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Subject: Session Report rss

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(This is probably more of a Comment - or several Comments - than a Session Report. But it's really too long to put in as a Comment; and it is all based on a single session. The following is a report on my thoughts after playing (Advanced) Civilisation for the first time.)

Our group had wanted to give this game a try for months, but the logistics of getting a "good" number of players together who could devote the time to a full game proved daunting. At last, we were able to do so. (I have to wonder how many reports on this game start with similar sentiments.) We had six players - one was an experienced player and the rest were either new or rusty - for a game that lasted nine hours. As we started (after a rules briefing) at 6 PM, that made for a late night!

GAME LENGTH

So I'll start with the most salient feature - the game's length. No matter whether someone likes the game or not, the main thing they will point out is that it is LONG. Fortunately, this is not necessarily a bad thing. We consistently found ourselves surprised at how late it was getting, rather than unhappy, because the game was entertaining. The (nearly) constant advancement on the Archaeological Succession Table keeps the players interested and focused. With our improved understanding of the mechanics and strategies of the game, I figure we could now finish in 6-8 hours.

Others have written "why play Civilisation when you can play several other equally fun games in the same amount of time?" I don't quite agree with this. If I'm having a good time, it doesn't really matter to me if it's during one game or several. However, I do recognise that it's more difficult to stop playing at an early point when playing Civilisation; so there's a bit more of an up-front investment of time. Yes, you could play a shorter game, but that seems to work against the theme of the game. What civilisation wants to stop in the Bronze Age? So I'm more likely to play Civilisation as a "special event" game (and starting in the AM rather than the PM).

CALAMITIES AND TRADING

The other main item in our game was the calamities. These were pretty mild in the first part of the game, but they played a major role as more of us obtained and traded the more valuable commodities. I found these to have too dramatic of an effect. At several points in the game, players were knocked down from 8-9 cities to 3-4 cities through the effects of one or more calamities. Granted, one can build cities pretty quickly, but it was not uncommon for a new round of calamities to take that player back down. And, once your cities are reduced, you're at a disadvantage in the trading round because you no longer have access to the more valuable commodities - which means that you may need to trade a bit more recklessly, which increases the odds of you getting calamities.

My response to this was a move to Safe Trading. That is, I demanded full disclosure from those I was trading with. They could lie about their third card, of course, but only once…. This added stability to my civilisation and I was able to do a good deal of trading with other players, but it was a point of great consternation for the one who had played many games before. He believed that such a philosophy destroyed the game, as a player would be unable to get rid of a calamity. Consequently, he felt that he could not trade with me. Fair enough.

Personally, I don't think it destroys the game; it just makes it different. Mainly because players would no longer be rewarded for their skill in trading calamities. That's a fine element to have in the game, but it's not one I'm entirely comfortable with. I feel a sense of guilt when I successfully pass on a calamity. (Some of my deals were not full disclosure and calamities could be passed without lying. In most, but not all, of these trades, it turned out to be calamity for calamity - which is generally why both sides were willing to play the trade more loosely.) Also problematic to me is the weirdness that trading calamities plays with the game's theme. Growing civilisations experiencing large, difficult events makes sense to me; trading for them doesn't. "How about you give me two Bronze and a Cloth, and I'll give you two Spices (and, secretly, an Earthquake)!"

Admittedly, my perspective is based on one playing and my own personal view on honesty in games. Just to be clear: I am not saying that the current rules for trading in Civilisation are bad. I'm just saying that I'm not entirely comfortable with them and would be interested in exploring the honesty alternative.

Requiring full disclosure in trading is a negotiation strategy. Disagreeing with that and working against it is also a negotiation strategy. Depending on the players and the circumstances of the game, one or the other will be more effective at any particular point. This is all part of the psychology element in deal-making. (Which is always more difficult for me, as I would usually rather have the process be about "truth" and "balance.")

In any event, we were all experienced gamers and there were no hurt feelings in the trading (I think).

STRATEGIES LEARNED FROM A FIRST PLAYING

(1) Some of the civilisation cards are definitely more useful than others. Specifically, Agriculture, Metalworking, Engineering, Architecture and Medicine all did well for those who obtained them.

(2) Be careful about buying too many of the low cost civilisation cards at the beginning of the game. You can be caught up short at the end when point totals are important.

(3) Map out the bonuses given by civilisation cards towards getting other cards. Use these to rapidly increase your growth. Note that some of the bonuses are only listed on the back of the cards (instead of front and back!).

(4) Become very familiar with the calamities; particularly what they do, when they are likely to start appearing in the game, and the civilisation cards that will lessen their effects.

(5) Consider the effects of trading with those currently in the lead (when you are not). An even trade will help them more than it will help you, as they have more resources at their disposal. A trade embargo may very well be a good idea.

SUMMARY

Overall, I enjoyed the game and would be willing to play again. It would probably have to be another "event" game, however. If I were asked "We're playing Civilisation this Saturday; want to come?" I'd say "Sure." If the original question were "We're going to game; want to play Civilisation?" I'd probably say "What are the other options?"

Part of this is the time commitment - though I like the fact that in these harried 00's I can still be so decadent as to play a single game for nine hours! - and part of it is the fact that I'm not really a "History" game player. In this game, I was the Illyrians, which prompted the question "Who the heck are the Illyrians?"

My standard review comment: "Needs more aliens." (Imagine the same game, but working towards the future. "Oh, you got the Time Travel civilisation card - that should be helpful!")
 
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