While I was down visiting my parents, I played a good amount of Civilization IV, including a few attempts at multiplayer with my dad. (Which is sadly only possible on LAN now, as internet play relies on a service which is no more.)

These all ran into trouble.

In our first game, I got attacked by three of the other civilizations, and rapidly lost ground. I’m pretty sure that part of the motivation for the initial attack was a city I’d squeezed into the borderland, that was my first shot at getting iron; I didn’t have any access to copper, and only later built out to a second iron, so things didn’t go well for a while. I eventually stabilized the front, but probably wasn’t going to get back my third city, much less two smaller ones.

Our second attempt somehow managed not to have any AI players at all… which meant a constant stream of barbarians. This was okay until my dad built the Great Wall, which keeps barbarians out of your culture area… whereupon all the barbarians turned and headed for me. That went downhill fast.

Our third attempt felt a lot like the second. We’d been setting up maps that are about 30% water, so there’s a good amount of it around, but it’s generally all small seas. This time, the map managed to generate two separate large continents, and we were on one, and all the AIs were on the other. We could tell there were AIs out there as events would happen (such as building a wonder) that weren’t either of us, but we never contacted them. My dad built the Great Wall again, which gave me some trouble, but without the entire world’s barbarians rushing me, it wasn’t a huge problem, even though all my copper and iron were in the outlying areas again. We did both end up with financial trouble however. I overexpanded and sank my economy, being at 100% money generation and then losing most of my units when the treasury ran out. I eventually figured out how to recover from that, when my dad finally hit the same problem, but even harder (being at ~-30 gold/turn), since he’d been funding his cities with gold from villiages.

Our continent, after map trading. There’s still much more in the northeast. Exploring the western peninsula early on was very odd, and the combination of barbarians and debt kept me from settling very far along it. Charlemagne turned out to be just west of Antioch, the 7 along the west coast (I can see the edge of his cultural border).

For our fourth game we went with a ‘Mediterranean’ map, which indeed had land all around the north, east, and south sides. As it turned out, there wasn’t much presence along the south, and a bunch of barbarian cities grew up down there. That one eventually ended in the frustration of warfare again. It took a long time for us to see the other players, and then there was a slow slide of them not liking me, followed by a long phony war after Portugal declared war but my dad refused to open borders for him to send troops through.

It’d been a while since I’d really played Civ IV much, so there was a fair amount of learning going on during all of this (and a couple of solo games). The fourth game went very well in the early stages as we both managed our growth and worked towards Currency and Code of Laws, the two technologies that allow having more than a few cities to be viable. We started falling behind all the computer players, and were having to do a lot of organized trading to try and keep up. (And did get ahead in the gunpowder line for quite a bit.)

But a lot of the play forcefully reminded me of my biggest gripe about Civ IV: wars. I don’t mind the ‘stack of doom’ that you hear a lot of complaints about so much, the sheer numbers of units the computer will build and have standing around is the real problem there (especially since managing all that as a human is boring). No, I don’t like the fact that the AI players are all too willing to pursue a war at long distance, often going through someone else’s territory. This turns into an unwinnable war. You might be able to defeat his units. Go back through the neutral country and defeat his armies there. Take a city… which will be surrounded by his culture and that of the neutral powers, and therefore forever useless to you. And that’s if the war goes well. Add to this the fact that most AI players will keep asking for technologies and other gifts, and then be permanently upset when you don’t help them win the game… it’s a recipe for frustration.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to like about Civ IV, and if you can avoid the wars of infinite units, it plays well. We tried out the ‘tectonics’ algorithm for generating the world, and it really does have a pretty good feel for mountain ranges… which can lead to ‘dead’ areas. A bigger concern is that there’ll areas that are all hills (which really adds/causes ‘dead’ areas). The ‘lakes’ setting for it also generates pretty good terrain if you don’t want to deal with oceans much, and the ‘Mediterranean’ setting needs another try.