Civilization Part 2: Games that Stand the Test of Time

By Shamus Posted Thursday May 28, 2020

Filed under: Retrospectives 175 comments

So now you’re wondering, “Hey Shamus, is this series about Civilization, or about your dislike for Civilization VI?” I’m afraid the answer is “yes”. It turns out I had a lot to say about this series, and so this retrospective has become a dumping ground for 20 years of pent-up questions, complaints, compliments, and observations. 

The first thing I want to talk about is…

The Flow of Time

Civ games usually have some way of recognizing your progress that's gratifying but ultimately pointless in terms of gameplay. (Like upgrading your throne room.) I really like the Civ 6 version of this, which is an ever-growing timeline.
Civ games usually have some way of recognizing your progress that's gratifying but ultimately pointless in terms of gameplay. (Like upgrading your throne room.) I really like the Civ 6 version of this, which is an ever-growing timeline.

One of the really clever tricks in the design of these games is that the flow of time varies by what era of human civilization you’re in. If you play by the default rules, then the game begins in 4000BC and ends in 2050AD. This span of time is divided into 6(ish) eras. These are obviously based on a historical model of human progress, but there’s quite a bit of artistic license taken to keep things simple and comprehensible. That’s fine. This is a game, not a history course. 

Here are the eras in terms of gameplay:

Ancient Era (4000 BCE to 500 BCE)

This stage of the game is all about exploring the map and settling new territory as quickly as possible. There’s lots of empty space between players and most of the combat is between players and the AI controlled barbarians. Military units are just guys with clubs or sharp sticks. Sometimes players end up in skirmishes with each other if they start close to each other and they both covet the same bit of real estate, but combat is also kinda boring and one-dimensional at this point.

If you’re not getting into fights, then you’ll spend a lot of the Ancient Era smacking the “Next Turn” button over and over again.

Classical Era (500 BCE to 800 AD)

This part of the game is when outward growth slows down and the more complex management stuff comes into play. You’re usually running a slightly more sophisticated form of government, establishing trade routes, and securing your borders. The military units will feel very Roman to the typical western audience: Chariots, dudes with pikes, and so on.

Medieval Era (800AD to 1400AD)

In the real world, there were still large sections of habitable wilderness that had been untouched, but in the typical Civ game this is where things get dense. The borders have solidified, the map is mostly full, and players are now settling the little patches of substandard land on the fringes of their empire. 

At this point players are engaging with all of the systems of the game at the same time. You need to create culture so the people on your borders don’t start identifying with and embracing your rivalsIn the real world, you can imagine a border city of a large empire that begins to speak the language and worship the gods of a rival empire, simply because that’s who they have the most contact with., which could cause the city to rebel. You need to be cranking out religious power for pretty much the same reason. And most of all, you really need to be doing as much research as possible if you don’t want to be crushed by your foes in the next era. You want your military to be large enough to deter a foe, but you don’t want to spend so much on military units that it impedes your science progressUnless you’re going for a military victory, in which case: Just keep murdering people, you horrible despot.. At this point in the game army upkeep becomes a serious concern. Also, the more knights you build now, the more expensive upgrades you’ll need to do in the future when it’s time to start handing out guns.

Renaissance Era (1400AD to 1800D)

Your government becomes more powerful, enabling you to make more money and build more crap, but the downside is that your people have higher expectations of comfort and infrastructure. Your government is a little more complex to manage, and maintaining the happiness of your citizens gets a little harder. 

If you’ve been keeping up with research, then your military units are running around with firearms. Sadly, these aren’t quite as OP as they were in the real world. That’s probably for the best in terms of gameplayAlso, you’re free to invent some headcanon that says the knight icons represent 20 guys with swords, but the militiamen icons represent just a dozen dudes with flintlock rifles. The presentation in this game is abstract enough that you can fudge a lot of stuff like this.

Industrial Era (1800AD to 1900AD)

Build factories! Make sure you’ve got a reliable source of PRECIOUS OIL, which was previously hidden on the map and wasn’t visible until your scientists realized it was important. Even if you’re not going to be fighting a war, you still need strategic resources like oil so you can run your factories and build all the temples / wonders / museums / research labs you’ll need for the win state you’re going for.

Military units can be summed up as “guys with guns, only moreso”.

Modern Era (1900 onward)

In later editions of Civilization, this era gets broken up into smaller eras like “atomic age” and “information age”. This is where things get crazy. The map is full, everyone’s strategies are clear, and everyone is sprinting through the tech tree as quickly as possible.

The military units in this stage are where the game gets wild. Marines, tanks, planes, paratroopers, destroyers, submarines, missile launchers, and (eventually) nukes. 

To be clear, you’re not locked into the intended technologies of the time period. If you really go all-in on science then maybe you’ll be running around with muskets in the medieval period or flying jets in the industrial Era.

The game ends when:

  • A player (AI or otherwise) makes their culture completely dominant around the world.
  • A player makes their religion the world religion, supplanting all others.
  • A player conquers the entire world through military force.
  • A player launches a successful future-space mission to colonize another world.
  • A player has enough diplomatic muscle to get essentially elected as the winner by the other players.
  • Time runs out in the year 2050AD, and the winner is chosen by score.

Pacing is More Important Than History

Sometimes you can recruit Great People to your civilization. Here both Leonardo and Donatello are coming up. I wonder if it's possible to get all 4 Ninja Turtles?
Sometimes you can recruit Great People to your civilization. Here both Leonardo and Donatello are coming up. I wonder if it's possible to get all 4 Ninja Turtles?

