Ever wanted to avoid combat, and just expand, build and trade? So did I, and I experimented a little. This are a few general ideas about building a trade infrastructure
1. The major basic rule here is to maintain a good reputation. So, first thing towards that is to set engagements to 'advise' or 'manual', as well as diplomacy and spying(you can leave spying if you are confident enough in your spies; sometimes it's better to just leave them on auto). If you don't do that you might find out that your fleet has been spending way too much time in someone else's space and killing everything in a 'surprise' attack that whacks your reputation. Also, diplomacy on auto might ruin your trade agreements for no reason.
2. Build your trading infrastructure. This means at least a small space port per system with colony. Even though you might think that's not necessary and too costly, space ports actually help a LOT to move stuff around and make trade routes a lot faster, as well as build merchant ships. If you're worried about the costs, don't be, because you'll soon get them back tenfold.
3. Make sure that your resource rich (>2-3 resources) and those with luxury resource planets take priority in space port building. Moving around those luxuries faster helps your other colonies as well, and if they are in excess the other empires buy them for a nice $.
4. A planet with 2-3 luxury resources can be a lot more valuable in the long run than a planet with an existing population.
5. Luxury resources(not just the 3 super rare ones) are the basis of foreign trade. Make sure you get them, especially near the borders with other empires.
6. Colonize far and wide. Don't worry if that colony is too close to another empire. It will soon become a major trade outpost for your empire. It's best to stretch your empire across the galaxy. Remember, you're not planning wars. The more outposts you have across the galaxy, the more trade routes are going to open up.
7. Go for trade agreements as fast as possible once you meet a new race. Try gifts and increase your reputation. Eventually the other empire will ask you for it, but you need to make them trust you. Once a trade agreement is established and you have a base for trade(ex: lots of luxury resources) income will slowly start coming in. Eventually even races than don't 'instinctively like you' will agree to that. I think lucrative exchanges and tech are useful as well.
8. The 3 super rare luxury resources(korrabian spice, loros fruit, zentabia fluid) are the top of the trading pyramid. You don't need them to make lots of money, but they help A LOT, especially at the start, and only if you use them properly. For your empire, they help develop colonies faster, and bring a nice profit in form of space port income(yes, I checked this, my spaceport income went to 200k+ after I got the loros fruit developed, and no private ships were being built at that time at any of my space ports; the income has maintained for years so far).
However, the real value of these 3 resources resides in foreign trade. So, once you get a hold of such a resource, tick the box 'trade our rare_resource_name with them' for every empire in your diplomacy screen(yes, even hostile ones, but not enemies). This will increase your reputation by at least 10-20 points with each empire, and will get you a LOT of trade agreements faster. Also, you will notice after a while that your foreign trade income goes up with like 100k per resource.
To make sure that you get the max out of your rare resource planet you have 2 options, depending on your ability to colonize it:
a) you can colonize it: make it a colony, build a small space port, then refit it to a large one ASAP. Thus a lot of ships will be able to come.
b) you can't colonize it: copy the design of your large space port, set it to mining base category, add 20-30 luxury resource and some mining resource components, then send a construction ship to build it at the planet. It's well worth it in the long run, and it's well protected that way.
If you have a rare resource and do things like this you will avoid conflicts quite easily, and make a LOT of money doing it. You will make a lot of friends really fast.
9. Everyone is your potential customer, even aggressive races. Trade with everyone, and make trade agreements with them. Rare resources help a lot to get them friendly here, but if you just maintain a friendly diplomatic stance towards everyone you shouldn't have any problem. You might get tired after a while though of requests to impose trade sanctions for empires that are at war. Ignore them, the result is well worth the price.
10. Explore as much and as fast as possible. That way, you are sure to get good resources without any territorial disputes. Build a lot of exploration ships at the start, whenever you don't have any bigger projects.
11. Build a big military fleet. Yes, it might not seem characteristic for a trading empire, but you have 2 reasons to do this:
a) a large fleet deters aggressive races from any attack ideas; if you flash it in the face of everyone you are less likely to ever get a war.
b) pirates love to hang around trading empires, and guess what takes care of pirates
You don't have to build huge numbers of capital ships, just enough ships to keep an average military strength. Besides, you will barely notice a dent in your income.
12. Build resort bases wherever you can. Even when the location is next to another empires capital, it's just as good as near your capital, and you get the other empire's cash and tourists. Consider this as a tourism monopoly. At black holes and neutron stars you might consider adding 10-15 labs of each type to the resort base design, for double purpose.
13. Design mining bases with torpedoes and double shields. They cost more but in the long run they last longer.
14. Don't be afraid to build large space port mining base hybrids on uncolonizable planets with rarer luxury resources.
15. Maintain a sufficient number of construction ships, and retrofit them whenever a new hyperdrive or construction yard upgrade comes along.
