Saturday, September 15, 2007

Time is the wisest counsellor of all

I've just wrapped up my first game of Beyond the Sword. Even though I was most excited by the prospect of the scenarios in this expansion, I ended up playing a regular game, for reasons that escape me at the moment. It was fun, and ended rather well.

I ended up with a cultural victory, though I was also half way done with my space ship. I'd come within striking distance of winning a religious victory through the Apostolic Palace on a few occasions, and may have squeaked out a diplomatic victory if I'd finished the United Nations.

A few random thoughts on the expansion:
  • Espionage is a cool system. I never really focused on any particular opponent, so it wasn't until later in the game when I was able to have enough points to get a lot out of them. Still, I like the mixture of active and passive missions. That said, I'm really glad that espionage didn't ship in the original game. It's a complex system that adds a whole other aspect to the game; it can be ignored, but at your peril, and would have been hard to master while trying to learn the game in the first place.
  • The other major addition, corporations, are really interesting. I had a sizeable tech lead near the end of the game, so I was able to found all of them except for Standard Ethanol and Aluminum Co. They are EXPENSIVE - the maintenance payments are huge, and also a bit puzzling to me; I never did figure out the math for how much each city has to pay. I ended up being very selective in the way I spread them within my country - most stayed in one city, except for Mining Inc., which provided a much-needed production boost to a wealthy peninsula. However, I spread them like mad to to the rest of the world as much as I could, and my coffers were overflowing. In my next game, I might be more careful to be selective about the ones I spread - I got Mining Inc. early on and spread it, but it probably wasn't too wise to give a huge production boost to all my rivals. Sid's Sushi Co. or Standard Ethanol would probably be safer. Regardless, though, the money adds up. And an advantage of Mining Inc. is that the other civs LOVE it, so after spreading to one or two of their cities, they'll pour out corporate executives to convert the rest of their empire.
  • The more things change, the more they stay the same: winning strategies in Civ IV seem to still be good, but you now have more tools at your disposal. Example: I pursued a variation of the religion+commerce strategy that has served me well in the past. Found a religion, spread it to all your cities, then all your rivals. Build the holy building and all the commerce improvements you can. And - this is the key - discover all the alternative religions that you can; if you keep a rival from having their own holy city, it's far easier to have them convert to your faith, and to some extent they'll do your evangelism for you, plus you won't need to invest in expensive holy wars. After you found Islam, build the Spiral Minaret, and then you'll be able to set your tax rate down to 0% - that one city will generate all the gold you need. Eventually, build Wall Street there, and you'll have more gold than you'll ever need. Now, with BTS, found your most successful corporations in the same city. (There seems to be a limit of 2 per city, in addition to the no-shared-resources rule.) Each city that has your corporation will bring you 5 gold a turn, and with your city improvements that will transform to 15. What's really funny: in this particular game, I never switched from Representation to Universal Suffrage, so the gold really was totally useless to me. I just get a warm feeling when I see it pile up.
  • The new animated leaderheads are really well done. In this game I played against Stalin and Hammurabi, and played as Pericles, and all three of them were interesting and realistic. Pericles in particular has a great opening animation.
  • The modified tech tree is organic and fits in well with the flow of the game; that being said, it does feel like Aesthetics blocks off a good chunk of stuff. Also, I miss Nimoy.
  • Yet again, I played an entire game without a single battle against another civilization. I am awesome and craven.
  • On a related note, I wonder if there's a bug in the AI. After I bumped my espionage to 20% and started getting great visibility, I noticed that Stalin had built up a HUGE stack of units right on my border. Like, thirty or forty knights, catapults, crossbows, the whole story. I was nervous - I was a bit ahead of him technologically, but had a bare minimal army, with a freaking warrior still defending my capital. So I started building some defenders, but - here's the weird part - he did nothing at all. They just stood there for several hundred years, staring at me, until my culture enveloped their city and they got kicked out. Very odd. It seems like if the AI has invested that much time in building up an army (and he had obviously slipped behind in technology and infrastructure as a result), it NEEDS to do SOMETHING to capitalize on its investment. If it doesn't like invading me because of the whole religion thing, fine, but march that glorious army of yours across my land and invade Carthage or Babylon or something.
  • Random events are REALLY cool. They actually had something like this way back in the original Civilization, which makes it the second feature from that game to be recently resurrected. (The other one is the idea of a city revolting against its owner and joining your empire.) However, the old events were always disasters - floods, earthquakes (which could even destroy wonders!) and the like. The new ones are generally positive, although there are some bad ones. Someone has GOT to do something about mine safety. I especially enjoy the ones that let you make choices, as well as quests - I don't know how many of those there are, but in this game my quest was to build seven Coliseums (or in my case Odeons) before entering the Modern Era. In both cases, it makes me fondly remember Castles, an old DOS-based game that combined aspects of Sim City (except you're designing a castle), Warcraft (lead your English warriors against the Celts who want to tear it down), with fun once-a-month dramas in the throne room. Often times this was something simple, like being asked what a woman should name her baby, but there were also really intricate plots involving powerful noble houses, the Church, various native clans, and questions of honor, strength, and expediency. Anyways, I'm really excited to see what the mod and scenario designers can do with this... the one-shot events are great, but I love the idea of an overarching narrative where your decisions have lasting consequences that lead to future queries.
Overall, I'm really impressed. The expansion brings some interesting new systems that enhance the game without breaking the core fun aspects. It has a really high level of polish, which integrates nicely with what's already there.

I think that's enough for now. I'm kind of civ'ed out for the moment - that game took longer than I had expected - but I look forward to trying out some of those cool-looking scenarios. Be warned, God of Winter! The time of wrath draws near!


  1. Nice! Wondering what time you hit to finish?

    Also, beware of the scenarios. A good concept, but not as well executed as they could have been.

  2. Just looked - victory in 1923 AD. Not to sound too cocky, but I would have won earlier if I could have made up my mind for which victory to pursue... I kept my culture slider at 0% for the whole game.

    Thanks for the heads-up on scenarios. I'm playing the Age of Ice one now; it's entertaining so far, and I'm having fun with my army of polar bears, but we'll see how long it lasts.

  3. Be uber warned: Do NOT use one save game. I forget what the trigger is, but at one point an uber-dragon spawns that will literally one-shot any character/unit you put up against it. If the Winter Dragon is spawned, reload and avoid capturing the city/whatever until you have a dominating position and a fast route to the winter god.

  4. Thanks for the tip! I just captured the first piece of the sword and vassaled (yes, that is now a verb) the Doriello (sp?). I kind of wish I'd known that they would surrender once you took their capital; I would have gone right for it instead of seizing outlying cities first and building up my maintenance costs. I'm now fighting in the vale up north, where I think there may be a second piece of the sword. I'll keep an eye open for the dragon.