Friday, September 10, 2010

The Kinda Lame Reset

These days, I faithfully follow the CA High Speed Rail Blog.  I've gotten increasingly excited and agitated about everything going on with HSR in California, and the blog serves up great daily helpings of red meat, offering smack-downs to the NIMBYs along the Peninsula who want to kill the project, as well as some really cool and surprisingly in-depth pieces on the technical aspects of building the rail line.

Robert Cruickshank is the main writer for the blog, and a while ago he wrote a post about an article that riffed off a book called The Great Reset.  He later followed up on that post with one that clarified why he thought the book's HSR-related arguments were still sound even if one questioned its underlying thesis.  I was intrigued, and picked it up.

Richard Florida's main thesis is that what we're living through now, the period that people called "The Great Recession," is actually something much larger, deeper, and darker.  Unlike a typical recession that lasts a year or so as part of a standard business cycle, he thinks that we're at the start of a fundamental shift within our economy.  He believes the better parallels to our current situation are the Great Depression, and, even more so, the Long Depression of the 1870's.  His book offers both yin and yang: he thinks we're in for a long and painful ride, but that this time is necessary in order to transform our economy into something far greater in the future.

Historically, he sees the 1870's depression as the turning point where America stopped being a nation primarily of farmers and of small towns, and became a nation of cities.  This period saw an enormous collapse of wealth (much of it, as in our own time, based on banking misdeeds and real estate speculation), but also saw the rise of powerful railroads, industries, massive city centers, all sorts of production.  This wasn't just an economic upheaval but a social one as well: people fled their farms, and found entirely new lives as factory workers. 

What was the consequence of all this?  America shifted from being a majority of farmers, to only a fraction of farmers.  (Today, only about 2% of Americans live on farms, as opposed to much more than half in the 1860's.)  That freed up huge amounts of human capital, which we then used to build an industrial base.  The 1870's shift in American outlook laid the foundation for the 20th century of American supremacy, as a dominant manufacturing power.

He gets into a lot of other things that changed as well - the creation of the modern educational system, the land-grant university system, etc.  You get the idea, though: the Long Depression was painful, but it also led to great changes.  In the author's view, this happens in part because, during a Reset, a backlog of idea, social changes, and possibilities builds up.  Once the economy starts moving again, those ideas propel the country in a new direction, one better suited for the times.

Florida sees the 1930's as a similar Reset.  Here, the transformation was from an industry-centered economy into a consumer-centered economy.  Once again, people were freed up by mass production, machinery, and automation.  "Freed up" is horrible if you're a factory line worker; however, from a larger social perspective, it meant that we could produce many more goods, and make them far cheaper than before.  This was part of what transformed us into a nation of consumers.  And, in the same way that railroads in the 19th century connected industrial sites together to enable manufacturing, the highways in the 20th century opened up large swaths of the land where people could consume: buy big houses, buy big cars, buy lots of stuff to fill them up.  All that economic activity flowed back into our economy, propelling us through most of the last century.

So, what will this next Reset be like?  He doesn't think we can know, exactly; in the 1860's, who could have imagined Alcoa?  In the 1920's, who could have imagined McDonald's?  Using the earlier resets as a guide, he speculates that we're in for a long haul; it will probably take several decades for the economy to fully recover.  He thinks that we're moving from a stuff-based economy into an idea-based economy; this plays into his hobby horse of the Creative Class, the economic sector of artists, engineers, scientists, and others who deal mainly in abstract thought.  He ends the book by laying out some concrete suggestions for how we can ease this transition.  He doesn't think that the government is the solution, but they can encourage some beneficial behaviors, such as reform of our educational system (transitioning from rote memorization, which was helpful when creating docile factory workers, into encouraging entrepreneurship and creativity, which will help spawn an explosion of new industries); reforming our house-favoring tax system (financially encourage people to rent, so they can more easily move between economic hubs and find and keep great jobs); strengthen the service industry by empowering individuals and encouraging their contributions; and building high-speed rail networks to shrink distances, connect more people to the economic megaregions that he sees as the cornerstones of the new economy, and free up our spending so many resources on the auto so we can invest them in newer experiences.

