Surrender, Monkeys!

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Feb 28, 2006

Filed under: Game Design 12 comments

I was reading Mark’s first impressions on GalCiv II and he had this to say:

… I just went back to my saved game and was able to mop up the rest of the Drengin empire without a problem (except that once I really had their backs to the wall, the surrendered their one remaining planet to another alien race, dammit!) …

I hate this. It is an ongoing problem in turn-based games. Civilizations had it. Alpha Centauri had it. The original CalCiv had it. What is this “Surrender to someone else” stuff? It’s nonsense!

Imagine near the end of the European campaign in World War II: Our troops reach the outskirts of Berlin, and Germany realizes they can’t stop us. So they surrender to Brazil. We are forced to go home, because we can no longer take Berlin, which is now part of Brazil. More recently: We are about to take Baghdad, and Saddam surrenders to France. The parts of Iraq which we do not control are instantly and seamlessly transformed into French territory, and to continue our press into Baghdad would be an act of war against France.

This is just lame. I understand the gameplay concern here: This surrendering is done to keep the game even. The AI usually surrenders to the second-strongest player in the game, which keeps one race from leaping ahead of the others and ending the game before it’s really started. But this is just nonsense. In war, if you surrender, you surrender to the person attacking you, not to some unrelated third-party on the other side of the map. Even if Germany did try such a maneuver, and even if Brazil was willing to accept a besieged territory beyond their reach, it is insane to expect the invaders to respect or even recognize such an arrangement. Yet in the game, you must. If you attempt to continue the conquest, you will be obliged to declare war against the third party.

How much more absurd is it to extend this to a war between alien races, where the parties involved are going to be even more different than Iraqis and Frenchmen? More different than Brazil and Germany? When the two parties not only have different value systems, culture, and languages, but who also from entirely different spieces? When they very probably hate each other?

Here you are, at the victorious end of a hard-fought conquest, and the prize at the end (usually the homeworld of your foe, which is quite valuable) is simply handed to a rival. You have to just give up and go home at this point, or accept that you must now begin a whole new war. Perhaps you do accept war and elect to take those last worlds. The new owners will be bitter about losing this planet that was in their hands for one turn. They will fight long and hard, and harbor a lasting grudge over losing it. Sooner or later they will (hopefully) start to lose this war, and you will begin to eat into their territory. You can claim world after world, but in the back of your mind you know that once you corner them they will just give their remaining worlds to yet another third party, who will stupidly accept, and on it goes.

I just don’t understand the push to design brilliant and varied AI when metaphor-destroying stuff like this is still part of the game.

(The title of this post is in honor of the Drengin, who do indeed look like monkeys:)


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12 thoughts on “Surrender, Monkeys!

  1. mark says:

    LOL, in my post I had a problem with the game where it just ended and said I lost. I was baffled by this, but then I realized why it had happened. You see, I was attempting to use the diplomatic dialogue to demand that the Drengin surrender to me. I must have accidentally surrendered myself to the Drengin (thinking that I was offering them the opposite deal. I meant “surrender to me” not “I surrender”). In any case, when I went to war with the Torians and the Altarians, they did not, to their credit surrender to anyone else and allowed me to conquer their worlds…

  2. Shamus says:

    Ah good. Perhaps this problem is not as pervasive as it has been in the past. I know the last two posts have been sort of negative, but I’m still really looking forward to this thing.

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  4. Brian says:

    I just finished my first GalCiv2 game after a few nights of playing whenever I had a free moment. I played a reaserch- and diplomacy-intenisve game and eventually won a cultural victory (hold 75% of the board for 10 turns in a row). I started with 6 races including myself and by the end I had crushed 3 of them, 2 by force and 1 by inciting rebellion on all of it’s planets. Both of the races that I “defeated” militarily actually surrendered to another race. Jerks.

  5. MintSkittle says:

    I know I’m late to the party here, but the Dark Avatar expansion allows you to disable surrenders in the new game screen.

  6. guy says:

    I’ve finally gotten around to playing this, and have done fairly well after a few rocky starts. what’s funny is that the yor surrendered to the drengian, while i was pummeling them both as fast as the transports arrived.

  7. Somebody Else says:

    I must admit I don’t really see the problem. I myself have attempted to do this against other players in some games, merely to stop the guy who attacked me form winning. Works best if you have a relatively peaceful border with somebody else. Surrender to them, and say: “Here’s all my stuff. It’s a gift. Here you go. Oh, by the way, that guy is trying to take your new stuff.”

  8. Shoku says:

    Then it depends on if the AI is supposed to be another player metagaming to stop you from winning or if they are supposed to be a race of aliens with a history of diplomacy and war with other aliens.

    One thing that often works well with AI is to have it cheat. Not against the player of course, that’s the very thing you want to prevent. No, have the AI cheat against the AI. When you sieze planet after planet from a civilization to the point they would rather cease to exist than let you have their remaining planets perhaps instead you could have a neighbor march in and race to grab planets now that they are weakened.

