Time is money. Space is money. Work is money, power is money, knowledge is money. There are planets out there that use coconuts for money, can you believe that? Point being is, everything's money if you can leverage it right. -Anonymous
Ahh, so you want to live a monopolist's dream? Make cash solars hand over fist? Feel like sitting over a spreadsheet a lot? Then Mercantile is the sphere for you. This Sphere lets you trade commodities from planet to planet, building up a business empire in dry goods, precious metals, slaves… whatever you want, as long as the price is right. Play your cards right and keep your spreadsheets updated, and Mercantile will roll you in cash. Play them wrong, or have plague hit at the wrong place at the wrong time, and you can kiss your profits goodbye.
Access your Mercantile Operations screen by clicking the 'Mercantile' link that appears on your HQ page if you are operating within this sphere of activity. This screen displays all your mercantile facilities and trade routes in operation, and allows you to manage these.
Operating within the mercantile sphere involves trading commodities between planets for a profit. Prices of commodities vary between planets based on numerous factors such as the wealth of the planet, the current supply of the commodity and so on. In Imperium Nova there are 16 commodities that may be traded:
The prices of all these commodities on a given planet can be seen by clicking the 'View Trade Prices' link from any planet information panel.
On many planets trade in certain commodities is illegal - these are marked in red on the trade prices list for the planet. If you are caught operating trade routes in restricted commodities, you will receive an Imperial Warning, resulting in loss of status. If a House receives three warnings within a three-month period, the Emperor and Imperial Alliance will receive Feud Score against that House and are bound by the senate to take action - either through negotiating some kind of settlement (usually a hefty fine) or else through more direct means of punishment. The chances of receiving a warning are based both on the number of illegal routes operated, and the policing level for the planets in question. If there is a high police presence then there is a greater chance of your illegal activities being noticed - but note that any illegal route will not be displayed as such on the planet facility screen when others view this. A random legal commodity will be listed instead. See also 'trade route security' below for a means of minimizing your risk of discovery when trading illegal goods.
Before you can set up any trade routes you need to have the facilities in place to operate them. You may build facilities on any planet within your operational range (see Technology). Each commodity you trade will be bought at a facility on one planet and sold at a facility on another planet. Therefore you need two facilities for each trade route you operate. One facility may operate several trade routes however, depending upon the size of that facility. There are three types of mercantile facility:
The actual cost to build any facility is influenced by the distance of the site from your homeworld and the competence of your sphere leader. Maintenance costs are likewise affected by your leader's competence. Also, build and maintenance costs are reduced on poorer planets, and increased on richer worlds, due to differences in labour and materials costs.
Your choice of which size facility to build should be based upon the number of potentially high-profit trade routes (see below) that you feel you can operate from this particular planet. The larger facilities are more expensive to construct initially and require more time to be completed, but are more economical in the long run. You can build multiple mercantile facilities on the same planet if you so desire, and even set up multiple routes in the same commodity, if the price makes it worthwhile.
To build a trade facility, go to your Mercantile Operations screen from your HQ, and click on the 'plus' sign to the right of the Trade Facilities heading. This will open up a new row for you to select the planet and facility type, and name your facility to help distinguish it from others of the same type. Submit the new details by clicking on the green tick at the end of this row. Alternatively, you may go to the planet where you want the facility constructed, click on the 'View Facilities' link, and then use the link in the top right hand corner of the screen to build your facility. Once you have ordered the construction of a facility you must wait for it to be completed, which will take some time. To view the facilities you currently have under construction, you can follow links both from the Mercantile Operations screen and any planet's 'View Facilities' screen. This will also tell you how many game days remain before completion of the facility.
From your Mercantile Operations screen you can also upgrade an existing facility to the next largest type, by clicking the 'upgrade' icon which appears to the left of each facility's type. You can also dismantle a facility using the red cross icon, should you have no further use for this facility. In this case, you will recoup around one third of the original cost of building the facility, once dismantling is complete. A facility must not be operating any trade routes in order for it to be dismantled. Additionally, you can always rename any facility simply by clicking on the existing facility name, which will make it amendable. Submit your new name by clicking the green tick that will appear alongside the input box.