Megaregions are probably the most important concept in the book other than Reset.  As he sees it, pre-1870's America was centered on the town.  A town was self-sufficient and fairly isolated.  1870-1930 was centered on the city, which had an industrial core and close-in workers.  WWII to today has been suburb-oriented, where consumers can live lives of leisure and consumption around loosely organized rings.  Our next step will be centered on megaregions, such as the Boston-New York-Washington, D.C. corridors, or the Bay Area in northern California.  In these regions, large cities have melded together and created social and economic personalities.  The megaregions support culture, excitement, and density, which young people are increasingly drawn towards.  He points to the well-known fact that, while the Internet enables software startups to begin literally anywhere, they still often set up shop in Silicon Valley, precisely because bright engineers want to be around other bright engineers.  He thinks that this Reset will find these megaregions deciding what their strengths are, how they want to define themselves, and what actions to take to become who they want.  He points to some surprisingly uplifting success stories, such as Pittsburgh's transformation from a failed industrial economy to one based on education and research.

So, how do I feel about the book?  Kinda indifferent.  I like a lot of the points that he made, but found myself playing devil's advocate throughout, and being unsatisfied with the answers he gave.  Ultimately, while I agree with a lot of the specific policy suggestions he outlines, and his vision of our our society needs to transform, I have a hard time buying his key concepts.

For example, I was never really all that satisfied by his description of Resets.  He describes them as periods of intense change and economic uncertainty, but things are always changing, and we regularly have economic problems.  Yes, you can argue that the 1870's and the 1930's were very transformative times; but so were the 1900's (radio, national newspapers, mass communication), 1950's (television, national culture), 1960's (space exploration, counterculture, sexual liberation), 1990's (computers, Internet), and so on.  It just seems a bit arbitrary to say that, for example, the Internet was the result of the Second Reset, or a harbinger of the Third Reset. 

Playing a mental game: what would have happened if there hadn't been a Second Reset?  Would we have never built Levittown, never gotten color televisions, never created the Edsel?  Does our society always need to make sharp, abrupt changes, or can we sometimes make smooth, gradual ones?  I'd argue that there have been HUGE changes in our society since the Second Reset was well completed - to pick just one example, we practically doubled our workforce by accepting women as full members of society.  If this had happened during a time of economic turmoil, or right afterwards, I'm sure the author would claim it as further evidence of his thesis.  He doesn't seem to view the fact that it occurred during a long, gradual period of general economic growth as countering the thesis.

What else... one thing he never got into was the question of specialness.  He lists exactly two Resets, which occurred sixty years apart in the same country.  Do other nations have Resets?  Do they occur globally?  Do all nations get them in the same sequence?  Were there any Resets before the 1870's?  If not, why did they just start then?  Is it possible that China will get the Third (or Fourth) Reset so we don't have to?

Similarly, while I dig the general idea of megaregions, and find it particularly helpful in explaining the Bay Area's properties, I was really unhappy with his treatment of the subject.  He probably rubbed me the wrong way by listing Chi-Pitts as a megaregion.  (Actually, over half of his megaregions are just the names of cities squished together, which I think says a lot for the lack of identity in those areas.)  I love Chicago, I spent my high school years there, and still have family and friends who keep me in the loop of everything that's going on.  I don't think that I've ever once heard someone in Chicago speak as though they considered Pittsburgh as part of their region.  I don't think I've ever heard someone link Ohio with Chicago.  Don't get me wrong, there is a large region around Chicago, which is variously called Chicagoland, Greater Chicago, and so on.  It's quite mega, too - it stretches from Wisconsin through western Indiana, and strikes out far to the southwest of the metro region.  Within that area, people have a shared identity, shared sports teams, shared culture, shared economy.  But, Pittsburgh?  Not a chance.

It's possible that a megaregion may grow between those areas some day, linked by high speed rail, but... I just don't know.  Why not an Upper Midwest culture that links the Twin Cities with Madison, Milkaukee, and Chicago?  We could call it NFC Northland.  It would be awesome.

