Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Cat Scratch Fever

I'm finally checking out the Federation DLC for Stellaris, and am having a blast with it. The timing worked out pretty well: Paradox just rolled out the significant 3.0 update version to Stellaris, and as usual most of those updates are made freely available to all players. I've been getting up to speed on the base game tweaks and also playing with all the shiny new toys from Federation.

I made another custom civ this time around, the Feverians: they're cute fox-like mammals. This build was somewhat similar to my last game as the Phasianidae: I'm a Pacifist, Fanaticically Xenophilic Oligarchy, running the Shadow Council and Meritocracy civics. I switched up the Traits a little bit, grabbing a few negative characteristics so I could also get more positive ones. Nonadaptive gives 10% Habitability, which hypothetically makes settled planets less happy and productive, but in practice its downsides are really limited. Your home planet always has 100% Habitability regardless, and I usually try to go for the World Shaper Ascension Perk early to get Gaia worlds, which also have a fixed 100% rating. And, since I try and get Migration Treaties early with a variety of aliens, as long as I can use someone else to initially colonize, I get the full Habitability for all species on the planet, even later-arriving Feverians. I also took the Fleeting trait, which reduces leader lifespans by 10 years. Again, since I run multi-cultural empires I can draw leaders from a variety of species; and once you hit the endgame, you can research repeatable tech to indefinitely extend your leaders' lifespans, so they're effectively immortal anyways. And finally I chose Quarrelsome, which reduces Unity output. I was a bit torn on that; Unity is super-important for much of the game, especially early on, when each Tradition and especially Ascension Perk can be game-changing. But in all of my games so far, I end up producing way more Unity than I can use, even while keeping all Unity Edicts up all the time, and there's no way to utilize the surplus.

On the positive side, I took Intelligent, which boosts all Science jobs. In all of my successful games so far I've invested hard into research early on, then used that to slingshot my economy, then used that to slingshot my navy. (But see below for some new thoughts I have on that.) I also took Rapid Breeders, which increases your population growth speed. In my previous games, getting a lot of Pops was the single most important recipe for success. It sounds like 3.0 has made some significant changes to pop growth, turning into a more severely logarithmic curve. I'm curious if Rapid Breeders will help with that change or be less relevant as a result.

But I had one huge change from my previous game: the Origin. The Federations DLC adds a bunch of new Origin options, and I opted for "Hegemon", which starts you off as the leader of a hegemony. This gives you two free Traditions to unlock the Federation Diplomacy option, and sets you up with two friendly neighbors who share your Ethics and contribute to your Hegemony.

As noted in earlier posts, I've been very jealous of the Federation options gated behind the DLC, and for the most part this has solved all of my earlier complaints about them. First off, the Hegemony itself is really cool. It is a little bizarre the way I'm using it; we're now collectively mostly a Xenophilic Pacifist Authoritarian Spiritualist Hegemony who aggressively use Liberation Wars to force the rest of the galaxy to be Pacifist Xenophiles too. I feel a lot like the United States circa 1880-1970: Lots of running up to dictators, shouting "BE MORE PEACEFUL!!!" and punching them in the face until they say "Fine, fine! We'll be peaceful, just stop punching us!" Then I absorb them into my Hegemony and we keep rolling. It feels a bit like Germany joining NATO or Japan allying with the US after WW2.

I didn't use Liberation Wars much before now, and I really really love them. At the end of the war you'll get a huge "Liberator" opinion bonus that usually jumps your overall relation to something like +1000, making them very amenable partners. The Status Quo outcome will create a brand-new empire, with no existing diplomatic relations and, again, a huge Liberator bonus to you.

