Sunday, May 06, 2012


I've put off the switch to Civ V for a long time. I tend to get really excited about new Civ releases; with V, the initial gaming press reviews were all very complimentary, but all actual gamers who I spoke with sounded disappointed in it. I still get a ton of pleasure out of Civ IV with Fall from Heaven 2, so I didn't feel any particular urge to upgrade. The thing that finally persuaded me was a friend of a friend who has made some Westeros maps for Civ V; I wanted to check them out, and the base game is now cheap enough on Steam that I could treat it as an impulse purchase.

I figured I should play at least one vanilla game before I started messing around too much with mods, maps, and scenarios, so I played a game with the Romans. It's been... pretty fun, but with a fair share of annoyances, and no slam-dunk awesome moments yet. It's been interesting to see not only how Firaxis has built on top of Civ IV, but also how they seem to have taken some direction from FfH2 as well.

Specifically: one of the awesome things about FfH2 was how it introduced buildings that would actually provide new resources (like the Dereptus Brewing House). There are some similar buildings in Civ V too: many buildings now directly provide Food, or Production, or a flat amount of Gold (instead of giving bonuses to existing production of those things). Civ V also has a lot of "missions" that feel reminiscent of FfH2: City-states may ask you to accomplish a specific task (conquer a certain city, or find a resource, or build a wonder); individual cities of yours will also clamor for particular resources ("Rome demands silk!"), and fulfilling it will give the city an extended "We Love the King Day" bonus that lasts a near-eternity of 20 turns. Anyways... those specific things weren't in FfH2, but that mod did sort of pioneer those kinds of mini-missions that give you a nice short/mid-term focus with a decent reward.

I'm currently playing as Rome. They have a nifty civ-specific ability where, if your capital has a building, all other cities in your civ can build that building 25% more quickly. This has worked out well for me, since Rome always has a head start on any production. It does mean that my cities are now more uniform than they were in Civ IV. In Civ IV, you usually wanted to specialize your cities: maybe set up one as a military production machine, another as a massive farm for Great People, another as a science center, etc. There SEEMS to be less incentive to do that in Civ V. The cost of producing Great People now increases much more slowly, so it's reasonable to spread them out among multiple cities. Most of my buildings are useful for all of my cities: every one of them has a granary, aqueduct, marketplace, bank, temple, opera house, etc. On the whole, my city planning now looks much closer to Civ II than for IV. Again, I'm not sure if this is actually the best way to play, or if it's just a side effect of this being my first game and me playing with Rome's special ability.

Speaking of II and IV... one of the most visually radical changes is the dearth of roads. In some ways, the story of the Civ series has been the decreasing visibility of roads. In Civs I and II, building a road gave you extra Trade, so by mid-game every single square in your territory would be covered with roads. This looked pretty ugly, and wasn't terribly interesting to do. By the time of Civ IV, they changed it so roads only provided a movement bonus, and also built up your trade network; so, you would create roads between all your cities, and also out to each strategic and luxury resource, but otherwise you wouldn't build them unless your workers had nothing else to do. (I realize I skipped over Civ III; I played that game way less than any of the other Civs so I don't remember it as clearly.) In Civ V, though, the game actually PENALIZES you for building roads: you have to pay 1 gold per turn in upkeep for every tile you have with a road in it. This is quite expensive! You do get a financial boost by connecting cities, so it's worthwhile to build roads between cities, but otherwise, you'll never want to build a road. This is... fine, I guess. It makes the map look a little nicer, but does make movement more annoying.

On the whole, Civ V's big goal seems to be streamlining and simplifying the game. It isn't actually dumbed-down in the way that, say, Civilization Revolutions was. But, they're continuing to eliminate anything that smacks of micromanagement. Some of the biggest examples: pollution and unhealthiness are now totally gone, and unhappiness is now a civilization-wide factor rather than a per-city factor. Both of these changes do make some sense. Unhealthiness was introduced in Civ IV as a replacement for pollution; in earlier installments, pollution would provide an immediate short-term penalty to individual cities, and it posed a more generalized long-term threat to overall global threat. Civ IV kept the general theme ("big cities with lots of production are unhealthy"), but made it easier to manage by switching to unhealthiness, which acted as a soft cap on population growth: if your cities got too big too quickly, then they would slow down either because there wasn't enough food to grow (unhealthy) or because people stopped working (unhappy). This does mean, though, that unhappiness and unhealthiness were serving pretty much the same purpose; Civ V simplifies this by only keeping unhappiness as a soft cap on population growth, and ditching pollution and health entirely. I sort of miss having that concept around, but from a gameplay perspective, I think it's a fine choice. The move to make happiness global similarly seems designed to streamline play. In earlier civs, you would have to keep an eye on your biggest cities, and make sure you were building the right structures or creating artists to keep them content. Now, you can follow civilization-wide policies to keep your empire on track: even if Rome is twice as big as all other cities, you can help out Rome by building a Coliseum in each city.

