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Tribal Carrying capacity + sister tribes

I have heard time and time again that tribal societies, villages, and other close knit communities tend to cap out around 150 people because of the human mind can only keep track of roughly 150 close relationships, and I have been wondering how this can be represented in the game, particularly what happens if the tribe gets over this limit in the early game before cities start forming.

I realized that this question can also be applied to resource allocation, because hunter gather societies need a lot of room to gather the necessary amount of food to keep the tribe alive. Before we had compact farms for our food, we were just one species out of many competing for naturally occurring food sources, and with each person who needs food, the farther you need to search for that food. There will come a time when the group can no longer support itself due to overpopulation, and I believe that that will be the time when a group of citizens will break off to set up their own tribe.

This would be a sister tribe, a group with strong ties to yours as they are considered family. A trade partner and ally in a time of need. Over time, the tribes might grow apart, but they will still believe some type of commonality, even if only culturally.

What do you think? would that make sense?


I see your point, however that concept of the human mind only being capable of 150 close relationships is kind of bull. I knew everyone in my grade in High School. That’s 500+ individuals! So, I think that bit of science is faulty. Secondarily, many of the animals we used to compete with for food are also food themselves. Remember, that we are omnivores and can eat just about anything so our available food supplies in a given area are greater than most animals. But, I would like intratribal politics as well as intertribal politics.

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useful, though I’m not sure that this number has much to do with tribes… look at the Iroquois Confederacy and the tens of thousands of people from the 6 nations. They lived in relative harmony until the French and Indian wars as a collective enterprise… it seems to me that tribes can be much bigger than 150 people or whatever random Dunbar’s number you want to use.

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The Iroquois confederacy had agriculture, and could sustain higher populations out of a single area. and do you think those thousands of people were all in one area or in smaller sub tribes in their own villages like what I am proposing?

smaller sub-tribes, obviously. And my bad for not noticing you were focused solely on hunter gathering societies… which, in this game, will last like 10 min before you get agriculture anyways so it’s not a huge deal to me how big my tribe is at that point.

And regardless, the larger settlements of the Confederacy had well over 5000 members… which was my point…

On a other (old) topic I discuss with someone about the Dunbar’s number. The resolt was that Dunbar’s number could be use in the game as a trigger to unclock new mechanics : When you start the game with a tribe smaller than the Dunbar’s number you do not have any unrest/revolt problem (everybody know each other) and maybe no chief/hierachy system (more for gameplay purpose than realism), then once you reach the Dunbar’s number you unclock chief system along with unrest/revolt problem (the group is too big to fully know each other). I think it make sense realistically speaking because when your group is too big you need a hierachy/proto-govermenent system and more explicit rules.

On the gameplay side, Dunbar’s number is maybe a bit high, I do not know how hard it will be to increase your population but if you start with 10 peoples, reaching 150 could take a while. Maybe it could be a good idea to lower the limit to 50 and allow the player to start directly with a 50 people tribe (so than advanced players could start with complex mechanics from the begining).


while I think your system makes sense, it seems like a copy off of City Skylines… Not that it was a bad system, but I felt that it made little sense that a town of 5000 people couldn’t have bus transportation because of some silly game mechanic. Heck, my irl town is 3,000 people strong and we have two of them! What I’m saying is that population seems like a rather arbitrary means for advancement. That’s why I think Knowledge is going to be crucial. Perhaps, some random itinerant priest comes to your tribe, preaches that the sun-god dislikes the chief, gains a few dozen followers, then you have to squash the rebellion and/or banish them. Something like that makes more sense for faction splitting than some arbitrary number imo… but, I realize that your system is tried and true so maybe this is just an alternative idea.

I am not a big fan of limitation neither and like you I think the limitation system in city Skylines too rigid. Maybe a checkbox at the beginning of the game could be add for advanced players.

The limitation of Dunbar’s number is more relavant than City Skylines limitation but it is still subject to debat in psychological science so not 100% good. I am not an expert but I always thought that chief and hierachy start before a 150 population cap (but maybe the modern system of teamwork with a team leader for 10 people corrupt my view).

In the end, unlocking mechanics along the way is a tool in game design to help new players. So it could be any mechanics, either Dunbar’s number, technology or even base (priest arrival). I remenber one of the devs saying that most techonolgical advance were not done by discoveries but by exchange (only one discover it then it spread). So your idea of itinerant priest fit well with this system.

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glad we see eye to eye

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As far as pop caps and inter-tribal relations go. This may be where our ancestors got the idea for marring on group to another through their children and grandchildren. Not the coups cannot happen but heh…that’s life. Which I think is how many of the larger native American tribes remained peaceful

Similar thoughts came up in the thread about intra-tribal delineations. And using the Dunbar number, or other “thresholds”, to determine the development of the tribe, is also discussed under the long thread about economy.

I agree with you both, @Sargon and @louis.mervoyer, in that using just a number is too simple a mechanic. And sociology and psychology is sufficiently complicated for a single number to be completely off in most cases. I varies depending on hundred of variables, from person to person, with some people being able to have stable and worthwhile relations with hundreds of people, and others… only a few. It is science, but too much might be read into it.

In this case what we’re dealing with is both carrying capacity from a biological perspective (as in “how many people can feed themselves in this area”), but also in a societal sense (“how many people can stand each other / maintain a working society”).

There always is a limit to the first one, a Malthusian limit, but that does change once agriculture comes into play, as @sargon says. I’m not sure we’ll discover it as rapidly as within ten minutes, but that’s besides the point :stuck_out_tongue: There should however be a possibility for the leader of the tribe, the player, to deal with a possible Malthusian disaster, overpopulation, by sending people away. An expedition as it were, similar in some ways to the famous colonies of ancient Greece, Phoenicia, Carthage and Rome. I believe this would fit the clans @demon mentioned.

When it comes to the societal limit, that’s a lot trickier. Both politically and economically though, there is a very great difference between fifty people working together to survive, and a thousand people of a well-established town, whose inhabitants may rarely meet, and prioritise completely different things in life. A free market and competition surely won’t exist in the first case, when all the members are very closely related, fighting to stay alive, and there is no specialisation. At some point though, your tribe will switch from one big “family”, to several “families”, and with this will start serving themselves, prioritising themselves, trading and bartering, specialising, relying less on communal labour than just… a primitive market. With this change, everything else changes, be it culture, politics, technology. Civilisation in it’s truest sense is born.

This of course won’t happen over night. I don’t really know how it would be implemented, but surely gradually, piece by piece, day by day, event by event. If certain changes are not made though, certain adaptations, the tribe will surely not be able to remain united, a single society surviving together through all its parts.