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net.split

Alek Sandria
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The way the trade system currently works, steering trade from one node to another takes value away from the source node and enriches the neighbor node. When you're trying to steer trade exactly one node away, this feels natural enough and seems to work.

However, things get strange when you want to transfer goods across a series of nodes. Each one of these transfers has to stop and recalculate value and forwarding amount for each node in between the ultimate source and destination.

For example, consider the case of Genoa in 1444. She has some provinces in Crimea and some islands in the Constantinople node; the clear intent here is to establish trade, taking goods from Crimea to Genoa and using the islands in the Constantinople node as a port. The game mechanics that attempt to simulate this require using Merchants to steer trade from Crimea to Constantinople, then from Constantinople to Genoa.

Unfortunately this is impossible in the game because Genoa's trade value in the Constantinople node is far too small to complete the transfer. Value will transfer from Crimea to Constantinople, but the overwhelming majority of the trade value will then stay in Constantinople, with the slightest trickle making it through to Genoa. This is very weird as the Genoese trade ships would not stop to give away those goods to the people that live in Constantinople and collect from there. Yet, this is precisely what happens; Genoa enriches Constantinople's collectors and gets almost nothing out of the deal.

It should instead be possible for Genoa to use its holdings within the Constantinople node to guarantee that all trade power that transfers from Crimea goes through Constantinople, without stopping, all the way over to the Genoa node, the ultimate destination.

Of course this would be quite powerful if that's the only change that was made; every nation could just take a couple provinces here and there and transfer 100% of power to wherever they wanted. This doesn't work in a number of circumstances, including the one Genoa finds itself in (represented by an event when the Ottomans take Constantinople proper). So, as a comprehensive overhaul, I propose the following:


1. There is a new Merchant option, Extract Trade, that allows you to take trade value out of a node and move it somewhere else.
This is distinct from the old Steer Trade, as you'll see below. The amount of trade extracted depends on your Trade Power.

2. Steer Trade no longer takes any trade from the target node. Instead, it allows you to forward any trade from upstream that has been Extracted.
You can Extract in one node, then Steer in two consecutive downstream nodes, to move the Extracted trade that many steps to a target destination. However, you don't automatically extract any value from nodes that you steer from. Because of this, you should be able to both Extract and Steer from the same node (using two Merchants) in order to continue building up trade value as you go on downstream.

3. Caravan Power and a new value, Maritime Power, affect how well you can Steer Trade in a node (as well as how effective your enemies are at the same).
In short, Caravan Power is being divorced from Trade Power. It doesn't affect how much you can extract or collect within a given node and instead affects how much you can actually transfer over to another node. Unlike Trade Power, you do not get Caravan Power or Maritime Power directly from province development. Instead, you get Caravan Power from Forts you own in the node, and you get Maritime Power from light ships that are set to Protect Trade (optional: Docks or a similar building in coastal provinces could also provide Maritime Power, and infantry units could be set to Protect Caravans, marching around the node and providing more Caravan Power). Caravan and Maritime Power have the same function, but Caravan Power applies to land transfers and Maritime to sea transfers.

4. You don't need full dominance of a trade node in order to transfer 100% of upstream trade downstream.
You shouldn't have to have complete military dominance of a trade node in order to make all your trade go through, but you do still need a notable percentage. Perhaps 20% will let you transfer 100%, which means every 1% of Caravan / Maritime power you have in a province lets you forward 5% of your extracted trade downstream. Of course, nodes with special features (like the Sound Toll, or the desert caravans south of Morocco) could impose severe penalties on all enemy Caravan or Maritime power in a node if a single nation is able to control key provinces.

5. In order to steer trade through a province, you need either a province with a fort (for by land / Caravan Power) or a coastal province (for by sea / Maritime Power, perhaps with a Docks, though this would require that Docks be unlocked at game start like forts at level 1).
So you still need a network of ports to get trade from the ultimate source to the final destination. However you don't have to have every single province in the node to guarantee your goods arrive.

6. Alliances, transfer trade power deals, military access, and fleet basing rights affect trade transfer.
The example in #4 assumed you had no or poor relations with all other nations in the node. However, the game should not count allies or those transferring trade power against you when determining how much trade you can forward. Additionally, if you have military access with a nation, then their Caravan Power doesn't count against you, and if you have fleet basing rights with a nation, then their Maritime Power doesn't count against you.

7. Employing Privateers directly captures trade value being transferred in a node by sea, sending that money directly to your coffers.
Effectiveness is reduced against enemies using light ships to protect trade. I'm not especially familiar with the treasure fleet mechanic, so I leave this to others to figure out how to incorporate this.


So what would all this mean?

