I love the idea of government types in Stellaris. Encountering an empire which describes itself as a ‘Science Directorate’ is extremely evocative of the kind of society you’re dealing with. They add immensely Stellaris’ randomly generated AI opponents, ensuring you won’t face exactly the same threat twice. For the player, though, the choice is a neat way to give your empire a bit of identity, but the differences in government structure are too minor and governments in the same group too similar to really make you switch up your playstyle. In this post, I’ve gone through each government type and suggested ways they could be made more distinctive. I haven’t added or subtracted from the existing set, and I haven’t addressed the ‘effects’ of government types (for instance +20% naval capacity and -5% ship upkeep for military dictatorships) because I haven’t played enough of the game to venture to rebalance these. Some government types work as well as they can without major changes to the game: I’ve noted their name and given their in-game description nonetheless, but left them without comment.
This government is a militaristic form of autocracy, with the ruler serving as the undisputed head of the military which is firmly in control of the state apparatus.
As it stands, dictators (called grand marshals) are elected for life from among your admirals and generals. I really admire Stellaris’ commitment to making characters unique individuals who might have personal stories you’ll want to share: that admiral who singlehandedly crushed your rival’s fleet missing out to leadership after a long career is fantastic. However, the fact that the death of the grand marshal prompts an election to decide this is baffling. A more fitting system which retains the simplicity of the once in a lifetime elections would be the elevation of the general or admiral with the highest skill at the time of your previous ruler’s death to grand marshal. In the event of a tie the ruler could be randomly chosen, or the result could be decided by the player at the cost of influence. I really like this idea primarily since it encourages players to identify with particular characters: if there’s a general they like, they might try and involve her in as many battles as possible to boost her to heir.
The only complication to this scheme is that the ruler changes when the player loses a war. It’s easy to imagine a grand marshal’s authority being fatally compromised by an embarrassing peace, bolstering the individuality of the government type. Also, it more clearly ties together domestic and foreign concerns. The player might even deliberately lose a war to get rid of a bad ruler.
This government is a spiritualistic form of autocracy, where the ruler is treated as a divine symbol. Organized religion is widely employed in support of the state apparatus.
This government is a materialistic form of autocracy, where citizens are viewed as little more than cogs in the state machinery. Efficiency and technological progress are valued above all things.
I’m surprised by the inclusion of this government form in Stellaris. Every government type in the game has a single leader governing an empire – all that varies is the length of their reign. It’s hard to say what to change here short of introducing some kind of committee rule which the developers have thus far avoided implementing, and which obviously throws up new difficulties. Short of that, however, have the position of Overlord (and that title should really be something less boring) rotate between your governors every 40-50 years, which suits the notion that the state assigns a particular class to rule the empire.
This government is a pacifistic form of autocracy, where the ruler is viewed as an enlightened protector that always acts in the best interests of the citizenry.
This government works basically as you’d expect it to, but it’s oddly described as ‘pacifistic’ and available only with the pacifist trait. This could be reflected in game by making the king or queen abdicate in favour of their heir if your empire declares war.
To build the special royal gardens structure players would have to stay at peace for a decade, or at least not declare war.
This government is a relatively pure form of autocracy, with an absolute ruler that governs the state with an iron gripping appendage.
This government is a militaristic form of oligarchy, where power rests with a council of high-ranking military officers who oversee all matters of state.
Much like the military dictatorship, it’s strange to involve elections in the ruler selection here at all. I favour the same solution as for the ‘Despotic Hegemony’ government form: namely the position of Archon rotates between your generals and admirals after a fixed period of time – say ten years. It works well here since the flavour text specifically notes the junta rule jointly on a council.
It would be important to clearly flag when a change is coming and who is next in line so players don’t enter a battle shocked that there’s now no admiral in their fleet or that the former admiral was exchanged with the former Archon without their knowing.
This government is a spiritualistic form of oligarchy, where a divinely guided council made up of clergy controls the state. No division exists between the state and the dominant organized religion.
This works about as well as it can since there’s no dedicated leader pool of clerics even in spiritualist empires. If religion features prominently in any expansion it might be easier to revise.
This government is a materialist form of oligarchy, where a committee of scientists supervises the government apparatus for maximum efficiency.
This was the government type I picked first. There’s something appealingly space-y about ‘government by experts,’ and there’s no better story than when the scientist you’ve assigned to a science vessel in the middle of nowhere is suddenly elevated to Director. However, this is another case where the excellent flavour text (specifically: ‘a committee of scientists supervises the government apparatus for maximum efficiency’) is in reality a generic election with a limited pool of candidates.
To more closely reflect the flavour text, it would be great if the position of director was awarded to the scientist in your empire with the highest skill. In the event of a tie it could simply be randomized. The current election cycle of 40-50 years could stay as-is, but to reflect the fact that this is not, in fact, an election it might be titled ‘Directorial Review’ or ‘Performance Assessment.’
This government is a pacifist form of oligarchy, where a complicated system of bureaucracy governs all aspects of society to ensure the safety of the citizenry.
This is another strange inclusion in Stellaris, since the fiction doesn’t fit the one leader per empire model. Again, the ideal would be to introduce a mechanic whereby an empire can be governed by committee. In default of that it could remain as-is with governors, prior rulers and faction leaders as candidates for election every 40-50 years but with an additional twist to reflect the ‘peaceful’ part of its name. Namely, an election would be called every time your empire declares war and if you didn’t declare war for 40-50 years the normal cycle would prompt an election.
This is a plutocratic form of oligarchy, ruled by a wealthy elite. A citizen’s personal wealth translates directly into political power.
This one is a really great idea the game simply isn’t equipped to reflect. There is nothing plutocratic about this oligarchy, which functions exactly the same as a peaceful bureaucracy. So how about this: elections would take place, but only governors are eligible. The four candidates are taken from the governors of your four richest sectors (or planets before you’ve created a sector). Richest here would simply mean the sectors or planets with the highest number of minerals produced per month.
Obviously, this would be easy to exploit: as an election looms, you un-assign all but the one governor you want to become executive. However, Stellaris already guards against this since the elections could happen at any point in a ten year period. To further ensure players don’t exploit this, any election with fewer than four candidates could incur a temporary malus to energy credit and mineral production.
This government is a militaristic form of democracy, where full citizenship can only be gained through military service. The voting franchise is limited to full citizens, and they are the only ones allowed to hold public offices.
This government is a spiritualistic form of democracy, where a religious council supervises the democratic process and serves in an advisory role.
Much like the theocratic oligarchy, this government form isn’t great but really requires a pool of clerics as leaders to change.
This government is a materialistic form of democracy, where citizens use computer networks to vote directly on most matters regarding the state.
This government form is the brimming with unfulfilled promise. It is criminal that this functions exactly like indirect democracy when the flavour text suggests it’s almost the opposite. Once again, Stellaris isn’t well suited to this government type without a committee government. However, it would be improved at least by even shorter election cycles (obviously with less demanding mandates which provide less substantial influence bonuses).
In keeping with the text which suggests a high level of citizen participation, disqualifying all your existing leaders from candidacy would be an excellent addition too.
This government is a pacifistic form of democracy, firmly guided by moralist principles and non-violence.
As with enlightened monarchy and peaceful bureaucracy there is no connection between the pacifist trait and this government type at present. Predictably, I think election should be called when the player declares war.
Since it would be easy to exploit the mandate system in this way to gain influence, an easy fix would be to give leaders elected in this way no mandate. When five years pass there is of course an election as normal with the usual mandates.
This government is an indirect democracy, where citizens vote on officials who are elected to represent them.