16. Merchant races don't necessarily have a knack for research. You have the molah, and a good relation with everyone. BUY the tech rather than research it. Saves time and gets you ahead of everyone.
17. The techs you should look for at first are: construction yards(the most important tech for building an infrastructure, get it first!), hyperdrive(the faster the freighter the faster the profit), cargo bays(why transport just 200 loros fruit when you could take 400?!), passenger components(for those resort base ships).
18. Large space ports should have LOTS of shields and lots of torpedo weapons.
19. Consider building stuff in another empires system, then trading that base for money, research, their stuff in your system or whatever you want. You can make a lot of GOOD deals, especially with mining bases over rich planets that aren't very practical to mine.
20. AVOID mutual defense pacts and protectorates. They draw you into wars you don't want and can ruin your reputation either by forcing you to attack a friend or if you refuse to help. To avoid hurting people's feelings just accept the offer for such a pact then propose a trade agreement again. Voila, problem solved, everyone happy
21. See those dotted lines that connect systems in your empire? Those are main trade routes, and you can see freighters moving parallel to the lines between the connected systems if you look close enough. Freighters also move outside these routes, but the main traffic happens along that line. It's very important to have lots of these connections because that means large scale trading. A system with lots of lines connected to it is a trade hub, and thus very important for transport in your empire. If a system becomes a trade hub, it's best to have at least a medium space port there to handle the traffic load.
I have attached a picture as an example. As you can see in it, that system has recently become a trade hub for all those recently colonized systems in the area, and thus is crucial to their development. The spaceport there is small, and thus inadequate to the task and so it requires an upgrade to medium size at least. If you notice in the map, systems without a spaceport only have one outgoing line, two if they are the only system en route to another similar one. This underlines the importance of space ports in establishing connections in your empire. I can say that upgrading space ports is good for trade because I have seen that following this line of action worked well for the development of my empire.
I have yet to determine why some systems take precedence over others as a hub when you have developed systems close together, but with new systems it works like in the picture, space port taking precedence over non-spaceport systems, and links forming between non-spaceport systems that are the closest to each other. I think that mining bases and other bases have an effect on the formation of trade routes.
It is also possible for systems of two different empires to be connected(without trespassing bases and colonies). I think that depends on trade agreements and the amount of trade between the border worlds. It seems that when it says in diplomacy screen that there is a 'fair' or 'colossal' amount of trade between your empire and theirs links begin to form, but I can't confirm this yet.
22. Organizing your fleets is very important. First of all, you should always have more than one fleet. A single fleet can easily get overwhelmed by tasks and the small advantage in relative firepower is rapidly shadowed by the lack of speed in handling threats. For the start of the game, once you get more than 10 ships, you should start dividing them into groups of 3-4, preferably with at least 1 destroyer each. In the mid to late game, groups of 10-15, and later even 20 ships are adequate to maintaining a good cover of your territory. Try to have at least 3-4 cruisers and 1 capital ship per group. I haven't actually used this yet, because I haven't embarked on long wars, but it occurred to me that a resupply ship per fleet would greatly increase the speed of conquest, especially regarding expeditionary forces to far away places. And if you add construction yards to that resupply ship it would serve as a maintenance vessel as well. I don't know if deployed R-ships with C-yards would act as spaceports do, but it might be worth a try
Another important point in setting up multiple fleets is assigning bases to each and every one of these fleets. I have noticed by accident, after assigning a base to one of my fleets controlled by AI, that the fleet never went very far from that base. The fleet attacked only enemy targets(I was at war with an enemy less than 1 sector away from my nearest base) within 1 sector from that base and always came back there after each mission. By observing that behavior I have come to the conclusion that fleets with a base assigned have an area of 1 sector they keep under surveillance and only attack stuff in that area. This is an EXTREMELY useful feature for guarding your empire. So if you have several fleets assign them to bases across the empire until you have every sector covered. Always try to assign SPACEPORTS as the base, since planets have few docking spaces and it takes ages for the fleet to refuel/resupply/refit. Consider building starbases in deep space between system clusters to provide a more flexible area of influence.
One more thing, try to keep your fleets mixed, meaning try to have a few ships of each class, like 4 Frigates, 3 destroyers, 2 cruisers and 1 capital ship for example. It pays for when you need to chase fast pirates, conquer a planet(if your capship/cruiser has troop compartments, I usually put one on them, helps in small conquests), or just patrol an area.
23. ALWAYS have a backup fleet at your homeworld. This fleet should also have troop transports and a capital ship when available, and should only be used for emergencies near or at the home system. Some empires(when launching surprise attacks or when at war) and pirates tend to strike the home system en-masse if you leave it unguarded for too long.
Well, that's about it for now. I will add them as I discover them, and i have a few screenshots I need to process before adding. Might consider starting an AAR guide for this.
< Message edited by Merker -- 11/10/2010 7:38:29 PM >