    I don’t quite recall the pacing of capturing planets in that game but a little propaganda station next to the border colonies could just give it to the empire B too fast while empire A withdrew resources and things to hinder your progress. This could balance the fight for their homeworld to the kind of difficulty designers seem to want while also strengthening another computer who could have a suitable defense force in place to discourage you from going to war with them right away.

    Of course this won’t do much good if you are blazing through both of them at the same time but if that’s the case you really outclass them anyway so they can’t accomplish anything without cheating against you anyway. You’re guaranteed to win that anyway so the most annoying thing they could hope to do is surrender to an even bigger civ on the other side of a large map but that obviously doesn’t make sense and just boosting the growth rate of an enemy like that would be more effective.

    This does of course require recognizing the outcome of a fight much sooner but it’s not like it’s really that hard to weigh fleets and build a profile for how skilled the player is that would give a decent indication.

  9. John Miller says:

    While I do find this a bit annoying when it happens but I’ve actually found it a very rare occurrence. And in fact I’ve actually had a few surrender to me.

    But I think that is because I use weak AI as cannon fodder. I tend to play the peaceful route of diplomacy with quick wars. Long drawn out wars tends to slow down R&D and planet development because all the effort in military building. Thus I prefer to use Blitz style tactics and claim a few cities/planets then offer peace if my momentum begins to slow a bit.

    This leaves the AI in a weak position as they haven’t had the time to completely switch over to military production and get lots of units on the field. Most times they are in a such a precarious position that they want peace because I was stronger to begin with. Sometimes I can get them to surrender an additional city/planet which helps even more.

    Also because a lot of games have the “eliminate enemy villain” mechanic is yet another reason I learn not take wars to extermination levels. Some stupid arbitrary diplomacy penalty that applies for the rest of the game because you removed one of the players from the game. So instead I take what I want from them and then let the other AI finish them off.

    Even without that mechanic though I’ve learned it’s good practice not to wipe enemies out though and instead focus my blitz tactics on hitting highly developed cities/planets including their Capital as soon as possible. This starves them of key resources they would use to prolong the war and weaken your position in the game. So it makes sense to hit it hard with your full force when your ready rather then giving them time to build up in a long drawn out war. This leaves the smaller less developed cities/planets to fend for themselves against another hostile AI, or for you to mop up at a later time.

    My ultimate tactic is usually to win through superior production and technology. And to do that I often need to avoid long and costly wars so I can focus more heavily on infrastructure. While at the same time the strong AI players prey on the weak AI in long drawn out wars of extermination. As the AI is sometimes overly aggressive and refusing to accept peace even when it’s not going well for them.

    Just for an example in a few games of Civ where I didn’t get off to a good start I’ve had the AI declare war on me cause they thought I’d be easy prey. And while unable to really go offensive my defenses more then hold out against several waves of enemy units. While their losses are often 2 to 1 if not higher their higher production from a better start allows them to maintain the pressure yet I don’t crack. Eventually though in these cases the predictable thing happens which is after dozens of turns me and that AI have fallen so far behind on the tech/infrastructure line that we are bringing up the rear in score. Then a third party steps in usually against me and wipes me out. Though in some cases I’ve convinced friendly AI to join the war on my side which eventually puts enough pressure on the aggressive AI to offer peace. But at this point both of us have often fallen so far behind that we never recover. In some cases that aggressive AI is mostly conquered by the friendly AI and thus forming an even larger potential threat later.

    Even when it’s not me at war I’ve watched the diplomacy of the AI between each other and seen long wars drawn out for 100+ turns where neither side is really making headway. And usually I can tell who was the aggressor as the AI is very predictable about picking on weaker ones. Though this just makes good strategic sense as players do the same thing unless they team up against a stronger foe.

    Though as much as I fault the AI for dragging wars out I see players do the same thing. The hit and run Blitz tactics is a great way to bully players around as many will often seek peace against a much stronger foe to give themselves time to build up a better military. Yet some seem to refuse peace at all cost either in a vain attempt to reclaim what they lost during the war or just to spite the other player.

    Usually they are exploiting the “war weariness” mechanic which is a bit ridiculous in my opinion. They know they can not win so their make you suffer an arbitrary penalty for as long as possible to undermine your production. Though it’s equally annoying when the AI refuses peace even though you are like 2x or more their size and make no demands just blanket peace offer. As it forces you to suffer war weariness on a war you want to end but they can’t even threaten you because they may be so far away with some remote city/planet that wasn’t worth sending the forces to capture and is no real threat to you.

    War weariness also doesn’t make sense as it assumes the people would be against the war for no other reason then they are apparently pacifist. I mean during WWII did the English people take to the streets protesting the war that Germany started against them? Did they rise up and rebel while refusing to maintain the very production that could save their lives from a hostile invader because the war was taking “to long”? It makes no sense your people revolt because someone declared war on you and is invading other then the fact that they don’t like war and are all extreme pacifist like Gandhi. But then they wouldn’t be throwing a violent uprising… so yea?!? I understand it is suppose to be there as a way to “punish” warmongers in to wanting peace from time to time but it also punishes the empire they attack and can easily be used abusively as a large empire can have lots of +Happiness to spare while a small one doesn’t.

