The pages about Growing your population and Feeding your people mentioned the part that Freighters play in these activities. Now's a good time to pull together all the information about Freighters and to present some tips on managing them.
Note: even if you usually play as a Lithovore, you need to read this page!
Freighters have 2 functions:
- Moving food between colonies. 1 Freighter can carry 1 unit of food. Food transfers are instantaneous, but the operating cost is 0.5 BC per Freighter per turn in which food is transferred.
- Moving people between colonies. You need 5 Freighters to move 1 "person" (each "person" icon represents 1M colonists). Unlike food transfers, population transfers take a non-zero time that depends on your level of drive technology and the distance between colonies.
For example the upgrade from Nuclear Drive (1 parsec per turn) to Fusion Drive (2 parsec per turn) halves the time for most transfers. Each Freighter used for population transfer costs 0.5 BC per turn while in flight; that's 2.5 BC per "person" transferred per turn until they arrive, and people don't pay any tax while in transit (they're in suspended animation).
The operation of freighters is invisible - you give them an order and they just do it, without appearing on the Galaxy screen (or any other). That means that you can't change their orders while they're in flight.
In Pre-warp starts everybody gets Freighters very quickly: they're at the lowest level of the Power tech tree (50 RP) and very cheap - a "fleet" of 5 Freighters costs only 50 PP. Although they're built in packages of 5, Freighters operate as individual ships when transferring food. Freighters is a part of a "general" tech level - all players get all the techs in that level, even the Uncreatives.
In Average and Advanced starts all players have the Freighters technology, but still have to build them.
Watch your finances
Transferring population can be expensive for a young empire because its ships will be slow, moving each "person" costs 2.5 BC per turn until arrival, and people in transit don't pay taxes. Money matters explains some techniques that might help, but it's best not to let your money get so tight.
Effects of blockade
Just 1 puny warship can blockade a system, preventing Freighter movements into and out of the system.
If you transfer population to another system and that system is blockaded when the Freighters arrive, the people in transit die. Try to avoid transfers to systems that are at risk of being blockaded: there are often safer destinations; even if there are not, at least you don't waste the cash spent on the transfer.
The disruption of freighter movements also prevents transfers of food to or from the blockaded system. In the worst case one of your "breadbasket" colonies is blockaded and you get food shortages there (because farming productivity is halved while the blockade lasts) and at the colonies that depend on its food exports.
Keep spare freighters
Freighters are cheap to build and cost no maintenance while inactive, so it's silly to run short of them. And the consequences of running short can be severe for a young empire. Suppose for example you decide to transfer 2 "people" between systems and the transfer takes 3 turns (often the minimum time in the early game). During the 3 turns the population of a no-farming colony may grow and, if all your freighters are tied up in the population transfer, the starving colony's population will not grow. If several no-farming colonies grow in the same turn, the shortage may be enough to kill some colonists. Even worse, you can't control which colonies suffer the worst: the game software decides that. Too bad if starvation hits a Housing colony that you're relying on to pump up your population.
The main screen has a panel at the bottom right that tells you how may Freighters you have altogether and how many are available for new tasks.
Increase your freighter fleet before invading
Pay attention, you Lithovores, or you'll get a nasty shock when you go conquering! You too, Unifications and Aquatics; other races usually don't have your farming skills! Creatives had better listen up too: non-Creative empires usually don't have the morale techs you take for granted.
Usually the first colonies you invade are on the edge of an enemy empire, so they're the least developed, and most of your enemies will not be Lithovores, so captured colonists will need to be fed.
The worst case is a huge no-farming planet with a Subterranean or Tolerant but not Lithovore population - that could be 15-20 new mouths to feed, needing 15-20 Freighters.
Even on farmable planets you're quite likely to see food shortages initially:
- They're usually sub-Terran, producing only 1 food per farmer and with no farming upgrades (e.g. Soil Enrichment).
- The population will initially be angry (unless you mind-controlled them) and so unproductive that they don't feed themselves even if you move them all into farming. Newly-invaded colonies have no Barracks (they're destroyed in the ground battle), so if your Government is Feudal or Dictatorship there's an additional loss of morale that reduces farmers' productivity even more. And in any case you will usually want at least some of the conquered colonists to build things, especially an Automated Factory (if not present already), Marine Barracks and (if you researched it) Alien Control Center to get them working productively as fast as possible.
Make sure you have at least 20 spare Freighters before invading (more if you are moving population between your existing colonies), and maintain that safety margin by building additional Freighters as you invade more enemy colonies.