Ultimately, I ended up feeling the opposite about this book as I did about Malcolm Gladwell's Blink.  I thought that Blink was a collection of wonderful anecdotes in search of a thesis.  The Great Reset is a collection of inadequately developed ideas defending a powerful thesis.  I'm not saying that it's wrong, just that he hasn't sold me yet.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Winding Up

I've just finished another sci-fi loaner from a colleague.  This one is "Look to Windward" by Iain Banks, the first book I've read from that author.  It's a good book... not a masterpiece, nor the most exciting story ever, but really solid sci-fi, with interesting characters, observations, and stories.

I think that with a bit of effort, you could come up with a decent grid that could briefly describe any sci-fi work (book, show, or series).  Such as:
* Are there aliens?
* Is faster-than-light travel possible?
* Is backwards time-travel possible?
* Are there multiple universes?
... and so on.  In this case, in contrast to many other sci-fi books I've recently read, there ARE many aliens, and faster-than-light travel is definitely possible.


The technical background of the book actually reminds me a lot of the Star Trek universe, although the feel is certainly different.  The main civilization in this story, the Culture, feels like a slightly more adolescent version of the Federation.  It's a sprawling galactic civilization, nominally dedicated to principles like freedom and peacefulness.  The Culture comprises several species, but seems based around Earth humans.  They spend much of their time and energy exploring or just kicking it, but also can fight wars against implacable foes when they need. 

Similarly, faster-than-light travel is possible in both worlds.  Here, it is actually a critical part of the plot, in a more literal sense than you might think.  The book is bracketed by the Twin Novae.  In the background to the story, the Culture fought a war against another alien species ages ago.  As part of that battle, they detonated two stars.  The war has been over for a long time, but the light from those exploding stars is finally reaching a particular residence called the Masaq' Hub, and the story deals with the events between the time the first and the second star's light arrives.

The Culture started out seeming like the Federation, but the more I read about the book, the more it seemed to be obviously, painfully, an analogy for the United States.  The Culture is brash, cocky, good-hearted, rich.  It disclaims any desire for empire, but feels compelled to meddle in other civilizations' affairs, projecting its own values onto theirs.  It desperately wants to be liked; when anyone indicates that they like the Culture a little, the Culture will eagerly do anything to make them love them even more; when someone hates the Culture, they'll try to do what they can to make them friends.  The Culture proclaims its guilt for bad actions it has taken, while in reality it will do anything to support its way of life.  The vast majority of Culture citizens spend their lives pursuing pleasure, purposefully oblivious to the political and military actions of their government.

Pretty indicting, huh?  Then I checked the copyright page - published in 2000.  Before 9/11, before Afghanistan, before Iraq II.  I gulped.  Banks seemed uncomfortably prescient.  Or, as usual, I may just be reading too much into my fiction.

The alien species in the book are interesting.  On a macro level, we learn that, while each is different, most follow a standard trajectory.  They start out primitive, and spend their early existence in an Age of Scarcity; even after attaining technical knowledge to travel between stars or communicate with other aliens, they are limited by their resources.  At some point, species overcome this, and join the ranks of the Involved.  Involved species are in control of their own destiny, communicate with other Involveds around the galaxy, and pursue their own values and goals.  Some Involved are peaceful, others warlike, many inscrutable.

Over time, new species join the ranks of the Involved, while others drop off.  Some destroy themselves in wars, either civil or standard.  Others become listless.  Many, though, Sublime.  Sublimation feels like a variation on Vinge's Singularity, although it seems more social than technological.  A species that Sublimes instantly disappears, with every member of the race vanishing; they leave behind their artifacts, but they themselves are gone.  Presumably they have quit this physical universe and gone somewhere else.

One of the prominent races in this book, the Chelgrians, provide the only exception to this pattern.  The Chelgrians only partially sublimed.  Those who left became the Chelgrian-Puem, and, unlike all other Sublimed species, they communicate back to those left in the world.  Furthermore, the Chelgrians, a religious race, decide to fashion a Heaven for themselves; based on their existing beliefs, the Chelgrian-Puem create an afterlife for themselves, and for all other Chelgrians, and so create a place for souls to go after they die.

