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Another look at combat


Follower of Tytalus
Dec 8, 2001
(I originally posted this at Apolyton, where I thought the forums were getting a little too negative. I thought it might be of interest to people here too, though.)

I suppose Civ3's combat _might_ have been discussed here before... but lets look at it again.

"I disagree civ3 gives better gameplay with regards to combat. fast units are too powerful. Ships bombardment sucks. Air bombardment sucks. shall I go on?"

What's wrong with fast units? They're more expensive than the slow units, don't have retreat advantage against any other "fast" units, and don't _always_ retreat. With those facts in place to start with - What exactly is the argument for them being too powerfull?

And, btw, I have found myself winning militarily too often - I've increased the cost of offensive units already. But I didn't find "fast units too powerfull", just what I thought was less-than-optimal balance in the combat units, just like almost every other game I've purchaced. As with many games I could edit things and change the balance. Now, rather than rant on about it I just changed things to suite myself, placed a few messages explaining what I'd done and why, and happily played on. Which is what I generally do when I'm not pleased with a game's unit-stats. I find all the vehemence of the complaints against fast units unseemly. First - the less-than-expert 80%+ of the Civ3 players probably either don't appreciate the power of Fast units, or simply can't take advantage of thier knowledge if they do appreciate Fast units. For them the units are balanced. Secondly, the more-or-less-expert-20% of us can make some pretty simple adjustments to fix things.... that's why I think so many people complaining about Fast units are characterized by others as "whiners"... If it's YOUR problem, and YOU can fix it, but you don't... you probably really are just whining.

Ship bombardment/air bombardment: "Sucks" how? The most common complaint I see is that bombardment can never destroy a unit. I was disgusted at first, but I came to see the reasoning behind it. First, you need to actually risk a unit to destroy an enemy unit. The human player can't, for example, get Flight before the computer AIs and wipe out the enemy with bombers alone. You have to use "combined arms" more. Not only is that almost certainly more interesting, it's also actually more realistic. Real-life bombardment can and does destroy individual units, but seldom utterly destroys a fleet or regiment - you've generally got to really have someone go in and finish 'em off. And, of course, given Civ3's scale, you should think of each combat unit as a collection of individual real-life units, not 1 soldier, 1 tank, 1 ship. I think it's fun to pretend a Battleship is 1 battleship, but I think it foolish to insist that it really act just like 1 battleship in the game.

The new bombardment system allows you to use bombard ment to "soften up" the enemy _almost_ to the point of utter destruction. Very, very much like real life. The biggest departure is certainly in naval combat.... that can certinly be considered a "flaw" in the game... but "bombardment sucks"- I think that's going way too far. Realism has been sacrificed for better gameplay - Civ3 would still be a _rotten_ historical simulation or wargame even with far more realistic bombardment rules, but it might have become a worse strategy game.

Finally, you can fiddle with the bombardment stats somewhat in the editor. If Firaxis allows us to give bombers or ships the ability to sometimes sink a ship as cruise missiles can I'd be completely satisfied.

The tech advantage: The other big criticism I see of the combat system is the ability of lower-tech units to defeat higher-tech units.

First of all... havn't you people ever played another game before? Other than in wargames or simulations combat unit values are very seldom realistic, and even some wargames/simulations screw things up. Civ3, as has been mentioned before, is neither a wargame or a simulation...

Unit costs: A Tank costs, what, 12 times what a Warrior costs? Obviously a huge departure from reality... but the game is supposed to be playable from ancient times to the modern age - imposing realistic unit costs would screw up gameplay at one end or the other (if not both.) How'd you like warriors to cost 1/2 a shield... a decent sized ancient city could then produce, what, two dozen or more a turn? Or how about if Tanks took 60+ turns to produce? Not good gameplay.... who's got some counterarguments?

So the game has "flattened out" (made more equal) unit costs. With the flattening of unit costs the game then _must_ flatten out combat statistics or the more advanced units (the ones that "realisticly" should be far more expensive") will _utterly_ trounce the less-advanced units. That'd be realistic, but it'd make the military part of Civ3 little more than a race to be first to key military techs. "I got Knights before the Aztecs, so I destroyed them. Then I got Cavalry before the Indians, so I destroyed them. Then I got Infantry and Artillery before the English, so I destroyed them...." I'm sure some people would think that's great fun.... and those people can edit the unit values to make the game play that way.

There's also the issue of what the Civ3 combat units _really_ represent. If my neighbor has developed Infantry and Tanks and I've got Riflemen then it's foolish to think that my Riflemen units are "really" using Civil-War era weapons while my neighbor has developed refined semi-automatic rifles and large-bore guns. In real life there's almost always at least a trickle of tech "leaking" from the most advanced nations. A country doesn't go straight from Henry-Rifles to 155mm cannons.
If I've got a Spearman that's been sitting in a city for 2000yrs I'd have to be pretty stupid to believe it's _really_ a bunch of guys with pointy sticks when everyone else has got automatic weapons. Sure, it'd be nice if the game had an additional dozen or so "default" units that obsolete units ungraded to with era changes, or key tech-advances. But that'd add some more complexity, some more work for the programers, and wouldn't change the gameplay at all. A 1/2/1 unit is a 1/2/1 unit by any name.
Personally, I think that people have their sense of realism messed up when obsolete units defeat more advanced ones. It frustrates and offends them. I'm OK with it, but I do swear when the AI gets lucky.

IMO, the inability of bombard units to destroy not only was a good game balance decision but a reflection of the limitations of air power and artillery.

