By Michael "Sullla" Soracoe / Originally published on Sulla's Website circa December 2010
So there's a new patch out for Civ5. Pretty big one too, with a massive changelist of alterations. I hadn't touched the game in over six weeks, but there were posters claiming that this patch was going to make some major strides forward, and I felt obligated to at least check it out. I started a new game on Immortal difficulty with Persia using the default settings (Small, Continents, 6 AIs). Here's the start I rolled:
Pretty good stuff, especially those gems. I settled in place after failing to find anything of note with the warrior. I opened with scout/worker/settler, with no plans to go stealing workers from the AI or from city states to avoid cheese stuff. For early city management, I purchased the grassland tile NE of the cows, so that the first cultural border expansion would grab that 3-food tile for free, and that gave Persepolis three good tiles, enough for the early game. I found myself on the southern end of a smallish continent, with Russia located to my north beyond a long range of mountain peaks. I actually lost my starting warrior early on to barbarians in an unlucky combat roll (I had odds to win with 2hp remaining, 6 damage to 4 damage, and instead lost the unit) and so I played total farmer's gambit, setting several new cities with only a single scout for military. Heh. Worked out surprisingly well though.
A new feature in the patch consists of unique bonuses for each natural wonder; here you can see the bonus gained from the Barrington Crater. This is a cool feature, and a genuinely good idea.... except for one thing. Firaxis has decided to add in the natural wonders from the downloadable New World scenario into the base game, which include natural wonders like El Dorado and the Fountain of Youth. Now I don't care about the mythical nature of these natural wonders, but they provide absurd, game-breaking bonuses. One of these new wonders grants 500 gold, for free, to the first civ that spots it. I honestly thought that that was a mistake when I first read the description. How is that even remotely fair or balanced, when one civ gets a massive influx of gold due to complete dumb luck? Other natural wonders grant 10 culture/turn (free Stonehenge!) or +10 happiness (twice as good as Notre Dame). The whole thing is preposterous. Now granted, I didn't see any of these natural wonders in my game, and they're supposed to be quite rare, but that's not a solution, as they will still cause havoc on the few occasions where they do show up. What were they thinking with this move?!
I was very lucky to have the two city states that appeared next to me both come up Maritime. They have been nerfed in the patch, and only produce +1 food in all cities at Allied status instead of +2, but they still remain by far the best city state type. Nerfing Maritimes doesn't actually change the play dynamics: you still want to ally with all of them, it simply takes longer and more gold to do so. Easy access to Maritime city states probably raises or lowers the difficulty level by one point in either direction. Believe me, if both of those cities had spawned as Militaristic instead, my game would have been quite a bit tougher!
I didn't do anything particularly different in the patch. I expanded as fast as I possibly could, and built the minimum military necessary to defend myself, while swinging various trade deals to ally with every Maritime city state in sight. The one alteration I did make was to put the initial social policy (which cannot be deferred any longer, unless you specifically change the options under the Advanced Game Setup mode) into Tradition, which has been heavily buffed to increase food in the capital city by 50%:
The prior Tradition social policy increased food in the capital by +1, which was completely and utterly laughable, so good change there. Since Maritimes give +3 food in the capital city (to go along with +1 food everywhere else), this feels like a good investment if you know you'll have some Maritime allies nearby. Persepolis certainly grew like a weed in this game once that extra food started coming in. Still, it's not so much that Tradition is great as the sense that Liberty and Honor have both been so heavily nerfed. Liberty only provides the 50% bonus to settler production in the capital, and Meritocracy's happiness value was slashed in half. Nearly all of the Honor policies were nerfed, with less experience gain from combat, smaller bonus from Discipline, and weaker Great Generals. While it's nice that Tradition finally has a use outside of One City Challenge games, I wish that it hadn't required a nerf to some of the few social policies that were actually useful to have. This is a refrain that you'll hear a lot in this writeup: the game balance is marginally better after the patch, but it was achieved by relentlessly attacking player strategies that proved to be effective. It works, sort of, but is it fun? Not really.
There are a couple of notable improvements in this new patch version. By far the best is the return of research overflow, eliminating the need for incredibly tedious micromanagement of research to avoid wastage. This notably speeds up the tech rate in the first 50 turns of the game, since you were constantly losing out on beakers due to wastage with the research of every new technology. Thanks for that Firaxis, although I'm not sure how much credit to give for a feature that obviously should have been in the release version of the game! I also really like the change to the circus building:
Previously, the circus cost the same amount of shields as a colosseum, along with maintenance costs, and provided fewer happiness. Huh? Obviously you would still want both buildings, but it didn't really make a lot of sense. Now the circus costs only 80 shields, has no maintenance costs, and provides +2 happiness instead of +3. It's something that you actually want to prioritize now, and because I happened to have ivory as my local clustered resource, I built a lot of circuses in the early game. The National College is another big addition to the game, creating a tradeoff between horizontal expansion for more cities or building up the capital and getting a very high early science output. I skipped it in this game because I was expanding rapidly with settlers, but I've seen others on the forums who have posted some excellent results by going National College first before expansion. At the very least, now it's a decision to be made, although I think you can still cheese things by sticking with the capital and puppeting enemy cities (which don't count against the "library in every city" requirement). While the other new national wonders are pretty pointless, this one is a nice addition.
Another big change in the patch is the return of some diplomatic feedback when speaking to AI leaders. Now you get at least a little information on why the they feel the way that they do:
I find this interesting because the developers were very vehement in their pre-release interviews about how they wanted diplomacy to be "mysterious" and inscrutable to the human player. Apparently they realized at some point after release just how stupid of an idea that was — there's no functional difference between an AI who acts for reasons that can't be understood and an AI who acts due to random dice rolls — and decided to backtrack towards previous Civilization games. This new system is better, but hardly a good one. Notice how above Catherine was at "Friendly" relations, and went ahead and Denounced me anyway. She later declared war, also at Friendly status. Umm, ok. I actually understood the war itself, as we were competing for the same territory, but if we were local rivals, then why was she at Friendly status? Shouldn't Catherine have been Hostile then? Later, I met the Iroquois on a nearby island, who had issued a public declaration of Friendship with Catherine. I thought that Catherine might pull them into the war against me, but no, Catherine chose instead to "Backstab" the Iroquois and denounced them instead. This didn't make any sense whatsoever. Furthermore, my "friends" the Iroquois came and complained to me about settling cities too aggressively:
This was pretty hilarious, because the Iroquois had a whole island to themselves and made no attempt to settle it! (See below.) What, am I supposed to just leave that area alone indefinitely? I mean, this is an empire-building game, right? And besides, if we're friends, then shouldn't he not care about that whole thing? I don't get it. Anyway, although a little more transparency is great to have, it doesn't really help if that transparency reveals that the AIs are all completely insane! Which is what seems to be the case...
I have read claims that the AI is better at combat now, but I sure didn't see any sign of it:
When Cathy declared war, she happily marched her units up to my border cities in ones and twos to get slaughtered by city fire and defensive units. It's still painful to watch the AI sail an expensive unit like that catapult right past multiple cities that can bombard and kill it while it's completely defenseless. Up by Susa, the AI sent a sword + catapult pair around the mountains and landed them next to an otherwise undefended city. "Hey, that was a pretty good play!" was my initial thought. But no — Cathy chose not to bombard Susa with the catapult despite being in range, and moved both units off into the desert, achieving absolutely nothing whatsoever. Here's another priceless picture from the war:
Copenhagen is allied with Catherine, and thus also declared war on me. I had no clue where the city state was located, before finding it with my scout. He moved onto the hill tile you see above, out of moves, with the whole Danish army next to him. Goodbye scout! ....or not, apparently. The archer bombarded my scout, doing 2 damage, and thereby blocked the four nearby pikes from attacking. Nor did the archer in the city move out to fire on my unit. Perhaps there have been some marginal tactical improvements, I don't know, but overall this whole system is still baaaaaaaaaaad. Don't get me wrong — the AI has always been poor at the tactical level in past Civilization games. However, in Civ5, the AI's complete and utter inability to make use of One Unit Per Tile turns combat into a farce. I don't even need to tell you that I killed over a dozen Russian units and lost zero of my own, same story as always. Not seeing any real difference here, sorry.