A few things have gotten more complex, though. The biggest example here is probably strategic resources. In Civ IV (and I think III?), having a single source of a resource would unlock all units associated with it. So, you only need one oil resource to build 20 battleships. In Civ V, a single tile may provide from 1-8 resources of that type; for example, an oil well might give 3 oil or 6 oil. You are limited in the number of units you can build by the number of that resource you control. So, for example, I can currently build up to 15 mounted units because of all the horses I have, but only 1 longswordman because I only have 1 iron. Coal is an interesting resource, since it is used for at least one unit (the ironclad), but also for a building, the Factory.

Since there's no longer any healthiness, food resources now only provide a boost to the tile production; they can't be traded and don't provide benefits. Luxury resources still work the same as in Civ IV, but at least on my map, they seem way more consolidated than before. I controlled the world's entire silver supply with just my first 3 cities, for a total of about 7 or 8 units, which I could trade to other civs for their own sole-supplier luxury resources.

Diplomacy is also way different from Civ IV... or really any other Civ game. For the first time ever, technology trading is no longer allowed. Instead, they have what is called a "research" agreement, where you and another civ invest an equal amount of money, and 20 turns later will receive a massive boost to your science; in my experience, it looks like that boost is usually enough to give you 50-75% progress towards your currently-researching tech. I still haven't gotten used to the lack of tech trading, and I think I dislike it, but I need to get more used to the system. In previous games, my strategy was usually to focus on one or two lines of research, get pretty far ahead in them, and then trade some of my more advanced tech for a bunch of smaller techs that I'd skipped. It ended up being a win-win with me and my allies. In addition to forbidding tech trading, though, Civ V also messes with the tech tree in a few other ways. First, they've gotten rid of the cool alternate-prereq system that Civ IV introduced, where certain techs could be researched if you knew any one of a couple of other techs; for example, there were multiple ways to advance to Flight, either through the internal combustion engine or through electricity. Now, every tech requires you to know one or two pre-reqs, so you are very limited in how far ahead you can skip. Secondly, individual branches of the tech tree no longer have internal consistency and logic. Part of what I loved about Civ IV's tech tree (both the base game and FfH2) was how you could focus on the techs that you wanted the most. Bronze Working led to Iron Working led to other military techs, and each would give you strong units and warlike improvements; Animal Husbandry unlocked other techs for boosting your agriculture, and Alphabet led to a bunch of science-related techs. Yeah, you'd eventually go back and learn everything, but it felt cool in the early stages of the game to invest some more time to dig deep into your preferred branch. In Civ V, though, the branches are way more interleaved; each branch seems to contain a random mix of new military units, economic buildings, and other benefits, and lead to another tech that isn't closely linked to the one that preceded it. So, Chivalry (a military tech) leads to Acoustics (!) (a cultural tech) leads to Scientific Theory (an industrial tech). Economics (an economic tech) leads to Military Strategy (a military tech) leads to Steam Power (an industrial tech). It often doesn't make internal sense, and means that if you're excited about researching a tech, you'll very rarely be excited about researching the tech(s) that it unlocks. On the whole, I think this has made tech much less interesting in Civ V than in previous games, since you'll need to research everything in more or less the same order as everyone else.

While we're on the topic of complaints: I'm really annoyed by how diplomatic agreements now work. EVERY deal you make auto-expires after 20 turns. This totally makes sense for a Research Agreement, and I can even see it for resource trading (in past Civ games, the AI was notoriously bad about cancelling agreements it had made which no longer made sense). However, it's a huge pain to need to re-request Open Borders with every civ every 20 turns. That stuff should just auto-renew, or you should be able to click a single button to request an extension of the deal.

