Civilization Series: Slayer of Productivity

The school year is winding down for yours portly, but before the clock stops and summer begins, there’s a flurry of last-minute activity.  This week is exam review week, which means an odd mixture of light and easy classes alongside frantic preparations for exams.  For students, it’s studying for the exams that has them stressed; for teachers, it’s putting the exams and their related review guides together.

In college, exam week was the time of the semester I squeezed in the most gaming.  Paradoxically, it was when I had the most free time.  I’d spend a few hours over the course of the week reviewing notes for history exams, or memorizing the singing exercise for my Jazz Theory final, but would spend the rest of that unstructured time diving into games, notably The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

Now I have far more responsibilities, but exam week still offers some unstructured time to get things done (most importantly, grading all of those exams!).  Unfortunately, I picked this weekend to dive back into Civilization VI, specifically the vanilla version on my Nintendo Switch Lite.

I wrote awhile ago about Civilization Revolution, the super simplified Nintendo DS version of the game, and how addictive it was to play, even with its rudimentary elements.  Civilization VI—even the vanilla version, without all the awesome expansions (which I have and enjoy on the PC)—is like that game, but a hundred times more absorbing.

The Civilization series of games are notorious for their addictive, “just-one-more-turn” style.  Any fan of the series can regale you with tales of irresponsibly late-night gaming sessions, ones that risked their jobs, their marriages, maybe even their lives (okay, I don’t know about that last one, but some gamers have died from playing games for too long).  A decade ago, I was very bad about starting a game of Civilization (I think it was Civ IV back then) around 9 PM, promising to play for “just an hour or two” before bed, only to find it was suddenly 2 AM and I had to be awake in four hours.

Creeping into middle age has cured me of that folly—mostly.  Getting in bed by 9:30 or 10 PM is more important than trying to beat Egypt to building the Pyramids (it also helps that Civilization VI includes a real-world clock in-game, so I always have a visual reminder of my irresponsibility).  Nevertheless, I spent a good chunk of Sunday playing a game of Civilization VI on my Switch, time I should have spent blogging and finishing up exams and review guides.  Gulp!

So what makes these games so alluring, they destroy all productivity in their wake?  The best way to answer that is to play the games, but my job as a writer is to try to illustrate in words what makes the Civilization series so successful.  It’s hard to sum up in a single post.

I think the turn-based nature of the game accounts for a great deal of its appeal.  It’s a game that can be played very deliberately, so gamers who prefer taking their time, rather than reacting quickly to in-game situations, can slow down.  But because it’s turn-based, there’s a constant countdown to some milestone—a Builder unit might be finishing up next term, so you can finally build that winery; your settler is about to land on some far-flung continent after twenty turns at sea, and you might be able to plop down a colony there; you’re nearly done building the Colossus World Wonder; the enemy’s capital is about to fall to your forces.

That means there’s never really a good time to stop a play session.  Just like real life, there is always something coming up, or something that needs to be done (“did I remember to buy a Trader now that I have enough gold?  Do I need to rush production on a Rifleman to protect my far-flung colony?”).  As such, it’s easy to say, “Well, let me play a few more turns to get this city built and to finish up that Library in my capital, then I’ll go to bed,” only to then have a host of new options and possibilities as a result of those milestones.

The game also takes a very long time to play.  On a “Huge” map, a game might take twelve or more hours to complete, depending on quickly you’re going after a victory condition.  If playing multiplayer, it can take even longer, depending on how deliberate your human opponents are in taking their turns.

But I think another appeal to the series is that, despite being a turn-based exploration/expansion game, it has some fun role-playing elements—but instead of role-playing a single character, you’re role-playing an entire civilization or nation.

To be clear, I would not classify any of the Civilization games as role-playing games, but for me, at least, the opportunity to step into the shoes of an historical figure or nation is a big deal.  What if China had colonized North America?  What if the Incas landed in Australia?  Can Sparta establish a religion that will spread over the globe?  These are just some of the fun, counter-historical elements that players can experiment with in Civilization games.

