F2P of the Day: CivWorld


F2P of the Day is a recurring feature in which we select and sample a game that you can play without spending a dime.

Sid Meier’s Civilization has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the most addictive game franchises in existence. Its “just one more turn” mantra is common knowledge to strategy gamers and their long-suffering friends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives.

Even better known, however, is the globe-spanning, movie-inspiring behemoth Facebook, which as of recently can claim 750 million active users. Many of these users, in recent years, have begun using the social network to play games. Now, thanks to the efforts of Sid Meier himself, you can use Facebook to play Civilization.


CivWorld (Web [Reviewed])
Developer: Firaxis
Publisher: Firaxis
Release Date: 2011
MSRP: $0

CivWorld, as his new, terrifyingly addictive title is known, just entered open beta. Developers Firaxis, in conjunction with publishers 2K Games, are still hammering out the finer points of the gameplay, but the essential structure is in place, and players have been flocking to the world of CivWorld in droves.

Even if you’re a veteran Civilization player, it’s hard to just pick up and excel at the game. Familiar stratagems have to be reconsidered and assumptions challenged as one adapts to a game radically reformulated to fit its new, social media space.

This process begins by identifying what is familiar. The game still starts in 4000BC and ends in the near future. Despite the hex-based map design of Civilization V, CivWorld features square tiles. Research is still a progression up a branching tree of technologies. Five commodities – food, production, science, gold, and culture – are the pillars of the economy, as they have been since Civilization IV. The manner in which they are gathered, however, is hugely different.

Players no longer control entire civilizations. Instead, each individual user controls a town (consisting of a palace and the nearby tiles) overseeing its growth and trying to maximize its potential for harvesting resources. This is done not by founding cities close to valuable, special tiles, but instead by carefully managing the happiness and efficiency of your citizens.

Each town begins with four of these citizens; more are added as food milestones are achieved. Each citizen needs a house to be able to work; placement of your houses is a key component of strategy. Citizens are happier if they can live by water tiles, or forest tiles, or near other citizens of the same occupation.

By clicking on a house, you can assign a citizen one of five occupations, corresponding to the five resources. Having done so, the next step is to provide your workforce with something to do. Farmers need gardens, pastures, cornfields or orchards to work in, each deriving certain bonuses based on their placement. Without the ability to use units to scout the area surrounding your palace, new territory is discovered by building and upgrading watchtowers.

Workers need things to harvest as well: forests, stone outcroppings, and iron deposits. These form the extent of CivWorld’s special tiles. The fruits of this labor are deposited at various buildings – saw mills, stonemasons, etc.

Scientists, Merchants, and Artists also have their role to play, though they work from home and cash in their efforts at the palace or, later, a special building called a “Village Green.” By shrewdly growing and organizing your town, you can start pumping out resources at a satisfying clip. The happier the citizen, and the closer he is to the drop-off point, the greater the yield. Resources are accrued gradually over time and also in hourly “Harvests.” Power-users with a lot of time on their hands can also keep an eye out for small icons that pop up over the heads of citizens – clicking on them yields a small amount of resources towards your total.

Those with disposable income can opt to purchase “CivBucks,” which can be spent to earn more harvests or gain extra moves in CivWorld’s three mini-games. The merchant mini-game, which earns you gold, involves a PipeDream-style “create the route” challenge, without any of the time pressure. A gameboard is full of various tiles with bits of road on them. Selecting from a bank of road tiles, you have to connect Point A to Point B (with stops at Point C and even D or E on the way, if you play it a lot). The catch is that each road tile you select from your bank deducts from a total cash yield, so it is prudent to choose wisely and efficiently.

The culture minigame is another simple concept with a fair amount of replay value. Paintings (some recognized classics, others more dentist’s office-quality) are divided into squares and scrambled. Players are tasked with swapping tiles two-by-two to recreate the original, which is depicted next to it’s scrambled cousin.

Finally, and most importantly, the science mini-game takes the form of a maze. It’s actually a remarkably piquant metaphor for the process of scientific discovery – the more science you generate, the more moves you receive to help get through the maze. If you run into a dead end, you can start over at no cost, doing so with improved knowledge of the layout. There is, of course, a catch: you can only see part of the maze at a any given time.

The research process acts as an effective introduction to the collaborative, social aspect of CivWorld, which is of course its main difference from the other games in the series. As has been explained, each player is only in charge of an individual town, you are encouraged to band together with others to form civilizations, pooling resources and coordinating goals.

Scientific research goes much faster if multiple players in a civilization agree on a technology to pursue and all contribute their science out put towards that goal. Accumulated culture leads to the creation of Great People, who are in turn assigned to wonder-building projects that give harvesting benefits to the entire civilization. You can only assign one Great Person per wonder, however, and even once it’s built, you don’t have a monopoly on it – other civilizations can build it out from under you, albeit at a higher Great Person cost.

It is clearly Meier’s intention that players should work together. A “dowry” system encourages players to check out each others’ towns and “marry” pairs of high-yield citizens for a one-time resource bonus. Players within a civilization can vote on various social policies, which usually involve a trade-off between a bonus and a drawback. They can also, enticingly, vote on whether or not to go to war.

War in CivWorld is satisfyingly robust, allowing bloodthirsty civilizations to prey on the weak and reap the rewards of the research and the swear of their brows. Units are unlocked, in classic Civilization style, by researching technologies, though the repertoire has been streamlined. There are only a handful of units for each historical era, divided into categories: infantry, ranged, cavalry, and naval. Units can be build with harvested production resources or purchased with gold in the Market, which can also be used to buy and sell resources, Great People, and trade goods. Prices are extremely elastic, however; buy too much of one resource and expect its cost to increase rapidly.

Though it’s impossible to crush your enemies and hear the lamentation of their Facebook friends, CivWorld is careful to track your progress and give credit where credit is due. Players earn medals for achieving certain milestones, winning short-term contests, and contributing to their civilizations. As you earn medals, you are awarded “fame,” which has a dual purpose. Firstly, it moves you up the hierarchy in your civilization — higher-ranked players have fancier palaces, which yield more resources, and they get more say over which policies the civilization adopts and what it does with its armies. Depending on the nature of your accomplishments — scientific, military, or otherwise — you might be given control over a particular aspect of your civilization’s progress.

Fame is the metric by which a winner is chosen at the end of each game — the player with the most takes home the grand prize, and the bragging rights. As you play, the game reminds you of your place in the grand scheme of things; each game is currently capped at 200 players. You can have two games going simultaneously. Each takes about a week to complete. Players can track their progress game-to-game by decorating their throne rooms, as seen above.

Since the beginning of the closed beta, the CivWorld has been through three or four game cycles. There have been a few UI tweaks, but the gameplay has stayed relatively static. Though some features work swimmingly, others still seem unfinished. There’s no incentive to harvest iron as opposed to wood, for example — the yield is the same, and military units aren’t resource-dependent, as they have been in past Civilization titles. Another element missing from Civ history is the clear mathematical explanation for how things work — the wikipedia-style manual provided by Firaxis is comprehensive but not terribly detailed.

It won’t be until public release that the game really hits its stride. Civilization’s social bona fides are best embodied when members of the same civilization collaborate, and such cooperation has been rare throughout the beta. That being said, the prospect of getting together a group of like-minded friends, honing strategies, and taking on the world is certainly appealing. Now that the game has entered open beta, this will be much easier to accomplish. Those interested should round up a crew of strategically minded friends and delve in.

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1 Comment on F2P of the Day: CivWorld

Sabin

On July 10, 2011 at 11:57 am

I am saddened by this. As a long time Civ fan (and addict) I was very disappointed to see how badly they ruined Civ 5, and now it seems that instead of devoting resources to fix the broken game, they are making Facebook games. Civ 4 will be the last Civ I play I think, unless something changes.