Trade was the lifeblood of Europe in the time of Europa Universalis, and the developers took a lot of time and effort to simulate that fact through an intricate system of trade goods, Centers of Trade (CoT), and merchants to compete for the wealth of nations. This may all seem a little intimidating, especially to the new player, but with practice and persistence, the system can be mastered and dominated by the player.
Trade is especially important for the strategy of smaller nations that have less tax revenue. The smaller the nation, the larger percentage of income its trade will represent. It is possible to be a one - province nation and dominate every Center of Trade in the known world.
The Mechanics of the Trade System
Every province in the game produces some sort of trade good, be it fish, furs, grain, wine, wool, linen, iron, copper, gold, tea, coffee, sugar, or slaves. The income from the sale of this good goes not to the coffers of the nation producing it, but to the Center of Trade that the province sends its goods. The total value of the Center of Trade is the sum total value of all the goods sent to it, which can add up to hundreds or thousands of ducats. This is the money up for grabs for the merchants competing for trade there.
The merchants are the engines of commerce. Every country produces a set number of merchants every year, modified by your stability, your nation's slider values, how many centers of trade you own, any Monopolies you have, and whether or not you are at war. They will not do any good in your Merchant Pool, though - you must fund their expeditions to the world's Centers of Trade to compete for the trade passing through them before they can produce wealth for you.
Each Center of Trade has a limited number of 'spaces' that merchants can occupy - merchants occupying a space send a portion of the value of trade back to their home country. If there are free slots at the Center of Trade the merchant is sent to, there is a good chance the merchant will take that space and start sending ducats back, but if there is no free space at the Center of Trade - as is often the case - the merchant will have to compete with another merchant and put them out of business to take their place. Competition is fierce, especially at the wealthiest Centers of Trade, leading to frequent turnovers of merchants in those locations. The more merchants you have placed in a Center of Trade, the more income you will bring home, but the more likely that incoming merchants will be competing with you for space there. At the beginning of the game up to five merchants from one country can be placed in any given Center of Trade - once enough Trade Technology is researched to bring your trade efficiency over 50%, it is possible for you to gain a Monopoly and place a sixth merchant in any Center of Trade where you have five merchants already. This is extremely desirable, as a monopoly makes it much harder for your merchants to be unseated and a monopoly transfers any unclaimed wealth in that Center of Trade into your coffers.
To establish those monopolies and secure your claim to trade as best you can, you must give your merchants the best chance to compete for trade. Maximizing their competitive chances is the subject of the next section.
Stacking the Merchant Deck in your Favor
The higher your chance to compete, the more chance you will place and keep merchants in Centers of Trade around the world. Therefore, any action that you can take to increase that compete chance is desirable as long as its tradeoffs are acceptable to your plans.
The best place to find extra competitiveness is in your policy sliders. There are two sliders in particular that impact trader competitiveness, the Aristocracy/Plutocracy slider and the Mercantilism/Free Trade Slider.
The Aristocracy/Plutocracy slider has to do with whether the titled or the moneyed classes hold more power in your society. Most nations in the game will start with a strong focus on Aristocracy, particularly at the beginning of In Nomine's Grand Campaign, and those nations wanting to become military powers might find it advantageous to maintain that focus for the Aristocracy's positive effects on regiment recruitment costs. Those nations that do not find it as important to have cheaper cavalry and more diplomats, on the other hand, may find it valuable to begin the long stretch towards maximum Plutocracy, because Plutocracy increases your annual merchants, increases trade efficiency, reduces the cost of merchants, and most importantly, increases Merchant Compete Chances by up to 20%.
The Mercantilism/Free Trade Slider has to do with your nation's overall economic policies, whether they focus on keeping money made at home at home (Mercantilism) or bringing in wealth from abroad (Free Trade). This policy slider usually starts in Mercantilism for most nations, but if you wish to seriously pursue a trading strategy, it should not stay there for long. Mercantilism does confer benefits to competitiveness, but only in Centers of Trade you control, and very few nations will have more than one Center of Trade in their own borders. Limiting your ability to compete in most trade centers to retain an advantage in keeping other merchants out of your own makes little sense in most strategies. Almost all Centers of Trade will be 'foreign' Centers of Trade throughout the game, and Free Trade maximizes your ability to compete in them, giving you extra merchants, reducing the cost of sending them, better trade efficiency, and a 25% better chance to compete in foreign Centers of Trade. It may take some time to maximize your Free Trade from a Mercantilist beginning, but the benefits are well worth the effort.
Other possibilities include making decisions that favor merchants and competitiveness over other priorities. The National Idea of Shrewd Commerce Practices gives an extra 10% to your merchants' compete chances as well. It is possible to take this as the first National Idea, gaining a serious advantage in competitiveness early in the game, when everyone else is just as Mercantilist and Aristocratic as you are. Another idea that impacts your chance to compete is National Trade Policy, which increases your Trade Efficiency by 10%, which means your merchants bring home more money, but increases in trade efficiency also add half their value to your compete chances. A serious trading nation will probably pick up both Ideas at some point
Unsurprisingly, investments in Trade Technology also increase your merchant's effectiveness. Every 2% increase in your Trade Efficiency gives 1% to your compete chances, so increasing trade technology slowly but surely increases your competitiveness.
On Trade Agreements
Be very careful with whom you sign Trade Agreements. The advantages are rather dubious, and many players never sign any. Other players advise to keep a single TA, but never more than one.
Trade Agreements are binding treaties between two countries that they will not compete against each other economically. This means your merchants will respect each other's positions and not work to put each other out of business in the Centers of Trade both of you occupy. AI nations tend to start sending Trade Agreement requests to you if you are becoming successful in CoT's where they are trading too.