The biggest change in the patch was the reworking of libraries to remove all specialist slots. That was a massive, MASSIVE nerf to libraries and it slows down research enormously. You cannot get any Scientist specialists normally until hitting Education for universities, and then you are still restricted to only a single specialist slot, with that requiring the construction of both library and university. Even after you get universities, you can only run a single Scientist in each city, so have fun waiting 34 turns for that first Great Scientist. Because all of the other buildings that give early specialists suck and aren't worth having (gardens, workshops, etc.), Firaxis has effectively removed specialist play entirely from the early part of Civ5. I can't say I like that decision, as it strips out a very large portion of what made Civ4 interesting to play. Is it better for balance? Yes, actually; it was totally crazy how the library was so much better than all of the other science buildings, despite being the earliest and cheapest one to build. Nor was it a good thing to have mass Infinite City Sprawl (ICS) empires based around running max Scientist specialists in every city and completely ignoring the local terrain.
Still, I feel like this is an overnerf to the library. The problem wasn't the building itself; the real issues were Great Scientists being too strong (can slingshot any tech instantly?!), all the non-Scientist Great People being too weak, and local tile yields being so poor as to encourage mass specialist play. Well, Firaxis did nothing to balance the Great People or change tile yields and instead opted for a massive library nerf. It somewhat fixes the problem, as research used to run waaaaaaaay too fast even without overflow, but it cuts out all specialist play until the game is effectively half over. That's a poor solution, in my opinion. There has to be a better fix than this.
I was also profoundly confused about the expansion in this game. First of all, as I mentioned above, the Iroquois made no attempt to expand at all:
Check out that minimap. Hiawatha has this whole island to himself, and apparently he doesn't care because he's sticking with his two cities, and that's that. Catherine and I have already begun to fill up this new territory, and together we would eventually take over all of the unclaimed land, with my Persia getting the lion's share of the spoils. Perhaps this will work for a while, turtling up with a couple of cities. However, I have to think that this is a losing strategy in the long run. Why would you program an AI to act like this? Expand or die has always been the basic law of Civilization. I've seen inert AIs in many games of Civ5 now, and it continues to baffle me. (Elizabeth AI on the other continent I found in the same situation, exactly two cities and no expansion.) What's going on?
Conversely, other AI leaders expanded at a relentless pace, planting cities in the most absurd of locations:
Here are the newest additions to the Russian empire, two tundra iceball locations. Vladivostok is a pretty decent city, but I find Smolensk to be rather hard to fathom. Even though the latest patch was supposed to counter Infinite City Sprawl (ICS), now many of the AI leaders seem to be playing the game in exactly that fashion, cramming cities into every possible location at the bare minimum three-tile distance. I saw the same thing on the other continent, with Nobunaga AI also planting one-tile island cities with no resources. So now we have one AI who refuses to expand, and another AI who does nothing but expand! I am... confused.
What really kills me about this is the fact that mass city spamming is actually the correct way to play the game. Theoretically, the AI should be playing like this, because patch or no patch, getting the maximum number of cities possible remains the best overall strategy. However, that doesn't make wading through a sea of tightly packed AI cities particularly fun to play against. It's also maddening that the designers would specifically nerf the human's ability to play this ICS style, and then go out and program the AI to do exactly that. Furthermore, the AI completely ignores happiness on the higher difficulty levels, and therefore there is literally no downside to them spamming cities in every possible nook and cranny. Thus, the early stage of Civ5 now feels like a mad rush to settle the maximum number of cities possible, regardless of location, before the AIs can get to them. That's the way it was in Civ3, but Civ4 already proved that it can be done much better.
As the game proceeded into the medieval period and early renaissance, everything started to drag. My science rate was plodding along, slowly improving although vastly lower than the pre-patch rate. I built universities everywhere and stuck in the single Scientist specialists that I was allowed, for all the good that would do. Part of the problem was the inability to save up social policies for Freedom/Rationalism use, which would have helped out my science quite a bit. I was clearly still doing well overall:
Clearly I was running with the leading civs here on Immortal difficulty, and I still had plenty of space for more expansion. One of the pop-up messages had me ranked even in tech with the AI civs, everyone was within 2-3 "total techs researched" of one another. (Here's another good question: why can't I ever see what techs the other leaders have? Why do I have to rely on a random pop-up message that may or may not appear every 50 turns?!) With the AI's inability to wage war, they weren't going to conquer me, and there was no way I was going to lose to an AI by space or diplomacy. But the game just felt so... boring. There were no interesting decisions for me to make, no real tradeoffs to balance. I simply needed to keep building more cities, growing upwards, and keeping the happiness level in the green. Eventually I was guaranteed to win the game. I had three Maritime and one Cultural city state allies, and kept adding more to the fold. It was still taking 15-25 turns to build universities, markets, and such in every city, just like in the pre-patch days. On most turns, there was virtually nothing going on, even with eight workers to move and a dozen cities. I realized that I was just going through the motions here — I was much, much more interested in the radio show going on in the background than in the game itself that I was playing. So I stopped, quit to desktop, and that was that.
Overall, the patch does improve the game balance a little bit. You won't be wiping out the entire world any more with four horsemen, so kudos for that. I find the patch on the whole to be deeply unsatisfying though. It's a very reactionary patch, with nearly every measure nerfing or toning down some kind of effective player strategy. Much of it feels as though the developers are crippling the human player to make up for a very weak AI that can't handle the game. I'm not opposed to nerfs in general, but there simply has to be some kind of good reason for them. I have a very strong impression that the developers saw what the community was doing, had a "Holy crap, we weren't expecting that!" moment, and responded with across-the-board hits to combat, specialist use, social policies, and so on. Of course the real problem is the underlying design flaws, but they can't be fixed in a patch, and thus the result is this inconsistent and punitive response. As I've said on a number of occasions, I don't think the designers truly understand their own game.
So my verdict on the patch is that Civ5 is basically the same game as before. There have been some tweaks here and there, some of them quite major. But in the end, the game hasn't really changed that much. The combat AI is still stupid, the diplomacy AI is still schizophrenic, the builder portion of the game is still tedious and lifeless. I'm not sure what people are expecting Civ5 to turn into; at this point, what you see is what you get. For better or for worse, this is Civ5, and I find it to be a rather sour lemon.
* * * * * * * * * *
That's all I had to say about the patch. I'm going to finish with Civ5 by analyzing what went wrong with the base game's design, in order to explain why things were derailed so badly. I have five major issues to go through, but before that, here are some smallish gripes that I jotted down while playing:
* Barbarian units can spawn regardless of line of sight. It is maddening to move next to a barbarian camp, and have a new full-strength barb magically appear out of thin air on a tile where you had full visibility. Immersion-breaking? There's a reason why barbs could only spawn in fogged tiles in past Civ games...
* Horsemen and archers/crossbows were both nerfed in the patch to reduce their combat values against cities. Simultaneously, cities were buffed to be much stronger and heal damage much faster. In order to capture cities now, you need strong melee units or siege units. There's just one problem: strong melee units means swords/longswords, and siege units means catapults/trebuchets. All of those units require iron. What happens if you don't have iron? Currently, the answer appears to be "you are screwed", and enemy cities can only be taken with very heavy losses using non-iron units. This is not an example of good design.
* The food box graphic is still broken on the city screen, and also shows as full regardless of actual food count (see screenshots above). The whole city interface is just bad in general; it's far more difficult than it should be to swap tiles around and set up a production queue.
