Clash of the City-Builders

 By Shamus May 7, 2008 29 comments

From e-mail, reader Dave asks:

Do you know, or could you ask your community of fans about, any civilization-building games where you have the option to simply *turn off* warfare? I ask because I’ve been playing and enjoying Civ IV, but I’ve realized that I resent the hell out of it every time I get invaded by a neighbour: “Dammit, now I have to spend two centuries thumping you! I’m trying to build libraries, here!” I’d love to be able to set a “no conquest” option (no matter how anti-historical it may be), since what I really enjoy is the process of building up a civilization over time, expanding its culture and technology, etc. War just gets in the way. You can approximate this in Civ IV by choosing the easiest difficulty level, but after that, “higher difficulty” is translated directly into “more aggressive AI players”. I’d be glad to crank up the city-building difficulty, if it didn’t mean that Genghis Washington was coming over the border every few years.

Good one. I know in Rise of Nations it’s possible to to play a totally nonviolent game. (Except of course, for purposefully expanding your borders so that they eat into your foe’s territory and cause his encroaching buildings to burn down. A devious tactic in which I indulge as often as possible.) But RoN isn’t a turn-based civilization game.

I can’t think of any turn-based games to allow players to compete with each other in the area of city / empire building while prohibiting violence.

Can anyone think of an example?

20929 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.


  1. Darklordchuckles says:

    In Civ4 there’s a always peace option.

  2. Gabriel says:

    While it’s not a computer game, the original Civilization board game contained remarkably little war. Just random tidbit of info.

  3. ehlijen says:

    Sounds like Settlers of Catan, though that is probably not detailed enough (or a computer game).

  4. Marcel Beaudoin says:

    Settlers of Catan is available for download if you have XBox Live. I don’t know how faithful it is to the original, as I have played neither, but it is available.

  5. henebry says:

    The original Civ game! If I remember correctly, it was Avalon-Hill’s copyright on the name “Civilization” which led Sid Meier to put his name on the computer game “Sid Meier’s Civilization”.

    Civilization! What a great board game! Runs anywhere from 6 to 24 hours, with 4 players needed at minimum to make trade worthwhile. Play centers on the Mediterranean basin, and tracks the historical period from the rise of Babylon and Egypt through (approximately) the heyday of the Pax Romana. Much less silly and much more historical than Sid M’s game, but I say this as a fan of the board game and only an indifferent player of Civ on the computer.

    Non-aggression is, actually, key to running Civilization in anything like a reasonable amount of time, because then everyone can do their unit expansion and movement more or less simultaneously.

    In a non-aggressive game, success hinges on making profitable trades and managing your economy efficiently. This style of play is fun because, for a board game, it has a remarkably clever economic algorithm, in the form of unit chits (“stock”) which can be developed into peasants OR treasury, but not both. If you run low on treasury, you get tax revolts, and if you run low on peasants, your cities starve and depopulate. Meanwhile, by cornering the market in key trade goods, you buy civilization cards: “Drama and Poetry”, “Democracy,” “Mathematics,” etc. I greatly prefer this metric of success to the building of monuments in Meier’s Civilization, usually in the form of silly anachronisms like the Statue of Liberty on the Ganges.

    If anyone is interested, I urge you to pick up not just the game but the expansion, titled “Advanced Civilization,” which completes the map (with the addition of the Western Mediterranean), clarifies problematic rules and adds a greater diversity of cultural paths to the endgame. The original game assumed that all civilizations tend to the same essentially Greek pinnacle, Democracy & Philosophy, while the Expansion (really a rewrite) offers options like Monotheism, Militarism, etc.

  6. GAZZA says:

    Or jsettlers.org, if you’re more of a PC fan.

    But Settlers isn’t really the same type of game as Civilization – in particular there’s not really any tech tree (in the board game, there kinda-sorta is if you play Cities and Knights, but nothing that compares to the complexity of even the Civilization board game, let alone any of the computer versions).

