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Subject: Condensed Civilization rss

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Mike Roos
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Condensed Civilization is a variant for Advanced Civilization that significantly shortens playing time. By changing some game mechanics, it is possible to reach the end of the AST in about 12 turns instead of the minimum 16 turns required in the standard game. A PDF file with rules version 1.1.0 has been uploaded to the moderators for approval.
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Vidar Ambrosiani
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Very interesting, I especially like the fastmoving ast.

If you want the game to end roughly the same way as the standard game in 12 turns rather than 16-17, you need to add that much wealth to the game. If a player, on average holds 7.5 cities for those 4.5 "missing turns", each player needs to get about 30 extra trade cards (or the equivalent in advances).
The city rules will probably give at least 1.5 extra city per turn, the trade cards will give 1 extra card per turn, meaning you got about 25 of those extra cards down already. Buying the now "free advances" would probably cost about 12 cards. All in all I think you're overshooting the target. But if you do have people winning the game with 16-17 cards you have a pretty conflict oriented group and it would be fun for you to see the big cards once in a while. In the games I've played the winner normally has 21-23 cards (missing roadbuilding most likely...).

Given the premises "we need to add more wealth, quicker" I think the trade card rule is the best.
The 4-8 tokens per city will mess with a lot of things that are now, if not finely balanced, at least known and loved. Conflict will go down as wilderness is much easier, Crete can get by with fewer boats, the baby/egypt ast bump might be skippable, coinage and architecture are nerfed and the whole board balance is changed. If it still takes 7 tokens to get past the city walls then that will also lead to friendlier games as the fight/build decision will be way more weighted towards "build".
In short, I'm not a fan, but that's mainly because I've played and loved the traditional game so much.

I'm also not so into the idea of free advances. Not because it's really a bad idea, but it just feels wrong. Also I think the combination of ast jumps and free advances will lead to very sudden shifts in board position.

So that leaves the extra trade cards.
Getting extra 1:s or 2:s is mainly inconsequential, those cards give little or no income and these stacks are generally pretty empty anyways (esp the 1stack). With the extra cities the system of 6:s in turn 6 and 7:s in turn 7 will be a pretty harsh hit the leader effect as (at least in 8 player games) these stacks will run empty frequently, as will the 9 stack (unless the easier city builds will move people away from coinage).

You could get away from the empty stack problem and the 1-2 problem by just each turn letting the players (in turn) choose a card from any stack. That would also help trading since people would probably aim for sets they intend to collect.

If the extra wealth was to be included all as trade cards (skipping easier city builds and free advances) then each player could choose two bonus cards each round (perhaps not from the same stack, and perhaps one from the 1-5 stacks and one from the 6-9 stacks).


Assuming you don't do these big changes I also have some smaller suggestions. Since there's a lot more cards floating around and fewer turns to get the sets, perhaps a higher hand limit would be in order. 10?

Also, civil war and flood (famine and volcano too of course but that's much less important) would show up at least one turn early, cw probably two. Of course, that means drama is an automatic pick for the stone age advance, but still pretty harsh I think, and a huge benefit for the beneficiary.
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Mike Roos
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My primary focus on Advanced Civ is shorter games which is influenced by people in my gaming groups who won't even try the game because they think it is too long. Playing until the start of the Iron Age was unsatisfying, therefore a variant to play the whole game in less time by increasing wealth and AST progression. There are many ways to do this. I am hoping that others who have played a shortened game variant will share their experiences.

Changing population growth to 4 tokens per city was significant. In general the average population was lower and calamities were a bit harsher. We did play a game where it took 5 tokens to build a city. This felt more like the original game and did accelerate progression, but to a lesser extent than 4 tokens per city. Five tokens per city is certainly playable if a group chose to play that way.

