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Sid Meier's Civilization

Recently, I brainstormed the possibility of redesigning Beyond Earth's winstates in order to support cooperative victories. With Civilization VI having been announced last month, I want to take some time to look at some different ways to approach victories in the mainstream Civilization games. Since Civilization III, there have been five victory types that have appeared in every mainstream Civ game:

  • the military victory = kill or conquer everyone else
  • the science victory = build a space ship to Alpha Centauri
  • the culture victory = accumulate the most culture yield (usually through wonders)
  • the diplomatic victory = vote for yourself to be leader of the United Nations
  • the score victory = if no other victories are met by a certain number of turns, the civ with the highest score wins.

Earlier games had fewer victories (only military and space race), but there have been other victory types as well. Civ III and IV had a victory that simply required the player to occupy a majority of the map's land area and population (which could be achieved via military conquest and/or relatively peaceful expansion). I liked this victory type because it facilitated role-play by allowing me to grow my empire organically without having to feel like I was constantly meta-gaming for one of the other victories - just keep growing by whatever means are necessary or convenient. Civ IV also had a religious victory that required you to convert other players to your religion and then get them to elect you to be Pope or whatever. Civ: Revolution and the board game even included an economic victory in which you must accumulate a certain amount of wealth tokens. This was different than the "economic victory" of Civ V, in which you save up enough money to buy out the alliance of every city state on the turn before a U.N. election.

Civilization IV included a religious victory [LEFT], and the board game includes an economic victory [RIGHT].

These victories are intended to provide a direct path to victory using each of the major fundamental gameplay styles. But are there other methods?

A victory point system

For the most part, however, Civilization games have followed similar models for its victories. A consistent problem with these models is that - depending on difficulty level - a player either has to commit to a particular victory path very early, or the decision of which victory to achieve happens late in the game and can be kind of arbitrary. Some of the victories can even happen accidentally. For example, a cultural victory could be accidentally achieved by a player who is pursing a military victory and weakens all other players to the point that their culture overwhelms all other players' culture.

What about a system in which achievements during the course of the entire game provide points towards a victory? This is similar to the score system that is currently in the game, but it can possibly be tweaked to make it work better. I'm thinking of a system similar to a board game like Settlers of Catan, in which there are victory points that alternate between players over the course of the game, and other victory points that are given once and accumulated throughout the game.

Settlers of Catan victory points
Could a victory point system similar to Settlers of Catan work in Civilization?

Many of the victory points earned would be similar to the ones that are included in the score of existing games. But some sources of victory points may include:

  • Building world wonders, or for having the most wonders
  • Having the highest population
  • Controlling the largest land area
  • Having most of a particular yield (most productive civ, most literate civ, wealthiest civ, most "cultured civ", etc.)
  • Having the happiest population
  • Having the strongest army / navy / air force
  • First to reach certain tech or cultural milestones
  • First to circumnavigate the globe
  • First to discover natural wonders
  • Controlling natural wonders
  • First to progress to a new era
  • Being elected to a role within the U.N.
  • Passing resolutions within the U.N.
  • Space race milestones
  • Conquering other civs
  • Victorious wars
  • Victories against barbarians

What I like about this sort of approach is that it incentives player to attempt a variety of achievements over the course of the game. It's less about pivoting in one specific direction and doubling down on it late in the game, and more about developing and maintain power and influence over the entire game. And if you're weak in one particular area, you can pivot towards one of the others. We could even tally up scores at the conclusion of each era in order to encourage players to be a dominant power throughout the early ages as well. Though, this would require some sort of "global era" progression, rather than each civ being in an independent era based on its own individual tech progression. More actions that you perform in the early and mid game would feel like they're contributing directly to the end game. This can also be a way to allow victories to capture certain metrics that the traditional victories outlined above haven't been able to account for. Things like having the most literate population, eliminating hunger or poverty or disease, or providing foreign aid to under-developed civs could all provide victory points to whoever currently meets those conditions.

Providing foreign aid to weaker civs or city states (and other humanitarian objectives)
could be a way of earning victory points.

A victory point system could also be helpful for multiplayer games, as the amount of victory points required could be adjustable in the game settings in order to control the relative length of the game. For quicker multiplayer games, the host could potentially lower the victory point requirement in order to allow for the game to end sooner. Players who prefer longer single-player games could also have the option of increasing the victory point requirements in order to make their games last longer (thus having more chances to use those fancy-pants nukes, missile cruisers, stealth bombers, and giant death robots before the game ends). So it's a very easily-scalable solution!

