Friday, July 21, 2006

The Quest for Civ-Lite

With all the excitement of Tempus about to arrive, I've been reminded of the ongoing quest for Civilization Lite - the nostalgia that many of us more... ahem... mature gamers have for remembered late-night Civilization sessions when we were young in years, poor in money, but rich in time. Many commercial attempts have been made over the last few years to reproduce the Civ experience in a Euro-sized package: Mare Nostrum, Vinci, Antike, Manifest Destiny, and now Tempus.

I have been wondering about another approach. Would it be possible to make a variant on Civilization that keeps the elegance and balance and epic scope of the game, but cuts out some of the time-consuming fiddle, perhaps refactors or reprices some of the elements of the game, and so carefully and respectfully trims it down to a manageable but satisfying 2 or 3 hours?

So far I have just been musing on possibilities. Here are some of the half-baked ideas I have come up with so far:

Reduce the number of turns, but keep them interesting. Also make each turn shorter.

Increase the breeding rate, perhaps double the number of tokens each turn with no cap.

Reduce city build and city support costs to 5.

Shorten the AST.

Recalibrate the catastrophes to make them less severe, especially Civil War. Also less time-consuming to resolve.

Reprice the Civilization cards.

Limit the game to fewer players (2 to 4?)

Smaller map (use the smaller areas on the Gibsons map).

Use a timer to limit trade sessions?

Drop the ships. Allow units 1 or 2 extra moves if along coastline, modified by Cloth and Astronomy. Modify the Piracy event.

Simplify the census. Count something else - number of cities? number of Civ cards? Position on AST?

Reduce the number of tokens in stock.

Allow catchup movement on AST. Discard a Civ card to move forward an extra step??

Abolish the AST altogether? Use Civ cards value as Victory/end of game condition??


Christo said...

I have fond memories of Civilisation, and am also on a quest for that elusive Civ-Lite. I tend to think we are pursuing a chimera though because our minds have been "polluted" by the richness of Civ-like games on the computer with their deep tech trees and oodles of maps, and by the elegance and simplicity of Euro-Games. We want to meld all of these together into something that takes a couple of hours at the most, but delivers that great empire building buzz. It just might not be possible, but it can be rewarding trying to find that elusive game all the same.

Coupled with the eternal quest for the ultimate dungeon crawl that delivers that RPG buzz in an evening.

Hopeless maybe, but we keep searching.

[dashes off to read up on Tempus]

Chris Farrell said...

I think a lot of games have a natural length - the amount of time it'll take for everything to fully develop, for the chaos inherent in the system to equalize and fall out, and for strategic choices to develop. Being unable to harmonize the length a game wants to be with how long it acutally is, is tricky for some designers. For example, 1830 is a game that is pretty much the right length - the game has a rhythm to it, decisions are allowed to play out, and things end before they get out of hand. By contrast, most of the follow-ups (and all the gamekits I've played) have lost that harmonization, and are too short or much too long.

I think Civlization is the right length for what it is. The systems balance, the calamaties have a chance to affect everyone, and strategic decisions play out over time.

If you were to try to make a shorter Civilization by dismembering it, you would need to rebalance everything about the game, not just the numbers, but the weight given to each element. It would be like designing a whole new game, really, with no guarentee the end result would work. For example, you'd need to re-design the whole calamity structure so that each player would get their fair share over the course of a game and individual calamities wouldn't unbalance things unduly.

Civilization is such an impressive game to me because all the balances between systems are so finely done.

However you approach this issue, it's a daunting problem.