    I’m not a fan of Civ 4, so I don’t know the answer, but I suspect there’s probably a cheat mode or something that makes your units invulnerable – that would probably do most of what you’re after (you could then just ignore any attacks). Certainly I can’t think of any Civ previous to 4 that allowed that sort of thing, but I think you could probably do it in Civ 3 with a custom map.

    The guys at CivFanatics might know.

  7. Solka says:

    @Seb

    Naaa.. Even in peaceful missions, there were times when barbarian threatened you in Casesar IV. Or Rome itself.

  8. Cleggster says:

    If you start a custom game in Civ IV you can turn on “Always peace”. Then the AI wont declare war on you and visa versa. There is also a “Permanent war or peace” option but I don’t know how that works. Maybe your initial contact determines your lifelong attitudes.

  9. k3rni says:

    For Settlers of Catan, try Sea3D. It even has a ladder-style multiplayer, and a community. Runs on Windows only, although the author has something called Cities3D in the works, which is supposed to be multiplatform. Sea3D itself only supports the basic Settlers together with the Seafarers expansion, without Cities And Knights. This is also what the Cities3D project is about (and C&K turns Settlers into quite a different game).

    It’s a fairly faithful port of the board game, btw.

  10. Phlux says:

    I was just about to suggest that “spore” will probably have such options when it comes out…but then I read this article.

    Warning to Shamus: Article includes infuriating new DRM scheme which will be used by EA products such as Spore and Mass Effect.

    http://www.shacknews.com/laryn.x?story=52547#itemanchor_16894417

  11. You could create a map and use the map editor to make yourself the only civilization on the map, I think; at least I think you could do this in Alpha Centauri. You’ll immediately “win”, then should be allowed to play on. (Or maybe it won’t immediately “win”; I’m just guessing.)

    However, it would break the game to have other civilizations on the map but to somehow prevent conflict.

    It seems like if that’s your style you’d be better off with SimCity and friends, unless you just really, really need a tech tree.

  12. Azrhey says:

    As stated by someone earlier there is a Always peace option in civIV. There is also the option of having treaties stand forever which means if you have a peaceful initial encouter with another civ you have to be peaceful forever.

  13. Shinjin says:

    True, the Caesar series with peacuful solutions still can involve ‘war’, but battle is simple enough that it’s not a big deal. You can just consider the barbarian invasions (and your need to supply an army) as just another part of the city building.

    Part of the game’s appeal for me has always been setting up the supply and production centers. So if you consider creating an army as just a new demand center that occasionally defends the city for you, then it pretty much satisfies the ‘no war’ requirement.

    I’m trying to remember if the other Caesar city builder variants, Zeus and Pharaoh, had the same ‘peaceful’ branches.

  14. Stu says:

    Gabriel: Well, that depends on who you play against, muhahaha! :-D

    Having ‘peace forever’ in Civ might sound idyllic – until those americans (present company excepted, simply recounted a previous scenario) start encroaching on your borders… Then you’ll want the option of “Get off my land!” *kaboom*

  15. Arkmagius says:

    Freeciv, I believe, allows a ‘no AI’ game, although it does get boring after the 4000 year mark.

    It’s really a gamble otherwise, since the AI in FC is given a semi-random personality on creation, and with multiple AI you’re almost certain to get a Genghis somewhere. You can just keep retrying until you get all ‘settler’/’trader’ AI, though.

    Of course, these are just observations from my own experience, I’ve never bothered to check the source and see if I’m right.

    Since it’s open source, you can change it to fit your needs, if you’re savvy enough. Plus, it’s free! (obviously)

  16. Martin says:

    Hmm. Always peace mode in CIV4. I might have to revisit that game, because what with finding resources being a pain in the ass by itself, constantly being attacked was highly tedious. Just let me build my space rocket, assmunchers!

  17. David V.S. says:

    It’s a RTS, not a turn-based, but Age of Kings has a “no warfare” option that is seldom used but can be great fun in multiplayer. Then the strategy involves combat-by-theft: how many villagers to send across the map to gather or wall up some of the other players’ resources and when to do this.

