Things I’ve Learned in Playing Civilization IVBy Bobby Neal Winters
Playing Civilization IV is a bad habit. The reason for this is was put best by my student Nathaniel Smith who said, “It gives you a feeling of having accomplished something with your time when you really haven’t.”
I fell back into the habit recently before my surgery. This is because another thing it gives you--at least on the lower difficulty settings-- is an illusion of control. When you are headed into the unknown with no logical alternatives, feeling like you are in control is very comforting.
And it is a great way of killing--and I mean KILLING--time.
For those of you who don’t know, which is a great majority of the non-geek world--Civilization IV is the 4th iteration of a turn-based strategy game by Sid Meier. It has since been replaced by--you guessed it--Civilization V, but I’ve not yet made the move to the most recent version because it would require upgrading my computer and to do that I would have to admit addiction. I can stop anytime I want to...really.
The idea behind the game is that you are the despot of a nomadic civilization that decides to put down roots and start building cities at 4000 AD. Cities build units such as Warriors, Workers, Archers, and Settlers to name but a few. In order to build a particular type of unit, your civilization requires knowledge and resources.
In my opinion it does a decent job of modelling reality. While there are some choices than can be made in the acquisition of knowledge, some things still have to be learned in a certain order even when the connection might not be obvious. For example, you have to know about machinery before you know about astronomy. Why? By the reasoning of the game, before you have astronomy, you have to have optics and before you have optics, you have to have machinery. I am guessing that machinery precedes optics because machinery is necessary for the production of lenses.
It has also captured the fact that if you are doing one thing that means you are not doing something else, i.e. you have to make choices. If you are spending time developing archery that means you are not spending your time developing agriculture. If your city is building a unit of swordsmen, it is not making a group of workers. There is room for multitasking in the building of units, but this must be accomplished by building more cities and assigning an independent task to each city.
The cities are basic to the game. Cities are the modes of production. In order to produce units, a city must have a population. For a given city, more population leads to more production, but the given city’s production can be affected by a available resources, the health of the population, and the general happiness of the population.
There are other ways to win the game besides war, but one can’t ignore defense if there is any chance for any other sort of victory. Each of the civilizations in the game has its own values and the logical pursuit of those values might just lead to attacking you. As a consequence of this, a player must be at least prepared to defend himself. For the most part, the AIs (artificial intelligences) who are the other players will attack on a cost/benefit basis. If the cost of attacking you is greater than the expected benefit, they will not--for the most part--attack.
I say this, but I say it with the caveat that there are some chains of reasoning that I’ve not been able to recapture. I’ve been across the Inland Sea from a Chinese Empire who, for some reason I can’t even guess, took it upon itself to march a huge army around the Inland Sea simply to destroy my peaceful, cultured, knowledge-loving country. It was sad.
The game is in a very real sense about management. In playing, there is a some freedom in how hands-on one wants to be. There are certain tasks one can simply leave to the AIs or that one can do oneself. For example, the Worker units can be put on Auto-improve city mode. The advantage to this is that you won’t be bothered to make the decision whether to build a farm or a cottage with Montezuma is the in the process of trying to destroy your very essence. However, if you do this, you are stuck with the results. The AIs don’t necessarily do things the way you would like.
To me it seems that the game does a good job in showing that decisions made and actions taken in the past can have long-term consequences. The other civilizations remember how you treated them; some remember for a very long time. The game also has a feature of producing Great People on a random basis under certain circumstances. These people can be used in ways that will positively affect a city’s character for the remainder of the game. I’ve seen this happen in real life. There are things that are in place at my university that are here as a result of a Great Person coming through. True, there are also things here because of a bad person coming through. If Civilization IV captures that, it’s through city invasion or player incompetence.
I can’t say much more because quite frankly I am not that good of a player and I’ve not explored all of the nuances. It is a bad habit. My time probably could have been used better, but it probably wouldn’t’ve been. At least I’ve learned this much.