The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Civilization does not compress

I noticed a commenter (on my recent Geeklist for Tom’s Ludography) request “Civ in 2 hours.” [I’ve looked for that grail several times, myself], and revisited the original.

You know what? Now that I think about it, it’s a fools errand.

Civ has roughly 16 turns. Assume each turn has ~10 decisions. That’s 160 decisions. Per player. Even assuming simultaneous play, one minute for each decision pushes us to three hours (assuming a bit of book-keeping).

Now, one of the hallmarks of Civ (and other good games) is a complex, “brushy” decision tree. Lots of branches, and complicated interactions. Suppose you want to maximize your score. If your decision is “Pick some number of points, take them” then you don’t have to look ahead … you just take as many points as possible. If your decision is “Take some points, and take some currency, and population, but the total has to be less than X” and you get to invest currency (or population) and earn VP later from them … well, then you have to look ahead. These are the type of decisions (and systems) that make games interesting. Even if you don’t look too deeply and use intuition for your decisions, these things take time.

Now, that’s not to say that Civilization won’t compress. The first few turns are fairly simple. You could lose them. However, they are so simple they take almost no time, and serve as a ‘warm up’ to help new players acclimate. They also allow for “butterfly effects” as small changes can effect the game. (Ursuppe is like that, too).

But there’s a core amount of decisions in Civilization (and other large games). If you compress a file (using WinZip, or whatever) you don’t gain by compressing it again. There’s a core amount of information you can’t remove. To make it smaller, you have to actually make the basic file smaller.

Trimming to two hours means reducing the decision space. Now, plenty of games have ‘null decisions’ (or book-keeping, which doesn’t have decisions at all], and those can (and should) be stripped out. But you can’t keep everything and get it down to two hours.

In hindsight, this is obvious.

Perhaps four hours is a better goal.

The other option is to aim or two hours and just ruthlessly get rid of subsystems that don’t interest you. Nothing wrong with that either.

Update: Just to be clear, I was mainly interested in the “compression” aspect more than the Civilization side. (Note Not that I’m against Tom designing said games, but it was really just the comment that got me thinking).

Written by taogaming

July 31, 2007 at 6:19 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with , ,

10 Responses

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  1. Hmm… there’s a lot in what you. I’ve given a fair amount of thought to this issue over the past two years and I have some ideas but I think that 2 hrs is awfully tight.

    Among the sub-systems are:
    * spatial expansion/development
    * warfare
    * technology
    * economic growth
    * trade
    * empire decay/rebirth (in Civ only as disasters)

    Various games have tried doing just a couple of these:
    * Vinci — spatial expansion, decay/rebirth, warfare
    * Mare N. — spatial expansion, warfare, trade, some growth
    * OP/Phoenicia — economic growth, technology
    * TtA — technology, economic growth, warfare

    How important is the spatial expansion? How important is the decay/rebirth?

    For myself, I think the later is essential since no Civ. has ever lasted, but this raises the issue of just who the players are supposed to be representing?

    I’ve sketched out two designs: one with spatial expansion with a very small number of turns (6) and one without a map that covers a much longer period of time (3000 BC to 2000 AD in three linkable but separate 2-3 hour games, each about 17 turns, with about 250 cards!). The latter is a tough sell to publishers, so it isn’t high on my design todo list.

    tom lehmann

    July 31, 2007 at 6:56 pm

  2. Hmm… there’s a lot in what you. I’ve given a fair amount of thought to this issue over the past two years and I have some ideas but I think that 2 hrs is awfully tight.

    Among the sub-systems are:
    * spatial expansion/development
    * warfare
    * technology
    * economic growth
    * trade
    * empire decay/rebirth (in Civ only as disasters)

    Various games have tried doing just a couple of these:
    * Vinci — spatial expansion, decay/rebirth, warfare
    * Mare N. — spatial expansion, warfare, trade, some growth
    * OP/Phoenicia — economic growth, technology
    * TtA — technology, economic growth, warfare

    How important is the spatial expansion? How important is the decay/rebirth?

    For myself, I think the later is essential since no Civ. has ever lasted, but this raises the issue of just who the players are supposed to be representing?

    I’ve sketched out two designs: one with spatial expansion with a very small number of turns (6) and one without a map that covers a much longer period of time (3000 BC to 2000 AD in three linkable but separate 2-3 hour games, each about 17 turns, with about 250 cards!). The latter is a tough sell to publishers, so it isn’t high on my design todo list.

    tom lehmann

    July 31, 2007 at 6:56 pm

  3. For me, if I were designing a game, I wouldn’t start with a design goal of making Civilization into a two hour game. I’d worry about the game working first. Civilization is such a brilliant game because it so elegantly dodges all the pitfalls of these empire-building/expansion type games. American game designers seem to think in terms of using systems to model stuff so you end up with well-developed economic, technology, and/or military sub-systems, but a game that as a whole then crashes and burns because of the traditional problems that make so many of these games unfun (whack-the-leader-fests, interesting subsystems being rendered moot because inter-player diplomacy always trumps them, runaway leaders, fall-behind losers, and an impetus to inaction because conflict benefits the uninvolved). This may be how history really works, but who wants to end up playing the Samnites when their opponent has the Romans? This is why games like Antike, Twilight Imperium, and Struggle of Empires are not better than Risk to my mind. They boil down to the same game ultimately – the only decisions that really truly matter are the ones about who decides to beat up on whom and when – but I can teach Risk in 5 minutes and play it in 60-90.

    So for any would-be designers out there, that’s my message. Civilization is great not because it’s a Civilization-building game, but because Tresham seems to have explicitly chosen *not* to try to model things in order to make the game work, but still managed to make the theme cohere.

    Chris Farrell

    July 31, 2007 at 7:33 pm

  4. Well, I certainly agree with Chris that making games work in the face of meta-diplomacy is important (though, there are gamers who *like* this; some of the AmeriTrash fans are quite vocal about this and, certainly, Twilight Imperium far outsold Throneworld, which was my attempt to do a conquest game that wasn’t just about meta-diplomacy).

    However, Civilization is only partly successful in avoiding meta-diplomacy issues: I’ve certainly seen military gang-up, and, more typically, trading boycotts against a (perceived) leader in many, if not most, Civ games.

    And I do agree that there are lots of games with good sub-systems that don’t work as *games*, due to meta-diplomacy or endgame effects or kingmaking, etc. For example, Web and Starship has very good subsystems but completely breaks down due to endgame effects, IMO.

    I think these are issues that the designer needs to consider during development, along with: is the game robust in the face of different play styles; is there a run-away leader effect; is the level of luck appropriate to the length of the game; are the mechanisms too repetitive; does the game outstay its welcome; is there enough player interaction; do frustration points exist; how steep is the learning curve; does the game come to a climax, etc.

    But, to conclude from this that designers shouldn’t concern themselves with what aspects they want to include in a historical game and possible ways to handle them seems a bit like throwing out the baby with the bathwater!

    (And, having listened to Tresham and playtested Dutch Revolution a decade ago with him, Francis does try to model various historical aspects of a situation with various mechanisms. I certainly wouldn’t describe him as a “simulationist”; I’m amazed at times at how he’ll abstract away or use oddball mechanisms to get the effects he’s looking for (look at how he handles ship movement in his Columbus game). But, he is certainly trying to achieve certain historical effects in his games…)

    tom lehmann

    July 31, 2007 at 10:23 pm

  5. Several thoughts:

    Vinci does have a limited technology mechanism, with the tiles each civ gets.

    One of the bigger headaches for any Civ game is definitely what to include. Since the genre embraces so many different elements it also means people get different things out of it. You can almost tie it directly to the sub-systems, but it’s also the interaction between those sub-systems that draws attention. How does expansion effects economic growth, which enables the acquiring of technology, which improves the civ’s military, which causes the growth and decline of civs, and so on. If they interact in non-intuitive ways it can make for a less than engaging game.

    The trade sub-system always felt the most tacked on in most Civ games. Trade can be integral to the games as they are designed, it just doesn’t make my list of things that needs to be in a Civ game. It’s probably why I really disliked Mare Nostrum.

    The latest (computer) Civ IV expansion is quite impressive, both for its variety (they have a MOO style mod, a WW II mod, etc.) and the improvements made to some of the weaker elements. I’ve played full games of Civ IV in a couple of hours. It’s amazing how quick you can zip through turns when you are doing a culture win.

    frunk

    August 1, 2007 at 12:56 am

  6. Several thoughts:

    Vinci does have a limited technology mechanism, with the tiles each civ gets.

    One of the bigger headaches for any Civ game is definitely what to include. Since the genre embraces so many different elements it also means people get different things out of it. You can almost tie it directly to the sub-systems, but it’s also the interaction between those sub-systems that draws attention. How does expansion effects economic growth, which enables the acquiring of technology, which improves the civ’s military, which causes the growth and decline of civs, and so on. If they interact in non-intuitive ways it can make for a less than engaging game.

    The trade sub-system always felt the most tacked on in most Civ games. Trade can be integral to the games as they are designed, it just doesn’t make my list of things that needs to be in a Civ game. It’s probably why I really disliked Mare Nostrum.

    The latest (computer) Civ IV expansion is quite impressive, both for its variety (they have a MOO style mod, a WW II mod, etc.) and the improvements made to some of the weaker elements. I’ve played full games of Civ IV in a couple of hours. It’s amazing how quick you can zip through turns when you are doing a culture win.

    frunk

    August 1, 2007 at 12:56 am

  7. I have not played the Civilization board game but I am a big fan of the theme and have played the Sid Meier computer game tons of times. I think there are fascinating decisions just in the beginning of the computer game, during the expansion period. Do I focus on exploring? Expanding? What resources can I acquire? Do I build near that stone so I can build a cheap early wonder or near the copper for military units? Do I research the necessary techs to find horses or iron quickly? Do I try to get coastline access? Do I try to be the first to found a religion? What to build–libraries, granaries, temples, walls, wonders?

    I’d love a game that had those type of decisions and played in a reasonable amount of time (2-4 hours). I don’t think you need a free-for-all trading round or a highly detailed combat system.

    I have high hopes for Through the Ages.

    frunk: Wow you are a fast Civ IV player. I think it usually takes me 6 hrs or so on a small or standard map. Do you automate lots of things? I always try and optimize what the workers are doing.

    Clay B

    August 1, 2007 at 11:15 am

  8. I have not played the Civilization board game but I am a big fan of the theme and have played the Sid Meier computer game tons of times. I think there are fascinating decisions just in the beginning of the computer game, during the expansion period. Do I focus on exploring? Expanding? What resources can I acquire? Do I build near that stone so I can build a cheap early wonder or near the copper for military units? Do I research the necessary techs to find horses or iron quickly? Do I try to get coastline access? Do I try to be the first to found a religion? What to build–libraries, granaries, temples, walls, wonders?

    I’d love a game that had those type of decisions and played in a reasonable amount of time (2-4 hours). I don’t think you need a free-for-all trading round or a highly detailed combat system.

    I have high hopes for Through the Ages.

    frunk: Wow you are a fast Civ IV player. I think it usually takes me 6 hrs or so on a small or standard map. Do you automate lots of things? I always try and optimize what the workers are doing.

    Clay B

    August 1, 2007 at 11:15 am

  9. frunk: Wow you are a fast Civ IV player. I think it usually takes me 6 hrs or so on a small or standard map. Do you automate lots of things? I always try and optimize what the workers are doing.

    I get tired of micromanaging a lot of units. For the first 50 turns or so I’ll move the workers/scouts by hand. After that I automate them except for occasionally redirecting one to something important.

    The culture win goes particularly quick because you can ignore expansion once you establish your three culture cities and any support. Any other type of win takes quite a bit longer (in the 4-6 hour range).

    frunk

    August 1, 2007 at 11:52 am

  10. Brian, do you mean “NOT that you’re against Tom designing said games” ?

    simon j

    August 3, 2007 at 10:44 am


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