Also, some of the UI is really, really, really bad. My least favorite example: the diplomacy screen is just awful. I don't think I fully appreciated how wonderful the Civ IV diplomacy window was. A single graph would let you immediately see everyone's relationships with everyone else in a clear format; Civ V switches that for an awkward grid format that works but is much less interesting and not as easy to use. Far worse is the "current deals" screen, which for some asinine reason displays the YEAR of each agreement you've made, but requires you to click on them to see the details.

Sigh... I can already tell that this post is going to be way too long. In case you haven't noticed, I'm physically incapable of breaking up a post into smaller chunks, so I'll just press ahead. I'll try and structure this with a list of changes from Civ IV that I like, and changes that I dislike. Here we go:

I'm a big fan of the new way that borders expand. There's a regular slow trickle of expansion, instead of waiting a long time and then - boom! - having your ring push out. Best of all, the program seems to be good at picking the tiles to claim: it will prefer to take resources, even if some closer (less valuable) tiles are not occupied yet.  I also like the Colonization-style option of purchasing tiles to work; I rarely did this, but I do like the option. (Complaint-within-a-compliment: it took me a long time to figure out that the game wouldn't expand into water tiles, and that I'd need to purchase them if I wanted to work them. As far as I can tell, as long as a single land space is available, you'll get that instead, even if you could have gotten something cool like Pearls that was much closer.)

Purchasing tiles is one example of the way that money is a lot more useful in Civ V. In previous Civ games, I tried to run with as small of a treasury as possible to boost my science, and would only spend gold when converting a city (in Civ II) or rushing production of a wonder or unit (every other Civ game). Because Civ V gets rid of the sliders, you'll always have a bunch of gold, and fortunately there are a lot of interesting and useful ways to spend it: expanding your borders, or upgrading your units, or purchasing buildings (as far as I can tell, you can now buy them outright, instead of "rushing production" on an in-progress build), or buying friendship (and thus resources and bonuses) from city-states, or sweetening your diplomatic deals with other civs. I'm pleasantly reminded of my experience playing the Khazad in a FfH2 game, where I suddenly found a new dimension to the previously boring question of "what should I do with all my gold?"

I also like the wider workable city radius - brought to you by the Kuriorates from FfH2! I took full advantage of that in this game; I had 4 cities for most of the game, which were all spread pretty far apart, and enjoyed getting a lot more choice about which tiles to work.

On the whole, I'm a fan of the addition of city-states. It makes things feel more like a real world, for one; at any given time in our planet's past, there were more than 7 civs doing big empire-y things, and were also several interesting and significant nations that played second fiddle (Carthage, Phoenicia, Tibet, etc.) I also really, really like how it affects gameplay: it's annoying when it feels like every single AI is specifically trying to screw you over, and I loved having people I could interact with reasonably. There's a decently good variety in their bonuses and attitudes, although I don't really understand why you would want to invest in a relationship with a "hostile" city-state.

The advisers were pretty good. I don't think we'll ever see a return to the glorious days of the Civ II advisers, but I did like being able to actually pull them up and get their opinions on stuff. (That said, some of their particular advice was misguided or annoying. My diplomatic adviser repeated the same line about a city-state wanting another one removed about 13 times.)

I love embarkation! That's a great example of a change that simplifies gameplay and makes it more fun without significantly affecting the strategic choices you have to make. Building transports was always a necessary pain that slowed down your plans. Now, you CAN send off your troops whenever you want, but you'll still WANT to hold off until you can escort them with a proper military vessel. And, yes, this is another case where it feels like they took a page from FfH2's book: the Drown were a weird and awesome idea, and now it feels like every unit in the game is following the Octopus Overlords to their watery paths.

Holy cow, there's a Giant Death Robot unit at the end of the tech tree! That's AWESOME!

I like the way Diplomatic Victories seem to work in this game. In Civ IV, it was a straight-up popularity contest, which basically meant that (1) you needed either a lot of production to build the United Nations or a large population to be in the running; and (2) you needed to stay at peace with a lot of countries and keep them happy - in practice, this meant spreading your religion around and maintaining trade deals. That was fine, but didn't seem all that realistic. It looks like in Civ V, the path to a diplomatic victory is to liberate conquered civs or city-states; if you liberate them, they'll always vote for you. This seems like a much more muscular style of diplomacy, similar to the United States in the second half of the 20th century. I like it because it finally opens a path to victory for people who like combat but don't want to be a warmonger: just accept cries for help and fight off the aggressors.

