Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Civilization V

(screenshot from Steam)

I never played the original Civilization, but Civilization II is probably my all-time favorite game. You can read that post if you want to know more about it, though I'll also touch on a few things here. (But if you know nothing about the franchise, you might read that post first.)

As I said there, Civ III was very disappointing, partly because they'd introduced civilization borders to the game, which was a good idea with a terrible implementation. And Civ IV, well, I don't know. It just didn't seem as much fun as the earlier game, although I thought that might be just because I'd played Civ II for so many years.

At any rate, they made some significant changes to Civilization V, and for the most part, that's a good thing. I really can't play the same game forever, and updating the graphics does absolutely nothing for me, especially in a game like this. So some change is important.

In the latest version, they went with hexes, instead of squares, for the map, like most wargames (which might be a problem right there, since Civilization is not just another wargame). And they eliminated the stacks of units which had been part of the game from the very beginning. Now, you could have only one military unit per hex.

Both of those were good changes. I mean, I didn't care much one way or another about those things in particular, but they made the game different enough that it wasn't like buying the same game all over again. And, of course, there were other changes from the previous games, just enough to make it a bit different.

But it wasn't nearly as much fun as Civilization II, not for me. If you're a wargamer, if you just want another hex-based wargame, just another military-themed strategy game, it might be different for you. But that was never why I played Civilization. The threat of war was an important part of the game - and waging war could be fun - but I loved it for other reasons.

I loved exploring a new world, finding the resources and the very best places to found my cities. I loved creating a huge empire, growing my many cities and tying them all together with roads and railroads. I loved my armies of engineers, modifying the terrain as I wanted.

In Civ V, you can still do some of that, but it's all been nerfed. You can't build a nation with dozens of cities. Heck, founding even four cities in the early game is a struggle with unhappiness and a desperate lack of gold. And instead of roads making you money, they cost you one gold for every hex (two for railroads). At best, you can build one road between your cities, and even then, they'd better not be very long.

Now, as a strategy game, as a wargame, that might be OK. But it's not fun at all for a builder like me.  And it hardly seems realistic, either. Imagine a nation with just four or five cities. Imagine a society, especially a modern society, without roads pretty much everywhere. Railroads, too. God, I used to love building railroads in Civilization II!

And now, although you can build improvements - farms, mines, trading posts, etc. - in terrain squares hexes, you can't do much else. In Civ II, you could change the terrain almost as much as you wanted. You could even whittle a mountain down to a hill, if you were willing to take the time (and the hill down to grassland, if you wanted). That might not have been efficient, in some cases, but it was lots of fun. You could create the kind of place you wanted.

(screenshot from Steam)

Actually, the one thing I really, really wanted in Civ II was the ability to change water squares to land, and vice versa. Sometimes, I wanted to place a city near the coast, but not right on it (in order to maximize my resources, of course), and I would have loved the ability to carve out a bay for an ocean port. Are you too far from the water? Then dig a canal!

And as I built railroads across my vast nation, I dreamed of the ability to link with neighboring islands, either filling in a narrow stretch of water or perhaps building a railroad bridge to link them.

Well, we never got that. And even worse, we lost the ability to do much terrain modification at all. In fact, though we've still got workers, they did away with my favorite unit of all, the engineer. Instead, they've tried to turn Civilization into just another wargame. (As I say, the risk of war is necessary, and even fun, but it's not the heart of this game.)

Now, this isn't all new with Civ V - it's just that I finally recognized the problem. I finally realized why the later sequels just weren't as much fun as Civilization II. And in some respects, Civ V seems the worst of all, since they've so clearly, deliberately limited what used to be really fun about the game.

However, they've also allowed mods. And the game runs on Steam, which makes it very easy (if a bit confusing for beginners*) to install player-created mods to change the game as we wish. Now, I'm not a modder myself, and I haven't been able to find mods that bring back everything I want in the game, not even close. But I've been able to tweak the game enough to make it enjoyable for me, at least.

(Keep in mind that I've got the Gods & Kings expansion to Civ V - damn those Steam sales this time of year! :) - so I've had to find mods which will work with that. If you don't have the expansion, you might need different versions of some of these.)

To begin with, I've installed two mods, from the same modder, which add resources to the game: Resources Expanded and Amer-Asian Resources. Some of those extra resources are luxury resources, which help to keep the realm happy. And most of them provide extra gold. For both reasons, they make it possible to have larger empires.

