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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Civilization II

Silly Telly by Julianne Gentile from flickr (CC-BY)

Because the damn Macbook comes with integrated GPU instead of even a very cheap real one I can only play very old games on it. So I'm kinda going through the old titles, at least until I can get a decent box.

I remember playing 4X games like Civilization, Civilization II, Colonization (about which I wrote some time ago), Master of Magic, and Freeciv a lot when I was younger. Now that I look at them again the original Civilization seems rather unplayable due to VGA graphics, and as the gameplay isn't much different I tried Civilization II.

The first thing I noticed is what a bunch of lies the unit statistics are. You see - in the original Civilization units had attack and defense points. In Civilization II they wanted to keep these points essentially unchanged so it would look familiar to the player base, but to rebalance the game by changing their meanings. So they introduced hit points and firepower. A quick math shows that the effective attack and defense ratings follow these rules:

effective attack = attack × firepower × hitpoints
effective defense = defense × firepower × hitpoints

Here's a full table of units, ordered by more or less their battle power.

NameEffective attackEffective defenseNominal attackNominal defenseFirepowerHitpoints
Nuclear Missle99099011
AEGIS Cruiser48488823
Stealth Bomber561214322
Cruise Missle60020031
Stealth Fighter32128322
Mechanized Infantry18186613
Alpine Troops10105512

So a cruise missle with nominal attack of 20 (effective 60) usually won't be able to take carrier of nominal defense 9 (effective 72), let alone a Battleship of nominal defense 12 (effective 96), even though by the original rules it should sink both without any trouble. On the other hand Ironclads at 12/12 (nominal 3/3) will easily take down every single land unit from their era, what every Civilization II player probably knows - but it was definitely not so in the original Civilization.

This isn't that bad now that I know it, but I feel so cheated. I remember playing Civilization II so many times while believing in the official attack and defense strengths, and wondering why I'm so lucky or unlucky (depending on circumstances).

When it comes to cheating, Civilization II does plenty of it. First, computer players totally ignore the fog of war. That's especially annoying when playing WW2 scenario, because their submarines are invisible and can sink your ships easily, but your submarines have big bullseyes on them. In the real game AI would be totally exterminated by the time submarines are invented of course.

Also computer players pay less for production and city growth (depending on difficulty level), don't suffer from the annoying 50% production switch penalty, and cheat in many other ways. Of course all that is understandable - the AI is so horrible compared to recent games it had to massively cheat to be any challenge.

But let's leave the question of cheating, and concentrate on gameplay. Unlike Freeciv which requires a very specific strategy (smallpoxing + We Love the Consul) to have any chance, Civilization II is so simple that a wide range of strategies lead to victory. Unless you're very unlucky early in game it's difficult not to win. The simplest strategy is plenty of settlers for expansion (and later roads/irigation), Republic, and as much spent on research as possible. Easy victory can be achieved by building Marco Polo's Embassy, which costs only 200 and lets you exchange technology with all computer players. This lets you get ten technologies by giving five players only two technologies each. This is normally a game winning event. Wonders which reduce unhappiness are also very useful and you should get them all.

It's often easier to simply buy other civilizations' cities and units than try to conquer them. An unfortunate thing about conquest is that it kills large part of the population and destroys many city impovements, and bribery lets you avoid it. You can also steal technologies with diplomats/spies. Normally there's no point bothering with sabotage.

Armies are expensive, so it's usually cheapest to connect all your cities with roads and railroads and have only a few units which you can move wherever they're needed quickly. AI is totally incapable of performing any serious offensive so you can usually defend yourself without too much trouble. Conquest is somewhat more difficult because AI cities tend to have plenty of armies inside (which just sit there doing nothing). Diplomats/Spies are one easy way of conquering cities. Ironclads/Cruisers are another very effective way - just kill everybody inside with naval bombardment and then transport some land unit to take the city, or Paratroop one if you have Paratroopers. Ironclad's effective attack strength of 12 can easily handle most fortified units of the era, and naval attacks apparently ignore City Walls. Cruiser's effective attack of 36 does the same trick in the later era. One more thing - naval units defending cities have firepower reduced to one. This halves effective defense of Cruisers, AEGIS Cruisers, Carriers, Battleships, and Submarines, but does not affect other ships like Ironclads, Destroyers, and Transports which already have firepower one. So it's not such a big deal.

Consul's Day apparently works in Civilization II, but it makes sense to refrain from using it because it becomes just soo damn easy. For people who don't know it - in Republic/Democracy if over 50% of citizens are happy and nobody is unhappy, a city starts growing 1 population a turn. Just max luxury rate for a couple of turn and reassign some people to Elvis roles until you get that in every city. It's just way too easy.

I could go on talking about strategy but the game is basically so easy that you should have absolutely no trouble winning it. Overall if you feel nostalgic and don't want too much of a challenge, go for it !

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