So I finally lost a game of Civilization 5 in a humiliating way on a difficulty level that I have easily managed and it was my own doing.
I’m a builder more than a warrior in Civ and had planned to go for a cultural victory. My Songhai empire was blessed to be surrounded by mountain ranges and ocean, so I built cities and citadels in the mountain passes and made myself impervious to attack. The Greeks tried, the Persians tried but I Thermopylae-d them both and was able to devote my energies to building a medium sized empire free from foreign interference.
I hadn’t really counted on the Greeks going a little nuts. They wiped out the Persians and the Iroquois and took a nice chunk out of China. Arabia had already been eliminated. The Greek relations bonus with city states plus the insane amount of gold they were amassing led to a diplomatic victory for Alexander, and it wasn’t even close. The guy got 16 votes! He had a good tech lead, as well.
Ultimately, it was a lesson in complacency born out of my total comfort level with that difficulty level – one I play when I don’t want a real challenge, I just want to have some speed bumps.
It’s a sign that Civilization 5‘s AI is grasping the importance of the diplomatic game in a way it really didn’t for the first eight months of its life. It still doesn’t grasp all the tactical nuances of warfare; my fortress city was vulnerable to attack from the rear if Alex had the insight to go all amphibious on me and there was still very little naval threat (though an Aztec empire in a game on Friday night did build ships and planes and nuked me.)
Something is still missing personality wise in Civilization 5, though, and I think that the early AI failures have made it harder for me to understand the faction leaders as people in their own rights with attitudes and behavioral patterns that I quickly sussed out in Civ 4. There still isn’t enough transparency in relations, or any clear idea why some nations will go from love to hate in a matter of five turns. If I knew that Alexander, for example, favoured the Patronage social policy tree, then I probably would have been more proactive in meeting and seducing city states.
I think that this is why as much as I play Civilization 5, I can’t really fall in love with it. The nations in my world go about their victory plans on their own, and so do I. Though it’s primarily a single player game, Civilization has never felt like solitaire, even in its simplistic early days. Civilization 4, with its obvious math and clarity on who was getting which civic bonuses, gave you something to respond to and plan around.
But congratulations to Alexander for beating me in an embarrassing way. I won’t make that mistake again.