Updated: Date, Year
Welcome to the third and possibly the finest make-money socialist-style article in my Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic series, in which I want to expand on all the lovely tips and tricks I've provided you in the magnificent first two guides. This time, we will focus on the ultimate transportation mode - shipping. Like in real life, if you want to move massive cargo, also land masses AKA continents being separated by seas, then you need ships to plow the salty waters. But there's another important reason why you want ships in Workers & Resources. Limited rail connections.
I discussed this problem in my train traffic guide - and you can work around it by using short-loop long-loop rail lines. You ferry cargo from the border to cargo platforms and storage facilities only a short distance away, and then distribute the different goods across your region with trains that never go to customs warehouses. Now, there's another, even better method - ships. But that's not all we're going to discuss here. We'll touch on some other useful aspects of industry, as well. To wit.
Lots and lots and lots
With 300+ hours under me belt in short order, I quickly realized that if you want to be really successful and profitable, you need to produce a lot, and then export all of it. In the first two or three iterations of my gaming, I was somewhat content with having one or two factories of each type, and would not hesitate to import goods. Then I decided, for the next experiment, I will only import cheap bulk, like crops and iron ore, and produce everything else locally.
And that's means a lot of factories! LOOOOOTS!
Specifically, chemicals, plastic, and to some extent fabric and clothes, will be your bottlenecks. Lots of industries depend on the first two, but your typical chemical factory only does about 1.2t of export per game day. This is hardly enough to sustain any one industry, let alone the guzzlers like aluminum and electronics. So you will need more than one. A lot more.
Very soon, I found myself with giant industry zones - three or four steel mills and refineries, five or six nuclear fuel fabrication plants, some 10+ clothes and plastic factories, and then 30-40 chemical plants. The more the merrier. My food industry also humbly started with just one food factory, and even with some rather efficient distribution, I had to add a second and then a third factory. The same goes with meat. One, two, three, more, more, more.
Ships to the rescue
The most efficient way to carry bulk is by using ships. There are many reasons why you'd want to consider ships. First, they are cheaper per ton than any other mode of transportation. A train that can carry ~1,700 tons of cargo costs ~250-300K for the engine and ~40K per car, of which you'd need about 30, which translates to ~1.5M rubles, not counting the rail line and/or any tunnels you need. A cargo ship of similar capacity costs about 1.2M rubles. That's a solid 20% difference. The game offers a variety of vessels, with a sweet-spot fast-and-bulky Frida, which carries a handsome load and can cruise at a comfortable 14 knots.
The Soviet end of the river/water connection has a rather large bay where you can plop numerous docks, including specialized harbors for general cargo, containers (very important if you want to ship nuclear fuel or cars), and oil pumping harbors. It started as a small endeavor, and soon grew to some 15-20 facilities, with about 50 ships running to the border and back. Very organized, no bottleneck like with trains or trucks at the customers warehouses, and giant loads of import and export. Plus tidy profit sums, of course.
And when you do a lot, you need a lot - I found myself importing some 14,000t of iron ore, about 4,500t of crops (in just the first year or two). Hint: If you were to try to harvest this locally, you would need something like 70 large fields and ideal growing conditions. Just the cost of tractors and harvesters will take some 5-10 years to justify even with perfect crop yield. But wait, we're only getting started.
I also decided to import a little bit of oil, as I found it easier to buffer up on (cheap) crude where needed, rather than lug all that from my refineries. The reasons are many. Fuel and bitumen are far more profitable, so by focusing on export, I'm making extra dough. Then, I have large, dedicated industry zones + accompanying workers cities. Naturally, most of the chemical plants and plastics factories are located very close to the refineries. But I do have about 10 (read 30) chemical plants located in different parts of the region, where they are best positioned to service the relevant industries (like nuclear fuel fabrication), and here I'm bringing in the imported oil via shipping, with further distribution by train.
Anyway, imports, crops, oil, iron ore. The main focus is on crops, which are distributed to four different harbors or so, in order to support localized industry zones - chemicals, food industry, clothing industry. Then, of course, I do the reverse. I grab the finished products, loaded them onto trains, and then carry them back to the harbor, where other ships wait to load the goods and carry them across the border.
