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Subject: Brain Sweat Reviews Advanced Civ rss

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Mark Huberty (General Trashy Meeples the Ambigamer)
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My quest to explore the heavier end of the gaming spectrum continues with a classic, Advanced Civilization. Advanced Civ is frequently spoken of in reverent hushed tones, a monument of our hobby. I've heard it said that every civ game designed since occupies Civ/Advanced Civ's considerable shadow and that there a few experiences in gaming that can compare to Civ/Advanced Civ with the full complement. For me, Advanced Civ has always been a grail game and when guys in the club scheduled a session I jumped on the opportunity. The month of weighting was populated with epic dreams.

Advanced Civilization is a game of barter, tight area control and disaster mitigation. I'm told it plays optimally with seven (we played with six) and that our eight hour affair was brisk, so needless to say getting this one to the table will always be a challenge. But in my limited experience it is well worth the effort.

The game provides outstanding narrative sweep. The player watches their humble people grow from a single nomad to an empire vying with rivals for the land to support their people and the choicest city sites to sustain a thriving economy. Advances are made and these cultures are accelerated along the technology tree to weather the perils of civilization and ascends the ages. Calamities strike. In our game, Gordy's Asia was beset by barbarians, Brian's Thrace endured repeated civil wars and Rich's Illyrians were forced to rebuild a single city seven times. This becomes a visit from Gordy's Polish in-laws, an indictment on the corruption of Brian's civil leadership and an indecisive Rome trying out all seven hills. These civilizations rise and fall and rise again and the drama is immensely satisfying.

As a game with a healthy focus on trading, the social element of the game is present in abundance. Bidding with a competitor on a commodity you both desperately want while secretly hoping you can successfully slip that dreaded calamity past your trading partner provides exquisite tension, laughs and glares. The mini-game is a session of Pit with a dose of math to increase the stakes. The area control element produces an element of negotiation and draws out the metagame. And, of course, shared participation in the aforementioned narrative enhances the social experience.

As a cerebral endeavor, Advanced Civilization provides plenty of challenge. Rules overhead is quite low, but there is depth here. The need for measured expansion and striking a balance between economic, military and population considerations is brilliantly implemented mechanically. The movement of common tokens between board, stock and treasury is clearly an inspiration for similarly multiuse tokens in the well-regarded Through the Ages. The requirements of taxation and city support demand that expansion is done efficiently with regard to token economy. Assaulting the geopolitical position of an opponent without undermining one's own economic interests is extremely difficult and requires significant planning with a vigilant eye for the appropriate opportunity. Movement economy is another consideration for players. Staging your migrations and repopulations for easy city construction, shipping and defense can be significant. Trading is particularly demanding with the real-time constraints on establishing relative values of commodities/sets while relieving yourself of calamities and ensuring you don't enrich your opposition too much. Manipulating the technology tree for building a discount engine for a late game victory point cascade and enhancing your set values while trying to mitigate calamities and keep pace of the game track requirements is yet another satisfying juggling act.

The complaints are few. The game may run a little long for such a minimal ruleset. The dynamics of high player counts in a confined space and the multitude of considerations to manage do much to counter this. For me, I would anticipate replayability to be high in spite of its length. My only other objection is the trading of calamities. I like the presence of chaos, it feels historical, and trading does some of the work to spread out the pain and reward savvy dealers, but I would like the trading round better if it was simply commodities. This would place greater emphasis on the skill of relative valuation and would make the mini-game a more cerebral and satisfying test. Of course, I don't know how to do that and still retain the enjoyable chaos of the calamities. Really, these are minor quibbles in a game that deservedly owns a place in the pantheon of gaming legend. I remain as eager to play again as I was in my anticipation of my first experience and I hope this becomes a regular occurrence on my gaming calendar.
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Matt Boehland
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Now I just need to convince you to come to one of my games of Mega Civilization.
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Brian S.
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Matt Boehland wrote:
Now I just need to convince you to come to one of my games of Mega Civilization.
Or both of you could join this: A Call to Empire!! Avalon Hill's Advanced Civilization: March 12th, 2016
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Mark Huberty (General Trashy Meeples the Ambigamer)
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I am seriously considering both, it's simply a matter of making schedules align.
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David E
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One of my favorite games.

mshnd06 wrote:
My only other objection is the trading of calamities. I like the presence of chaos, it feels historical, and trading does some of the work to spread out the pain and reward savvy dealers, but I would like the trading round better if it was simply commodities. This would place greater emphasis on the skill of relative valuation and would make the mini-game a more cerebral and satisfying test.


