My Reasons for Leaving the Game of the Month Competition

I wrote this in my report for GOTM8, but am also posting this here as my first editorial. It explains why I left that competition, and describes why I think tournaments using only the in-game scoring system are flawed.

"As you can see the final score was 9781, just shy of 10000 [in GOTM8]. I easily could have had 11000 if I had been throughly milking the game, as there were well over 100 unused tiles on my starting island, but you know what? It doesn't bother me at all. I played a good game and had a fun time, though after I controlled the whole starting continent the game became more of a chore than really entertaining.

And that's why I have some serious points I want to make here, in a place where I know many, if not most, of the regular GOTM players will visit. I had some issues with the competition before, but now that the "dogpiling" tactic has appeared (which I think is more accurately described as the "infinite city exploit") there are really some serious problems troubling the GOTM. What is dogpiling, if you aren't familiar with it? It's a strategy (quite clever, really) where the player builds the Longevity wonder, causing population to grow by 2 each time the food box is filled. This allows population to grow faster than the food supply can keep up with it, which is why Longevity has commonly been regarded as a useless wonder. The dogpiling tactic sets every city to producing workers, which are then merged each turn into one "super city" that grows without bound, since a city can only lose 1 population point each turn regardless of lack of food supply. This allows population to grow without bound in the super city, allowing it to reach populations in the thousands while the other cities remain at the same size thanks to Longevity. Since Civ3 records score based on population and territory, this is allowing a few players to smash the scoring barriers and get outlandish scores of 20,000 to 50,000 points on this map. Since the GOTM measures the results by score and score alone, anyone who is not using this exploit is going to be crushed in the results by those that do. See the problem?

To be fair though, this problem is not the fault of those who developed dogpiling, or even those who have been cheating and reading the spoilers thread, then adopted this move to artificially pump up their score. No, the problem is that the GOTM competition itself bases all of the results solely on the game's score. Milking was the first outgrowth of this, as several players realized in GOTM2 and 3 that higher scores resulted from NOT winning the game when you could and instead waiting around till a later date to finish the game. By now, it's a given that you CANNOT be near the top scorers unless you have milked your game. Dogpiling is the logical extension of this focus on game score; how can we blame the players for building a better mousetrap if the goal is to catch a mouse? But I can't help but feel that somewhere along the lines of this race, we've lost the concept of playing Civ3 and now the "winners" of each competition are now little more than accountants who spend 50 - 75% of the game's timeframe managing happiness in cities and moving workers long after the game is won. I mean, take a look at some of the savegames from the winning scored games. They all have cities perfectly spaced in gridlike patterns so that every tile is covered, no city goes above size 12 for pollution and to avoid building hospitals, and now the super city located somewhere on the map. This isn't even a game anymore; it's a calculator and people are pushing the buttons to see just how high it can go.

Let me state clearly that this is NOT an attack on the GOTM competition winners. Everyone in the top tier of the scoring system is truly an exceptionally good player, and it is NO accident that they are able to win time and time again. But with that said... why do we have to go through this farce in each game? No one actually LIKES milking the game, and once people get tired of dogpiling they're going to like that even less. Why should people have to waste their time like this when we know the best players will win regardless of whether the game is milked or not? Again, the problem is that the GOTM relies only on score. With the way scoring is calculated, dogpiling is so effective that it will have to be banned for further competitions if score continues to be the evaluator of results. What I would really like to see is simply a better scoring system, so that there would be no need and no motivation for milking or dogpiling. Do I have the answer to this problem? No, I don't. But with all of the talented people out there I'm confident that something could be created that allows the best players to win without the need for all this excess foolishness to increase score.

With that in mind, I want to mention the Realms Beyond Epics. This is the other competition game series that I play in, and it doesn't put much of a focus on score at all. Each game has a different goal, and game score may or may not be one of them. Many of the games are designed to test aspects of Civ3 that are rarely covered by players, which helps make each game more interesting. Why do I mention this? Again, the problem with the GOTM is its scoring system. The highest score will always, always, ALWAYS come from the person who attacks the other civs and conquers all of them first, then sits just under the domination limit for score. This is fun for a while, but soon players realize that they are, in fact, playing exactly the same game each time and become bored. I rarely play kill-and-attack games, so this game was refreshing for me. But if I wanted to score well in GOTM9, I would have to play exactly the same way again. The Epics have been designed with this in mind to keep the games from becoming boring and repetative, and although it's too early to tell, I believe it's working so far.

Lest I go to far, I want to step back a bit and refocus my position. Realms Beyond's Epics are not for everyone, and they're by no means perfect themeselves. Probably most people would look at them and say, in the words of Carbon Copy, "What's with all this variant crap?" They're not for everyone, but for those who like this kind of stuff, they're a lot of fun. Similarly, the GOTM is still an excellent competition, the premier competition among all those out there, drawing the most people and literally some of the best Civ3 players in the world. I've loved playing in it, and I hope that it continues to draw more and more people each month under the capable guidance of Matrix. GOTM5 and GOTM7 were my first games (and wins) on Monarch and Deity, pushing me to new levels of gameplay that I had never reached before. But with all that said... the GOTM is moving in a direction that I'm not in favor of, turning more and more to endless tactics/exploits to run up score with nary a thought for what that's doing to the fun factor involved. The GOTM is moving in a different direction from me, and so... this will be my last GOTM game. I may pop in if a tasty Emperor or Deity game comes up, but as for regular playing in it I'm finished. I have no malice towards anyone else, this is simply the time for me to leave, as I have less time on a daily basis for the game between summer work and independent research that I'm working on for university credit. Best of luck and best wishes to all those involved, and I hope you enjoyed reading this page."

This editorial caused a great deal of talk about a new scoring system for the GOTM when I first printed it, with many of the top players coming up with excellent ways to better measure score. It was clear that many others had similar feelings and wanted to do something about it. However, Matrix chose not to implement any of these suggestions and the GOTM remains unchanged to this day. Dogpiling, however, has been disallowed from the competition, which I consider a small success. And I have not played in another GOTM since.