Sunday, May 11, 2014

Freeciv


As I've indicated before, Civilization II might be my favorite game of all-time. I played it for years, over and over again.

The sequels were disappointing. Well, Civ IV was a pretty good game, I suppose. I suspect that I'd just played Civilization for too many years by then. Do you know how you can read a favorite book over and over and over again, until finally,... you've just had enough? I think it was probably like that with this game.

Civ V made some pretty big changes, which was a good idea,... in theory. But as I said in my post about the game, they removed what had been fun for me. After all, there are a million war games out there. That's not what I really liked about this series.

But there's always Freeciv. I hadn't tried this game before, though it's apparently been in development since 1995. It's a free, open-source strategy game, developed by fans of the Civilization series, and it's basically just... Civilization II, my favorite!

In fact, you can choose the original Civilization ruleset, the Civ II ruleset, or the default - which is Civ II with just a few very welcome additions. I went with the default, and the game is almost identical - I mean, identical - to Civ II. It's great!

So read my post about that game if you're not already familiar with it. As I say, there are a few minor changes - all very welcome. Instead of just settlers, you've got settlers and workers (as in the later Civ games). Settlers can do everything workers can, but they can also found cities. (Since they cost more to create and maintain, you do want to use workers for everything else. And yes, workers upgrade to engineers - my favorite unit! - later in the game.)

There are civilization borders (not just city borders) in Freeciv, too. First introduced in Civ III, they didn't work in that game, but they're still a great idea. But the one addition which just blew me away was something I'd always wanted in Civ II: the ability to change land terrain to ocean, and vice versa.

Freeciv lets you modify terrain the way Civ II used to. Once you get engineers, you can even whittle down mountain terrain into hills. It takes a long time, so it might not make sense, but it's still lots of fun. But now, you can go even further than that. Do you want to connect two nearby islands? Now, you can change ocean terrain to swamp (and then further change swamp to grassland, if you want).

That would mean you could run your railroad from one continent to another. And if you've got an interior city which you'd like to make a seaport? Well, now you can dig out a channel to the ocean, if you want.

Honestly, I just can't tell you how much I love that addition to the game! Admittedly, I haven't actually tried either of those things, since I haven't gotten the necessary technology yet. (I've only been playing Freeciv a few days.)  But assuming that it works as described, I'm just overjoyed at this.

Other positives? Well, there are a million different options which you can set before you start a game. (In fact, I recommend playing around with it for a bit - starting a few different games - just to get a feel for it.) You can play the kind of game you want to play.

Me? I'm a builder. I love building up a big, powerful, highly-advanced society. So I want a huge world with lots of room for each civilization. I left barbarians at the default (they start showing up at turn 60), but the AI players and I have a lot of room to grow before we start butting up against each other.

That's just the kind of game I like, and thanks to the options, I can set it up that way. You might feel differently, so you can set the options differently. I like that.

There are problems with the game. Like most fan-created games, the instructions and the interface could be better. It's not actually hard to play the game once you know what to do, but some things - just a few - are harder to figure out than they should be.

The graphics,... well, the graphics are what you should expect. In some ways, they're actually better than I expected. There aren't any video options, except for a full-screen/window toggle, and I wish we could zoom in with the mouse wheel. Some things are a bit hard to see - but not too many. And let's face it, you can't expect expensive video options in a free game.

The only other problem I've had - and it's not really a problem - is that map generation seems to favor smaller islands than I'd like. Yes, there are several different options for that, but even so. I used to play Civ II on very large, winding continents, and I didn't seem to be able to create that kind of world here.

Of course, the main reason I wanted those continents is so I could build a huge civilization connected by railroads. Now that I can change ocean squares into land, I can still do that. So, as I say, this isn't really a problem.

I don't actually know how the AI is, not yet. Since we're spread out on this world, I haven't yet gone to war with anyone. Playing on normal difficulty, my nation's 'score' is the highest in the game, but not that much higher than several of my competitors. And they have spread out more than I have, founding more cities, which will probably cause me problems later.

There are other free, open-source games based on classic MicroProse computer games. FreeCol is an imitation of Sid Meier's Colonization, and FreeOrion apparently attempts to remake Master of Orion (whether the original or the sequels, I don't know). But those aren't anywhere near as far along in development as Freeciv. (Volunteer-driven games, if they survive at all, take a long, long time to develop.)

They're still working on Freeciv - it's the nature of this kind of game that fans are always trying to improve it - but it plays like a finished game. Really, I've been quite impressed. (I did find one bug, where the game started two civilizations - one of them mine - at the same spot, but it was easy just to try again. I usually start over several times before I find a starting position I like, anyway.)

As I say, the game is free. It certainly won't appeal to everyone, but if it looks interesting, you might give it a try. I probably won't play it for too long, but only because I've played Civilization so very many times already - for years and years, in fact. But it's certainly been fun so far.

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Note: My posts on other computer games are here.

2 comments:

Jim Harris said...

The game Civilization has always intrigued me, but when I bought Civ III, I just couldn't figure out how to play it. Do you have any recommendations for learning? It seems these games expect you to have gaming literacy to start with.

WCG said...

Ugh! I thought Civ III was the worst of the series. Admittedly, the overall gameplay was very similar.

Jim, you might check out the Tutorials for Freeciv (in the Help section about halfway down that page).

After that, you'll just need to learn by playing it. There's a help window in the game, so when you don't know what to do, try that. This being a free game, the help windows could be better, but you can at least find the commands there.

Start a few games and see what happens. Often, you can learn the game by seeing what the AI does. But you also learn from experience.

If you build too many buildings and don't have enough money to maintain them, your buildings will be sold automatically. If you don't defend your cities, barbarians will take them. But if you build a military that's too big, you won't have enough production left for anything else.

Start on the easiest difficulty, just to see how the game works. That might be too boring to play for long, but it's a good idea to try a bunch of different starts, anyway. Don't worry about winning the game until you get the basics down.

Oh, and make sure you read the messages every turn. (The Message window will show up at the bottom of the screen if you have new messages, but you have to remember to click on it every turn. I don't like that design, but... hey, this is a free game.)