Sending merchants strategies
Auto Sending aka Auto Spamming
One of the worst ways to send out merchants.
AI, on your behalf, will send out any available merchants. The order is usually, your home COT, COTs you own, and then rarely to other COTs. The AI does not care if an empty slot is available, and ends up sending your merchants one by one. This is terribly inefficient as your merchant rarely succeeds; instead, the merchant either fails or competes another merchant out.
On the plus side:
- Trading requires no human attention.
- A trader gets terrible returns from this method.
- wastes merchants and money.
This is also the way that AI normally trades which can explain why it does so poorly against a human trader.
Batch Sending Technique
In batch sending technique (BST), you send merchants in batches of two or three to CoTs, regardless of how full they are. Two merchants should be sent if you've got highly superior trade efficiency, and are sending to a less-competitive CoT. Otherwise, you send three.
You are hoping that at least one merchant gets a slot. The idea is that with moderately good odds for merchant placement (i.e. 50% or so), you are going to see some failures and must therefore send more merchants. One merchant might fail outright, one merchant may compete another trader out, and one merchant will succeed.
- It's fast -- important in multiplayer games
- don't need to figure out if there's an empty slot
- don't need to use the ledger at all
- keeps merchants moving even when no empty slots are present anywhere
- rarely fails to get a slot
- Costly in money -- you're paying for many more merchants than is necessary
- Competing out merchants lowers relations with the merchants' country.
This method is certainly better than Auto Sending, but it's substantially less efficient moneywise than empty slot technique.
Empty Slot Technique
In empty slot technique (EST), a player looks for empty slots in COTs and sends out his merchants only to empty slots, one per slot. Usually this is done when the AI is least active. This is the most efficient method of the three because your merchant will usually not be competing for a slot, and has high chance of succeeding.
Empty slot(s) become available when:
- the game starts
- a country is annexed
- a merchant competes another one out
- a new COT forms
- AI country gets to trade 3 and attempts to monopolize its home COT (nice time to trade during mid to late game if your TE is good).
To look for an empty slot one, can count the traders in a CoT by hand. However, it is a lot easier to check the ledger(F6) on page 14, Center of Trade Information. Add up the 2nd colum (our activity) and the 3rd (competition); any COT that has less than 100% has an empty slot. I usually sort by the 2nd column, to make this easier: you can usually ignore your monopolies, and places you have no presence (0%), and just concentrate on the 25%-5% places.
For best effects, don't send merchants to single empty slots in January and February. Every January 1st all countries collect their census taxes, and the AI will send out merchants while it has cash. It takes 1 month for merchants to arrive and compete. Thus, the first month or two of each year there will be a lot more AI merchants hitting each CoT; you want them competing with each other then, not you. Checking empty slot availability and sending on March 3rd and later greatly increases your chances!
- Most efficient (60-80% success); therefore cheapest
- Usually avoids bumping foreign merchants, therefore causes few relations hits
- Gives you something to do in multiplayer during peace
- Endless, tedious busywork checking the ledger. (What were the designers thinking?) Takes the most time of the three methods.
Monopoly or Five Merchants?
Trade tech 3 gives any country the ability to grab a monopoly in a CoT. Each monopoly counts as 6 traders in a CoT, and comes with these advantages:
- gives to its owner income from all empty slots in the COT.
- +1 merchants per year
- +2% trade efficiency (introduced in 1.09)
The trade efficiency bonus, in particular, can be very lucrative. World trade by 1600 should be around 10000 ducats. By that time, a player can usually get 5 merchants in most CoTs, plus monopolies in many, averaging perhaps 30% of world trade. So that is 3000 ducats per year, times trade efficiency. Thus 2% higher TE is worth 60d/year, or 5d/month. So holding a monopoly even for a month can sometimes be worthwhile.
Even though a monopoly gives such nice advantages, the cost of maintaining a monopoly increases if many countries are trading in the CoT. Although new merchants do not automatically target the monopoly any more (as of 1.09), if they do, it is easier to bump the 6th merchant than other merchants. Also note that trading income is just monthly income, whereas you pay money from treasury to send merchants. So, even though a monopoly may pay for itself in terms of income, it may be unsustainable in terms of money.
Thus, you should weigh the cost of maintaining a monopoly versus the income it creates.
For more information visit the Trade page.