In my current game, I am playing as Gorgo of Sparta, playing on a Huge Real Earth True Start Location map.  That means I started in Greece.  Because of the huge number of European-based civilizations—Greece, Rome, Spain, France, Germany, England, Norway/Sweden (The Vikings), and Russia, to name a few—the Europe map can get very crowded very quickly.  I actually lucked out on this one, with just England, Germany, Rome, and Norway to worry about in Europe, while Egypt and Persia lurk to the east.

That still makes for a pretty cramped map, so I have had to expand out into the Russian Steppes and western Asia.  Now that I have developed better seafaring technology, I’ve colonized Spain and North Africa, and should have a settler landing in South Africa soon.

Gorgo is meant to be played aggressively, with all sorts of military perks.  But Sparta/Greece as a civilization also gets some significant cultural bonuses, and that tends to be my play style.  Indeed, I am—improbably—allied with pretty much everyone in the world at the moment, which is a bit unusual; the computer AI tends to hate you forever once they hate you.  I’ve somehow managed to appeal to most of them, though, and other than an early war with Germany and Persia, I haven’t done much warring in this playthrough.

Early in the game I was able to found a religion (Eastern Orthodoxy, which seemed fitting for Greece), but due to some choices in district construction, I lacked a Holy Site district in my capital, and my religion did not spread organically to my other cities (for players, I was able to use my Great Prophet to establish Orthodoxy using the Stonehenge wonder).  I had to wait until Sparta grew to a population of ten citizens before I could build the Holy Site, which took some time.

I finally built it, a shrine, and a temple, only to find my religion had dwindled away in my capital!  Then, it somehow went back up just enough that Orthodoxy was the majority religion in Sparta, meaning I could build Apostles and Missionaries to spread the Word to my other cities.  Sparta itself lapsed into pagan stone worship (my founding pantheon) before I cleansed the city of that scourge (and Viking Protestantism).

This kind of scenario is where the role-playing aspect comes in for me.  Sparta had been a largely ecumenical society for most of its history (in my game), adopting the prevailing religion of neighboring nations.  Then, around the year 1500, its long-dormant native religion exploded with evangelistic fury, spreading rapidly over the empire and to its neighbors (Rome has converted, and my Apostles won some religious battles with Norway’s Missionaries, briefly flipping some of their border towns to Orthodoxy).

European history is full of these massive revivals.  I like to imagine that when those Viking cities flipped, it was like a strange new sect rising up, before the practitioners of the new “heresy” were put down by the Norwegian ruling elites.  It’s European history, but vastly altered.

Anyway, I’m still playing through this game as Gorgo, and I’m not sure what my endgame will be.  I’m in the mid-to-late game at this point, which is when I usually start beefing up my forces for conquest.  That would make sense with my civilization, but I might maintain the peaceful route, and instead continue my Orthodox revival, spreading it like wildfire around the globe.

More likely, the game timer will run out and I’ll just get a mediocre score.  But we’ll see!

If you have any Civilization stories of your own—and I know some of you do!—please share them in the comments below.

32 thoughts on “Civilization Series: Slayer of Productivity

  1. Great review, Port. 🙂

    Yes, I wouldn’t call Civilization a RPG, much in the same way that Command & Conquer or The Movies or the Theme Park/Hospital games weren’t RPGs. After all, you’re controlling the entirety rather than characters or a single character that need bolstering throughout the game. Skyrim, however, is a RPG because you are responsible for single characters and their progression, in terms of magics, strength, dexterity, etc throughout the game.

    I don’t know if I mentioned but Tina and I have been playing an app game on our Amazon Fires called Township. Very similar to Civilization; you have to build up a town, win awards, send out orders, trade with other places. It is so blooming addictive, I have to tell Tina to shut it off so we can get on with the things that actually matter. If you have a tablet, check it out. It’s a lot of fun and you can play at your own pace, though the tendency to rush through with building is immense. If you do that though, you’ll find you have little room for anything.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Agreed—I would not classify Civ as an RPG at all, even if units in later editions gain experience points. It’s a 4X game, all about exploration, expansion, etc. That said, I like that it allows _me_ to “play” the “role” of an historical leader or nation, and to play with the “what ifs” of history.

