I copy below the relevant part of a thread at the G+ site, to make sure that @JayKyburz sees it and to invite comment from the community. The objective of the proposed vassalage system is to give incentive for weaker players to keep playing, rather than quit or go AFK.
Jul 7, 2014
How about a proper lord/vassal arrangement, whereby a weaker empire gains privileged access to trading, and maybe guaranteed cash flow, and in exchange the lord gets maybe 50% of the credit for the stars in the vassal’s empire toward the lord’s star count. Perhaps also increase the win condition for the 64 games to 50%. The vassal reserves the right to declare independence any time he chooses. Perhaps it is only under these conditions that two empires can trade without being in scan range.
This way a clever vassal (especially one with some distance between him and his lord) can declare independence right before his lord wins, and maybe declare vassalage with another strong player. Wash, rinse, repeat, and the game goes on forever!
Jul 7, 2014
While I agree that some form of asymmetric alliance option would be good, such as your proposed lords and vassals system, I think that it shouldn’t allow a player to essentially “snipe” another’s victory as it would discourage the use of vassals at all. Maybe a system where vassals gain protection and some shared tech in return for economic or ship based tax? The exact terms should be laid out in an in game “contract” written by the Lord and agreed by the Vassals, so the stipulations can vary from situation to situation. This could include:
Tax to be paid, type of tax (credits or ships), length of contract, protection offered, scanning shared, planets surrendered and research shared.
This could allow a player to beat another into surrender such that they give up a lot of their empire and in return have a chance to make a later comeback.
Sorry that turned into a wall of text, really caught my imagination half way through!
Jul 7, 2014
I guess where I was going is that a challenger on a leaderboard ought to give up something in order to get the starcount, so he would be subsidizing a vassal instead of extracting resources (which would be admittedly be more typical). The incentive structure is designed to keep weaker players in the game, rather than quitting or ceding stars to their buddies. You’d want to give the vassals a chance to place, and the only way to do this is to be able to declare independence and realign at some point.
Clearly a leader, who thinks he can win without the help, wouldn’t use a vassal except to attempt to sew it up quickly.
Jul 7, 2014
I think there’s definitely some potential in the lord-vassal mechanic being discussed here. A player who has fallen too behind could become a vassal of a more powerful player. The incentive for the “lord” would be that the vassal’s stars would count towards his/her total star count, while the incentive for the vassal would be that he/she would place higher than every other player (who was not also a vassal for the same lord). That would give incentive for the vassal to keep playing the game and make smart decisions, but it would also give incentive for non-vassal enemies to try and fully eliminate enemy vassals. This relationship could obey the same rules as existing formal alliances. There might be some abuse cases that would need to be addressed, but I think it would add an interesting facet to the meta.