The downside is that such an approach may "gamify" the game too much. You're not necessarily expanding, or building wonders, or exploring the map for their own sake; you'd be doing those things to literally score points. This can require even more "meta-gaming" than trying to railroad yourself down a particular playstyle in order to meet that playstyle's favored victory condition. For example, if I'm really close to qualifying for a victory point, I might go out of my way just to get that point, even if it means doing something that is not in the general interests of my civilization, or something that doesn't fit within my playstyle or civilization's flavor. I might also find myself building wonders that I don't need, simply because I have the production to spare, want the buffer of victory points, and want to deny those VPs to other players.

Shared, cooperative victories

I recently blogged about ideas for redesigning Beyond Earth's victories to allow for shared cooperative victories. I thought it would have been a good way for Beyond Earth to have separated itself from Civ V. However, there is a lot of room for Civilization's victory states to be opened to multiple players simultaneously as well. I mean, just take another look at the announcement trailer for Civ VI and really listen to Sean Bean's narration. This is a beautifully profound trailer that celebrates the collective achievements of all of humanity.

"We are the explorers, the inventors, the architects of change, the builders of a better tomorrow.
We strive, we dream, we inspire, always towards something greater.
All the odds we defy, the risks we take, the challenges we endure, only make us stronger.
There's no end to our imagination, and no limit to civilization.
   - Sean Bean narrating Civilization VI announcement trailer
The announcement trailer for Civilization VI celebrates the collective achievements of all of humanity.

In case you hadn't noticed, I really love this trailer and the message that it sends! If there were an award for "best video game trailer", then this trailer deserves that award. But the humanistic optimism of this trailer isn't necessarily representative of the Civilization games - though I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Civ VI. Victories being mutually exclusive has deleterious effects on diplomacy and the interactions between civs. This may be kind of subjective, but to me, there's no real sense of being friends with each other in Civ. You're always competing in a zero-sum game, and even the closest of alliances has that element of competition under the surface. Maybe this is some fatalist socio-political statement by Sid Meier and Firaxis, but then what's the deal with the gushingly-optimistic trailer?

I've had situations in Civ games in which I've maintained healthy alliances with other civs for very large chunks of time. We've been trading partners, we have no border conflicts, we've helped each other in military conflicts, we share the same ideology or government (depending on which iteration of Civ I'm playing), and so we have green diplomatic modifiers across the board. In such a situation, our two civs should be so closely allied that we have a genuine interest in each other's well-being and should support each other's continued success. But in Civ, that really isn't the case. If your ally starts to get very strong, or starts to pull ahead in technology or U.N. delegates or culture wonders, then suddenly, you're put into conflict. You can't both be the shining city on the hill. So if your close ally is suddenly invaded by your mutual enemy, and that ally asks for help, it's actually in your best interests to sit on the sidelines and say "nah, this war isn't really in our interests". If that enemy weakens your ally, then it puts you in a better position to win (so long as that enemy doesn't now have an upper hand against you).

Civilization V - fellow autocrat Alexander
Since all players are competing with one another for an exclusive victory, loyalty to allies is less important.

I really don't think that should be the case, and I honestly think that the only way to really give diplomacy and alliances the weight and meaning that they deserve is to allow multiple civs to share in each other's victories. I also feel that the existing Civ victories can easily be modified to support this.

The greatest challenge to such a model is balancing it so that such victories are not easy or automatic if every player simply cooperates. The way that difficulty levels are designed might also need to be rethought, since A.I. handicaps on high difficulties could be exploited to allow the player to coast to victory on the A.I. civs' coattails. I think there are ways around this, and I bet that Firaxis could find a design that works if they really wanted shared victories to be a game feature. In fact, Civ IV already included a "Permanent Alliance" feature, which allows two civilizations (and only two) to be joined together for the remainder of the game. The relevant players shared gold, beakers, culture, military line-of-sight, trade and diplomatic deals, and could combine their space ship parts to form a single space ship. Most importantly, a win for one permanent ally counted as a win for the other. Every civ in the game (so long as there was an even number) could pair off like this, but it was not possible for every civ in the game to join together and win as one. This isn't necessarily the best solution, as it ignores the possibility of a political shift that could pull those two allies apart.

In the simplest cases, A.I.s could be programmed to resist cooperating on shared victories if they dislike the other player (or A.I.) enough. The option to disable shared victories could also be included, and might be necessary for multiplayer games. The rules and costs of such victories could also be designed, scaled, and balanced so that it becomes prohibitively expensive to include everyone; thus forcing at least some players out of contention and maintaining late-game conflict.

