New Game Weekend: Civilization & Advanced Civilization

CivAdvCivBoxesEarlier in the week I posted about the elegantly quick board game Eight-Minute Empire: Legends I first had a chance to play last weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. After a brief, engaging 20 minutes with Legends, I joined four other players in another game that was also new to me and a completely different experience — Advanced Civilization.

CivMapCivilization game board with Western expansion map to the left

Civilization by UK game designer Francis Tresham was published by Avalon Hill in 1981 and introduced a number of now-standard gaming elements found in many board and video games today. Ten years later, Advanced Civilization offered some refinements, additions and simplifications to the game. Playing with 2-8 players and running to 8, 10, 12 or more rivetingly-complex hours, Civilization has become one of the signature games of the past 40 years.

CivASTAdvanced Civilization’s innovative  Archaeological Succession Table (AST)

At its core, Civilization is an area control game played in the Mediterranean region in an 8000-year period spanning the Stone Age through the Iron Age. Each player picks a civilization and places a single population marker in a territory in their color-coded beginning edge of the board. Territories each support varying numbers of population, indicated in each area. Population doubles each turn, so one marker grows to two. If the space cannot sustain more than the noted number of population markers, players must move and expand their population to new territories or “starve” population down to the maximum load for the territory. A population census grid on the Archaeology Succession Track (AST) notes population growth of each civilization and determines the order of play the following turn.

Moving six population markers to a space with a black square allows the settlement of a city, and twelve may settle a city in a blank space. Establishing cities allows the harvesting of goods the likes of Hides & Ochre, Salt & Timber or Gems & Dye. Drawn in turn order, the stacks of commodities cards also hide calamity cards which have adverse effect on a civilization through such things as Famine, Civil War, Flood or Volcano. Each round includes trading where players must keep certain untradeable calamities while trading away certain goods and other calamities in the quest to collect sets of cards which may then be turned into technologies. The technologies build upon each other through the building of a Technology Tree (“Tech Tree”) which advances with additional abilities and protections for the civilization. Simple beginning  technologies like Pottery, Mythology and Music aid early societies but lose importance over time. Philosophy, Democracy, Law, Trade Empire, Advanced Military and Golden Age technologies score the greatest points and advance a society through the  Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages to eventual victory.

IMG_2859Advanced Civilization at Metropolitan Wargamers

The AST and Tech Tree become the major machines in propelling the game forward, and evolutions of these elements have been incorporated into countless board and video games since their introduction with Civilization. These two innovations make Civilization and other subsequent games like Clash of Cultures focused more largely on elements of managing resources and cultural advancement than traditional combat-focused area control games like Risk. Resource management and building based on collection of resources shows up in so many games, prominently so in the widely-popular  Settlers of Catan. Somewhat controversially, the video and board game versions of the Sid Meir’s Civilization franchise owes a great deal both in its mechanics to the Avalon Hill game which preceded it in theme and name.

Civilization is incredibly compelling and eerily historic in how it plays and forces the hand of history. Players who begin with small civilizations are forced into territorial expansion through population growth or risk starvation of their people. Once cities thrive, feeding those cities becomes another concern and reason for more expansion. Soon, players find themselves in a loop where development begets expansion begets development. Isolated societies have to begin moving farther afield over land of through developing shipbuilding and sailing technologies. Resources become important to build technologies to further enhance and protect their civilization. By building more cities, more valuable goods are obtained and more advanced technologies may be developed. With all players expanding their societies by mid-game, civilizations eventually must compete for room in the region. War becomes somewhat inevitable, but diplomacy and mutual-beneficial trade also gain special importance as the game moves on and civilization begin to settle into specific paths to winning the game.

Of the hundreds of games I’ve played, I now understand why Civilization holds a special place in the hearts of gamers. Committing to hours upon hours of play becomes a game mechanic unto itself as players of Civilization must maintain focused attention on mentally-exhausting detail. Yes, Civilization is a game, but a marvelously intriguing one to play in the context of our own world where population, space, resources and technologies play out with increasingly dire importance as human civilization marches toward our own eventual historical endgame.

