You’ve probably all seen the story of the ten year Civilization II game over on Reddit. In short, a gentleman named Lycerius (not his real name) was playing a game of Civ 2 for a long time and the world had broken down completely. Three superpowers that couldn’t touch each other (all with same tech levels), nuclear weapons only good for strikes on units since everyone had SDI, repeated global warming turning every arable space into swamp or desert, and cities unable to be much good for anything beyond churning out units because war was constant and continual. Millenia into the future, nothing had changed.
Now, I am not completely surprised that the nut was cracked even after Lycerius hadn’t been able to for years. The problems, as bad as they were, seemed manageable if you had a gold reserve (research could be set to zero and you can buy what you need to start), cities secure from attack that could be turned into resource nodes (via Offshore Platforms in Civ 2), and airports and transports in the right places. I didn’t have time to try his game myself, but the solution that Stumpster (also not his real name) found was one that a skilled Civ player would eventually find, even without the mass brain power of Reddit game commenters offering suggestions – all credit to Stumpster for being the first to discover and publish a way through the bleak future of Lycerius’s earth.
The shocking thing in this story is that Lycerius kept going back to this game. Now, by his own admission, he wasn’t playing it constantly. It was something he would return to from time to time and try to patch up but get nowhere. Having always been at war with EastAsia (or the Vikings), he probably got into a mindset where the idea of really going all out for that killing blow and finding a strategy that wasn’t “rush tanks to the front” seemed totally alien. But some of his comments, like how he couldn’t build a granary because he needed tanks, didn’t ring quite true for an experienced player because, well, you buy the damned granary. He has over 5000 gold in one screenshot. He can get some civilian infrastructure up.
But the compulsion to keep returning to a failed world and, not seeing it advance or change or evolve, is completely foreign to me. I think it is to most strategy gamers, no matter how many have been captivated by Lycerius’s world of woe. I believe one reason that Cold War or modern geo-political grand strategy games fail is because these are eras where the great powers are stable, where they take few dramatic risks and therefore the world shaking changes of borders and populations that fuel the power fantasies of most strategy gamers cannot be fulfilled without doing violence to the setting.
Still, here was one man playing the same game over and over and over again. Long enough for him to finally post about it on Reddit and get the story told on game sites and forums around the world. There’s been a lot of focus on the dystopian picture he paints, but less, I think on what drove this guy to keep going back if he saw no solution. It’s a peculiar compulsion and one completely alien to me. Where was the enjoyment? The evidence of trying to solve the puzzle his game had created? The joy of growth or agony of defeat. Yet, there he was – year after year.
I will say that this story has made me reinstall Civ 2. Lycerius is right that there were some neat mechanics in Brian Reynolds’s design that haven’t been followed up in other Civ games. (Mostly for better, I think, but there are exceptions. I miss terraforming.) And it’s a cool story about a great game and how great games can fire the imagination one short week before Firaxis, 2K and lead designer Ed Beach eat my hours with Gods and Kings, the first full expansion for Civilization V.