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A State of Civilization April 3, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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The… well… I am not sure what to call our Age of Kings group, especially since this post will be about us not playing Age of Kings.

I suppose I will call us the Strategy Group, lacking any other ideas.  We seem to be picking titles in genres where strategy is the common denominator.  And I will have to make a tag or a category or something, since this appears to be an ongoing endeavor and not just a flash in the pan.

Anyway, the Strategy Group has been growing less enthusiastic about Age of Kings.  It started with a burst of nostalgia, developed through recalling how things actually worked, and then landed in that pit that has so often been the downfall of RTS games, at least for me, where we remembered that once you have things sort of nailed down, every game starts to seem the same.  There is the build order, the harvesting, the scouting, the building up of the economy, the timing of the ages, initial defenses, the military build up, and so on down the line.

Sometimes that can be okay.  Sometimes honing a skill or really optimizing a routine can be its own fun.

And sometimes you’ve been down that path already and maybe this time around it isn’t so fun.  And maybe we’re old.

So last week the group started talking about trying another game.  (I mentioned this in the month-in-review post earlier this week.)  I was out for that session, but Potshot got me up to speed.  The first alternative on the list was Civilization V.

For me, that was a fine choice.  I have Civ V in my Steam library… I am going to guess it was a choice because we all happened to have it in our Steam libraries… I have enough hours in to be familiar with the game, though by no means an expert, and I am upgraded all the way to last year’s Brave New World expansion, which I quite enjoyed.

On the other hand, in the last 20 years or so since I played the original Civilization, I have not once played a multiplayer game.  Never.  In fact, given how turns tend to go, expanding in duration as the years pass, I wondered at times how viable a multiplayer game the Civ series might make.  It always seemed an unlikely candidate for multiplayer.

Now was our chance to put that to the test.

Potshot and I actually got to give it a pre-test.  The instance group… now that we have two groups, should I capitalize the names of groups?  Anyway, the Instance Group was having a night off last Saturday, so Potshot and I decided to give things a test run.  So, for the first time ever, I went to the multiplayer menu in Civilization.

The Menu

The Menu

We went with the Standard option.  Hot Seat clearly meant multiplayer on one computer… possibly the worst of all possible worlds for a Civ game… and I am still not sure what the Pitboss option really entails.  Something about the game running on its own server.  Not for us, not yet.

As with Age of Kings, the integration with Steam made getting us together in the right start screen easy.  Potshot created a game and then was able to invite me in from his friends list.  From there he setup a 4 player game, with the two of us and two computer opponents.

Setting up the game

Game starting in 6 seconds…

Some of that was easy enough, selecting landmass, size, pace, difficulty, and level of barbarian rage.  Other aspects were a bit more… interesting.

There is a timer for turns.  We talked about that for a bit, and then left it set for two minutes.  Early in the game no turn should take anything close to two minutes, but I began to wonder how things might play out as things got more complex.  As it turns out, that never really became an issue, but we’ll get to that.

And then there is the “who has what version of the game?” issue.

As it turned out, Potshot only had the original release of the game… and the Mongols DLC for some reason… while I had both expansions.  The game, however, will reconcile this for you and show you what your options are.  In this case, we pretty much had to play the original rules version of the game, with the Mongols thrown in, because why not.

So Potshot kicked off the game and off we went.  I ended up as the French, he got the Russians, while the computer ended up controlling the Chinese and… of course… the Mongols.  I ended up with my settler in a decent spot, so I did not have to engage in the debate about moving my settler.  There is a school of thought that you should never even waste a turn of production, but just build that first city and get going.  I, with an eye towards optimization, tend to move a hex or two if it will substantially improve my access to resources, though that has come back to bite me at times.

Paris is founded

Paris is founded and expanding

In that picture you can see a couple of aspects of multiplayer.

At the bottom of the screen is the two minute turn timer.  Turns are taken simultaneously, so that timer is for everybody at once and no turn can take more than the allotted time.  This is a very good thing.  Everybody moving on the same timer, as opposed to everybody getting their own two minutes, will speed things up dramatically.

And in the upper right corner there is a scoreboard that shows everybody’s basic relative standing.  That should be an amusing barometer for our match up.

As for playing the game… it was odd.  Well, it was odd for me, because I haven’t played the pre-expansions version of Civ V since before the first expansion, Gods & Kings, which gave us Steam Workshop mods, performance updates, and spies.  That was nearly two years back.  So I had to stop looking for bits of the game that were not there originally.

The game itself wasn’t a dramatic success.  I got dropped on an island with the Mongols and the Chinese who boxed me into my little corner of things pretty quickly, helped by some serious raging barbarian hordes, which put my expansion on hold for a while.

Facing Mongols and Chinese

Facing Mongols and Chinese

Meanwhile, Potshot was on another island with a couple of city states.  We didn’t come into contact for quite a stretch.

I started trying to tech/culture my way out of trouble while trying drop at least one or two more cities.  Not being in contact with Potshot meant that there wasn’t much to talk about, and having a plan meant that I wasn’t spending a lot of time on turns, so I was often reading the news on my iPad while waiting for the game to alert me that another turn had come.  I started thinking at about the one hour mark that we ought to cut our experiment off, but the “one more turn” obsession kicked in, even with a game where I wasn’t really getting anywhere.