The "Star Trek" victory

The space race is a good candidate for a shared victory. I would like to think that in real life, the United States and the United Kingdom are close enough allies that if some researcher in the U.K. made some breakthrough in space-faring technology and the U.K. began construction of space ship towards Alpha Centauri, that the U.S. and NASA would actually help and contribute towards the U.K.'s space program (or vice versa). In Civ that doesn't happen, as the space race victory is firmly rooted in Cold War era politics. Civs cannot contribute towards a shared space program, and the U.K.'s successful space program is completely exclusive to, and somehow invalidates, the U.S. and Chinese and Russian and Indian and everyone else's space programs for ... some reason.

Civilization V - International Space Station
Much like the International Space Station, the space race in future Civ games could be cooperative.

I can easily imagine a system in which multiple civs can cooperate to research certain advancements and build certain space ship parts and then combine them together with other civs' parts to create a single, multi-national space ship. Like with my proposals for Beyond Earth, there would have to be checks put in place to prevent this victory path from becoming an automatic victory for everyone because that would take all the challenge out of the game. But I do think it is worthwhile to consider the possibility of including a victory type in which the societies of Earth put aside their cultural and nationalistic differences and unite in their efforts to boldly go where no one has gone before.

The ideological victory

I felt like the ideology system of Civ V would have been a great way to introduce a shared "Ideological Victory" that could have combined elements of the military, diplomatic, and culture victories. Ideologies in Civ V were very similar to affinities in Beyond Earth, so I feel that they could similarly have been converted to a shared victory type similar to my proposals for shared affinity victories.

In the context of Civ V, there could have been a victory type that could be achieved by multiple civs if:

  • All eligible civs shared the same ideology,
  • All eligible civs maintained peaceful diplomatic relations,
  • Those civs' shared ideology is declared the "World Ideology" in the United Nations,
  • Eligible civs have progressed beyond a certain threshold in ideological development,
  • Eligible civs have progressed beyond certain thresholds in national development.
Civilization V - world ideologies
Civ V could have introduced a shared victory for civs that shared the same ideology.

Those last two criteria are important because we don't want to be handing out trophies for participation. Simply piggy-backing on the ideology of the most powerful political block in the game should not be a path to victory; at least, it shouldn't be a viable path unless the members of that strong political block let your weaker civ into the victory. So any attempt at a victory model like this would need to find a way to ensure that all parties that share in the victory are actually fairly strong players in the game's global stage. For example, if an autocratic player is well on their way to conquering all ideological rivals, then my really weak civ should not be able to hop onto the autocracy bandwagon at the last minute to share in that civ's victory.

So what exactly do I mean by "certain thresholds of development"? Ideological development (in context of Civ V) could refer to having adopted a certain number of ideological tenets or filling a certain tier of tenets. For example, maybe only players with at least one level 3 tenet could be eligible for the ideological victory. National development is a bit trickier to nail down. It could be technological progress, or population, or empire size, or economic strength, or some combination thereof. It could also tie into some sort of revised diplomatic system in which players must apply to join the United Nations, and only members of the U.N. could qualify for an ideological victory. The eligible civs could even vote for who gets included in the victory, and if agreement can't be reached, then nobody wins yet.

Civilization agendas to facilitate role play

The victory point proposal took inspiration from the board game Settlers of Catan, but there are also other video games that Civ could look to as inspirations as well. One in particular, might be The Sims (specifically The Sims 2 and after). These games don't have actual "win states", per se. You don't get a "Game Over" screen or "Congratulations, you won!" screen.

Instead, the entire game is about achieving a series of milestones with a sequence of characters that could go on indefinitely. Each character has a series of short-term and long-term goals - or "aspirations", as The Sims 2 called it - and the game had an implicit win state that asked the player to try to achieve as many of these goals as possible. If you filled a certain quota of a character's lifetime wishes, that character would become perpetually happy for the remainder of his or her life, and basically that character "won the game". But that didn't nullify the other characters' opportunities to win the game.

The Sims 2 - aspirations
In The Sims 2, each character has his or her own lifetime aspirations that the player works towards.

