Brave New World: The Sample Game (Part Four)

This part resumes the sample game at Turn 150, with the Zulus impotently standing around doing nothing with their huge army and my ships beginning to traverse the oceans. First of all, another example of city state wackiness:

I needed to find some extra happiness for my cities somewhere, as the global happiness counter was sitting on zero. I was planning on renewing my former alliance with Cultural city state Kyzyl, which would also speed my path to the next social policy. Notice however that Mercantile city state Vilnius popped up requesting me to connect dyes to my trade network. (Why in the world would they care about something like this? Makes me wonder.) As a result, by dropping 500 gold on Kyzyl for a new alliance, I gained access to those dyes, which turned into a new alliance with Vilnius as well. Once again, I was randomly rewarded with free stuff for doing something that I would have done anyway. I know, I know - this is simply part of playing the game. Civ5 is all about maximizing free stuff from ancient ruins and city states and so on. But it always rubs me the wrong way. I still feel that this is the wrong way to go about constructing gameplay in a strategy game.

Meanwhile, I was building a pair of caravels, and Astronomy tech allowed me to embark my land units for travel over the oceans. It was actually a pathfinder unit who crossed the seas first and established contact with another continent:

The civilizations on the other continent turned out to be Indonesia, Siam, Poland, and Japan. I sold extra silver resources to all of them, bringing in even more income for my cities. I'm kind of skipping over how often I was selling resources here in the report. Rest assured that this was a major reason why I always seemed to have so much gold in all of the screenshots. Sell your excess luxuries, and sell *ALL* of your strategic resources. Iron, horses, and the like are not very useful in Brave New World. The archer-based units are the strongest ones in the early ages (archer, composite bow, crossbow) and none of them require resources to build. You might as well sell your iron supply for 2 gold/turn per copy of iron. Then funnel the gold income back into your civilization for rush purchasing of key buildings, or over to city states to fuel more culture/happiness/faith. It's certainly a lot different from the cottage-based economies that generally predominated in Civ4.

The following turns were more of the same. A fifth trade route from researching Banking tech allowed me to run another sea-based food route over to Goshute, which was now growing at a fantastic rate. That single cargo ship was worth NINE food per turn! Good grief. The second Great Scientist of the game popped out of Te-Moak, and he was also used for an Academy tile improvement at the capital. I was beginning to hit the point of the game where Civ5's gameplay started noticeably dragging. The first 100 to 150 turns of a Civ5 game are genuinely fun to play, as there's so many competing priorities going on and it's a mad scramble for the workers to get tile improvements done. However, by now most of the empire had been covered in farms and mines, and my cities were starting to run out of interesting things to build. Although I was enjoying exploring the rest of the map, worker control and city management increasingly felt like they were going on auto pilot.

This was pretty amusing. I had paid Shaka earlier to decare war on Darius, and even gave him Open Borders so that his units could go down there and stir up trouble. After many long turns of marching through my territory, Shaka actually managed to capture the Persian city of Susa. There were quite a few units being wasted on both sides, with the AI's complete cluelessness of how to handle Civ5's combat system. I enjoyed watching the show with my pathfinders, it was the most interesting thing taking place on the map. Shaka would end up razing the city completely, then signing peace. Darius built another city later on the east coast as a replacement. Like most AI vs AI wars, this one was utterly pointless.

Speaking of Shaka, one of my spies tipped me off that he was planning on declaring war. This didn't exactly come as a shock. Shaka had been telegraphing a war declaration for the last fifty or so turns, it was amazing that he hadn't invaded centuries ago. I think that I do like this kind of information from espionage, it seems like the kind of help that a spy would actually provide in real life. I would end up fending off this possible attack in the same way as the last one: I paid Shaka 9 gold/turn to declare war on Siam instead. I'm guessing that he sailed his units over to the east and got them all killed, because I never saw much from Shaka for quite a while afterwards. In case it wasn't clear yet, I think it's way too easy to get the AIs to declare war on one another in Brave New World. They seem willing to battle one another for mere pennies, and waste vast numbers of expensive units in pointless conflicts. Shaka should want a lot more than 10% of my income to initiate a new conflict, especially because Shaka hates my guts and we've been enemies the whole game. This diplomatic system still has some major holes in it (although it's VASTLY improved over the release version, to be fair).