      I will check out Township. That does sound “blooming addictive.” I managed to finish writing my US History exam and the related review guide late last night in between turns of Civilization VI, haha. I have finally settled South Africa, but barbarians nabbed a settler en route to Madagascar—d’oh! Also, Orthodoxy is exploding throughout Europe and western Asia, much to the chagrin of my pious Viking neighbors to the North.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Our computer needs a really good clean before I put anything on the system but I do hear you can get some of those games for the console. At any rate, I think I’ll leave Civilisation until I’ve got a bit more time. I have an addictive personality and should I start, I’ll probably sit there until I’m so big, I won’t go through the door! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have got not one clue what any of this is – except, of course, that it’s a game – and yet, I enjoy reading about these games.

    I think we are drawn, by nature, to those things that take us out of ourselves and our natural constraints and allow us to imagine the impossible.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If you’re interested in films that talk of the near total immersion of video games, watch David Cronenberg’s excellent Existenz. VR has its champions but it also carries a lot of questions.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I don’t know about all that but I have to tell you – if I were going to spend the money for a PlayStation and all the gear, I’d play that Little Nightmares game. The art work and the little ‘guy’ are enchanting – if that’s the right word to use. Maybe ‘engaging’ is a better word?

        Liked by 2 people

    • Haha, yes, I knew today’s post would be a very niche topic. Ponty is the core audience for it.

      You’re right, though—there’s something fun about playing as the leader of some ancient civilization, and seeing where it goes. My favorite part of Civilization games are the stories, which range from “here’s a way I exploited the game’s system to achieve maximum efficiency” to “I managed to hold out with one last city on a distant island against an aggressive player.”

      The latter happened to me in an _epic_ length Civilization III game: my friend Xan and I were playing on a map with a massive Sumerian Empire at our borders. I was the fledgling Dutch Republic, and had suffered ill fortune throughout the game: Germany conquered a lucrative city early on, and I don’t think I ever managed to reclaim it. I ran out of land quickly on our Pangaea map (one massive continent) with Germany and Sumeria to the my north and west. Xan, playing as the Celts, managed to build up a substantial empire in the eastern portion of the great continent.

      As the game wore on, my tiny civilization was an easy target for Sumerian aggression, and I was woefully behind scientifically, even with Xan feeding me new tech. Xan managed to discover a small island where Arabia happened to start the game, and he conquered it without too much difficulty.

      In doing so, he burned one Arabian city to the ground just as I had a settler arrive on the shores of this tiny island. The idea was that I would be able to build a haven there for my doomed republic, settling on the mountainous western edge of the island, with Xan taking the core Arabian cities in the center and eastern portions of the island.

      That settlement proved fortuitous: Sumeria soon wiped out my mainland civilization, and all I had left was my little city, built on the ruins of an Arabian mountain village. When the game ended—Xan managed to pull off a diplomatic victory, being elected World Leader by the United Nations (I believe) in the final turns of the game—I was the sole Democracy in the game, with a rocket-launcher wielding anti-tank unit staving off a Sumerian tank assault on my tiny bastion of freedom (Xan’s government as Fascism, if I recall—he needed the military perks to hold off the Sumerian hordes).

      It was an incredible game. It stunk being the underdog, but it was fascinating playing as this struggling republic, committed to freedom, in a world off massive, land-based autocracies. We played via hotseat, which meant we played on the same computer when we were home from college; while away at college, we’d play our turn and e-mail the save files to each other (talk about old school!).

      Needless to say, it took the better part of a year to finish that game, but it was so satisfying. It still goes down as one of my favorite sessions of Civilization, even though I lost horribly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Do you find, as you play a nation-building or civilization-creating game, that you come across ideas in regard to our actual nations and civilizations? Are there times when you get a flash of insight or instances when you think, ‘Yeah! Just like here now!” ?

        Liked by 2 people

      • Absolutely. Usually it relates more to an historical situation, but there are definitely times when I recognize the modern world in a game.

        For example, my current play through as Gorgo has me allied with pretty much everyone in the world, except for Kongo (which is actually quite technologically advanced); for some reason, they just hate me. It feels like a very stable, post-Second World War global order, with lots of trade routes between the developed nations.

