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Pledge to Protect: Game Mechanics vs. AI Behavior

Discussion in 'Civ5 - General Discussions' started by Amrunril, Jul 5, 2015.

  1. Amrunril

    Amrunril Emperor

    Feb 7, 2015
    Protection Pledges are a relatively straightforward mechanic, allowing civs to gain influence with city states at the cost of potentially angering aggressors. Unfortunately, however, while this system’s benefits are enshrined in the city state influence mechanics, its costs are enforced exclusively by the behavior of the AI. The game’s mechanics do not require a civ to back up its pledge of protection with anything but words, and an aggressor who understands this has no reason to respect such a pledge or to become angry at the civ making it*. Absent the AI’s arbitrary programming, there is no incentive to treat a protection pledge as a serious declaration of intent nor indeed to refrain from pledging to protect every city state on the map. Though the actual effects of protection pledges are admittedly minor, I feel that, as a matter of principle, such a system is highly problematic. Mechanics based around roleplaying and interaction with the AI are without question a valuable part of civ games, but when an action provides a direct material benefit, it needs to come at some cost, and that cost should be reflected in the game’s underlying rules rather than being imposed arbitrarily by irrational AI behavior.

    I think that the best way to improve this system would be to add direct consequences to a protection pledge. There are many possibilities, but my suggestion would be to make a protection pledges function as a one-sided defensive pacts. The possibility of being drawn into war (losing trade opportunities even if no troops are actually deployed) would force civs to think carefully about pledging protection to city states, and it would give potential aggressors reason to take pledges seriously. This stronger commitment would probably justify a larger influence boost than the current mechanic provides (+15 to resting point would allow any two of Consulates, Papal Primacy and Pledge to Protect to result in friendship). A simpler alternative would be to go in the opposite direction and remove the influence boost from protection pledges altogether. This would allow pledges to function exclusively as signals, effectively moving them out of the realm of underlying game mechanics and into the realm of player-AI diplomacy (much like denouncements or warmonger penalties). I don’t think this solution is as satisfying, as I think protection pledges do have the potential to be an engaging mechanic, but it would be much easier to implement, and it would leave protection pledges with an unambiguous role in the game.

    *Technically speaking, protection pledges do have a small impact on city state aggression, increasing bullying resistance by 10 points per pledge. This can actually make bullying city states significantly harder if many players use protection pledges. However, it still comes at no direct cost to the pledging civ, and the impact of a single pledge is significantly small and indirect that it’s highly unlikely to cause tensions between a pledging civ and a potential aggressor (it also clearly wasn’t the developers’ intention for it to do so, as the AI won’t confront you about a protection pledge until after it’s succeeded in bullying the city state, meaning that the increased resistance didn’t make a difference, or declared war, making the bullying mechanic irrelevant).
  2. z284pwr

    z284pwr Prince

    Jul 21, 2013
    I'm curious how many people still pledge to protect. With the fall patch eliminating permanent friendship with pledge/ consulates is it worth the AI diplomacy and may screens?
  3. claudiupb

    claudiupb King

    Dec 29, 2014
    It's an extra 5 turns of influence so it is worth it. Plus a city state having a pledge of protection is harder to bully, so this indirectly helps you because AI's that tend to demand tribute from CSs are less likely to do this.

    In my opinion, the mechanic works just fine. You get a minor boost for a minor risk: you can either lose 15 (or is it 20?) influence if you break the pledge, or get a diplo penalty with the aggressor civ. Forcing you into war, would be extreme, you would need a lot more in return in order to take that risk.
  4. Socratatus

    Socratatus Emperor

    Jul 26, 2007
    I still pledge to protect sometimes, especially if a CS is really close to me or has resources I really want..
  5. reddishrecue

    reddishrecue Deity

    Nov 16, 2009
    Cs protection pledges are ok since you get better Cs alliance points without any negatives from failing to protect a city state.
  6. Amrunril

    Amrunril Emperor

    Feb 7, 2015
    The point isn't whether the boost ends up, in practice, being a fair trade off against the diplo penalty, the point is that the diplo penalty has no rational reason to exist. Saying "You'll pay for this in time!" doesn't do anything to an opposing civ, and since you're being directly rewarded for saying this, there's no reason for anyone to think that it's a serious indication of your views or intentions. If the AI understood this, a protection pledge would come at literally no cost, and the mechanic would cease to be anything but an idiosyncratic way of gaining 5 influence with every city state.

    I do agree that the current +5 resting influence boost is too small a reward for committing to war against aggressor. That's why I suggested increasing the influence bonus to accompany such a change (I suggested +15 for synergy with other mechanics, but I'd certainly be open to a larger boost- reducing influence decay would also be a possibility, but this might require rebalancing some other mechanics because of the way percentage reductions stack with each other). Alternatively (or additionally), the commitment to war could be limited to actual invasions, and bullying could instead trigger something akin to an embargo. Or maybe you could have the option to supply the city state with military units rather than going to war yourself. The important point is that protection pledges should have some cost directly imposed by the underlying game rules (as opposed to the AI's behavior). What exactly those costs should be is a secondary consideration, albeit a potentially interesting one.

    This is true from a strategy perspective (putting aside the single player impacts of irrational AI behavior), but from a design perspective, it probably isn't a good idea for there to be way to get CS alliance points without any costs.
  7. ShakaKhan

    ShakaKhan King

    Jan 5, 2015
    I agree, to an extent, with the OP, but I think it's less that there is a problem with the pledge mechanic and more that the pledge mechanic issue is symptomatic of a larger problem, the city-state mechanic.

    The addition of CS's was an incredible, franchise-exploding idea in theory and a lackluster sigh in practice. The potential that could be added by these, much akin to NPCs in an open-world game, is ground-breaking. They never realize that potential because of how incredibly limited the level of interaction with them is. Basically you just treat them like a dog, feed them once in a while and you can pretend they love you.
  8. Dushku

    Dushku Prince

    Apr 10, 2015
    I wouldn't say without any. When a civ tributes/wars a CS under your protection, the leader will approach you. You can either get upset with them and take a diplo hit or you can look the other way and lose 20 rep with the CS and lose protection status.

    I always pledge to protect. But one other thing to add to the other side of the coin is that if you don't pledge to protect, a pledge for protection is sometimes a quest CSs give.
  9. Redaxe

    Redaxe Emperor

    Aug 20, 2013
    Being drawn into war automatically from a pledge to protect is probably a bit too extreme.

    Consider poor Central and Eastern Europe in the 20th Century. Britain, France and the USA pledged to protect Czechoslovakia from the Nazi's, then abandoned it and left it to fend for itself.

    But for Citystate mechanisms they could however go one further than a pledge to protect.
    If you do have a pledge of protection with a CS and a Civ does declare war specifically on that CS they could offer you a quest to declare war on that civ.

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