New government and satisfaction rating rules amount to rules for society design. This has the potential to be a craft just as much as race design and AP expenditure already is. In some ways, it might say a bit more about the non-standard societies we create as players, and the standard ones we adopt.
Society modifiers can be broken down into two major categories: the ones with Satisfaction Rating (SR) effects, and the ones without SR effects. Each plays a role in defining the society. In fact, apart from the mechanics in the one case involving SR’s and in the other case not, it would be hard to distinguish, say, general civil rights and educational freedom as really different kinds of factors. It’s just that the benefits to some otherwise negative modifiers in the one case involve SR benefits and in the other non-SR benefits.
The SR-affecting modifiers are further broken down into dependent modifiers, independent short-term modifiers, and independent long-term modifiers. Dependent ones are ones that you don’t control directly at all. They might be said to just “happen” to you. These include crime rates, debt, how any current war is going, fleet sizes, and ground forces’ sizes. You certainly can affect these, but you don’t do it simply as a matter of setting policy.
Independent modifiers are ones that are generally in the player’s control as a matter of policy. They are also the ones the selection of which defines the sort of society you have and how it might be changed. The short-term modifiers are the ones you can alter fairly freely, without long or difficult transitions. They include tax rate, political state, and level of SR boosting funding. It should be noted that these are the best easy ways to pump up your SR, since they’re so easily available. Have flagging popular support? Start a war! Just make sure it’s a “good” one. Or pay those people to be happy – they always love that. The best way of all to boost your SR in FOTS is lowering the darn tax rate. The range of SR modifiers for tax rate goes from +25 to –40. But the cost of the SR bonus is one that most players avoid religiously – reduced tax income. If a high satisfaction rating is important to you, you are well advised to explore alternate income strategies – income from SR bonuses or 6th turn economic bonuses (discussed previously in Firepower!), trade income, space herd animals, and so on. Many new charter company techs rely on low tax rates, and so represent another source of resources of some sort or another at lower tax rates. One thing it is generally best to avoid as a long-term plan is a combination of a higher than 0% tax rate combined with SR boosting spending; usually you’d get the same effect for fewer RP’s with a lower tax rate and less or no SR boosting expenditure.
Society design is much more tied in with long-term independent modifiers and the non-SR society modifiers. It becomes more a matter of design because these are “deeper” features of the culture, ones that are changed only with more time, effort, and difficulty. Starting a non-standard race gives you an initial choice of technologies or other basic abilities. Your race will be defined in part by these, but if you can acquire more in short order – as you can in a game in which there is extensive interstellar contact and exchange - they won’t establish the likely future of your state too firmly. Society design options will more likely do so, because you can’t swap your Representative Republican Democracy for that flashy Despotic Empire for 250 RP’s and a diplomatic deal. No, changing the basic structure of your society is something that all the company in the galaxy will make little easier. It’s an internal struggle.
Long-term independent SR modifiers include those for penal system, police, media controls, level of public information, level or absence of conscription, and various government modifiers – economic policy, general civil rights, political rights, some “wildcard” freely available modifiers, and public welfare policy relative to tax rate. It wouldn’t be too wild to consider all of these government type modifiers, or fewer of them; that may be considered in part an accident of FOTS rules evolution. These collectively do a lot to define the relations between your government and the people living under it. The non-SR society modifiers – academic control, weapons availability, and trade control – do much the same; it’s just that the cost or payoff to them isn’t in the Satisfaction Rating.
Options that increase the SR – roughly, the “nice” ones – carry some penalty otherwise, often in the political control the player will be able to have on the state. Options that reduce the SR will carry certain benefits. Ideally, these should balance out overall, just as they didn’t in previous government rules. If you practice massive conscription, your unit construction costs drop a bit. Given how much FOTS players like building ships, that’s going to be an attractive possibility. More political rights will mean an easier time on the part of the citizenry to tell you to go stuff it when your politics aren’t popular; you can have changes of government policy, or transfers of power, short of civil war. From the point of view of most of us as citizens, that’s progress; from the point of view of dictators, it’s a Bad Thing. If a FOTS player wants to be a dictator, he or she would nowadays be well advised not to go for Democracies and should be attracted to Empires. You take an SR hit, sure, but the SR can get much, much lower before you have to worry about popular coups d’etat.
What are the practical effects of all of this?
First, when you are setting up your society modifier choices, either pregame or as the new rules are integrated into G5 in T10, make sure they are selections you can live with in the long term. They can be changed, but it’s slow and a pain; you can’t slip in and out of Democratic government like new clothes.
Second, decide the sort of game you want to play. If you want to be able to do whatever you like without having to worry about stupid voters, avoid anything with a PSR bonus, like Democracies or Representative government. Even Fascism is a little dangerous that way; many dictators who signed up for it didn’t manage to retire from the profession on good terms. If you’re planning on a high tax rate, you might want to go for the Communist or Socialist modifiers to make the most of the tax income. You’re also going to have to decide whether you want to try to make up the SR hits with SR-friendly modifiers, or get the nastier modifiers that minimize the political consequences of low SR’s. If you want to have really happy people, you can go around and get every SR booster around -–0% taxes, Radical Free Market economic policies (no reason not to get them, if you’re not collecting tax income anyway and don’t care to be able to start even), a Republican Democratic Democracy, even massive general welfare support (though you’re going to have to find the RP’s for it somewhere other than in taxes). The result is going to be a state with a very high, even triple-digit Satisfaction Rating. It’s also going to be a paradise for enemy spies, politically volatile (they might love life but they would rarely really mind a new administration), and no great generator of RP’s you can use.
Third, you can use some of these modifiers to pick up some useful special abilities, at some price. Academic freedom is a little like an AP-free level of extra intelligence – but it carries political and espionage repercussions. A Despotic government with labor camps can get a hefty colonization bonus for nasty worlds, if you’re willing to tolerate a serious net SR hit and popular disapproval. It’s a little strange, but if you gut your own police and penal systems, you can have more RP’s with which to play. The same applies to a relatively anemic public welfare standard. These might even constitute a new income strategy: low taxes combined with stripped-down government services of each of the above variety for a tax-free income of 14% of your base RP potential. This might even fit some notions of an ideological utopia, in which governments well and truly stay out of the people’s affairs – including their nonexistent prisons, police stations, and public health clinics.
Fourth, you can use a lot of these modifiers to offset some others. It would be very tempting, for example, to get an SR-penalizing selection in every category in order to get all the extra espionage, production, colonization, and PSR advantage you can. But absent some special technologies, you’re going to have a Satisfaction Rating so low that even those PSR advantages won’t save you from civil war, and even if they did, your people would spend too much time attempting suicide or flight to produce much. The wild pursuit of a high SR won’t make your society collapse in the same way, but it will be awfully vulnerable in many ways and hamstrung in its ability to deploy public resources for the public good. The result is that most effective FOTS states are going to be some mixture of SR-friendly and SR-hostile selections, or perhaps a lot of default values right in the middle.
Fifth, there are the less practical consequences. Chances are, they’re pretty meaningful to a lot of players. Taking on a lot of SR-friendly, play-hostile modifiers gives you some serious problems in play. Hopefully, players will recognize that going in rather than finding out the hard way. But for players who accept that knowingly, there will be the reward of a struggle in the game to make a utopian society work and survive in a hostile universe. Players with a similar bent might start with less utopian societies but with plans to lead them right through the difficulties of society change toward that promised land in the course of a game. The result might well be one of the more satisfying gaming experiences you’re going to come by. Ultimately, that’s as practical a goal as any in FOTS.
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