Calibration of wealth is tricky. Most of my games had 4 or 5 players rather than 6 or 7. The games with more players did seem to have more wealth and bigger sets of cards turned in more frequently. So the wealth progression offered may be biased toward fewer players. One thing we are looking at now is raising or lowering the base price of the Civ cards by 5-10 points. This modification could apply to any form of the game and could be calibrated to the number of players in the game and playing styles of groups to get the difficultly factor of the AST where people would like it to be. Five or 10 points doesn't sound like a lot, but isolp;lpo;pop significant over the course of 18 Civ cards.



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Vidar Ambrosiani
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I really like that you're exploring this idea. I've played a lot of 12-turn games and would really like it if there was a way to keep that timeframe but get a reasonable chance to see all the advances in play.

If you're playing with 4-5 players, then I'd really advice raising the hand limit from 8 to 10-11. That way you'll give everyone a much better chance of actually cashing in big sets and not having to purchase for stuff like 4oil and 3spice. Trading is much more fun too if there's plenty of goods out there.

It seems bizarre that populations are lower and calamities harsher if cities cost 4/8 instead of 6/12. It seems people are using the cheap cities to overbuild too early. Calamitywise, building cities is now a profit rather than a loss (by making four tokens into a city worth 5 you're actually increasing your resilence vs calamities)

The problem with adjusting the prices of advancesis twofold. First it's a hassle to remember when you have the printed figure right in front of you. Second, it will mess with the balance between the cards, favoring buying several small cards vs one big one.

I've also thought a bit on the late iron age numbers. They're there for a reason and I'd like them to remain. If you think the free cards will be too unbalancing with that perhaps the free card could instead show up when you entered a certain square (say nr 13 or so) on the ast instead of the late iron age etc. Civs with tougher asts will have to work harder to get there but not be penalized as much in your original idea.
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Torbjörn Rander
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Interesting variant. What's your experience with it now after some time has passed? I'll probably make my first acquaintance with playing it in the Swedish championships later this spring, possibly together with Vidar, after which I can offer some solid thoughts rather than theory crafting.
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Mike Roos
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I will make some comments specific to the Condensed Civilization variant and some comments for Civilization in general.

I think of Condensed Civilization as "different" from the regular game rather than "better" or "worse." The change of game mechanics does make the game different, sometimes significantly different. My only sense of "better" is shorter playing time.

The feedback from people who played the condensed variant to the end of the AST has been mostly positive. As expected, some things were different from a regular game of Advanced Civilization, but there were no claims that the game is unplayable or unbalanced. I plan to release an updated version of Condensed Civilization. I don’t see any drastic revisions, but plan to offer a more modular structure so each group can choose the time-saving rules they wish to incorporate.

The primary goal is to shorten playing time. A deliberate decision was made to find a method of playing the "whole" game rather than quitting after a time limit or an earlier space on the AST. The mechanism chosen to reach this goal was a reduction in the number of turns played. We also made a decision to use existing game components and not add tokens, trade cards, or new Civ cards. Reaching the end of the AST in fewer turns requires changes in some of the game mechanics.

Feedback I have received indicates that the primary goal was achieved. Six player games took about 6 hours and were 4-5 rounds shorter than the standard game. Most of the people "felt" they had played a complete game rather than a shortened game. Several options were examined during the development of the variant and the options presented in the first published version of the variant are the options that provide maximum acceleration of the game (cutting out the most turns).

An unstated corollary of the primary goal is to get people who have never played to try the game. Our perception is that the biggest negative to Advanced Civilization is the time required to play a complete game. While somebody who is willing to play a 10 hour game may see value in reducing the playing time to 6 hours, new players may still find the game too long when there are other strategy games that could be played in 2 or 3 hours. I don’t see reducing the game to 2 or 3 hours. If somebody sees a way, let’s talk. Some of the game reports did indicate new players.

The ability to move 2 spaces on the AST is the key to the shorter game, so I don’t see any change here. All of the other changes are designed to make the 2 space movement feasible. Management of AST progression is still an important part of the game strategy; however the specific actions taken may be different from the standard game.

