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Civilization – The Center Cannot Hold April 23, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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The third week of our Friday night Civilization V game saw us all online together, but we were going to have to test something new.  Loghound was with us, but would have to drop out of the game almost immediately to take care of a domestic issue.  From what we had read, the game should allow him to drop out, at which point the AI takes over, and then return to the game.

As Loghound departed I started putting my threatened Drang nach Osten together.  I opened up diplomatic relations with the Mayans, the remaining AI run civilization, and got them to agree to attack Potshot and his Ottoman empire with me after 10 turns.

After the turns had passed, I declared war and launched my forces into the heart of Potshot’s territory with an eye towards taking Istanbul.  The Mayans however, totally reneged on their deal, and everybody else, including the AI running Loghound’s Japanese empire, declared war on me.

War were declared

War were declared

That wasn’t actually as bad as it sounded.  Mattman was on the other side of the Pangea continent, so couldn’t really get to me easily.  I had the same problem getting over there when we destroyed the Mongols last week.  Japan was a bit closer, but didn’t have many troops it could bring to bear, and those that came my way were technologically outdated.  I was rolling out with US Civil War level technology (cavalry, riflemen, and cannon) while Japan was fielding pikemen.

So it was mostly a grapple between Potshot and I.  Like most armies, I found that I did not out number the enemy by the ratios I had hoped, but I was technologically superior.  Potshot’s knights, crossbowmen, and Janissaries wore me down, destroying some of my forces.  But I was able to cut off his capital from the mass of his forces and hold them around Edirne while my guns headed towards his capital.

Battle Opens

Battle Opens

There was a short, sharp battle around Istanbul… once I figured out how the simultaneous turned worked… sort of… there were times when it wouldn’t let me move units that I ought to have been able to… eventually I figured out that persistent double-clicking gets things done…  but I was able to pound it into submission, taking it and renaming it Constantinople.

You can't go back to Istanbul?

You can’t go back to Istanbul?

I was able to push further and take Ankara, just to the south of Constantinople as well as a small city Potshot had dropped on the northern coast of the continent, closest to Berlin of all cities, and in something of a cul de sac.  I marched a small army out to take it and then found I couldn’t really go anywhere from there, so the portion of the army not set to garrison the town had to march back to Berlin and around the mountain range to get to the main front of the war, only to find peace had been declared.

Potshot sued for an end to hostilities and I accepted.  He then did what any nation still possessed of military might but which just lost a war would do; he looked for somebody else to kick the crap out of in order to redeem national pride.  He proposed an alliance with me, which I accepted, and then declared war on Mattman and his Spanish empire.

They began a decades long battle over the former city-state of Almaty.

The Ottomans hold it today...

The Ottomans hold it today…

The battle appeared, from my perspective, to consist mostly of rolling cannons up to each other and blazing away in an all consuming hail of lead.  Losses were staggering.  The city changed hands several times.

About then Loghound got back, was successfully able to rejoin the game, and aside from being at war and finding me picking off his pikeman units one by one, found his empire in better shape than when he left it.  He asked for peace, which I agreed to primarily because our empires were positioned such that coming to grips with each other was going to be a problem.  I think his half-sherpa pikemen spent more than a century getting over the mountains and to my frontier.

Which left me in a similar position as last week, with a war raging far to the east, obscured by fog, and decades away for my troops.  My only real point of contact with Mattman was via a city I dropped on an island towards the end of the last session.  My city shared the island with the city state of Singapore, which was an ally of Mattman’s Spanish.  I figured the city was a lost cause, as it was half way around the world from most of my empire and right on Mattman’s doorstep.

Mattman poured a pile of troops onto the island and I expected to go down fighting in a few turns.  I continued to send supplied to Potshot to keep his war going while starting to build some early armored cruisers in order to keep Mattman away from my coast.

However, the flaw in the “blast ‘em” warfare taking place in the south came into focus on the island.  Mattman dropped cannon and Gatling guns, which proceeded to pound my city.  My only unit consisted of riflemen, who would sally out from the city to attack one of his units and then retire to heal up.  While Mattman proceeded to beat down my city defenses, he soon realized that he had not brought along a unit capable of actually capturing a city.

Then my armored cruisers started showing up, sweeping him from the sea like Dewey at Manila Bay and keeping any reinforcements at bay.  I was then able to get some lancers and cannons onto the island and was able to destroy all Spanish forces.  After a bit more build up, I was able to take Singapore, giving me an outpost off of Spain’s northern coast.