Perhaps Civilization VI (or later games) could incorporate such a model. Instead of having four or six pre-determined victories that every civ is working to achieve in every game, each civ could be given its own agenda or set of agendas that it is tasked with completing over the course of the game. Completing all of these agendas (or at least some subset of them beyond a certain threshold) could qualify the respective civ for a victory so long as they aren't subsequently wiped out by a rival. These agendas could be selected by the players during game setup or could be randomized when the game starts. Each civ could be given different sets of agendas, and each agenda could maybe even be tailored to a specific civ based on that civilization's real world history or ideals. For example, the Soviet Union could have an agenda to set up the best espionage system in the world, Egypt could have an agenda to build certain wonders, England could have an agenda to build and maintain a certain number of overseas colonies, Native American civs or the Celts could have an agenda to avoid chopping down forests and minimize pollution, America could have an agenda to convert other civilizations (or city states) to democracy, India could have an agenda to avoid military conflict, and so on. This gives more of a sense of humanity to the game. The civilizations and their leaders might feel a little bit more like actual people who have specific wants or esoteric goals rather than simply being an abstract concept of a state or nation.

It seems that Civ VI is already taking a step in this direction by introducing agendas for each leader. Ed Beach has also stated in interviews that there is a new type of victory being added to the game:

"There’s one victory type that’s gone from Civ 5, one brand-new one that has been added, and a number of them, including the Space Race, where the steps and process you go through to get there will be new and interesting"
   - Ed Beach, lead designer, in an interview

So it's possible that these leader agendas may play some role in Civ VI's victories, but whenever Firaxis has talked about agendas, it's always been in the context of influencing how the A.I. plays the game, and how they interact with other players. Does the human player even have an agenda? I'm not sure. If it turns out that the human player does have an agenda, then this feature suddenly becomes more interesting.

Tying these agendas to victories does introduce some new design considerations. The agendas need to be varied enough that they don't just boil down to the same few victory types already present (because then what's the point?). They also need to allow for the player to approach the game in different ways and not be railroaded down a specific playstyle for a specific civ. Lastly, the agendas need to introduce some conflict and be at least partially mutually-exclusive with other players' agendas. We don't want there to be situations in which everybody can win by fulfilling their own esoteric agenda without even having to think about the other civs in the game. Despite these challenges, there's also a lot of merit to such an approach. A good variety of agendas could provide extra replay value - even for individual civs - and agendas could also offer unique scenario-like challenges that are integrated into the core game.

Civilization VI - leader agendas
Civilization VI will have some kind of agenda for each leader. Will it tie into victory?

Instead of being a means to victory in themselves, these agendas could also award victory points in the scheme described at the top of this essay. This paradigm also opens up the possibility of multiple civs possibly winning. There's no reason why Egypt (for example) can't build its quota of wonders to satisfy its agenda and that America can't fulfill its agenda of converting the world to Democracy. So if you achieve a victory early, you would then have to maintain that victory for the rest of the game. That could get annoying. The game could offer the player the option to claim victory once the conditions are met, since forcing the player to go through the motions for the remainder of the game probably wouldn't be desirable.

In order to resolve this problem, Civ could take a page out of the design philosophies of city-builders like SimCity or Cities: Skylines. These games (as already discussed in my open world limbo essay) have entropic systems in place to provide a constant stream of problems to solve in a sandbox setting. In a city-builder, growing the population of your city will eventually result in congestion in your road network or unemployment among citizens. Alternatively, if you halt the growth of your city, your current residents will start to retire and/or die of old age, you're work force will shrink, and your businesses won't have enough workers to maintain a stable economy. Either way, the status quo is disrupted, and the player has to take action. If designed well, these game systems guarantee that there is always something for the player to do, even if you thought you had established equilibrium.

If Civ had robust systems in place to simulate citizen happiness, health, public support, employment, and other such social and domestic issues, then it could also have systems in place to organically destabilize them and provide the player with new challenges to resolve as their already-victorious civilization continues to grow and age. Not only would you have to meet a victory condition, but you would also have to "stand the test of time" with those conditions met. If these systems are engaging and challenging enough in their own right, then this could turn maintaining a victory into a satisfying experience. This, of course, would require the game to start to skew away from its abstract board game roots, and more towards a simulationist design philosophy. Addmittedly, there would be a fairly sizable portion of the Civ fanbase that would balk at such a transition. Their concerns should be respected because such a paradigm shift could be seen as a betrayal of the series' fundamental roots. But at the same time, I'm a fan of more simulation-style games, and I happen to fall into the same camp as Campster, whose Errant Signal video profoundly influenced this little brainstorm of mine. Like Campster, I'd like for Civ to do a better job of representing and humanizing the people that make up its civilizations, rather than the abstract states that they represent. So to that end, I feel like these ideas are - at the very least - worth considering and discussing.

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