I want to play your game, just not at all the way you intended

| Monday, April 4, 2011
Alternate titles: I hate paperwork; I hate late-fight wipes; Tanking is absurd.

This is not about Civilization V. I have played it for a total of maybe half an hour and do not yet have much of an opinion on it, except to say that it is different than Civilization IV, which may be good or bad depending on what you want out of the games.

It is however, about Civilization IV. And Colonization. But first things first, with the first being the fourth. I'd suggest skipping this part and just going to part two. Part one is just me whining about Civ IV and its refusal to acknowledge that I'm awesome.

Like the previous ones, Civ IV starts out fairly slow, with one city, one unit, and barely any technology. It's sort of boring. Or in my case, irritating because I have it set to wait after every turn, a practice I implemented after constantly moving my last unit only to remember that I still had to change some production queues or wake up some fortified units, and this is annoying when for 10-15 turns all I do is move a scout or warrior, then hit enter for the next turn. Then finally I have a few cities and a bit of surplus, so I can round up a small army and go attack someone.

This is the mid-game phase, or perhaps late-early-game which I greatly enjoy. There's some war but there's still some building of new cities. Also, trebuchet with a city raider promotion vs. axeman. Glorious. This phase often feels the most dynamic to me, with a lot of options and goals. I'm not far ahead of the AI in technology or economy (I play on something just barely off of equal settings, to compensate for being bad), but if I focus it correctly I can gain some advantages.

Then comes the end. The end isn't short or even particularly close to the actual end of the game. Instead the end is when I have a tech lead, economy lead, population lead, and so on, such that I can take on multiple enemies at once, conquering vast swaths of territory. It sounds fun, but in practice it just feels boring and repetitive, like a giant pile of paperwork. At this point I often find myself opening and closing the victory conditions page to see how much more I need to conquer before the world acknowledges that I've won, even though I effectively did win many turns ago, just no one would admit it. 64% needed, I'm at... 45%. Ugh. The worst part was the constant need to manage the cities, building them back up, since apparently gigantic battles in cities causes damage to infrastructure as well as everything else. With dozens of new cities, this is a repetitive and boring task. I could delegate it to the AI, but I don't trust the AI. To get around this I stopped bothering to capture entire civilizations and started accepting them as vassal states, once they admitted that I'd utterly crushed their armies and taken a few cities. This saves time on that front, but in terms of land control, vassals don't give full credit, so I often need to go for elimination of my enemies, meaning that I now need to force every single one into capitulation which can mean my army has to walk so damn far across the map that if time meant anything at all in civilization games, it would take several years by train.

People bash "mindless grinding", but I will gladly take mindless grinding over repetitive but not-quite-mindless other tasks. Grinding leaves the brain free to think about things that are more fun. Such as music, movies, and whining on vent about the grindfest.

Part two: Colonization

The Civ IV economy is very generic, top-level sort of stuff. Hammers, science, and gold, with special resources which magically provide enough for the entire empire (changed in Civ V apparently). Some people get crazy about the micro-management of their cities, but I never found it very engaging, more like another level of annoying tasks that aren't fun but must be done, sort of like gemming in WoW.

Colonization is the opposite. The economy is detailed and is everything. Resources are at individual cities and must be moved by wagon trains. Getting that right is part of not failing. City specialization is an absolute necessity, with some places set up for materials, others for food, and then eve individual manufacturing may be split up, with some cities making guns, others cigars, and so on.

Units don't just cost production, all but cannons also cost population. This causes a shocking thing: war is really bad for the population. If things get bad enough, skilled workers have to fight, making every loss that much more costly. The loss of civilians can be avoided by using trained military units, but these are expensive and are not invincible either. Besides, even in peacetime they are useful as basic laborers, so at the very least you lose some of the labor supply.

I love the gameplay. I love that war is costly. I love that the economy requires careful planning. It's just damn fun.

On the other hand, I don't much like the revolution mechanic. Yes, that's essentially the entire point of the game, building up toward revolution and independence from the king. But it's not much fun for me. At some point I have to say "okay liberty time!" and start cranking out rebel sentiment. The goal is to get to 50% desire for independence as quickly as possible, since once the colonists start looking rebellious the king starts building up his Army of Crushing Freedom, also known as the Royal Expeditionary Force, which doesn't sound quite as bad as the more descriptive name. Finally I hit 50%, declare independence, and a few turns later warships way too powerful to actually fight arrive to drop off one of the few waves of Royal Expeditionary Force of Freedom Crushers. At this point they proceed to bombard my defenses and engage my scrappy militia, with combat odds about 66% against me, meaning that I cannot take them one on one, and even if I could, they outnumber by own trained soldiers. Obviously the solution is a zerg rush of militia so simply overwhelm them. A fine idea, except as previously mentioned soldiers are labor, so this would wreck my economy, and I just might still need that economy to replace all the guns I'll be using to arm that militia. But at least I beat the first of several waves.