This all sounds reasonable enough, but the problem is that history doesn’t map neatly into a turn-based environment like this. Ideally, we’d want each of these eras to last roughly the same amount of time so they feel like distinct phases of the game. But if we did the naive thing and said that 1 turn = 10 years, then the game would go like this:

  • 350 turns in the Ancient Era.
  • 130 turns in the Classical Era.
  • 60 turns in the middle ages.
  • 80 turns in the Renaissance.
  • 10 turns in the Industrial Revolution.
  • 15 turns in the modern age.

That would be horrible! You’d spend over half the game in the boring-ass ancient era with nothing to do, and then the interesting and exciting bits would blink by in a few minutes. 15 turns would just barely be enough time to build a single submarine and scoot it across the map to take a single potshot at an enemy before the game ended.

Worse, this would map poorly to how we perceive history. We know very little about the ancient world, much more about the classical world, and we understand the modern world at an insane level of detail. To someone reading a history book, barely anything happened between 4000BCE and 3000BCE. If the game ran on a linear scale, we’d spend most of our time crawling through the mostly-blank stretches of history, and then blinking past the intense detail of recent centuries.

To fix this, the game doesn’t run on a linear scale. Instead, individual turns cover smaller and smaller periods of time as you go. When you start a brand-new game in 4000BCE, then 40 years will pass when you hit the “Next Turn” button. That’s kind of sad if you think about it from the perspective of the inhabitants of the world. Given the life expectancy of humans in that era, the people that were babies before you hit the button will be nearly dead after you hit the button. Given how fast turns are in the early game, you’re effectively blinking past entire generations with every click.

In the Classical Era, each turn is 25 years. That’s a lot slower, although it’s still a quarter of a century every time you hit the button. The turns keep getting shorter until you reach the modern world and every turn is exactly one year.

But while turns are getting shorter for your citizens, they’re getting longer for the player. At  the start of the game, there’s not a lot for you to do. You’ve got one city and one military unit, and there’s no high-level government management to worry about. You just nudge your scout unit around the map and maybe fuss with your lone city once every dozen turns. You’ll go through a dozen turns in a single minute. In the last stages of the game you’ll be managing dozens of cities and dozens of units. You’ll be running a government, an economy, a religion, a research community, an army, and a culture. On top of that, you’ll be haggling with your rivals to do trades, declare war, make peace, or form alliances. Each turn will require you to make dozens of decisions. It’s not unusual for a single turn to span multiple minutes. And if you’re actively fighting a war (or multiple wars!) then individual turns will become ridiculously long.

Other people have crunched the numbers and worked out how many turns each era of the game lasts:

  • Ancient: 75
  • Classical: 60 
  • Medieval: 25
  • Renaissance: 50 
  • Industrial: 60
  • Modern: 190

That’s more like it! The early stages of the game are all matched fairly evenly. (Although I guess the medieval period is a little short.) Then the bulk of the game is spent in the modern age where players have the most options to work with. The modern era is the shortest according to the real-world timeline, but winds up being the longest for the purposes of gameplay.

This helps keep the game from drifting too far away from historical expectations. If you’re playing on easy, if you have good map position, and if your foes stupidly leave you alone, then you’ll be able to run up the tech tree faster than historical norms. Maybe you’ll be able to get rifles in the medieval period or launch a space program in the industrial era. But no matter how hard you push, the turn count of individual eras will make it hard to get things too far out of alignment. You’re not going to be running around with rifles in the Classical Era or launching rockets in the middle ages. 

(Or will you? I’ll come back to this topic later in the series.)

These two forces – the length of a turn in-game and the length of a turn for the player – work perfectly to smooth out the pacing problems and make the flow of time feel both fun and historically plausible. We take it for granted now after the formula has been around for three decades, but this is a brilliant bit of design work that solves countless problems. 

This is even more impressive when you consider the variable length of a game. You can set the gameplay rules to create a “quick” game that will run through all of recorded history in just 320 turns. A normal paced game runs for 460, and a marathon game is a grueling 1200 turns. And yet regardless of which mode you play on, everything unfolds more or less sensibly. 

While the Pace of the game works on a macro level, it does seem to falter a bit when it comes to individual units. So let’s talk about…

The Pace of Walking

Military units move 1 space per turn. Which means it would take 1 turn to march a unit from my city to this barbarian camp, maybe 2 or 3 turns to defeat it, and 2 turns to get home again. That's 6 generations, or  240 years.
Military units move 1 space per turn. Which means it would take 1 turn to march a unit from my city to this barbarian camp, maybe 2 or 3 turns to defeat it, and 2 turns to get home again. That's 6 generations, or 240 years.

Movement in this game is weird. At the start of the game, your warrior moves about 1 space per turn. Remember that each turn is 40 years, and map tiles are supposedly spaced a few hundred miles apartOf course, this also depends on the size of the map you’re playing on.. It’s common to plonk down your first city and then scoot your warrior around the area to reveal your surroundings. This lone unit might spend 20 turns wandering around in the wilderness before you bring them home to protect the city. 

If we take this literally, then this small group of men spent 800 years / 20 generations exploring your little corner of the world, somehow telepathically broadcasting their discoveries back to your city. You can assume that the information was carried back home via runners – a messenger can certainly cover a measly few hundred miles in 40 years – but that only raises questions about why you can’t bring the unit itself home instantly if barbarians show up. When your warrior gets home after 800 years of wandering, they should no longer be your warrior. They ought to be an entirely separate culture of nomads. After that much time, even your languages will have drifted apart. 

The problem isn’t that this doesn’t make sense, it’s that  it makes combat fiddly and nonsensical. It takes so long to move units around the board that it’s possible for your cutting-edge pikemen technology to be obsolete by the time your pikemen hike all the way over to your opponent’s territory. You end up declaring war and then it takes 120 years before you get around to trying to kill each other. Reinforcements take decades. The ancient world was slow-moving, but not THAT slow! It’s like warfare is happening on some other timescale that’s completely divorced from what the game is supposed to be simulating.

