While much has been written on the military aspects of VGAP, the less glamorous endeavor of developing a thriving economy has received far less attention. This is unfortunate for, without a thriving economy, a player soon finds himself unable to produce ships for those exciting and inevitable conflicts in space. An empire's economy is comprised of many elements: the production of goods on the empire's planets; the logistic fleets of freighters and other ships involved in moving money and materials throughout the empire; the trade and support agreements arranged with allies; and the ability to appropriate enemy resources through ship captures, robbing, pillaging, super spying, etc. to name but a few. Of these elements, the basic and key element to a thriving economy is planet production. While maximizing the efficiency of a planet's production does not ensure a thriving economy (after all, what good is a planet producing 6,000 mc/turn if there's no ship to bring that money to a base), mishandling planet development is an almost surefire way to guarantee a lackluster economy. This article will concentrate on the concerns and issues with which a player must deal while trying to develop a planet to its maximum potential.
The first concern of planet development must be colonization. Many players are familiar with the problem of having too few clans on a planet to maximize their gain, but it can be argued that having too many clans on the planet is just as inefficient as it wastes time, fuel, and precious cargo space to get these extra clans to a planet for no additional gain. Unless there is a decisive reason why a given planet should receive an abundance of clans (e.g. Lizard/Fascist ground attacks are imminent, growth for future colonization, etc.) the player is better off only dropping off the number of clans necessary to maximize that planet's potential. How is that determined? Well, it depends on the planet.
1) Weak Rocks (planets with no native race and low amounts/densities of minerals) - 100 clans as this will allow 100 mines & factories. These planets should be of lowest development priority and once the structures are developed, they don't need to be revisited until there's at least 1000 supplies ready for transport to a Merlin or conversion into cash.
2) Strong Rocks (planets with no native race but high amounts/densities of minerals) - 200 clans. With 200 clans, 200 mines can be built to grab the minerals and 110 factories for supplies. Over this is inefficient as the number of clans necessary to support additional mines is a parabolic relationship (e.g. 200 mines needs 200 clans, 250 needs 2,700 clans). Note the need to check the density of the minerals as well as the amount. A planet with 11,000 kts of Neutronium may seem like a great find, but if the density of that Neutronium is 10%, the 200 mines will only produce 20 kts a turn which is not worth the effort or resources. That planet would be considered a weak rock, put 100 clans on it and take the 10 kts/turn.
3) Native Race Planets: The optimum amount of clans is the number that will allow you to receive the taxes generated while taxing at the highest sustainable rate (with a few exceptions noted below). As Taxes, Structures, and Native Population increases, the native happiness decreases. The Maximum Sustainable Tax Rate (MSTR) is that rate at which happiness neither increases nor decreases. Assuming bare minimum structures (20 mines, 15 factories - which will not show up on a sensor sweep) and an average (7,000,000) population, the MSTRs are as follows: Anarchy & PreTribal = 3%, Early Tribal & Tribal = 4%, Feudal = 5%, Monarchy & Representative = 6%, and Participatory & Unity = 7%. Therefore, the optimum # of clans would be enough to receive the money generated by the following formula: Native Population * .001 * Government Modifier (.2 - 1.8) * MSTR (e.g. A 7,000,000 Ghipsodal Monarchy would need: 7,000,000 * .001 * 1.2 * .06 = 504 mc. 504 Clans are necessary to get the 504 mc from this planet). Putting more clans than this on the planet will allow a player to "overtax" the natives, but eventually (or quickly depending on the degree of overtaxing), native happiness will drop too far and the planet will have to sit idle while they recoup.
There are a couple of exceptions to this rule:
a) Amorphous - Unless playing the Fascists treat as rocks
b) Avians - Add 11 or 12% to the MSTRs above
c) Bovinoids - Divide the population by 10,000 to find the maximum supplies generated. Bring clans equal to the greater of the max. supplies or max. credits (e.g. A 7,000,000 Bovinoid Tribal will generate 224 mcs and 700 supplies. Bring 700 Clans.)
d) Insectiods - You only need half the clans to collect the taxes (e.g. A 7,000,000 Insectoid Tribal will generate 448 mcs - Only 224 Clans are needed to collect it.)
e) Lizards - Hissing Ships will greatly increase the MSTR
f) Defense Posts have no effect on MSTR; structures refer only to mines and factories
Note: that as you increase structures or the native population increases, the MSTR will drop. The Player will have to determine the best mix of resources and adjust the clans accordingly (e.g. on a 10,000,000 Humanoid Unity with 75 structures, The MSTR is 7% which will generate 1260 mcs. 1260 clans will allow a player to build 232 Mines and 134 Factories, however if the player does so, the MSTR will drop to 5% and the planet will now generate only 900 mcs/turn - leaving it at 7% will cause the native happiness to drop 2 pts/turn.) One rule of thumb is to maximize the structures on low-paying worlds while maximizing the tax rate (and leaving 0 or few structures) on high paying worlds.