* The interface for diplomacy is still awful. You have to click between three different screens to see all of the information, and there are further scroll bars on each individual screen — you can only see information on three AI leaders at a time. With more than 50% of screen space not even being utilized, this is atrociously bad design.
* The default length for a trading agreement is 30 turns. That's a really long time, and there's no way to change it. (On Marathon speed, the default length is 90 turns!) It's also impossible to cancel Open Borders once they've been signed, so sorry, sucks to be you if conditions change 25 turns later and you want to remove those Open Borders. The whole system is practically begging players to declare war and invalidate these agreements, pulling lump sum gold out of the AI civs for free. By the way, you can also trade a resource for lump sum gold, pillage your own resource, and then immediately re-sell the same good again once it's re-connected, all without any kind of reputation hit or penalty. I think this all could have been handled much better.
* Research agreements are a broken game mechanic; you can get any technology in the game for a paltry 250 gold (does not increase over time, which rather breaks the lategame!) and it's possible to game the system by investing one turn of research into all of the techs you DON'T want, thereby choosing your own "random" free tech. Completely exploitative and game breaking, turning every research agreement into a free Great Scientist. Note that fixing this bug wouldn't solve the issue either, because then research agreements would deliver something extremely powerful or hopelessly weak out of sheer chance.
* Occasionally AI leaders will pop up in diplomacy simply to insult your civilization in some way. What is the reason for this? Does it serve any point whatsoever? I can't imagine that someone thought it would be fun to receive random insults like this.
* Even after several patches, the various civilizations remain totally unbalanced. Winners like Greece, France, or Babylon absolutely destroy losing civs like America or Ottomans. Other civ abilities are wildly random, like Germany and the new downloadable Spain. Perhaps you'll get a ton of warriors for free, or pull hundreds of gold out of the air for finding natural wonders. Perhaps you'll get absolutely nothing. This is textbook bad design: civs with abilities that are either crazy overpowered or completely useless, with random chance determining the outcome.
* All of the victory conditions in Civ5 are pretty badly designed, especially the new Conquest (get all the capitals!) and Diplomatic (buy the city states!) versions. The static endgame screen, still with no replays or graphs, is an embarrassment to the franchise.
* The Civilopedia and "Official Manual" remain laughable, with vague information or flat-out misdocumentation rampant, and will likely never be fixed now. It's the sort of thing you expect from an "indie" developer working on a tiny budget, and feels incredibly amateurish and sloppy in a flagship strategy game.
* Forced Steam installation. We can argue about Steam all day, and the forums have been full of the back and forth. Personally, I simply wish it were an option and not mandatory. I don't think it does much of anything to stop piracy, and I hate the fact that if Steam goes out of business, I can never play the game I purchased again. I find the downloadable content system, selling off extra civilizations one by one, to be a distasteful business model. Ugh.
5) Global Happiness: In every Civilization game, there is some kind of mechanic put in place to limit the expansion of empires. In the first three games, this mechanic was corruption, whereby every city would lose out on some production and commerce the further away they were located from the capital. The level of corruption ranged from nonexistent (in the original Civilization there was no corruption with Democracy for government, which was simultaneously overpowered and hilarious as a concept) to modest (the final patched version of Civ3) to catastrophic (in the original release version of Civ3). The whole point of corruption was that more cities would cease to be useful beyond a certain point, because they would be hopelessly corrupt. The whole concept never worked though; even if those extra cities were hopelessly "1/1" (one shield and one commerce), you were still better off founding them, and settler units were always cheap in Civ1/2/3. In the first two Civ games, the AI was feeble at expansion and it was easy to win even on the highest difficulty simply by out-expanding the AI civs. The Civ3 AI was programmed to be rapidly expansionistic, and therefore the Civ3 early game was always a mad rat race to see who could grab the most territory. Although that could be a lot of fun, the game mechanics meant that more cities was always better, without fail.
Civ4 shook up the formula by eliminating corruption and replacing it with maintenance costs. Instead of cities being free and all of their infrastructure costing money, Civ4 reversed things and made cities expensive while their buildings would be free. When cities were initially founded in Civ4, they were too weak to pay their own support costs and had to be supported by the rest of your empire. In other words, every new city was essentially an investment — you would take an initial loss, and then as the city grew over time and built its own infrastructure, it would start to turn a profit and could support other cities in turn. Thus in Civ4 more cities were still generally better for your empire, but one couldn't build them too fast or in too marginal locations, which would result in economic stagnation. The Inca team in our Pitboss #2 game was a prime example of a civ that suffered from over-expansion, building too many cities too fast without adequate defenders and suffering for it economically and militarily. This was a really good system, encouraging the placement of strong and smart city locations, while still allowing for massive lategame empires. Infinite City Sprawl (ICS) was effectively solved in Civ4.
Civ5 replaced city maintenance with global happiness as the empire limiting factor. Instead of each city having its own happiness meter, the empire as a whole shares one global rating. If that rating drops too low, then cities stop growing and eventually no more settlers can be produced. The idea was that players would have to balance vertical growth of a few highly developed cities against horizontal growth of many small cities. The developers clearly intended players to build a small handful of cities (roughly five to ten on a standard-sized map) and based the happiness mechanic around that assumption.
There's just one problem: global happiness is a complete failure at stopping expansion in Civ5. It simply does not work. Civ5 reverts back to the old system of empire management, in which more cities are always better for your empire. Remember, there are no sliders for science/gold/culture in Civ5. Science is based mostly on population, with the basic formula of 1 population point = 1 beaker/turn. Gold is also largely based on population; much of your income comes from internal trade routes between cities, which are entirely based on population (trade route formula is gold/turn = 1.25 times city population). Most of the rest of the income comes from working trade post tiles, and more population means more citizens working those trade posts. In other words, unlike Civ4 where planting additional cities will increase your costs and slow down science (at least initially), in Civ5 the exact opposite takes place. Your gold and research will go up from having more cities, regardless of the quality of the terrain involved. There is no tradeoff between expansion, warfare, and research. Expanding and warring will INCREASE your beaker count. An extra city will always be a net positive in terms of gold and research.
The only cost for extra cities is decreased happiness. And that's really no barrier at all; it's quite easy to manage happiness in Civ5 once you have some practice with the game. Before the patch, the Meritocracy social policy + Forbidden Palace wonder + colosseum would make any city happiness-neutral up to size 4, without even counting other happiness buildings or natural wonders or default difficulty bonus. After the big patch, it's slightly more difficult to keep your population happy (with Meritocracy and Forbidden Palace having their values cut in half) but only slightly. Piety's Theocracy social policy cuts unhappiness from population by 1/4, granting the player a giant happy surplus, although it requires passing up the very nice Rationalism tree to get it. The Freedom tree's happiness bonus remains unaffected though, and it was perfectly possible to play a mass ICS game before without taking any social policies at all. Trust me on this, it's not hard to manage happiness in Civ5. It doesn't stop expansion at all.
Further compounding the problem are the many bonuses that are handed out in Civ5 on a per-city basis. Maritime food is the cheap culprit, with tons of free food appearing magically in each city, but lots of social policies work on the same principle, as does France's civ trait. When a typical tile yield in Civ5 produces something like 2 food/1 shield, and you can set things up to get something like 6 food/7 shields on the center tile of each city, it doesn't take a genius to realize that spamming *LOTS* of cities is the way to go. The tile yields are just better, not to mention that every city is a net gain with essentially no consequences, and a tightly packed grid of cities produces interlocking fields of defensive fire which make it all but impossible for the AI to capture cities. Did I also mention how ICS spamming of cities saves gold from having to purchase cultural expansion onto new tiles? No need for monuments either, as you'll get all of those tiles for free by spacing cities together in a tight grid.
Global happiness was supposed to encourage small empires of large, vertical cities. Instead it does exactly the opposite, pushing players into mass spamming of tundra iceball cities. Why not? Once that spot has a colosseum, it's pure profit for your empire. The developers themselves have realized how badly they screwed the pooch on this one, backpedaling in the patch and changing the rules so that a city can't produce more happiness than its own population. If you have colosseum in a size 2 city, now it only produces +2 happiness instead of +4. This changes very little (since it's easy to grow your cities to size 4, and now you can simply cap them there to get the full benefit) while making the mechanic itself much more confusing. Unhappiness is now global, since your population always contributes to unhappiness, but the buildings that fight unhappiness work locally. Also, while a colosseum is limited in how much happiness it can provide by the local city, wonders are unaffected by this rule, as are luxury resources. Uh huh. When you need to start bending the rules like that to cover up mistakes, I'd say it's a sign of shoddy design work. Global happiness is a failed mechanic.
4) Too Many Penalties: This is a bit of a broad statement, so let me explain what I mean. The most important thing to keep in mind when designing a game is that it should be fun and engaging for the player. Sure, you can go ahead and make that "indie" game with the deep existentialist plot that investigates man's place in the universe... but if it's not fun to play, no one is going to care about it. In general, it's not a good idea to penalize players too much. When players are confronted by decisions, it's better to let them pick between different good options, rather than forcing them to choose the lesser of two evils. You could have the player pick between a sword (more damage) or a shield (more protection) but not let them have both. The key thing is to have meaningful, balanced decisions where the player chooses between several different "good" alternatives. Getting back to Civilization terms, you can have Montezuma and an army of bloodthirsty Aztec warriors, or you can have Gandhi and the path to spiritual enlightenment. Both are good options, and if a game is sufficiently entertaining, players will want to return to it again and again to experience different, alternative paths to victory. (This is pretty much the hallmark of the Civilization series.)
Penalties in an empire building game are generally something to be avoided. You want to reward players for doing well, not punish them for failing. There's a reason why the Civilization games have Golden Ages and not "Dark Ages" in them — the latter would not be fun for most players. (The Civ3 design team actually implemented a whole "Dark Ages" concept in the testing stages, and took it out of the game because it simply wasn't fun.) Worst of all are penalties that accrue to players randomly, for things that they had no control over. I'm looking at you, floodplains disease and plague from Civ3! There will be some players who enjoy that sort of thing, but most people won't find it to be very amusing. These sort of things should be avoided when designing a game. (Note that penalties are different from challenges; there's nothing wrong with having a challenging game design. The Ninja Gaiden games are extremely challenging, but they are generally not punitive in their design. You just have to be really, really good to win.)
Civ5's design suffers from way too many of these penalties, in which the player is actually hurt for doing something good. The classic example of this is road maintenance, something new to Civ5 with no precedent in the series. In past games, there was never a cost associated with building roads. It was understood that the "cost" of building a road with a settler/worker unit was an opportunity cost, because the unit in question couldn't be building a farm or mine or whatever while it was building a road. In Civ4, for example, building lots of roads early on with workers is a very weak play, because roads only increase unit movement and do not boost tile yields. Civ5's decision to penalize players for building roads is simply baffling, especially since roads are still mandatory to connect cities for trade routes. The game might as well be laughing at you: "Haha, you need this road to connect your cities, but it's gonna cost you!" This design decision alone essentially cripples any chance of Civ5 Multiplayer succeeding, because any competent online player knows that you can never have only one road link to each city. But building the necessary road network you need to be safe carries a crippling economic burden in Civ5 — the player is literally getting slammed for good play! Furthermore, Civ5's One Unit Per Tile design cries out for extensive road networks to make moving units around and positioning them easier. Instead, the design forces exactly the opposite outcome. I can't tell you how many times my units have been out of position just because I have only one road to move them along. It's incredibly frustrating! Worst of all, the designers apparently made this decision for aesthetic reasons, because they didn't like how "road spam" looked in the previous games. That's possibly the worst reasoning I've ever heard for a design decision. Here's an idea: how about you hire an artist to do better work on the tile graphics instead. And maybe fix those awful-looking Civ5 rivers while you're at it!
It's not just the roads that are at issue, however. There are penalties all throughout Civ5's design which contribute to making the game not very fun to play. Upkeep costs for buildings are another giant problem, one which shouldn't be in the game. Civ4 had the right idea in making cities cost money but the buildings inside them be free. Maybe it would be a waste to construct a barracks in a city that never trained any units, however at least you'd only lose out on opportunity cost (you could have spent that time on the barracks building something else). Those barracks wouldn't *HURT* you just because you weren't using them. Many of the buildings in Civ5 are actually worse than useless, doing virtually nothing while adding to the player's expenses. It's actually possible to cripple your empire with too much infrastructure in Civ5 if you load up on too many pointless buildings like gardens, stables, and so on. While this may be realistic in some senses, it's not at all fun and represents somewhat of a trap for newcomers. One of the secrets of high-level play in Civ5 is that you do better by *NOT* constructing most of the buildings in the game, which is surely a failure of design.
Expansion is also rife with further penalties. You want to expand your empire rapidly, because it's the only way to compete with the AI on the higher difficulties and maximize your gold, science, and production. Yet the game simultaneously penalizes you for doing so, by increasing the cost of social policies and making it all but impossible to get additional Golden Ages. It also makes it impossible to build the various national wonders in the game, with the ridiculous "must have a monument in EVERY city" requirements. This is simply the wrong way to go about Civ5's design, creating all of these penalties for expansion (which are really silly to begin with — why are you penalizing players for expanding in an empire-building game?) The correct way to implement these ideas is something along the Civ4 model: the national wonders in Civ4 (Oxford University, Heroic Epic, etc.) allow a small empire to be competitive with larger ones, but the larger empires are not prevented from building the same things entirely. It's simply impossible for a large empire to win by culture in Civ5; in Civ4, the large empire simply has few advantages over a small empire in winning by culture. Big, big difference. The right way to do this sort of design is to create subsystems in which small and large empires compete on even terms (Civ4 cultural victory). The wrong way to do this sort of design is to penalize/exclude large empires. See the difference?
I can keep going. There are too many penalties associated with capturing cities. Annexing cities carries way too many penalties, in the form of a giant unhappiness penalty and mandatory construction of an expensive courthouse improvement. Puppeting cities isn't much better. I'm not sure who thought it would be fun to turn all of the player military conquests over to AI governors, but with annexing cities so painful, that's become the norm in Civ5. The only other option is razing the city, which is equally unappealing because it means no benefit from going to war in the first place. These are all painful, unfun options to choose between. The designers have started to backpedal on this as well, reducing the cost of courthouses and making them rushable with cash payment, which is a step in the right direction. I could also go on to talk about the social policies themselves, which generally work well but can never be changed once picked. Fun stuff for newcomers, who might decide to change their mind later on and can be stuck with another "Gotcha!" moment. Fortunately there are no "bad" social policies themselves, but the system as a whole is pretty inflexible.
Anyway, you get the point. There are tons of things throughout Civ5's design that actively penalize the player for doing something good. Want to connect cities? Pay for it. Want city infrastructure? Pay for it. You want to expand your empire? Tough luck getting more Golden Ages, bub. While it's true that every game needs to have tradeoffs, these aren't ones that are fun or meaningful. They're just a pain in the ass.