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New Game Weekend: Canterbury

CanterburyBox

This past week I arrived home from work one evening to find a package in the mail containing the first game I’ve received from backing a Kickstarter campaign. Canterbury from Quixotic Games was successfully funded at just over $58,000, a relatively small game when compared to recent runaway Kickstarter hits like Zombicide: Season 2 at $2.2 million, All Quite On The Martian Front with just over $300,000 in funding and the current it-game Mars Attacks which looks to be cruising to a finish over a half-million dollars.

As promised in the steady stream of updates from the game makers, Canterbury is an exceedingly well-manufactured board game with tons of sturdy cardboard playing pieces and typical colorful wooden markers. The game presents a board containing 25 districts, each with six building lots. Each lot contains spaces to indicate water, food, religion, defense, commerce, and culture services which are provided as players build out the board.

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Beginning with a simple well providing water to the central district, players take turns performing one of three actions. A full build action allows 1-2 buildings to be constructed, depending on size and moneies available. Levying taxes gains a full monetrary collection based on the current economic strength of the entire kingdom, and a player using a levy play must perform on full build of 1-2 structures on their following turn. A third option allows a player to collect half the avilable taxes and build a single structure.

Building and placing structures provide services to the board. A small, single-lot building gives that distruct the available service while a medium-sized two-lot building provides the service to that district plus the districts surrounding at right angles. The five largest structures are built at a high cost, cover four building lots and provide their service to the local district plus any five other districts on the board. Planning comes into play as buildings may only be built when previous services are available in a district. For example, religious structures may only be placed when the prerequisite water and food services are already present in the district. Previously-constructed buildings may be demolished to upgrade existing services or expand on already-provided services.

There are lots of points to keep track of in Canterbury, adding up to many strategies toward winning at the game’s end. Erecting a structure gains points for the player as well as the kingdom, and players receive bonus points when breaking ground and building in empty districts. Once the kingdom passes the 100-point mark, players score “district favor” points based on the prominence of providing services to each district. Providing services also moves each player up an additional scoring track with those points scored at the end of the game. Points are again counted at the 200-point mark. Once the kingdom’s wealth takes three laps around the edge of the board to 300 points, the game ends with a final tally of points.

CanterburyGame

The game is a bit lighter and faster than other civilization-building games I’ve played like Settlers of Catan, Civilization, Clash of Cultures and Village. That said, even with the brisk pace of the game, there’s a lot of strategy to be had. Players must always balance their own plays for points with the riches and services they are providing the kingdom (and other players) as a whole. Racing to provide services, build structures and gain an early lead on district favor points looked to be the key path to victory in the first game I played with my sons. Collecting and spending money at a balanced rate was also important since sitting on a pile of coins at the end of the game doesn’t provide much in the way of points.

Like any civilization-building game, Canterbury strikes a great balance of real-world competitive and collaborative construction play. My older son thought injecting the game with random events like floods or droughts might spice up the straightforward play a bit, but overall the three of us really liked the quick, well-structured play and progressive organization on the board. As a Kickstarter supporter, I’m really pleased with the results of Canterbury and I’m glad to have been there to see the kingdom’s development from that lone well in the wilderness.

New Game Weekend: Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game

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Unlike myself, electronic games have been a constant presence with both my sons since they were born. Now aged 8 and 13, my boys have graduated up through a host of platforms and games with the Leapster, DS, PS2, Wii, PS3, online through sites like Steam and on the iPhone. Over the past year, their obsessive play over Minecraft has been gradually replaced with scores of hours logged with the wildy-popular Civilization V.

Developed more than 20 years ago by Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley, the Civilization franchise has evolved from a PC-only DOS game to occupy a variety of gaming platforms. The turn-based civilization-building mechanic and historical theme sets up an incredibly-engaging and educational universe for players to plan and play out a nearly-endless variety of paths in human advancement from the ancient era to the near future. The latest iteration, Civilization V, broke on the scene in 2010 with two expansions since. Worldwide, the game has sold millions of copies and has continuously won accolades from a couple generations gaming critics and devoted fans alike.

Even though my kids are devoted electronic gamers, they’ve also been raised with a healthy love for card, board and miniatures gaming. So, when my 8-year-old caught wind last week that a boardgame version of Civilization existed, I leapt at the chance to introduce the boys to the game. I’ve played a number of civilization-building games such as Clash of Cultures but hadn’t yet played Civilization.

