Thinking some more...
If the following are desirable:
Maybe the 'galaxies' are the pools and the variance is provided purely by the government type.
- Minimum change
- Use of pre-existing elements
No new rating, no complex mechanic, governments influence strategic choice (re player navigation) and galaxies are like difficulty levels. Pools already exist and are clearly defined requiring a distinct visual cue in their means of travel (galactic hyperdrive).
Whether pre or post influential neighbours, some parts of the map are more dangerous than others and a 7LY range is just small enough to create some bottlenecks; including some dangerous ones that a courier might need to pass through. So, the 'here be dragons', 'edge of the map' stuff can occur naturally and (to a degree) already does. Government type does already create variance amongst the map (although perhaps less distinctively in 'post change' versions) and so no +1/-1 mechanic is needed.
So if the variance is already there then the pools could be the various galaxies. Whilst they do each have their own flavour due to the quirks of system distribution, these aren't immediately evident until you have done some exploring (likely quite a bit of exploring). The other core game difference that I'm aware of is that some of the missions are only available in various galaxies
Difficulty needn't ramp up with galaxy number, or at least not always.
That's 5 difficulty levels spread across 8 galaxies. If the bell curve nature of the progression (up the hill and then down the hill) is a bit annoying on the 'descent' then swap the difficult of galaxies 6 and 8 and you then have 2 climbs (one big, one small) each with a little break inbetween. I think that could work well.
Might be even better if the player could jump backwards as well as forwards (oxpable I think...)
Ways to simulate difficulty? Besides pirate numbers (as discussed earlier) there's also accuracy. A default accuracy rating (or at least a mean) for each galaxy would certainly vary the challenge but I think pirate numbers would be the preferable currency else the games risks becoming arcade like.
So why would the player ever leave the relatively cosy confines of galaxy 1?
According to Oolite Missions
there are core missions that take place in galaxies 1 to 5, some of which offer considerable rewards, so that's one mission for each jump in difficulty. Besides the mission items, some of the equipment that wasn't available in the original elite could make suitable lures. Shield Boosters and Military Shields could be good and perhaps the Wormhole Scanner; all non-essential (not sure about the missions...) but very useful and not particularly cheap either. Integrated targeting system could be another...
Integrated Targeting System
Once you leave galaxy 5 the difficulty drops and so it becomes about player choice: which galaxy do you prefer and how do you like the play.
There are other lures besides equipment. Aegidian included/added some powerful ships besides the core elite ones. The boa cruiser is very powerful and then there were his oxp creations: Asp Special; Mussurana; Python Cruiser; Python ET Special; Cobra Mk II. Staer9's shipset renders most of those in Griff like appearance (by stretching and tweaking Griff originals), and its other ships are from versions of elite or elite inspired games. In fact it contains 14 new non core ships - enough for two per galaxy not including the first (starting pool).
One of the first 'tweaks' I ever made to elite was to change which oxps I used whenever I changed galaxy, in an effort to give each one a different flavour (e.g. different core shipset for each galaxy). I found it to be fun but hampered by the circular route enforced by the use of the galactic hyperdrive. That too is likey oxpable: jump initiated, console message, "select view to choose destination galaxy", fore = +1; aft = -1; left = -2; right = +2, "maintain view for jump to galactic sector #'.
The equipment and ship ideas are all extra, the missions could be sufficient to provide the main incentive.
All that is needed would be:
- Revert to old model of non-influential neighbours
- Derive influence instead from galaxy number.
e.g. using the 'two hills' model and representing influencing nature of each galaxy as if it were a government type (anarchy most dangerous, corporate least...)
So in galaxy 1 every system would be treated as if the only influencing system were a corporate system (safer than usual). Meanwhile in galaxy 5 every system is treated as if neighboured by an anarchic system.