Since there are fewer turns in Condensed Civilization, the Civ cards must get into play faster. The method we chose was to offer the "free" cards at the start of each epoch. Some of the comments said that the highest value cards should not be one of the free choices. The list of free cards could be modified by the players to suit their preferences. If lower value cards are the free choices, the game acceleration may be less, but the total game time will still be shorter.

One of the difficulties with the free Civ cards was the printed point totals in the Late Iron Age and the different times when each nation enters the epoch. Based on feedback, we are definitely recommending the last free Civ card be obtained when a player reaches the 13th space on the AST, regardless of epoch entry requirements. The other option, by group choice, is to not award any free Civ card at this point of the game.

Secondary goals are to develop more diversity in player’s selection of Civ cards and to reach the bottom of the 8 and 9 trade card stacks. A third goal was to offer some house rules that I like.

An alternate approach to getting Civ cards into the game earlier is to reduce the purchase price (not point value) for each card. We have not tried this yet, but a recommended starting point would be a 10 point discount for all cards priced less than 100, and a 20 point discount on the cards priced 110 or more. Roughly 1/3 of the purchase price of Civ cards comes from discounts and 2/3 comes from trade cards and treasury. In the free card approach, the total value of the free cards is about 600 points, of which about 400 points would have been trade cards. The cheaper card approach would save about 300 of these points. The result is still an acceleration of the game and fewer rounds when combined with the ability to move 2 squares on the AST.

The reason that the free card approach was selected is to encourage diversity in Civ card purchases. The credit structure of the standard game encourages players to buy the science cards since they give a discount of 20 points to other sciences, philosophy, and theology. Roadbuilding and Mining seemed to be purchased infrequently since the craft cards only give 10 points credit toward other crafts, Democracy, and Monotheism. Cards are often purchased for their credits/discounts, rather than benefits. The free card approach allows a card with low credit/discount to be obtained cheaply if the player so desires.

My group plays to win. If a player close to the lead makes a mistake, others will take advantage. This leads to slower progress since conflict and threat of conflict reduces the number of cities on the board and therefore the number of trade cards, and so on. This has affected my thinking on the free Civ cards and free trade cards. In a group where nobody would attack an undefended stack of tokens intended to build a city, progress will be faster.

The second acceleration factor is the addition of the "free" trade card. This was done so a player would have 6 trade cards in their hand on the turn when Egypt and Babylon have to build 2 cities and to help reach the bottom of the #8 and #9 trade card decks. Due to the personality of my group, players do not often have 8 or 9 cities and the bottom card in these decks is sometimes never drawn. Groups with more peaceful dispositions may not need this mechanism to reach the bottom of the #8 and #9 decks. If the free trade card is removed from the game, the result is less acceleration, but still a shorter game if one of the two methods of accelerating Civ cards is used.

The free trade card acceleration is not perfect and has a side effect of making calamities more frequent, particularly in the deck the free card is drawn from. Perhaps a different mechanism could be developed where each player can obtain one additional trade card per turn and have some choice of which deck it comes from. One of the comments made was that cards from the #1 and #2 deck are not important. The value of #1 and #2 cards is not so much for their point totals as being able to make more total trades by having an extra card in hand.

The optional calamity effects for Iconoclasm and Heresy and Piracy fall under the definition of house rules. I never liked pirate cities on the board and thought that the effect of stealing trade cards was interesting when first suggested in The General Vol. 26 No. 1, which predates Advanced Civilization and pirate cities. With the ability to move two squares forward on the AST, the calamity effect of moving backward one square due to Iconoclasm and Heresy can be overcome.

Moving to fewer rounds seems to make an acceleration of population growth necessary. Two ways to accomplish this acceleration are to reduce the damage from calamities or to reduce the number of tokens required to build a city. We tried 5 tokens on a city site and 10 tokens on a wilderness site. This did have the effect of accelerating the game and the "feel" of the game was similar to the standard game. Then we tried 4 tokens on a city site and 8 tokens on a wilderness site. This accelerated the game more, which is why this option was selected for the first published version of Condensed Civilization.