You will no longer have to compete against the nation you sign an agreement with, which could mean you need to send fewer merchants to maintain your market share. For this reason, your toughest competitor is the best choice for a trade agreement if you want one.
Another reason for signing trade agreements is diplomacy. Successful trade nations tend to get spammed by a lot of requests for Trade Agreement, sometimes many dozen per year. However, once you have signed a trade agreement with anybody, the number of requests will go down considerably. If you take into account that every denied request gives -5 to relations, it becomes clear that not having a TA could become a diplomatic disaster. Small HRE nations might not be able to afford keeping relations up with gifts, and diplomats are limited too. In such a situation, keeping your friends might be worth a slight decrease in trade efficiency.
First of all, once monopolies are enabled, a Trade Agreement with nation X could render you unable to break their monopoly. Also, just having these agreements reduces your trade efficiency slightly, which in turn reduces profits and compete chances.
To put it short, big and rich nations generally have little use for Trade Agreements. It might be a worthwhile trade-off for smaller nations with limited resources or security, however.
Putting your Trade on Autopilot
While some players may want to handle the process of sending merchants, perhaps to focus on trade centers within their culture group (it is somewhat easier to compete within trade centers that are owned by nations within your culture group), or to dominate a particular trade center by flooding it with a stream of five merchants at once, but most players would rather their traders handle their own affairs while they focused on managing diplomacy and waging war. Happily, the developers have included a system that largely automates the process of sending your merchants around to the various Centers of Trade.
To begin automating your trade, turn to your Ledger's page on Centers of Trade. There is a column called Autosend Priority, which sets the priority for each Center of Trade - green being the highest priority, red the lowest, and an 'x' meaning that merchants will not be sent to that Center of Trade automatically, though you can still dispatch them by going to that Center of Trade and sending merchants manually. You click the 'x' in the column of any given Center of Trade to set its priority - this can also be done at the page of the Center of Trade itself. There is a button in the bottom left of the screen labeled 'Autosend Merchants' - clicking this button tells your advisors to dispatch merchants according to those priorities you have set as often as merchants and money are available.
When you delegate your trade policy like this, you will find the AI distributes merchants evenly among the priority levels. If you have set five different Centers of Trade to High Priority and none of them have five merchants in them, your advisors will send one to each rather than five to one. If you wish to dominate Centers of Trade one at a time, it is advisable that you control your trade manually.
Be warned that the autosend has no sense of budgeting, so if your treasury is close to 0 but enough to send a merchant and you run a negative monthly balance, the merchant will get sent and you will run into the negative and be forced to take a loan. You can turn the Autosending off for awhile to accumulate money by going back to the ledger and turning off the Autosend by ticking off the button in the left hand corner of the CoT ledger page. You can start them off again at any time just by enabling the Autosend again. The beauty of this system is that your previously set priorities are preserved.
If you choose to automate your trade, remember to check the Center of Trade Ledger from time to time to add priorities for new Centers of Trade you discover and adjust the priorities of the other Centers of Trade as their values increase and decrease. You may find it helpful to make sure the game notifies you with a popup when a new Center of Trade opens anywhere you know about.
Best of luck in pursuing Merchantile Domination!
HTTT: Trade Leagues and Trade Rights
Heir to the Throne adds two new wrinkles to trading: Trade leagues (run by Merchant Republics) and Trade Rights. Using both (from inside or outside a league) can add quite a bit of strategic depth to trading.
Each Merchant Republic is the head of a Trade League, that has several advantages and disadvantages:
- League members do not compete with each other in league CoTs.
- The provinces of League members are much more likely to trade in league CoTs.
- League members increase relations with other league members by 1.2/year
- League members may not create a CoT.
- League members may not accept trade rights from other leagues (but existing ones remain).
The advantages to join a trade league are that you have some control over where your provinces trade, you can join or leave a league to keep province from trading in an enemy's CoT, and to have a CoT where you can trade with less competition.
The disadvantages to joining are that you can't create new CoT's, and you can't compete everyone out of your owned CoT's to get 20 merchants, since you'll have league members you can't throw out.
Trade rights complement trade leagues, by allowing a merchant republic to secure resources that might otherwise not trade in their league. For example, the Hansa can ask Milan for Cloth rights, even though Milan is right next to Venice. If Milan accepts, that cloth will trade in the closest league CoT, depriving Venice of income and funnelling it to the Hansa.
Trade rights are specific to one good, and you can only pick one good per country, so pick the highest value/most numerous good.
AI and Trade Leagues/Rights
The AI will join a trade league based on distance to a league CoT vs. any other nearby CoT, whether they own a CoT, and their relations. Nations that own a CoT will almost never join a league, and nations will leave when relations drop (especially large drops due to war, conversion, or excommunication).
The AI accepts trade rights based on relations - you can easily get trade rights where you could not get someone in a league.
AI Merchant Republics are quick to secure trade league compacts and trade rights.
Player-run Merchant Republics
Merchant Republics should focus on locking up as many nations in their trade league as possible first, and then grabbing trade rights from as many nations as possible. In addition, any chance to grab a CoT and expand the league's footprint is a good thing, because every nation you lock up in the trade league will not create a new CoT. Be fast - if a new nation is released or revolts, the other AI merchant republics will quickly snatch them up. Same thing if a nation leaves a trade league - the other leagues will swoop in.
If you dominate trade in a commodity, you gain a specific bonus which you can gain for each commodity. In order to gain the trade from a commodity, you must participate in a CoT with at least 2 merchants. Now if you put a CoT on low priority (yellow setting) then it will only send a maximum of 2 merchants to that CoT, you can do this to minimize your costs to get the resource bonus.