Space 4X game design – Colonisation

Exploration and colonisation are two of the four fundamental pillars of game design in a 4X game, and I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I want to handle them in my game. I’ve put up a new page on the site with all my thoughts and prototype designs for colonisation, but I’m going to cover each idea in its own blog post.

Exploration at a planetary level:

At the start of the game, you have a single colony on an unexplored planet. You’ll send out scout ships to nearby areas of the map on search missions to find resources and other things. A mock-up of a part of the map is below:

More information after the break


The yellow circle is where your colony is, and the highlighted squares are areas that have been searched. The pickaxe is an ore deposit; any time you build a factory, you’ll need to find an ore deposit and place a mine on it before the factory can activate. The microscope at the top left is the same idea but for research. There’s something of scientific interest here and you’ll be able to build a research station on it to supply a research lab with data.

Later in the game when you’re busy with war, technologies will let you scan areas and entire planets to remove the micromanagement involved in scanning individual squares.

Building additional settlements:

The yellow circles with line through them above are unclaimed settlement locations. You can colonise these to increase the maximum population of the planet. For gameplay reasons, these settlements will just be housing rather than full separate colonies. Only the capitol colony on a planet will have industrial buildings like factories and labs, so that each planet only really has one colony. This should keep planets with just a few settlement sites useful.

The benefits of setting up a settlement include:

  • Increased planetary population.
  • Reduced scout mission time (missions are sent from the nearest colony/outpost).
  • Reduced logistics cost (building a mine closer to a colony/outpost will cost less per turn).
  • Certain technologies might be automatically installed in all outposts, benefitting fully explored homeworlds greatly. e.g. Military barracks.
  • Once a settlement is completed, it will reveal a random discovery in the area. This could be a crashed ship in the area, a new technology, natives, or a previously undiscovered resource well like an ore mine.

These colonies can be in different climates that might have different colonisation requirements. For example, those in a desert would require that you’ve researched deep core water pumps and desert housing. A terran planet will have temperate, desert, ocean and tundra environments to colonise but a tundra planet will just have 2-3 tundra colony spots.

Colonising other planets:

You’ll be able to colonise other planets and star systems in much the same way that you would in any space 4X game. Build a colony ship, and send it to the planet. From orbit, you’ll see a number of settlement locations and will pick which one you’d like to settle first as your capitol colony. All other settlement locations then become ordinary settlements.

About Brendan Drain

Director @ Brain and Nerd
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