Now, if that seemed simple, it's only because we haven't explored the next issue of planet development, Growth.
As well as managing planets for current income, a player has to be aware of the potential for growth. While on many planets growth is incidental or even harmful (e.g. A 8,000,000 Humanoid Anarchy with 0 structures has an MSTR of 3% and will generate 48 mcs, at 9,000,000 the MSTR drops to 2% generating 36 mcs), on certain planets growth is highly desirable and should be encouraged (e.g. Growing any Bovinoid to 15,000,000 is a feat usually well worth the effort). Native Growth rates are affected by two main factors, Native Tax Rate and Planet Temperature and the subsidiary factor of native happiness. Preventing Growth is incredibly easy. Simply overtax the natives until the native happiness drops below 70 then drop the tax rate to the MSTR. Encouraging growth is a bit trickier. The maximum Growth rate for any native race is 4%. This rate will only be achieved on a 50-degree planet with a 0% native tax rate. As you raise taxes or move the temp away from 50 degrees, the growth rate drops quickly (e.g. a 5% tax rate or an 83-degree planet cuts the growth rate to 2%. Taxing the natives at 5% on an 83-degree planet will drop the growth rate to 1%). Obviously the only way to ensure maximum growth is to not tax the natives at all and get the planet terraformed to 50 degrees. On a low-government Bovinoid this is always worth while since they don't generate much cash anyway so not much is lost and the growth results in an increase in supplies. On a high paying Insectoid it's a bit harder to decide whether to keep the taxes at the MSTR and get lower growth or lower the taxes a bit and speed up the growth rate. One thing is certain, it ALWAYS pays to terraform a planet out of Desert or Arctic and better planets should be brought to 50 degrees if possible. Non Fed/Lizard Players should make it a point to beg, borrow, or steal a Bohemian and/or Eros whenever possible then clone some more. In general, low-paying warm planets should have the taxes turned off and maximize growth while high paying planets and those on Arctic/Desert planets should run the taxes at MSTR and not worry about growth.
As always, there are a couple of exceptions:
a) Bovinoids - Low government Bovinoids should definitely have the taxes turned off (as long as they're not on Arctic/desert worlds) and many would argue that even high government
Bovinoids should be allowed to grow at the maximum rate.
b) Siliconoids - Grow best on Desert planets
c) Amorphous - cannot slow down growth by taxing
Finally, a few observations concerning specific races and planet development,
a) Lizards - Forget the Serpent Escorts, use Eros's. Building the Eros's with low-tech engines means they don't cost much more than Serpents and have the advantage of being able to terraform while they HISS, an extremely valuable combination.
b) Fascists/Amorphous - don't rush right over with that Glory Device to wipe out the Amorphous population. Take a minute to look at the size of the population and the temperature of the planet. It may be more beneficial to "farm" the amorphous creatures than to kill them off in one shot. (e.g. a 10,000,000 Amorphous on a 60 degree world. Pop a Glory Device and 10,000 supplies are generated but the Amorphous worms are gone. Pillage them and 2,000 supplies/cash are generated and 2,000,000 Amorphous are gone. Wait 7 turns and the planet is back to 10,000,000 Amorphous. Repeat 5 times and the same 10,000 supplies/cash have been generated but the population hasn't decreased. In a long game (75-100 turns) the planet will yield 3 to 4 times the amount of cash through pillaging than it would by using a Glory Device.
c) Cyborg - The Cyborg should do anything they can to get possession of some terraformers. While native MSTR is not affected by Temperature, colonist MSTR is. (E.g. An 8,000,000 Borg planet with 200 mines and 270 factories. If the planet is at 50 degrees, the Borg have an MSTR of 7%. If, however, the planet is at 84 or 16 degrees, the Borg MSTR drops to 5%.) For maximum efficiency of their assimilated planets, the Borg have to bring them to 50 degrees.
It is to be hoped that these few tips will help some players gain a better insight into maximizing planet efficiency. Once the player understands which forces are acting to affect the planet's production, they should be better able to plot the course they want the planet's development to take. As mentioned at the start of this article, planet production is but one part, albeit a crucial part, of developing a thriving economy. After the production of the empire's planets is maximized, the player must still handle the logistics of transporting the produced goods to starbases. An analysis of those logistical issues will, alas, have to await a future discussion.