Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Civ V Gameplay Report: The Good

I haven't been posting much lately. Work has been extremely busy, I'm working on some night school, and we may be moving in the near future. Plus, I got Civilization V. As fans of the series know, the Civ games are very good at destroying your free time. Here's some notes on gameplay.

First off, the good.
  • City States. The first iterations of Civ had barbarians that roamed the land; they generally had no cities unless they managed to capture one from a player (rare). In Civ 4, we saw Barbarian Cities. If left alone in an unexplored corner of the map, the Barbarians would set up an actual bonafide city that could be captured. The problem with this is that you couldn't interact with them, and everyone was at war with them all the time.

    Civ V introduces minor players called "city states." City States can be interacted with diplomatically. They always like gold and gifts of units, but they will also ask for you to complete missions like connecting to them with roads, defending them from predatory Civs, or doing their dirty work to take out another City State. They are also actually useful to have around: militaristic ones give you up-to-date useful military units and tend to pump out a lot of units that will fight on your side against your enemies, cultured ones give your empire culture which can otherwise be hard to get, and maritime civs give you food.

    If you are allied with a city state, they will also give you access to strategic resources. This is great; in previous iterations of the game, if your empire didn't have a key resource like Coal you could bet dollars to donuts you'd better go to war to get it or risk losing. Now, you can maintain relations with a City State that has the right resource.
  • Barbarians. Rather than spawning out of the fog of war, barbarians come from camps which pretty actively spew out units. This makes it much more strategic to set up a defensive line rather than just exploring like crazy.
  • Fewer Cities. In the past, generally the more cities you had, the better, unless corruption became crippling. Small empires can be quite viable in Civ 5, which is nice if you don't care to manage two dozen cities. Cities also work a larger area which means that they tend to be further apart, which also means fewer cities are viable.
  • Less strongly specialized cities. Civ IV used "National Wonders" which each civ could build once to encourage specialized cities. This was encouraged because each city could only build two and they had major multipliers tied to them. That is, you'd have a science city, a money city, a factory city, etc. I always stressed out about making sure I put the right wonder in the right place, and often waited until too late in the game to make sure that my ironworks was next to coal, iron, or both. Civ V still has national wonders but most of them just provide a static bonus ("+X gold") as opposed to a multiplier. You can also build as many as you want in one city, again making a one-city game viable. This is a good balance, I think.
  • Military. Unit stacking and the stack of doom is gone. Ranged units actually have a range. Units don't battle to the death, and may survive two or three attacks (or more, if dug in and having combat advantages). There are now strategic, operational, and tactical elements to combat. Additionally, units out of garrison cost a lot more in upkeep than units in garrison. This creates a quite realistic "mobilization" phase to many conflicts; in peacetime, you want your units spread out garrisoning cities, but in war you need to spend a few turns to mobilize and get them to the front. All in all I'm fairly pleased with the changes.
  • Infrastructure upkeep. Roads now cost gold to maintain. This keeps you from spamming roads everywhere, which is not realistic and also is annoying.
All of the elements come together to form some really interesting interactions. Here's an anecdote from a recent game.

The War with England

I was on a continent with England, Russia, and three minor city states. Russia and I had ganged up on England all game (with me egging Russia on to bleed Russia dry while I focused on my economy), but failed to conquer her. I eventually got a tactical edge and swept in for the kill, sweeping up London, which was quite a prize with many wonders of the world.

However, England had a city state allied with her, Budapest; Budapest (as England's client) was waging a proxy war with Genoa, who looked to me as their patron (and whose benefits I rather enjoyed). When England collapsed, Russia moved in with a sizable bribe and asserted protection over England's old ward, and the city-states continued to fight. I kind of wanted Budapest for myself, but was willing to let Russia run it for now; besides, I swept up the third city state -- Helsinki -- which was also a defunct English client shopping for a new patron, which happened to flank Russia and provide uranium which I figured might be useful in the future as I didn't have any other supplies.

Proxy War

However, I had a problem: Budapest was kicking Genoa's butt. Forever, their war was like a fight on the short bus; lots of flailing but not much damage. But, after England went down the tubes, I think Russia began funneling units to them. I began to give my older units into my client and the proxy war started to escalate. Eventually, things got desperate and my client was on the verge of collapse. I talked to Russia, gave them a small bribe, then entered the war against Budapest on behalf of my little buddy, delivering punishing airstrikes on Budapest's front line units, dropping paratroops into a defensive position next to the city, and pounding front units with naval fires (sound familiar?) in order to save Genoa.

