Civilization gameplay: degrees of simulation

Discussion in 'Civ6 - General Discussions' started by cakes, May 29, 2016.

  1. cakes

    cakes Prince

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    If someone said to you "Civilization VI basically plays like a digital board game" would you view this as a positive or a negative? I first heard this as a criticism from a friend in regards to V but didn't get why that is necessarily a bad thing. My first game in the series was IV and I thought it was purposely presented as a board game (floating in space, that is until you zoomed out) so when V was released and seemed to establish a trajectory of the series to be more like a board game I considered it an interesting development. It seemed to fit with what I had identified in the series, and there's nothing really inherent to Civilization games that would suggest it would even be a successful 'accurate simulation'. Of course it still is a simulation to some degree, but each game could exist as defined by its own rules on how it operates, rather than a collection of failed translations of the historical real world. You play the game instead of trying to make the game play something else.

    VI seems to be going down this path further still -- especially with the use of 'cards' -- and to me this points more to a perfection of its form rather than a dangerous liaison with simplification, but still I see (or misinterpret) posts calling it a board game in a derogative sense or expressing some sort of anxiety over the future of the franchise.

    I'm not sure this makes sense (or any point) or resonates with any of you. I'm not really trying to set out an argument that progresses logically through supporting evidence towards a persuasive conclusion, but instead offering some sort of prompt to hopefully make you think critically -- if it is relevant -- 'why would I not like CVI to be a board game?' since 'board game' seems to occupy by default the inferior end of a simulation spectrum. Is that really the reason? Realism for the sake of realism?

    What I mean is let's talk about a specific video game in a holistic sense rather than our wish lists. Surely many of us have an 'idea' of the series... is it a contradictory one?
     
  2. stiiknafuulia

    stiiknafuulia King

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    When I play Civ, I want to feel like I'm building a great empire. If s Civ game can do that, then I have no qualms with its 'board-gameyness' (for lack of a less monstrous term).
     
  3. HisDivineShadow

    HisDivineShadow Chieftain

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    Well since Civ the computer game took a number of ideas from the 1980 board game of the same name, I'm not surprised. And as a big player of Eurogames ("designer" board games) I have no problem with this.

    Civ is an abstract game; it's never going to be anything like realistic - it's not supposed to be. If it was, it would suck and it wouldn't be Civ.
     
  4. TheMarshmallowBear

    TheMarshmallowBear Benelovent Chieftain of the BearKingdom

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    I remember noticing this and calling it out for Civ 5.

    Civ 4 didn't seem nearly as game-boardey as Civ 5 did. I remember the feedback was less than negative when I voiced it. Could've just been me.

    I personally don't feel that a game-board like game is bad as long as it is fun. Civ 5 was too much numbers game and not enough empire-building game which I hope Civ 6 changes.
     
  5. Verrucosus

    Verrucosus Warlord

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    Civilization is certainly sold as a simulation. On page 2 of the Civ1 manual it says "Computer Simulation", and the first sentence of its introduction reads: "Civilization casts you in the role of the ruler of an entire civilization through many generations, from the founding of the world's first cities 6000 years in the past to the immenent colonization of space." In the modest language of today's game documentations, the Civ5 manual states that Civilization "is the longest-lived and and best world history computer simulation, famous for its depth of play and uniquely addictive nature." Noone who is promised to rule for 6000 years should expect realism, but the game mechanics attempting to simulate in some way "the forces that shaped history" (again Civ1 introduction) is a legitimate expectation when you are invited to "Build an Empire to Stand the Test of Time". As long as that attempt is made, it is no problem at all that the simulation uses the core elements of a boardgame: a board (the map), playing pieces (units and cities), opponents that (pretend to) play by the same rules.

    The original Civilization is still the most pure manifestation of this idea. Its elegant mechanics create a complex game experience from simple elements, and that experience is designed to inspire the player to imagine what it's like to build an empire. The pace is relatively slow (590 turns on King level, comparable to epic speed in Civ4) so the passage of time can be felt. The civilopedia text is set by default to pop up whenever a new advance is made. (It covers the whole screen; pressing space feels like turning a page in a history book and see a map on the next page.) The opponents are refered to by their civilization names, their leaders merely showing up during diplomacy. The need for expansion inherent in empire-building is felt intuitively when playing and acknowledged explicitly in the manual:

    "In a word, you must grow. In this dynamic world environment, surrounded by rivals in unknown corners, there is no future in complacency and stagnation. You must press forward on all three fronts: spread your cities out to claim a significant share of the world, increase the size and production of each city, and strive to acquire the latest technology." (p 7)

    Sure, things can end up feeling like work when you end up with dozens of cities to manage in the late game, but the moment you think about setting city production to "automatic" is also the moment when you really feel like you have built an empire and the idea that it had all started 6000 years ago with a band of settlers gives you a sense of achievement.

    Civ1 invoking such a strong sense of empire-building can be traced back to a number of reasons. One reason is that the window-dressing (manual, civilopedia, etc) are designed to support the fantasy of empire-building. Another is that the game mechanics are unapologetic about rewarding expansion. There are brakes like corruption, pollution and citizen unhappiness, but they feel like challenges to overcome by responses like switching governments, building recycling centers and increasing the luxury rate. They don't for a moment make you wonder whether it is really wise to expand at all.

    Later versions of Civilization have introduced additional elements or given more depth to exisiting elements. For example, Civ2 made diplomacy more subtle, Civ3 gave resources a strategic role, Civ4 used religion to make diplomacy seem more rational. In many respects, the simulation has become more detailed.

    Still, I share the opinion that the sense of building an empire is not as strong as it could be and even as it was in Civ1. It is my impression that those who use the term "board game" with a negative connotation in this context, do not really mind that Civ uses boardgame mechanics. The problem seems to be that Civ5 mechanics specifically do not promote expansive empire-building as much as one might expect from the theme of the game. Having played only four or five full games of Civ5, I cannot really comment on that, but I do think that the "board game" label is not a good expression of that particular criticism. After all, board games can have mechanics that strongly promote expansion (eg. Settlers of Catan, Risk).

    However, the "gamey" label is an apt criticism of design choices that break immersion into the empire-building fantasy by trying to simulate a board game atmosphere. Civ2's cheat button and anything that turns opponents into playing pals who keep cracking the same joke about salads (Caesar in Civ4) or tease you to "go again" (Civ3) is cute, but distracts from the sense of participating in a simulated history that attracts many players. Immersion is also strained by design elements that are hard to translate even into an imagined reality. For example, in the Civ4 world, bureaucracy, nationhood and free speech are mutually exclusive legal systems which is nonsense if these terms mean anything similar to what they mean in our world. As a result, it feels like these terms were chosen more or less arbitrarily by someone who wanted a 5x5 civics table and did not care at all about the kind of society they are meant to represent.

    At the same time, the game manual was stripped of material that (in Sid Meier's words) "helped to support the fantasy" of running an empire while the historical reference parts of the civilopedia are several clicks away with no way to make them appear on their own. Great persons (seven of whom used to be prominently represented as wonders) now have their own game mechanism, but have become bland in the process.

    It seems that the majority of those players who spend lots of time playing (and discussing) the game eventually drop the empire-building fantasy during play. When they are playing, "bureaucracy" means 50 % bonus to the playing piece called "capital" rather than a centralisation of administration in their imaginary empire. This is natural. A chess player may know that his game simulates a field battle and that their rooks used to be Indian war elephants, but that's not in his thoughts when he plays chess. Many Civ players are the same. Once they've played a couple of games they know the mechanics well enought to be immersed in them rather than in the fantasy of ruling an empire. They may not even want to be distracted from the mechanics.

    My suspicion is that in my desire to get the sense of empire-building, I am probably closer to casual players than to the more serious players who come here to discuss their game. I hope that features that help to simulate an atmosphere of empire building will eventually receive more attention. Future game designers will find a lot of room for improvement in this respect.
     
  6. CoolLizy

    CoolLizy King

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    As Civilization has very precise, specific win conditions and there can only be one winner, there will always be something "gamey" about it no matter what you do to it. Furthermore, it's turn-based, which will only strengthen the board game feel for some people.

    I'm going to have to fundamentally disagree here. I prefer that my Civilization have some degree of "character" to it, and I am not alone in this. One person's immersion breaker can be another person's immersion maker.

    As for the cheat menu, I sorely miss its absence in Civilization V. If I'm nearing the end of a game with no possible way to catch up, damn right I'm going to rage quit by spawning tanks outside everybody's major cities after nuking their capitals.
     
  7. jjkrause84

    jjkrause84 King

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    Most gaming seems to be going into a more board gamey direction right now....it is a fad, nothing more.

    Personally, I dislike it. The whole point about games was that they could model far more complex rules and interactions than any boardgame ever could. Games were a step forward. They allowed us to strip away abstractions and get down to a more 'real' core experience. Why we would take a step back is completely beyond me.
     
  8. nyyfootball

    nyyfootball Warlord

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    I have no problem with the board gamey direction. I just think if that is the direction Civilization is taking, that it should balls to the wall and make it best damn board game there's ever been.
     
  9. historix69

    historix69 Emperor

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    @Verrucosus
    Thank you for your post in support of the people who like simulation / empire building in this forum.

    One of the differences between game and simulation is he kind of problems the player has to solve :
    In a simulation you try to solve more or less realistic historic problems.
    In a game you are often confronted with artificial mathematically balanced problems which do not necessarly relate to the real world in any way and just keep you busy.

    In the gamecrate-article it is said :

    For sure we will have to wait for release of Civ6 until we can try and judge the new district system. However the mentioning of "suitable locations", "putting science districts near mountains" for "bonus", etc. has made me suspicious that districts besides it's realism may also introduce a new boardgame-type mini-game (puzzle) with artificial (nonsense) rules (science districts near mountains for bonus) which do not relate to our real world, just to keep the player occupied. There are economic simulations/games where placing certain buildings next to each other provides benefit by reducing transport ways, but Civ is a game with a different scale. Compared to Colonization there are no goods produced or transported. I would feel better if the devs would rationally explain their design decisions ... Anyway we will have to wait for release of Civ6 until we can try it out ...
     
  10. Verrucosus

    Verrucosus Warlord

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    CoolLizy, you are spot on about victory conditions being gamey by definition. Interestingly enough, Civ1 recognises "being in existence" when anyone's colonists reach Alpha Centauri as a form of winning. ("Even if the colonists are not yours, the successful direction of your civilization through the centuries is an achievement. You have survived countless wars, the pollution of the industrial age, and nuclear weapons.", Civ1 manual, p. 23). I'm afraid that this form of "winning" was never quite seen as such by players, but it certainly fitted the simulation character of the game. There are no victory conditions in history.

    By the way, I did not mean to imply that I speak for anybody else in my dislike for the playing pal characterization of opponents. I merely used it to illustrate a shift in design that leads to a different kind of immersion. It is reflected in game stories. 15 years ago, people would write that the French pushed the Babylonians into the edge of a continent, while now they tend to write about Monty crushing Hattie as if these were pals sitting around a table for a fun evening of gaming. I admit that the latter atmosphere can be just as immersive, but somehow I felt that Civ might never have sold as well if it had been marketed as the world's best boardgame simulator.

    You are certainly in good company about the cheat button. Even Sid Meier (who spent years mocking that one) said he saw the point when he watched his son do the tank thing.

    historix69, any computer simulation will need to use mathematically balanced problems, since computers don't understand much beyond math. I don't expect realism, but a somewhat plausible explanation of the real world phenomenon they are meant to simulate would indeed be helpful.
     
  11. CoolLizy

    CoolLizy King

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    That's because it's innately contradicted by the game itself, which outright treats it as a failure. Keep in mind that Sid didn't write the manual, even if he had input into it. You also had only so many turns to get your spaceship out or conquer the world, after which victory was assigned by a score.

    Can't get much gamey-er than an honest-to-god score. :p
     
  12. nyyfootball

    nyyfootball Warlord

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    The Civ V manual explicitly states that it is a "world history computer simulation".

    Sid Meier was not aware of the 1980 board game (ironically also called Civilization) until after he was done designing his game. The Civilization board games based on Sid Meier's game did not come until 2002 and 2010.

    Civilization has always been a world history computer simulation.
     
  13. JtW

    JtW Prince

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    Thank you for this. I think it's the most succinct expression of what I miss from "the old times" I have ever seen. And you made me realize why I don't like the current trend to spend so much resources on leaders. It makes it harder for me to see a clash of nations. Instead, I see a clash of NPCs - which, while colorful, are far removed from my need to see an alternate history unfold.
     
  14. croxis

    croxis Chat room op

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    Game makers/producers/designers are ultimately a business and I see this genera of gaming falling into two more or less exclusive camps (not that a person can't enjoy both, but the mechanics of one doesn't lend itself well to the other). The first type is the empire builder. I stereotype this one as the kind that enjoys reading history books about nations as a whole machine. They are intrigued by The Republic and the Romulan Star Empire. This is where I tip my hat to Paradox for really going after this market with Crusader kings/Europa/Victoria/Hearts of Iron.

    The other much more larger market identifies with the narrative of individuals over the story of an empire. This is where the Borg got their Queen, why they care more about Rey's parents than some Capital Planet that blew up. Its why there are more books and Broadway tickets sold about Hamilton than tomes on pre-revolutionary France. Firaxis is going after this larger market. This is probably why they are returning to their board gaming roots. Board games are having a new golden age of popularity and innovation -- I wouldn't call it a fad as the rise has been steady for the past decade, along with digital and analogue CCGs and LCGs.
     
  15. dexters

    dexters Gods & Emperors Supporter

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    There's some overlap. I enjoy the history of empires and the geopolitics of empire. Peloponnesian Wars, causes of the great war, the balance of power in Europe, the cold war all interest me more than the mechanics of empire and their constituent parts. A game that let's me replay those in a sandbox environment has my vote

    Civ has gone down this route since Civ3.
     
  16. malekithau

    malekithau Chieftain

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    It's a board game. Any version of Civ or indeed any turn based computer game, could be played on a board with cardboard playing pieces and a manual the size of my desk. All the boring bits are automated so that you can get on with playing rather than spend hours reading the minutiae of the rule book. It's not really a simulation either. It's just a good fun strategy game or should be unless you take it too seriously.
     
  17. stealth_nsk

    stealth_nsk Deity

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    I don't understand people who put "realism" or "immersion" first. The quality of strategic game measures in terms like number of decisions, amount of planning, number of viable actions to do, game balance, etc. That's purely gameplay things. Yes, immersion is important to be on top of gameplay, but game without immersion is playable, while game without gameplay is not.

    There was a valid point regarding realism making the game more intuitive, but again, without solid gameplay "intuitive" does nothing.

    Another interesting point to consider is - the game always have a very high level of abstraction and it's not possible to define which features will improve realism. What for one person is acceptable, for another could be a total immersion-breaker and vice versa. So, basing on "realism" could be a trap - it could be actually counter-intuitive for many players.
     
  18. Verrucosus

    Verrucosus Warlord

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    Immersion is not more important than gameplay to me. I suspect that my lack of enthusiasm for Civ5 has more to do with its gameplay than any lack of immersion. On the other hand, immersion into empire building is more to me than just a clever trick to get intuitive access to the gameplay. My inner historian just loves to see empires grow, compete and falter, and he certainly understands why there could be people who would go as far as putting immersion first.

    It's true that immersion is a affected by personal preference because players have different perceptions of what "civilisation" is all about. However, quite a large number of people would agree that stuff like the option (!) to make the historical description of a tech advance appear upon discovery (Civ1), the use of footage from the real Pyramids (Civ2), the use of historical music by Palestrina, Bach and Beethoven (Civ4) help to create a sense of awe for civilisation. Also, it is relatively easy to accept that features that suggest a board game atmosphere are not helpful when you want to feel the breath of history in the making. If on the other hand, you want to immerse yourself into the atmosphere of a boardgame, it's just the other way around.
     
  19. stealth_nsk

    stealth_nsk Deity

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    Yes, I totally agree with you. These things help a lot and yes, Civilization should focus on looking like "history" and not "board game". The reason why Civ1 went for squires instead of hexes was to distinguish itself from board games of its time.
     
  20. kaltorak

    kaltorak Emperor

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    BAD thing. Civ games are about building an empire for me, not about winning a board game.
     

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