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GalCiv IV: Supernova Dev Journal #60 - Trade Routes & Diplomacy

Published on Tuesday, May 28, 2024 By BATTLEMODE In GalCiv IV Dev Journals

We’ve recently released a large update to Galactic Civilizations: IV Supernova called v2.6 “Reinforcements”, and for more information you can read the patch notes linked.

This update focused mostly on bugfixes, balance, options to allow you to further customize the user-interface and some awesome new ship designs for the Terran Alliance and Terran Resistance, which we covered last week. This was one of the bigger patches we’ve released in a while and should improve the overall experience of playing Supernova.

Instead of regurgitating patch notes, this week we’re going to look at one of the more interesting nuances of Galactic Civilizations IV: Supernova diplomacy system.

There was one small mechanic that came in back with v2.3 War & Peace that I suspect many people missed in the patch notes, but has significantly changed how each game of Galactic Civilizations IV: Supernova will play out, and it’s a system that can be used by both the player and the AI alike.

I’m talking about Trade Routes and their affect on diplomacy. It’s worth a second look because there’s a lot more to it now than just sending off a freighter and watching the money roll in afterwards.


We updated the Trade Route screen in v2.5 “Ares”, shown above.


You can access it from the button furthest to the right on the bottom bar.


The same screen can still be accessed from the Civilization screen too as you can see above.


I want to illustrate this system with a game I’m playing as the Baratak Grove. You can see my position here at the top center of the map in a very light yellow color. Note how many civilizations there are in this one big sector, and how squashed in we all are. These games can become notoriously difficult if you don’t prepare yourself to deal with the problems they throw at you.

You’ll note too that I have some rather dangerous neighbors close to me, with the powerfully developed Navigators to my west, the Cosmic Contaminant just south of them. With their polluting ways, the CC are the Baratak Grove’s nemesis and I’ve been fighting them all game.

I’m close to the ever-menacing Yor who’re looking to eliminate the Iconians to their south, and the Drengin Empire just south of the CC too. The Intueri to my east are less aggressive and the Xeloxi further south of that still can sometimes be reasoned with, so there is some hope of avoiding a dog-piling here.


With the game difficulty on Genius here, I’ve got my work cut out to keep the wolves from the door. Any one of these neighbors, if freed up from its own external pressure long enough to build a military fleet, could become a threat. Don’t be fooled by the small size of some of these Civilizations, you can take a lot of territory very quickly with a well protected fleet full of transports.

I want to show how important Trade Routes can be now in helping shape the diplomatic situation around you, in tense, crowded situations like this where deadly, potentially game-ending wars can suddenly flare up at any moment.

We’re likely to have to fight the Cosmic Contaminant again eventually, and we can handle a single war, but we need to avoid being dragged into any other conflicts until that one is concluded properly.

You may or may not remember, but establishing Trade Routes now gives you a diplomatic boost with that Civilization, a bonus that increases with the profitability and age of those routes. This means that early trading with your neighbors can be a critical factor in determining the shape of the game’s diplomatic situation as the game develops into the mid and late-game.


As a quick reminder, to set up a Trade Route, you build a Freighter at a Shipyard, preferably one orbiting a Core World with a high Income value, and you pilot it to a Core World owned by another Civilization, preferably as far away from your starting world as you can manage, picking a destination with a high strong Income too.

Let’s take a look at the Navigators, likely the biggest single threat bordering the Baratak Grove’s empire.


Here you can see that the Navigators have a stronger military than I do, and they probably would quite like to be at war with me as they’re not currently engaged with anybody else. At this point of the game, they’ll be looking to expand if they detect weakness. It didn’t help that I went to war with the Cosmic Contaminant early and we’ve got an Aggressive Neighbour penalty that will persist for some months, but the Trade Routes we share have helped to counter that.

Note that their other neighbors, just like me, are trading with them too. Trade Routes do become an important source of income, particularly in games where the Civilizations each have less planets to each colonize between one another and as such get less tax revenue.

