I am working on a space game that allows players to participate in the human colonization of a distant star cluster. I could use some help determining what sort of numbers I should have aboard the initial colonization landing craft.

The goal is to have a significant enough population in the game so the population of a sector isn't decimated in a single fleet battle (as fleet-command is a large aspect of the game), but little enough time to have passed that, while some factions are already established at the start of the game, the player still feels capable of being a competing pioneer in the new frontier.

The colonization process involves 4 types of craft: Mothership, Expedition, Landing, and Pigeon.

A few setup conditions: The mothership is an FTL sleeper ship, piloted by an AI supercomputer that travels much like the Destiny in SGU, using robotic drones for everything from maintenance to scouting nearby potentially habitable star systems in the path ahead. Human tech is advanced enough that they will be technological peers to "most" of the aliens they encounter in their new home. They don't always have the same tech, but their level of advancement is comparable. At least 25% of the colonists on each landing craft(100% of each command crew) are "best and brightest" types who were recruited in their mid teens and spent a decade in rigorous preparation for leading the colonization effort. Also, all colonists were screened for fertility, agreed to mandatory reproduction during "establishment phase" of the colony, met prerequisites for contribution and knowledge, and underwent an abbreviated version of the elite colonist training, focusing on survival and redundancy in vital skill sets.

The colonization process: After the mothership has reached a minimum distance from known human space and located a cluster with multiple probable targets for colonization, it positions itself in a central section of space and divides local space into 8 radial "sectors", each with several high-probability worlds for colonization. It then wakes the command crew of 2 of its 12 expedition craft, advises them in selecting target worlds, and launches each into one of the sectors with the best prospects for colonization.

Upon reaching their target world, the expedition craft breaks into 3 landing craft, a remnant orbital station (ROS), and a pigeon transport craft(largely consisting of the expedition craft's ftl drive and basic maneuvering thrusters). The command crew selects 3 geographically separate sites on the target planet and launches a landing craft toward each colony site. Each landing craft is piloted by 25% of the command crew, while the last 25% remain on the ROS to coordinate the colony effort (it has a small shuttle).

Landing craft land permanently and,in addition to the colonists, supplies, and equipment, become the colony's first building, providing shelter, power, and a large leap forward in establishing the colony in the equipment and raw materials it provides.

The "homing pigeon" transports resources and data back to the mothership periodically. This serves to resupply the mothership, provide data and proof of the colony's success, and establish the mothership as a central trade hub for the new human space.

For each expedition craft, the mothership has 2 supplemental shipments. The first is a load of additional supplies and replacements of mission-critical equipment and it is released as soon as the pigeon returns with even a partial load of valuable resources, showing the colony has promise but needs assistance. The second is equipment and data needed to begin building spacecraft and exploring local space, and is released once shipments become regular.

Once at least one of the colonies is confirmed as successful or enough time has passed that both are considered lost, the mothership begins the process again with new sectors selected. A portion of all resources that move through the mothership are claimed by the maintenance drones as they maintain the station, apply tech upgrades, and rebuild replacement expedition craft, eventually enabling the mothership to be restocked with colonists and launched in a new direction.

At the point the game begins, the first pair of colonies have (after each having their own complications) been successful, and one of the second wave also succeeded. One of the second wave colonies fell out of contact, as did a replacement craft sent to an adjacent sector. The three successful colonies have grown into their own individual factions (controlling several systems each at this point, 100-200 years after arrival), with the AI mothership serving as a neutral trading hub. The player(s) begin on the station as the 3rd wave of colonists is wakened, either as part of the wave or faction-aligned humans from one of the 3 existing factions.

*I initially was thinking 5k people/landing craft, which would work for colonization, but not for the fun factor of having a populated but still wild and untamed space for the player to enjoy.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I have played various version of colonization games. I have never taken the population number seriously, but I never remember controlling 5000 pop at the beginning of the game. A single one was sufficient to set up a village and even to multiplicate! $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Sep 1, 2019 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ This isn't that kind of game. For a realistic colony, you need 5k or more people, not just for a stable gene pool, but a large enough work force to avoid starting from scratch in technology and manufacturing. The tri-landing colony helps avoid unforseen disasters from wiping out a burgeoning colony. Likewise, other redundancies are built into the process: the resupply shipment, waves of 2, 12 expedition craft for 8 sectors, etc. $\endgroup$
    – HA Harvey
    Sep 1, 2019 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ To clarify, the game's focus is more on the ships and crew than the colonies. But for story/backdrop purposes, I want the numbers to make sense, especially so that crewing a capital ship to defend the player's new colony won't doom it anyway. $\endgroup$
    – HA Harvey
    Sep 1, 2019 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ Well, you can just make it so that ship has AI combat assisstance so that it only needs some 100 people to crew it for defence. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2019 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ That will be a researchable option that players can design into their ships, but not without its own risks (think the remake of BSG). $\endgroup$
    – HA Harvey
    Sep 1, 2019 at 19:40

1 Answer 1


Finesse population.

I am struck by /a significant enough population in the game so the population of a sector isn't decimated in a single fleet battle /

If a consequence of a fleet battle is deaths on the planet surface (!), I do not think a population of 5000 will be instrisically more resistant than a population of 500,000 as regards this sort of death from interplanetary space.

Also (and maybe it is my prejudice) I suspect that there is a set of people who will revel in speculating on long term effects of inbreeding and optimal colony makeup, and a set of people who enjoy commanding fleets and exploring planets. You want to serve the latter.

So by fiat: your colony ships can establish colonies. Kind of like building a city in Sim City. Adequate people are there: you can describe them as thriving and so progressing towards your goal of restocking a new colony ship. Or maybe struggling in which case they need to attend more to their own affairs.

It is easy to get lost in the weeds of numbers for a project like this. In a game of this sort I think you will be better served by qualitative rather than quantitative descriptors.

  • $\begingroup$ The decimating the local populace comment was meaning that the losses of numbers of crew on the ships lost would amount to a devastating percentage of the population. We intend to have "encyclopedia entries" that can be collected that explain much of the world in more depth than the core story covers. I don't know about you, but I love being able to delve deeper into the game world (like the thousands of encyclopedia entries you could get in mass effect). $\endgroup$
    – HA Harvey
    Sep 1, 2019 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ I also want the population to be robust enough that A) the player doesn't feel like they're floating through a ghost town, and B) it makes sense for the player(s) and multiple npc factions to be drafting/recruiting fleets full of trained flight crew (who should be a fairly small percentage of the population). $\endgroup$
    – HA Harvey
    Sep 1, 2019 at 19:44

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .