Apolyton Demogame: Getting Started

It all started with a post from Rob Worham on the Realms Beyond Civ message forums, on 21 January 2008...

Rob Worham:

I have been approached by the site admins at Apolyton to start laying the foundations for a BtS Pitboss Team Democracy Game. The game will not get underway until the final patch for Beyond the Sword comes out ( last estimate I heard was Q1 2008 ), but I thought it best to get as much of the infrastructure in place beforehand, so things can progress as quickly as possible once the final patch is released.

Beta has very generously stepped forward to be host this pitboss democracy game, and Snoopy369 has agreed to be emergency host should Beta be unavailable for any reason. With some technical assistance I will be available as a third place backup should the proverbial really hit the fan......

Now, it seems to me, the next step is finding a suitable number of teams, and getting enough active participants for each team so the burden of running a team doesn't fall on the shoulders of one individual all the time. To this end, I have already sent out a number of private messages to various members of the Poly community, and I now turn to the public forums to continue the search for enthusiastic participants.

Would you like to be a 'team leader' and set about forming a team? Failing that, would you be interested in participating as a team player for a team that someone else sets up? If so could you please either post your interest below, or respond via email or PM and I'll add your name to the appropriate list.

I hope to see you in what promises to be a thoroughly enjoyable democracy game experience.........

And thus we were introduced into the strange world of Civ4 team democracy games. Before going further, let me back up and explain a bit about what that means. (FYI, gold text in quote boxes come from non-Realms Beyond team members, white text represents something that our team wrote.)

One of the best things about the Civilization games is the online community that has sprung up surrounding them. (In fact, if you're reading this website, you probably already know this!) An old tradition of the Civilization games has been playing out what is known as "Democracy games", forum-based team ventures in which large numbers of people, sometimes ranging into the dozens, put their heads together and plan out the best course of action to guide their chose civilization to greatness. The two main Civilization websites on the Internet (CivFanatics and Apolyton) have been running these games since the late 1990s. Some of the participants take them very seriously, drawing up team constitutions, holding votes for elected positions, role-playing in-game personalities, and at times degenerating into bitter factional infighting. As for myself, I always considered these games to be a waste of time and stuck to Succession Games if I wanted a team-based venture.

But with the advent of the Play the World expansion for Civ3, and from the very start of Civ4, it became possible to carry out Multiplayer games against other humans. Now Multiplayer games tend to be fast-paced and very aggressive in nature, and I've detailed a small number of them on my website. The biggest downside to Multiplayer games are the lack of long-term focus: everything is geared towards winning within ~120 turns, and strategic choice generally takes a back seat to tactical maneuvering. That's not a bad thing - I actually like Multiplayer games quite a lot! - but it's not quite the same experience that one gets from Single Player gaming with Civilization. If only there were a way to combine the two together...

Well, maybe there are a few ways to do so, although they aren't without flaws either. A Multiplayer Team Democracy game of the sort Rob was proposing formed one such example. That is, rather than having a single team where everyone worked together to defeat the AI civs, this would instead be a game where all of the civs were played by teams of humans. Rob was recruiting different forum groups to join in, and the idea of Realms Beyond forming our own team was admittedly a pretty cool idea. I've always believed that our little corner of the Internet was full of exceptionally talented individuals, both on a personal level and in terms of gaming. What better way to prove our Civilization skills, than by participating in and winning a game against other teams?

Rob's message attracted interest right away, probably due to the fact that a number of us were growing a bit tired of Civ4 and looking for something new to try. Still, I was a bit hestiant to jump in myself, knowing how these kind of ventures tend to grow until they consume ungodly amounts of your free time. However, with so many others taking the plunge, I decided to come along for the ride as well. I was completely right in my initial suspicions - the Demogame would occupy literally hundreds and hundreds of hours over the following months - but it was all in good fun, and I don't regret the decision.

The folks from Realms Beyond that would make up the core of our team:

Ruff Hi
Swiss Pauli

Along with myself, of course. We had quite a few others who lurked in our forums and offered comments and suggestions, but this was the original group of members, recruited from our Realms Beyond Civ community. Everyone here knew one another and had participated in multiple Epics, Adventures, and/or Succession Games; this helped to give our team an excellent sense of camraderie, and provide the cohesion that would keep things together over the long haul. As membership dropped down to a tiny handful on the other teams, we would be ADDING members to the Realms Beyond team, as folks that were on the sidelines wanted to jump in and see what the fuss was all about. This was perhaps our greatest strength in the competition, our excellent team dynamics and overall organization.

