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Subject: Advanced Civilization -- A Review rss

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Phil Dreizen
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Being a huge fan of the Sid Meir Civilization computer games, a recent desire to play some epic games, and given this game's reputation (and high price point!) I was very excited to get a chance to play this game. After buying the original Civilization on ebay, printing out the components for Advanced Civilization, and a month or so of planning I finally got to play.

Overview of the game:
I won't go into much detail about how to play - the BGG video tutorial does a very thorough job of that. But here's a very light overview. There are two primary aspects to this game. Managing your ever increasing population, and trading for goods. Each round you spend time moving your population around the map -- trying to either maximize growth, curtail growth and/or create cities. You create cities primarily to gain trading cards, meet requirements on the AST, and oftentimes to move your population off the board into stock. You can initiate conflict in this phase, but the game doesn't reward all out war, so most of the conflicts are small "border skirmishes." Population pressure does lead you into conflict even if you aren't seeking war! Often times you fight just to send your units to their deaths (and into the stocks).

In the trading phase, you're trying to collect sets of goods. Trading is the most important portion of the game. The points you score here are used to buy tech cards, which besides giving your civilization useful bonuses, also provides the points you need to win the game. The game has unique trading rules in which you must trade at least 3 cards, but you only have to guarantee 2 of the cards are what you say they are. Some of the cards you'll be lying about, and receiving, are calamity cards which will cause a lot of grief to your civilization. This is the phase to gain points and screw the other players.

Because of calamities, you'll be spending a lot of time in the game watching your cities getting destroyed, changing hands, and populations getting wiped out. The game is full of what appears to be wild swings. But the quick population growth allows for fast recovery.

After that it's back to population growth...movement...trading...rinse and repeat.

Impressions:

I thought the way that increases of population led to a pressure to have conflict at the borders was really innovative and cool, and I've never seen any other game that did this. It marries game mechanics with a common theory about one of the historical causes for war quite well. In Sid Meir's Civ by comparison, population goes up in individual cities and the only pressure it causes is a need to increase the happiness level. I thought Adv Civ was much more interesting in this regard.

The tech tree in Advanced Civilization is cool. I haven't played enough civ-type board games to say how it compares to modern versions of the tree. That said that while I do like the video game versions better, I like this game's tech tree better than Sid Meir's Civ: The Board Game. The discounts are a pain to keep track of, but it's better than a pyramid (which, admittedly, is much easier to work with).

Conflict resolution is elegant and simple. It also makes war a very unattractive option even when you feel the pressure to do it, which I like a lot. Each side of a battle takes heavy losses regardless of who wins. But there is no character to your units. They're all the same, and there is no feeling that your units are becoming more advanced as your civilization advances. Yes there are tech cards like Metalworking/Engineering/Military that make you better at fighting, but it's bland compared to having different unit types.

A big strike against the game is that cities are so ephemeral, coming and going in and out of existence, and having nothing to build in them. My cities never felt like cities - nothing I was ever personally attached to. They only felt like a method of getting more trade cards, and occasionally methods of going up the AST track. No sense of grandeur, which I want an ancient Civilization game to evoke about ancient cities. This is something Sid Meir's Civ games really got right: cities with names, that grow, with their own character and specialties.

Trading in the game was really cool, but it seems to be the only really important decision to be made in the whole game. What I mean is, winning the game hangs on the ability to trade well. I don't want that from a Civ game. Trading would, ideally for me, just be one method by which to get ahead in the game. The whole win shouldn't basically hang on it.

I have mixed feelings about calamities. They feel much more brutal than they really are. But maybe they feel too brutal to be enjoyable - though it did lead to a lot of table talk, and entertaining moments. I wonder how playing a variant in which you can never be hit by more than 1 calamity at a time would work.

===================================================
Summary:

Theme: This captures a lot of the epic feeling you want from a civ game. But cities never felt like anything more than trade card generators. Population growth pressure was an interesting theme I've never seen explored in other games. Trading of calamities is supposed to model cultural influences caused by trading with other civs having destabilizing affects, but it never felt like that. It felt like getting screwed, or like bluffing someone else. On the other hand, the trading did feel a bit like being in a bazaar, which may have been intentional.

Mechanics: Definitely has some cool stuff here. The population growth as mentioned is unique and awesome. Trading is also unique and very fun. The most lasting innovation of the game is the tech tree. War is elegant, but too simple to offer much tactical possibilities.

I should mention that this game is WAY fiddlier than most modern games. And it requires a LOT of counting. Each turn you have to count your population for the census, and count your support for your city two times a turn. You have to do a lot of calculating to determine your discounts for your techs. It does get wearisome after 8+ hours.

Complexity: It's much simpler than one would expect from an older game. A modern rule book that didn't read like a legal document would probably do a lot to make the game less intimidating.

Depth: On one game I'm not qualified to say. But my impression is that a person can learn the optimal tech options within a few games. The real skill is in the trading.