Here’s a very quick reminder about how Trade Routes generate income.


In this Trade Route set up between the Navigators world of Luaphcal IV and our homeworld, the Trade Route Value is determined by a few factors: most notably, the income of the Core Worlds in question, the Route Age and the physical distance between the two (it’s presumed your freighters make stops to trade with other ships and other smaller entities as they go).

If you initiate the trade route yourself, you’ll get a 33% bonus, and there’s a penalty for instability and hostiles in the region too. Receiving a freighter from a neighbors is still better than no trade at all though.

This is a really cool system a few reasons: firstly it encourages each player to actively engage in trade as soon as possible as that 33% bonus to Trade Route Value for being the first to get your freighter to your neighbor's Core Worlds is very attractive.

Secondly, the longer a Trade Route exists, the more money it makes and the bigger the diplomatic bonus you’ll get from trading with them. The longer you maintain the route and your relations with your trade partner, when it comes time to start throwing their fleets and Soldiers into the meat grinder, they’re a lot less likely to pick you as their target. They like that juicy trade income and since GalCiv is not just a war-game, and you can win economically as well as by map-painting, it’s a viable strategy for you, and the AI, to sit around and power up your economy, accumulating Prestige Points.

Playing one of the Trade focused Civilizations doesn’t just give you more money, as it would with other space 4X games. They get the extra cash for sure, but trade is not just a financial system. It’s a diplomatic one too and getting early Trade Routes out shows the other Galactic Civilizations that you’re worth more to them alive than you are dead.


This demonstrates one of the reasons why I think Galactic Civilization’s IV: Supernova has an edge over other contemporary space 4X games, in terms of providing ways for the player to engage in meaningful non-combat interactions to help them win that don’t feel “gamey” or contrived, and fit with the way that real-life diplomacy works out there in the real world.

This is an example: a mutually beneficial interaction like trade can also be used as a way to protect yourself diplomatically, without that mechanic feeling like an artificially imposed rule or system, placed there specifically to band-aid over the inherent imbalance you get when a human interacts with a game AI.

Diplomacy in space 4X has long been accused of being a system that exists merely for the player to exploit and delay being attacked until they are ready to win a war, and there’s some truth to that I’m sure, especially in games where the diplomatic system was tacked on to tick the “has diplomacy” box.

Of course, Sun Tzu might smile upon such a strategy, but whether that issue feels like an accurate depiction of the Art of War or a weakness of a game’s core design largely depends on how natural that system feels in the context of the rest of the player’s interactions with the game itself. If you’re sat there happily immersed and suddenly something happens to throw you out of that immersion, that can be jarring.

Nobody likes being thrown out of a war they are winning when an arbitrary alarm goes off and says “Nope! Time’s up buddy, hand back all those planets you just worked to take!”

GalCiv has always strived to be a game where we balance fun with the suspension of disbelief, but by trying smaller game elements, like Trade Routes, in with the way an alien Civ feels about you and opens it up to being an active game element that can be used to build a strategy around, the game feels tighter as a whole and does a lot to encourage you to experiment with different playstyles.

And with this, there’s no need to add in rules that limit you in some way to mask for the AI not being able to keep up, because the AI can use this system just like you can.


To go back to my situation in-game, it’s not too late to begin leveraging this system with other neighbors I’m hoping to keep sweet. The Baratak Grove aren’t necessarily a trade focused Civ, but with so many dangerous and warlike Civilizations around me, one strategy would be to build my defenses very strongly, trade with the friendliest neighbors and let everybody else fight.

Once my economy is in a strong state, enough to either support a large war or to make a serious dent on the Prestige Victory condition enough that I’ll attract one anyway, then I can pick a new target and take some new territory.

Slow and steady wins the race, said Sun Tzu, probably.

I hope you enjoyed this quick look at how Trade Routes can be used to protect yourself in dangerous situations, and how small updates to the game that sometimes go unnoticed in patch notes can drastically improve gameplay!