Island secured

Island secured

I sent some of my units across to the mainland to scout and pillage, but Mattman had begun building submarines in earnest.  Those were able to intercept most of my troops so my attempt to disrupt his war effort was not successful.

The bloodbath around Almatay meanwhile had sapped Potshot’s martial spirit.  He and Mattman ended their war as the evening was winding down.  That just left Mattman and I skirmishing on the high seas now and again.

My empire, turn 239

My empire, turn 239

We decided to call the game for the night at turn 240.  Amongst the victory conditions we set was a turn limit, so that the person with the highest score will win at turn 330.  That leaves us just 90 turns left to play.  The game could wrap up in the next session.

At the end I was out in front in points, though not by a huge margin.

Score at Turn 240

Score at Turn 240

The contest appears to be between the two coastal powers.  I am on the west coast of Pangea, while Mattman holds the east coast.  Those in between us suffer, and likely will continue to suffer, due to our conflict.  There has been a certain amount of talk about who is going to get what when nukes appear on the scene, though we are a ways off from that.  While I was ahead of the historical curve at one point, with Gatling guns and Riflemen in the late 1600s, we are now at 1940 and are working on 1915 technologies.  We will have to see if we can even get to nukes in the next 90 turns.  But if we do… well… I chose the name of that island city for a reason.

The demographics show Germany holding its own on most fronts.

Turn 240 Demographics

Turn 240 Demographics

I solved my lebensraum problem with my attack into the Ottomans.  My approval rating is sagging, but I have been investing in the order social policies to stem that.  The oppression will continue until happiness increases!

Technologically I believe I still hold a small edge, though Mattman has been deploying units that are up to mine in tech.  Somebody stole one of my technologies during this round.  Oh no!  But the game doesn’t tell you who committed this vile act.  However, it just so happens that Loghound got the achievement for stealing a technology during this session, so I think that mystery has been solved.

As noted, there is a chance we could wrap this up coming Friday.  Then we will have to decide if we give Civilization V another go or not.

I am going to guess that we will play Civ V again.  But what settings will be used the next time around?  There was a suggestion of setting up a game with a lot more AI civs and joining together to destroy them all.  That could work.  And then there is map size and all the fiddly little settings.

The one setting that is going to cause contention though is turn time.  We are currently playing with a 2 minute limit on turns.  Mattman complains about the lack of time to finish his moves every couple of turns.  On the flip side, 90% of the time I am done with my turn inside of 30 seconds and spend the next minute and a half waiting for the turn to end.  I automate a lot of stuff.  So we’re going to have to have that discussion.

But otherwise, the end is in sight for this match, though who will win is still in contention… just not for the civs in the middle.

Civilization – The End of the Mongols and the Coming Conflict April 16, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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Friday night we got ourselves together in the designated Google hangout in order to return to our game of Civilization V.

Mattman, Potshot, and I were ready to go, but Loghound had some guests to evict or some such, so we got the game warmed up and ready while he set about pointing people towards his front door.

Potshot restored the game from the previous week and Mattman and I were able to join just fine, so things looked good.  Loghound just had to join and we would be set.

And then somebody else showed up in our game.  Potshot kicked him.  And then he returned, taking one of the AI seats.  He got kicked again.  Somebody else showed up, just to be kicked.  Potshot fiddled around, changed himself to one of the AI seats, couldn’t figure out how to get back to the Ottomans again, and we all had to leave and restart the game.

While setting things back up, Potshot ensured that the game was flagged as private.  We joined back up.  And the parade of strangers continued to flow into our game, just to be kicked.

Join our game? That's a kicking.

Join our game? That’s a kicking.

Later we figured out that if the leader clicked the not-very-obvious ready button, it locks down the computer players and then people can no longer just appear in your game.  Until that point we were kept busy calling out people to kick.

Finally, Loghound secured his domestic situation… or abandoned it, I am not sure we actually heard what came to pass… got into the game and we were ready to pick up at turn 101.

Our first order of business was to destroy the Mongols.  Our discussion in the hangout revolved around Loghound, having started as a close neighbor of the Mongols, being involved in a protracted and bloody conflict with Ghengis Khan to the point that he was falling way behind us in almost all civilization measures.

So we resolved to all declare war on the Mongols.  Potshot, Mattman, and Loghound were all in the vicinity of the Mongols, while I was somewhat out of the picture.  I knew where one city was, so I sent some archers there, though who they eventually sided with isn’t clear.

The Mongols as I saw them...

