Civilization IV is the game addiction of choice right now. I know how this goes… every evening, Stick and I load our LAN game and swear that this time, we’ll save and go to bed at a decent hour. And every night, I stumble into bed, glassy-eyed and exhausted, dreaming of ways to conquer the world in just one more turn. After much careful consideration, I can say with total confidence that Montezuma’s always starting trouble.
I say that we’ve been playing multiplayer, but I don’t think that’s completely accurate. I think we’re playing two entirely different games that just happen to look similar. Let’s start with the fact that Stick likes to sing the Civilization themesong… which doesn’t have words. I don’t even turn on the sound. It’s not that I don’t like the song, I just don’t care too much for in-game sound effects. I played the game for months before we happened to play a hotseat game on his PC, and I learned that the units speak in their native languages on activation. The Chinese units (usually mine) say “What do you want?” and the Romans (usually Stick’s) say “What are your orders?”
Stick will occasionally ask me if I’ve developed gunpowder or artillery yet. I don’t know why he does this, the answer is always negative.
Stick likes to build up a huge organized army and take over other cities. This seems like a good way to play a strategy game. And Civ 4 has arranged a sort of rock-paper-scissors system of military units. Pikemen have an attack bonus against mounted troupes, mounts defeat catapults, catapults do serious stack damage to your force of pikemen. There’s also a whole set of experience skills available; extra damage, faster healing, better defense. Or I think that’s how it works… I don’t actually build military units.
I know it sounds a little wonky, admitting that I don’t like to build military units but I do like to conquer the world. Fortunately, Sid Meiers agrees with me. There’s a whole cultural victory condition, based on creating such a happy and artistic society that the whole world envies you.
With bribery, clever alliances and defensive pacts with my more warlike neighbours, I’ve been able to win without ever engaging in battle. I usually control resources, arranging blockades or favorable trading relations instead of attacking. I try to use my soft power to convince the belligerent Shaka Zulu and Tokagawa to spend their aggressive energies on each other, leaving me and my amazing cultural improvements alone.
Sometimes I play like England, trying to colonize the globe, but a freakishly successful British empire, watching cities around me revolt to join my glorious empire. And it is glorious, too, since I didn’t spend any time or resources on building a military. Instead, I look with pride at my Parthenon, my National Epic, my Sistine Chapel, my Spiral Minaret, my Broadway, etc. They’re usually in cities defended by a single low-experience warrior, but don’t tell Stick that, ok?
In theory, there are victory conditions based on having the highest population or the greatest percentage of the world controlled by your civilization. I can never seem to make those work out. As soon as my population increases, they’re all moaning about how crowded Beijing is becoming these days, and how they want an aqueduct, and that’s hardly making more productive citizens!
There’s another method of winning the game, if not actually conquering the globe. I started playing Civ against my friend Eric when Civ2 was new, and I don’t think we’ve had a game without him utterly destroying us all in the space race. One moment I’m looking at Eric’s wee empire, thinking about how this time, I’ll finally defeat him, and the next, Eric’s landed on the moon. But I’d rather lose to Eric than that Montezuma AI.
Because Montezuma’s a jerk.