Note that if you click on the planet name of any facility, you will be taken to the planet information panel for that planet, from where you can view the current trade prices.
Once you have facilities in place on two or more planets, you can begin to establish your trade routes. To create a trade route between two facilities, click on the 'plus' sign to the right of the 'Trade Routes Operated' heading on your Mercantile Operations screen. This will open up a new row for you to select the desired details. Note that establishing a trade route costs money - this is in addition to the cost of building the facilities which will operate the route.
You will need to select the 'from' and 'to' facilities by name, together with the commodity to be traded and the security you wish to have in place for this route. Trade Route security will help reduce the effects of piracy should any exist on the planets between which this route is operating. See Space Piracy for further information. Additionally, should you choose to smuggle illegal goods, adding security to your route will reduce the chances of the Imperial Police detecting your activity. When you submit your new route using the green tick icon, you will be prompted to confirm your instruction. Make sure you check the 'Potential Profit' indicator on the confirmation screen. If this is any worse than mediocre you should consider alternative commodities that may be more profitable. Or perhaps you got the 'from' and 'to' facilities the wrong way round? In either case you can always cancel from the confirmation screen and re-examine your options.
The cost to establish a trade route is directly linked to the basic price of the commodity. If you trade in an expensive commodity such as luxuries then the initial cost to set up the route will be higher than if you trade in, say, foodstuffs. Once you confirm the trade route it will take one or two game days before it is up and running and you start to see profits.
Each day, your trade routes will generate an amount of income equal to the difference between the traded commodity's price on the selling world and that of the same commodity on the buying world. If, for example, luxuries are trading at $100.00 on planet A, and $140.00 on planet B, a single trade route in luxuries from planet A to planet B will generate $40.00 per day, or $1600.00 per month. Once the trade route is in place, it will continue to generate income every day, and you can view your accumulated trading income on the Treasury screen. You can also see the income generated by each trade route on your Mercantile Operations screen. From here you can also adjust the security on existing trade routes, if desired.
You must also of course take into account the cost of maintaining your trade facilities (see above), together with their security costs, when examining the profitability of your existing trade routes. All income figures are gross figures, with facility maintenance as a separate cost on the treasury screen.
The trade price when you first set up your trade route is susceptable to change, and this will have a corresponding effect on your profits. If the price on the selling world goes up relative to the price on the buying world your income will go down. Such price changes are gradual where there is little to affect supply. However, each trade route to or from a planet will contribute to increasing or decreasing supply (respectively) on that planet. If many trade routes are all shipping the same commodity to a particular planet, for example, then the market for that commodity will become saturated and the price will drop quickly. The upshot of this is that you must keep a careful eye on your existing routes, and be prepared to terminate some and switch to other commodities when income falls below acceptable levels.
Sudden unexpected events such as drought, famine or plague can also have dramatic short-term effects on trade prices and lead to a 'gold-rush' type scramble to reap profits as demand in certain commodities goes through the roof on the affected planets.
As seen in the Rulebook
Mercantile is generally considered the most work-intensive sphere. Many players have created spreadsheets to automatically calculate price differences across many planets, or make use of the subscriber feature, the Price Comparator (or both).
Each commodity (except for water, food, and medical supplies) has a specific, fixed price increment, ranging from $2 for textiles to $6 for precious metals and narcotics. Each trade route will change the price of the commodity by that amount, on both ends of the route. Creating too many trade routes in the same commodity to or from one planet will raise or lower the price, for exports or imports, respectively - something to keep in mind if you want to maintain a healthy route income.
Mercantile synergizes well with Technology, Geological and Agriculture, for its ability to move surplus goods created. This is less true with technology, since there are rarely circumstances where Hi-Tech Goods prices are above average (higher-than-average prices usually mean a larger house is organizing a monopoly to create a Tech Pyramid). It is commonly used to move surplus Precious Metals or Foodstuffs created from farms and mines to another planet with higher prices; geological is by far the best pairing, given wide price differences in precious metals and occasionally radioactives.
Population and wealth affects all prices.
Each route will raise the price on the exporting planet and lower the price on the importing planet by a certain amount, depending on the good. Be sure to account for this change on both ends when considering adding a route.