3) Inscrutable and Meaningless Diplomacy: The diplomatic side of the game was completely overhauled for Civ5, and not in a good way. In the first three Civilization games, the AI would declare war on the player randomly due to periodic dice rolls. The AI was specifically programmed to gang up on the human player in Civ1/2, which was sort of a necessary cheat to make up for the weak AI in those games. Civ3's AI did not target the player in particular, instead warring rabidly with all parties over and over again. You could generally avoid conflict by giving in to AI demands, but sometimes they were simply coming for you regardless. It was never really possible to form a true friendship with any of the competing AI civs. They were always apt to stab you in the back at any point in time, no matter what your prior history had been. Reworking diplomacy to be more logical was therefore one of the major design goals for Civ4, ideally making it possible to form alliances during the game with other civs who shared common interests. Although Civ4's diplomacy had plenty of its own pitfalls and goofiness, it was actually possible to form lasting friendships with the AI through shared religion, civics, open borders, and the like. If anything, the game probably made it too easy to make friends, allowing the player to run a skeleton army and tech in peace much too often. Nevertheless, the system as a whole was a major improvement, highlighted by the inclusion of diplomatic pluses (+) and minuses (-) which revealed how and why the AIs felt the way that they did. Perhaps the system was a bit too manipulative, but at least players weren't stuck in the dark, and had the information to make intelligent decisions.
Civ5 had an entirely different design goal when it came to diplomacy. The developers specifically stated that they did not want to make diplomatic information available to the players, instead wanting the system to be full of surprise and mystery. Here's what Jon Shafer said in an E3 interview: "Our goal was to make diplomacy feel more like interacting with other players or world leaders, rather than a system to be min-maxed. No longer are diplomatic modifiers shown since this used to give away pretty much everything your computer-controlled rival nations were thinking. That's one way of doing diplomacy in a strategy game, but we wanted there to be more mystery in the interaction. Some leaders will work behind your back, and showing the numbers would either give everything away or provide a misleading sense of security." And in another interview: "One of our early goals was to improve the diplomatic experience in the game. In particular, we want there to be a sense of mystery to it, where the player doesn't know exactly what to expect from the other players".
If that was the goal, then mission achieved! The other AI leaders certainly do act in "mysterious" fashion, although in a strategy game I wouldn't exactly call that a compliment. The occasional sneak attack is a good thing, so long as it's relatively rare. When every AI leader is sneak attacking in every game — as is the case in Civ5 — then you have a genuine problem on your hands. The release version of Civ5 provided absolutely no feedback whatsoever on why the AI acted the way that it did. I remember quite a few threads on the forums where people were replaying games over and over again, trying to figure out why the AI was taking the actions that it did. Not a good sign! In my own experiences, the AI appeared to war continuously without fail in game after game. Our Deity succession game saw six different AIs declare war on us before the 0 AD calendar mark. I lost my Immortal Egypt game to an AI dogpile of war declarations, none of which provided me with any feedback whatsoever. After 150 turns of peace, suddenly all my allies hated me. I think they got mad because I razed some Arab cities, but who really knows? The game sure wasn't about to tell me. It felt like a relationship with an overbearing girlfriend: "Well, if you don't know what you did wrong, I'm certainly not telling you!"
The latest patch has added a little bit of transparency to the process, while keeping the same underlying system in place. (Note that this is essentially an abandonment of the original design goal of "surprising" the player.) As I said above, the problem is that this transparency reveals the AIs to be totally nuts. They get mad at you for expanding. They get mad at you for settling near them (or not — sometimes they say this when you aren't even remotely close!) They get mad at you when THEY settle next to YOU. They get mad at you for building wonders. They get mad at you for having a large army. They get mad at you for having a small army. They get mad at you for going to war. They get mad at you for not going to war to support them, and then they get mad at you again when you do join them in their conflicts. They get mad at you for trying to win the game, and in fact the AI is specifically programmed to dogpile the human player when he/she gets close to victory, in the old Civ1/2 bullshit manner. Wow. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
It's essentially impossible to form lasting friendships with the AI civs in Civ5. Maybe you'll pull it off sometimes, but it certainly isn't the norm, and probably had more to do with pure luck than anything else. Even more problematic than the inscrutable diplomacy is the lack of any shared interest with the AI civs. Assuming you could make friends with these AI leaders, would you even want to? Past Civilization games offered many incentives to buddy up with other empires. Tech trading was always the paramount reason, but there were other factors like map trading, resource exchanges, open borders trade income, and so on. In Civ3/Civ4 there was always the United Nations and diplomatic victory lurking at the end of the game too. Of course the UN was mostly a big joke in Civ3; still, you did have to pay at least some attention to what was going on, because the AIs would vote for the other guy if you were at war with them. Obviously the UN was a much bigger deal in Civ4, and it was very possible to lose via diplomacy if you had irritated too many other civs.
Compare the same diplomatic situation to Civ5. What can you really do diplomatically with the other AI civilizations? Tech trading was axed entirely from Civ5, removing the single biggest incentive to work together from past games. Map trading is also gone. You can still trade for Open Borders, but they no longer have any effect on trade routes, and thus have only a minor importance now in the game. The only exchange of any consequence that remains takes the form of resource trading, and indeed selling resources to the AIs for gold has become a staple of high-level Civ5 play. This has created a further problem, however, as Civ5 foolishly returns to the Civ3 model of "anything purchasable with gold per turn income", allowing players to trade 30 turns of a luxury resource for a lump sum payment and then immediately declare war to break the deal. Or you can trade 50 gold/turn for 1000 lump sum gold, and declare war to avoid paying anything. You can even sell cities to the AI for thousands of gold, then use the gold to cash-rush an instant army and retake the same cities back once more. Exploitative, much?
And tell me this: why shouldn't the player act this way? There is no incentive to work with these AIs whatsoever. They will never vote for you in the United Nations (aside from that silly "liberation" feature, after they're already dead). They are always ready to backstab you. They've been specifically programmed to attack when you are getting close to victory. You might as well treat them like dirt and exploit the hell out of the broken trading mechanics, since the AI is clearly out to get you. The whole thing is a colossal step backwards, reverting back to Civ3 or even Civ2 days. I guess that the city states are supposed to make up for this, but they are not a satisfactory substitute to me, and the whole "buy your way to magical maritime food + UN victory" play is extremely shallow and simplistic. It's been said that the AI "plays to win" in this game. Well, I don't actually think that's actually true. I think the AI is simply very poorly programmed, and acts in haphazard or random fashion. There's no functional difference between an AI who acts for reasons that can't be understood and an AI who acts due to random dice rolls. And if there's no incentive to work together with the AI, no possibility of common ground, then there's no real diplomacy at all.
2) Nonexistent Multiplayer: I had a feeling that Civ5's Multiplayer (henceforth referred to as MP) was in bad shape long before the game actually came out. The writing was on the wall: it was exceedingly clear from the developer interviews that MP was receiving very little attention. Whenever they were asked about MP, the developers would give a formulaic non-answer and quickly move on to the next topic. It was also noteworthy how none of the elite talent from the Civ3/Civ4 MP ladder community was part of the pre-release test group, in stark contrast to Friedrich Psitalon's massive input into the Civ4 testing process. Just about all of the new features advertised for Civ5 were single-player-centric in design; how exactly would city states fit into a MP ladder game, for example? Yeah, you could always turn them off, but what about the civs who had abilities based around city states? Would they be left out in the cold? During the summer months of 2010, the silence about Civ5's MP was deafening. When the first and only MP preview was released less than two weeks before Civ5 shipped, you could tell that the developers were trying hard to sell a faulty product. Go ahead and read this MP preview from back then, it's quite short. So four journalists played a game, they built a couple of cities in the desert, no one fought anyone, and then the game ended after two hours. And that was putting the BEST face possible on Civ5 MP. Yikes.
When it did release to the public, Civ5's MP turned out to be worse than anyone imagined. Not only is the game almost completely unplayable online, with drops and connection issues limiting games to a maximum of four total players, but it lacks an incredible array of basic MP features. Not only are these features dropped from their previous inclusion in Civ4, it's simply hard to imagine how a major release in 2010 could possibly be so crippled for online play. Let me run through a quick list of these issues:
- There is no online lobby or staging area for Civ5. No common area to chat with other players and set up games ahead of time. The Civilization MP ladder group (Civ Players) have set up their own Steam chat room for this function, but that's hardly the same thing, and the vast majority of players will never even be aware of its existence.