Hm... okay. Now, the list of changes from Civ IV that I dislike! (In addition to the complaints I had above, mainly about how tech works.)

I'm really bummed by the removal of governments (which were part of civics in Civ IV and their own thing in all earlier Civs). In past games, we've been able to switch between governments to take advantage of evolving circumstances or get ourselves out of a jam. Civics forced us to choose between mutually exclusive sets of benefits. Policies are "all good, all the time", and can be added to but not taken away from. So, it's pretty much impossible to abruptly shift from a peaceful civ into a militaristic one, or from a trade-centric civ into a production-centric one. I rarely did this in my Civ games - I typically had a good idea early on what path I was going to pursue and kept revolutions to a minimum - but I'm afraid that this change has seriously harmed the historical verisimilitude of the game. It's no longer possible to replicate tumultuous historic periods like the United States' sudden entry into a war footing for World War II, or the French's extended vacillation between monarchies, dictatorships, and various republics. I'm guessing Firaxis did this to make it harder to shoot yourself in the foot - revolutions are painful, and their new approach gives a soft glide path to any style of game play - but I think it over-simplifies the interesting and tough choices history demands.

Ugh, the new narrator is not good. Granted, it's impossible to top Leonard Nimoy's excellent work in Civ IV, but I'd have rather they omit voice-overs altogether than use the guy they had. He has weird emphases and pauses that are distracting. (And, while this isn't his fault, a lot of the quotes Firaxis picked are just bizarre. Why on earth do they quote the Koran when you build the Kremlin?) I hope they can step up their game with the next Civ... for a few brief moments I thought this narrator guy was Patrick Stewart, who would be just incredible; I'd also be thrilled by Edward James Olmos.

When you press F12, which USED to be the key for the Civilopedia (and thus something I press a LOT), it immediately quick-loads an older game of yours... without asking any confirmation! Given that, on my PC, this "quick-load" takes a good 30-60 seconds, that's incredibly frustrating, even IF I did save my game on that turn (which I usually hadn't). They really should have a prompt there; spending an extra 1/2 second to confirm that you want to quick-load would be a bargain price to pay for not inadvertently losing a dozen turns just because you wanted to check on the range of the Canon unit.

The new Culture Bomb doesn't seem very useful at all. It will add adjacent tiles to your empire, but it can only be triggered if the artist is in or next to one of your tiles; so, at best, maybe you can grab a single resource from one of your enemies, which hardly seems worth a Great Person. The others make more sense (and are generally closer to their Civ IV counterparts).

The diplomacy options around city-states are a bit lacking. In particular, I think the game really needs a "Please stop attacking X" option to negotiate. Late in my game, Genghis Khan kept attacking city-states that I was allied with (but hadn't sworn to protect). I didn't want to get in a war with him, but I would have gladly traded some gold or resources in exchange for a promise from him to leave them alone for a while.

While we're on the topic of war: I hate the bizarre way that war and unhappiness are treated in this game. In previous Civs, you were unhappy if you were fielding an army outside your borders (Civs 1 and 2 for Republic or Democratic governments), or if you were fighting a war that lasted a long time and wasn't going well (Civ IV's "war weariness"). In Civ V, there's no unhappiness penalty at all for going to war; and there's no penalty for fighting a war; and there's no penalty for losing a war. Perversely, there is a penalty for WINNING a war. If you annex a conquered city, it will add a massive amount of unhappiness to your global happy meter. This means that, bizarrely, if you conquer a city, the thing that will make your citizens most happy is if you raze it to the ground, burn their fields, slaughter all inhabitants, and sow the soil with salt so nothing can grow there again. God forbid you try to incorporate them into your society. The whole thing is really weird.