  18. Dave says:

    Shinjin: Pharaoh certainly has that peaceful/dangerous branching. Although you do get invaded on the later peaceful missions, it is (as you said) more of a drain on the economy than a tactical challenge.

    Even with the dangerous missions, I find that getting enough resources to sustain my army is harder than the actual fighting.

  19. mxzs says:

    In “AD 1701″ you can jigger the odds for peace by picking opponents who in practice never declare war on you. Which is good, because even in the best of times the cities you build in that game tend to have the stability of a house of cards left out in the rain.

  20. RPharazon says:

    Dwarf Fortress, as long as you make the front door out of a strong material.

    Of course, your dwarves will eventually destroy themselves.

  21. Ozy says:

    Well, there’s SimCity. Of course, that game takes place in a world that does have war, but from which you are insulated by powerful militares.

  22. Joe says:

    Stronghold 1, it’s an older game but very involved. Allows for a purely economic gameplay.

    Stronghold 2 exists but I haven’t played it and so can’t give assurance that it offers the same options.

    The game: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stronghold_(2001_game)
    Awesome fansite: http://stronghold.heavengames.com/

  23. Ryan says:

    While I love the Stronghold series, I’m not sure that the economic scenarios are what “reader Dave” are looking for. They’re not really Civ-style games, not to mention that they are quite limited – only about 12 scenarios in the economic campaign which will go pretty quickly.

    I do think they are well worth anyone playing though.

  24. While it’s technically a fantasy spin-off of the Civilization series with spell research and city upgrades substituting for tech trees, the good ol’ Master of Magic game can be played non-aggressively. In fact, it’s usually easier to play non-aggressively to a point (even if you intend to lay waste to your rivals later) because trade with your rivals is usually extremely beneficial, especially if you can get spells from them.

    MoM has two winning conditions: destroy all of your rivals’ towers or cast the Spell of Mastery. The Spell of Mastery instantly makes all of your rivals hostile(because it banishes them from the world), but if your magic-ocracy is big enough and you pour all of your resources into researching it, you can research and cast it in a couple turns before your former allies can physically move their fighting forces into your territory (assuming they have treaties with you prior to your casting the spell and they’re not planning to just attack you anyway).

    Alternately, it’s perfectly possible to play in a perpetually peaceful world with up to four non-hostile rivals if you treat them right. The AI rarely researches the Spell of Mastery even if they are capable of it, and even then they usually don’t cast it.

    Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic is basically MoM2 with the serial numbers filed off, and I highly recommend that one too.

  25. Yahzi says:

    Civ4 has an always-peace option (as someone said, start a Custom game), and a half-dozen peaceful ways to win: Culture, Space Race, Diplomatic, Religious, or just the high score at the end.

  26. Squire James says:

    It may be because of expansion packs, but I can easily set up Civ4 games with one player and all the victory conditions except space race and cultural turned off. Sometimes I set up Raging Barbarians so my military units have something to do, build the Great Wall (definitely an expansion Wonder) so the raging boys can’t really hurt me, and build like crazy. The games are a little boring, but if all you want is a sandbox…

    Even always peace games have those annoying guys who plop down cities in Tundra (that unlike yours don’t fail immediately) just so your settler can’t reach The Perfect Spot!

  27. safetydan says:

    Sounds like you want Freeciv an open source clone of Civilization. You can pretty much customize everything about the game so I’m sure it should let you set up a “no combat” game.

    Either that, or you want The Settlers 1 or 2. While it still has some combat, it’s simplified that you can pretty much just focus on the city building.

  28. Dave says:

    Cleggster (if that *is* your real name) wrote: “If you start a custom game in Civ IV you can turn on “Always peace”. Then the AI wont declare war on you and visa versa.”

    Thanks! I’d missed that, but that’s just the sort of thing I had in mind. (This is the mysterious “Dave” of the email quoted above.) To clarify: it’s not that I *always* want the non-violent option, it’s just that I’ve been in the mood for it in recent weeks, and couldn’t find a way to do it. I hadn’t tried starting a Custom game, silly me. Thanks for the help! I knew I could count on this community for rapid and helpful suggestions.

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