All of this, of course, is considered unsporting by the other Involved, who are generally fascinated and slightly repelled by the idea.

Incidentally, not only organic life can Sublime.  Artificial intelligences play a large role in the book; although they are created by intelligent species, they generally become independent, taking on some of the personality of their creators while surpassing their abilities.  Over time, most AIs eventually Sublime as well.  This sort of equality exists throughout the book; two of the major characters, Hub's Avatar and E. H. Tersono, are both machines, and both are strongly independently minded and quirky characters.

Most other races only get passing mentions.  Kabe, a Homondan, is a great character, sort of a Horatio to Ziller's Hamlet, but his species doesn't seem too unusual.  On the other hand, the dirigible behemothaurs are fascinating.  A slight side-story deals with a scholar named Uegen Zelpe who studies these things.  They are enormous, incredibly long-lived intelligences, who float around a planet and think in terms of millennia.  Uagen may have been one of my favorite characters, although his endearing nervousness may have gotten annoying if he was around more.

The writing is solid for the most part.  Banks occasionally experiments with some interesting technique; in one of my favorite parts, he eschews all narrative and exposition, and does a chapter purely in dialog.  Not even "... he said" direction, just the spoken words themselves.  By then, you've gotten to know the characters well enough to completely track with what's happening, and it's an especially satisfying way to advance the story.

I haven't even gotten into the plot yet.  It's decent, but honestly isn't the main point here; for most of the book, I wondered when the excitement would start.  Most of the book focuses on laying out these really interesting characters, species, history, and mores, and the work towards the end feels rewarding but not necessarily essential.


All in all, this was a fine book.  I can't claim that it was the best sci-fi I've read in the past year, but it has a lot of competition, and was certainly good enough that I'll want to check out other stuff by Banks in the future.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Hooah! Good God, Y'All!

My cousin Paul is an inveterate reader... that is to say, he is a true King.  Every time we meet he has at least one fascinating new book under his belt that he is eager to discuss.  His interests bend more towards nonfiction, while mine bend more towards fiction, and as a result he is a great source of new works.

His most recent find is "War" by Sebastian Junger.  He went so far as to lend me a physical copy.  Here's a secret - I get recommended books all the time, I rarely am able to keep up with the suggestions, and the best (though still not foolproof) way to make me read something is to give it to me. 

It took me a while to get into it, and it was relatively slow going once I did.  That isn't at all a reflection on the author or the writing.  It's nonfiction, but it's exciting, emotional, compelling.  It was slow going for me precisely BECAUSE it was so compelling _ I felt overwhelmed as I went through it, and had to take regular breaks before diving back in again.

This book is primarily about a particular platoon of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.  Junger does step back to give some larger context - we lean the hierarchy above the soldiers, some broader initiatives, and so on - but most of the book is almost claustrophobic in its description of the intense lives these soldiers lead.  We learn about their living conditions, their senses of humor, the violence regularly visited upon them and dealt by them. 

Junger doesn't really have a political axe to grind here; he does give voice to some of the soldiers' own opinions, but the book as a whole is neither pro- nor anti- the war in Afghanistan.  It isn't exactly neutral either, though.  The strongest impression I'm left with after reading this book is one of admiration for the infantry soldiers at the heart of the book.  It's even less sympathetic towards the Taliban than, say, "Where Men Win Glory" was.  Junger does briefly pause toward the end to mention how the young fighters in the Taliban must have felt similarly to the young American solderis, but he isn't really trying to equate the two at all.

He does give some voice to the divisions within the U. S. military.  I suppose that in a way, "War" is ultimately about chasms.  The largest is the chasm between soldiers and civilians; civilians just can't understand what soldiers go through, and that chasm makes it difficult for many to readjust to civilian life afterwards.  There's also a huge chasm between combat infantry and other military, though.  The platoon at Restrepo, who spend more than a year putting their lives on the line in direct line of fire to establish an American presence in a two-mile by six-mile-long valley, feel contempt towards the soldiers who never leave their Forward Operating Base.  Conversely, the Fobbits look down on the Restrepo warriors as uncouth and undisciplined louts.  The Restrepo soldiers feel (and rightfully so, one thinks) that they have earned the right to be respected by their actions, and simply cannot deal with the arbitrary rules imposed by people out of danger.