I've needed to re-learn that Stellaris really wants you to fight each war twice. You can usually unlock the Status Quo outcome within a couple of months, after winning a major naval engagement and invading at least one planet. Getting to Surrender can take a decade against a large opponent, though. You'll usually need to occupy all planets and most systems; and since defeated fleets will reappear after six months or so, those wars can drag on for ages as you chase them all around the system. My current favorite MO against large empires is to hit quick, invading all but one of their planets, then end the war with Status Quo. This will create a new friendly empire that you can bring into your fold, while crippling the power and resources of the old empire. Then after the cease-fire has passed, declare war again. This time you should only need to invade one planet, or maybe two if they've freshly colonized, and the bulk of their fleets should be above that same planet. All in all that means a total of about one year at war, separated by a decade, instead of a solid decade of war.

There are multiple ways to bring into the fold. I've really been loving the hegemony/federation approach. Besides encouraging (or, in the case of a Hegemony, forcing) its members to get along, it lets you outsource your military. In my current game, my Naval Capacity is just 18 (!), but I'm controlling a Federation Fleet that consists of 70 corvettes, 16 destroyers and 6 cruisers, all paid for and built by my dutiful subjects-er-I-mean-allies. I've ignored almost all military techs (except for ones that boost ship speed, power, and detection, which also apply to my Science and Construction ships); but the lacking techs don't matter, since the Federation Ship Designers can use any tech that any member has unlocked. The upshot is that I get vastly more military prowess and a significant boost to my production and tech, all without incurring any more Sprawl.

Another thing that I recently tried out and loved is creating Subjects. I kind of stumbled into this: I had done my one-two punch on the B'henn Thell Commonwealth, but after they joined my Hegemony, they embraced their Xenophobic faction, creating a big loss of cohesion due to conflicting ethics. I was ticked off and booted them from my Hegemony (which, thanks to Federations, I can do unilaterally), with the vague plan of doing another Liberation War to force them back. But they still had a really high opinion of me, and a few weeks later, they asked me to accept them as a Protectorate. I agreed. To make a long story short, I was eventually able to integrate them into my empire: this only cost 105 Influence points, and gave me 37 (!!) systems, four starbases, two planets, about 50 pops, and a smattering of ships and other resources. The outposts alone are worth at least 2775 influence, let alone whatever value you'd put on the pops and stuff. 

So, yeah, that's going to make me give some pretty serious thought to how I want to handle conquest and expansion in the future. In the past, when I've wanted to expand into a rival's territory, I've pretty much always used Claims followed by a Conquest war. But that's really expensive, especially since going more than 1 system deep into their territory has an increasing Influence cost. In the future I might lean more towards using the Subjugation casus belli, or doing a Liberation and then diplomacy to turn the new or reformed empire into a subject. Interestingly, this also gives a viable way for Pacifist empires to expand into rival territory, which I previously hadn't really understood.

Also, I was curious if, as a Pacifist empire, I'd be able to use the Establish Hegemony wargoal despite having my policy set to Liberation Wars Only. It turns out that, yes, you totally can! That's extra exciting since it probably means that Fanatic Pacifists will also have access to that wargoal. My original plan with this was to use Establish Hegemony on empires that already shared my ethics and Liberation on empires that did not. I'm not 100% sure, but I think I've seen that empires conquered with Establish Hegemony are adopting my ethics anyways; we'll see if that lasts. (My hope is that, over the long term, being in a Federation with active Migration Treaties will gradually shift everyone in a Xenophilic direction anyways.)

While I'm overall loving the federation features, there are still some quirks, and you won't be surprised to learn that most of them have to do with the AI. In no particular order:

The AI is really gullible and often stupid in their voting. One mechanic of federations is that empires are more likely to agree with a proposal when Cohesion is high; in particular, anything over 90% cohesion significantly increases the likelihood of the "Yes" vote. But this seems to apply to any vote, not just ones put forward by the player or the President. In my case, I had a single Xenophobic empire that kept trying to Disable Free Migration. Everyone else in the empire is a Xenophile and loves free migration, but they would support this vote... then, after it passed, everyone would sign Migration Treaties with each other. (Including the Xenophobes!) The upshot is that they all wasted a ton of Influence for absolutely no benefit. After 10 years had passed I would vote to enable Free Migration, and they would all go along with it again.

