Could the player start with a semi-developed empire like the AI?

Ita Bear

Dec 8, 2020
Hi folks,

this thought has bubbled in my mind for some time but the latest expansion has made me want this option even more. A number of Old World's original leaders were chosen because they "founded" the civilisation in question. Romulus and Dido come to mind, for example. The newest expansion, however, has given us a whole range of leaders, many of which ruled already established kingdoms or empires. It's a bit immersion breaking and silly to see Caeser founding the city of Rome when the Roman Republic controlled much of the Mediterranean basin when he came to power. His flavour text even mentions his previous exploits and how he should "expand" Rome... not found it.

I'd love to see an optional game mode where the player can begin with an established kingdom, just as the AI do. They can begin with some extra techs, units and some knowledge of the map. I'm of course no expert, but from a technical viewpoint it doesn't seem so difficult since this is already in place for the AI. It may throw balance a bit out of whack but, as I say, it's an optional game mode and since the likes of Hannibal are now in the game, balance can sometimes take a backseat. ;) Starting in medias res might be a fun spin on the usual game.

Happy to hear your thoughts.

Kind regards,
Ita Bear
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This is a feature that existed in Civilization II and in Alpha Centauri. Personally, I never made extensive use of it, but I can point to to a discussion of the Alpha Centauri version ("Time Warp") by Apolyton contributor DilithiumDad that was quoted by Velociryx (the author of the Old World manual) in his guide for Alpha Centauri:

"Most players despise the Time Warp option. It’s like taking over from an utterly incompetent governor. Time Warp accelerates you anywhere between 30 and 80 years into the game. Faction might is scrupulously balanced, and each faction has exactly one secret project. But some players swear by Time Warp, and the only singleplayer games they play are using this option. (Time Warp can also be used in Multiplayer, but it is far, far better to use the Scenario Editor to accelerate each player’s starting position.) This option can make the game very challenging. If you have gotten used to grabbing almost all of those critical early Secret projects, Time Warp will humble you, because you will have only one of the first seven. This option makes the AI very strong, because you can’t use your special tricks during those critical first 50 moves that puts you leagues ahead of the pitiful AI. ... On your first move, you will likely find yourself with rioting and starving bases, useless units, and sloppy terraforming. You will be behind in tech, and the tech you do have will be lowpriority, making the usual beelines impossible. In many ways, Time Warp is much closer to Multiplayer than the usual single-player game, because the opposing factions are more equal to you and the secret projects are spread evenly."

It doesn't sound like most players' kind of fun. I imagine that its lack of popularity is the reason why it was dropped from later versions of Civilization and, I suppse, why it is not included in Old World's rich menu of advanced game options. A lot of the appeal of this type of games derives from starting from scratch, being aware that your huge empire started 10 or 20 hours ago with a single settler. However, as you point out, Old World already offers the AI an accelerated start ... it wouldn't be an "old" world if everyone started from scratch.
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Civ4 to be fair had a decent implementation of this, but then it was more than a switch. You had the Advanced Start mode, where you'd use points to purchase various things like cities, techs, population, etc.

The Civ2 / SMAC versions weren't very successful, and Old World would come with even more challenges. It's a shorter game, usually over within 150 turns or so. Even if you started with one extra city and a couple techs, that would probably be enough to shorten the game by 20-30 turns. It also wouldn't play well with the ambition system, which theoretically is flexible enough to handle this, but the ambitions as defined for the game assume a normal progression from one city. There's a few smaller problems, too.

I do agree with the narrative points, of course. It's silly to have Caesar or Octavian founding the weak upstart Rome, but we have that problem even with the default leaders. Having Hatshepsut found the new Egyptian is likewise a bit odd when she was pharaoh during the third major period of Egypt (New Kingdom, with Old and Middle prior to that), and it gets completely silly if she's new while Philip of Macedon already has an established empire, while historically Philip ruled about 1100 years after Hatshepsut. I don't know if there's any way to properly resolve this problem in a 4X game without abandoning the idea of historical leaders.
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