Man, I really miss religion! It was such a cool addition to Civ IV, and such a perfect example of great game design. Religion was awesome because, if you wanted to focus on it, it could be a useful part to your strategy for world victory; but, if you didn't want to focus on it, you could just ignore it without any real penalties. Plus, it gave a good and believable focus to relationships between different civs. I think it would have fit perfectly into Civ V, where Culture and Happiness are so important and so tied to religion; I'm perplexed as to why they cut it. (I kind of miss corporations, too, but I think corporations mostly existed to solve the problem of duplicate resources, and Civ V already has a pretty good answer to that.)

And, last and most distressingly, the ending is AWFUL. Definitely the worst of the whole series. I won a Space Victory, and do you know what I got? A single half-width still image with some text printed on top of it, and the option to quit the game. Booooo! I still vividly remember the space victory for Civ 1, which came out more than twenty years ago! Computers were way lower-tech, but it still had stirring music, an animated voyage through outer space to a new solar system, and a cool twinkling look at a new alien planet. Civ V's ending is just lame. Lame! Not even an option to replay! Not even a comparison to other leaders in history! No score, no nothing! It's tremendously disappointing, especially as the capstone to a game that can easily take a dozen hours or longer to finish.

Finally (finally!), a summary of my game:

I got pretty lucky, since I started out on a small continent / large island (think Australia) by myself, with a city-state on the far western coast; I would eventually find another city-state behind some mountains that blocked an isthmus. This suited me fine, as I have preferred relatively peaceful games since Civ III. I built a couple of key wonders early, most importantly the Pyramids, which gave me more than enough Workers for the remainder of the game. I eventually settled four cities, including my capital; every city but Rome was a port. It took my a while to figure out the embarkation thing, but I eventually was able to explore the waters around me.

Later on, once I got the tech to embark over ocean, I met my neighbors. The continent to my immediate east held Genghis Khan in the center and Gandhi in the north. Both of them were quite friendly, but Gandhi was oddly stand-offish; he was never hostile, but he was much less interested in trade and research agreements compared to Khan. So Genghis and I formed a close relationship and he gradually eclipsed Gandhi, who grew more and more sulky (he didn't seem to have any luxury resources at all) but rarely deigned to trade with me.

The biggest continent was to the east of Genghis; technically it was to my west, too, but that ocean was very big. The largest continent held the Arabians, Ottomans, Iroquois, Russians, and Japanese. The Arabians were the largest, wealthiest, and most advanced. I was able to sign research agreements with nearly everyone - for some weird reason, Tokugawa was very chipper and welcoming, nothing at all like the isolationist I remember from Civ IV. I also was able to spread my Silver around, and grab a brand new Luxury Resource from everyone else. I basically didn't have to worry about happiness at all throughout the whole game... I think Rome may have briefly been unhappy for a couple of turns around 3500 BC, but with my small empire and many trading partners, we quickly got to a significant happiness surplus.

Harun al-Rashid was at war with nearly everyone else, and seemed to be doing rather well; he had taken the Russians' capital before I arrived, and soon had the Ottomans' as well. After a century or two, a bunch of people came around asking me to sign a Declaration of Friendship. I turned them all down - I know from experience that those things can drag one into war - but finally Harun dropped by with the same offer, and I gladly joined up. That relationship stayed solid throughout the rest of the game; Harun never tried to gyp me in our deals, and even though he often was at war with other people he didn't force me to join in. I was very grateful, and think that the AI for Civ V may actually be a lot better at diplomacy than I'm used to.

