Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sid Meier's Civilization IV - 13/20 hours

I got a brisk reminder of the weakest part of Civilization IV over the past few hours - warfare is a nightmare. I don't know what went wrong in my latest game, but I had to deal with a rotating cast of hyper-aggressive warlords who, for some reason, decided that my empire looked like a likely target. At one point, I was at war with Montezuma, Napoleon, and Julius Caesar simultaneously. When I made peace with the latter two in order to deal with the former (the Aztecs were the only one of the three that was anywhere near my territory), I assumed that was the end of it (I had to destroy so many of their units just to get them to talk to me), but a century later, I was fighting Napoleon, and then just a decade after beating him decisively (and giving his cities to a friendly AI, because we shared no borders whatsoever), Caesar declares war on me out of nowhere (and he's even farther away).

 I don't understand the criteria by which the AI decides who to fight. The Aztecs attacking made a certain amount of sense. There was a considerable distance between our cities, but with a high enough culture, the territory would have been contiguous.  The others, though, exclusively attacked my captured Aztec cities, and had to be laboriously driven off, but I'm not sure what they would have gained even from victory. A couple of weak and unproductive cities, cut off from their main empires by the territory of my ally (and in Caesar's case, almost the entire length of a Pangaea map), and extremely vulnerable to being culture-flipped (it was only after a century of possession that I was even able to get the city radius wide enough to work the land profitably). There's literally no strategic advantage to the attack. I almost think the game is ganging up on me purely because I'm the human.

Or maybe I'm just bitter because I was playing on quick mode, and the thing about quick mode is that your units move at the same speed as they do on normal mode, so warfare generally takes the same number of turns, but each turn is more valuable. So I went from first place at the beginning of my first war to second place at some point in the middle of my second war, and I never quite recovered. And maybe that's the explanation - they were trying to take down the top dog - except that also doesn't make sense, because however bad the wars were for me, they were a disaster for my enemies.

The worst part about it is that Civilization IV's combat system encourages long and destructive wars. You can stack up any number of units in a single tile, so the best way to defeat an enemy is to build up a massive force and then overwhelm their defenses. It is pretty much impossible to defend against the swarm attack because however many units you build, the attacker can simply delay the war until they have more (I've used this to my advantage multiple times, so I don't really have a right to complain - not that that's going to stop me). And the really dismaying part is that regular civ4 is missing a critical diplomatic option - enemy civilizations will not surrender. You can beat them so badly they'll pay tribute for peace (though by the time you do, they rarely have anything worth taking), but regardless of how the war ends, even if they started it, they'll hate you for having lost. The only way to decisively and permanently win a war is to cripple them so badly they can't recover. And that takes a lot off time.

As a result, I don't think I'll finish that save, because I've only got about 50 turns left, and though I've won my wars, the time the fighting took away from my infrastructure and research has left me with no path to victory. The AI who overtook me for first place has an insurmountable lead, thanks to having the good sense not to attack me and the good fortune not to draw aggression from every random yahoo on the continent. My dream of a peaceful and unified world will not come to pass (at least, not until the next time I play the game).

I will say, though, Civilization IV has done a lot to cement my real-world pacifism. It just makes me so angry that you can cultivate and build and learn and over the course of years make something beautiful and functional and some idiot with a sword can just swoop in and take it over without having contributed anything of their own, and even if they fail, the mere fact that they targeted you will inevitably result in your stuff getting wrecked with only the slimmest hopes of compensation. It's not fair that the first person willing to use violence gets to unilaterally dictate the terms of the conflict. Reason and justice should rule the world, not brutality and the narrow strength of the clenched fist.

One of the reasons I love the Civilization games is because sometimes that ideal world comes to exist, or at least, it does when the random number generator doesn't develop an inexplicable grudge for the human.

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