The calamities aren't just chaos, though - they are an added factor to complicate trading and require you to balance other things besides just relative valuation. If you know a trade will be profitable, it's an easy decision, unless you also have to factor in the potential damage of a calamity. And if you know your trading partner is going to pass you a calamity, then which order should you make your trades so as to maximize your chances of being able to pass it on? Can you time it so you hold the calamity that does less damage to you but with secondary effects you can direct to a deserving rival? And that's even without the metagame issues involved in promising no calamities, making deals regarding calamities ("I'll trade you my Grain if you promise me immunity to your Famine") etc.

Without the calamities, trading would just be a matter of math.
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Tim Benjamin
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My issue with the game length is that about half of the players will be out of contention half way through the game. That makes for a long slog for them. We considered some type of points system that gave incentives to keep playing to the best possible finish.
 
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David E
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RaffertyA wrote:
My issue with the game length is that about half of the players will be out of contention half way through the game. That makes for a long slog for them. We considered some type of points system that gave incentives to keep playing to the best possible finish.


Advanced Civ online (civ.rol-play) kind of does this, where you get a rating based on your cumulative points in every game you play.
 
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Mark Huberty (General Trashy Meeples the Ambigamer)
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I acknowledge Tim's point as a possible problem. With regard to David's point, I agree that the calamity trading adds an additional dimension of psychology and risk management and I would have to play a hypothetical version without the calamities to firm up my opinion on the matter, but I don't consider "merely math" to be an indictment, personally. I think the trading element could still be engaging and challenging (perhaps with alternative augmentations) without the calamaties, the exchange of which I consider athematic
 
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Tim Benjamin
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Note to David Re: Adv Civ online... Last time I played was 1992, online was pretty sparse at that time .
 
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Lance McMillan
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mshnd06 wrote:
The game may run a little long for such a minimal ruleset.


This is really the main negative aspect to the game -- it's not something you can sit down and knock out in just a couple hours, it's an all-day undertaking. One of the great "grail games" that people have been searching for ever since Advanced Civ first came out is a design with a similar level of complexity and player inter-action which can be played in under two (or even three) hours. Sadly, nothing has ever acheived that goal, which is why this remains a perennial favorite even decades after its release.

RaffertyA wrote:
My issue with the game length is that about half of the players will be out of contention half way through the game. That makes for a long slog for them.


Between forming alliances to drag down the leaders, and targeting calamities against your rivals, I've never seen this as a major issue. The problem, in fact, is almost the opposite -- rather than being "out of contention half way through," players have a huge ability to prolong an already very lengthy game to afford themselves time to get back into contention. In my experience, more often that not it's sheer fatigue that causes folks to simply give in and let someone else win just to put an end to the whole affair.
 
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Robert Bracey
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mshnd06 wrote:
I acknowledge Tim's point as a possible problem. With regard to David's point, I agree that the calamity trading adds an additional dimension of psychology and risk management and I would have to play a hypothetical version without the calamities to firm up my opinion on the matter, but I don't consider "merely math" to be an indictment, personally. I think the trading element could still be engaging and challenging (perhaps with alternative augmentations) without the calamaties, the exchange of which I consider athematic


You should play classic Civ. There are only three tradeable disasters, their positions are broadly known, and they can only be traded once. It is also possible to offer a safe trade (a decleration that makes a trade of the disaster impossible). The disasters still trade, they still perform an important role but it all just works much better. Oh, and the game plays in half the time.
 
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