August 27, 2014

Civ 5 Memories

Well, that was a great summer, one of the best I've ever had.  Night after night, in Palo Alto, Paris, Amsterdam and Midland, Texas, I sat bathed in the soothing glow of my laptop screen, planning, negotiating, and sometimes fighting, through the history of a dozen civilizations that never were.

The game is the same as it ever was:  you build structures, you move units around, the AI makes ridiculous demands.  Friends betray you, enemies taunt you, and more often than not you quit sometime around 1969 as the exotic becomes familiar and the complexity slows each turn to a crawl. And then, enchanted by the possibilities, you start a new game, only this time you'll attack everyone like a crazed wolverine, no wait, you'll swear to never fight no matter what, or better still, you'll wait to declare war until everyone else is a basket case, ensuring global domination for generations to come.  And off we go, the new plan certain to fail in the face of capricious counterparties and endless contingency.

Civ 5 looks nice, even on my slightly retro equipment:

Game designer Jon Shafer has been, with benefit of hindsight, critical of some of his design choices, but this in most cases is unwarranted.  One particular decision transformed Civ 5 into a game where, for the first time, strategy and tactics really matter:
In this iteration of the series, tactical gameplay in combat is encouraged in place of overwhelming numerical force, with the introduction of new gameplay mechanisms. Most significantly, the square grid of the world map has been replaced with a hexagonal grid, a feature inspired by the 1994 game Panzer General, according to lead designer Jon Shafer.  In addition, each hexagonal tile, including city tiles, can accommodate only one military unit and one civilian unit or one great person at a time, forcing armies to spread out over large areas rather than being stacked onto a single tile. This has the effect of moving most large battles outside of the cities, and forces increased realism in sieges, which are now most effective when surrounding the city tile because of bonuses from flanking.
Wars are no longer simply matters of attrition, or racing to gunpowder.  Unbalanced armies will lose to slightly less modern armies properly supported with ranged units.  Attacks on cities that are not supported by serious siege equipment will almost always fail - in my final campaign I watched Queen Elizabeth and Theodora of Byzantium each lose two entire armies in frontal assaults on a well-defended and heavily-Wondered Berlin.

Trade routes, religion, puppet states...the game has it all.  It is a joy to play, and thanks to serious artistic and musical work, a joy to look at and listen to as well:

So many great memories:

  • Evil George Washington commits to the ideology of order to challenge my upstart Zulus' commitment to liberty.
  • Sacking Byzantium.  ****, would pillage again.  Like the man said...  "I...  I... I... feel something so right, doing the wrong thing..."
  • As the Ottomans, slapping the shit out of Bismarck, repeatedly, according to this formula:
    • Bismarck attacks a weaker neighbor because what else is Bismarck going to do.
    • I wait two turns, then declare war on him.
    • My Ottoman Janissaries, supported by cannon, decimate the medieval units defending his rear.
    • He makes peace by surrendering a city.
    • And then we do it again, all the way to Berlin.
  • Fucking psycho George Washington acting all nice for 1000 years, then going postal because I was crowding his manifest destiny.  Before it was over, every hex of his empire that could burn, was burning.  That'll teach him, the fucking fucker.  Fucking George Washington, man, what a fucking dick.
  • As Anne of Austria, building the largest empire in the world without ever engaging in armed conflict, thanks to some lucky trade routes and her hilariously imbalancing superpower, "Diplomatic Marriage", or as I prefer to call it, vaginal Finlandization.
  • The moment of revelation when I realized that, as Enrico Dandolo of Venice, although I could not create new cities, there was nothing to stop me from seizing them, thanks to abundant close-range fire support from my Grand Galleass units.  Serenissima, my ass.
There are some issues, notably AI that, as Shafer has correctly confessed, is so situation-dependent that consistency of character is lost.  On the other hand, is that so wrong?  Gandhi was a nice man who won with niceness against a (relatively) nice opponent.  In another context, would he have been so nice, or would he have adapted his tactics to the situation?  The game ends up posing a fairly deep question:  is the observed behavior of a civilization - say German aggression 1870-1945 - better attributed to situational factors, or to the character of a specific leader?  I don't know, but, as unrealistic as the AI behavior might feel, I can't say it's ahistorical.  Who would have thought the 4th Crusade would end the way it did, with the destruction of the finest city in Christendom by a Christian army?  Yes, it's random, it's frustrating, it's situational...and so is pretty much all the history that has happened so far.

The greatest achievement of this game is the subtle ongoing process of education, cultural imperialism if you will.  Civilization, after all, is not war, it is the opposite.  Great works of art, music, and writing are respected, sampled, displayed.  Wonders confer not only game effects, but aesthetic effects as well.  And, sometimes, however briefly, we're in danger of actually learning something...

Great game.


Blogger Laird of Madrona said...

I played Civ V for a while. I appreciate the attempt to make it more like a war game (stacking limits, zones of control), but I found myself getting tired of the same old Civ strategies.

My favorite strategy game of the past five years is Crusader Kings II, which is available for Mac and PC.

August 28, 2014 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger The Other Front said...

Thanks for the I know what I'll play next vacation...!

August 28, 2014 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger The Other Front said...

Forgot to mention above that I was playing with the Brave New World and Gods and Kings packages installed, which I'm told greatly enhances the base game.

August 28, 2014 at 4:48 PM  

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