Thursday, September 30, 2004

What the **** do I care? I'm in Asia!

Truer words were rarely spoken. Last marked the debut of the monster epic crazy game, Sid Meier’s Civilization, the board game based on a video game inspired a board game. Still following? Good.

Civilization, or "Civ", as it is known to the terminally addicted, is a board game for up to 6 players. Although the back of the box says that it can be finished in 1-2 hours, that’s really only for the standard game and for experienced players at that. As we all know, standard games are for wusses! After two or three good tries at this game, I can pretty confidently say that this game will take a minimum of 6-7 hours with average players and the advanced rules.

The object of the game is no less than to create the most glorious civilization in the history of mankind, covering 6,000 years of human development, from the dawn of civilization at the end of the stone age until the first steps of man towards the colonization of another world. There are two different rulesets, standard and advanced, each using fairly different mechanics.

The game is played on a massive 36” x 47” board, using a veritable boatload of counters representing most of the military units you can imagine for a game of this scope from primitive swordsmen to modern machinegun infantry. The game plays out over four different ages – Ancient, Mediaeval, Gunpowder and Modern. Thrown in for extra spice is an array of City Improvements ranging from Ziggurats to the Internet (improves productivity my butt!), an assortment of randomized Civilization Markers (for resources and special events like plagues and barbarian hordes) and a technology tree that will be very familiar to players who wasted the better part of their young lives figuring out how to get Mechanized Infantry units faster than anyone else or how many superstructure modules to build.

To explain the rules is an epic in itself (though no so tough as many early SSI and AH games), but the general gist is that there are four phases in each turn: Purchase - where players buy new units, improve their cities and convert settlers into cities; Movement and Battles - in which players move their units about and wreak terrible miniature wars over the cardboard plains; Trade – which permits players to trade resources for special monopoly, unique resource and critical resource bonuses; and Production – allowing players to convert the hard work and sweat of their minions to gold. Technology is bought with cash during the Purchase phase, and the game moves to the next “Age” at the end of the phase in which the first technology of the new era is purchased. The advanced game has no less than four separate endgame conditions – final conquest, military victory, diplomatic victory or technological/space victory. Players receive victory points for wonders of the world constructed over the course of their civilization, populace size, and depending on the final endgame, points for military units or technologies.

Well, after a rules explanation of the advanced version at the beginning of the night and the usual lengthy set-up, we were finished eating and ready to play at 8:00 PM. We quickly discovered that ours was a resource poor world, and even things like a stretch of three wine producing regions on the west coast of North America were going to be fought over viciously. A number of factors lead to the usual situation of one player holding dominion over a particular area – in this case, Hapi in Central Asia, Tili in South Asia and Australia, Shemp in South America, Easy in North America and yours truly (Kozure) in Africa. A brief scrap in Central America lead to an ouster of Tili’s forces, leaving Shemp and Easy to scrap it out for California and the Mississippi. A few small skirmishes later, Easy’s early monetary income lead was erased. Shemp vaulted us into the Mediaeval age a few minutes before we closed up shop at 11 PM, with the game very close and all of the VP scores ranging from 10 to 15. We took digital pictures of the board so as to allow continuation next games night at Chez Kozure.

I really enjoy the epic scope and feel of this game, despite the relative complexity. The earnestness of the diplomacy and negotiations over territory and resources was remarkable, leading to Hapi’s immortal line in the title above. The combination of resource management, diplomacy and military competition make this game a real winner in my book, striking the right balance between the need for careful culture building and bold aggression. I’m looking forward to seeing how this game plays out.


  1. OK - this is how I can tell that SM'sCiv is an excellent game: Last night I fell asleep pondering tactics. I woke up this morning pondering tactics. I nearly missed my subway stop because I was pondering tactics.

    That's an immensely involving game.

    I don't have a lot to say about tactics or gameplay, really, since I'm just starting out at this, but I will say that it runs far more smoothly than any board game with this many different pieces and types of pieces has any right to. There was very little in the way of confusion and rules ambiguities, which is necessary in something this complex, IMO.

