Colonization is absolutely essential to an empire's growth. Without additional colonies, an empire's resources and research capabilities will stagnate, and soon be eclipsed by competing empires which are expanding. The primary reasons to colonize new planets are to provide more room for facilities, which improve an empire's economy or technology, and to deny those planets to competing empires.
How to Colonize
There are two requirements to forming a new colony. First, an empire must build a ship with a colony component (Gas, Ice, or Rock). Second, the ship must be loaded with some population and given the order to colonize an uninhabited planet.
Note that the Colonize order will automatically attempt to load population, if the ship is in a sector with an existing colony. Therefore it is not usually necessary to manually load population onto the colony ship, if you are sending the colony ship directly to colonize. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. If the colony ship is going to be doing exploration before being given the Colonize order, then population must be manually loaded onto the ship (since it likely won't be in a sector with a colony when the colonize order is finally given). Also, it may be preferable to manually load population if a specific race is desired (see next section for details).
The bottom line here is:
- if you create a colony ship in one of your sectors and know that you will order it to colonize that new planet in the destination sector right away, just issue the Colonize order to it and it will automatically do what it has to (load colonists from an available colony in the current system and fly to the future colony destination to perform its duty)
- if you create a colony ship, but want to roam around with it a bit before deciding what to colonize, load the ship with colonists manually (link needed)
Which Planets to Colonize
In general, it is beneficial for an empire to colonize as many planets as possible, provided they can be defended. In practice, though, several factors may give some planets a higher priority than others. Also, not all planets will be colonizable initially.
A planet may only be colonized by a ship if the ship's coloy component type matches the planet type. For example, a Gas Colony component can only colonize Gas Giant type planets. Similarly, Rock and Ice planets can only be colonized by their respective colony component types. Additional colony component types can be acquired through research or technology exchanges with other empires.
The main system view provides a convenient visual method of letting the player know which plants can be colonized. Planets which appear with a green or red circle above them can be colonized. A green circle denotes a breathable atmosphere (by the player's primary race, but not necessarily by subjugated or migrant populations). A red circle indicates the atmosphere is not breathable by the primary race and therefore the colony will need to be domed. This will reduce the available facility build plots on that particular planet by 75%. As additional colonization technology is acquired (for different planet types), more planets will be indicated as colonizable.
Once it has been determined that a planet is colonizable, there are two other factors which indicate is potential economic value. The first, and possibly most important factor, is potential space for facilities. A colony will be much more valuable if it has lots of buildable space for facilities. Even if the planet has poor resources, the facility space can still be used for research or intelligence operations - which are at least as important as economic resources. The second factor is potential resource generation.
So how much potential facility space can a planet have? This is determined by planet size (Tiny, Small, Medium, Large, Huge) and atmosphere type. The most important of these factors is usually atmosphere. If the planet does not have a breathable atmosphere then the colony must be domed, which reduces the available facility space by 75%.
Important Note: Although initially an empire will only have one race available to it, more races may be added later either through migration or conquest. These new races can improve an empire's facility space on both new and existing colonies, if they breathe a different atmosphere type. Colonies which were previously domed can be turned into undomed colonies (increasing facility space by 4x) by removing the old population and importing a new race which can breathe the atmosphere. Similarly, new colonies can be created with different races on planets which are not breathable by an empire's primary race.
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