What is the difference between a Virtue and a Diplomatic Trait? At first blush this may look simple, one is acquired with Culture, the other with Diplomatic Capital, but the nuances of this question had many implications on the design of Virtues and Diplomatic Traits in the recent Echoes of Earth updates. If you’ve wondered why Virtues have broadly useful effects while Diplomatic Traits are more niche, read on.
Differentiating Virtues and Traits
I’ve talk about Design space before with Virtues and Wonders. In short, it is the idea that there are only so many interesting effects in a certain part of a game system before you’re fundamentally repeating yourself. In order to avoid having two parts of a game cannibalize each others design space each part should focus on unique effects only it can do. The distinction Wonders had from Virtues is that Wonders were local to a specific city while Virtues impacted every city a player owned.
This distinction does not work for Virtues and Diplomatic Traits though, as both effect the entire empire. Wonders are also optional, not everyone will get a bunch of Wonders in every game they play. But everyone will get some Virtues and Traits. The benefits needs to be useful in most games without being repetitive or allowing players to default to picking the same thing every time they play.
When a player is choosing a Trait they are always looking at the same set of 9 Traits and need to pick one. If Traits provide powerful broad effects players will likely be able to pick the same one in every game. This will reduce variance between games and reduce strategic thinking on the player’s part. To avoid this I decided to make Traits provide specialized effects, like Domestic Traits’ boosts to specific Resources. That way players need to respond to the map when picking their Traits.
With Virtues a player progressively fills out a set of 14 Virtues in a specific column. Due to the prerequisite structure of Virtues players will often have 2-3 choices at a given time. As a player fills out more and more of a specific column they will end up being forced by prerequisites to take Virtues they may not individually care for. This means that Virtues that have specialized or niche benefits are hard to avoid, while a niche Trait can easily be avoided. To minimize the crummy feeling that comes with taking a niche effect that isn’t relevant Virtues would be given broadly useful effects.
I knew I wanted to make both Virtues and Traits provide Affinity points. For Traits I wanted them to provide 5 Affinity points would happen when the player did a specific task. 5 points what not an arbitrary number. It generally takes more than 10 Affinity points to advance a level. When players are trying to advance an Affinity level I didn’t want them to just have to complete one task to advance, I wanted them to have to complete multiple tasks. This would encourage them to try pursuing the various different ways Echoes of Earth allows players to get Affinity points. Players could complete a Wonder and some Virtues. Or they could complete some quests and a Trait task.
The Affinity provided by Virtues needed to be simpler. Players can keep track of the 3 tasks their Traits ask of them, but when players can have over a dozen Virtues there was no way to remember that many different tasks. Instead Virtues granted a one time boost of Affinity upon adoption. However, this led to the problem of yield balance.
What is Yield Balance?
Yield Balance is the deceptive idea that 1 Food is just as useful as 1 Production, Energy, Science, Culture, etc. The notion is deceptive because it isn’t really accurate. For example, in Civilization 5 Science is more important yield by far. If you want to conquer a rival you need Science so your military units are an era ahead of theirs. If you want to build a Wonder you need Science so you can start (and finish) the Wonder before the other players can.
But when a player is deciding between building a Thorium Reactor (provides Energy) or a Lab (provides Science), or a player is choosing their pre-game colonist between Technician (Energy) or Scientist (Science), the trade off is implicitly asking the player if they care more about Energy or Science.
So many choices in Civilization come down to asking the player if they would like more of one yield or more of another yield. If yields are not in balance than much of the strategy falls apart. If Science is way better than Energy players will simply always build the Lab before the Thorium Reactor.
Culture verse Diplomatic Capital
If Virtues were too good there was a large risk that Culture would end up being too strong compared to Diplomatic Capital. Virtues could end up providing more Affinity points and better empire wide bonuses for less yield.
Here are the costs for the first 10 Traits and Virtues. While the Trait costs are accurate, the Virtues are assuming one city. In practice the cost for Virtues is likely to be higher than this because of the extra 10% cost per city, but the cost could also be lower from various effects that provide a discount for Virtues.
20, 24, 36, 56, 84, 120, 164, 216, 276, 344 (sum: 1340)
150, 165, 185, 210, 250, 290, 345, 405, 470, 550 (sum: 3020)
From this we can see that it takes 1250 Diplomatic Capital to get 6 Traits. If these Traits were equally distrusted between the three categories the player would have 3 empire wide bonuses and 3 tasks available that would provide Affinity points. Or if the player focused on two categories they would have 6 empire wide bonuses and 2 tasks available.
If that 1250 Diplomatic Capital had been Culture instead the player would have 9 Virtues. Assuming all Virtues were in the same column the player would have 9 empire wide bonuses, 2 Global Health sources from the synergy bonuses and 3*9-> 27 Affinity points.
For the Traits to be in the same ballpark as the Virtues the player needs to complete 5 Affinity providing tasks and each bonus from the Traits needs to be twice as strong as the bonus from the Virtues. Given how much Global Health the synergies provide that is a tall order.
Supply Side Balancing
A player can’t directly convert 1250 Diplomatic Capital into Culture. Part of the balance between Traits and Virtues is determined by the fact it is easier to generate Diplomatic Capital than it is to generate Culture. All Wonders provides Diplomatic Capital but not Culture. Every Specialist provides Diplomatic Capital but only Artists provide Culture. There are more sources of Diplomatic Capital in Virtues than sources of Culture in Traits.
Appearance verse Practice
The best designs are ones that look overpowered but are in fact fair. Virtues have the unfortunate distinction of being the opposite. They look weak but are deceptively powerful. Between their low cost, easy Affinity points and potential for synergies they can outshine Diplomatic Traits. Their current form may be unsatisfying but necessity forced them into their current form.