- Connection issues are at least as bad as in Civ4, if not worse (and they were bad in Civ4, let me tell you!) When players drop from an active game, they are immediately replaced with an AI and play continues. This is in contrast to Civ4, where a voting screen would pop up when anyone dropped and give the option to play on, wait for the player to return, or save the game and continue later. With drops being so common, AI takeover is a major problem.
- Because the connection issues are so bad, Civ5 games are essentially limited to a maximum of 4 total players. All of the games currently being run on the ladder are either 1 vs 1 duels, 2 vs 2 teamers, or 4 player free-for-alls. By way of contrast, the most common Civ4 MP setup was 5 vs 5 teamers. It's simply not possible to have the same number of human players in Civ5, which is really odd for a game that's five years newer than its predecessor.
- Games can only be run online through Steam; there are no Hotseat games, no Pitboss games, or Play By Email games. (All of these have been promised for the future, but none have appeared so far.) All online games must be simultaneous turns, no option for sequential turns even if players are willing to wait out the extra time needed.
- There are no turn timer options (Civ4 had four different speeds), and the MP ladder pros find the default option to be excruciatingly slow. Once a player ends their turn, he/she cannot take any further actions. You cannot queue up moves or change tiles/builds, unlike the previous online Civ games. Because of this crippling oversight, no competitive player in a MP game will ever end their turn early, and so everyone must sit around and wait out the turn timer in every turn of every game. The alternative is to get screwed over by someone who can still move their units and react while you are unable to do so.
- Note that there is no eight-second delay in Civ5 either, and unit movement rates are much increased, so be prepared for all sorts of insane double-moves of units. Have fun dealing with that Companion Cavalry that moved ten tiles across the turn split window before you could react. This is a major reason why "battles" in Civ5 turn into crazed click-fests to see who can move first. (More on this below.)
- There is no option to ping the map in Civ5, a basic feature of pretty much every online game ever, so have fun typing instructions to teammates in chat. Due to the way that Civ5's interface is designed, it's also not possible to see your teammates' research either.
- There is no city elimination option in Civ5 either. Seeing as how 95% of all MP ladder games used this option in Civ3/Civ4, you can tell how the game wasn't exactly designed with the online community in mind. Most games are decided based on points, which had a truly awful scoring system that vastly over-valued wonders and number of cities. It was tweaked in the patch and improved, fortunately, but still no city elimination option.
- Combat animations are disabled for Civ5 MP, and cannot be turned on. None of the downloadable content civs are playable either, which is fraudulent on the part of Firaxis/Steam since they specifically list "Multiplayer" on the advertisement for the Babylon, Spain, and Inca downloadable content.
- All mods are also disabled for MP, so don't think you can come up with your own scenario and try it out online...
- You cannot save Civ5 MP games. I'm not making that up, it's not possible to create manual saves in online play. Players must rely on auto-saves if they want to continue a playing session, which is ridiculous on all sorts of levels.
But you don't have to take my word for it. Here's polukaks from Civ Players describing a list of "totally game breaking stuff" common to Civ5 MP:
"1: Sometimes when you are playing a game and have 1+ open slot from leaver, a person will randomly hotjoin you. This almost always causes the game to freeze.
2: Even when the game is full, people seem to be able to hotjoin you and freeze the game.
3: Randomly, the game will "desync" or whatever, making it impossible to move units. There is no indication as to which player is causing the problem.
4: Sometimes the game will just freeze, causing a reboot for one or more players. If this happens, due to unknown reasons, no amount of steam/civ/computer restarting will allow the game to be reloaded. In fact, the frozen player wont be able to join games for about half an hour.
5: During situations where many players try to move a lot of units (i.e. clickspam), the game will literally spend minutes trying to relay the commands between players.
6: When joining a game lobby, you will sometimes see yourself as AI, being unable to select (or unselect) your leader.
7: Very VERY often, a game will have a couple of random players that never seem to be able to sync with eachother. This will often happen during a RELOAD, where a bunch of players that were all connected previously suddenly cannot join a lobby together.
8: The game randomly enters the loading screen during play for unknown reasons.
9: If someone legitimately tries to hotjoin, 90% of the time it will cause the game to freeze.
10: In the lobby, you will sometimes have players that appear ready and in sync for the host (and most others), but not ready (and maybe not even present!) for others. Launching a game in this state will generally cause a crash.
11: It is quite common to be sitting in the lobby waiting for players to join, only to have Civ 5 crash.
12: Oh and did I mention the game likes to crash in-game as well?
13: When a players join the game lobby, they will sometimes cause a slot to disappear. He will be invisible to every player in the lobby, and the host must make sure to figure out who it is and ask the person to rejoin.
14: Sometimes, during a reload, the slot of a player that is no longer in a game is "not ready" and the game cannot be launched. (Getting a temporary sub will solve this, but easily adds 10 minutes to the time it takes to get a reload going)
This is just from the top of my head! There are TONS more. And it happens a LOT. From my programming background I can easily put the blame on the combined factors of using P2P (which gives NO benefits and adds a LOT of complexity) with a generally bad multiplayer system in the game."
Even if we could leave aside all of these technical issues, the mechanics themselves in Civ5 translate very poorly to online play. Because each unit is so much more expensive than in past Civ games, losing one or two units can end the game entirely. With no double-move restrictions in place at all, along with a massive flatground defensive penalty and instant healing, games are frequently decided based on wild clicking races. It's perfectly possible to move a horseman seven tiles (across the timer window), kill a defending unit, and then insta-promote for full health again... all the while the other player's connection is lagging and unable to respond. The forums are awash with reports of players issuing commands and then waiting 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, full minutes before they were carried out. Furthermore, with tile improvements so weak and buildings so terrible, the "economy" in MP games entirely consists of city spamming up to the happiness limit and chopping forests for production. No one ever builds anything other than units. The game itself isn't fun or interesting, and compounded with the enormous technical problems, you have a complete trainwreck of a gaming experience.
The result has been a mass exodus of the Civilization ladder community from competitive MP play. I stuck a screengrab at the top of this section to demonstrate this phenomenon in action. Check out the "Days Idle" category to see just how few games are taking place. This is a picture of the Top 50 rankings for the Civ5 ladder. Counting the players offscreen in slots 40-50, the median "Days Idle" on the Civ Players ladder is 22. HALF of the Top 50 players have gone more than three weeks without playing a single game! 35 of the 50 players on the list haven't played a game in the last ten days. Counting "very active" players (a game in the past three days), we find only 8 out of 50 players on the list that qualify, a mere 16%. Civ Players also has a "Daily Results" category on their website that lists all of the games played each day. Going through those numbers, the ladder is averaging about 5-6 games played on weekdays and 7-10 games played on weekends. This past weekend (Friday + Saturday + Sunday), there were a grand total of 22 ladder games played; again, that's counting every single game played by everyone on the Civ5 MP ladder, added up together across three days. And it's the same group of 10-15 players taking part in every one of those games... Now obviously there are more games going on that aren't part of the organized ladder, but it serves as a useful barometer of the lack of interest in overall Civ5 MP.
It's truly sad how bad things have become. Civ4 had a vibrant and exciting online MP community; in the first six months after release, there were always hundreds of players in the staging lobby, and scores of games taking place. The mechanics were excellent, particularly for teamers; the one thing that held back Civ4 MP from becoming more popular was the connection problems and out of synch errors created by the poor Gamespy hosting. Three months after Civ4's release, I was playing in the first Clan Championship Cup as close to a dozen different groups vied for the overall crown in nine different events. It was a dynamic scene and a fun time. Three months after Civ5's release, there's not even enough player interest to form competing clans, and an event like the CCC can't be staged at all. Civ Players tried to hold a contest with a reward prize, and had to cancel it because there wasn't enough ladder activity. This is when the Civ5 MP community should be at its height, and instead it's a total wasteland. There's a small group of absolute diehards who continue to toil away in isolation, and the vast bulk of players have already moved on to other things.
