What Happened to Empire Sprawl in Stellaris?


Empire sprawl was something most players basically ignored. If you could “out produce” the penalties and had some Bureaucrats to reduce sprawl the penalties could be more than offset. But now that Empire Sprawl has been changed to Empire Size is that still true?

“Outpacing” the penalties through rapid research and growth are still the best ways to combat Empire Size. Choosing the right Ethics, Civics, Government Type and Species traits still plays a significant role in reducing Empire Size as well.

Stellaris Empire Sprawl

Empire Sprawl was determined by the number of Districts, Systems, Sectors, Colonies and Pops in your empire. Administrative Capacity was used to help reduce the effects of Empire Sprawl. Empires typically started with a base number of 30 with certain Civics, Governments, Traits, Ethics and Pop jobs being used to help offset the penalties incurred by Empire Sprawl. Things that were penalized when Empire Sprawl was greater than Administrative Capacity were the cost of Technological research, Tradition adoption cost and Campaign costs (typically Edicts costing Energy to use). With the recent 3.3 Libra update Administrative Capacity was removed and Empire Sprawl has been changed to Empire Size.

Stellaris Empire size

Empire Size is basically the same as Empire Sprawl. It’s still based on the number of districts, systems, Colonies, Sectors and Pops in your empire. Technological research, Tradition Adaption costs, Edicts and Campaigns are still penalized, the larger the empire size the bigger the penalties.

Part of the offset to size (sprawl) penalties were Bureaucrats. They have now been reassigned to an Administrator category and now produce Unity instead. So how are the penalties offset for Empire Size?

Most empire size is a result of the pops in an empire but it’s best to deal with all aspects of Empire size at the beginning of a game if that’s your main concern. Choosing the correct Ethics, Species Traits, Civics and Government types to reduce Empire Size is one approach. Most of these can be changed, like Ethics, during the game but at great expense.

A Stellaris Ethic Reducing Empire Size

For the Humanoid, Machine and Hive Mind empires the Pacifist and Fanatic version of the Pacifist Ethic both reduce empire size from Pops. The fanatic version reduces Empire Size from Pops by 30%. It also provides an increased stability of 10 and costs 2 Ethics points. The regular version’s effects are halved. It gives a 15% reduction in Empire Size due to Pops, an increased stability of 5 and it costs 1 Ethic point.

Stellaris Government Types Reducing Empire Size

One government type (Authority) that reduces Empire Size is Dictatorial. It reduces Empire size effects by 10%. It’s only available to Humanoid empires.

A Hive Mind reduces Empire Size effects by 25% but that is somewhat offset by its 25% increase in Pop growth. Since this is generally where most Empire Size comes from the 25% modifier for Empire Size is reduced to some degree.

Machine Intelligence reduces Empire Size from Pops by 15% and that effect is further enhanced by a 50% reduction in Pop growth (if reducing Empire Size is your main focus). These effects are offset by a 50% increase in Empire size due to planets.

A Stellaris Trait Reducing Empire Size

The Docile trait has one effect only, it reduces Empire Size due to Pops by 10% and it costs 2 points. This trait is available to all three basic empire types, Humanoid, Machine and Hive Mind.

Stellaris Civics

The Beacon of Liberty Civic gives a 15% reduction in Empire Size due to Pops plus it gives a 15% bump in monthly Unity production. It’s only available to Humanoid empires.

For Machine Empires the OTA Update Civic reduces Empire Size by 20% for Pops.

For Hive Minds the Divided Attention Civic provides a 50% reduction in Empire Size due to planets.

Planetary Ascension

Planetary Ascension is something relatively new and it can reduce Empire Size as well. By using Unity you can upgrade your planets to higher Ascension tiers for a high cost of Unity. Raising a planet to tier 1 reduces that planet’s effect on Empire Size by 5%. Whatever your Planetary Designation is the effects of that are increased by 25%. The number of Ascension tiers available depends on how many Ascension Perks your empire has unlocked. If all Ascension Perks are unlocked then the cap is increased by 4.

Upgrading to tier 2 increases Planetary Designation effects by 50% and the Empire Size increase caused by that planet is reduced by 50%.

What’s the Best Way To Deal With Stellaris Empire Size?

One of the main things that has been changed is Administrative offices when it comes to Empire Size. Prior to the 3.3 update these offices produced Bureaucratic jobs that helped reduce Empire Sprawl (Size). Now Bureaucrats produce Unity instead so that option no longer exists. Prior to the removal of Administrative Capacity that also meant, among other things, choosing the right ethics and government types. A Pacifist ethic for all empires or the Divided Attention civic for a Hive Mind was effective and that’s still true for the game as it exists today.

Despite the removal of Administrative Capacity the majority of players agree that most of the basic strategies still work. “Outpacing” the penalties of Empire size is usually the most accepted and effective approach, which is a strategy I always employ for countering effects of Empire Size. Using this strategy means that taking options that reduce Empire Size when they become available, like the Rare technology of psionics (reduces Empire Size from Pops by 10%), should be done.

With the increased importance of Unity in the game and the lack of Bureaucrats reducing Empire Size Unity producing buildings become more important plus increasing Research capacity is a little more relevant. This allows for better production and reduced costs in the game and by increasing these by more than the penalties increase, you can stay ahead of the curve and “outpace” the penalties, so your empire doesn’t suffer from the full effects of the penalties, although they can never be completely removed as your empire gets bigger.

Specializing planets in areas where you are weak is another good path to follow.

One more drastic approach is to vassalize under performing planets and systems. With the new 3.4 patch and the Overlord expansion that option becomes an even more attractive option.

Traditions and Ascension Perks are also still effective at reducing Empire size.

Rich Gallien

I've always liked board games like chess and PC games, especially space based strategy games, which lead to the creation of this site. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it and updating it with new games!

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