This is primarily a narrative book, but the statistics Junger does share are astonishing.  Only a tiny fraction of the enormous U. S. military force in Afghanistan ever sees combat.  Of those who do, just a tiny number of soldiers see fighting over and over and over again.  It's a very inequitable distribution that makes a lot of logistical sense (you want your best and most experiences soldiers in the toughest spots), but does not seem very fair.

Junger's psychological investigations are fascinating as well.  When you step back and think about what war is, it's pretty amazing, even aside from the obvious matter of life and death.  War takes a group of 20-50 males between the ages of 18 and 22, sticks them in one physical location, and makes them spend an entire year there without seeing any women, without good food or coffee, wakes them up almost daily when strangers shoot at them, hones them to instantly respond to stimuli without thinking.  War shapes these men, it forms incredibly strong bonds between them, and Junger discusses studies done by the US and Israeli militaries on how those bonds and those characteristics form something we can scientifically call "courage." 

All in all, this was a fascinating book.  It was tough for me to read, but I'm glad that I did.  One section opens with a quote from Churchill (or Orwell) to the effect that we can sleep soundly in our beds at night because we have violent men standing ready to punish those who would do us harm.  That isn't a sentiment that I particularly like, but it's also hard for me to argue against.  This book helped me catch a fraction of a glimpse into the lives soldiers lead, and helps me appreciate the incredibly debt we owe them.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Your Revolution Is A Silly Idea, Yeah

Have you heard?  For a brief 24-hour period, iPhone users could download Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution for FREE!  I eagerly grabbed it, and it occupied far too much of my time and attention for far too long.  Ahhh... the sign of a great Civ game!

It's definitely different than "traditional" Civ, whatever that means after four iterations and several expansions, but it still retains the characteristic addictive qualities.  In mobile format, that's especially deadly.  I'm well acquainted with staying awake too long trying to wind down a war, or reach a particular technological threshhold, or finish mapping out a new continent, but now, for the first time, I could do all these things in bed, tapping out additional commands while my eyes grew heavy and I sank closer towards sleep.

I like lists.  Let's start out with some basic enumerations.

What is Revolution missing?
* Real diplomatic states.  There are no more "Open Borders" agreements, so even if you're friendly with other civs, you won't be able to pass through their territory without triggering a war.
* Corporations (a la Beyond the Sword).
* Specialists.  (At least, I don't think you have them any more.  I'm not clear on what happens to your extra citizens beyond the number who can work the radius around your city.)
* Religion (a la Civ IV).
* Unit upgrades.  You know that Warrior you gave all those promotions to?  Yeah, he's useless now, since he's stuck as a Warrior and can't turn into a Legion or Pikeman or Infantry.  Only one single civ can upgrade their units, exactly once, by building Leonardo's Workshop.  (Helloooooooo, unbalanced Civ II wonder!  I've missed you!)
*No more workers.  I'm still torn on whether this is good or bad, but it definitely speeds up the game.  Instead of building them and moving them around, you pay cash to build roads (which only speed movement, like Civ III/IV, and don't give bonuses, like I/II), and build buildings to provide upgrades like workers would normally provide; for example, a Trading Post boosts trade in desert squares, and an Iron Mine quadruples resources from mountain squares.  Even better, some tiles get upgraded just by researching certain technologies... basically, what used to be a two-part process (learn a tech, then build an improvement on the resource) now becomes a one-part process.