Most people's focus for Civ V has been on the significantly revamped combat system. I think I basically like it, but unfortunately (or fortunately) I had very little exposure to it throughout the game. I had a handful of fights with barbarians on my island/continent at the start, but I never went to war against another major civ. (I was playing on Prince; it may get more aggressive on higher levels, or with closer neighbors.) I did pursue one war of choice: in the industrial era, I was eager to gain a supply of Coal so I could start to build factories and boost production. I made a new alliance with a city-state that had coal nearby, only to learn (to great frustration) that they didn't know how to mine coal, and so couldn't actually supply it to me. (Firaxis should really represent this in their info screens somehow, maybe by graying out the unconnected resource.) There wasn't any unclaimed coal - heck, there weren't even any islands to plant new cities on, only the three full continents - so I had to decide who to take it from. I settled on Venice, the city-state at the bottom of a peninsula that hung down the middle of my continent. We'd had very little interaction up until that point; a mountain range separated us, so we stayed out of each others' way; and since they were hostile and militaristic, I'd never bothered cultivating a relationship with them. Anyways... it feels like in Civ V, individual units are more significant than they were in Civ IV, which may mean that I need to un-learn all the important lessons in combat that I'd picked up over the years in that game. Back in Civ II, I loved investing heavily in science up until I was able to start building modern weaponry; then I would build, say, a single Armor, a single Mechanized Infantry, and a single Bomber, and conquer the entire world with those three units, while my opponents were still riding around with Knights and Catapults. Well, I don't think you could QUITE do that in Civ V, but it seems to be closer to that model than the Civ IV model, where you needed to build a bunch of units, sacrifice inexperienced ones to weaken your enemies, then kill off the enemies with your survivors who would become heavily-promoted veterans. Promotions seem much harder to come by in Civ V, and since both victors and losers can stick around after a fight, you can invest a lot in a single powerful unit. All that to say: my fight against Venice was actually pretty fun. You DO still need to bring serious firepower to bear to bring down a city; in my case I had a Frigate, a Caravel, and a Canon all bombarding the city from far away, and two Riflemen charging it up close. The city only had Crossbowmen inside.  I was a bit surprised to see just how effective the Riflemen were; I'd thought that the ranged units would do most of the work and the Riflemen would just finish off the city, but in practice my ranged ships did almost no damage; the canon did a fair amount, but since the city focused its attacks on that unit, it quickly fell into the danger zone; and the riflemen tore down a significant chunk of the city's health each turn, while taking surprisingly little damage in the counterattack. I think it took me a total of... three, maybe four turns of having those five units attack before I took Venice. It stayed in civil disorder for a full five turns, but my happiness was so high already that it couldn't dent it. After I built a courthouse, I focused on building food and production-boosting buildings first, and was pleasantly surprised to see that by the late 1800s, Venice had completely caught up to all of my ancient cities in its improvements, and was only a few points behind in population.

As is often the case when I play a brand-new version of Civ, I was unsure for most of the game what type of victory I would pursue. I wasn't too interested in the military one, so I tried to decide between Tech (Space race), Diplomatic, or Cultural; since I couldn't make a decision, I essentially pursued all three all the way into the 20th century. Again, the design of Civ V makes it very difficult to pivot the direction of your empire in pursuit of a specific victory; there's no equivalent to setting your Cultural slider to 100% like I used to do in Civ IV.

By the end of the game, I had only completed the Policy branches for Liberty, Commerce, and Freedom. I'd need to finish another two to get that victory. I would like to try this in another game; I think I'd need to pick another Civ with a better match for it (I'm thinking France, India, or Persia), and probably keep an even smaller empire than I had with only two or three cities.

I do think I may have had a shot at the diplomatic victory. I had a really strong economy, and from the industrial era onward I always had at least a few thousand gold in the bank (even while maintaining all my research agreements and a few city-state alliances). If I'd wanted to pursue that, I would have bumped up my economic focus, then simply bribed the remaining city-states to ally with me in advance of the election. Still, in order to build the U.N. I'd need to research Globalization, which was pretty far along a tech branch.

So, almost by default, I ended up with the space victory. Like earlier Civs, you research a series of techs, and each tech unlocks a different spaceship part. I tapped Cumae and Antium to churn out the pieces of the ship while my remaining cities continued to boost my economy and tech. I finally blasted off in my ship in 1936 A.D., winning the game and getting to view that terrible, terrible victory screen.

And, that's Civ V! I am not too impressed! I do think there's a core of a good game in here, but it has too many areas that feel unpolished (bad voiceover work, awful ending) or misconceived (policies, technology). I do still want to check out those Westeros maps, so I'll be doing that soon. I hold out hopes that it will get better in the expansions; I keep hearing that Civ III was actually pretty decent once all of the expansions came out, so I'll try to hold off on getting too irritated until I see a more evolved version of the product. And, who knows, maybe some equivalent to FfH2 will emerge for this engine.

In the meantime, though, my most overwhelming thought while playing Civ V has been, "Man, I really want to play Civ IV! I really want to play Fall from Heaven 2 again!" Which, I suppose, is yet another testament to the great job that Firaxis (and Kael!) did on that earlier game. We know what they're capable of, let's hope they can make that magic again.

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