    Though back to the original screwing AI topic of them surrendering. I mention the above warmongering attitude of AI because oddly enough it seems like these are the ones that due the surrender monkey thing. It seems like the AI that does surrender to another random empire in the game are the ones that you have been in extremely long drawn out wars with. This maybe why I haven’t had much issue with it in the past. Since I imply Blitz style tactics to grab a few cities/planets then offer peace the AI doesn’t have a chance to consider surrender to someone else.

    If I had to make a guess I’d say many of the AI are probably programmed with a trigger that if they have lost much of their score during a curtain war and it has dragged on for a curtain period of time then it is assumed the side they are at war with is much more powerful and is refusing peace. Thus to prevent that empire from growing too large it surrenders to someone else. Now I don’t agree with the assessment in the article that it’s the 2nd strongest player because I’ve seen them join the strongest one before and other times the 3rd or 4th strongest.

    A few times I’ve actually had them surrender to ME I was the strongest empire in the world. Yet another good reason not to wipe them out. Though I do like Civ4 addition of the vassal system as the empire still remains just kinda as a little self run section of your empire. Though in typical games when an empire surrenders to you or someone else that larger empire that was conquering it rarely goes to war with the other empire right away. A few times in Civ4 though when I was fairly high in the rankings and someone suddenly offered to be my vassal, most likely to save themselves, there have been times when I suddenly found myself at war with the empire that was originally attack them. Seems they didn’t take kindly to me taking them under my protection.

    Though I do think the vassal idea is a bit more realistic I think cause in a way vassal is more official and is more like an alliance agreement rather then simply surrendering and saying “Here you can have our land, units, and etc.” The other side has to agree to it and knows full well that anyone who doesn’t like the person now under their protection could come after them and you. It’s like harboring criminals and being surprised when the police kick down your door. They are coming to get them and if your not strong enough to hold them at bay they’ll take you down too. Where as the surrender option you are given no choice as to accept/refuse and simply get their stuff. Though even if the opinion was there odds are you wouldn’t turn it down cause it is free stuff.

    Though in closing while I do find is annoying the rare occasion that it happens. I find it more amusing to hear the other side of it was often times it’s the AI who come running to surrender to me because more aggressive AI are about to wipe them out.

    PS: On a side note I also like keeping AI alive as a way to fight my wars for me. It’s funny giving an under powered empire units 1-2 tech levels above them as a gift and watching them go to town against a stronger foe. Like in a recent game of Civ4 two nations still using frigates and ironclads while one is clearly several times larger and winning the war I donate several of my recently built destroyers to the smaller empire to help keep the other side from landing troops. Thus the smaller empire last much longer and forces the larger one to devote even more to rebuilding it’s naval forces. Against other players this can be funny as it sometimes makes them think their enemy has recently advanced in tech.

  10. Nasikabatrachus says:

    I hate this so very much. The expansions to Civilization IV included this for some strange reason. It is supremely frustrating being hemmed into the corner of a continent because my much larger, much weaker neighbor will simply vassalize to one of my allies across the map as soon as my small, effective army begins marching through their cities. Naturally I am immediately at war with my former ally as a result of this, even though I would not have chosen to do so at any point in the game.

  11. RCN says:

    I hate that as well, but I must add it was unfortunate for you to use Germany and Brazil as an example and saying they gave nothing to do with each other.

    Why? Multiple reasons. The largest being: Brazil was actually at war with the Axis, and although it had much less to offer to the war effort than the US and fought mainly the Italians, it was part of the Allies and was a valid choice to surrender to.

    But it would even make sense. Before Brazil had joined the Allies, it was on the fence of which side to join. Brazil was, at the time, a capitalist but totalitarian regime, so it had common grounds with both the US and Germany. After some diplomatic maneuvering Brazil ended up joining the US in exchange for some industrial investment in the form of a metallurgic cauldron, and in response the Axis blew up a few civilian ships from them.

    But once the war was almost over, it’d make sense for Germany to try and seek refuge under Brazilian care, because then president Vargas was partial to Hitlers ideas. Still, it was an unlikely event and it end up with the soviet invasion of Berlin. It’s just that to say Brazil was some unrelated 3rd party is far from the truth. Truly unrelated would be South Africa or Peru.

  12. Ethan says:

    This is one of the reasons I like Europa Universalis III. In EU, it is a really really bad idea to declare war on another country unless you have Caus Belli (I think that is latin for Cause for aggression or something, I don’t speak latin.)

    One of the ways you can gain Caus Belli is by allying yourself with a coutry that was attacked, or by joining an alliance that is decalaring war on someone else. Because of this, wars tend to be fought between allied groups rather than individual countries. In addition, conquered territory is “held” not conquered.

    The result: When a war ends, it ends due to a peace agreement between alliance groups,and the “held” territory is negotiated for. This makes it entirely possible to totally conquer all of Aragon’s provinces, but in the end only get Gibraltar….

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