Of course, partly that's a matter of starting location (some of these extra resources are only found in the tropics), so I also installed Reseed, which lets me preview the map at the start of the game (and recreate it, if I want, although that's a feature of the game itself, assuming that you're still on the first turn, and it's much quicker that way).

I just want to glance at the map, to see if it's the kind of start I'll want to play. I never remember much about it, and you can't see the resources everywhere, anyway. But it's really nice to avoid playing for hours, only to discover that you don't enjoy the whole setting.

Terrain - Poor Tiles Tweak changes tundra and desert tiles to provide one food, and lets you place trading posts on snow, just so these aren't completely useless to a city. Units - Starting Scout starts every civilization out with a scout, rather than a warrior, because it's just boring to move so slowly at the beginning, when you're trying to look around.

And Era Settlers changes the beginnings of cities, depending on which era you're in. In later eras, it gives new cities a few basic buildings and a little extra population, so it can make sense to keep founding new cities, even relatively late in the game (when you tend to have enough money and happiness to finally do that).

As a builder, I find these mods very nice. I still can't create an enormous nation, but with the right starting location, I'm not restricted nearly as badly as I would be in the unmodded game. True, these don't let me modify terrain, which is disappointing, but the game has become fun again.

I've also installed a few mods which make the game more enjoyable for me in other ways: City Limits and UI - Enhanced Demographics (which are minor interface tweaks), Units - No Nukes (because I never thought that nuclear weapons were fun in these games), Barbarians - Unlimited Experience, Goody Huts - No Maps, and Scout, Explorer and Command Vehicle Units (so that beginning scout can eventually be upgraded).

(screenshot from Neoseeker)

Now, true, mods can definitely unbalance the game, though I haven't noticed a problem with these. I tend to remove all city-states from the game, too (which is an advanced setting within the game itself), and that definitely hurts civilizations which start with city-state benefits. But I just don't enjoy them - at least partly because they take up land I want to settle myself. (Again, I always loved the huge civilizations I could create in Civ II.)

Finally, I bought the official Spain & Inca DLC when it went on sale at Steam recently, and when you play as the Inca, you can build roads and railroads in hill terrain with no cost. I'd still prefer the old days of building roads and railroads everywhere, but this is a big help when you've got a lot of hilly terrain in your lands (another reason for previewing the map with Reseed).

Yes, that gives me an advantage, but you've got advantages with every civilization. And I end up wasting a lot of time building roads on every hill, whether I really need them or not. (Yeah, I just like to build roads.) But the cost savings helps me build more cities, which is exactly what I want.

Now, I still can't go overboard. (I wish I could!) I still can't build nearly as many cities as I want, but these changes help, especially when I combine them with policies and religious bonuses which suit a large, sprawling empire (especially those which help with the happiness penalty of having many cities).

Oddly enough, even without these mods, the AI civilizations seem to have no problem with large empires. But maybe they cheat, I don't know.

These mods help, but it's still not as much fun as Civilization II. I wish I could find mods to overcome more of the limitations. (If you know of any, please let me know. Unfortunately, I'm not willing to put the effort into creating my own mods. There are just too many other games I could be playing.)

More importantly, I hope that, when the inevitable Civilization VI is developed, they'll look back to what made the earlier game so much fun. These days, there's a strong tendency among mainstream game developers to make their games very similar. Well, they're all trying to appeal to the largest audience, and if you're marketing to strategy gamers, I guess that's all you care about.

But the really great games of the past - games like Civilization II, Master of Orion, or X-Com: UFO Defense - were a mixture of types. They were strategy games, but they had very important role-playing aspects. And the first two of those, at least - and even the third, to a very small extent - let us builder-types enjoy creating, too.

*PS. Many people seem to be confused at how Civilization V handles mods, and that's no surprise. It is confusing, though it's not difficult if you know what to do. At the Steam end, it's simple enough to 'subscribe' to mods in the Workshop. I don't need to describe that, right?

When you start Civ V, you need to click on 'Mods' (reasonably enough), which will take you to a page showing the mods you've subscribed to (after agreeing to a rather scary-sounding EULA, which must be done every time you play). Click the circle to enable those you wish to play with, then click 'Next.'

The next page will show you a list of the mods you've enabled. At this point, do not click 'Back.' Instead, click on 'Single Player' at the top of the window. The next screen will let you choose to 'Set Up Game' or, if you want to load a previous save, 'Load Game.' (As far as I can tell, you have to go through all this every time you want to continue playing that game.)