The Mongols as I saw them…

I managed to get a couple of shots in and even managed to capture a Mongol civilian.  When informed that it had, in its turn, been captured from Japan (Loghound), and asked if I wanted to return it, I clicked “no” and remained quiet when, later, Loghound was wondering aloud where his captured settler had ended up.  Well, it was only a worked when I got it.

The Mongols were destroyed and the spoils of their civilization was divided up amongst the chief participants in the war.

Spain, the Ottomans, and Japan remain

Spain, the Ottomans, and Japan remain

I got nothing… except that worker.  Though, with the war taking place decade of travel away from my territory, I didn’t exactly put my economy on a war footing either, choosing instead focus on building infrastructure and the occasional wonder.

And then we moved into the period of the long peace.

Well, for some of us.  Loghound felt he was far enough behind that he needed to continue his martial ways in order to play a role in world affairs, so remained in almost constant conflict with the Mayans or one of the city states throughout the evening.

Religions were founded.  I spread the word about Neo-Zoroastrianism to my protesting neighbors, leaving my pamphlets wedged into their door jams when they refused to answer the door.

Otherwise I was in a bit of a tight spot.  While I came out of the war flush in gold and happiness, with a booming economy, an efficient education system, and a culture that was the envy of all the neighbors, I was pretty much boxed in to my own little corner of Pangea.  I eventually found a place to plant an additional city, but that was about the extent of my expansion.  All of the other civilizations had more cities than I, and in the fullness of time I expect my little empire will be eclipsed.  Even Loghound has more potential at the moment.  His cities will grow, if he lets them.  Mine are already reaching their capacity.

As we wrapped things up at turn 175, which put us at midnight, my little corner of the world looked like this.

Germany needs Lebensraum

Germany needs Lebensraum

The demographics chart showed me out in front in all but one key category, land area.

Demographics at Turn 175

Demographics at Turn 175

I am efficient, productive, technologically advanced, well armed, and trapped in a small area.  What does Germany usually do in such situations?

Plus, just playing Sim City in a group setting isn’t exactly thrilling.  It might be time for some conflict.  I hear Hong Kong is lovely this time of year.

Birth of a Civilization April 9, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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The Strategy Group got together last Friday night for our first run at Civilization V.

We managed to browbeat Potshot into upgrading to the Gods and Kings and Brave New World expansions, which I understand was cheaper than trying to just get Gods and Kings, which was our target content.  That gave us religion as an aspect of the game, though tourism was not yet within our grasp.  We all got into our Google+ hangout, got ourselves a bit ogranized, and

As we did in our test run last week, Potshot hosted and select the game options.  We went with the Pangea map in order to make sure we were all on one landmass.  All victory conditions were allowed.  Barbarians were on, but not extra raging.  Difficulty level was Prince for all of us.  We threw two computer controlled civs into the mix.  We elected to go with random civs.  And off we went.

Certainly at the start it felt very much like a single player game.  Well, the turns took a bit longer than an early game, as we settled down into the routine.  There was some getting used to the fact that you have to click “next turn” or hit return to end your turn, and after a couple of fumbles and “wait, is everybody waiting on me?” moments, we all finally figured out that if you select “next turn” and then go back and do something, the “next turn” state is abandoned.

For me the game started out poorly.  I was in one of those positions where I might have just started over had it been a single player match.  I used to do that a lot with Civilization II, running through starting positions until I got a decent one.  I do that less so with Civ V because it is still new enough to be slow starting up.

Anyway, I ended up with the Germans, which was pretty good.  I was stuck in a strip of land between the coast and a mountain range, which did cover my flanks and seemed pretty safe at first.

Berlin founded, exploring

Berlin founded, exploring

However, that feeling of safety quickly faded as multiple barbarian camps formed up at either end of my stretch of territory.  I spent something on the order of 2,000 years battling barbarians as they attempted to swarm my city.  They captured an early settler and I ended up having to put production into full military mode for a while in order to suppress these uprisings.

They weren't even set to raging...

They weren’t even set to raging…

And the kicker was that I didn’t even get the benefit I expected.  One of the German special features is that barbarians will sometimes convert to your units when you defeat them.  I didn’t get a single one when I needed it, though I did finally pick up a couple at the very end of the battles.  And I did recapture my settler, which was good fortune.  I was eventually able to get that second city going.

Meanwhile, I had also spotted Potshot and his Ottomon empire to the south of me.  I set to trying to block off my coastal plain and catch up on the expansion.

Ottomans spotted

Ottomans spotted

Potshot and I establish diplomatic relations and kept a wary eye on each other as I tried to get another settler up front to keep myself from being boxed in.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the map, somebody was having a serious run-in with the Mongols.

