Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Sid Meier's Civilization games have gotten many accolades over the years. I never dug strategy games that much, but recently discovered they can be fun (e.g. Advance Wars, Command and Conquer). So I picked up Civilization Chronicles when it was released.

After having spent an evening each with Civilization, Civilization II and Civilization III, I wonder what all those reviewers saw that I'm missing.

Because I'm not enjoying these games at all.

To me, they are deadly dull. Move this unit here, build that city there, attack this, defend that, blah, blah, blah.

I can think of some reasons for this:

  • Openness: The game may be too open. There are many roads to success, and many to failure, and they all look the same. Openness is often touted as a much-desired feature in games. I say there can be too much. Too many choices without any good way to evaluate them before committing to one is a recipe for frustration.

  • Feedback: There is little to let you know how you're doing and where your trouble areas are. Or rather, there's too much feedback of the wrong kind; a myriad of tiny details but little in the way of a dashboard or color-coded map to tell you the "strategic weather" in various parts of the game world.

  • Micromanagement: I felt like I had to tell every unit what to do on every turn. Group commands seemed inefficient, and none of my units seemed to have even the most basic self-defense AI.

  • Lack of Action: Because of the micromanagement, turns take a long time, and the action that does occur seems muted. The two strategy games I mentioned enjoying have action going on all the time. In Advance Wars and its sequels, every turn involves one or more battles, positioning units for a battle, and building units to battle with. Command and Conquer and its sequels are the same, but in real time.

  • Lack of Story: With the exception of competitive multiplayer games, sports games, board games, puzzle games and arcade games, I prefer games to be interactive storytelling rather than pure tests of skill. The primary mode of play in the Civilization games is a randomly generated map and scenario. I find this far less interesting than those optional scenarios that do tell a story.

    It's worth noting that in all games which offer both a randomized universe and a story mode, I will always choose the story mode. In fact, given a choice between a puzzle-like fixed goal and a randomized setup I'll always pick the puzzle. I tried the conquest modes in Starfleet Command 3, and found it nearly as dull as I'm finding the Civilization games. I quit playing Bejeweled 2 after finishing the puzzle mode; the randomized survival mode I found uninteresting.

It may be that playing the "canned" Civ scenarios will make it interesting again for me. I'll know more after playing Civilization IV.

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