The Lewis and Clark expedition crossed North America twice in the span of three years. If they moved at the pace of ancient-era civ units, the journey would have taken them a thousand years.  

You can (somewhat) fix this by playing the game on the marathon speed setting. Troop movements will be the same in terms of distance per turn, but now individual turns will cover a smaller chunk of time. The downside is that the game now takes bloody ages to play. A standard-pace game can be completed in a day, but a marathon game can take a week! 

So how else could we fix this? I suppose that instead of adding more turns to the game we could speed up unit movement. That would make their movement make a lot more sense over the given timescale. The problem is that this is a turn based game. If we allowed military units to move (say) 20 spaces a turn, then another player could declare war and flatten your entire empire in a single turn without you ever getting the opportunity to react. While nonsensical, the languid pace of combat in civ gives you time to react and ramp up production to fend off an attacker. 

Once units can move more spaces than cities can see, the game instantly becomes chaotic and all non-combat strategies are rendered pointless. There’s no use in spending a thousand years building a cultural powerhouse if another player can take the whole thing away from you in a single one-turn surprise attack. Civilization would become just a wargame. 

Obviously you’re not supposed to think about unit speed any more than you’re supposed to ponder why a top hat ought to get paid $200 to run laps around Atlantic City, New Jersey. It’s just a gameplay contrivance. Despite my objections, I think the Civilization games do an overall brilliant job of balancing the needs of a simulation against the needs of gameplay. It’s strange that units move so slowly, but it works.

Again, I realize that making turns take progressively fewer years as the game goes on seems obvious now, but I don’t think it was at all obvious in 1990 when the game was designed. This was a brilliant bit of design work and I love how beautifully the game flows as a result.

Notice: My internet has been flaking out for the last 24 hours, and as a result I had trouble getting this post ready for publication. Sorry about the lack of images / proofing / basic coherency. Also sorry for being mostly AWOL in the comments. I’ll try to fix this up once my internet service returns to normal.



[1] In the real world, you can imagine a border city of a large empire that begins to speak the language and worship the gods of a rival empire, simply because that’s who they have the most contact with.

[2] Unless you’re going for a military victory, in which case: Just keep murdering people, you horrible despot.

[3] Also, you’re free to invent some headcanon that says the knight icons represent 20 guys with swords, but the militiamen icons represent just a dozen dudes with flintlock rifles. The presentation in this game is abstract enough that you can fudge a lot of stuff like this.

[4] Of course, this also depends on the size of the map you’re playing on.

From The Archives:

175 thoughts on “Civilization Part 2: Games that Stand the Test of Time

  1. Michael says:

    When you start a brand-new game in 4000BCE, then 40 years will pass when you hit the “Next Turn” button. That’s kind of sad if you think about it from the perspective of the inhabitants of the world. Given the life expectancy of humans in that era, the people that were babies before you hit the button will be nearly dead after you hit the button.

    This is a really common mistake people make when they hear about life expectancies in earlier periods. Life expectancies in the fifties are not driven by people dying in their fifties. They’re driven by people dying in their ones. Thus you have e.g. the Old Testament telling us that the natural length of a man’s life is 70 years, or if he’s especially strong, 80 years.

    Of the people that were babies before you ended your turn, a really large portion will have been dead for decades when the new turn begins. But the ones who remain alive are fine, they’re not about to die.

    1. Narkis says:

      You are ignoring diseases and injuries that are very surviveable nowadays but were life-threatening back then. And I imagine the general increase in nutrition and life quality has played a part as well. People could live to 70 true, but it was only exceptional individuals who did so. It’s not like you were all set if only you survived your infancy.

      1. Carlo_T says:

        I do agree with Michael that often the life expectancy reported for past eras can be misleading, and is commonly misinterpreted – the average is pushed down by the high infant mortality (I think that in most pre-modern societies half children died between birth and age five).
        However, I also agree that the role of child mortality should not be overemphasised – most certainly few people reached 70 years in pre-modern times. I think this linked graph can be useful to highlight this point (it is titled, tellingly, “It is not only about child mortality”). The source is “Our World In Data”, which is a free online database managed by Oxford University (among other institutions), so it should be reliable (and I think it’s really cool!).

        The fact that the Pslams in the Bible mention 70 or 80 years as the length of “the days of our life” always puzzled me – as the linked graph shows, a 10 year-old child in 1850 England had a life expectancy of 57 years, and I doubt first millennium BCE people could live any longer than that on average.
        My understanding is that biblical numbers are symbolic and should not be taken too literally. Also, the Old Testament has a general theme of life expectancy progressively shortening due to sin, and the first humans are attributed unbelievably long lives – for instance, Noah was said to have lived more than 900 years. Thus, maybe 70-80 years was thought to be the theoretical human life expectancy, but in practice the sinful nature of humans reduced it?

        1. Daniil says:

          One thing that comes to mind is that the Industrial Revolution very likely did shorten the average life expectancy compared to how it was before, due to greater clustering of people in cities and environmental deterioration. But perhaps that would not have been enough to explain this.

          Of course, in the absence of reliable statistics, neither we nor the ancients know what the average ancient life expectancy was, so maybe this was a guess based on how long SOME people – typical elders? – could live.

          1. Lanthanide says:

            That’s a good point about the industrial revolution. I’ve read before that cities during the time had growth rates insufficient to sustain their population due to deaths and were only sustained by people moving from the countryside to the ‘big smoke’ for work (and to replace the people who had died).