Confessions:

1) we were actually playing a variant in which you can buy from any trade stack, not just level 9 cards. (ie, you could but a level 5 for 10 chits from your treasury).

2) after more than 10 hours of playing we did not finish the game. We were bumping up against the 1300 point limit in the AST as we decided to end the game. It was essentially clear who was winning. (Not me, if you're curious).

Conclusion:

Ultimately I enjoyed the game. It works as much as an "experience" as it does a game. In spite of taking more than 10 hours for us to play, and in a lot of ways getting repetitive, the time mostly flew. (I remember the shock we felt at the 5 hour mark). That said, it surprisingly lacks some of the elements I'm looking for in a Civilization game, given that it is the father of the genre.

I *DO* plan to play again. Which is saying a lot when the game is this long.

FYI: This is my first review. Hope reading it didn't take as long as playing a game of Advanced Civilization!
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Noel Mitchell
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Nice review, thanks.

I agree that the mechanics of the game are surprisingly straight-forward, with the only real complexity being around the interplay of calamities and civ advances.

Advanced Civilization still plays well after all these years, with great interaction between the players. The balance of board position, stock/treasury, and the trading/calamities is always a challenge.

There are certainly some Civ advances that can be regarded as better than others, but each civilization has different needs depending on their own situation and what their neighbors are up to, so I think you'll find that the tech purchases vary quite a bit game to game (plus it's interesting to try out different strategies, of which there are many).

Glad you plan to play again.
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Tiago Duarte
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kupad wrote:
I have mixed feelings about calamities. They feel much more brutal than they really are. But maybe they feel too brutal to be enjoyable - though it did lead to a lot of table talk, and entertaining moments. I wonder how playing a variant in which you can never be hit by more than 1 calamity at a time would work.


The last time I play it we also had this conversation regarding the case when a player has more than 1 calamity... but I'm not sure about it because if you have more than 1 calamity you won't mind to receive all the others in exchange of good trades.
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Noel Mitchell
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I meant to comment also that the rise and fall of cities and entire civilizations from turn to turn is very thematic, as each turn is of order 500 years long. However, I do agree that there is no differentiation or difference between your cities, which does happen in the computer games and some other civ boardgames, which means some cities in that case are more important or better developed than others. To an extent then, in Advanced Civilization (and in Civilization) the cities are just centres of trade to advance your economy (as well as strong defensive outposts).

Thaks again - it's a great game!
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Tom McThorn
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tmgd wrote:
kupad wrote:
I have mixed feelings about calamities. They feel much more brutal than they really are. But maybe they feel too brutal to be enjoyable - though it did lead to a lot of table talk, and entertaining moments. I wonder how playing a variant in which you can never be hit by more than 1 calamity at a time would work.


The last time I play it we also had this conversation regarding the case when a player has more than 1 calamity... but I'm not sure about it because if you have more than 1 calamity you won't mind to receive all the others in exchange of good trades.


If you have 3+ calamities you randomly select 2 to keep and the rest are discarded. Depending on what they are 2 can be slightly annoying but in a worst case scenario (Civil War/Epidemic w/o medicine) you can be devastated. For a friendlier game only having 1 hit you at a time (picked randomly from what you have) would speed up the game but buying any card from the stacks will speed up the rate that the calamities come out.

The trick to making the game play faster is to limit trading (10 - 15 min max) and have people pre-plan their moves/buys if possible.
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Jim Marshall
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Havn't played Advanced Civ, but played original Civ a few weeks back after a gap of some years.

Original Civ is a lot tighter in comparison I believe, with limited numbers of each civ card available, and a smaller number to choose from, making deciding what to buy critical.

There are decisions to be made around cities, e.g. where to build them (they make great defensive walls but it's also possible to box yourself into a corner if you're not careful), how many to have in play (having too many can leave you drawing only a couple of high-value trade cards each turn, and while the higher value cards are nice if everyone else is trading for the medium value cards you can be locked out of trading, which is not good) and whether or not to build them on vulnerable spaces, especially for the Egyptian and Babylonian flood plains but also on the coasts when pirates are in play in the later game.

I agree the downsides are the play length and the amount of arithmetic invovled (both civ card discounts and census, although the latter is a lot easier if you stack tokens in stock/treasury in piles of 3 or 5 and subtract those from your total number of tokens).

I've only played FFG's Sid Meier's Civ once and didn't like it - way too fiddly, and a lot less enjoyable. It took 5 hours but felt longer than a 10 hour game of original Civ to me!
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Oliver Kiley
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Nice review. I recently came to own a copy of Civ (not Advanced) and have played a few rounds solo to work out the mechanics. I agree its a simpler game mechanically than I was expecting, although there is a lot of math (just arithmatic, but still).