This game was organized and run by the Apolyton Civilization website. Now I personally did not have much contact with Apolyton, having always spent the bulk of my online time working with the other main Civilization website, CivFanatics. It wasn't just that I didn't know much of the community at Apolyton; the website also employed an outdated and unaesthetic forum software, which looked like something out of 1999. I ran across some of the Apolyton community while working on Civ4 back prior to release, and while they were nice enough, I didn't have any real attachment to their group. This was going to be a new experience in that regard as well. So unlike at Realms Beyond, where I have been personally running the show for the past several years and getting everything organized, in this game those duties would fall to other individuals. And - to make a long story short - it would not be handled very well. Not at all...

The first issue was Rob Worham's insistence on waiting for a new patch to arrive before starting the Demogame. This sprung from a very fair concern, preventing a team from getting screwed over by changes introduced in a new patch. You wouldn't want to see a team pick a civ for their unique unit, only to have that unit get the nerf hammer in a patch halfway through the game! But there were several problems with this noble ideal. First of all, there had been no patches for the previous six months, and there were no release dates announced for future patches. Frankly, we had no guarantee that a new patch would ever be released, beyond some vague assurances by the developer (Firaxis Games). Having seen our own Epics/Adventures wrecked by waiting on nonexistent patches to arrive, we urged the game organizers to change their stance and get the game started sooner, to no avail. We were also quite late in Civ4's life, with major changes unlikely to come in the form of patches, making this whole fear rather overblown. Instead, the Demogame would be held up for months (literally months!) on end before it even began; two team dropped out entirely, and the remaining six were pretty decimated in terms of participation. This was a serious problem that the Demogame had to deal with, even before it started!

So absolutely nothing happened in terms of setting up the Demogame between late January and mid-March of 2008. (Yes, the game was announced to us at Realms Beyond and then 45 days passed with no action whatsoever. I wish I were making this up.) Finally, Rob Worham began the process of conducting a series of polls to determine the map and game settings for the Demogame. Yet this was an unnecessarily tortured and convoluted process. The game organizers decided to hold no less than TWENTY-EIGHT different polls, on virtually every possible option one can select for a Civilization game:

Team Setup Poll #1 : Level of setup detail
Team Setup Poll #2 : Map type --- VOID POLL
Team Setup Poll #2 Pt 2 : Map type
Team Setup Poll #2 Pt 3 : Map type run-off!!!!
Team Setup Poll #3 : Terra OLD World Landmasses
Team Setup Poll #4 : Terra NEW World Landmasses
Team Setup Poll #5 : Map Size
Team Setup Poll #6 : Climate
Team Setup Poll #7 : Sea Level
Team Setup Poll #8 : World Wrap
Team Setup Poll #9 : Resources
Team Setup Poll #10 : Pitboss Turn Style
Team Setup Poll #11 : Pitboss Turn Timer Duration
Team Setup Poll #12 : No City Razing
Team Setup Poll #13 : No City Flipping From Culture
Team Setup Poll #14 : City Flipping After Conquest
Team Setup Poll #15 : Game Speed
Team Setup Poll #16 : No barbarians
Team Setup Poll #17 : Raging barbarians
Team Setup Poll #18 : Choose religions
Team Setup Poll #19 : No tech trading
Team Setup Poll #20 : No tech brokering
Team Setup Poll #21 : No vassal states
Team Setup Poll #22 : Aggressive AI
Team Setup Poll #23 : Require Complete Kills
Team Setup Poll #24 : No tribal villages
Team Setup Poll #25 : No Random Events
Team Setup Poll #26 : Difficulty Level

Many of these polls were on ridiculous options: do you really have to vote on Sea Level, for example? Other polls brought about confusing results; for example, the Barbarians option and Difficulty Level are very much tied together, yet these polls were conducted in separate fashion, obscuring the link between them. We ultimately ended up with some bizarre map options, purely due to the fact that each little option was voted on without considering how the pieces fit together. It would have been far, far better to set the overall conditions and then leave the small details to the discretion of the map maker, rather than trying to poll the smallest minutiae.

Furthermore, the teams themselves that we encountered voted on some strange (and to be honest, not very good) options for a Multiplayer game. For example, why were Vassal States turned on in a game with no AI opponents? All that this did was introduce "colonial" maintenance costs for settling overseas. "Choose Religions" was a harmless option, but again, unnecessary and confusing. (And why did we have to waste time voting on something so trivial?) Some of the participants from other teams obviously had no familiarity with Multiplayer whatsoever, as there were a few folks actually recommending Epic or Marathon (!) game speeds along with Large or Huge map sizes. Fortunately cooler and wiser heads were able to settle on Normal game speed and Standard size instead.

The best example of the setup process gone awry was the choice of map script. This is the single biggest choice to make in setting up a game, yet unfortunately the result was a major failure. Someone floated the idea of using a Terra map, and there was enough support to get it into a runoff vote with Archipelago Snaky Continents as the other option. Our Realms Beyond team did our best to vote this down, yet to our horror it actually passed! This was a terrible idea, because the Terra map is not designed to be balanced on resources and it ends up cramming all of the starting civs into a tight space on the starting continent. The "New World" continent was furthermore pointless in a Multiplayer game; by the time anyone could reach it with Astronomy tech, the game would long since have been decided. Just a very, very bad decision all around. Krill, who would later become the Demogame's historian and unofficial moderator, pointed this out:

The problem for the old/new world is that while you may get to colonize the new world you also have a problem that the new world is never going to be able to compete with the old world (remember that while one team tries to expand to the new world there will be a civ on the old world that is powering up and then just takes the old world empire of the civ that tried to expand). The New world cities will never be able to compete with the old world cities. There is no reason to expand because you will just die if you do.

Indeed, the New World would in fact play no role of importance in this game - just as we had known it would not from before the game even began! The only advantage was that our team was well aware of this, which may have given us a leg up on some others. The problem was further compounded by deciding to create "Two Old World Continents" out of the normal starting Terra continent. Now this is *NOT* a map script option; the map maker was going to literally draw the water in by hand and separate the teams onto two separate continents. That's OK if you have an outstanding map creator... but we didn't for this game, and the results would unbalance things pretty badly. But that's getting ahead of the narrative, as we did not know this yet.

Anyway, the result was a "Two Continent Old World" Terra map, with most of the other default map options in play. Prince difficulty was chosen, along with "No Tech Brokering", which we found had some interesting game dynamics as a result. Unfortunately both goody huts and random events were left on for this game, which was somewhat disappointing from the perspective of getting a fair evaluation of skill. But these were things we could live with. Play would be conducted via a Simultaneous-Turn Pitboss server, with a 48-hour turn timer.

Voting on the poll options turned into a six week process, stretching from mid-March towards the end of April. (In other words, close to 90 days had passed from when Rob Worham posted the Demogame announcement at Realms Beyond, and still no official start to the game yet!) Once we had some idea of what the map settings were going to look like, our team began planning which leader and civ we would like to take for this venture. There was some initial talk about whether to go for a leader with Aggressive or Imperialistic traits, this being Multiplayer and all, but sunrise, our Multiplayer advisor and later military commander, talked us into more productive choices:

Good MP traits are Expansive, Creative, and Imperialistic in the early game. The best early UUs for actually taking out an enemy are probably War Chariots, Impis, and Immortals. We're also really liking Ballista Elephants right now. Generally people don't get excited (or actually hate) Dog Soldiers, Vultures, Holkans, Bowmen, and Queches. Phalynxs are OK.

The problem however if we're not just playing a short game. Taking Zulu for a quick kill is a great MP strategy in a 100 turn ancient game, but not a great strategy for a 320 game Quick ironman. And anything past quick really isn't even MP anymore.

For what it's worth, William is generally favored in MP Ironman games, for the huge creative bonus early and then the long-term power of Financial. I wouldn't consider that a bad choice.

This got the team thinking along the lines of Elizabeth (Fin/Phi), Huyana (Fin/Ind), William (Fin/Cre), and Mansa Musa (Fin/Spi). Atlas, another member of our community with tons of Multiplayer experience, suggested Suryavarman (Exp/Cre) and Pacal (Fin/Exp). Thus our team was thinking very much along the lines of the Financial and Creative traits, not bad ways to go in a game such as this! But our actual choice was suggested by sunrise, who noted that Zara Yacob's Creative/Organized pairing would give us free early border pops, late-game cheaper civics, and production discounts on no less than SIX different buildings (library, theatre, broadcast tower, lighthouse, courthouse, factory) that stretched across the entire span of the game. And Ethiopia also came with a decent unique unit in the Oromo, a musket replacement that would arrive right about the time that we would likely be getting ready to go on the offensive. I personally loved the idea just because Zara Yacob isn't a big name leader; it would be taking the variant road less traveled, which is what Realms Beyond is all about. We submitted our list of five choices, and not surprisingly got the first one. Zara was our man!

