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Is maximum population only relative to food production

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

I am working on a civilization like game, and I want to set a population limit on cities. Originally, I was only considering the amount of potential food production in the area to calculate the maximum population.

But now, I want to detach max population from food production and find other factors that could influence the maximum population of a city. Ideas I have so far:

Land vs Water: Even if water tiles can offer food, land is always preferable because you can actually settle on it. You have much more resources easily available.

Flat vs Rought: Flat lands are easier to build on. It's also faster to move. So maybe flat land gives more max population.

Material or Production: Maybe I could consider also the production capacity or the amount of material available, as it will affect the housing capabilities in the area.

Vegetation: What would be the impact of forest, jungles, or other vegetation on max population? It restict settling there unless you cut it down, but offer wood, food, or other resources.

Temperature: How does heat and cold affect this. People seems to live in the desert without much trouble. Yes there is less food available there.

Do you have other ideas I should consider

Mosker's picture
Joined: 03/30/2014
Volatility, fragility matter?

In which case density might be an issue, especially with regards to infrastructure and disease. As you get more modern, this becomes less of a factor (even now) but think about times of plague--or even a city growing beyond its sewage capacity (Assuming there are any. I'm sure many of the history buffs on this site could feed you books about old London in particular.)

City density can also add other vulnerabilities if the growth is too quick, or there are other weaknesses. Think of fires, again old London but also WWII Tokyo and the effect incendiary bombs had.

Joined: 02/11/2015
Leave it to a Civil Engineer

So advancement in population density has been influenced by several factors over the ages. As a Civil Engineer, my profession contributed a lot in this area. Here are some of the bigger leaps:

1. Starting with the very old was food supply by hunting/gathering. Rainforests/wetlands generally provided the most resources for the least effort (fresh water and abundant food), which is why the earliest civs developed along rivers. We are still discovering new archeological sites of towns and villages in the Sahara Desert. It was once a dense Jungle before it went through a desertification process. Aztec and Mayan built cities supporting 1000s in the Jungles due to abundance of food. Grasslands usually consisted of larger game as the major source of food. As such, these people remained more nomadic, following their prey. This limited growth as they had to expend more energy to move with their food source. Tribes across North America are great examples. Desert nomads are an even more extreme case of this as food is more scarce. Similar for mountain and tundra. Climate is integrated into this.

2. Obviously farming allowed for expansion. Irrigation improved on that. And so did domestication of animals.

3. Architecture provided another boost in several eras. As people could remain in an area for generations, advances in how structures were built meant less time/energy spent building more reliable and protective structures.

4. Building advancement allowed more time for the development of trade and markets. Currency became a necessity to facilitate markets. Optimization of people's work allowed more to be produced and caused rapid growth in economic hubs. The concept of private ownership meant more wealth. More wealth meant more desires to protect what was built.

5. Transportation was also a big contributing factor, improving the delivery of goods to market and inter-civ trading. Architecture, Markets and Transportation all feed into a positive feed loop for city/population growth. Many advancements have come out of these three and have spurred most of the major growth periods.

6.a The next limiting factor was sanitation. As density increased, so did disease (more people living in their own sewage and tainting their fresh water supplies). Doctors helped some with medicine, but the invention of sewers was the real advancement. (I design sewers for a living, so I can say my profession has saved more lives than any other throughout history. It's the most important work you'll hopefully never see.) Sanitation allows the the positive feedback loop trio mentioned above to continue to even today.

6.b The medical field has extended life. While this doesn't directly increase birth rate, it has increased survivabilty to reproductive age (which over time has reduced birth rates, among other factors). It also means people live many more years beyond their reproductive years. While not a major contributor to population growth, this has lead to increased population density. Because both sanitation and medical deal with the limiting factor of disease, I paired them. (I save more lives than doctors and they still get paid 4 to 6 times what we Civils make.) Along these lines, as with recent events, a pandemic would limit/discourage growth.

7. As mentioned in 4, safety is also critical to growth. Fire, EMS and police provide modern safety to facilitate the modern growth feedback loop.

8. Energy is the latest growth booster. Now that we are in the middle of an technological era explosion, energy has become the next limiting factor. Generating, storing and optimizing the use of energy is what is going to get us back into the positive growth loop again. I won't dive into the challenges, but each potential source has major hurdles to overcome. However, if we do overcome this hurdle, food may once again become a problem, as the planet can only support so much. Hopefully hydroponics will make headway.

9. Space (both in the sense of limited livable area and expanding onto the moon and/or other planets) is my guess as to the next major limiting factor.

10. Lastly, politics often plays a role. I won't get into details, but there are ample examples of social and economic policy that lead to mass starvation, oppression of a people and/or technological stagnation, all of which limit, stop or reverse growth. Governments typically have their hooks in the growth trio and safety. Now increasingly in medical.

While I don't know if this has been a limiting factor, but war (or the threat thereof) may discourage density growth. Don't want all your eggs in one basket getting cooked with nukes. Also, as shown with boomers, growth can explode immediately after the end of one.