The 4/8 token rule for cities turned out to be a substantial change. This is one of those "different" rather than "better" or "worse" effects. The result was that more cities were built, more trade cards were drawn, and more cities were destroyed by calamities. This is a somewhat self-correcting cycle, although we did notice calamities being more devastating compared to the standard game, until mitigating Civ cards could be purchased. In revision 2, we intend to offer the players a choice between the 5/10 token rule and the 4/8 token rule based on the amount of acceleration desired and how much they want to make the game "feel" like the standard game.

The combination of the free trade card and the higher number of cities due to changes in city building leads to more calamities. Sometimes a player gets a very rough start to their game. We have been experimenting with making a player the primary victim of only 1 calamity until their AST marker reaches the Early Iron Age, at which point they can be primary victim of 2 calamities. Results so far look good. This is also a game acceleration factor as we see a lot of AST delays at the transition to the Early Iron Age. Some people feel that a strategy of "calamity hoarding" when drawing a bad non-tradable calamity is an unfair manipulation of the rules. Players who dislike calamity hoarding could implement an optional rule where the highest value calamity is the one selected when a player has more calamities than he can fall victim to, or that Civil War is always selected.

In addition to reducing the number of turns, there is also value in being efficient at executing the phases within a turn. Many people have written about timing the trading phase to save a couple minutes per round. We have found that movement and acquisition of Civ cards take a long time. Players who do not expect to come into contact with each other may be able to move simultaneously. Experienced players should be planning their Civ card purchases and contingencies while waiting for others to move. Tools are available to compute Civ card costs. Writing down the Civ card acquisition and revealing it simultaneously can speed this phase along. The reverse AST sequence is not as important as it was in the original game due to unlimited numbers of each Civ card.

We believe that the game changes as the 5th and 6th players are added. With 4 players it takes longer to cycle through a deck of trade cards and big sets are less frequent. AST delays seem to be more frequent with fewer players. Unfortunately, we often have only 4 players. We tried drawing two trade cards per deck to speed progress. The result was way more calamities. The Crawford option for 3 and 4 player games, where each player has two nations, seems to work better and gives most of the feel of a 6 or 8 player game. The down side of the Crawford option is that it takes longer for 3-4 players to play 6-8 nations than playing one nation each. Playing Condensed Civilization with the Crawford option takes about the same amount of time as playing a standard game with 3-4 players.

We do have some optional ideas for games with less than 6 players to reduce, but not eliminate, AST delays. The first option is to reduce the transition into the Early Iron Age from 9 cards to 8 cards. The second option is to reduce all printed point totals in the Late Iron Age by 100 points.

Looking forward to hearing about your experiences with the game.

Mike
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Vidar Ambrosiani
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Interesting thoughts and the feedback from people who have played it is encouraging.
I think that some of the things you are solving with this are some of the inherent problems with too few (less than 6) players and I just now realized why calamities hurt so much more for you. In a 7 or 8-player game, most calamities are already drawn quite often, and the damage is split among many more players. famine+epidemic in a 4-player game means about 18 points per player but in a 7-player game it means about 10.5 points per player.

I'd still recommend raising the hand limit for a 4-5player game. Especially if you continue to "only" give cards from the AST-number. It's an easy way to increase the purchasing power of players, and make the trading more fun.
 
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Mike Roos
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Perhaps the larger trade hand is why the variant where 3 or 4 players have 2 nations each seems to work so well. Trade cards and calamities enter the game at the rate of a 6 or 8 player game and you get to keep 12 cards at the end of trading. Big sets happen more frequently and benefit one of the player's two nations.

I will include an expanded trade hand as an option in Version 2.0 of Condensed Civilization. Version 2.0 will definitely be based on the premise that you can move the AST marker two squares if eligible. The rest of it will be a set of options where each group can choose the options they like and customize the increase in wealth and ability to move two squares forward.
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Mike Roos
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Condensed Civilization V2.0 is now available in the files section. It is not greatly changed from version 1.1. The are a few more player options available.

 
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