We blame Potshot for having that Mongols DLC.  This is the second time they have shown up and been an issue.

But for the most part we spent our time expanding our empires and laying down the foundations for the rest of the game.  I managed to come into contact with Mattman eventually and established diplomatic relations with him.  I never saw Loghound or the Mongols, who were beating the tar out of him at one point.  And somewhere out there the Mayans are hanging out.  We ended up calling the game at turn 100, which put us at about midnight real time, and just past 800 AD in the age of the game.

What I could see

What I could see

It took me 4,800 years to develop that far.

The game was saved and we plan to pick it up again some time this week.

All and all it seemed to be a satisfactory start.  There wasn’t much contact between the four of us, but we are now growing in size that we will be right up against each other soon.  And then there are the Mongols.  We did have one disconnect incident during our time, but we were able to restart the game and bring everybody back and carry on without issue.

I will note that, checking on Steam throughout the weekend, all four of us ended up playing quite a bit of Civ V.  We should be warmed up for the continuation of our joint game.

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.

And Quiet Flows the ‘Thron July 19, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
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Last night I had a chunk of free time so I was hoping I might see some fleet action in Fountain.  I had Jabber up, I was logged into the game, I was ready.  I had ships outfitted for most of the popular doctrines, including a couple of new stealth bombers configured for siege fleet.

There had been some action since earlier in the week when I last checked in.  The CFC managed to take and hold 9-VO0Q, meaning that my map of North Fountain has to be expanded some to show TEST systems that are now on the front line.  So the war continues on.  The CFC now holds 11 of 115 systems, if that is your preferred metric for the war.

North Fountain - July 19, 2013

North Fountain – July 19, 2013

At the time, however, there was a whole lot of nothing going on.  So I put EVE Online in the background and resumed my latest game of Civilization V while I waited.

This time around I took up the banner of Venice, which has some interesting attributes.  It gets some boosts to trade and such, in keeping with the Venetian tradition.  But it also cannot create settlers.  As a civilization it has to grow by other means.  Conquest is one I suppose.  But you also get a “Merchant of Venice” great person every so often who is able to go buy off city states, which turns them into puppet regimes.

That can be a slow process however.

I also decided to go full on for a cultural victory in an attempt to learn how the culture and tourism changes worked.  It is not as easy or clear cut a path as it was before the expansion.  Tourism is a key way to spread your culture, and that is driven by how many great works and such your society has.  It is also driven by other aspects like open boarders, trade, and shared religion and ideology.

By the way, I want to reiterate what I said previously about liking where trade has gone with the new expansion.  In addition to commerce and science, it also spreads religion and plays into tourism.

I do not think I am going to get the culture victory this time around.  As I said, getting there is no longer a simple and direct path.  But it has lead to some interesting turns.  Arabia, for example, is complaining to me that all of its teens are wearing blue jeans and listening to Venetian popular music.

But the best moment was when Germany, who had been friendly up to that point, suddenly stabbed me in the back.  It went from open boarders, declarations of friendship, and trade caravans to the drums of war.  This was trouble, as Germany was the most largest and most aggressive empire and was probably peeved at me for failing to join it in its conquests.  I was technologically ahead of Germany and could hold out for a bit, but Bismark could overwhelm me.

And then, one turn into the war, two German cities defected to my side causing Bismark to sue for peace, saying it was high time to end this horrible conflict..  The cities in question apparently preferred my ideological choice of Freedom over Bismark’s Order choice.  But that situation brought back memories of one of the things I liked about Civilization III.

All of which was interrupted by a call for a Megathron fleet.

Megathron, circa 2007, just because

TEST and pals were reported to be putting together a Prophecy fleet and we were called up to counter and/or murder them.  Or at least to keep them busy while a CFC capital fleet roamed Fountain putting things into reinforce states.

Prophecy, circa 2009

That is my latest screen shot of a Prophecy… at least the latest one I have taken.  I certainly did not get a chance to take any new screen shots of one.  But I am not sure it has changed as much as the Megathron has over the years.

Anyway, EVE was back in the foreground and full screen as we assembled and loaded the ammo and scripts as directed by our FC, Lazrus Telraven.  We jumped out of the B-DBYQ staging system and holed up in a POS in Fountain to wait.

And wait.

It was reported that TEST called off their fleet, then changed their mind, and then changed it again a couple more times.