Another 1000 gold to Cultural city state Brussels for an alliance. Gimme gimme gimme that culture. I've still built zero cultural buildings the whole game, and I'm about to land my ninth policy in a few turns. The pearls at Brussels also grant extra happiness, plus they sent two different cities into We Love the King Day. (More free stuff! Ever more free stuff!) You know, I would enjoy this game a lot more if amassing culture actually required constructing cultural buildings, or doing something cultural at any rate. I almost felt guilty abusing the cultural mechanics like this.

Next turn, next turn, next turn... Ah, enough culture to adopt a new social policy. Here's the next one in the Rationalism tree:

Secularism adds +2 beakers for each specialist, which in practice mostly means that Scientist specialists are worth 5 beakers instead of the default 3 beakers. This is another excellent benefit, since you'll want to be running the maximum number of Scientist specialists at all times for Great Scientist generation. It was worth 33 beakers/turn immediately, so another 10% boost to overall civ-wide science output, and that benefit would only scale upwards with time. I was nearly finished researching Scientific Theory, which is the renaissance era's version of Education tech. It allows Public Schools, which are the next tier of science building up from universities. Each one of them leads to a major jump in beakers (universities, then public schools, then research labs) as opposed to the smooth exponential curve of past Civilization games. Most peaceful strategies want to prioritize these techs heavily.

Now I finally had some surplus happiness for the first time in ages, which meant that it was time to set up more cities, right? Well, not so much in Civ5. There's an absolutely massive change in Brave New World that completely kills off large empires, and here it is:

Read it and weep: every new city increases the cost of all techs by five percent. This is one of the most drastic anti-expansion mechanics I've ever seen implemented by a developer, and it completely changed the gameplay of Civilization 5. Prior to Brave New World, the best strategy tended to revolve around mass expansion, founding as many cities as possible. Every city would add more food, production, gold, and science, since there were no per-city maintenance costs as in Civ4 and no corruption as in earlier Civ games. Each city only made you stronger. So long as you could manage global happiness and keep it in the green (which expert players had little difficulty doing), then the best strategy was endless expansion without end. This remained true in Gods and Kings despite the best efforts of the developers; check out T-Hawk's Infinite City Sprawl game with Egypt for a great example of this in practice. Build endless cities and use them to produce ridiculous amounts of gold and science. Who cares if you get fewer social policies and Golden Ages when you're making 1500 beakers and 300 gold every turn?

Brave New World kills this strategy, leaving it dead and buried. You can no longer afford to plant extra cities, since the science penalty is so drastic. Each additional city has to bring in massive amounts of science to justify the 5% increased cost for all future technologies. (That's a multiplicative cost, by the way, not additive. The second city increases costs by 5%, then the third city increases them by 5.25%, then 5.5125%, and so on.) This new mechanic makes it better to add more population in existing cities (thus avoiding the tech penalty) rather than planting new cities to grow additional population there. In fact, not only is there little point in adding more cities in the midgame to lategame, you are actually penalized for doing so! Right now, I'd like to add more cities to use some of thus surplus happiness in my empire. There's land to do so, and even some more resources to claim. But look at the date: it's already Turn 177. There's no way that a city founded now will have enough time to become a net positive on science. The game will be over before a fifth city breaks even. Therefore there is literally no point in adding extra cities. I will only be crippling myself.

Thus we end up with the natural result of this draconian new mechanic in Brave New World: the four city empire. Why four cities? Because Tradition provides free monuments and free aqueducts in your first four cities. There also seems to be just enough happiness to support four cities in the first 100 to 150 turns of the game, as I experienced here. And there's little point in founding cities after Turn 150, since they will be unable to overcome the hit to tech costs before the game finishes. The result is a game dominated by "Tall" empires, civilizations comprised of 3-5 cities in game after game after game.

This has all manner of terrible effects on gameplay. The games in the Civilization series are empire-building games. It even said that right on the box for the first game: "Build an Empire to stand the test of time." All of the tension and life in the gameplay are based around building those empires. You need to compete with your rivals for scarce land and resources, and if you can't get your fair share of both, then you're in serious trouble. As I've stated many times, the basic rule of the Civilization series is thus: Expand or Die. But Brave New World completely upsets this mechanic. Since three or four cities are enough to win the game by going "Tall" with Tradition, there's little need to compete with other empires for land. The driving force that creates excitement and risk in the gameplay has been completely removed. Just make sure you get a couple of cities, then you'll be fine. No reason to care about the rest of the land. Furthermore, there is almost no point in expanding or going to war after the early stages of the game. Any additional cities you settle or capture will only end up hurting your science. So... what's the point of trying at all? Why bother? Just turtle on your four cities, sell resources, run food caravans, and you'll eventually win the game. Vast expanses of land go unclaimed by anyone in Civ5 now, unused and unwanted. This is not what the gameplay should look like!