Fast units are nice, and maybe a bit over-powered compared to, say, longbows and swordsmen. They have the further benefit of upgrades, while the two units I just mentioned do not. However, I don't find myself relying upon them to the extent I did with some units in Civ 1 and 2, so I can't call them overpowered. At the very least I'll take along some sort of defensive units and most likely bombard units.

I know I didn't have much to say. Mainly I just wanted to bump the thread.
In Civ2, I used to win games using only 3 units: AEGIS Cruiser, Stealth Fighter, and Paratroopers. I can't do this anymore. One actually has to prepare large scale land invasions in order to win (militarially). So yes, these changes are for the better, although I miss my old style of fast, brute force victory :(
I thought I'd mention that the best criticism I've seen of Civ3 combat is that in some games there's a LOT of combat, and the system is so simple that it gets tedious. Civ3 may have not been designed as a wargame, but sometimes the AI's want it it be. ;)

I would like to see a Civ game get a full-fledged wargame-quality combat system. (Making it a wargame with a relatively simplistic empire-building system attached to it.) But I like wargames.
Get Empire Earth, small on managing big on combat.
"Real-life bombardment can and does destroy individual units, but seldom utterly destroys a fleet or regiment"

I think that if ship units are to be viewed as several ships, then some improvements need to be made.

*Bombarding at enemy ships can NEVER destroy them, so you need ships surrounding your coast (very tedious to set up). You can shoot all the artillery you want at those ironclads, and not cost your enemy a single shield, yet they bombard a city and destroy a 200 shield university. Also a 1-hp ship bombards as well as a full health ship, but if 3 out of 4 ships in a group were sunk, then the total bombardment firepower would be 1/4 of normal.

*Planes can never destroy a transport, and a redlined transport lands with all units unscathed (yet if half the ships (hitpoints) in the transport convoy are sunk, then half the units should drown) once again this necessitates a ship every 2 tiles, once again very tedious.

I guess my biggest complaint about bombardment is not that it cant destroy, but that redlining a unit is so insignificant. A redlined ship unit is magically repaired for free. So unless you actually have ships everywhere, redlining is worthless. They send it back to a city, and they have a restored ship once again.
As it is, I barely bother to build up much of a navy. If bombard units could destroy other units I might not build any navy at all.
Originally posted by simwiz2

1 Bombarding at enemy ships can NEVER destroy them,

2 yet they bombard a city and destroy a 200 shield university.

3 Also a 1-hp ship bombards as well as a full health ship,

4 Planes can never destroy a transport,

5 a redlined transport lands with all units unscathed

6 A redlined ship unit is magically repaired for free.

(I added the numbers.)

Every one of those problems is due to Civ3's very simple combat system. HORRIBLE flaws in a wargame, but I really think we just have to put up with them in Civ3 because of the market Firaxis is going for. I'll be happy if the combat system is improved, but I'll be suprised if it happens. I think there are quite a few other substantial improvements Firaxis could make that wouldn't change the game's "profile" much. (Personally, I'd like to see the culture rules developed more.)

But, being less of a nay-sayer, if I had my druthers on this I'd most like to see #1 and #6 "fixed." I imagine #1 would be the easiest to change, since cruise missiles can already sink ships pretty easily. I think, say, a 1:20 chance of sinking a ship via bombardment wouldn't hurt the motivation to build ships much, and would be satisfying. (If I bombard a redlined ship with 20 bombers I wouldn't find it "unrealistic" to have the thing deep sixed.)

I bet #6 would be more of a problem to code, but I like the idea. I'd enjoy it if ships had to be repaired with $$ or shields. ("Grrr.... the Yamato is redlinded and its going to take 12 turns to repair it.") And maybe the repair system could be expaned to buildings and Wonders....

Having bombardment of the city that "created" Universal Sufferage plunge your civ into Anarchy because you suddenly loose the US benfits would be grossly unrealistic, but I think it'd be fun.
Is it really that bad for y'all that planes don't sink ships? I'm not trying to minimalize the situation, it's just not a big deal in my games. Mainly I use railway artillery to chase off marauders and if the AI lands troops I use them to either try to produce a leader or promote some vets to elite level.

I bet it's a realism thing, isn't it.

Hey, if we wanna talk realism, don't you think it's a little odd that pikemen show up before knights? Don't you also find it odd that mounted troops don't cost much more than ground pounders? After all, from about 1500 to the modern era armies were mainly guys on foot, mostly because cavalry and artillery was relatively expensive. Yet it's not unusual for players to talk about using 70% mounted units in their offensive forces. If we really want to pick at it, there's these gaping holes that nobody talks about. It's always "planes don't sink ships" or "a spearman killed my tank".

In terms of realism, I'm just glad that battleships can't occupy coastal cities any more.

If the programmers do change it so that bombers sink ships, it's going either be a matter of them sinking everything in sight or people complaining because a frigate took down a bomber. And it won't be any more realistic either way. Level bombers are crap at sinking ships, from what I know of the matter. It would be less realistic if they did. Tactical bombers are another matter.
I build a minimal navy, mostly to protect my coast and later to transport units when I've taken my continent and need to travel to fight.

I'm sort of happy I can't sink ships or kill units by bombardment. It makes me work a little more, particularly once we're advanced. With railroads I can get 50 artillary to any invading force and bring them all to red without issue. The same with any ships that near my coast. If I could just destroy them I'd barely need units to protect my cities. This way I still have to engage (although, I'll often sink battleships and transports with cruise missles once I've bombed them to red.)

I rarely ever pursue naval agendas or battles and, if I could sink ships with artillary or planes, I'd probably build only half a dozen ships per game, so it keeps me "honest" in that respect.
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