What are the coolest things that Revolution adds?
* New victory conditions.  Economic requires you to make a bunch of cash, which is a great idea; commerce has always been second fiddle to the other axes in Civ, not something to pursue in its own right.  The new Cultural victory is very different from the Civ IV version - it's now based on the total number of wonders and Great People you produce, so while you can still drive towards it with a small civ, you can also get it from a broader one as well.
* Armies.  Revolution combines the armies from Civ III with the promotion system/XP from Civ IV, leading to even more complex and interesting strategies.
* One-shot bonuses.  These make the game WAY more fun, and are something I'm really hoping to see in Civ V.  If you're the first civ to research a technology, you gain a bonus.  For example, you might get 100 free gold from researching Currency, or a free Fighter for researching Flight.  You also get bonuses from other achievements; once you pass an economic milestone, for example (such as having 1000 gold in the bank), your cities might all get +1 population.  For my first play-throughs, these were surprising and a lot of fun.  Over the long run, I suspect that they'll become core pieces of players' strategies... someone might focus on investing in their economy to hit a particular bonus, then pursue a particular technological path neglected by the AI so they can earn bonuses there.
* More interesting barbarians.  Barbarians now have their own leader; you can't negotiate with him, but he'll taunt you and grudgingly admire you when you defeat him in battle.  Barbarian cities are now more closely linked to tribal villages, and both will give you rewards for taking them.
* Era bonuses.  Unlike Civ IV, which gave you all your bonuses at once (based on the leader) and a special military unit at a particular point in time, Revolution gives your civ an additional bonus with each era you enter.  These are interesting because they both encourage certain behaviors, and discourage others.  For example, I played as the Chinese; from the Ancient period, they get +1 population in each of their new cities; when I entered the Classical period, I would gain the Literacy tech for free.  Obviously, I didn't want to research Literacy during the Ancient period, even though I could have, so I pursued other avenues instead.  On the other hand, I did have a strong incentive to expand early, so I built more settlers than I would have otherwise.  I also knew that I'd be able to build half-cost libraries in the Medieval period, so I didn't build any until then.
* Named terrain.  Periodically you will enter a seemingly ordinary square, and discover, say, an especially fertile grassland.  You will earn a bonus and can choose the name of the location, such as the "Yangtzee Grassland" or the "Tibetan Grassland."
* Ancient Artifacts.  These felt kind of Alpha Centauri-ish, but more powerful.  You really want to explore early on so you can find them first, and each gives a powerful one-time reward.  There seem to be four in each game, but I'm pretty sure that there are more than four altogether, so you won't find each one in each game.  Finding Atlantis will give you a bunch of free techs.  The Knights Templar will give you a free Knights unit - if you find it early enough, you can crush anything your opponents field against you.  The Ark of the Covenant gives a free Temple in each city.  And so on... you won't know in advance what any artifact is, but they're always great to find.

I played my game as Mao of the Chinese.  I've always preferred primarily non-military strategies in Civ, and the Chinese bonuses seemed most conducive to that style of play.  I restarted a couple of times due to dumb decisions I made early on, and finally settled on a game that I liked.  In this one, I shared an enormous continent; I was in the south, the Russians were in the center east, and the Germans based in the north.  A smaller continent to the east had the Zulus in the south and the Arabs in the north.  Many islands filled out the space with some barbarian villages.

I got really lucky early on, with some bonus settlers from tribal villages.  I gradually expanded outward from my capital, trying to place each city to maximize the unique resources.  Unlike earlier Civs, you can't immediately work all 20 spaces around your city; instead, you start out with a Colonization-style small square, and can only expand out after discovering Code of Laws and building a Courthouse.  This led to some additional strategy - plant a city that can grow well now, or pick a site that can maximize long-term potential?  My choices were pretty good, except for Macao, which I stupidly planted in a spot with no hammers.  (The game will warn you if you try to build in a spot without adequate food, but apparently thinks no resources is OK.)  It grew fine and generated a ton of commerce for me, but I eventually had to pay a bunch of cash to rush build a courthouse from scratch.  After that, it grew fine.

Oh, I should have mentioned this earlier - resources are weird in this game.  (Resources in the sense of food, hammers, and trade.)  All other Civs have offered particular combinations of resources... plains have one food and one hammer, forests have one food and two hammers, sea has two trade and one food, and so on.  Here, each type of square only offers one type of resource.  Deserts only have trade, forests only have hammers, grasslands only have food.  However, with the proper resources, buildings, or technologies, you can either increase your existing output (such as going from 2 food to 5 food), or gain an additional output (such as building a harbor and getting one food in addition to your two trade).  I didn't particularly care for this setup - it seems arbitrary to limit initial output but not enforce it through improvement.  I'd rather stick with the slightly messier older system of mixed resources.  That said, once you get the hang of it, there's nothing wrong with the Revolution approach.

