Civilization: Improving Trade

I met Sid Meier’s Civ series with the third game and since then, have been a fan. I started small, but I did scale my difficulty from Chieftain to Emperor through the games (honestly though, I play King mostly). Through the series, the developers brought different mechanics or tried different takes at the same mechanics. There is one topic, as far as I remember, that never really satisfied me and in the last game, I still feel the same: Diplomacy. There are different sides to this. In this article, I will make suggestions on deals between civilizations.

To make a deal with another civilization, you make an offer and they will accept or reject. To make your life easier, you will see their response before you even ask. So what you have to do is find something they will accept and ask after that.

You can also ask place some items on the table, then ask the NPC “what it takes” to make the deal. They will then edit the items on either side to make it okay for them. But at this point, there is usually room to make it more favourable for yourself and if you are so inclined, you can add more things and realize they will still accept it to a point.

My problems with the system

  1. One-sided and fully subjectional Prices: Prices are mostly decided by NPCs (ie computer controlled civs) and it’s barely transparent. There is some sensible logic behind it (better deals for friends) but most of it is unclear.
  2. Binary Trade: It’s either accept or reject for NPCs. There is no “better” or “worse” deal. Even if you can “squeeze” them for more gold, it doesn’t mean anything mechanically to my knowledge.
  3. Isolated calculations: For example, a civ is under attack and they could really use Niter but they will refuse to trade for even average amounts simply because they dislike you. Or they will way too much gold constantly that you end up being rich and them poor eventually.

What I propose is expanding the Trade system with an advanced pricing system and some other mechanics, like haggling. Let me elaborate.

Global Pricing

Simply put, each item would have a value that is globally recognized. It starts with a base price (same for all luxury and all strategic resources), which is then dynamically modified with a big variety of factors. These modifier factors would be roughly divided into two categories: Global and Personal. Please note that these modifiers would not be equal amounts — some would have a bigger impact than the others, even per resource. I’ll talk about Personal modifiers later.

Global modifiers would include

  • Era Modifier: Some resources would be less or more relevant per world era. This will be more important for strategic resources.
  • Scarcity Modifier: The less explored and processed there is of a resource the more expensive it is. If there is banana everywhere but coffee only exists in one location, it will more valuable.
  • Availability Modifier: When a resource appears for the first time, this modifier is neutral. If it’s availability is high (constantly traded and possibly to many countries), it’s value will decrease very slightly. If the availability drops, the value will increase and continue to increase for a while. However, after reaching a limit, it will decrease again (Demand for a habitual product increasing, then the loss of the habit)
  • Tourism Modifier: If a country has high tourism, they make the resources in their country look better. If Roman Empire is low in tourism in the previous example, maybe coffee isn’t *that* expensive (it’s this weird plant in Rome, no one really knows or cares about it) while if they have high tourism, people will pay stupid amounts for it. This will be more important for luxury resources.
  • Random Modifier (Optional): Just to make things interesting, a random modifier could be included with a slider to choose how impactful. E.g you could add a small modifier in games with “equal start” to add some variety or just make it really high to have crazier scenarios
  • Others: Religions, policies, World Congress, City State suzerain abilities and wonders could also modify these. Some old mechanics could also be considered, such as corporations (honestly I barely remember that they existed, apparently they were in Civ4). These could serve as stand-alone modifiers or change the existing modifiers.
Persia has a focus on trade routes — maybe they could have an ability regarding this system as well.

Haggling

With haggling, there are consequences to trying to squeeze every bit of gold or being generous. First of all, the current “What does it take for this deal” will change into a “Set a deal” button that will edit the offer that adheres to global prices fully. However, the other side might be willing to pay more (due to personal modifiers that I will explain later), or may not be willing to pay that amount. Second, you won’t see their reactions before even offering.

You have to ask to get reactions and asking for something other than the global expectation counts as haggling, which can lead to grievance points loss or generation. If you haggle to get more or pay less, you will generate grievance points. If you are generous, you will decrease grievances. Even just haggling itself could affect the points.

Some countries will like haggling, others will even expect it to happen and not trust non-hagglers. In fact, they might not generate grievances at the occasional higher price. Others will dislike or even hate it even at the slightest.

So if you think they’ll accept, you can ask for more to make it a more profitable trade for yourself at the cost of grievance points. Or maybe you can ask for less as a sign of goodwill to reduce grievance!

If you are good at Deals, you will gather information about the other side, know what they might be willing to pay and do as little haggling as possible. A bad dealer would instead keep trying blindly. You can also create a good image by taking less or giving more than global expectations. You can also do things like having a monopoly on certain resources.

Personal Pricing

Personal Modifiers are applied in a similar manner to global ones, but only for a single civ. These include the following:

  • Benefit Modifier: Can you build stuff with this? Will you get extra amenities or will you cover missing ones?
  • Personal Scarcity: Maybe bananas exist everywhere in the world… except for Australia. Well, then it will be more valuable to them.
  • Economical situation: If a country is rich, they won’t mind paying a bit more and will enjoy big deals. If a country is poor, not only they aren’t likely to get into big deals unless it’s absolutely in their favour, but they will also be less likely to pay overall.
  • Agenda Modifier: Having a variety of resources, having at least some of the latest strategic source, having their strategic source storages full, having a monopoly on resources etc could be used in agendas
  • Relationship Modifier: Relations with each civ would also affect prices. This is technically a special layer between global and personal as it would apply to a certain civ but all resources.
  • Diplomatic Modifier: In the same special “layer” as relationship modifier, this would work like the diplomatic visibility bonus. The more visibility you have and the worse they have, the better deals you get.
  • Others: Similar to global, there might be policies, religious effects, wonders etc. that effect personal prices.
Surely Gilgabro would love this system. Imagine all the deals over the years!

Connections to other Systems

In addition to the modifiers mentioned above, it’s possible to have more connection to other systems, including the following suggestions.

  1. Diplomatic Visibility should grant information about their expectations, allowing you to engineer good deals for friends and know how to exploit enemies
  2. New Unit: Smuggler. Smugglers use your Spy limit and can be used to smuggle resources between two civs and changing modifiers accordingly. For instance, they could make it harder for a country to monopolize a resource or allow access to a resource to decrease its personal scarcity modifier.
  3. Resource Tourism: A Commerce District project that increases the tourism value of the resources in that city for 10 Turn (a potential wonder could turn it into a global boost in that city)
  4. Advertising Deal: A secondary way to trade resources. It’s added to the both sides of the table. The value of the resource is decreased, but in return, the resource seller gets a % of the buyer’s tourism as a global tourism boost for that resource as long as the deal continues. This could probably be turned into an Alliance instead of a regular deal. You could trade the resource to an ally this way, and sell it for more expensive to the rest of the world

Conclusion

These wouldn’t fully fix diplomacy, but I think they’d made trade deals more interactive and meaningful. I have a few other ideas about diplomacy so I might write a followup in future. What do you think? Would these changes help? What wonders-policies etc could be interesting for this system?

Gamer, gaming industry wanderer, development and design enthusiast. Current WIP: TBD