None of this is difficult, but it can be confusing. Many people click on 'Back,' once they see that list of mods, thinking that they've installed them. 'Single Player,' at the top of the screen, looks more like a title than a choice.


Jim Harris said...

As I've mentioned before, I've always wanted to play Civilization. I got Civ III for $9.95 at Target, but never could figure out how to play it. I also bought Age of Empires too, and never could figure out how to play it. My video game skills were limited to Space Invaders, Pac-Mac and Galaga. Can you still buy Civ II for Windows 7?

WCG said...

Jim, I suppose you could buy a copy on eBay, but I have no idea whether or not you could get it to work with Windows 7.

GOG.com sells old games that they've fixed to run on modern computers, but they don't sell the Civilization series, probably because the developer wants to sell the new one.

You can still buy Civilization IV (it's $10 at newegg.com, for one), but I don't know if I'd recommend it. It got very good reviews, but I wasn't that happy with it (as I mentioned above).

Another option might be Master of Orion, available (along with MOO2) at GOG.com for $7. That's probably my third favorite game of all-time, and it's a lot like Civilization in space (except that you're colonizing planets). I blogged about the game a couple of years ago (here and here).

They say it will work on Windows 7 and 8. But it's an old, old game, and it's been years since I played it. It's a lot like classic books, Jim - some of my appreciation is probably just nostalgia.

Games are like books in another way, too: we all have different tastes. And these are all complicated games which take some effort to learn.

WCG said...

Er, that should be $6, not $7, for MOO and MOO2 at GOG.com. Sorry about the typo.

menthys said...

Oh man, I have not played any Civ title as much as Civ II. And yes, I do miss the abilities of Engineers - not to mention that I had tweaked countless times with the rule book. I loved turning Grasslands or Mountains into Ocean tiles, and vice versa, raising whole continents out of the sea; messing with terrain, so you could have cities of size 127 (over 80 million people each) and when Fantastic Worlds came out, oh man, how lovely it was, to boobytrap the conquest of particular cities, so that the moment they are conquered, the aggressor's capital and everything around it is turned into ocean! Had built scenarios where the conquest of a particular city could turn the whole Earth into Waterworld. Or finish the tech tree with those Invincibles, unstoppable by everything except nukes, and then have Leonardo's Workshop (modified so it keeps updating units forever) update all of your ground forces into them. Or draw awesome units (like those Shadow ships from Babylon 5 and have them roaming around shrieking ;) ) Those were days! I wish there was a Civilization title out that actually learned from Alpha Centauri, and games like Call to Power, adding future epochs!

WCG said...

You know, menthys, that's the one thing I wanted from Civ III. I wanted to be able to terraform ocean tiles - and to transform land tiles to ocean, too.

At the very least, I wanted railroad bridges which could cross a single square of ocean, so I could connect landmasses by railroad.

Ideally, I wanted both. I wanted the ability to dig out a port for a city that was close to, but not right on, the coast. I wanted to reclaim shallow ocean tiles, as the Dutch have done.

Sure, it would take a long time. But it took a long time to change a mountain into a hill, too. It was almost never practical to do that, given how long it took, but I did it anyway.

Civ II was more than just a strategy game for me, and certainly more than a war game. I could never get interested in Sim City, but I still wanted to build. I wanted to build roads and railroads, farms and mines, cities and societies - but in the context of a strategy game like Civilization.

I always wondered if I was the only Civ II fan who has been hugely disappointed in the direction of the later games. Not to say there haven't been some improvements. I welcomed civilization borders (although they didn't work at all in Civ III). But the latter games just haven't been as much fun as Civ II.

Thanks for the comment!

PS. Yes, I wanted to move into the future, too. I tried to find SF mods for Civilization, but I never found one I really liked.

skaname said...

I think a lot of the changes in the game culminate in Civ 5. It basically takes the IRL principles of Geopolitics and turns them into game mechanic. Overall, I felt Civ 5 was definitively far LESS of just a wargame because things actually have cost (real or opportunity) like guns vs butter in economics, you can't just boom build and boom army. You have to choose a strategy based off of your neighbors, your society, your resources, and the land. The game is much more engaging with these changes imo.

Bill Garthright said...

Thanks for the comment, Skaname. I've been playing Civ 6 now (although I don't blog about games anymore), and I do like that one. But I won't play it anywhere near as much as I played Civ 2.