I say leave it to Civil Engineers in my title because they are an integral part in areas of architecture, market (private ownership of land/buildings), transportation, sanitation and energy infrastructure. And we will be critical in solving the limited space/expansion into space issue. If I missed anything, please feel free to expand.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Very interesting post. What

Very interesting post. What you are describing match almost all civilization game tech advancement.

I made some simple tests of city max pop output.

- A city area is radius 2 hex, for a total count of 19 hexes
- Water around the land have at least 1 shoal hex.
- The max population range should be around 5 and 25
- Shoals will give 0.5 population
- Ocean gives nothing.
- Flat lands: Plains and Swamp: Will give 2 population
- Rough Lands: Hills and mountains: Will give 1 population.
- having access to at least 1 water hex or a river gives +2 max pop
- Capital cities gain 2 or 3 max pop
- maybe population will be round up.

Here are some city examples

50% water hex: 4 ocean, 5 shoals (2.5 pop), 5 flat (10 pop) 5 rough(5 pop), access to water(2 pop) = 19.5 pop
tiny island(worst case scenario): 1 rough hex(1 pop), access to water(2 pop),6 shoals(3 pop) = 6 pop
Only land: 9 flat lands (18 pop), 10 rough lands(10 pop) = 28 population but capped at 25.

There is no desert terrain yet, and forest can be placed above hills and plains(less food more prod). So following the logic above deserts and forest plains will both give 2 max pop, but those tile still gives food, so growth will be harder.

I was not sure about transporting food. Probably surplus food could be redistributed within your empire. But it will not affect max pop, but rather growth speed.


Originally, I only used base food production and divided by 2. But that made food have a use which was not the case for production.

I could optionally combine both system. Add up max pop from 1 system and from the other then divide by 2. This will make food production pull max pop up or down.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013

What if one of the shores can be upgraded to a harbor. And then can give more population through fishing?

Joined: 02/11/2015
Fishing didn't play as big a role

@X3M - Usually coast line was limited to fishing villages due to lack of fresh water. Major hubs typically occurred upstream of the ocean along rivers (often at splits in the river) to facilitate commerce and maintain the water supply. It's not until fairly recent (relatively speaking, early 1800s) that coastal cities boomed due to advancement in transportation and storage of fresh water. LA still overpopulated based on their reservoir capacity. But that does bring a market category point, Tourism causes growth. More wealth, more options to fulfill needs.

@larienna - Yea, I like the Civ games. They do a fairly decent job of reflecting many real world advancements and how it impacted societies. I actually got the Politics one from the Brave New World expansion. They don't do transportation well in that game and completely overlook sewers, but hey, can't make everyone happy.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
note: It's for a fantasy

note: It's for a fantasy medieval game, so tech is not an option here.

What if one of the shores can be upgraded to a harbor. And then can give more population through fishing?

Both ocean and shoals will produce food, but only shoal will be "habitable". But if you play lizard mens, shoals become good habitable tiles compared to non aquatic races.

Again I want to separate the food production from max population.

One BGG, after some discussion, there was an idea of separating the city location for max population (space available) from the surroundings of the city for food production.

For example, the Center hex, and maybethe radius 1 hex of the city affect the maximum population. While the 2 hex radius would count for food production.

It's just that I am not sure what does it really brings from a mechanical point of view. Is there really an advantage to make a separation there. Or just make the whole city capture area define the max pop.

Another discussed idea was the impact of trade routes, especially sea trade, on food production. I could make each trade route "create" food for the city (ex: each trade route gives you 1 food). It would be easy to implement, but would be illogical as if you gain food from somewhere else, that somewhere else should lose food. Or I could try to distribute food surplus among cities in the empire. It will be very complicated to implement, but would be more logical.

What do you think

Joined: 02/11/2015
Tile improvements

Can you use a marker for the rings around the center tile to indicate farm (to sustain/grow a population) and improvements (to raise the cap population)?

For example, the city starts with a cap pop based on the individual tile it's placed on (say 3 as a start for basic terrain, 4 for jungle and/or river, 2 for mountain or rough terrain). The city starts food based on the natural tile yeild.
Then the surrounding tiles get improved to by farms or other. 2 food (or whatever it comes out to be) per turn per population needed to sustain current, plus excess food can be used to grow new population. The max population would be dictated by other improvements.

Terrain would effect the cost of the improvement or the yield of the farm.

You could have a farm be turned into an improvements as you approach the max cap.

As for the trade routes, more fishing does become common place. Ocean trade routes are typically protected with a navy. This protection allows fishing boats to explore further out to sea with less fear of pirates. What if you have the coastline tiles in the city territory produce 1 food naturally, then when a trade route is established, Coast gets 2 within city limits and 1 on non-coastal. Historically, look at the Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean and South China Sea. As trade increased and the need for a navy came about, the fishing increased. Of course navies also lead to privateers which are government sanctioned pirates whos existence gets denied if caught.

Tim Edwards
Joined: 07/30/2015
Disease and pests? I'm

Disease and pests?

I'm thinking specifically of the real-world tsetse fly which might have had a significant impact on the growth and development of populations.

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