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Impressions: Civ V – Brave New World

Alliance and Industry

I’ve started more games of Civilization V than a hundred men could ever finish and that’s not only because I enjoy discovering new worlds more than I enjoy conquering them. Civilization doesn’t have a compelling end-game, lacking the peaks and troughs of grand strategy, and instead taking a predictable course once the pieces are in place. Brave New World attempts to fix that by overhauling culture, diplomacy and trade.

Civ V’s player-prompting interface is like a court of meddlesome advisors, never allowing an important matter to pass without comment. One advantage of this is that it allows new features to slot into the game and make their presence known when appropriate, rather than hiding in menus and waiting to be discovered. The game notifies the player whenever input is needed and thanks to the ease of flow, a couple of hours in an industrial era save sufficed to give me a working appreciation of Brave New World’s trade and culture systems. The significant alterations to mid- and late-game diplomacy didn’t have as much impact on the session but the intent is admirable and the implementation is promising.

The changes to culture and diplomacy only arise later in the game but not Brave New World isn't only fleshing out the end-game, which sounds like a particularly grotesque activity. The earliest feature to be introduced is the trading system, which is the game’s first real concession to the complexities of mercantile happenings beyond diplomatic swap-meets. Research now unlocks a series of trading units, beginning with caravans that travel, vulnerable and packed with goods, across land to foreign cities. If this was simply a way to divert the flow of cash from cities, providing an alternate means of reaching the same end, it’d be little more than a distraction. However, the trade system impacts on other aspects of the game, old and new, and it does that via a method that I’m going to call ‘The Barnacle Effect’.

The Barnacle Effect describes the situation whereby a large new feature is a ship of state, while traces of existing features, and other additions, are like the barnacles clinging to its hull. Of course, these new vessels launch barnacle boarding parties of their own, which is where the metaphor either falls apart or becomes the greatest pirate cartoon that the world has ever seen. Essentially, Firaxis are expanding rather than replacing with these new features, not simply layering functionality on top of existing mechanics, but attempting cross-pollination of ideas so that everything new feeds into and from everything old.

Brave New World already seems a much finer example of this stitching effect than the previous expansion, Gods and Kings. While I was glad of the addition of religion and even the less substantial espionage, faith, as a new resource, became somewhat segregated. Separation of church and state isn’t complete in Civ V, but the integration is far from complete. Brave New World is attempting to avoid this by threading its new ideas through the old and layering sometimes unexpected knock-on effects onto player actions.

To that end, trade doesn’t simply generate money, although that’s its main purpose. Send a naval trade unit across an ocean to a distant civilization’s capital and it’ll rake in a great deal of gold as it moves back and forth across the map. As a physical object in the world, rather than a representative line drawn onto the map, it is vulnerable to attack while it travels. Once set on course, it remains true to its path until a number of turns have lapsed, at which point the owner can reassign them.

Decisions are complicated by the barnacles of trade. If your civ is a scientific powerhouse, trading with less advanced nations will see them suckling at the teat of knowledge. Exposure to your operations permits them to leech some of your science, not stealing it, but sharing it. This, cleverly, makes trade a foundation for expansionist and wealthy empires but also accommodates isolationist tendencies, permitting the lone wolf to keep to his/her own shores, trading internally and protecting what has been earned.

Trade is also affected by goods – arrange routes between yourself and civs or city states that have resources that aren’t already shared and there’s a hefty trade bonus. As the only new addition that becomes available early in the game’s first era, trade is set to have a large impact on the game, but it’s the changes to culture that I’m most pleased by.

I tend to play as a pacifist, accruing science and culture, trying to keep the hounds of war at bay. Unfortunately, and there’s deeper point to be made here, Civilization does not favour a passive approach and, as the renaissance dawns, without a war to fight the entire game can be reduced to a simple process: ‘pick a wonder, press end turn a few times, pick another wonder, press end turn a few times, choose a social policy, press end turn a few times’. The map becomes almost entirely redundant, the game now a series of city screens with rapidly diminishing build choices.

The late-game in Civ V (and the earlier entries are not excused) is often, quite literally, a case of pressing a button and watching numbers rise. This is why so many games go unfinished. Brave New World hopes to change that by encouraging culture-obsessed players to engage with the map through archaeology and tourism.

Tourism is, magnificently, the term used to designate ‘offensive culture’. Clearly, Firaxis are no strangers to Brits on tour. Rather than the border-chomping cultural push of Civilization IV, tourism is a resource collected by the host nation and the aim, for a new cultural victory, is to collect so much tourism that other civs fall at your feet in awe. They are a new type of vassal state, in thrall to your trinkets, many of which may be robbed from their own backyards. Archaeology, the stand-out feature of Brave New World, can be fantastically cruel.

Just as certain resources, such as horses and oil, are hidden on the map until the corresponding technology unveils them, the archaeology tech now reveals dig sites. These aren’t randomly seeded but instead, whenever a barbarian encampment or city is destroyed, or a big ruckus occurs, there’s a chance that an artefact will be deposited on that hex. When an archaeologist is built, naturally attired in the manner of Dr Jones, it has two options upon reaching a dig site – collect the contents or set up a memorial of sorts, which causes the tile to generate culture at the loss of some other resources.

You want to dig up the past though, right? I did. The game tells you not only when the object was deposited but what it is (broken spearheads, vases etc) and which culture it belongs to. It’s a little history of the world and once you’ve rediscovered it, with the possibility of annoying its original owner if it isn’t returned, Elgin Marbles-style, then it can be placed in an empty culture slot, from whence it will generate culture. These slots appear in museums, galleries and many cultural Wonders, including the Louvre, which has more than any other building.

Great Artists have also received a boost. Now, they not only have names but a specific profession, be it musician or writer, and each has a specific work of art associated with him/her. When they complete that work, details of it are shown - a snippet of music or a quote from a literary work or a picture of the painting/sculpture – and it must then be placed in an appropriate building, where it generates yet more tourism.

If the tourism generated by one civilization is greater than the base cultural output of another, the former is poised for a cultural victory over that nation. Outdo the rest and victory is yours. Of course, to protect against the tourism of other nations it’s necessary to build the old, traditional cultural points as well, now considered defensive. In its entirety the addition of tourism and archaeology not only makes the peaceful option more engaging, it also adds a great deal of flavour to the game.

The World Congress is the third major change to the game. It’s the aspect I’ve seen the least of but, in theory, it should make diplomacy more interesting and allow popular civs to implement game-changing rules. The congress is founded in the mid-game and the nation that builds it has a voting advantage from the outset, sending two delegates and proposing votes on matters as diverse as trading sanctions and nuclear proliferation. I managed to ban the export of whales, just because Paris was surrounded by them and I wanted to set fire to Napoleon. Cutting off his main source of income seemed like a start. It’ll be interesting to see how the AI handles both voting and putting forward propositions because I immediately think of the Congress as a perfect situation for some good old human treachery, the sort of thing that should be incorporated into multiplayer games more often.

There are also nine new civs, with their abilities, leaders, and unique buildings and units. Many are designed to take advantage of specific aspects of the expansion and the few that I saw have powerful and not entirely expected abilities. It’s in those unique abilities and units that Civ V has always shown its hand – it’s a game about winning rather than experiencing, a competitive race to the finish. The strength of Brave New World is that it aims to make the destination, as well as the journey, far more compelling.

Unlike Gods and Kings, this expansion might just convince a few non-believers that Civ V is capable of learning a few new tricks. The Congress may end up being the most significant addition, particularly during multiplayer games, but it’s the flavour and greater degree of interaction and engagement that the new culture abilities offer that I’m most intrigued by.

Brave New World is out July 9th in the US and on the 12th in the rest of the world. Those triremes struggle with the oceans, you see.

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