Brave New World is an empire-building game where there is literally no reason to build an empire, and you are actively penalized for doing so.

Let's get back to the sample game, I'll have more to say on these anti-expansion mechanics in the actual review. Anyway, Scientific Theory finished and I used some of my gold to rush public schools in the weaker production cities. This is a great use of gold to speed up your tech snowball, rather than waiting for low production cities to slow-build things. Also note the 67 culture/turn up there on the interface. Yes, 52 of that 67 culture is coming from city state alliances... Said enough about that topic though, so let's move on.

Once I had five trade routes, I shuffled them around slightly so that each city was receiving one food caravan, while the capital received two of them. Here's what that looked like:

Do I need to go on about how overpowered the food caravans and cargo ships are in Brave New World? Point made, I think.

More turns, more turns... My entire territory had been improved by workers now, and I deleted some of them, putting the rest to sleep. The gameplay was starting to become tedious now, the earlier fun parts of the game were over, and my civ was increasingly on cruise control. I upgraded some of the crossbows to gatling guns just to be safe against Shaka in case he finally decided to attack. How many techs still to go for the spaceship? Way too many.

The World Congress finally began to meet, and this is a new mechanic in Brave New World that has some potential to it. I like the general concept of bringing back the United Nations from previous Civilization games, and there are some interesting resolutions to vote upon. What I don't like is how the votes are allocated, with Casimir getting extra votes because he built some wonder and my completely dominant civ getting so few votes. Whatever happened to the Civ4 model where leaders received votes based on population? That was simple and logical, granting the game leaders more influence while still letting the small fries play kingmaker. This setup where everyone gets a single vote (except for two votes for the first to Industrial age, and three votes for the builder of one of the new BNW wonders) was frustrating and confusing to me. It didn't help that the idiot AIs voted through a resolution slowing the production of Great Scientists by 33%. Argh, why did you do that?! Every single one of them voted against me on that resolution. I honestly would need more time with the World Congress to evaluate it properly, but my initial impression was that of a good idea with somewhat messy execution.

Here's another tidbit about resource sales. You can sell most of the strategic resources (iron, coal, aluminum, etc.) for 2 gold per turn apiece. Strangely, the AI will not accept 6 iron for 12 gold/turn. However, you can go into the diplo screen and sell each one of those iron resources for 2 gold/turn each. That's what I've done here, selling eight different aluminum resources one piece at a time, for 2 gold/turn in each case. This is sadly both tedious and extremely effective, especially in the early game. Selling iron resources to the AI is the main reason to research Iron Working tech (which conveys no other economic benefits). This makes it even harder to see what's going on with the Deal History screen diplomatic interface, which has never been fixed from the release version and remains a complete nightmare to navigate. I seriously do not understand how a flagship strategy title could have such an atrocious user interface for a key game mechanic like diplomacy. Why is it so hard to see the relationships between AI leaders? Why can I only see one past deal at a time, with no summary of "all deals with this leader" anywhere? Why does it take three separate screens to display information, each with multiple scroll bars, while 70% of the screen real estate isn't even being used? I'm genuinely disappointed that none of the expansions bothered to fix this.

The joy of living next to Shaka. He probably delayed the finishing date of this game by a dozen turns all on his own, by forcing me to spend so much gold keeping my military up to date. What a pain. (Side note: same complaint from the first article I ever wrote on Civ5. Why do I have to wait for a popup screen that appears once every 50 turns to see this information? Where are my charts from Civ4? The Demographics screen only tells me "Best" and "Worst" in each category, and that's not the same thing.)

Overview picture on Turn 200. I genuinely don't have much to say here, there were no interesting decisions going on and little in the way of excitement. Just keep hitting next turn and slowly work through the tech tree.

Ditto on the Demographics. This was clearly a won game at this point, it only remained to finish things out. All of my previous test games with Civ5 had been abandoned sometime around Turn 150 to Turn 200, once the game started slowing down and became boring. I had promised myself that I would finish at least one game to the end, in order to do a proper review of Brave New World. Unfortunately this game was already dragging badly, and I still had dozens of techs left to research before the conclusion. Hmmm, not the greatest sign. In any case, the sample game finishes on the next page in Part Five.