        In that regard, Kongo, which seems to stand outside the “global world order,” is something akin to Russia or China in the real-world—a powerful counterbalance to the various, weaker nations that make up my various alliances.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I don’t think I’m surprised about your answer. I’m just guessing here, as you well know, but you have to have a basic understanding of how countries came to be what they are, as well as having an appreciation that development takes thought – often advanced thought.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Here’s the other side of that equation: these games will TEACH you about history. Sure, Theodore Roosevelt wasn’t the tribal chieftain of America in 4000 B.C., but you get the sense for the long growth of technology, societies, etc. over time.

        Also, Sid Meier’s Colonization is the game that made me want to be a history teacher, and that got me into history. I learned SO MUCH about the colonial period from that game. It was a short leap from there to Civilization II, which deepened my interest in world history.

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      • Wow! That’s quite a disclosure. I’m proud that you’re not hesitant to say as much. Good for you. And good for the game to have even one such real-world outcome.

        Liked by 1 person

      • We always have to be vigilant – I come from the days when my son, as a young teenager, played D&D and all the attendant horror stories of leading boys to violence, etc, etc, etc. You’ve heard the stories, I’m sure. But now I wonder, with the knowledge you and 39 have of these ‘new’ games, are there dark-side games that parents, grands, and great grands should be aware of?

        Liked by 2 people

      • Studies seem to suggest that video games have made us LESS violence, probably because we’re getting that aggression out on pixels and polygons. I do think there is age-appropriateness: I would never let a child play _Left 4 Dead 2_ or any of the _Grand Theft Auto_ games.

        The bigger threat from games is their addictive qualities. A good game can be dangerous _because_ it’s good. The _Civilization_ games are incredibly wholesome (other than all the warfare, but even that is graphically bloodless), but they’re SO fun, they can cause to some real problems—late nights, unfinished work, neglected relationships, etc.

        As with most forms of entertainment, moderation is important. I could easily blow an entire day (or night!) playing Civilization—and I have! That’s okay every once in awhile. If I did that every day, I’d be sleeping outside!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Engaging, creepy, endearing, surprising. There are a lot of adjectives to describe those games. As much as I love the first game, the second is much better in my opinion. It takes everything that is great about the first and expands on it so it’s scarier, much more challenging and darker. The controls for the Playstation are incredibly easy to use so if you went down that road, you wouldn’t have to buy a brand new PS5. I’d advise you to get a second hand PS4 and buy the games with it; Playstation are still releasing games simultaneously for the PS5 and 4.

    I’m usually quite a puritan with games preferring firsts but I’m the same with the remake of the very first Resident Evil game. It takes all the horror and expands on it, certainly with the introduction of new villains, like the Crimson Heads (zombies you’ve already killed getting back up and running, not sauntering, but running after you) and Lisa Trevor, a mutation that can’t be killed until much later in the game. If you keep the essence of the original, you’re going to be in a good place.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Game sequels do seem to fare better than movie sequels—they can take the elements that fans loved in the first games and expand upon them, introducing new mechanics, expanded storylines, etc. It doesn’t always work out, but when it does, it’s glorious.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Regarding games you wouldn’t let your kids play, there are quite a few 18 rated games for the gore and violence you might play when you’re kids are in bed. The GTA games, I wouldn’t let a kid near, but there’s no such thing as a game that makes someone want to go out and replicate in the real world. The media would love to blame fiction, whether it’s games, music or film, because they don’t want to look at the underlying psychological issues.

    The only sort of people who allude to video games as the reason they committed random violence are people who were insane to begin with.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “The only sort of people who allude to video games as the reason they committed random violence are people who were insane to begin with.”

      Exactly! I don’t doubt that too much time with anything is going to work its way into your psyche, but the evidence suggests that video games have maybe made us _too_ docile, not more aggressive.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I can see that. When you immerse yourself so much into that medium, it’s going to take a while for your brain to wake up, so to speak.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. What you could do is wait until an important, mission-critical deadline is looming at work, and then addict yourself to Civ all-nighters. That seems to be the generally accepted strategy. I’ve employed it myself!

    Liked by 2 people

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