            1. Kylroy says:

              Cities had negative internal population growth until the early 1900s. Not doubting the early industrial revolution made it worse, but it took modern sewage systems to allow cities to survive without a constant influx of new people.

        2. Geebs says:

          I always assumed the Old Testament was reporting perceived time, and that Noah must have been really bored after the whole Ark excitement was over*. In the modern era, the easiest alternative way to experience 900 subjective years is to quit smoking.

          * alternatively this might have been a joke made up by Shem and Ham to express how they felt about him lording the whole “I saved all the animals” thing over them for the rest of his life.

          1. Scampi says:

            Considering the really insanely long lifespans of the Old Testament occur mostly before the flood, I guess it must have been boring then, not after the flood. How I know? I was especially bored one day and did the math to see if anyone of those old fellows accidentally would have happened to live long enough to have survived it. The math held up.
            Fun fact: Methuselah, as far as I remember it, might well have died in the flood, at least the same year. Wiki backs me up on this.

            1. Nimrandir says:

              Your arithmetic is correct on the time of Methuselah’s death. Since he is only mentioned in terms of his son and his lifespan, I’ve always wondered if he was counted among the wicked, or if his death was some sort of harbinger for the Flood.

              The real issue I see is that the post-Flood genealogies don’t include year counts like they did leading up to Noah. The ages we get after that, while not on the elven scale we see with Methuselah and Noah, are still longer than we expect today. Abraham lived to 175, Isaac to 180, Joseph to 110, and Moses to 120. I think David (at 70) is the first lifespan we get in line with the threescore-and-ten figure.

            2. Carlo_T says:

              The arithmetic is indeed correct, as is further proven by the unforgettable 2014 movie “Noah”, in which Mathusalem does die in the flood (that movie is basically biblical canon in my mind, including the scene in which he shows off his fire-bending powers).

              1. Syal says:

                Right next to Jesus Christ Superstar.

        3. krellen says:

          A poor child in 1850 England probably did have a shorter lifespan than a hunter-gatherer child, because industrialisation added a whole new slew of health risks that medical technology couldn’t account for, and they lived in a society that valued their life less than the tribe would have.

          But I’m talking 5-10 more years, not 20.

          1. Carlo T says:

            As far as I know there is no clear indication that (on average) industrial revolution decreased life expectancy – the issue is twofold: first, not all children were exploited in factories (or even lived in cities); thus, some might have been better off compared to the past. Second, even before industrialisation living in cities was extremely dangerous for long-term survival. To make an example, London around 1750 had a population of around 600,000 people, and you can imagine the hygienic conditions of living in such a populated urban centre with no plumbing – in summer, most well-off people left for the country or places such as Bath, to flee from the overwhelming stench. While the industrial revolution made urban living worse, it was already quite bad even before that.
            Overall, the available data seems to indicate that, on average, life expectancy in the first phases of the Industrial Revolution was similar to that of the eighteenth century. This is still quite debated though.

            More in general, in the UK a life expectancy of 70 years (for children aged 10) was reached only around 1950, so (despite the lack of data for ancient eras), there is no way that life expectancy in biblical times was 70 or 80 years, even when ignoring child mortality. Surely some individuals could reach or surpass that age (e.g., Massinissa allegedly lived for 90 years), but that cannot be an average life expectancy.

            1. stratigo says:

              It is actually pretty well researched that the early industrial revolution decreased life expectancy, but also decreased infant mortality.

              Early industrial work was gross and harmful to human health in a way agrarian work was not. You were transitioning people into, essentially, many of the same health risks as being a miner (a job that had always been awful to work in). But along with that came technology for reducing the effects of many of the diseases that had been the scourge of the pre modern world, and that, in particular, helped children survive their early years.

              It’s the trick when looking at averages and correcting for infant mortality.

              That said, the bible was focused pretty hard on the legacy of affluent wankers, who, uh, always had higher life expectancy.

          2. During the 1900’s the population of Europe grew by THREE HUNDRED PERCENT, while the growth rate for prior centuries hung around at a nice stable 3% on average.

            If the “average” lifespan went down, it was because literally *millions* of people who would have previously been dead before age 5 were suddenly living to be adults or even older.

            It’s difficult for us to picture what this must have been like (and most people don’t even KNOW about it), but the cities were literally OVERWHELMED with HORDES of children, many living on the street because there was simply no one to take care of them and not enough money to give them all jobs or put them in school. Dealing with gangs of street children was a MAJOR problem at the time.

            Human fertility is based around the need to have lots of babies because most of them are just flat going to die (or be deliberately left to die because the adults can’t afford the resources to raise them). This results in chaos when those children abruptly have a pretty fair shot at surviving but effective birth control isn’t yet available or being practiced.

        4. Tuck says:

          The linked graph doesn’t actually conflict with Michael’s argument. It shows quite clearly that a 5yo could expect to live to the age of 55+, as far back as 1850.

          For context, I’m a professional archaeologist. There is plenty of evidence for people in prehistory living to the age of 40+, but since almost the only evidence we have is skeletons it becomes difficult: because it’s very difficult to determine the age of an individual, from their skeleton alone, once they’ve reached 40-45 years old.

          There is also lots of evidence for people surviving with extreme skeletal trauma (e.g. broken bones, wounds) and pathologies (diseases that affect the bones), in the form of bones that have healed.

          When you combine these two, you can occasionally determine that an individual had lived to that age, suffered trauma/disease, and lived beyond long enough for the bones to heal.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            Quite so. In the absence of processed foods, synthetic carcinogens, and concentrated heavy metals, there’s no reason a person with a healthy immune system and a sufficient diet should succumb to disease, and combat was much less lethal in the past as well.
            The great advantages of modernity aren’t in improving the upper threshold for lifespan. They’re in improving the lower threshold, our gracious host being a sterling example.

