So I haven’t been around much since the corruption thing has been a game mechanic, because honestly, knowing games like this and what drew me to it in the first place, I knew it would kill a lot of the 4x fun for me, especially since it eliminates much of the concept of 4x if there’s no real reason to continue exploring and expanding (two of the 4 xs) and exterminating itself probably becomes lame when you either have to spread your empire thinly to give points for you to launch attacks from, or just stick to your region of space and call it a day.
I realize there has to be some mechanic to limit unchecked expansion and aggression, so what about doing the reverse of what is there now?
What if the corruption mechanic, instead of being a hard or soft limit on a players ability to build fleets and colonies planets, was a buffing mechanic to players who kept their empires small. The idea being that to keep smaller/new players around, or those just less active, when a large player attacks a smaller player, the smaller player gets a certain bonus to the combat efficiency of their troops/ships and orbital defenses.
You could consider this the “stalwart defenders” buff, that small close-knit empires, in the face of insurmountable odds, fight harder and with more vigour because they are the underdogs and everything they cherish is much more at stake. The larger player’s empire, being more spread out and incredibly powerful, has more complacency in their populace, less patriotic pride or whatever, that makes them put up less of a fight individually, because they feel safer and aren’t in the same situation as the smaller empire. There’s even a lot of real-world examples to tie this to.
This bonus can even be split into two different strengths, one more powerful bonus for the smaller player when fighting on the defensive, and a bonus for the player when fighting offensively, just slightly less powerful, since the nature of defending ones home tends to be more motivating.
One further step of tweaking that can be done on this mechanic, would be a possible third mechanic that plays in, being a “vengeance” buff. A bonus given to a smaller player, for a temporary amount of time, against a specific player that attacked them and is also a larger empire of considerably higher strength. The colonists of the weaker empire, extra infuriated that they are being taken advantage of by an empire that has immense power over them, fight harder offensively with this buff, as their rage reaches new eights as they seek to give payback to those who harmed their home.
You could set an upper limit to the buff, and have it based on a linear or exponential scale, either based off a constant reference point tied to score/planets owned/some other metric, tie it to relative scores between players on an individual basis, or even as a whole against the leaderboard itself (ie: bottom X% of players on leader-board get scaling buff that increases every Y% down to the bottom Z%)
This is something I feel in theory can help solve the same problem that the corruption mechanic sought to address, without removing the fun aspect of the game it did for so many players that are the most active.
Edit: Wanted to add some points of note to highlight certain things/benefits.
Players won’t be limited to how large they can expand, however if done properly, it can help make larger empires harder to maintain through real gameplay of having to work extra hard to keep smaller empires from taking bites out of you on a regular basis. The larger player still has advantages in production capacity to circumvent the increased number of ships they’d lose relative to small players, but fighting a war against a small player will be more costly to them than the reverse.
Making picking on smaller players more costly, by having to lose more ships to them on a regular basis, for one I feel helps balance the relative loss a smaller player feels losing a single fleet or planet versus the larger player. Also it will spell bad news for any large pirating type players who start picking on too many small empires at once, or if the unchecked aggression causes them to band together. Before the corruption mechanic a large enough player could simultaneously engage many smaller empires as long as they weren’t collectively too large. This makes each of those smaller empires exponentially larger in terms of strength, limiting the ability of a large player to fight off smaller ones on multiple fronts should they decide to start running riot on their neighbors.
If a large player starts actually losing territory to the smaller players, their power becomes more relative and the buff stop being as effective, kinda of tying into how the complacency would fade from said larger empire as they realized they actually are in danger of losing their own homes. This would create a kind of resting point where things are drawn naturally to a sort of “common balance of empire size” without any hard caps, while also allowing scale to progress relatively with the other players in the galaxy.
A lot of the details of how this can really affect the game long term, would have to deal with what exact percentages of buffs we are talking about and how they are applied and so forth. I feel like it gives a lot of room to maneuver by just tweaking those numbers to find the right sweet spot.
The end idea of this, is not to make it so that players who want to expand find it frustratingly impossible to do so, its just to give an exponentially rising curve of difficulty for achieving that spot of being the largest in the galaxy, which I feel is a fair hurdle to put in the way of “winning the galaxy” . A single new or weak player shouldn’t be able to cripple a larger enemy on their own, however a collective of them should be able to. The goal here for a single player is to just give them a better chance of surviving harassing attacks from larger players, requiring real focus from the other player to take them out, as opposed to it just being an afterthought tasked to a few spare fleets that really aren’t needed elsewhere.
Another way to frame this idea is it makes it harder to actually knock a player out of the game (which it should, both to keep new players around and make it an accomplishment in general) without putting a dead stop on the fun for active players who want more to do.