As usual, I dumped almost all of my trade into science.  Between my larger population base and my singleminded pursuit of knowledge, I soon reached a virtuous cycle.  I was almost always the first civ to research any tech, which gave me a bonus, which strengthened my civ, which let me focus even more on tech, which led to further bonuses, and so on. 

I also aggressively explored to get all the artifacts.  I ended up missing one - I suspect it was on the Zulu/Arab continent - but grabbed the others.  One key is to get a Galley early on.  I believe that you can build one immediately without needing any tech, and you can also get one from a barbarian village near the sea.  In keeping with their great philosophy of not making you do two things when you could just do one thing, each Galley gets a free land unit that you can use for exploration, perfect for exploring villages and claiming artifacts even though you can't attack anyone with him.  Anyways, I found one artifact on my own continent, and another on an island.  I saw Atlantis fairly early, but since it was in deep ocean, I needed to build a Galleon before I could claim it.

For most of the game, I wasn't sure what type of victory to pursue, so I just tried to play a strong all-around game.  My Cultural production was relatively low, so I didn't get any Great People for a while; on the other hand, I had enough cities that I could have one building a Wonder at any given time while the others focused on building buildings (or, occasionally, units).  (Incidentally, it took me a while to figure out, but I'm pretty sure that "happiness" and "culture" are the same thing - at least, I never found any in-screen indication of happiness despite some text referring to it, and no buildings claim to boost culture, so I suspect they are identical).

As previously noted, I focused my trade on science, but I still made impressive strides towards economic advancement.  Capturing enemy cities didn't get much money, but I collected a good chunk from all my science bonuses, named location discoveries, and other random events.  These all pushed me up the economic achievement ladder, and eventually I did build up some cities as economic powerhouses, collecting together the wonders, buildings, and Great People who would multiply my money.  (As with Civ IV, Revolution strongly encourages specialization, with each city focusing on a specialized role rather than trying to excel at all things.)

As with regular Civ games, I fought a lot of barbarians in the early years.  I captured their villages, collected rewards, and got highly promoted units as a result.  I avoided war with my civilized neighbors, though.  In one of my earlier aborted games, I learned the hard way that even well-promoted Warriors didn't have a chance at cracking enemy cities, which are almost always defended by Archer Armies.  Instead I made my peace, and tried to creep around their borders to find anything interesting on the other side.

After I finished my exploration phase and had mapped out the world, the game really sped up.  I settled my units in some strategic positions and kept tapping End Turn, with my decision-making restricted to build and research orders.  My lead over my rivals swiftly grew into an insurmountable gap.

Eventually, they got fed up with me and entered a long series of short wars.  Enemy leaders will often come to you and say things like, "We will crush you unless you give us X."  If you refuse them, they may have been bluffing and will leave you alone, or they may have been serious and will attack you.  Once again, I fell in love with the bonuses system.  I never built any military units, but still had a modern force thanks to my research rewards: I had one pikeman, one cannon, one rifleman, one battleship, and so on.  Since my cities were still relatively compact - I was based on the southern half of my continent, along with a single island outpost in Shanghai - I could move around my forces to where they were needed.  In the case of the Zulus and the Arabs, I parked my navy outside their coastal cities, and whenever they declared war on me, I started sinking their galleys and galleons.

I didn't really want to fight, so I gradually (and belatedly) build the Great Wall.  As with all other Civ games, it's supposed to force your neighbors to make peace with you, but it doesn't seem to work.  They would still attack me after I built it, and wouldn't always offer peace (other than on tribute terms) while we were at war.  The Great Wall usually becomes obsolete, so maybe that's what happened here, although I never saw any messages about obsolescence over the course of the game.  I suppose that the wall might just give you some option for peace which still can involve tribute - if so, it's a pretty dumb Wonder.