            The point about determining lifespan from skeletal evidence beyond the mid 40s is an interesting one. I suppose it means that lifespans could have been much greater in the past and we would have a difficult time proving it.

            1. Carlo_T says:

              I am not sure I agree – as noted above, there is indication that modernity improved both the lower and upper threshold of lifespan, not only the former. Again, I agree that people could reach 40-50 years in pre-modern times, and that a 5 year-old British kind had a life expectancy of 55+ in 1850, but both those values are still significantly lower compared to modern life expectancy in wealthy countries. Improved children mortality is an important part of the increase in life expectancy across history but not at all the only important development which took place.

              Also, I am not really sold on the idea that “there’s no reason a person with a healthy immune system and a sufficient diet should succumb to disease”. First, getting a “sufficient” diet was not often easily achieved in the past, which contributed to lowering life expectancy. And while well-fed people can better resist to disease, modern medicine still clearly improved the likelihood of adults to survive illnesses.

              While modernity came with a novel set of issues (obesity, pollution and so on), all data and research I am aware of indicates that life expectancy in the XX century (in wealthy, western countries) was higher compared to previous times, both accounting and not accounting for child mortality. if anybody knows of research or studies which contradict this I would be most interested though!

            2. Paul, you’re REALLY showing a HUGE degree of anti-industrial bias and historical ignorance here. First of all, there were PLENTY of “concentrated heavy metals” in ancient times. It is suspected that one reason for lack of fertility in Ancient Rome was that they used LEAD PIPES in their plumbing (lead exposure also makes people stupid and violent). The Egyptians literally used to paint mercury on themselves for COSMETICS.

              And, no, combat was not “much less lethal” in the past, not to mention the fact that in any historical war up to about WWII DISEASE and privation killed WAY more combatants than enemy weapons. Heck, in the 1920’s the son of the literal president of the U.S. (Calvin Coolidge, jr.) died from an INFECTED BLISTER. Before antibiotics any little accident could get infected, turn into sepsis, and kill you.

              The “threat” of processed food, etc. is so laughably minor compared to the real stuff that killed people *not even a hundred years ago* that even mentioning this stuff reveals a profound degree of ideological corruption.

              1. Retsam says:

                Yeah, the point on heavy metals is a good one: the big difference is we’re more aware of the danger. My favorite anecdote on this is how Qin Shi Huang (Civ VI’s leader of China), in his quest to attain immortality, ate mercury pills. It uhh, worked about as well as you’d expect. (And it happened on a military campaign, leading to a “Weekend at Bernies” situation as his advisors tried to conceal his progressively decaying body)

                Lethality of combat is a trickier metric.

                I think the reason you see “most deaths in war were from disease” is partially because combat itself was much less lethal than you might expect: the numbers involved were usually much smaller, pitched battles were somewhat uncommon, and usually ended with one side withdrawing, not with one side getting massacred. (With some notable exceptions like the Battle of Cannae)

                Ignoring combat itself, and looking at war as a cause of death as a whole, well it really matters whether we consider the World Wars to be the exception or the rule. Modern combat has the potentiality to be incredibly lethal.

                From 1945 on, I absolutely agree that we have fewer deaths caused by war than the historical norms. But that’s obviously not true of the 20th century taken as a whole.

                1. Even during the World Wars if you compare people who died from weapons vs. those who died from other causes (famine, disease, exposure), the percentage is still much higher.

                  WWII is the only war I know of that was EXCEPTIONALLY lethal from a combat perspective due to hideously awful tactics in the face of machine gun fire–so much so that some British front line combat units actually suffered casualty rates well over 300%, a ludicrous number. Also the Russian front in WWII was crazy due to, again, completely insane tactics.

                  War changed so much post Civil War/Napoleonic wars that prior wars and modern ones can’t really be compared in any meaningful way. The insanely lethal area weapons largely target *enemy civilians* and *materiel*, not enemy combatants. That, and it can be quite hard to tell the difference between a “civilian” and a “combatant” these days, anyway. You could make a solid argument that weapons are so powerful and easy to obtain nowadays that it is literally impossible to effectively “pacify” any country by force.

                  1. MikeK says:

                    I’m guessing a casualty rate in excess of 300% is either a mistake or meaningful in some context that I don’t fully understand. Or there were embedded necromancers in the ranks and each soldier was killed, on average, 3 times. Maybe Diablo 4 (5? 6? I’m not keeping track) will take place in a WWII setting.

                    1. Syal says:

                      Casualties include wounded, so maybe folks got wounded three times on average?

                    2. Sjonnar says:

                      A 300% casualty rate works like this. A platoon contains 44 guys. 1st platoon C company suffers 132 casualties over the course of a battle, thusly:

                      Pvt. Allen dies in combat on day one. On day two, the platoon receives new troops to replace some of those killed in the fighting. Pvt. Bob takes Allen’s place in his squad. Bob doesn’t even make it out of his foxhole. Day three, Pvt. Chuck shows up to take Bob’s place. Chuck dies later that day. A couple days later, Pvt. Dave is ready to step into Chuck’s shoes.

                      Eventually the battle ends, 1st platoon is brought back to its full strength of 44 men, having lost 132 over the course of the last week of fighting.