I completely blame the design team for dropping the ball so egregiously on Civ5 MP. It's blatantly obvious that they didn't give a crap about the online side of the game, and made no attempt to put in even the most basic of MP features. If they had actually bothered to do more than the most superfluous of MP testing, they would have found a lot of ways to improve the Single Player side of the game as well. I can readily testify that Civ4's extensive MP testing caught a *LOT* of stuff that made the game better for everyone, particularly in the combat side of things. If they were going to release Civ5 MP in this poor of a state, then the designers should have just axed it entirely and tried to add it later in an expansion. What we actually have is pathetic and unacceptable.
By the way, none of the patches have touched MP yet, and we're still waiting on those promised Hotseat/Pitboss/PBEM options...
1) One Unit Per Tile: Yes, the largest change in Civ5 is ultimately its largest design flaw. This will be a controversial point, as I know a lot of people really enjoy the new combat system, but it has to be said: the One Unit Per Tile restriction is the core problem with Civ5's design. Everything is based around this restriction. Everything. It determines how city production works, it determines the pace of research, it explains why tile yields are so low. Civilization was completely rewritten from the ground up to make use of the One Unit Per Tile limit on mechanics. Luddite has written the best summary of how and why this system doesn't work, so I'm going to let him explain further before I continue:
"I believe that these problems stem directly from the decision to make Civ V a one-unit-per-tile (1UPT) game. 1UPT allows a lot of flexibility in how you arrange your army; however, it only works if your army has empty space to move in. It requires an army smaller than the map. 1UPT led to small army sizes, which led to lower production and faster science, which led to the broken economy system that this game has now. The combat in Civ V was based on Panzer General, but that doesn't work well in a Civ-style game. I tried to explain why that is in this post: (In PG, England is about 500 hexes. That's enough room for very large armies to maneuver around in (and even so, things get pretty congested when you're fighting over London). In Civ V, England is only 6 hexes! What am I supposed to do there? That's not even enough room to build a proper city! The English channel is only 4 hexes and one hex wide, so you can shoot across it with archers. Poor Italy has it worst though — only 2 hexes for the Italian peninsula! And the Mediterranean is only 1 tile wide! Now that's an Earth map, but the same sort of problems happen on any map I play. Tight spaces, bottlenecks, absolutely no room to maneuver. Civ V warfare is just a traffic jam.)
Clearly this was a decision made early on, since it's such an important part of the game. At the same time, they wanted to keep the "Civ" feel to the game, where you settle new cities, build improvements and city buildings, and go in to the city screen to adjust your citizens. Combined, this meant that they had to limit the total number of tiles in the game, and so they tried to force army sizes to be very small. A typical Civ IV army of ~50 units would be incredibly annoying to manage in the Civ V style, so they wanted to encourage armies of only 5~10 units. I hope this succession game showed how clunky warfare becomes in this game when the army sizes get large (I enjoy the early wars with small army sizes). The AI can't handle it, and the player doesn't enjoy it.
In order to do that, they had to limit production. You can see that in the decreased yields — production and food yield have been decreased compared to Civ IV, whereas the food required to grow a city was greatly increased. The early units like warriors don't take very long to build, but the cost of units quickly increases. The high upkeep costs for units, buildings, and roads factor in to this as well (see my sig: Civ V is the first Civ game that is about NOT building instead of building. Don't build troops since support is so high, don't build buildings because support is too high, don't build roads because... yada yada yada). The idea was, I think, that every new military unit would take about 10~20 turns to build, just enough to replace your losses while you continually upgraded your original army. As a result, your army size would stay almost constant throughout the game.
Also, it's worth pointing out that there's two ways of effectively decreasing production. Either decrease hammer yields while increasing costs — which they did — or to make science go faster — which they also did. The beaker cost of techs decreased, great scientists became more powerful, and research agreements were added. All of these accelerated the tech pace, giving less time to build the units/buildings for each technology, which effectively decreased production.
So now the developers are stuck with a game that has greatly reduced production values. That's fine, except for one thing — what do they do in the early game? They can't expect us to just sit around clicking "next turn" for 40 turns waiting for our worker to finish, or 100 turns for a library to finish. It's bad enough that it already takes up to 15 turns to finish that first worker. So, they had to make the early stuff a bit cheaper. You can build a warrior in ~6 turns, and you can build a horseman or a library in ~10. Even a coloseum only takes ~20. The idea was that a small city was efficient enough to produce the early game stuff in a reasonable amount of time, and as the city grew, it would produce the later stuff in the same amount of time — keeping army size constant while the cities grew and built infrastructure. There would be no massive increases in the power of a city with its size (like Civ IV had) because if a city became really powerful, it could create huge armies which would break the 1UPT system. If large cities were only modestly more powerful than small cities, the army sizes would stay small. That's pretty much what I discovered when I tried a game limited to just 3 large cities.
What the developers overlooked was that we're not limited to just a few large cities — we can build as many small cities as we want! Granted, we're limited a bit by happiness, but there's a lot of ways to solve that little problem (like keeping the city size small). And since small cities are so efficient at building the early game stuff, and large cities never become vastly more powerful, the many small cities with their trading posts (even without any multipliers) will quickly outproduce the large cities with their mines, despite their forges and workshops.
The game is in an awkward situation where large cities can't be too good because it would imbalance the middle and late game, but small cities have to be good or else the early game would be boring. And of course science is shared between all cities, so the more cities you have, the faster science goes, without any corresponding increase in city production. The result is what we've got now — a large number of small, undeveloped cities can produce a colossal amount of gold and science, which allows us to outtech even a large deity AI, while producing anything we want.
I know a lot of people will suggest balance tweaks to fix this. But I don't think this can be solved adequately without somehow addressing the issue of 1UPT at civ scale. You can't give an incentive to make large, developed cities better because that will just make that late game even faster and more unit-clogged than it is now. You can't make small, undeveloped cities weaker because than the early game will just be excruciatingly slow and boring.
So what do we have now? Thanks to 1UPT, we've got a game that tries hard to limit production because large armies break the 1UPT system. To limit production as the game goes on, large cities increase their production very slowly relative to science. This means that small cities remain competitive throughout the entire game. This, combined with the many loopholes in the happiness system, allow an empire of many small cities to massively outproduce and outtech an empire of a few large cities, so the 1UPT is broken anyway with a massive clog of advanced units, early in the game. In my opinion, this is not fixable without severe changes to the game, such as bringing back stacks or greatly increasing the minimum distance between cities."
This is such a devastatingly effective critique of Civ5's problems, I just had to use it here. Very well said, luddite! As he said, Civ5 absolutely has to limit the number of units on the map, or else they begin to clump up together and form traffic jams, getting in one another's way uselessly. When this system breaks down in the lategame, or when playing on high difficulty level, the result is the infamous "Carpet of Doom" scenario (pictured at the top of this section), with a unit on every tile and 90% of them standing around in the back completely uselessly. So the game must limit production, therefore crippling tile yields compared to Civ4 and making all units/buildings vastly more expensive than in prior versions. But this isn't fun either, because it takes forever for the player to build anything, and anyone who is not going to war is going to be bored out of their minds. It also creates the problematic dynamic between small and large cities that luddite pointed out, with small cities much too good compared to large cities. The design team is trying to fix this with patches, but they aren't having more than modest success, because these problems are inherent to the design of Civ5's One Unit Per Tile restrictions.
