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Subject: Civ variant and discussion (repost/edit of old usenet article) rss

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Tom Lehmann
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Way back when (May 24, 1995) I posted a long rec.games.board article from which the following is taken:

Denis R. Papp (dp...@falun.cs.ualberta.ca) writes re Civilization:

> Every game what seems to happen is 1 or 2 players never mess up and
> of course win the game. ie. mess up once (don't advance) and it's
> game over. I'm wondering if this is a problem with the game mechanics
> itself or if the problem is simply that there are only 1 or 2 good
> players - and mixed with the rest the 1 or 2 will always be on top.
> Anyone?

Civilization, like Kingmaker, has always struck me as a good game that was not quite finished. Part of the problem with Civ. is that different players enjoy different things about the game so that one person's fixes simply make matters worse for others. For example, Adv. Civ. makes it possible for every player to get every civilization card; is this a feature or a bug? Tastes differ.

Some claim that a trade embargo, properly employed, enables players who have slipped a turn behind to catch up with the 1 or 2 leaders. I've seen groups where this does work but it seems to depend strongly on a common playing style. It rarely works in tournament play (due to dissimilar playing styles). Also, some players find this playing style overly diplomatic and unenjoyable.

Some claim that military action, properly applied, will clip a leader's wings by stripping them of all their cities and forcing them to fall back. Others find that military action tends to occur late (once the final pecking order of VPs becomes clear) and that the leader can usually preserve one city to hold on to victory. Moving the military action earlier will usually stop the leader but tends to drain the initiating empires enough so that an uninvolved empire wins instead. This turns the game back into a diplomatic one as each player tries to convince others who the target should be and to do the dirty work.

Mike Uhl (the developer of the AH version of Francis Tresham's game) proposed a variant where the number of trade cards held was equal to the cities controlled by a player; thus allowing military action in the endgame to reduce a player's score (even if that player is able to retain a city) by cutting into the trade cards that the player could hold on to. Unfortunately, allowing players to hold more trade cards than cities is important during the early going.

Variation in playing styles and strategies also leads to very different evaluations of which empires are best. In original AH civ., in groups where the winner almost always was a player who both finished in straight turns and close to 1460 in civ. pts (plus trade cards and treasury), Egypt and Babylon were considered very weak (they have a hard time *both* finishing in straight turns and amassing close to 1460 civ. card pts due to their AST charts). In games where the winning pts was about 80 pts less or where every player lost at least one AST step sometime, Egypt was seen as one of the strongest empires.

Here are the two simplest changes I've come up with to prevent the runaway problems for groups playing original AH civ. and who usually see straight turn wins at close to 1460 civ. card points.

1. During Age 1 (New Stone Age) only, cities may be built in flood plain city sites [white squares] for 4 population instead of 6.

(This rule helps out Egypt and Babylon but not as much as the fairly common house rule of pushing back their required entrance into Age 2 one space. It also adds "realism" in that the very first cities will tend to arise on the flood plains, as they did historically.)

2. During Ages 1 and 2 (New Stone Age and Early Bronze Age), an empire may hold 6 trade cards after acquiring Civilization cards that round. In later Ages, an empire may hold as many trade cards, after acquiring Civilization cards, as the number of cities it possesses at that point.

(This rule will make military action in the final rounds quite important as the leaders jockey among themselves to reduce each other's cities (to lower the trade cards their opponents hold). Trading in the final rounds will increase in importance as players who have lost cities scramble to get smaller and more valuable sets of trade cards (if you're down to 4 cities, you may very well be willing to trade your six bronze for 4 gems).)

[I have not played Civilization for many years, so I can't comment on how well this variant has held up over time. It seemed to work well in the mid-80s and early 90s when I played Civ. a lot. Chris Farrell has played a variant of this variant, attributed to me, where Cities can always be built on white city squares for 5 pop (instead of 6).]

Enjoy!
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Stokey Brown
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Thanks a lot for digging this up, Tom.
 
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