                  2. Basshead says:

                    I could not agree more with your line of thinking. Exposure to heavy metals and pollution in the modern era pales in comparison to the dangers of everyday household living for even the wealthy in the Victorian era. In World War 1 huge numbers of men on both sides succumbed to diseases like trench foot, venereal disease, typhus, etc. due to terrible conditions. Not to mention the Spanish flu that started in the last year of that war.
                    On the point of the lethality of modern war, it is debatable whether the American Civil war or WWI was the first modern war. Many of the new weapons and tactics that would lead to mass casualties saw their introduction in the former conflict: the Gatling gun, trenches, the steam engine, Telegraph’s, balloons for reconnaissance, rifles for the average soldier vs muskets, repeating revolvers and rifles for the wealthy officers.
                    Of course these technologies were refined and made all the more deadly by the time of the Great War, or Great European Civil War part 1 as I call it. The tactics of trench warfare led to brutal, seemingly senseless slaughter.
                    World War 2 was even more deadly due to the new technologies and tactics employed. From it we have the first jet engines developed. The first rockets. The first fully mechanized armored divisions. The concept of blitzkrieg proved rather quickly it would not be a repeat of the Great War. Although it’s the first war where more men died from combat than disease/the elements still many did. The eastern front in particular became a frozen grave for many German men, where their vehicles couldn’t run. The wermacht still relied primarily on horses for supplies.

                2. Hector says:

                  Evidence strongly suggests that hunter-gatherers and early agricultiral societies tended to die from violence at an extremely high rate – far higher than almost any war ever recorded. Rather than having discrete wars, people just engaged in a ridiculous amount if casual village or tribal or clan level violence.

                  1. Tuck says:

                    Err, what evidence is this? See also my comments above.

                    1. hector says:

                      I did see your comments. I don’t disagree with them, but it also doesn’t mean that the violent death rates weren’t high comparatively. Here is just a convenient source, but there seems to be pretty good agreement that, while overall life expectancy may not have been that different (and may have declined in early agricultural societies)*, violence that we could consider exceptional was then normal.


              2. stratigo says:

                Most people didn’t live in cities with plumbing in Roman society, despite its urban focus, the vast majority of the population was agrarian. Most Egyptians didn’t paint themselves, they would have no easy access to that sort of thing.

                In the industrial revolution, most people transitioned to living in cities dealing with increased disease spread and pollution. Neither of these things are conducive to good health, and the 19th century is still pre antibiotics. I’m not sure I can overemphasize how terrible living in cities were compared to rural lifestyle for the majority of human history. Like, legit, before maybe the past 100 years, don’t live in a city. They suck.

              3. pseudonym says:

                As an addition on the “threat” of processed foods: foods have generally gotten much safer now. How many people get “ergot” nowadays?

                Especially the process of canning. People used to do this at home. Now you can buy canned food in tins or glass jars. These are very safe.
                When you do the canning process improperly, you can get Clostridium botulinum in your food. Home-canned foods are the most common source of food-borne botulism. . Botulism is pretty bad. You die. Botox is the most deadly poison known to mankind.

                If you take into account that. 1. almost nobody is home canning and 2. It is still the most common source for food-borne botulism. This paints a pretty grim picture about the time people still had to rely on home canning for their food preservation. We are so lucky to live in a time that we can just buy canned foods and don’t worry about dying. I am so happy with canning factories that process my food.

            3. djw says:

              Combat may have been less lethal, but it was probably a lot more common.

            4. Decius says:

              Before I turned 20 I had a bout with pneumonia that I’m fairly certain would have killed me if I didn’t get antibiotic treatment.

              IN GENERAL, sickly or malnourished people will die from disease more, but antibiotics have also made a huge difference in all demographics.

        5. evilmrhenry says:

          I figured 70-80 was the length of a “full” life. Sure, that guy got eaten by a lion at 35, but that was the fault of the lion, not an inherent limit in humanity.

        6. Carlo_T says:

          The graph reports total life expectancy, not the additional years expected to live once you reach age 10, so the difference is 13 to 23 years, which is not small.

        7. Vi says:

          I always assumed that the ancient Israelites really did have longer lifespans than most low-tech societies, just because they had so many strict rules about survival-related habits like sanitation and nutrition. Even today I only see people with literal healthy glows in health guru ads, makeup ads, and very traditional religious communties.

  2. Dreadjaws says:

    Notice: My internet has been flaking out for the last 24 hours

    Pff. Amateur. My internet has been flaking out for years. It’s the Dark Souls of the internet services.

    Anyway. It’d be interesting to compare how the pacing works in other games that span centuries of civilization like, say, Age of Empires. Obviously not being turn based changes things up quite a bit, and I don’t know if there are many RTS’s that span such a large period of history.

    1. Narkis says:

      Age of Empires, Empire Earth, Rise of Nations. Not that many though. And IIRC none of them even try to track the years like Civ does.

      1. jpuroila says:

        Age of Empires 2 does have a years counter, but it’s only visible when you build a wonder. Apparently 200 years is 16 minutes and 40 seconds, meaning one year = 5 seconds. For context, I believe in a typical (1v1)game you reach Feudal Age at roughly 6 minute mark, Castle Age around 12 minute mark and Imperial Age somewhere after 20 minutes, with long games lasting up to an hour.

        1. pseudonym says:

          Castle age in 12 minutes?! Damn that is quick.
          Typically you stay in the dark age a little longer, then you gather enough resources and man power to go to the feudal age, build two feudal age buildings and then directly go to the castle age. So the feudal age and castle age should be apart by a little. Of course this has nothing to do with historical accuracy, but more with optimally trying to use the game’s mechanics.

    2. tmtvl says:

      Obligatory Paradox mention, although I have only played like an hour of CKII, so I don’t really know the systems.

      1. krellen says:

        Paradox games are real time with pause, though, on a granular level, they’re basically turn-based games with a turn that spans a day and auto-advancing turns until you tell it to stop.

