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Losing at Civilization

May 30th, 2011 by Troy Goodfellow · 8 Comments · Firaxis

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.

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8 Comments so far ↓

  • Chris Nahr

    “That” difficulty level is which? Prince, King?

    I agree that Civ5 is pretty good at grabbing a diplomatic victory when it has the chance. Alexander is dangerous here even at Prince, and I actually once got beaten by Bismarck on King with a diplo victory.

  • Punning Pundit

    I forget what Greece gets as a civilization bonus, but it basically boils down to “make city states love you”. The designers of Civ5 seem to think that the most important thing Greece did was create the Delian League. That is such an awesomely different way to think about Greek history that it made me fall in love with Civ 5.

  • Rob C

    That is an improvement. I remember playing Civ V when it first came out and winning games where the AI could have won if it just spent its money on getting the city state votes. When I would win it would feel very hollow.

    If I had never played a Civ game before Civ 5, Civ 5 would seem like a pretty good game. But since I have, Civ V just seems blah. I haven’t played it in months even though it had been my all time favorite series. It just seems so bland. The diplomatic victory condition just seems so bland. I’m not a fan of the civ-wide happy meter. It just hasn’t captured me the way every other iteration has.

  • Alex B

    I had a similar experience yesterday!

    Inspired by your podcast on the Civ 5 and Elemental patches, I tried both games again. Elemental was much better, but still a gigantic disappointment that had some fun parts but was simply was not fun. The Elemental patch improved many components but now Elemental needs a complete restructuring, a vision of some sort.

    Civ 5′s patch however fixed a lot of the systematic problems I found in Civ 5, namely the AI and the lack of meaningful decisions in both empire and city management!

    After a warm up game as Rome to get used to all the changes, I started a game as Japan on Immortal difficulty (my typical difficulty). After a strong start, I was double-teamed by Rome and Songhai and managed to beat them both off for centuries, defeating Rome soundly. But then, right around when my Samurai started getting gunned down by cannons and muskets I realized that the tide of war was against me. I made every effort, but eventually I started a cascade of city losses that led to my defeat.

    Despite this fun experience, I agree with your comparison to Civ 4 regarding information display. Civ 5 has improved on the transparency issue, but there are still too many blind choices that require either out of game research or random chance.

  • j.eel

    I’m positive someone must have made this comparison before but Civ V really reminds me more of Alpha Centauri than it does of the more recent Civ games. Because it’s facilities instead of cities that cost you money, expanding is always the right move. Managing happiness as you expand even feels like managing the penalty drones you get based on your efficiency rating in AC. The AI just hates whoever expands towards it and will get into all kinds of wars. And because the AI has all kinds of bonuses to happiness, the larger AI is just always the more dangerous one. So while in Civ IV you would wind up with like Mansa Musa running a relatively small empire that’s an economic and technological powerhouse while Montezuma or Genghis would sometimes crash their economies, here it’s more like AC where one of the militaristic AIs just gobbles up all the builders and wind up the only real threat on the map because every conquest is an automatic positive for them. But while the flavour in AC made it feel acceptable that the AI would behave in basically irrational ways, it makes less sense in Civ V. What ideological agenda is Alexander pursuing? That and the fact that the Civ V economy is a lot less interesting to micromanage keep me from going back to it with any regularity.

  • Phil Davies

    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

    Myself and the girlfriend played a 2v2v2 against AI’s last night and came right into this issue. For some reason, on the turn we discovered diplomacy, every single enemy Civ and city state declared war on us. I have absolutely no idea why.

  • skshrews

    One of the many issues with Civ V is the absence of any significant diplomacy “game”.

    Civ IV allowed meaningful alliances, actual trade agreements, and at least some predictability in international relations.

    Civ V “diplomacy” is nothing but a preface to the inevitable war-if a nation can get to you , prepare to fight them at some point. Options to repair relations are absent, and this means that once you’ve fought a nation, you will never be forgiven.

    While I am more forgiving of an AI in Civ V that might not be able to deal with the complexity of a tactical military game, the diplomatic game seemingly could have been an aspect of the game that might have been developed much more than it was.

  • huh?

    why don’t you just play the game without the “diplomatic win” option?