Monday, June 21, 2010

Civilization 4

Five years ago I gave the Civilization 4 demo a try. An hour later I gave up on it. Seeing the game with all its expansions packs on Steam for €11 made me give it another try. And 40 hours of playing later I'm glad I did!

These days most strategy games seem to be only about one thing: killing as many enemies as brutal as you can. The trend has been to lower the "strategy" part in favour of more action. Base building? Games like Dawn of War 2 remove it to leave only the fighting.  Dawn of War 2 is a fun on its own but you can hardly call it a strategy game. Dawn of War 2 is more an action/RPG game than a strategy game. So amongst these so called strategy games it's great to see that companies still create more serious games. Civilization V is on the horizon and in the meantime we can still enjoy its predecessor and its many mods.

Civilizations main selling point isn't the fighting. It's even an optional thing to do. Indeed, I won a "culture game" without killing a single enemy unit. Well, fighting is mostly optional... In that game my neighbour suddenly invaded me with an army ten times the size of mine. The only reason I survived is by a Deus Ex Machina in the form of my second, friendly neighbours papal order to stop the war between us. Anyone who wants to survive in this game should keep Sun Tzu's "In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace" at the back of his head. In fact, fighting can get you to *loose* a game. I lost one space victory by a single turn. Afterwards I was contemplating just what I did wrong. And I came to the conclusion that I wasted my resources a century before the space race to conquer my neighbour. His rich cities were great targets for my technologically superior troops. Conquering them I did but if I had spent all those resources into research I would have won the game!

So if it's not about the fighting what is it about? You start with a single settler and you build or conquer until you span a continent. Your researchers take your civilization from the invention of the wheel and bow and arrow through the discovery of the art of printing to fusion power. Building the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids make sure that your cities are the cultural crosspoints of the world. You found Christianity and spread it across the world. In the mean time you send spies out to your neighbours to poison their waters and are being generous to your neighbour who works as a buffer to your arch enemy. And of course your berserkers pillage and conquer a city from time to time...

You can do all that which makes it a complex game. But as so often specializing is the key. Early on you should decide if you want to enter the path of the fist, go for a cultural victory or be the first to send astronauts to Alpha Centauri. The AI is doing a good job of giving you some competition. They might be very friendly towards you but if you neglect your military they will act. The power of religion also becomes clear through diplomacy. Having the same religion as your neighbours gives a huge boost to your relations.

Civilization 4 is a great game which makes me look forward to the next instalment. I'll definitely be putting more time in the series. And there still seem to be a few interesting mods to try out. I'd love to give Fall from Heaven a try one of these days. It's great to see that in these days of dumbing down everything there is still place for complex games which require more than two braincells.

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