So we sat on station in the POS as a ready reaction force.  I put EVE back in a window and pulled up Civ V again to continue my campaign there.  Laz talked people into playing what has become the favorite game of the CFC high command since it showed up on the Steam Summer Sale, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare.  It is a first person shooter done up in the age of swords and armor… so if Diablo III in the first person perspective was on your to do list, here is an opportunity.   The game has popped up a couple of times during the sale for as low as six dollars.  I was tempted to join in, though it would have taken me longer to download the game from Steam than people ended up sitting around playing.  Maybe later.

So voice coms turned into cries of joy and pain and amazement as swords sang, arrows loosed, and heads rolled.  And fleet chat idled a bit, with occasional links to videos or more propaganda from the war, including one of my recent favorites.  I love the little Pandemic Legion logo on the bomb.

Literally North Korea

Literally North Korea

I am not sure that it needs the intro lines.  In fact, I think it works better without them.  But that is the way it is being spread about. (Some new TEST propaganda here.)

There were a couple more false alarms, reports of a TEST bomber fleet failing to catch the capital fleet, and some moving about the system to chase off a gate camp, but otherwise it was a quiet night for our fleet.

Eventually Laz gave us a participation link and flew us all back home to B-DBYQ.

Landing back on station in B-DBYQ

Stock footage of Megas landing at B-DBYQ station

We also serve, who only sit and play other games.

And so goes the war in Fountain on a Thursday night.

Notes from Another Steam Summer Sale July 17, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment.
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We are already more than half way through the annual Steam Summer Sale and… I haven’t bought a single game so far.

SteamSummerSale2013

I did get a free game however.

I noted in a comment on my post about the Civilization V expansion Brave New World that Steam had put it up as a sale item just two days after it released, which I didn’t think was all that cool.  I pre-ordered the expansion, which knocked three bucks off the price, only to find that I could have saved six dollars more if I had waited two additional days.  I am fine paying the day-one price for something I want, but cutting the price on day three is just going to train me not to buy anything new on Steam.

Well, Steam apparently didn’t think the price cut was all that cool in hindsight and decided to make it up to those who pre-ordered.  They didn’t feel bad enough to give me the six dollars, but they gave me a copy of Civilization IV.

Steam tries to make up

Steam tries to make up

I already own Civilization IV, though I couldn’t tell you where the disks were if pressed.  And, when it comes down to it, if I want to play a Civ game, Civ IV is probably in fourth place behind Civ V, Civ II, and Alpha Centauri.  But I suppose it was a decent gesture and I can always give it to somebody else on Steam.

But that isn’t why I haven’t bought any games yet.

And it certainly isn’t because of any negative reaction I might be having to their new Steam Trading Cards thing.  I don’t understand it really.  But it serves as neither an incentive nor a deterrent when it comes to purchased.  I am not going to buy stuff just to get a virtual trading card or to level myself up.

Only level 4

Only level 4

I probably did end up voting a few more times than I might have in their polls because of this.

And price should be no object.  The sales are great and I have been tempted to purchase a number of titles.

For example, like Harbinger Zero, I have been eying Skyrim, having set a mental price threshold of $20 at which point I have told myself I will buy it.  And, as he wrote, the fact that the Steam sale price fell just shy of that goal… I can have Skyrim for $21 right now… has ostensibly kept me from pulling the trigger on that deal.

However, I suspect that even at the $20 mark, I still might pass it by like so many other deals on the service.

I just think I might be sated when it comes to games at the moment.

I am happily playing Lord of the Rings Online and Civilization V while waiting for fleets in EVE Online.  And I already have a backlog of games that I want to play should those pale.  Steam says I have 77 games, and I probably play five of them on any sort of regular basis.

Still, I look at the Steam site a couple of times a day, just to see what sales are going.

Have you grabbed anything good yet?

Brave New World Brings Back Old Civilization Features July 10, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
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4 comments

Yesterday saw the launch of the Brave New World expansion to Civilization V.

CivVBNW

I had it pre-ordered on Steam and downloaded the update as soon as I got home last night.  MMO gaming was out the window as I tried out the new expansion.

There was the usual spate of items included in the expansion.  New civilizations are included, though I cannot see that as a big thrill unless you are looking for some more “Win a game as…” achievements or want to see what the city names are.  Some new scenarios were added on, though I must admit I rarely play those, preferring the traditional long game.  And, of course, there were some new wonders thrown in.

As always, you must remember I look at this through the lens of Civilization II, which remains one of my favorite games ever.  So I used to create new civilizations by editing the game data, which was stored in a text file.  Notepad is ever the most basic tool in software development.  Achievements were barely a thing, and only if you count the high score list.  Wonders were much less numerous, and many of those that were there had a much bigger impact on the game.  And…well… I still preferred the long game back then as opposed to scenarios.