And does it work? Yes, it does.
Beautifully. No traffic jams. Easy import and export wherever I need it. The ships don't run as frequently as the trains, but they do carry massive loads. Nothing like seeing 2M+ profit in a single dash to make you smile. Ships also tend to politely wait for their turn to dock, and I've not encountered any deadlocks, which can happen with rail line crossings.
However, while the cargo loading is pretty simple and straightforward, there are still many ways you can optimize. For instance, you can use the container loading facility connected to the container loading harbor. The former needs workers, but it allows you to put different materials into standard shipping containers (you will need to choose which ones you want, 20-, 30- or 40-footers). So you can package say electronics or chemicals, and then (quickly) load those onto the ship. Nuclear fuel and cars/trains can load directly. Very handy.
P.S. Since I wrote the draft of this article ... I've expanded my industry quite a bit. We're talking 60-70 chemical plants, 20-30 plastics factories, 20 clothing factories, 10-15 different food industries. My annual crop import is now ~85,000 tons! Yes, you read it right. Locally, you'd need 1,500 farms for that. Hi hi.
Anyway, the rule of buffering still applies - you want storage facilities to hold cargo in between ship runs. And you may actually need more, because ships are a bit slow, so the turn around times are relatively long, and you may end up in a situation where your trains or trucks simply cannot unload their cargo. Which brings me to my next topic ...
One caveat: bridges
Big ships can't go under bridges. You can elevate/lower bridges with Q/E, but even at the highest setting, super-large ships simply can't clear the architecture. So if you need to ferry stuff over the river onto the other side, either use barges, or place your train and road bridges farther inland.
Beware the multi-cargo trains
We talked about different ways you can improve and streamline your industries. Now, here's a rather peculiar problem. A time-based problem if you will. Say you have Town A, which produces chemicals and plastic. You have Town B, which produces electronics. You want to ship chemicals and plastic from A to B via train, so that the electronics components factory and assembly hall can do their part. There's quite a bit of distance between the two towns, and you need hefty quantities, hence the train.
For the sake of this mental exercise, consider the following:
- Source warehouse in Town A holds 100 tons of chemicals and plastic each.
- Destination warehouse in Town B can receive 100 tons of each.
- The train has the capacity to carry 50 tons of goods.
If you use one train to carry both plastic and chemicals, in an ideal scenario, where you have equal input/output, things will work smoothly and without problems. But there are actually four variables in the equation. The production rate of plastic and chemicals at the source may not be identical, so you could end up with say 22 tons of one and 99 tons of the other material in storage. The consumption rate at the destination may also be different. You could end up with say 100 tons of chemicals in storage. Your train indiscriminately loads at the source up to the desired load percentage, and finally, it also indiscriminately unloads at the destination.
So what happens when your train cannot load or unload? Starvation, even though you may have surpluses!
Because of the difference in creation and consumption rates of your different materials, you could end up in the following scenario:
- The train loads 50 tons of chemicals at source (there is no plastic when it arrives).
- The train goes to B and wants to unload 50 tons of chemicals.
- The destination warehouse at B is already full with 100 tons of chemicals and cannot accept more.
- The train will now either wait (if you check wait until unloaded) or go back full.
- In the latter, on next run, it won't be able to load anything, either chemicals or plastic.
- Several travel loops elapse.
- Plastic arrives to the warehouse at A, and now you have 100 tons of plastic there.
- Meanwhile, plastic at B runs out, because the train cannot unload chemicals, and so it cannot load a fresh batch of plastic.
You end up in an absurd situation where you have 100% (or more) of the required goods, but you cannot use it. At the source, your plastic factories (and chemical plants) may stop operating as they cannot export anymore. At the destination, the electronics chain will seize because there's no plastic available, even though you have a solid 100 tons in a warehouse at A, waiting to be shipped.
It gets worse ...
- Because the electronics factories are not working - they don't consume chemicals.
- Because they don't consume chemicals - the warehouse at B never empties.
- Because the warehouse never empties, the train keeps on running fully loaded, forever.
Your industries are stuck!
So what to do? Here be the possible solutions:
- One option is to go for one commodity = one train/ship principle. But it is expensive.
- The other, better option is to periodically purge the surpluses. And even make profit out of it!