        (This is true of CK2, EU4, and Stellaris. I don’t know about Victoria or Hearts of Iron, but I doubt they’re significantly different.)

        1. Narkis says:

          Victoria is exactly the same. Hearts of Iron just has “turns” that span an hour instead of a day.

      2. Ronan says:

        Time is on a linear scale on paradox games, but they don’t span multiple eras like civ does. and armies seem to have realistic movement speed for the periods.

        1. Daniil says:

          Re: multiple eras: Unless you try for a Mega Campaign with save transfers between games, of course…

          But yes, they sacrifice universality for something that is more true to specific historical periods.

    3. Paul Spooner says:

      Your internet was flaky before it was cool? I think that just makes you a flaky internet hipster. Unless, like, hipsters are the Dark Souls of cool people?

    4. The closest I can think of would be Imperialism II, which covers about 400 years (c. 1500-1900, I think?), and goes year-by-year. But it’s still nowhere near the same scale.

  3. Narkis says:

    I definitely agree that Civ’s pacing was brilliant. Not much else to comment on an informative post like this. I suppose I’ll have to wait for the next one before the knives start coming out.

    1. Syal says:

      I really don’t like when games present things as equals and then makes the later ones more important. If the first turn takes 40 years, I want every turn to take 40 years, and if that means the Modern Era lasts to 10500 AD then let it.

      1. Thomas says:

        I think Civ’s approach works even in the real historical context. The world can change much more quickly now than it did 1000 years ago, and more can be achieved in a shorter time. The world in 1000 AD was more similar to the world of 1100 AD, then the world of 2000 is to the world of 2020.

        1. Hector says:

          This is a common view, but I am not certain its correct. By no means am I claiming to be a scholar of Medieval history, but IMHO we tend to vastly underestimate the amount of change in previous eras and overestimate the amount in our own lives.

          For example, in the span of a hundred years from 1000 to 1100, just in England alone the country went from divided into Christian and Pagan camps, to being almost entirely Christian; it went from Anglo-Saxon kings to Danish back to Anglo-Saxon and then to Norman; most of the upper aristocracy was torn out and a new half-Scandivaian & half-French one imposed, at least one and possible two or more major government changeovers, from being raided by Vikings to starting a long domestic peace, and all kinds of new technology, architecture, and ideas brought in. I can assure you that farm families did not just sit around in an unchanging landscape, either.

          1. Retsam says:

            There are certainly periods of great change in history, but they’re usually separated by long stretches of relative status quo.

            Chinese History is a pretty stark example of this as you have long dynasties of relative stability for often hundreds of years, usually separated by periods of great upheaval and change. (Warring States, Three Kingdoms, Sixteen Kingdoms) Someone living through the Three Kingdoms period would laugh at the idea of the past being slow moving and static.

            But even then, it depends on how you look at it – certainly war has its affect on your average peasant, but would a peasant living in 1500 AD’s life look much different than a peasant living in 500 AD, (assuming neither happened to be going through a war or a famine or a plague at the time)? They’d probably be a different ethnicity, and speak a different language (but in China’s case: the written language was surprisingly constant), but their actual day-to-day life is probably not going to be very different.

            I do agree we exaggerate the simplicity of the past: a lot of assumed simplicity is just ignorance on our part – but I also think there’s a lot of general truth to the acceleration of history as well.

            1. Hector says:

              “But even then, it depends on how you look at it – certainly war has its affect on your average peasant, but would a peasant living in 1500 AD’s life look much different than a peasant living in 500 AD, (assuming neither happened to be going through a war or a famine or a plague at the time)?”

              I’m sure they’re not very much different if you assume away things like material wealth and living standards, society, culture, religion, politics, technology and literally everything else.

              1. Retsam says:

                I explicitly didn’t “assume away” wealth and living standards or technology. But my understanding is that wealth, living standards and technology (as it impacted your every day person) really didn’t change much between 500 AD and 1500 AD in most parts of the world. If you’d like to explain otherwise, I’m open to a non-sarcastic answer on this question.

                And, yes, I’m not denying that cultural or religious or political changes happened. (As I specifically mentioned, just outside of the section you quoted.) But I’m not sure how much they actually affected the daily life of an average person, barring perhaps the religious discussion which I don’t think it is particularly suitable for this forum.

                1. stratigo says:

                  between 500 and 1500? Yes, plenty changed. There were increasing developments in farming techniques and technology that allowed for ever increased surpluses in a local area for ever increasingly marginal land (as opposed to the height of the roman empire that relied on transporting grain from the some of the most productive lands in the world). Which led to the viability of larger empires in lands furhter north. There’s a reason germanic states came to dominate medieval europe (onwards, GB, France, Germany, the low countries, are all pretty solidly germanic) ever increasingly, and it is partially because they were able to figure out how to grow more food in their lands.

                  Also, like, the black death happened in this time frame, which cratered European population. So did the Plague of Justinian, also cratering population (and hollowed out both the Eastern Empire and the Persian one just in time for Arab conquest).

                  Note that both these plagues are believed to be outbreaks of the same disease. Plagues are a pretty huge deal in history for changing the social landscape.

                  1. Hector says:

                    Thank you, stratigo.

                    Here’s just one example of *only* social class in the farming population of England alone to clarify. In 500, the farming population may have been nominally free or nominally slaves, but probably owed a variety of labor to a Romano-British landlord and had no political power AND often lived close-to-stone-age lives due to the difficulty in acquiring metal at all. Land is in theory available but often not worth farming.