About 90 minutes after I figured we ought to stop we actually did try a stop to test out ability to save a game and then resume it.  As with creating the multiplayer game, this seemed to work pretty well.  Potshot saved and left, then was able to restore the game and invite me back into it.  There was an awkward “I’m alone so what is the situation?” moment when he left and I was still in game, but after I bailed and then got back into the restored game, things were okay.

After that, I bought off the local city states to make them allies and declared war on the Mongols.  I managed to drive off their initial assault on my territories in something of a Pyrrhic victory.  Then he destroyed two of my city state allies in quick succession and bought off two more who quickly sued for peace, leaving me with Kuala Lumpur and not much of an army facing what could be correctly described, both literally and figuratively, as the Mongol hordes.

It was time to call it a night.

As a test run, things went fine.  We were able to create a game, play, save it off, and restore it without issue.  Waiting for turns wasn’t too onerous.  We just have to come up with something like an optimum settings mix so that the four of us are playing and engaged with each other.  We might need to go with a single continent and maybe just one or two computer players.

I also started mocking Potshot in our Google hangout, which is the base of operations for our games (Because why not add yet another peer to peer interface to the mix?), for only having the base game… plus the Mongols.  This may backfire on me though, as I may be the only one in the group who is up to date on the expansions, flagging me as the one they had best gang up on.  They probably aren’t going to fall for things the way they did for the first game of Age of Kings.

We shall see how it goes.  Suggestions for settings… or for other games we might consider… are welcome.

Comments»

1. Abiathar - April 3, 2014

Check out the standalone expansion of Supreme Commander titled Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance on steam. It is one of my favorite RTS games with highly enjoyable multiplayer.

Also, I appreciate your blog. I have followed a while, and am pleased to find someone with similar taste and style!

2. Shintar - April 3, 2014

I’ve always wondered how multiplayer Civ would work myself, so this was very instructive!

3. wizardling - April 4, 2014

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri and Master of Orion II are still both excellent, if slow moving multi-player TBS games.

4. SynCaine - April 4, 2014

One landmass is a must for multiplayer IMO, unless you have already done that a few times with the group and want to mix it up. Just gets you into contact/conflict faster.

You can also set the difficulty level per player, so if someone is much better, just have them set at 1-3 levels higher than everyone else. Only impact on the game is that players personal research, happiness, and build speeds. For everyone else the game is the same, which is a pretty solid solution. Only downside is you can’t set the AI difficulty, so they play at Prince (I think) level, and you can never give them the higher-tier bonuses to make them somewhat competitive.

5. Wilhelm Arcturus - April 4, 2014

@wizardling – A parameter I did not mention is that one of us is playing on the current Mac OS. And while emulation worked for Age of Kings HD, that was in large part due to Steam handling all the multiplayer aspects. So we have to keep things either cross-platform (Civ V solves that) or new enough that connectivity is easy or built-in.

@SynCaine – Tonight will be the four player test-run. The plan is small, single landmass at this point just to see what happens.

We are also using peer pressure to get Potshot to upgrade at least to Gods & Kings so we have religion in the mix.

6. Doone - April 5, 2014

Sengoku is one of my secret favorites for recent strategy (came out a couple years ago). It’s by Paradox so, if you have any games by them you’ll have some sense of the depth offered. At launch it had a few bugs, but it’s been smoothed out. Very relaxing. I very much enjoy the warring clans period in Japan setting (the name escapes me, sorry). I also wouldn’t mind checking out this strategy group, unless it’s a private group. I dont have many gamer buddies who enjoy turn-based strategy. My buddies have no taste ;)

7. wizardling - April 5, 2014

@Wilhelm Arcturus – Yeah, while SMAC/X is available via GOG.com for OSX, it’s a crappy sub-par buggy mess of a WINE wrappered port. I asked for and got my money back on it, and either play the old OSX 10.6.8 and below carbon port, or the Windows version via a WinXP Boot Camp partition. All probably making it too much trouble for most Mac users with later versions of OSX, as most Macs now have.

However MOO2 runs great in DOSBox and networking is very good. Non-geeks would likely be stumped, but users such as yourself won’t have any trouble configuring such a setup and then sharing it out to friends. On OSX I recommend the DOSBox front end ‘Boxer’ – makes installation and setup of DOS games a breeze.

For that matter DOSBox (and GOG.com titles that use DOSBox, but _avoid_ the shitty WINE-wrappered Windows titles) opens the doors a a huge range of old DOS titles with network play.

8. Solf - April 8, 2014

The way I played Civ 4 & 5 in multiplayer is to put myself and friends into the same team and try to win against the computer. It still typically required multiple restarts to get everyone positioned reasonably for a fun game. The only downside is that Civ5 is too easy in this mode even at top difficulty.

The above, of course, only works if you want to play co-op rather than versus.

And I believe Syncaine’s comment on difficulty is not true — AIs, I think, get some average difficulty of all human players. So if everyone’s is Emperor, then AI is going to play at Emperor and so on.


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