The Almighty Stellar
Create a political and get a one-time bonus of 100,000 stellars - a large number, but is it a large amount? I remember Dennis Pennis saying to Joan Collins she looked like a million lira (depending on which country, this was somewhere between Ł1.75 and Ł12.50) so some idea of the in-game value of the stellar is required.
Stellars are the lifeblood of the game. Personnel (ship's crew, troops and employees) all have to be paid every week in stellars. They will not accept anything else. Their wages effectively leave the game (transferred via the EEM - see Tal's Arrival in Issue 1). There are other activities that also cost stellars. These are generally associated with politicals, starbases and outposts. Examples include initiating research, requesting tech manuals and attempting orders that fail.
There are only two means by which stellars enter the game, via starbase merchandising including sales to civilian populations and political positions (which includes accessing income from system claims). This means that stellars flow from starbases and politicals through all other positions in the game. If you do not run either of these positions, then you need to find means of supporting your ships. You can generate all the unique trade goods you want, but you need to convert them into stellars in order to pay your personnel else they will eventually defect.
Playing for Free
As pointed out, the only way to pay your crew is to generate stellars. There are two obvious methods for this. The first is to travel between player controlled markets buying from one and selling at others in order to make a net profit. This is often very difficult for the following reasons:
- There are a lot of ships in the game and transactions are on a first come, first served basis
- Markets may be public but are in restricted regions of space
- Often a market only buys what is not being sold and sells what is not being bought
- Many markets are not public - you have no idea what's on them without talking to the owner
- It is common to find markets buying at around and even below average market sell prices
I will leave the last one up to players to explain the logic.
Do not lose hope though for there is a second option. This is to get your hands on stuff that people want. This can be done through trading with local populations (code release due 213.4 - see Diary of a Merchant Captain in the next issue). You can land your ship on certain worlds (Corewards/Halo) that have civilian populations and determine if they have any imports or exports. If they do, you can then purchase goods from them for stellars. Most importantly these include unique trade goods that are worth considerably more when sold at the other end of space. As the purchase of these items is limited, you can be sure that what you have is desired by other players. You can then sell them for stellars in order to pay your crew. With some savvy trading you can finance your positions and even expand your control without ever paying to play the game. There are however drawbacks - you are in competition with other traders and there are pirates, mercenaries and privateers out there (oh, and rivals from other affiliations).
So, how much can you expect to get from a trade run between civilian worlds?
Typically, buying from civilians will net around 1,500mu of unique consumer goods. The price will be around twice as much as they are worth when sold directly back to the planet. You will pay around 600 stellars for them (base price 0.1 stellars/mu x2 local economy x2 mark-up). The value of this cargo however can be worth as much as 16x its base value at the other end of space. So while you may have paid 600 stellars for it, it is worth 2,400 stellars, maybe closer to 5,000 stellars depending on the local economy. Clearly nobody is going to pay this much for it but getting 1,500 stellars is not unreasonable especially if you are not responsible for transporting the merchandise very far.
Of course there are other means of getting cargo - you could try your hand at privateering and even outright piracy. If you don't want the ship you have captured through boarding you can always render it down for patches or sell it on (though may be an idea to both re-register it and change its name).
What is a Stellar Worth?
A stellar is the equivalent to the weekly wage of standard personnel. A starting ship has a weekly outgoing of around 70 stellars. With other issues such as maintenance this is probably closer to 100 stellars. A typical small player will probably have a couple of dozen ships - so a wage bill of around 3,000 stellars/week is about right. With a weekly income of 10,000 stellars from a political, this is more than taken care of but leaves little room for expansion in the short-term.
Financing your first outpost
A small mining facility will require around 20 complexes, 200 employees, 200 troops and wages paid at 1.5 stellars/personnel for outposts. Your net outgoings have increased by around 600 stellars. On top of this you need to buy the modules to build the complexes. Modules are usually around 100 stellars each and complexes require 25 each = 50,000 stellars for your first outpost. Suddenly that bonus 100,000 stellars for creating a political is very handy.
Certain ores such as collidium are always in high demand. A typical yield is 10 while they can be sold for 30 stellars. A single mine therefore equates to a gross income of 300 stellars or a net of around 250 stellars per mine (after accounting for personnel and ancillary facilities). You can capitalise on this by searching for new sources. The problem however is that keeping what you find is not always straightforward. If you are going it alone and have nobody to back you up, be prepared to lose your outpost. You could invest in caves to try to hide the mining operation, but do not count on being hidden forever. If somebody else starts mining the same vein they may notice that the stockpile is being eroded faster than they are mining it and then start looking around.
Taking it Further
War is very expensive for the following reasons:
- All transfers of personnel between positions cost 1 stellar per person
- Virtually all naval engagements degrade ship integrity
- Physical damage to ships need to be repaired
Transfer of Personnel
The first one may not be obvious but consider raising an army of 100,000 troops at your capital worlds and getting them to the conflict point on a frontier, then out again afterwards. The distance is invariably too long to move them all in a single action. As such you will most likely need to create a staging point. Even if a successful conflict you will generally want to pull most of the the survirors back. This requires the following logistics:
- Recruit mercenaries at your starbases (100,000 stellars)
- Over twenty weeks, therefore paying wages (500,000 stellars)
- Train each one at a cost of 10 stellars each (1 million stellars)
- Move them to the staging point (200,000 stellars)
- And again to the attacking ground force (200,000 stellars)
- Assuming 25% loss and 25% holding, getting rest back to staging point (100,000 stellars)
- And again back home (100,000 stellars)
Total cost of the campaign for the movement of troops alone = 2,200,000 stellars. For this reason, campaigns of this nature are not overly common. From your point of view as an owner of a starbase this is good - it means that if your starbase has around 15,000 troops, the chances of somebody assaulting it on the ground as a whim are negligible unless your base is so nice that it is a steal even at a cost of over 2,000,000 stellars! This is very important from a game balance point of view. It means that slashing and burning of major bases in the game is very rare. If there is an assault, more often than not there a very serious political agenda and planning has taken months.
If a naval battle lasts a day, each ship involved will take a standard week's worth of integrity loss. For standard capital ships this can equate to around 3 patches. In terms of production costs, minerals and paying for the maintenance complex personnel, this is the equivalent to 150 stellars. Doesn't sound a lot, but if you have twenty ships and they are involved in a few days of combat over a few weeks, this equates to a bill of 10,000 stellars and that is before even accounting for repairs to hulls, armour and items.
A typical capital ship has a base value in excess of 130,000 stellars. Losing a few of those in a conflict will certainly hit the coffers. Even suffering 30% damage to hulls will equate to around 15 patches and a further 25 patches if a quarter of the armour is blown off. This equates to 2,000 stellars to get the ship combat ready again. If your entire fleet was damaged it is really going to cost you. If forced to repair and maintain in somebody else's bases you can expect to pay more than twice this!
Balancing the Books
As can be seen, for an affiliation that is geared solely towards conflict, balancing the books is problematic and serious conflict requires a lot of planning and the combined resources of quite a few players. This is why the militaristic affiliations in Phoenix are generally allied to at least one mercantile affiliation while the less militaristic ones have a significant amount of their resources geared towards trade. As a player you can use this to your advantage - if you are looking to play for free or remain a small player and enjoy the trading side of the game, you can make good deals with the militaristic factions. They need stellars and have access to big civilian markets, you have access to unique goods that they can sell. Even if you don't want to join them, you may well be able to wrangle a place to set up your operation within their region of space - they may even protect you if your sales are worth it.