Sunday, December 18, 2005

System Up

Yesterday (Saturday, December 17th), I played my first multiplayer game of Civ IV with David. I thought I'd share my thoughts here because, well, isn't that what this blog is for?

First thought: you need a Gamespy ID to do multiplayer. (Well, you can do a direct connection, but that causes trouble with most people's routers and leaves everyone at risk if the host computer goes down, so in practice you'll want the Gamespy route.) It took me a long and frustrating time to figure this out, so save yourself some hassle: even though they claim you can use a pre-existing Gamespy ID, I wasn't able to log in with either of my accounts, ever. So choose "Create new account" even if you already have one.

Once you're in, you're in the lobby. This really stinks. There's just one huge room and chat window with every single game in the world thrown in; it reminds me a lot of the old HalfLife multiplayer screen, except every second there's a new message about "NO FAGS IN HERE!!!!" or similar eight-year-old nonsense. They really should have multiple lobbies, say some for duel games, others for In-Character matches, some for Epic games, etc.

In our case, we just coordinated on AIM what we wanted to do, and I created the game. (If you have to ask what it was called, you didn't know me at Wash U.) I slapped on a password, waited for David, then we launched. Our game was a 5-civ match played on a Normal Archipelago map. We each took Noble difficulty and a random civ.

I wound up as Spain, which made me very unhappy. Spain's attributes are Expansive and Spiritual, neither of which I really wanted. David was Inca, which he may or may not have wanted, but he definitely didn't complain as much as me. (I think he's more polite.)

Chatting is easy; you just hit tab, type it in, and press enter. It pops up in the upper-left like any other in-game message. You can also do private messages, although obviously we didn't do any of those in this game.

I can't help but compare this with Civ II's multiplayer; forgive me the digression, since I know of only two or so people who ever did that, and one of those was David. For the record, though Civ II's chat interface was pretty bad. It was a whole other MDI window that you could drag around but would always cover up the map. It kept a good record, but it was impossible to view or type messages while doing anything else. The Civ IV system is a bit better, since you can, say, look at message popups while moving your units. There are some annoyances - if you're typing when a turn ends, you can't continue typing until your next turn begins, and you can't close the text box, which means you'll need to deal with it while you're being asked to make build selections, research goals, etc. On the whole, though, I'm very happy with it. I'm curious whether there'll be more conversation in larger games, since more people are involved, or less, since there might be more focus on just playing the game as opposed to evaluating it.

I'll try and spare you the blow-by-blow of this game. It'll be hard. Um, let's see. Since I started with Mysticism, I decided to go ahead and try for an early religion. I grabbed Buddhism, then decided I'd go ahead and try to get as many religions as I could. At the same time, though, I was trying to research everything else. This was very different from my normal strategy, which is to just grab the techs I need to develop the space around my capital and then rush towards Alphabet; I needed Sailing since I was on a dinky island, I needed Animal Husbandry because of my pigs, there were a bunch of religious techs I wanted, I wanted Bronze Working to try chopping down forests, etc. Despite some apprehension, though, I didn't slow down that much, which was nice. IV is much better than II in that each tech has a specific beaker cost, as opposed to II where each tech cost something like 1.5 times as much as the previous one, meaning Horseback Riding could cost more to research than Computers. Now, you can research 4 early techs in the time it would cost to get, say, Alphabet, and it can be very smart to do that. (And also because civs are often very unwilling to trade; even once I got alphabet, only David would trade ANY of his techs.)

I founded Buddhism, then while I was getting some other early techs Asoka founded Hinduism and Judaism. I swung back, though, and over the course of the game founded Christianity, Confucianism, Taoism, and Islam. I very gradually expanded my empire, and every single one of my civs became a holy city. My capital Madrid started working on Stonehenge immediately after its warrior and worker; I used the eventual Great Prophet to create the Buddhist shrine. I decided to make this my official religion and propagated it to all of my cities. I became Pacifist and kept cranking out... more Great Prophets. Even though I'd built other wonders and assigned other specialists, and the odds of the GP being 40% scientist, 40% artist and only 20% prophet, something like six out of the seven GP produced by Madrid were Prophets. At first I used some to get even more religions; one let me get Divine Right almost immediately, which was nice. After complaining some more, at David's suggestion I used the rest to create shrines. Once I'd built all of those, I had to use the rest as Super Specialists. (Prophets give some production and gold.)

Meanwhile I built some Galleys and started exploring. My main island was mainly island; there was only room for two good cities, though by the end of the game I'd squeezed four on there. Asoka was to my south, David to my east, Tokugawa around the world and poor Frederick all by himself in the south. Asoka had by far the largest island, which would prove crucial in this game. Tokugawa, like in the other game I've met him, was absurdly isolationist, refusing to Open Borders even once we were at +3 relations.