It means you could establish a long-distance trade route from a node multiple jumps away back to your home collection node without having to dominate every node in between. If you do dominate every node in between, you need to use a lot more merchants to extract all that intermediate trade and keep it flowing.

This makes the additional merchants a lot more valuable (as-is it's easy to wind up with extraneous ones). It also means trade-focused nations / merchant republics can create valuable trade routes that directly enrich themselves without having to go full empire and conquer entire regions to do it. It makes light ships and privateers easier to understand and optimize their use. Finally, it diversifies strategic options by making capturing and holding individual provinces very important for the trade game, particularly for tall nations disinterested in excessive blobbing or those who colonize far-away islands without being able to dominate all intermediate trade power.

Divorcing steering power from actual trade power is the key element of this. As long as the Ottomans don't take Constantinople and complete the Sound Toll bonus, Genoa would be able to transfer power through the Constantinople node without being in a position to actually extract any power from it. The sudden depth of play this permits, not to mention the greater accuracy of the simulation, hopefully justifies the effort required to implement and balance a change of such a scope as this.


Thanks for reading this text wall! Please help by pointing out any problems or additional elements that could refine this into something even better. Trade is a key element of what makes the EU era stand out, and focusing on broadening its strategic implications is something I think is really important.
 
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RaptorCommander

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Very Nice Suggestions. I always thought it strange that you must conquer all of node to get proper value.
 

net.split

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I'd also like to offer the following addendums:

8. Eliminate the "push forward" trade value increase.
The purpose of this mechanic is to make steering trade more valuable than just collecting everywhere. However, its presence also requires that all trade nodes be uni-directional. The changes below eliminate the need for this mechanic, so it can be retired.

9. Make all trade connections two-way.
We can do this primarily because of #8, #1, and #2. The game still needs to check for infinite loops to prevent a player from steering trade back and forth between two nodes, but this is fairly simple to detect.

10. You can only collect trade in your home node.
This defaults to your capital but can be moved to another node just like in the current system. This way, in order to acquire trade, you must extract it from nodes and steer it to your collection node. In short: you collect in your home node and extract or steer in any other node. Because trade node connections are now two-way, and you can steer trade without having to dominate an entire node, there is no need to be able to collect in external nodes. The requirement that you establish a full connection to your collection node has interesting strategic consequences (such as enemies targeting your ports to disrupt your trade empire).

11. When you collect in your home node, you receive 100% of all trade you've personally steered into the node plus a percentage of extracted value from that node.
So everything you're able to steer home goes right into your coffers. The trade competition happens at the source nodes you're extracting from, not from your home port that you're bringing everything to. Of course your home node itself also has trade value that can be extracted, so collecting there also gives a portion of that trade based on your trade power, just as if you were extracting that trade to move it elsewhere.


In summation, these changes make trade route value transfers based on nations instead of based on trade nodes. You don't enrich nodes; you extract from them and then use them to transfer as much as possible home.

The tricky thing is what happens to any lost wealth if you don't have enough caravan / maritime power in a node you're attempting to transfer through (see #4). It could simply vanish, it could enrich the node where it is lost, or it could be passed over to other nations that have higher power in that node (representing being forced to use their ships / wagons / routes and paying fees / giving a portion of the goods to do so). Experimentation is needed to identify the superior option.
 

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The OP suggestions seems like a significant improvement to me, while it may be very difficult to make the system understandable since the new collect/steer/extract mechanic is a lot more subtle than the current collect/steer. Collecting in only a designated home trade node, as net.split suggests, may be needed to make the system easier to communicate.

On net.splits suggestions: I do not think #9 is going to get done since infinite loops is a tricky thing to handle correctly (detection is the least of it). You could completely scrap the arrows on the map and make trade flow more dynamically on the current connections, but you would need to hang the direction on say trade tech, development or something like that. Another solution would be to make a counter-directional trade steering on the current trade map system.

A more appropriate way to handle trade would be keeping a node-system, but with a city attracting regional trade while world trade is happening through a caravan/expedition system with only single jumps possible, but with the possibility of going anywhere. A sphere of influence system determines how large an area of local trade is attracted to each node, while caravans can be intercepted on their way (the longer travel, the greater cost and the more provinces traversed the greater the risk of meeting pirateers or land trade interruptions from unfriendlies!). Would also require you only being able to collect in a single node.

Trade is one of the most difficult to understand systems in the game and unfortunately the limitations of the current excel-sheet model approach is limited by the flow dynamic. By moving the dynamics to the travel instead of node, a lot of the current system can be simplified without losing a significant part of the decissions (currently the decissions are mostly wrong/right on the steering/collecting and future considerations on how to conquer/choose ideas to gain optimal advantage from said plan.).