Since the Great Wall wasn't working so hot, I next researched Invention, and built Leonardo's Workshop.  Finally, all of my highly-promoted Warriors were true advanced fighters.  I stayed on good terms with the Russians throughout the game, but the Germans kept declaring war on me.  Each time I would beat back an attack from them, then take a city.  They would offer peace, I would turn them down, my Democratic government would veto the decision, and we would remain at peace for perhaps a dozen years until they attacked me again.  With this expansion I eventually captured all of the German cities except for Berlin, giving me dominance over the vast majority of my continent.

The Zulus and Arabs also regularly declared war, and at any given time during the last quarter of the game I was always at war with one or two other civs.  The Arabs and Zulus never managed a successful landing on my main continent, so it was purely a one-sided naval conflict; eventually, I did capture one of their coastal cities closest to my continent with a combination of cannon and infantry.  I just dug in there and waited out the rest of the game.

I could have won in any way, but the Cultural and Economic victories seemed most achievable.  I liked research too much to refocus on my gold, so I focused on building wonders and settling Great People.  After I had a total of 20 achievements, I started work on the United Nations.  I crossed the eighth economic milestone shortly before I finished construction.

I love winning Civ.  The final victory always risks a bit of a let-down; after you've invested several hours in a game, it has less than a minute to provide you with a suitable reward.  Revolution on the iPhone fares OK in this regard - the result isn't truly memorable like the video endings of Civ IV or the classic rundown of Civ I, but it's decent.


My biggest gripe is with the Great Leaders list.  This has been a staple of Civ since the first game, although it sometimes goes away.  Each presents a list of history's greatest leaders, sorted from best to worst, and shows you where you fit within that.  I think that the original Civ was topped by Solomon, then Charlemagne, then continued down through Eric the Red around 50%, and bottomed out with Neville Chamberlain, Nero, and Dan Quayle. 

Now, everyone's going to have their own opinions, and I'm not at all surprised or upset that the names on the list shift from game to game.  But the leaders on the final list are just WEIRD.  Churchill tops the list - OK, fine, he's widely admired in the US and did overcome a seemingly hopeless situation to help a declining British empire stand against an overwhelming military force.  Below him comes Thomas Jefferson.  I dislike Jefferson, but grudgingly concede that his Presidency was decent, largely because he abandoned his principles when it suited him, and in any case he's lionized here in the US, so fine.  But after that it just becomes bizarre.  Helen of Troy?  Really?  What, exactly, is she supposed to be the leader OF?  Paris's heart?  Ditto with Hannibal of Carthage.  If you were throwing together a great GENERALS list, then yeah, you might have a point, but I have yet to read a history about Hannibal's civilization, for better or for worse.


So far I've just played the one full game, but now that it's done, I know it's only a matter of time before I dive back in again.  I might try for a more aggressive game next time; Revolution does seem to promote combat over some other tactics, and it would be a good change of pace for me.

Civ V, though, looms on the horizon.  I'm extremely cautious about the game, though my caution this time is the opposite as for Civ IV.  When Civ IV was imminent, I worried because I still felt burned by Civ III.  With Civ V, I'm worried because Civ IV was so awesome.  They're talking about some pretty radical changes, and it'll be interesting to see how much it affects the game.

So far, people are talking most about the changes to unit placement and movement.  Civ V will finally switch from a grid system to a hex-based system, with 6 exits from any given space.  It will also only allow one military unit in any given space at a time: that's right, no more stacks!  In terms of troop movements, I think this will return the look of the battlefield to that in Civ I/II.  Those games allowed stacks, but since stacks were usually totally wiped out when any unit within them was defeated by an attacker, players would usually spread out their units, or pair a single defender with a single attacker.  Now, stacks won't even be possible.  This might be better than the current system, or it may be worse... we'll need to see the final product to see and formulate new strategies.

I haven't been following the development all that closely, and I'm sure we'll learn and see more as V draws closer to a release.  I hope that it turns out to be awesome and continue IV's trend towards impossibly better Civ games.  I'm not going to hold my breath for it, though... we'll see what happens.