I ran an 18 player (basic AST) game near Boston on Labor Day weekend (early September), with my friend Bernie providing the venue for the game. After only managing to round up 10 players for a previous game, I cast my net a bit wider this time. I ended up with 23 interested players, with 4 volunteering for a waiting list and me moving to a pure "Master of Ceremonies" role. Winnowing down to 18 was a problem, but a good problem to have. This was not my first big game, but it was the first to use the maximum player count, a personal milestone for me and my copy of the game.
Bernie, James, and I did all the set up Thursday night. We put the main board on a dining table that expands to seat ten to twelve, with player mats and tins for each player’s pieces arrayed on all sides. It was clear that things were going to be too tight for players to have a tableau of civilization advances, but there was going to be enough room for stock, treasury, a stack of trade cards, and a stack of advances in front of each player.
The AST and Census board shared a small table. That’s where I sat during moves, orchestrating player movements while consulting the census track.
Trade cards got their own small table. I added stack numbers, which we used with the extra AST tokens to keep track of city counts and card drawing and buying order. I printed up a “Card Meister” script to help keep the 18 stacks of 96 distinct cards (including E-W designations) in order.
Civilization advances were lined up on both sides of a larger folding table, giving us twice the shopping area. We settled on mimicking the player’s aid arrangement of advance cards. We had tried arranging just by color and price in a previous game, and didn’t find that it helped.
We pushed some chairs and a couch to the walls of the living room to form our “Trading Pit”. Although the house has an open floor plan, we were essentially using a three-room arrangement: Map room, Shopping Mall, and Trading Pit.
We scheduled a Friday evening and all-day Saturday game. Friday would run for 3-3.5 hours. Saturday would run from 9:30 to after 10:30, with breaks for lunch and dinner. All-in-all, we hoped to finish a complete game in about 14 hours of playing time. But, considering the number of new players, I warned all that we might only “get close” to the Iron Age, rather than finishing it.
All but one player had read the rule sections suggested, and the one who didn’t had at least skimmed them. I summarized the goals of the game and the rough ideas, but left detailed learning to happen throughout the game. This is one of Civilization’s great strengths: new players really can learn as they play.
In the opening turns held few surprises. Every player delayed building their first cities as much as possible. Other than Minoa, players put off boat building longer than I would have expected.
The Celts put some territory pressure on Rome, and then backed off a bit. Carthage (in a surprise to me) skipped boat building and conceded Sicily to Rome, but kept Iberia out of Africa. The result was a slight rotation from what I would have expected.
Egypt focused on the Levant (aka the Holy Land), and got the lion’s share for a solid start. Assyria didn’t grab quite enough territory soon enough. Its situation wasn’t dire, but it looked like trouble brewing.
In the East, Maurya seemed to be squeezed for land at first. Indus was feeling the heat on all sides, but still managed to keep five cites at the end of the evening.
We wrapped up the evening with all players on the verge of entering the Middle Bronze Age. Six players had managed to acquire two advances, while two players held onto their trading cards and bought no advances at all. Egypt led the way with 8 cities. Babylon and Persia were at seven. Hellas, had six but also two advances. Maurya was farthest behind, with no advances and just fours cities. It was just a 5 point spread in the field. but all had played well, and we had learned most of the rules. We had seen some conflict, a city getting sacked, boats, trading, and our first calamities.
The morning session perplexed me. Despite starting at 9:45, we only managed one turn before we broke for lunch. True, it was a complex turn with a lot of calamities and difficult purchase decisions. But I still can’t quite figure out what took so long.
The good news is that the time flew, and players had interesting action and subtle choices. I was a little down about the pace, but the players in the game were not down at all. I partially lost my voice, but acquired a bell to get players’ attention. HINT: bring a noise-maker if you are games master.
Ten players crossed into the Middle Bronze Age on time. The Celts and Hellas surged to the lead, the Celts with a middle-tier advance purchase, and Hellas by building his eighth city. Carthage invaded Spain to take a city. But Babylon snuck into third place when it bought a fourth tier-one advance. And then we had lunch.
There was a host of interesting calamities in the ancient world. Rome split in a civil war, only to get the satisfaction of watching the rebels succumb to a spreading epidemic.
There was chaos in the Holy Land, as more and more players took cities there via calamity effects. Poor Nubia had a famine, and then got hit with an epidemic side-effect in a tit-for-tat move by Indus. Next turn, Nubia was the beneficiary of a Civil War. As luck would have it, she gained exactly one token. Ouch.
And now, what the heck was Assyria doing with cities in the Alps? And were those the Pirates of Penzance in Londinium?
Later in the afternoon, Rome got hit with a second Civil War, but used it to isolate her wilderness city, thus limiting the barbarian hordes that came next. Excellent play by a new player!
After that civil war and two Tyrannies, the board had gotten much more chaotic. This limited simultaneous movement somewhat, slowing play down a but. We broke for dinner when it arrived, then finished the turn and scored the session.
By this time, only Babylon and Minoa had avoided an AST set back. but it was Babylon with the lead in both cities and advances that claimed the first spot.