Of course, I also need to make the obvious and most important criticism of the One Unit Per Tile system: the AI in Civ5 has absolutely no idea how to play the game under these rules. This sort of tactical combat requires more calculations on the AI's part in order to maneuver intelligently, and the combat AI has proven to be a dismal failure at meeting this test. Killing AI units at a rate of 10:1 is routine in Civ5, and I achieved a 37:0 kill ratio on one of my succession game turnsets (against Deity AIs!) Clearly, when the AI is unable to wage wars effectively and present a credible threat to the player, it undercuts the goals that Civ5 is trying to achieve. Game reviewer Tom Chick of 1UP (the only professional reviewer who had the balls to write on release that Civ5 had significant flaws) pointed to the game's AI in naming Civ5 as his most disappointing game of 2010: "This was the most disappointing game of the year because it brought to the Civilization series a really cool new feature — tactical combat — and then utterly neglected the AI needed to make it work. From there, the game fell apart entirely. Imagine a shooter where the AI enemies can't aim their guns or a racing game where the other drivers can't steer. The other questionable decisions — watered down diplomacy, no religion, that strained policy tree — all take a back seat to the very simple fact that Civilization V simply didn't work as it was designed."
That raises a very good question: why can't the AI handle this tactical combat system better? Yes, it's more involved that past Civ games, but it's not *THAT* much more complicated. I have read innumerable apologetics for the Civ5 AI, arguing that we shouldn't expect too much from it as it strides into this bold new frontier. However, that's simply not true! AI for tactical wargames has been around for decades; I remember some hexagon map PC games based around older tabletop board games that were released back in the 1980s. This system is supposed to be based around the Panzer General games, and the first one in that series was released back in 1994. Seriously, how hard can it be to program an AI that doesn't mindlessly walk its ranged units right into entrenched defenses? I saw better AI stuff in Advance Wars for the Game Boy Advance, and I'm not even kidding about that. This isn't a good system, but that's no excuse for how poorly the design team did.
The Civilization series had to give up so many things to put the One Unit Per Tile system in place. It meant giving up the ability to stack workers, which was a staple of early play and created many interesting decisions. (Do I pair up two workers together to get one improvement done faster, or split them up to improve two different cities at once?) It took away the question of stack composition, balancing melee against mounted against siege to get the proper proportions to take down an enemy city. (What units is the enemy building and can you counter them? Do you have enough spears to prevent flanking? And so on.) Speaker has argued that combat in Civ5 is significantly less intelligent than in Civ4, because in the former game all you have to worry about is what unit to put on each tile. In the latter game, with stacking, you have to consider how many units, and in what combination, to place on each tile. Personally, I don't think that Civ5 has improved combat at all over Civ4. Anyone who believes that Civ4 combat consists of "walking all of your units together in one big invincible stack" is a fool who has never played against other humans. Try reading this page on India's defense in the Pitboss #2 game to see just how shortsighted that opinion truly is.
Civ had to give up a lot to get One Unit Per Tile, and what did it get in return? An AI that can't play its own game. Crippled production and ridiculously long build times. Traffic jams and the Carpet of Doom phenomenon. Human-controlled units that never die. It's especially hilarious how the developers have tried to "solve" these problems in the patches. Horsemen too powerful, and the AI cannot use them effectively? They get nerfed into the ground. AI doesn't understand how to use Great Generals? Their bonus gets nerfed. AI can't use Flanking bonus? Nerfed. AI can't make use of Discipline combat bonus? Nerfed. AI can't defend its cities? They get their defenses massively boosted. For all of the talk about how Civ5 was going to bring us this awesome tactical combat system, it sure looks like the patches are doing everything possible to water down or remove those very tactical elements. Yeah, let's do everything possible to cripple the human player to make up for the fact that the AI has no f-ing clue how to play this game. Gee, that sure sounds like fun, doesn't it?
The fact of the matter is that Civ5 is trying to masquerade as a tactical combat game. But it isn't a tactical combat game; the Civilization games are empire-building games, and combat has never been more than one element among many. The designers of Civ5 tried to turn the game into something that it isn't, and they ended up breaking the game in the process. We ended up with a very mediocre wargame mashed together with a subpar empire-builder. I give them credit for trying — they had good intentions, and they were going for something genuinely new. It just didn't work, and we're left with a messy game that plays rather poorly. They would have done better to rework the stacking system than create the ugly blob of units pictured above.
This is the end of Civ5 for me. I've tried the patches now, and there's nothing more to bring me back to this game. I gave it six weeks of regular play, then followed the forum discussions for another two months after that. It's not getting better, or at least not better at a rate fast enough to hold my interest further. Some people will find solace in mods, but they've never held much interest for me. Like variants, I see little point in modding a game if the base game isn't very good on its own. Why put in all that time and effort when you could simply go and play another, better game?
I have heard many people claim that Civ5 has "potential". An interesting word, potential. In my experience, when an online community starts to bandy around the word "potential" in discussing a game, it's a sure sign that the game has proven to be disappointing or underwhelming. Sure, Civ5 has tons of "potential" to become something great. But so did Civ: Colonization, and so did Spore, and so did Empire: Total War, and so did Sim City Societies, and so did Master of Orion 3, and so did all of the other mediocre strategy games that came out and crushed everyone's hopes. The timeline of a bad game always seems to follow the same pattern. The buildup to the game's release is full of excitement and anticipation, building to a fever pitch on launch day. The game comes out, and the fanbase is euphoric! For a few days, anyway. Then the stories start creeping out. Too many bugs detracting from running the game. The second game isn't nearly as interesting as the first, and the third is just plain boring. Influential, long-time community members start posting that the game lacks depth and isn't as good as past games in the series/franchise. These claims are hotly debated, and forums turn into polarized camps of "haters" and "fanboys". After a month passes and the initial excitement begins to wear off, more and more of the fanbase begins to lose interest. Some of those who initially defended the game begin to join the critics. A mantra begins among the faithful, "wait for the patch!" Patching will surely solve these issues and salvage the game. The wait for the patch becomes interminable, and more fans drift away to other games. Then finally the patch arrives, hallelujah! Only... the patch makes marginal improvements, and nearly everything remains the same. More fans drift away, and the waiting for the next patch cycle begins.
If you think I am describing Civ5's history there over the past three months, I wasn't. I was actually describing the process I watched with Spore's release in 2008. These things are cyclical though; the community always goes through the same relationship with bad games, never deviating much from this process. I've seen it at least a dozen times over the years, and Civ5 is firmly entrenched within this same cycle. As I write this, word has just come out that Jon Shafer, lead designer of Civ5, is leaving Firaxis. There are no details on his departure, and it's most likely a perfectly normal part of the business process. At the same time, Civ5 will now have to go forward without its head designer in charge of the patching process, which would seem to indicate that further changes and improvement will be minimal. Civ5 will remain a game of great "potential" — which by definition means that it was never actually very good.
I take little pleasure in watching Civ5 crash and burn. For a full decade now, from 2001-2010, the Civilization games were where I made my home in the online gaming world. I had fantastic memories, I met innumerable friends, and I came about as close to the pinnacle as a fan of the series could reach, working on-site with the developers of Civ4 during the summer of 2005. However, it seems as though the Civilization series and I are simply moving in different directions now. My vision for what the games should entail and Firaxis' vision no longer appear to be compatible. I've experienced this before in the past; in the span of just over five years from 1992-1997, Squaresoft produced a litany of some of the greatest JRPGs ever, all of which I played to death at the time. Final Fantasy II/IV, Seiken Densetsu 2, Final Fantasy V, Seiken Densetsu 3, Final Fantasy III/VI, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy VII. I'm honestly not sure how one relatively small developer could turn out so many amazing games in such a short span. But Square's ideas of game development diverged from my idea of a fun game over time. They embraced the high-budget CGI cinematic CRPG, a style of game that I detest, and began producing games that I hated: Final Fantasy X, Kingdom Hearts 2, Final Fantasy XIII, etc. Square's game were virtually all I bought in the 1990s; I haven't bought one of their games in over five years now. It is sad, but we simply moved in different directions and grew apart over the years, like grade-school friends who fell out of touch. Now the same thing is happening with myself and the Civilization series, and it's a bittersweet moment. I'll miss those games, but it's time to move on.