But it is that bias towards Civ II that made this expansion a must have for me, as the Firaxis team brought back two aspects of early versions of the game and integrated them into Civ V; ideology and trade routes.  Eager to see those in action, I started a standard game on a big map.  I played as Morocco, which I only noted was one of the new civilizations a ways into the game, showing how much I pay attention to those sorts of things.

Ideology used to be an incredibly important aspect of the game in the Civ II days.  Of course, it used to be a bit of an exploit as well.  If you could research democracy early in the game and build the Statue of Liberty wonder, which was a mid-game wonder that gave you access to all of the various government ideologies, and then swapped to communism, you gained a pretty steep advantage.  And it also eliminate the period of anarchy when changing ideologies.

In Civ V, ideology is now an aspect of the game, but it is limited to the modern age or after you build factories in a certain percentage of your cities.  So you can not longer have a pre-industrial dictatorship of the proletariat.   Unfortunately I did not make it to the modern age in my first game out with the expansion.  Instead I got involved with a bloody little three-way war with the Celts and Portugal, who both came at me at once, with the Greeks weighing in now and again, in one corner of the map that left us all poking each other with spears and lances well into the 19th century.  Of course, that was plenty of fun, despite not being a winning game, but I wasn’t building many universities in the middle of the war.  So that aspect is left to be explored.

And then there was trade routes.  I like what they did with this.  In Civ II trade routes were pretty simple.  You built a trade caravan unit that represented one of the items your city had to offer and, ideally, sent it off to a city that wanted that item and which, in turn, offered up something your city desired.  When the caravan arrived, the trade route was established, and that was that pretty much.  And even if neither city had the right items, some sort of trade would be established and would still be better than no trade at all.

In Brave New World, trade routes are also established by building a caravan or, for sea trade, a trading ship.  Once built, you are given a pretty detailed list of the places with which you can trade and the benefits they will give.  You select one and off your caravan goes.  But once it arrives, the unit then returns and then goes back again, and so on, actually representing the trade route in game.  And the unit is vulnerable to attack.  If it is destroyed, the trade route is broken.  So you have to actually protect your trade routes.

In my dirty little war with Portugal and the Celts, I had cavalry in their back field expressly going after their caravans as well as triremes afloat to intercept their trade on the high seas.  And during a period of peace when I was trying to annex a captured city and was facing a lot of unrest due to unhappy citizens, the uprisings managed to destroy almost all of my own trade routes, putting me in the red on both happiness and finances.

Fun stuff.

There are also some enhancements to the cultural victory aspect of the game, including tourism and great works which, in the midst of a war, were largely left unexplored by me.  But it looks interesting.

One of the downsides of the expansion is that Firaxis did not seem to spend much time on performance enhancements this time around.  That was one of the things that the Gods & Kings expansion offered, a boots to performance.  So as the game progressed, I again found myself spending a lot of time waiting for the game.  Of course, it doesn’t help that I like big maps and the marathon pace, but I still contend that my system is beefy enough on the processing front that anything that bogs it down has to be pretty fearsome code-wise.

And the team did not appear to spend any time on some of the minor annoyances.  The game still seems to delight in showing me messages out of order order.  And it always seems to jump straight to the “Next Turn” button before allowing that, just maybe, I might still have some units that need orders.  I suspect that the code has been written to show “Next Turn” right away because it is prone to getting stuck elsewhere and that button at least sends things on their way.

All in all though, I am happy with the expansion so far.  It will no doubt keep me busy for some time and make it less likely that I will buy a bunch of games when the Steam Summer Sale finally shows up this year.  Rumor has it that the sale starts tomorrow.

Waiting for Civilization May 13, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
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6 comments

Last week my focus was a huge game of Civilization V.

Early in the week I started a few games on the largest map size (going with the Lakes option, so lots of land warfare) with a dozen competing civilizations and the usual complement of city states until I got a situation that looked good.  The first time out I was wedged in a corner between the Huns and the Mongols, which did not bode well.  The next time I was the Huns, but I managed to get into a war of annihilation with three other civs very early in the game, and while I managed to get to peace while still holding on to my capital, I was set back so badly that any rematch was going to go badly for me.

The third time out I drew the Germans which helped me build up my military quickly and avoid getting penned in early.  The Germans have a somewhat imbalanced attribute that allows them to recruit barbarians to their side a certain percentage of the time when they defeat a barbarian camp.