    It takes playing through some to realize the importance of the technologies, at least for this guy who isn't familiar with the only computer version.

    I'm looking back at all the boneheaded/uniformed things I did in the Ancient age and feeling very fortunate to still be in contention - I suppose my only complaint is that it will take weeks before I get a shot a rectifying those particular actions.

    Strategy-wise, I'm a little bit disappointed that my earliest attempts at alliance were met with The Screwage that is Easy. I was hoping to be a peaceful expansionist power, but the relative dearth of resources in this map makes me think the future will be bloody indeed.

    I'm going to refrain from rating until we've completed the game - but I'm feeling like it will be a high one.

    -Feudal Lord Shemp.

    PS: Kozure - how about sharing the digiphotos w/ us? I think I will obsess further, and they would be most useful. Only two weeks to plan for the Medieval Age!

  2. Re: "The Screwage that is Easy"
    I laughed out loud when I read that.
    While I'm sure you don't consider yourself blameless in the exchange (you did, after all, take your first opportunity to expand into California right after talking about a North-South truce!), I'm the first one to admit that if I never have a shot at winning the game, it will probably be because of that move (or, worse yet, how I handled it). I simultaneously made enemies and became perceived as the leader to be dragged down. If I could do it again, I'd probaly take a cue from Tili and Kozure and offer to split the monopoly 60/30 (never thought of that). Oh well, only 6 more hours of game time (i.e. 2 more WAGS sessions or 5 weeks) before I get another chance!
    As you can tell from my review, I don't share Shemp's considerable admiration for the game. I DO like it, and I AM looking forward to the next games, but I consider the length of the game a major problem (especially if it becomes obvious that resource dispertion or early tactics determine the winners and losers with little chance of turning the tide). I initially had concerns about the advantages of going first, but as the game went on, it seemed to me that you just have to go for a different strategy... there are also advantages to going last. Although I do have to add that I also think that for such a long, vast game the rules are surprisingly clean (once you absorb them all). That could not have been easy to pull off...
    Also, regarding MY post for last night's session... I started it in the afternoon but left it until after hours to finish. That'll learn me!

  3. Shemp,

    I'll stitch together the photos tonight and see what I can either post to my website or distribute them in some other manner.

    Sorry about the double blog. I actually waited a while to see if anyone was doing one, but I guess we both did that.


  4. Re: The Screwage that is Easy.

    Blameless? Well, maybe not. Not actually surprised, either...just...disappointed, because I genuinely thought that there was little to be gained by fighting over California, compared to other possibilities where we would both gain.

    I think that I have to disagree with your opinion that early decisions can doom someone to a loss - I am betting that the technological escalation can cause things to change very, very rapidly. You should hope for that, Easy, and stay the Hell away from the Shemp Army. They won't do you no good, hear?

  5. I actually kind of enjoy the double blogs when they happen... it gives more than one perspective on the evening's events. If you want, I can delete my post and paste it here as a comment...

  6. Nah, that's fine. Double blogs are fun for the reasons you mention.

    BTW - if you guys are ever going to play games like Civilization, Twilight Imperium or any other direct competition wargame with a sprinkling of diplomacy, you're going to have to check your in-game disputes at the door. ;)

    *coach voice* Save it for the game, ladies!

  7. Ah, it's cool, coach. Just a little chest-thumping. I'm reasonably sure that Easy knows enough to ignore everything I say.

    Hell, even I ignore most of what I say.

    (Note: this post was written after noting emoticons in the previous post, and is entirely unserious)

  8. Re: The screwage that is easy.

    Sorry, I was just having fun!

    Shemp, regarding what I said about not being able to come back from behind... I didn't say the game WAS like that (I have no idea since I'm finding out about it as I play), I was just hoping it isn't like that. I have a feeling you are right... but since I'm in last place I'm really hoping my early mistakes don't haunt me forever!!!

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  10. i'm about to play civilization (board game) for the first time in my life tomorrow and ended up here when i tried to find winning strategies for the game ;)

    and since this is a blog, of course i had to comment!