry with more MQ alongside building other districts.

    I pretty strongly disagree that tile exploitation is inherently the problem. Realism-wise it seems to represent that your empire is full of people living off the land, but specialists are able to amplify those efforts, but these are populations living in your urban centers. Perhaps instead specialist yields should be larger relative to districts, but I think that’s a gameplay flavor, rather than breaking/fix the game. Unless you get an exploitation buff (like Mexicans bonus) the yields of exploitation’s are relatively modest, once you have high adjacency districts. I like that this changes the focus of your cities from tile exploitation to urban development.

    But certainly needs some tuning.
     
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  20. glider1

    glider1 Deity

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    HK is not a bean counting game. Stop optimizing to the max. Start thinking alt-history and deliberately play sub-optimal where necessary. Simple as that. It was the same in civ6 but the AI was so bad it spoiled the alt-history story. The so called "balance" is not economic in nature. It is about the ability of the game to help you write absorbing alt-history.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2021
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