Now published by Fantasy Flight Games, Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game has been around since 2002 and can be found at your local Barnes and Noble for $60 or cheaper online. Like many games of this type, the box comes stuffed with hundreds of components plus more than 300 cards. Geared for 2-4 players ages 14 and up, Civilization takes 3+ hours to play. Fortunately, my boys have been exposed to enough games, both online and on the tabletop, that they’ve been able to quickly pick up on the basic play and strategy Civilization offers.

CivContentsCivilization involves a march toward victory in one of four ways: Economic, Military, Cultural or Technological. Players begin by selecting a civilization such as the Americans, Egyptians, Romans or Russians. Each starting civilization carries its own strengths in play, making this first choice an important one in setting your strategy for the game. Based on the number of players, a map of hidden tiles is laid out and the market area is set up to the side of the board.

After set-up, the game progresses through a series of turns. In the Start Turn, a player may build a city or change their government type – an important choice which can greatly affect the path of a player’s civilization. Next, the Trade Phase allows a player to reap trade points from the areas around their cities and offer trades in resources with other players.

In the City Management Phase, the player may build units or buildings, harvest resources or focus on developing their culture. Building units – Scouts or Armies – allows the player to explore and conquer areas of the board. Constructing buildings such as Markets, Temples or Baracks allows a variety of bonuses to your civilization. At a higher price, Wonders like The Oracle, The Hanging Gardens or Angkor Wat may be built. Finally, a player may pay to build their military prowess through a progression from simple archers and pikemen to tanks and aircraft. Aside from building, a player may harvest resources such as silk, iron, incense or wheat to be later spent to activate certain technologies already researched. A player may also choose to focus on culture, with gained cultural points moving the player up the culture track while also earning special cultural event cards played to change different courses of the game’s play.

Next, in the Movement Phase a players may move their Scouts and/or Armies to explore, claim new territory or engage in combat with a barbarian village or another player. In the final Research Phase, players may spend their earned trade points to develop new technologies. The game’s “technology pyramid” is built progressively by each player as they grow from simple technologies such as Metalurgy and Horseback Riding toward higher level advancements all the way up to Flight and Nuclear Energy.

The play adavances through the above turns until a player arrives at a victory condition. Cultural victory is earned by completing progress on the culture track. A military victory is won by conquering an opponent’s capital city. Earning a technological win is done by completing the technology pyramid all the way up to Space Flight. Finally, an economic outcome is reached by collecting 15 gold coins earned through various actions your civilization makes throughout the game.

To summarize the game in a couple paragraphs is hard, as the variation of play in the game is boundless. This weekend, my younger son and I played through our first quick starter game on an eight-tile two player-map (pic below). Despite over twenty pages or rules and scores of playing pieces to manage, he picked up the game really fast. Along the way, there’s a ton of reading I’m certain is not covered in the general elementary curriculum with stops along the way to have side conversations on the meanings of words such as “despotism” and “anarchy.” At his age, my son’s memory is quite amazing and our discussions of the finer points of the rules has continued even away from the game table.

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In our second game (pic below), three of us played on a larger map. My older son, a pretty experienced gamer at this point, blew threw a ten minute intro to the rules and played as the Prussians with an aggressively militaristic strategy I’ve grown used to over the years. Using the Egyptians, my younger son focused on culture and building construction. For my own strategy, I played as the Romans with a healthy mix of the military and cultural expansionism for which their empire was known.

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For parents and critics of them who decry the falling attention spans of today’s kids, weekends like this past one show how with a bit of parental creativity all the stereotypes simply fall away. A game like Civilization — both online and off — offers so many opportunities to build vocabulary, learn history and develop some complex multi-layered management skills I see sorely lacking in many of the adults I encounter. Over hours of focused play, not only are my sons and I developing our civilizations but we’re also developing each other — an investment in time together well-spent.

New Game Weekend: Innovation

Humans at one of our most basic levels are builders, and gaming offers a wide variety of opportunities to experience the push of civilization building over time. It’s no surprise then that one of the big genres a lot of board, card and even video games fall into is civilization development. The combination of historical facts and the linear nature of societal advancement through the ages lends the subject to a wide variety of games. Gamers return again and again to the chance to play out the evolution of technology, philosophy, warfare, religion, agriculture and art. Sid Meir’s Civilization, Small World, Settlers of Catan, Clash of Cultures and Tzolk’in are just a few of the games I’ve played that fall into this broad category, both historically-based or set in a fantasy realm.