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Loading… still loading…

I actively went after barbarian camps, which allowed my city production to stay focused on buildings and wonders.  You don’t get the best units that way, but you get a lot of them.  My barbarian strategy actually ended up yielding too many units and some points, though I was able to gift them to city states in return for influence.  The Germans also pay less for land unit maintenance, so that helped with the budget.

I ended up playing all the way into Sunday evening in sessions of an hour or more.  In the end it was down to five civs, all of whom feared my military might and all but one of which, the Carthaginians, who were my game-long ally, I was chipping away at, declaring war, taking a city, getting another city as part of a peace settlement, and then turning to the next in line.

However, my enthusiasm for conquest was starting to wain, so I decided at around turn 1,100 to just go for the cultural victory and end it about 30 turns later.  I saved before I started, so I could go back and continue the military victory… or the political victory… or the religious victory.  All were still viable.  But I was tired of waiting.

I was tired of waiting because, in the last 500 or so turns, that was what I was doing most of the time; waiting.  I would make my moves, update production, tweak some improvements, then end my turn only to wait and wait while the computer handled each of the other civilizations, the city states, and finally the barbarians.  Then the game would come back to me.

It is a truism of the Civilization series that each version is launched at a time when they really need the next generation of CPUs to run them effectively.  I remember getting a new computer and seeing the time it took to play a game of Civ II drop dramatically.  I recall writing a note to Firaxis about the slow performance of Civ IV back when it launched, at a time when I had a pretty high end machine in terms of processing power.  Their response was quite snotty in my opinion and could be summed up as  “play smaller campaigns if performance matters to you, there is nothing wrong with our game.”

So I am left wondering when we will reach the point where average CPUs will be up to the task of speedy turns in Civ V and where the bottlenecks really lay.  The game appears to at least be multi-core aware.  Looking at Task Manager, at least four of the eight cores in my CPU look like they are in use, though none of them are capped out or even showing usage beyond 50%.  So the game doesn’t seem CPU bound.  RAM appears to be available, so it isn’t like the game is paging out constantly… or it shouldn’t be in any case.  And while there appears to be some issue with I/O… the game takes me four long minutes from launch before I can resume a game already in progress… and four minutes might not seem like much time, but try sitting in front of your screen waiting, clicking to skip through any video possible, and listening to the required speech about your civ and its leader, then it is the “watched pot” scenario… I cannot imagine that they are doing much of that for each turn.

So when will we be set on this front?

I hope that the next Civ V expansion, Brave New World, will include performance improvements like those that came with the Gods & Kings expansion…  yes, performance was even worse at launch… because CPUs not only are not getting faster in the ways they used to back in the day, but the CPU doesn’t seem to be the limiting factor at the moment.  A long campaign like last week’s, where the last third of the game was mostly me waiting on the computer, puts me off the game.

But it does make me want to dig out my Civ II disk, which is still lost somewhere in my office.  The game isn’t as sophisticated as Civ V, though there is some appeal to its sometimes crude simplicity.

A simpler time...

A simpler time…

But the game itself runs like a dream, the AI zips along, and most of any match is spent doing rather than waiting.  There are many reasons I always go back to that game, and speed is certainly one.  Yes, you can get mired into epic stalemates, but at least the turns move quickly.

Mods, Performance, Faith, and Spies June 21, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
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8 comments

The story of that ten year long game of Civilization II certainly put thoughts of turn-based strategy into my brain.

I had been tinkering with Warlock: Master of the Arcane since shortly after Ken at Popehat mentioned it (which is when it went on sale for half price).  It is another strategy game from Paradox Interactive, the company that seems to have a near strangle hold on the strategy game market.  At least on my machine.

While a decent game, and well worth the money at half price, it didn’t quite scratch the itch the itch caused by all this Civ talk.  And while my impulse was to go straight to Civ II again, I decided to crank up Civilization V. It had been a while since I had played it and there being a new expansion and all.

That meant getting into Steam, and Steam took the opportunity opened by my looking their way for a minute to put up a message announcing that Civilization V was now on Steam Workshop.

Steam Workshop

Steam Workshop is Valve’s interface for dealing with mods and other user created content.  This got me looking through some of the player content.

Some items from the list…

I grabbed a few custom maps, including one of Westeros, which I immediately tried out.  It is a standard size map only, and it played pretty well.  I ended up starting north of Winterfell, so I was in the Night’s Watch position, which did leave me dealing with a horde of barbarians almost constantly throughout the game.

And City States, which I remain unenthusiastic about in Civ V, at least make sense in the context of Westeros, with its many nobles pledged to one liege lord or another and switching sides at awkward moments.

