Sid Meier's Civilization IV

Sid Meier’s Civilization IV

A propos of nothing at all to do with this blog, here’s my version of the computer game, Civilization IV. I’ve subverted its goal though: not to build the “best” empire, but to be as uncivilised or anarchic as possible. This may suggest how to survive the worst aspects of empire, such as power, slavery, poverty, disease and so on. Of course this is just a game and its rules don’t reflect the real world, or even this society’s interpretation of it, so the exercise is simplistic.

The first over-simplification is the picking of a country to play, the assumption being that countries, or states, are the only logical starting point for humanity beyond tribalism. Still, this makes it clear that expansive or aggressive states are a big threat and the only apparent counter to them is hostility. Try reading a book or saying a prayer in the face of a steel blade.

So, it’s gratifying that Mongolia and Genghis Khan (as leader, so not very anarchist) are a logical choice for aggression, with expansion for good measure. We’re not trying to be expansive, quite the reverse: we just want to survive the expansion of others. Fight fire with fire, and offence is the best form of defence, and so on.

Although culture may be an artefact of civilisation, the game rules force one into adopting it. There’s a weird correlation between it and how far from a city one can access resources, which is certainly not real. One would almost imagine that culture really equates to territory or land base.

No matter how barbarian we want to be, resources within a territory are vital. We starve and can’t make weapons for our defence otherwise. In game terms resources, and hence culture, are crucial.

The odd obelisk and library help here but far better is to plump for Genghis’ grandson, Kublai, as leader instead. He generates culture in each city, and I suppose that is one desirable by-product of society. (You could also argue for science despite its unfortunate role in subjecting citizens to control and subordination.)

So, Kublai Kahn gives much better access to resources, essential of which for Mongolia is the horse. Without horses the Mongolians can’t build keshiks, their specialist military unit and a huge advantage at the beginning of the game. Don’t forget: we’ve decided that fighting is our best route to success. So, we need to throw away any games where horses are not available.

More generally we must still place cities in resource-rich locations. This implies a degree of luck in the game’s starting conditions but that’s always so. Indeed, it also reflects the role that luck played in blessing early civilisations with a head start over their neighbours. Our anarchists will require good fortune to stay independent.

The need for horses gives a clear technological strategy too. Hunting (a given for the Mongols), archery, husbandry and riding are a must. Of these, archery is always good for defence anyway and paves the way for longbowmen; with two promotions they provide the strongest city defence for a good stretch of the game. Mining, bronze and iron working, with associated resources, will be necessary for other armed units. Fishing and sailing too to defend our seas.

To exploit resources we’ll need the calendar and agriculture. It is odd though that the latter needs to be invented after the founding of cities: it was demonstrably the other way round. Also odd that we need monarchy to develop wineries if grapes happen to be on our patch. Another useful early technology is meditation, which leads to monasteries with their cultural boost.

Cities should generally build troops but for this reason barracks are obviously a good choice as an improvement. They give new troops extra experience, which is good for an automatic promotion. Otherwise, improvements should be at an ideological minimum, except the aforementioned libraries will allow scientists and hence more military technology.

Of course gold is also handy for research, which should be kept high. This is a good spot at which to note that many military units can drain the treasury and here’s the essence of the campaign: these units must expect to die regularly in harrying neighbouring civilisations. Beware war weariness though: there will have to be intervals of peace.

Under our strategy granaries will be an early option but they seem to be ineffective. Later, when cities have grown, the extra health delivered by them may come in. Walls are a military defence but only for front-line cities; if we’ve reached the stage of needing them elsewhere, we’ve probably lost already. One or two workers are always a good idea but what about settlers?

The strategic placement of new cities could stop others’ expansion. Sheer population pressure may also force the odd settler and, of course, the need for resources.

The next post will expand on that and much else.

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