In terms of our competition, we found that we would be going up against five other teams:

Templars: Inca - Huayna Capac - Financial/Industrious - Quechua
Imperio: Maya - Pacal II - Financial/Expansive - Holkan
PAL: Egypt - Ramesses - Spiritual/Industrious - War Chariot
Rabbits: Holy Roman Empire - Charlemagne - Protective/Imperialistic - Landesknecht
Banana: China - Qin Shi Huan - Protective/Industrious - Cho-ko-nu

Because of the two-island setup, we knew that we would be sharing a continent with two of these teams, and that the other three would be next door on the other "Old World" continent. At this point, we knew virtually nothing of these opponents. Based on their civ choices, and comments in the public forum, both Swiss Pauli and I pegged Imperio and PAL as the teams most likely to attack a neighbor early on. We hoped that we would not find ourselves starting near these groups! On the other hand, the choices made by Rabbits and Team Banana were simply underwhelming. Protective is definitely the worst civ trait in the game, so we really had no idea what they were thinking. I still don't know today! Why pick leaders like Charlemagne and Qin when so many superior ones were left untaken? Templars, Imperio, and PAL definitely seemed to have made better choices.

So now we had the game settings, we had the teams organized, and we had the civs and leaders picked. Time to start the game, right? Well... Rob Worham and the other heads of the Demogame insisted that the Demogame continue to wait for the arrival the next Civ4 patch. The organizers ultimately waited for another three weeks (during which no patch arrived), while dragging their feet all the while. The ridiculous and agonizingly slow process continued to kill interest in the Demogame; two different teams dropped out (Gathering Storm and Eirich Tuireann) due to the lack of activity. Finally, the decision was made to go ahead and start the game at the end of April. That's when the following comedy of errors took place, which I will track in a series of quotes with date stamps:

Rob Worham, 22 April:
CyberShy has finished making the map, and it is now waiting for Beta to download it to his server, ready to be hosted.

Once downloaded Beta will advise us here as to the kick off date and time...........

Are we ready ladies and gentlemen???

Beta, 22 April:
I am looking to start the game on the 28th. Had a commitment this weekend that I can't get out of.

EPW, 28 April:
Have we started?

enredao, 29 April:
will the game start or not?

Rob Worham, 29 April:
PM sent to Beta, awaiting reply........

Beta, 29 April:
I'm here. Sorry folks. Doing stuff for family is going to be the death of me, along with now being the president of the committee for the new off-leash dog park here in my city.

I plan on launching later today - around 6pm edt. (UTC-5).

Beta, 29 April:
Ok - we do NOT have ignition.

I still have a technical glitch with my router that prevents access via direct IP. Snoop is working with me on it.

Also, my schedule does not looking much better over the next couple of weeks.

So, we have moved the rocket from my launch pad to snoopy369's. He will commence hosting of the game until I get the router issue solved and a bit more free time.

Sorry for the delay. I expect we will hear something from snoop shortly.

snoopy369, 30 April:
I probably shouldn't start this until next week (monday) if I'm hosting it - i'm out of town this weekend so it's not a great idea to start while that happens (yay random power outages). I should be able to monday evening though.

Atomation, 5 May [Monday]:
game starting tonight or what??

Zeviz, 6 May:
If things keep going like this, you are going to lose a couple more teams before the game starts. (Every time a new start date is announced there is less enthusiasm on our forum.)

snoopy369, 6 May:
I will do it when I get home tonight - I was way too busy last night (at work too late).

I also mean American time, not NZ time

snoopy369, 7 May:
****, totally forgot when I got home (another long day, bad for the memory apparently...)

I will try very hard to remember this tonight!!! Sorry!

Until finally - FINALLY - the game was launched on May 8, fully ONE HUNDRED AND NINE days after the initial announcement on our Realms Beyond forums. While I mean no disrespect to the organizers of this game, the whole setup phase was a trainwreck from start to finish. And there was no need for it to be such either. I helped organize the CivFanatics Multiteam Demogame, with a similarly diverse bunch, and we put everything together in a little over three weeks. At Realms Beyond, we organized an 11-team Pitboss game in a mere ten days, although that one had the benefit of all the participants knowing one another to some extent. There was no reason for things to be handled this poorly at Apolyton. Look, if you're going to do one of these things, don't leave people hanging for nearly four months before starting, OK?

Finally, Team Realms Beyond could get down to business. The fun times were just beginning...