I'm wondering if anyone has developed a sort of "re-write" for Civ. Something that streamlines the gameplay around reducing the math and making hinge a little less on the trading - all with an eye to reduce the playtime. I dunno - I suppose at that point you might as well play something else
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Vidar Ambrosiani
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On depth, there are definitely several sub-optimal uses of the tech tree, but what is the correct choice to buy is different in each game. The trading skill is very important, but managing the ever-flowing tokens between board,stock and treasury is quite tricksy too. And of course, like in any multiplayer game, winning the "I'm not the leader, he is!" Discussion is huge, even though skill in the other aspects of the game.

I guess you figured that I love this game. A lot. And I agree that an important part of it is the epic experience.
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Phil Dreizen
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Starfury wrote:
tmgd wrote:
kupad wrote:
I have mixed feelings about calamities. They feel much more brutal than they really are. But maybe they feel too brutal to be enjoyable - though it did lead to a lot of table talk, and entertaining moments. I wonder how playing a variant in which you can never be hit by more than 1 calamity at a time would work.


The last time I play it we also had this conversation regarding the case when a player has more than 1 calamity... but I'm not sure about it because if you have more than 1 calamity you won't mind to receive all the others in exchange of good trades.


If you have 3+ calamities you randomly select 2 to keep and the rest are discarded. Depending on what they are 2 can be slightly annoying but in a worst case scenario (Civil War/Epidemic w/o medicine) you can be devastated. For a friendlier game only having 1 hit you at a time (picked randomly from what you have) would speed up the game but buying any card from the stacks will speed up the rate that the calamities come out.


Right, the official max is 2 calamities. But I wonder if the game might be improved by limiting the max to 1.

People would become more willing to trade, sets would be easier to make, and so the game would likely go faster.

But where might the balancing go wrong? People who are calamity-shy would fall behind. The calamities wouldn't act to balance things out as much (leaders would be taking less hits like Civil War).

Still, next time I play, I plan to suggest we try limiting to max 1 calamity and see how it plays out.

Starfury wrote:
The trick to making the game play faster is to limit trading (10 - 15 min max) and have people pre-plan their moves/buys if possible.


We played with 7 minute trading! To be fair, some people at our table took their time with their moves (myself included).
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Phil Dreizen
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Vidarrr wrote:
... And of course, like in any multiplayer game, winning the "I'm not the leader, he is!" Discussion is huge...


Ha! We did have a few of these at my table.
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Phil Dreizen
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noelgames wrote:
I meant to comment also that the rise and fall of cities and entire civilizations from turn to turn is very thematic, as each turn is of order 500 years long. However, I do agree that there is no differentiation or difference between your cities, which does happen in the computer games and some other civ boardgames, which means some cities in that case are more important or better developed than others. To an extent then, in Advanced Civilization (and in Civilization) the cities are just centres of trade to advance your economy (as well as strong defensive outposts).

Thaks again - it's a great game!


That's fair - it's true, cities did come and go. But I guess, I'd like it if/when a city does go, it's a major event. In this game, losing a city isn't something to fret too much over.

Thanks for enjoying the review!
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Jim Scheiderich
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I found this review as I was looking for some comparisons between Civ and its younger sibling - ACiv - as we are going to play shortly and there is some debate on which to play.

I have never played Civ just ACiv. While a leader may be obvious in either game, there is more ability to single that player out in Civ - refusing trades etc. making that last space value they have to get (more) difficult indeed as the points must come from Advancement cards only and there is a limit on the availability of each. Also, since ACiv is point based victory, the one ending the game may not be the winner (we have had this happen).

Cities are ephemeral - over the turn scale and the areas involved I think its appropriate that they serve as "Trade card generators". There is a variant that produces "virtual" goods in specific locations that would make some areas more valuable and possibly worth fighting for. Otherwise, wars are what they are/were in reality: expensive. Let a Civil War or a nice Civil Disorder fix someone's wagon. Also, as another poster pointed out, you need to be careful not to cause yourself headaches by your city placement (aside from the obvious such as near Volcanoes).

In mentioning Calamities, I think I would pass on having only a single one take effect: we have seen enough shift in a civ's position due to an earlier Calamity to make them beneficiary in a Civil War... Anyone can play around a Civil War, two are usually fatal in terms of winning.

Since the game is about advancing your civ and not smoking the next guy's, the combat system is perfect. (If you want a game with far more fighting, play 7 Ages and have a World War) Yes, you can enhance it with Military and Road Building or even a late game Monotheism, taking the risks that come with them.

For its age, the game still has a lot of appeal. I have played Sid Meier's video to boardgame port and found it nearly painful albeit shorter (fortunately).

There has been some consideration on my part of adopting the CivProject Enhanced game scoring system - but it roughly inverts the contribution to victory of AST spaces vs. Advances (more of the former in CivProjetc rules). Possibly this is a compromise between the two games.

Anyway, thanks for your post. I am glad that someone will sit down and play a 20+ year old game and find it worthy.
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Robert Bracey
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Its worth saying that some things you found over-done are in fact elements Advanced Civ enhanced. You would probably have found the game you actually bought better.
 
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