Thursday, July 7, 2011

Civilization: I don't quit playing, I go into remission.

This week in PC gaming, two things happened in two days for me. As a result of the Steam Summer Sale and the generosity of a good friend, I received a copy of Civilization V on Tuesday. Yesterday, Sid Meier's CivWorld for Facebook went into Open Beta. Playing so much Civ in two different forms in the last few days got me to thinking about my history with the franchise. I've now played every PC civilization title in the “main series” (excluding Call to power or any ports of console/moblie versions) and have played several board games based on the concept. They are always intensely addictive, and I never really stop playing a title entirely until the sequel comes out.

The pharaoh pictured is actually buried beneath all the work that piled
up for him while he was playing Civ. 

The original Sid Meier's Civilization was published by Microprose in 1991to immediate critical and commercial success. Starting as a group of nomads with the bare minimum to found a small stone age settlement and protect it, the turn based strategy game challenges the player to “build an empire that will stand the test of time.” Cities are founded, buildings within them created and the population is managed as military units explore and possibly go to war with other fledgling empires. Scientists labor at technological advances from basics like pottery and the wheel, through ages of time to building electronics, tanks and even nuclear weapons. Special bonuses are given for the civilization to first create “Wonders of the World,” projects of great cultural and historical significance such as the Great Wall and the Pyramids. Victory can be achieved through military conquest or technological supremacy by sending a successful colony ship into space.

As sequels to the game were released over the years, refinements and additions to gameplay and graphics improved things in many ways. “Great people,” individuals born with the ability to impact history in some way were added. The concept of culture as a tangible and trackable statistic used for slightly different things in different incarnations of the game was incorporated. New victory conditions, special powers for each of the cultures you may select at the beginning of the game and changes concerning politics, diplomacy and trade developed from sequel to sequel.

If your neighbors bug you, blow them up.

Civilization V made some significant changes in the gameplay of the series with a cleaner interface, a move from square tiles to hexagons, and a different approach to combat and diplomacy. For the military-minded civilization player, the largest change is the elimination of the “stack o' doom” where piles of units could be stacked up in the same location. Deployment is more strategic and combat more dynamic with a limit of one unit per hex and ranged units able to fire over close combat units in support. On the diplomacy side, city-states have been added, single city nations who are not working towards a victory condition and with whom trade, war and negotiation is possible. Each opponent is working toward their own victory condition, and if you are ahead, it may be difficult to convince one of the other great empires to work with you. They don't want to lose any more than you do.

It is also worth mentioning that multiplayer support is better than ever, with the addition of single-computer hotseat play to internet and LAN gaming options. Community mod support is in the main game's interface, making it easier than ever to explore and use content created by fans of the game and pick and choose what you want to add to your experience. Downloadable content options include official “Cradle of Civilization” map packs and civilization expansions, adding more options to the already fairly robust set of features in the base game. Overall, between the gameplay changes, graphical updates and features both new and refined from previous games impressed me a lot, and I'm sure I'll disappear into this one for some time to come.


On to CivWorld on Facebook, a social game that made a whole lot of promises, and I believe that it delivered on quite a few of them, but it is not without its flaws... and one of them may be the game's Achilles' Heel. A lot of gamers have strong feelings about social media casual games. I neither love nor hate them as much as a lot of folks who have written about them, I can take or leave them, and see potential in the genre. Most social games are individual affairs with limited cooperation or competition with friends on the social network, and no real overarching goal aside from “get farther/do more.” That's not inherently bad, as the same can be said about a lot of other gaming, including many rpgs. CivWorld is collaborative and competitive with each player running a city, joining a civilization and contributing to their nations success or failure against other civilizations made of other players.

The elements of building up cities, collecting resources and armies and reasearching new technologies are all present. Culture, great people and wonders of the world are rolled up together in a single system where culture contributes to the birth of great people and great people collaborate on Wonders for their civilization. Cooperating with many other players to win “era goals” as time goes on is legitimately fun. Minigames exist to get a little extra science, culture or gold, and gold coins can be used to purchase extra production, food to increase population and military units, among other things. There's a good balance between “sit and play all the time” and “log in now and then for a few minutes: in terms of contributions.

The dangers of not investing in a military are disastrous one-sided conflicts.

There are a few downsides to launching this sort of game on this sort of platform. Though there are multiple paths to round victories, civilizations with large numbers of players find achieving many of those goals easier. The network stress of so many people playing also sometimes makes unusual and frustrating glitches happen, especially with joining or leaving a civilization. The thing that I like least is the method that in-game currency purchased with real money can be used. Though there is a limit on how much can be spent daily, “CivBucks” can be directly spent to get more resources usable toward victory. A Civ with multiple people willing to do this is at a competitive advantage, and you are also individually ranked in the game, something that CivBucks can affect directly. This leaves kind of a bad taste in my mouth, but I'll continue to play for free for as long as it is fun. At least they didn't commit the Cardinal Sin, in my mind, of requiring a player to spam or recruit friends in order to progress.

Overall, the play with history and strategic empire-building in a turn based environment is something both of the games I started playing this week do fairly well, and I'll stick with both of them for the time being. I remember waiting for Civ IV on launch day, the tragedy of accidentally breaking my play disc for Civ III, and how many times I lost all track of what time it was telling myself “Just a few more turns.” For now, I'm off to look in on my Greek Empire. We just discovered machine guns and the nearby Romans are rattling their sabers... which is appropriate, because that's about all they've discovered in the way of military technology.
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6 comments:

Kelly said...

You have my interest peaked about this game. along with RPG's of the past, I enjoyed building games like this. Like the Sims and RollerCoaster Tycoon series. Though, those two weren't as detailed from what I've read. I like the idea of building communities and forming strategies and so forth. Maybe I'm becoming more patient with age. :) Glad I could finally make it here to your site. Take care, dude! I'm gonna comment on the post before this one.

Alpha said...

“Just a few more turns.”

Been there...

The Angry Lurker said...

Been there a lot.......

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Something about the latest one never got me the same as all the previous ones. I still prefer Civ 4.

Michael T said...

So...many...late...hours playing this in college...

Zombie Ad said...

My better half LOVES Sid's stuff! :)

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