This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers, a few of us played through Innovation, the 2010 award-winning card game from Asmadi Games. Retailing at $20, the game consists of 105 unique and text-heavy cards played against a simple set of rules but with a lot complexity in keeping track of your own civilization’s innovation track.

Like most civilization building games, Innovation proceeds along a linear timeline from the Stone Age to the Modern Era. After starting with four cards laid out in front of them, each player chooses two actions in each turn: Draw, Meld, Dogma or Achieve. Cards are drawn from chronological eras numbered 1-10 with cards depicting progressively-advanced innovations. A meld action allows a player to play a like-colored card on top of a card already laid out in front of them. Melded cards supercede the innovation on the cards previously played underneath.

The dogma action is where the meat of the game takes place. Each dogma allows a variety of single or multiple actions that can affect not just the one player but other players displaying equal or greater numbers of symbols such as crowns, factories, lightbulbs, castles, leaves, etc. Dogma actions can result in additional drawn or discarded cards, taking cards from other players or fanning the pile of cards to the right, left, up or down.  As cards are collected and scored, players can take an achieve action to score a level of era achievement for their civilization. Some dogma actions allow a combination of cards to be used to score special achievment cards such as Monument, Empire or Wonder. The first player with five achievements wins the game.

As with most civilization development games, Innovation involves a lot of balance between charting your own progress while keeping an eye on the advancement of other players. Certain dogmas are extremely valuable in moving your civilization forward, but they may also assist the other players, too. This combination of collaborative and competitive play allows Innovation to mirror the arc of human societal development as the ebb and flow of alliances and strength can shift from turn to turn.

Innovation is deceptively easy out of the box, and it’s only through a play through a game or two that the true complexity is felt. Unlike other civilization games which can often  involve managing hundreds of pieces, charts and cards, Innovation’s simple card mechanic is one of its strongest points. The devleopment of human civilization has been a complex road for sure, but with Innovation the road doesn’t get bogged down in a big box of stuff and all the strategy you need is right there in the cards.

New Game Weekend: Clash of Cultures

Once again, a few hours this weekend at the Metropolitan Wargamers brought me an introduction to yet another fantastically-addictive board game: Clash of Cultures.

Released just last year by Z-Man Games, Clash of Cultures (aka COC) is a civilization-building endevour where each player seeks to exert their expanding cultural influence and ultimately vies for control of the imagined world of the game. If you melded Risk, Settlers of Catan and Sid Meir’s Civilization into one game and then multiplied that times ten, you’d have something like COC.

Play begins on hexagon terrain board with much of the territory hidden and open to exploration and expansion. Each player chooses three “actions” within their turn such as exploring, developing cities, reaping resources from the land, building armies or navies and expanding their culture. You can choose to increase the happiness of your cities or exploit the citizens, with each decision bringing plusses and minuses to the results. Cultural advances in areas such as Agriculture, Warfare, Spirituality, Economics and Science provide limitless variation in how each player chooses to develop their civilization. Different Government focus – Democracy, Autocracy or Theocracy – limits and expands your ability to develop the game world in different ways. “Event” cards insert random famines, bounties, natural disasters and other far-reaching events into the game, while “Wonder” cards provide players the opportunity to focus their resources on building architectural masterpieces while scoring big points. In the end, it is points earned through expansion, building and completing “Objective” cards that wins the game.

This isn’t a casual game, and a significant commitment to a play time of a minimum of an hour per player is required. My three-player game this weekend stretched to 4+ hours, and a week ago I sat in on the end of a four-player game that had run to 5-6 hours. With hundreds of plastic miniatures, cards, resource chips and cultural advances combined with quick shifts in dominance, the game moves remarkably fast but is at the same time administratively challenging.

In the game this weekend, I chose to focus on a massive defensive military build-up (those are my red soldiers filling the center of the board in the photo above).  Another player sank all his resources into building monumental wonders like the Great Pyramids and Great Gardens. The third player held half the territory while likewise building his armies and exploring coastal areas at the edge of the board. In the end, I acted too late with my superior military might and watched as several cities fell into the control of the third player who snuck through the middle in the final turns for a win.

At its heart, it’s the variety that’s making COC so wildly popular at the club in Brooklyn right now. Each game provides an opportunity to try out a different strategy and to see how each new culture clash plays out anew.