With the upcoming FTL changes and everything that goes with it, I believe this is a great opportunity to discuss a missing (and highly desired) feature: Trade. While challenging, I believe what Stellaris needs is an organic trade system where trade hubs are decided by geography and political decisions, not predetermined or randomly generated nodes. I also believe at least some of the features that can tie into this are already (or will soon be) a part of the game. Obviously this would take a good bit of dev time and balancing to make it work properly, but I also think it would add a badly needed new feature and the depth that would go with it.
I'm curious on all of yours thoughts and ideas.
The first, and underlying, system needed for trade is supply and demand. In essence, every pop demands a certain amount of trade goods – this can be modified by racial traits, buildings, traditions, etc. but at it’s core, a populace wants to be supplied with goods (except perhaps for hive minds). The more pops that are located in a system, the higher the demand for goods there is; this is also modified by the quality of life policies set for different pops. Higher standards of living require more trade goods. Pops who have a demand which is not met gain negative happiness modifiers depending on the level of the shortage. This could potentially even tie in to to the new war exhaustion system, where unsupplied pops generate a small amount of additional war exhaustion.
To counteract demand, you have supply. Supply of trade goods is created by new building types/station upgrades. Trade good production scales economically, meaning the more production going into trade goods in one location (planet, station, etc.) the more efficiently they’re produced. These are paid for by the maintenance costs of the buildings used to make them.
Finally, a new trade route system is created to link area of excess supply to demand. While these don’t need actual ships flying around, some form of map mode would be required to show the trade routes linking systems. The important aspect here is that trade routes can be taxed, generating wealth along the route, depending on the policies for taxing and the amount of travel going through a system. This means centrally located systems with high traffic will generate more revenue than backwater systems with little to no traffic, and new additional buildings/upgrades/etc. could be researched to further increase this.
This opens up some neat new options for diplomacy, such as trade deals to allow your systems to supply that of other nations, generating additional wealth for both players as increased trade through own and friendly systems generates additional revenue. Naturally, the seller would generate more wealth than the buyer. It also allows for strategies of trade focused empires supplying their allies, who can free up their resources and building slots for other purposes.
This system also allows for some new unique war-based gameplay, as taking out systems along vital trade routes (or the main supply hubs) can disrupt them until the offending ships/troops are removed, hurting your opponent economically and causing unhappiness. It also adds additional military and colonization value to more centrally located systems which will naturally be a part of a larger number of trade routes.
Other New Ideas:
This system opens up a few other possibilities I’d like to throw out there as well, to build on top of the core system described previously.
Trade Lane Disruption:
There are two ways to hurt an opponent's trade through military action: conquering a system and cutting off the route entirely, or raiding. The first is straightforward, and the second is a little different. Raiding is a new order type for fleets, and rather than conquering a system, requires ships to merely be present in a system that’s part of a trade route. Raiding ships are more effective when there are a larger number of them, and when they’re fast. This makes squadrons of smaller, quicker ships more effective than larger and slower ones. Raiding reduces the effectiveness of the trade route (rather than ending it completely) and generates a proportionate amount of resources for the raider, depending on the effectiveness of the raiding squadron and the value of the trade route(s) being attacked. It also prevents trade goods from getting to where they’re supposed to be going, potentially reducing happiness with the recipients waiting for them.
To counteract raids, ships can also be given a new Patrol order, which has those patrolling ships guard trade routes and engage in combat with raiding ships. Similarly, smaller ships are more likely to catch raiders and force them into combat, based on the speed differential between the two fleets.
Smugglers & Pirates:
An additional new feature I’d like to see is smugglers and pirates. Pirates essentially act as neutral raiders, and spawn slightly randomly, but largely determined by patrol coverage. Systems/trade routes which are not patrolled heavily enough (based on how developed the system is) will eventually spawn pirates. The weaker the patrol/richer the route, the stronger the pirates will become, and the more effective their raiding will become. Pirates require combat to disperse, and will degrade over time with adequate patrolling, rather than being destroyed once and then forgotten about.
Smugglers work somewhat similarly conceptually to pirates, but have different effects. Rather than attacking your trade routes directly, smugglers reduce the efficiency of them. Smugglers are created when a system has demand that isn’t being met, and similar to pirates, grow in severity when an area isn’t patrolled enough. The higher the demand that isn’t being met, the more likely smugglers are to spawn, the more effective they'll be, and the harder they’ll be to remove. The main difference is smugglers are more difficult to remove than pirates once entrenched, taking longer and a greater effort as they’re less obvious, and will reduce demand in the system while still causing unhappiness as if the demand hadn’t gone down (result of higher prices, etc.). The main issue with this is that an area infested with smugglers will form weaker trade routes (due to lower demand) even when the goods are available, until the smugglers are removed, while still having the same penalties as if the goods aren’t being supplied.
Ideally I’d like to see strategic resources changed from the sort of “all or nothing” approach that currently exists. Rather than “have” or “don’t have” I’d like to see a quantity based system where you generate strategic resources over time and either spend them directly on ships or just have a required maintenance cost of them based on how many you need to keep your fleet supplied. And if you don’t have enough, your fleet(s) loses the benefits (or you can’t build/repair ships which require them).
With a system like this, it could be worked into the trade system, where when you trade them to an ally it supplies them with a certain amount over time, with the resources being delivered via trade routes from the producing systems to the recipients capital system. This would further expand the trade system, and open up significant targets for military actions to cut off strategic resources to those you’re at war with (or places you need to defend carefully). It also means you need continuous trade routes to another empire to send them strategic resources, either by bordering them or by having trade agreements with others geographically along the route.