Here's how you do it
At the destination, you could set up a second warehouse, and a small distribution center nearby, which is tasked ONLY with taking the surplus from warehouse B so the train arriving from A can unload its cargo. In other words, you need to figure out how much cargo you need in between train runs to support your industry at B, and everything else is then surplus. In numbers, if your electronics factories need 40 tons of chemicals and 20 tons of plastic in the time it takes the train to deliver its cargo, you have 10/30 tons surplus each time. You can simply export this abroad.
Unlike trains, distribution centers can be configured to grab stuff from a source storage only if there's a minimum quantity available. For example, 20% - in other words, if there's less than 20% available quantity of a commodity in a warehouse, the trucks at the center will not arrive to pick up the goods, only once this threshold is crossed.
In our specific example, you could configure the distribution center to work at 40% threshold (40 tons out of max 100), so you will maintain a steady 40-ish tons of chemicals and plastic at B, the train will always be able to unload the 50 tons they carry, and you won't starve the source or the destination. You will still have a bit of extra plastic (based on my equation above), but this just means that your trucks will do more ferrying.
Now, you CAN afford to actually make your train stay at B until unloaded, and the surplus will be gone. Before, making the train stay until unloaded leaves you in the same deadlock as before - whether it's madly running back and forth or waiting doesn't really make any difference as far as your industries are concerned. But if you sell the extra cargo, you free up the space you need.
The magic formula now becomes: internal industry loop, internal surplus loop, external export loop. Alternatively, if you want trains to wait at the station, don't mix goods. And henceforth, all your troubles shall be gone.
I encountered this issue with ships and fuel/bitumen, too. The solution is to either use two separate pumping harbors, one for fuel and one for bitumen, and then have dedicated trains carry the goods there. Or you could figure out the buffer ratios - fuel gets produced more quickly than bitumen, so you could have say one oil storage facility (1,500 tons) for bitumen but have 3-4 for fuel, and that way, you won't end up in a situation where trains can't unload.
But you do have to make sure your ships don't mix cargo either, so you don't end up in another deadlock situation where two bitumen-carrying tankers hog up the docking area in the harbor, and meanwhile you have thousands of tons of fuel waiting to be loaded, unsuccessfully. So you should always have at least one loading area for each specific liquid, or go for separate the harbors. Profit!
You can save any time you like, but you can never relax ...
The last part of the equation is that you must stay vigilant. In my region, I had some six distinct zones - cities plus industries, and occasionally, I'd focus on one or the other, developing a particular industry set. Then, I'd go back to the other zones and suddenly discover a new problem. I'd have a transportation bottleneck, as I outlined above. Or a factory would seize up. In Town A, I ran out of wood, which is one of the few (major) perishables, and that meant my chemical plants couldn't work. Then, there was a cascade effect.
Town A supplies chemicals to Towns B and C, which produce aluminum and clothing, respectively. Because I had no chemicals at the source, the train running to B and C didn't have any cargo, the remaining supply of chemicals at the destinations ran out, and additional industries seized up. I had to scramble, to make sure my cash flow is tight, and I don't end up with an even greater problem. Worst of all, it takes a while to undo the chain effect. Then, when I had it solved, there would be a new mini-crisis at C or E or A. There's no fire 'n' forget.
Thus endeth my third guide for Workers & Resources. Hopefully, you will find value in the results and experience I've accumulated over the many hundreds of hours of frenetic, passionate gaming, and this will allow you to have more fun and less frustration discovering how to make the socialist economy tick. For me, it was trial and error, mostly pleasant, but because the game is so complex, it takes quite a while to refine your industry strategy, and you can't know all the little problems and intricacies that could arise ahead of the time.
I think the biggest problems in the game are: limited external rail combined with tricky signaling, and the fact you can't set loading levels at source and destination per commodity. This way, you may end up in weird deadlock situations where you have plenty of resources but no one can send or receive them. Ships help a great deal here. They free up valuable land you'd need for rail and road cargo stations, they simplify your supply chain, they are cheaper, and ultimately, more effective. You also have no limit of how much you can bring in and out of your region. Very nice. And that would be all. There might yet be a fourth guide. We can never know.