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.

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