We managed just two turns before our 10:30 deadline. But a lot was happening. Players were getting held back at the edge of the Late Bronze Age. Pirates were active, as they had been the most of the game.
We were seeing more and more active trading, eventually leading to an extension from 10 to 12 minutes for trades. Indus bought Military while Kushan bought Universal Doctrine, both advances with interesting effects. Third-tier advances were also bought. Purchase discounts were piling up, and we saw our first “discounted to free” purchases. Calamities were coming fast and thick.
Right before our second to last trading session, we decided that there would be just the one more turn. We might get to the Early Iron Age, but we were going to fall short of a complete game. Finishing the AST would have taken us past midnight, which several of our players could not do.
To no one’s surprise, the final turn featured more attacks than a usual turn, as players decided to have one last fling before packing up for the night. That was followed by a flock of calamities. Even though we knew most of them would not effect the final results, we played through them all to see how they would work out. In the end, the two leaders were separated by one point, with both having lost a city to pirates on the very last calamity. So, despite the players’ best efforts, “king-making” did not determinate the ultimate winner.
Babylon earned the title of Grand Emperor of Everything, winning by a mere one point.
Celt (and our venue host) was King of the West, and in second place.
Saba was King of the Orient.
That’s one experienced player, one player with Advanced Civ experience, and one player who was essentially new to the game. A nice mix after an exciting game.
This was a tremendous, epic adventure. I am in no way disappointed to have “only” been the game master. With eighteen players, running the game kept my hands full. I’ll get a slot in the next game.
I am completely satisfied with the decision to include (and in fact give priority to) new players. Mega Civilization is remarkably easy to learn as you play. The one player who had merely skimmed the rules still was able to pick up the game as he went. He did have one tax revolt, but that was a minor setback and didn’t harm his enjoyment in the game. We had our most experienced player lose a city to over-building, too. So it was more a matter of eighteen-player chaos than not knowing the rules.
We had great diversity, with players ranging from high school age to *ahem* much, much, much older than that. Women and men, young and old, experienced and newbies, we all seemed to have fun.
You would think eighteen players would strain our logistics, especially during movement. But for most of the game, we were able to have three to six players moving at once. That still meant longer movement phases than a ten person game. But it kept the game flowing nicely. I did notice that having a player move too soon (planning to undo moves if other players surprised him) had a slight effect of slowing other players down. I suggest asking players to move only when they are not waiting on others. You will still get enough simultaneous movement.
Ten to twelve minute trading sessions were just about right. But our ten minute advance purchasing time limit ran over a number of times. Again, this didn’t seem to be a matter of new players having to learn all the cards. It was the more experienced players who had trouble selecting sets of advances to buy. This is one area where I think I need to find ways to speed things up.
We were all a tiny bit disappointed to end one or two turns short of a full game. I think the time we allowed would have worked for a smaller game, perhaps with as many as 16 players. Eighteen players cycles the calamities quickly, which might have made the difference.
All in all, this was a great experience.
Sounds like a terrific session -- I've never played with so many people, so thanks for posting this summary!
Really enjoyed reading this, thanks for the report!
What was the response of the players (new ones especially) to the =long= game? Is there much interest in another play?
There seems to be a high level of interest. I'm not sure everyone would sign up for another two-day eighteen player monster game soon, although a good number specifically asked to be included if that were to happen again. But pretty much everyone was interested in playing again in a game of some size.
If you want to get new players hooked, it might be better to start with a smaller game, maybe in the 7-11 player range. But then again, with eighteen players, I was able to introduce (or reintroduce) eleven people to this game.
It's a trade-off between teaching fewer people and having a more demanding (but fun) experience.
With my extended gaming group, we used to scrape together a six or seven player game of Adv Civ once a year, but this sounds like it was just epic. I'd really like to try this out in a large player session like this. There was a guy trying to set up a session in my area, but I don't think it ever materialised.
Thanks for writing this summary, Nat. It was a great experience, all in all.
I'd played Civ previously a few times in my 20s, though only once before in the last 10 years. Even with that time gap, I can say this experience offered some key differences. You localize play even more than in a typical game. Playing Indus, I found myself wrapped up in my five neighbors far more than the with the rest of the board, even those technically in the "East."
It's more than simple tunnel vision, which you can correct with awareness. It's the sheer number of players. The likelihood that you can use calamities to adjust the game tactically is somewhat reduced by the fact that you have far fewer opportunities per player to apply them. The same is true for land grabs, though we didn't really see much time with military, diaspora or any of the big tech that would open up the board.
That would seem to make trade the key difference maker here--even more so than in the smaller versions. It's where you can interact with everyone and is already so central to the game.
One interesting bit about how wild the trading pit became is that I never noticed any tendency for table talk or hostilities to spill into trade negotiations. Curious if other players had different experiences.
Note: On phone. Grammar and typos may be a mess.
- Last edited Thu Sep 15, 2016 7:10 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Wed Sep 14, 2016 9:09 pm
Great write-up. As a lover of Civ/AdCiv, I've been meaning to give this a whirl for years. If you organize another large game please feel free to put my name on the list.