I quickly dealt with Budapest's attack. Russia, alarmed, warned me that they weren't happy. At this point, I got greedy and went for the gold ring of capturing Budapest itself which I had wanted for some time rather than signing a cease fire or pulling back. I calculated that the Russians were not willing to risk war to protect their new client, and told Catherine to take a hike, as I figured I would complete the war in a turn before she could intervene. My economy was not in great shape as I was still assimilating the English cities so I used air power and a few tanks to quickly seize Budapest, leaving most of my heavy armor units in garrison in the cities, with a token border patrol force dug in on my border with Russia.

Russia Strikes

I miscalculated: Russia freaked out and declared war as her client folded. Additionally, America and another overseas power took exception to my actions and entered the fight with Russia. They saw me crush a major civ then roll over a minor city state and thought that I was a "bloodthirsty menace to the world;" plus, I think Russia put them up to it. Russia opened up with a nuke on my left flank followed by an armored column through the gap, driving towards the recently conquered city of London. The initial attack tore a whole in the left flank of my border watch, and my small navy was largely caught out in the open and badly mauled by Catherine's new allies.

Knocked back on my heels, I fought a slow delaying action that ended up against the walls of London until my armor could get mobilized out of the cities; I also struck back with my sizable but exhausted and damaged air force. After the two minor campaigns to defend Genoa and seize Budapest, a lot of the bomber and fighter wings were in the "yellow" already. Still, I had no options other than to call in airstrike after airstrike as Catherine's units threatened to break through in the center and right and as they surged up against city walls on the left.

Catherine also sent a large naval task force up against my ally with uranium. She pounded the city into oblivion and captured it within a few turns; I funneled a few units to Helsinki but they could only slow the inevitable. Still, with Catherine's navy busy up North, I managed to get a submarine and battleship out to sea, and using them to scout I managed to sink a few battleships that were foolhardy enough to venture within land-based air coverage as she sent her forces south. At this point, I abandoned the Manhattan project and threw the production into more conventional units.


It took me about three turns to bring up my armor divisions and artillery which was just in time, as my exhausted air wings were starting to be destroyed. A great general spawned just in time to help the armor units counterattack and cut off Catherine's advanced forces on the left flank and destroy the rear-echelon artillery and anti-aircraft guns. My armor then dug in and spent the next three turns bombarding the cut off forces into oblivion. I also managed to catch an American expeditionary force off the coast and savaged their convoy with air and submarine attacks before most of them could land to relieve Catherine's isolated army, which was crushed as I closed the pocket.

At this point, my armor divisons were damaged but my air, paratroops, and artillery were sound, and my navy was rapidly gaining superiority and forcing Russia's boats to hole up in an inland sea with only one entrance to the ocean. I surged forward and marched straight for Moscow, using massive artillery and airstrikes to wear down the city as my paratroops dug in on key high ground held off Catherine's relief column from reinforcing the city. As I seized Moscow, Catherine's war allies backed out on her and sued for peace on fair terms. Catherine also offered an olive branch but was not willing to give much up. I rejected her offer; she replied by dropping a second nuke on her own recently lost territory, which vaporized some of my paratroopers. It was too little too late though, and my mechanized units had dug in by the time her troops reached the doorstep.

Cut off from uranium, I had abandoned my Manhattan Project. I decided that a cease fire with Russia would just give her time to build more nukes, which was unacceptable. We had both taken a pounding but she had a sizeable navy holed up and a lot of ground forces up north racing down in my direction. With her continental monopoly on uranium, I would be at a major strategic disadvantage if she could catch her breath.

Total War

The war went on for some time, but accelerated as more major cities fell. I was careful to avoid alienating any of the other civs, and I think Russia's nuke attack backfired somewhat as others were hesitant to enter the war. Cut off from her fickle allies, having lost her capital, and having lost air superiority, I gained the upper hand. Her navy was destroyed in port as my land forces overran the coast; any ships that dared to sail were caught in the trap of the narrow strait and mercilessly ambushed by a waiting submarine wolfpack. Eventually, Helsinki was liberated and Catherine's last city fell.

While I fell behind the rest of the world in technology while duking it out with Catherine, the addition of her cities provided a boost to my economy once they were integrated. I managed to eventually eke out a space race victory.
So, all in all, there are some interesting interactions. The entire war came about unintentionally. Russia and I had been fairly firm allies all game. Even some squabbling over influence over city states and picking up the pieces of the English empire wasn't enough to destroy the entire relationship. However, ultimately a skirmish between our clients which grew into a "cold war" style proxy conflict eventually erupted into a full on war.

The elements of nuclear deterrence were also present. Russia knew I had no uranium and thus no nukes, so Catherine nuked me at the outset of the war. Why not? I had no good deterrent. She nuked me again once she was desperate for survival. I'll try to hit some of the bad and ugly points about Civ V later.