This is aggravated by another problem which I had run into before, namely that the game is very inconsistent in what votes you can influence. For certain specific votes you can spend Favors to convince other empires to vote your way, but for others you can't. That's frustrating!

There's also one technical quirk that's annoying. Adding or removing a member from the Federation will incur a Cohesion loss. Once the Hegemony reaches a certain level, the penalty for adding to the Federation decreases, which is cool. Also, whenever an empire joins the Hegemony, their Subjects join as well, which is also cool. However, once the Subject is integrated into their parent empire, it counts as them leaving the Federation, which incurs a massive loss of cohesion. It seems like that should be a non-event, since every system and pop that was in the Federation before is still in it afterward.

And while it isn't directly related to Federations, it seems messed up that, after successfully completing a Liberation war and forcing an ideology on an empire, they can immediately embrace another faction and switch their ideology back. I really wish that the standard 20-year limit on shifting ethics would count Liberation as an ethics shift. Since it is!

All in all, though, I'm having a blast, and the DLC has solved the vast majority of my earlier annoyances with Federations. Really, it gives you the tools to be the big boss and stay in power: modify the Succession Laws to ensure you will remain the President, then modify the other laws so the President can unilaterally make decisions. It's pretty great!

Some other random thoughts:

One of the most obvious changes I've seen in 3.0 so far has been a reworking of the Building mechanic. Previously, you unlocked a new Building slot for every 5 pops you had on a planet, up to an eventual maximum. Now, they're much more scarce: You unlock one Building Slot for each City District you build; and an extra Slot each time you upgrade the Capital. There are a handful of Techs and Civics and things to give more slots, but they're more limited in general.

Previously, Civilian Industries and Alloy Foundries were the most commonly built buildings, to create Consumer Goods and Alloys. In 3.0, you now build Industrial Districts, which create +2 Housing, +1 Metallurgist and +1 Artisan jobs.

Overall, I think I'm liking the new system a bit better, which seems to be pushing you more towards specialized worlds and sectors. If a planet has a lot of Agriculture districts then it's worth spending a precious Building slot on Food Processing Facilities; if you have an Intelligent Governor, then you'll probably want to place a lot of Research Labs on those planets and not elsewhere in your empire.

I am a little concerned about what things will look like in the endgame. City districts still create a lot more Housing than the Jobs unlocked by their corresponding Buildings. In 2.0 you could pretty easily keep these in sync, but my back-of-napkin math for 3.0 makes me think I'll end up with way too much Housing in the endgame. But, if population growth slows down significantly then I guess maybe running out of jobs won't be a concern. I guess we'll see!

Circling back to tech: As I mentioned before, my strategy in all my games so far has been to go in hard on research right away, and use that to boost my economy, and only invest in military late in the game. But here, while skipping a lot of military tech, I've gotten a lot of Debris from fighting alien empires. In the past I've only really done Debris from the exotic aliens (like ancient mining droids and space amoebas) or late-game ones (like Fallen Empires and the crisis), not my neighbors. I think that's because, by the time I fought them, I had surpassed all their military techs. Anyways, it's been really nice to pick up a lot of free research and even full techs through warfare. It seems like any major naval engagement will leave some debris that, once analyzed, gives +10% progress on any tech they have that you can research but haven't yet discovered. Given all that, I'm now thinking that it would be very viable to play a low-research game: as long as you're just a few steps behind your neighbors, you can catch up to them in the course of prosecuting a war.

Finally, I've been sad to see neighbors purging alien pops, but it's also been a huge benefit to me personally: I think I've gained something like 20+ free pops who have fled my (not-yet-liberated) xenophobic neighbors. It looks like there's a specific planet that they conquered, which has like 40+ pops all of a single alien race: none of them are working to produce any resources at all, all of them are just dying off, being purged. It isn't just evil, it's also dumb strategy! Gotta use those pops and get that production, dudes!

Okay, that's it! Oh, I also picked up a few more DLCs in the recent 50% off sale, but I have disabled those in my current game since I'm not sure how they'll change things in progress. I'm looking forward to checking them out in a future excursion, though!

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