It reminds me a bit too much of raiding. I hate phase three wipes. Or phase five. Whatever number of phases bosses have these days. Fight along just fine and it's good, good, good, oh wait, no, you lose in the last fifteen seconds, too bad! Now imagine that the first couple phases take a few hours.

I've been searching for a mod that turns off the revolution mechanic so that I can instead focus on fighting natives and other colonies. I've not yet found one. Too bad for me.

On the plus side, I discovered tanking. Yep, turns out it's a lot easier to fight off the king's army if I convince them to attack a city on an isolated island. Amphibious attacks have a 50% penalty. Stick a decent fortress around that city and suddenly the odds are pretty heavily in my favor. All I have to do is ensure that this island is heavily populated and closest to the European edge of the map, at which point the enemy will slaughter itself upon our Beaches of Freedom. Load the island with troops and let freedom ring. A few back on the shore can clean up any leftovers, caused by any rare victorious enemies or retreating cavalry being dropped off on the mainland for healing up, at which point they can be easily slaughtered. It sounds great and it works really well, but it's also so blatantly stupid, such an obvious exploit of the AI to do something that makes no sense at all. Had the same army instead used the ships to blockade the island (cut off my main forces) and then invaded the mainland, they could have wiped out a whole lot of rebellious colonists. They might still have succumbed to the zerg rush, but it would have gone about ten times better for them.

My point is that tanking is absurd.


Max said...

Great post . I also like those 2 games .The problem you describing is a problem of a dumb AI. I like playing 4x games but the AI they make them with is just TOO dumb.

Every 4x game has same problem - starting with original Civ, MOO etc- their AI is woefully inadequate and the only way to have any sort of challenge is to crank difficulty setting to wazoo

But at that point it becomes entirely different sort of game - you play by one set of rules and AI by the others .And one so skewed towards AI so you have to resort to various "tricks" - exploits of game mechanics and/or AI inadequacies.

In every game there are some exploits so bad that it would kill the game (usually its diplo/trading ), so you have to moderate yourself which are "allowable". So for example trading border planets to AI in galciv2 was obvious exploit, but what about exploting fact that he was using slow ships and player could outmaneuver him , with numerically and technologically inferior ships at1:20 odds, I could keep entire galaxy controlled just with couple of fast fleets (while AI juggernauts were trudging at 3 squares/turn)

So in the end of the day its kinda like playing chess vs slow kid , and you have to handicap yourself to 6 pawns, nevertheless when you finally win you dont have any satisfaction from the game. Because kid was retarded first place!

Civ5 was such a disappointment when I could win it at deity on my 2nd play-trough on large map.Because it used to be that puzzle of cracking medium+ size at deity was a challenging task ( I only did it in civ2 and 5) . Now the main puzzle was broken no magic left.

The only solution presently is multiplayer, but 4x games are awful at multiplayer (because of scope and pacing) .So if you want play interesting tactical battles RTS is the only choice (which plays nothing like 4x)

Tesh said...

Yes, tanking is absurd. It's a stupid AI trick.

...but it works when players and devs don't want to be bothered to learn more realistic combat tactics and build games around them.

I don't care for it, but it's a useful abstraction that many people prefer. I understand that, but I don't agree with it.

Klepsacovic said...

@Max: I'm not a big fan of RTS. Too fast for me, especially when you need precise clicking.

@Tesh: Right now I'm working on a new round where I don't have my super-fortified island. I wonder how badly I'll get crushed.

I think tanking might also be needed for the technical workaround it provides. Just like we use hit tables and lock-on targeting rather than aim to make lag less of an issue, maybe tanking also helps, since otherwise we might have to worry about collision as an aspect of 'tanking'.

Tesh said...

Very true. Online gaming does provide a set of quirks on the tech side. (Tangentially, that's also part of why the new "skill queueing" bugs me in WoW. I didn't spam hotkeys because I'm an impatient chimp, I simply never know if my keypress goes through thanks to lag.)

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