I belatedly decided to go for the religious strategy I described in a previous post and try to convert everyone. I spent more time on missionaries than ever before and sent them forth. Unfortunately, I first targetted India. I think that the AI won't ever accept one of your religions (permanently, I mean) if they founded one of your own. I couldn't get Tokugawa to take Buddhism because he wouldn't open his borders. I sent a few to David but he was infected by all sorts. The one place I had success was Germany; I converted three of his cities (after he had converted to Taoism, which spread on its own, much as Tokugawa would later convert to Islam). This kept us on good terms. Unfortunately, he was always the weakest player in the game, but it felt nice to have a +6 with an AI for once.

I wasn't in the mood for military conquest and didn't have the size I needed for a military or space race victory. So, almost by default, I decided to shoot for Cultural. I'd learned a lot from my previous attempt and felt fairly confident at my chances. Of my five cities I chose the three with the largest populations and commerce and began some long-term preparations; the other two cities focused on building up their commerce and providing military support.

The key to a cultural victory is multiplicative buildings. Some of the late wonders, like Broadway and Hollywood, give your culture a 50% boost. However, Cathedrals are available much earlier, are cheaper, and provide the exact same bonus. I actually put off discovering Scientific Method for a few turns so I could get at least one Monastary for each religion. I began spreading the religions internally. I was surprised at the success rate; I'm not sure if a missionary ever failed, as opposed to my foreign attempts, which had roughly a 2/3 success rate if there was already a religion in the city. Anyways, by the end of the game, each of my cities had all 5 religions. Each built a Temple. This allowed each of my three culture cities to build their Cathedrals. I realized that, since I could build a Cathedral for EVERY three Temples, I'd be in better shape with six cities. So I squeezed a fourth city onto my first continent, had all five religions in there before it reached size 3, and rushed a series of temples. That meant that I had a total of 10 Cathedrals, 3 each for Madrid and Barcelona and 4 in Seville.

When I reached Mass Media, I decided to go for Democracy so I could take Universal Suffrage, then get serious about my venture. I took Culture all the way up to 100%. The big three built Cathedrals as they became available, and otherwise were working on Broadway, Hollywood, Rock and Roll. Incidentally, this is where religion really paid off for me, literally. Having all those shrines and spreading the religion around meant that I was bringing in enough cash in shrine income alone to support my empire; in other words, despite having either 100% Science or 100% Culture, I was generating a profit every turn.

In parallel with all this, David started the first war of the game in the 1700s by attacking Tokugawa, who had arrogantly settled an island between him and David that clearly belonged to Inca. With technical superiority and tactical excellence, David routed him. This also kicked off an odd series of diplomatic snafus, as Asoka would regularly demand we go to war against Japan and then pull out of the war himself.

As a sidenote, has anyone else noticed that the AI never seems to go to war in ancient times? Maybe it's just the games I've played so far, but they never seem to go on the offensive until around the time of Gunpowder. There's no way a Civ II game would get all the way to 1700 before the first war.

I ended up winning the cultural victory, but it was close; David built the UN at around the time Madrid reached Legendary status, and with a little more maneuvering might have been able to snag a Diplomatic victory. We kept playing after my win so David could finish taking Kyoto. It turns out that that the AI still tries to win the game if you keep playing; Asoka was building spaceship parts and trying to vote himself Supreme Leader.

One difference between single player and multiplayer games is that multiplayer has much fewer popups. When discovering a tech, you don't hear the cool quote and see the tech description; it just says "You have discovered Monarchy!" and you get prompted for a new research goal. There also are no wonder or victory videos. I'm curious if there are options that control these, since I kind of missed them.

The game seemed to go a lot faster than our Civ II games, though it's hard to compare the two; Civ II was always much more about socializing (we weren't on AIM then), and this was all over once session. At the end of the game it said it went for 7 hours and 7 minutes, not bad at all for a game that literally stretched from men with clubs up to modern armor. That even counted breaks for lunch and dinner when we'd kept the game running, though it does not count the time my game froze and I had to shut down and restart the program. Anyways, this makes me optimistic that we could do games in a reasonable time.

I'm serious about wanting to do multiplayer games, though not until January. If anyone is interested in joining, drop me a line; we need to figure out what people want to do and what games will work best. Right now I'm envisioning weekly games of maybe 3 hours each; based on our game, that means we can probably finish a game in about two sessions (though a combat-heavy game would take longer). Depending on the skill level of the people joining, they will probably be low-key, designed as learning experiences to give people a chance to try stuff out and ask questions without worrying about getting backstabbed.

Um, that's it for now. I have some more posts coming up next week, but anyways, Happy Holidays everyone!

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