The game was fun and I ended up pretty much as King in the North.  It also left me susceptible to Valve’s next pitch, which was for the Civ V expansion, Gods & Kings, marked down 10% if I pre-ordered.  And so I did.

Well, some of the features sold it to me as well.  I was not so interested in other potential kingdoms or new technology, but the introduction of spies and faith into the game was big to me.  I miss spies especially.

The expansion dropped on Tuesday and I have had a chance to play a bit.  And for the most part I am happy.

Faith, in which you essentially found a state religion, is good.  You can tailor your religion, and there are details to master there, but it does not come up until your empire has reach a given status, so the game is well under way when you have to pick, rather than it being yet another starting parameter with which you can tinker.

And spies… spies are very good.  Spies are no longer units on the field of play, to be moved around and thrown at enemy cities.  Instead, there is a new interface to manage your espionage activities.  But through that interface, you can do all your old favorite spy things along with a few new twists.

Where are my spies?

And you can no longer create an army of spies to overwhelm your opponent via an espionage war.  You have to take a more refined view of their use.

Those two, along with things like embassies, revamped combat, and tweaks to things like city states have seemed pretty good so far.

But then we come to the annoying bit.

Actually, it isn’t annoying to me, because I bought the expansion.  This will annoy those who are waiting for a Steam sale on it.

Basically, the expansion includes improvements to performance.

Like all Civ games that I have played at launch… which is, pretty much, all REAL Civ games (so no Call to Power)… Civ V has shown itself to be a processor hogging behemoth, incapable of running quickly on my relatively beefy system, at least when it comes to the last third or so of the game.  At that point I generally spend as much time waiting for the game as I do playing.

It is part of the Civ tradition I guess.  I remember the time it took to play a game of Civ II dropping dramatically each time I upgraded my computer.

Anyway, along with fixes to the AI, which now fights better, performance overall in the late game has been improved noticeably.   But you only get that improvement if you buy the expansion.  If you don’t buy it, you can suck it as far as Sid Meier is concerned I guess.

So it is a good thing I felt the need for spies and religion, because I would be pissed if all I really wanted out of the expansion was to make the game work better.

All in all, it makes a decent game better.  Ars Technica and Kotaku both have pretty positive reviews posted, if you are skeptical of my point of view.  And you probably should be.

Now to see what that Middle-earth map is like.

I Would Buy Civ II Again… If I Could Find It… October 13, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
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20 comments

One of the things stopping me from writing up what I think about Civilization V is that I cannot find my 1996 Civilization II disc.

Best Civ Ever... Maybe

Civ II is still my gold standard for Civ games.  I played the original Civilization back in the day, but once I picked up Civ II, I never went back.  Civ II was clearly superior in every way over its predecessor.

Not so the games that followed however.  Alpha Centauri was very good.  I played a lot of that.  But I never liked the fact it wanted to be played full screen rather than in a window and I was never big on the alien landscape.  So eventually I went back to playing Civ II.

Civilization III had merit, but it never really clicked with me.  There were features I liked about the game certainly, but I never found it as satisfying.  I went back to playing Civ II.

Likewise, Civilization IV.  Civ IV is probably the version I have played the least.  I went almost straight back to playing Civ II.

And then last year came Civilization V.  Civ V felt to me, after all these years, like it got back to some essence of what made Civ II such a good game.  But to really put my finger on what it is, I want to go back and play Civ II.

Only I cannot find my disc, which is where I started this post.

I did find my copy of the Mac version of the game.  But that doesn’t do me any good, as I would need to drag my old PowerMac 8500 (with the G3 processor upgrade card) out of the closet to play, and I am not that interested in playing.  (Plus I am not sure where the ADB keyboard and mouse have gotten to.  That keyboard turned 25 years old this year!)

Somewhere around the house there is at least one, possibly two, Windows copies of the game.  I can dig around in my office some more I suppose.

But ideally though, Civ II would just be available on Gog.com for $9.99.  That is where I got my current copy of Alpha Centauri. (Which is what reminded me of the whole “must run full screen” thing.)

My second choice would be to find it available on Steam.  As much as I still resent having to have internet access in order to play a single player game (so Steam has taken the sting out of that Diablo III reality), it is mighty damn convenient.  But while they have Civ III, IV, and V available, Civ II is nowhere to be seen.

This leaves me with physical means, finding another disc for sale somewhere.  Not an impossible task, but it means I cannot have it RIGHT NOW!

I guess this is a sign that I have accepted digital distribution.

And while I am thrashing around on this, maybe I should take a look at FreeCiv, which looks very Civ II-like.  And I can download it.