Category: design

What’s wrong with Civ V?

I’m a long-time fan of the Civilization games, old enough to remember playing a cracked copy of the original Civ games on the university computers while in high school. (Yes, I pay for all my games now, thanks for asking.) When a new iteration of Civilization comes out, it’s a joyous event: not quite Christmas, but bigger than Halloween, y’know? So when I got my sweaty palms on Civ V, it was with a great deal of anticipation.

Developing a game doesn’t leave you with much time to play other games – one of those ironies they don’t tell you about. But I’ve managed to sneak in enough time with Civ V to end up… a little disappointed. Not such that I won’t play, or enjoy myself while doing so, but I’m not enthralled, not yet. Civ 2 and Civ 4, I each played for five years, all the way through until the next version came out. Civ 3, I played for maybe six months. There’s a danger Civ 5 will be another Civ 3 for me.

Why? What’s the problem? Did they simplify too many things, or the wrong things? Maybe, but I think it’s something else. I think it’s the vaunted new combat system – or, more precisely, the secondary consequences of that system.

One of the largest changes to Civ V is the elimination of stacked units. Now, each combat unit occupies a space that cannot be shared with any other unit. This, combined with the introduction of hex spaces, pushes the game into the tactical realm inhabited primarily by war games. And it does make the combat more interesting, on a per-engagement basis.

However, to make this work, each civilization needs to end up with an army that is much smaller on a per-unit basis than was common for any prior Civ game. There’s just not room on the map for them otherwise, and presumably they also wanted to limit the amount of time players needed to spend each turn just moving their armies around the board. Instead, you have tougher units, and more attacking and withdrawing and so on.

At least, that’s the theory. And sometimes it works out okay, and you get nice consequences, like more “leveling” of units as they survive and gain experience. But the big problem is that this means they need to make each unit more expensive to field. Creating an up-to-tech unit takes much longer in Civ V than in previous versions, and costs a whole lot of schmuckers to buy outright.

Okay, so what? Well, if we push further down the train of consequences, we get to this ugly one: if you defeat your enemy’s initial forces, they can’t rebuild in time for it to matter (unless the enemy is very large). As a result, it’s all about the early battles. Win those, and you will collapse the enemy’s empire and take it all for yourself. There’s a middle ground, but it is small.

Civ IV, by contrast, had both small and large wars. A number of things worked against large-scale conquering: the slow process of assimilating new cities, the effects of culture on newly-acquired border cities, war unhappiness, the ability to manufacture reinforcements reasonably quickly, and the ability to stack units in cities (which not only protected those cities, but also kept the reinforcements safe until there were enough of them to meet the enemy in the field). Civ V only has unhappiness penalties for new cities (and it doesn’t matter whether you are at war or not, so this is not a disincentive to further warring), and some policy and wonder bonuses available to boost combat prowess within one’s own borders – which won’t matter once you’ve lost your army.

And that’s really too bad, because it eliminates a whole dimension of gameplay, and makes the game swingy: be the first to bash another Civ’s head in, and you have a big leg up on the rest of the game.

Civ V gets a lot of other things right, particularly the addition of city-states, which are a huge and clever innovation that adds both to the mechanical gameplay, and to the realism factor in the game. And I will continue to play it, with some measure of happiness. But the main thing I’ve come away with is a renewed appreciation for the potential for unintended, second- or third- or nth-order consequences in the complex, dynamic system that is a game (especially one with as many variables as a Civ game). Something to watch out for.

Printing business cards online

Business card front

Business card front ...

Business card back

... and back

A couple of weeks before we attended PAX East, we realized that it might be nice to have business cards to hand out. We created designs for the front and back, then looked for a site where we could upload them as JPEGs and place an order. In the process, we learned a few lessons.

Get feedback on your card design before ordering. Our initial design for the front of the cards used a palette of earth tones. When we showed it to our team of design experts friends, however, everyone said it looked like crap. (Literally, in a couple of instances.) We tried a few other palettes before switching to a simple but effective solution: we reused the main color of the back, which everyone had liked.

Be careful with colors. Some colors don’t look exactly the same in print as they do on a computer screen. We used a light, creamy yellow as an accent color, but the saturation level was low, and on the printed cards it doesn’t “pop” the way it does onscreen. The cards still look nice, but we’ll use a more saturated color on the next run.

Account for the “bleed” area. Print companies typically recommend that you reserve at least 1/8″ on all sides of your design to account for minor variations in where the cards are cut. (Many provide templates with the exact dimensions to use in pixels.) Text and foreground elements shouldn’t stray near this “bleed” area, as they might get cropped or lack a suitable margin depending on where the cards are cut. Backgrounds, on the other hand, should be “full bleed” and extend across the entire area; otherwise, you might end up with a bit of white around the edges of your cards.

Card size varies from country to country. 3.5″ x 2″ is the standard in the U.S., but the U.K. uses something closer to 3.31″ x 3.17″ (85 x 55 mm), and other dimensions are used elsewhere. We discovered this because we used Moo, a company founded in London, to print a set of cards showing off the fantastic portrait art Chris Rahn has done for us. (We’re up to six portraits in the Bastion gallery, with four more on the way.) When we decided to get our business cards from a U.S.-based company, we found that the dimensions needed to be different.

Research pays off. After looking at more than half a dozen online printers, we settled on Zazzle, which promised a remarkable turnaround time — just 24 hours to create the cards and get them out the door — at a fairly low price. And they delivered: the cards arrived on time and look snazzy, the issue with the accent color notwithstanding.

If you’re an old-school RPG player, you might have noticed a resemblance between our cards and certain adventure modules and maps. If not, we hope they’ll still catch your eye and give you a hint of what drives 10×10 Room: a sense of fun.

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