August 3, 2009

Why I'll Never Play Civ IV Again

Dale Culp Says The first time I came across any game in the Civilization series was Civ II. A friend leant me a copy of the game and told me it was his favorite game ever, so I decided to give it a go. Several hours later, I decided I never wanted to play it again. That was a decision that stood for over 10 years now, and one I never considered looking back on until recently.

If you've ever listened to the gaming podcast Rebel FM, you've probably heard Anthony Gallegos recount many tales of his gaming experiences with Civ IV. His strategies, styles and methods make the game sound extremely fun. As such, I decided to give the series another try to see if things had changed at all since Civ II and downloaded the demo.

The demo for Civ IV is incredibly short. You get just about enough time to start a thriving civilization and maybe get into a little trouble with your neighbors before you run out of turns and the demo ends. Well, of course I'd want to play more at that point; the Civ IV demo would be comparable to a demo version of Super Mario Bros. that ended as I leapt across a bottomless pit. Did I make it? Did I land on the other side? I just had to know, especially as I found that I was having a little bit of fun and couldn't wait to see what a real game was like. So, a few days later, I bought a retail box copy and couldn't wait to get it installed.

In my first game, I went through the tutorial. I got a handle on what was what and how different things in the game worked. It wasn't long, however, before I was in over my head and ended up losing--to Gandhi. After the tutorial ends, and I was left on my to own to figure things out, I kept going. At some point, I needed room to expand and figured I'd take over one of India's cities by declaring war--a decision that ended up being my undoing. I wasted every last unit I had until Gandhi issued me a peace treaty--despite the fact that I was, clearly, no real threat. By this time, the game was pretty much over. I had no room to expand and no time to research anything worthwhile, so I let the clock run out and took my loss with a grain of salt. I figured, I have to learn the game like everyone else. Surely, I'll do better next time around. And I did. That is, until China decided it was worthwhile to climb across two other countries to raid my country and leave it a burned out husk of what it once was. I finished above Egypt, at least, but that was about it. My third game ended roughly the same. As did my fourth and fifth, until I decided I just suck at Civ IV and quit the game, swearing it off forever. Again.

Whether it's Risk (the board game), Starcraft or even some free, Flash-based browser game, I end up losing terribly. Why? Well, for one thing, I don't bother to take the time to learn the games properly. I don't study the units or progress tree. I don't bother weighing the consequences of fighting in the jungle vs. flatlands vs. highlands. I can't constantly monitor everything that's going on and I get a headache the more I try to understand it. I'm sure, also, that I could probably get the hang of it if I just kept playing, but the other problem is that I don't really want to. Memorizing stats, micromanaging everything, figuring out the politics of who to burn and who to schmooze...forget it! World domination is overrated. And even if I wanted to win the game by score alone or by one of the other peaceful means to victory, I can't, because some other country always rolls right over me. It's kind of embarrassing, really. I've always considered myself to be something of an average gamer, but strategy games? I'm bottom of the barrel. Give me a brain dead first-person shooter or action-platformer any day.