                    In 1500, we see a class of prosperous free farmers who own their own land, a class of yeomen who have less wealth but are still pretty much free, and even ordinary farmers have much better lifestyles than before. The population is booming such that a lot of people are being displaced from the land and traveling looking for work or trying to enter a city. Whole sections of England have been settled and turned into rich agricultural land, while farmers have far more metal available to them. He uses different plows and animals, and raises more and more varied crops. He doesn’t have much time to himself, but Sundays and Feast Days are enough for rest and community socializing, and he can reasonably venture to cities. If well-off, he can even buy goods from the exotic east such as a pinch of pepper.

                    1. djw says:

                      Comparisons like this are fairly sensitive to your end points though. 500 AD was just after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, which Britain had been a part of. It was thus near the beginning of the dark ages, and as such economic opportunities were likely limited compared to what they had been just a hundred years earlier.

                      If you compare the prospects of a peasant in 300 AD to a peasant in 1500 AD the difference might not be so stark.

                    2. Hector says:

                      Replying to djw, not myself: I didn’t pick the dates, although I can make various comparisons even to England itself a hundred years prior. I can certainly point to some periods of greater stability, and others of greater change. My point is, however, that Restsam is just plain wrong. And in fact he or she admits to simply not knowing anything about the topic.

                    3. djw says:

                      I’m not convinced that they are really all that wrong.

                      Most people in the 1500’s were farmers. Most people in the 500’s were farmers. It was back breaking work in either era. This is vastly different from today, where less than 3% of the population actually works the land, and although I’m sure that modern day farmers work hard, it is certainly not as physically intensive as it used to be even 100 years ago, let alone 500.

                      Certainly there was SOME change between those eras. There were new agricultural techniques in use by 1500 that allowed Northern European populations to exceed Southern populations, something that was NOT possible in 500 AD. This might have made a difference in labor required, but most peasants stilled lived right up against the malthusian limit for population, another thing that is definitely not true today.

                      My bet is that people from 500AD and people from 1500AD have a lot more in common with each other than either group with 2000AD.

          2. Khwa says:

            Most of the stuff you mention is political change though, and high level political change at that.

            I wouldn’t argue that the world was in stasis beforehand, but I would be prepared to say that changes that effect the economy in a large scale, changes in technology that filters down to the population at large and general abrupt and dramatic changes in the way of life of the majority of the planet have accelerated dramatically in the last few centuries.

            Just think about the change in city vs rural living, over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries the majority of the worlds population has moved away from the countryside and now lives in some kind of urban environment. This is an absolutely titanic shift in world history, nothing like this has ever happened in the entirety of humanity’s past, and its not clear at all what the full repercussions of this kind of change is, but it certainly does have dramatic effects so far on everything from the way people make day to day livings to the human population’s interact with the rest of the earth’s environment.

            1. Hector says:

              Many of those things I mentioned matter, though. In just one example, the everyday language itself changed in several ways. And political changes at the top often reverberated down throughout society.

              1. Khwarezm says:

                I’m not saying they don’t, and I don’t think most people are, certainly the idea that the past was some kind of stasis is totally without foundation. But at the end of the day, even with all of the change that afflicted England between 1000 and 1100 it was probably not that dramatic for the average person on the whole, their overall ways of life, and things like culture and language didn’t go through quite as much revolution as sometimes gets portrayed. Its also worth comparing against the dramatic shifts that have occurred worldwide in the last 500 or so years.

                Like just to refer back to this post for a little:

                “For example, in the span of a hundred years from 1000 to 1100, just in England alone the country went from divided into Christian and Pagan camps, to being almost entirely Christian; it went from Anglo-Saxon kings to Danish back to Anglo-Saxon and then to Norman; most of the upper aristocracy was torn out and a new half-Scandivaian & half-French one imposed, at least one and possible two or more major government changeovers, from being raided by Vikings to starting a long domestic peace, and all kinds of new technology, architecture, and ideas brought in. I can assure you that farm families did not just sit around in an unchanging landscape, either.”

                Religiously, England was probably pretty stable over the 11th century, the Anglo-Saxons that made up the vast mass of the population had been officially christian for many centuries by then, and would remain so. Most of the Norse settlers and kings like Canute and Sven Forkbeard actually were Christian and the old Pagan beliefs don’t seem to have been terribly relevant by the start of the 11th century. Its true that the Norman conquest was a political revolution, but its worth keeping in mind that, in England, this was probably the most jarring period of political upheaval in a thousand years. After control was secured, the average person would probably have been a bit hard pressed to note dramatic changes in their way of life compared to the old regime, they were still politically disenfranchised compared to the elites and spoke a language derived from the old Anglo-Saxon tongue that would get some peppering of French to slowly evolve into English. Changes like that which happened to language, or the economic development of a country like England (ie, the emergence of a lucrative wool trade), or change in an average person’s political engagement or type of economic activity they were involved in happened over a fairly long timescale. They still happened, but I think that’s the difference between then and now, a dramatic acceleration and expansion of the scale of major changes that affect huge segments of the population.

                Like in comparison to the Norman conquest, just think about the effects that emanated from the European discovery of America, from 1492 to 1592. The amount of change that occurred from that event, within that time period is so massive I don’t even know where to begin.

          3. Decius says:

            All of Europe did the equivalent 1938-3947.

        2. Syal says:

          I think Civ’s approach works even in the real historical context.

          Not my point. I’ll use James Bond. The Spy Who Loved Me introduces the villain as having two major henchmen. Bond kills one of the henchmen in the first ten minutes, and spends the rest of the movie (and a second movie) fighting the other one. So they’re introduced as equals, and then get completely unequal amounts of screen time. Doesn’t matter if it’s realistic, it’s bait-and-switch pacing.

          If the game goes from 4000 BC to 2050 AD, and the turns start out being 40 years, keep them that way.

  4. tmtvl says:

    You can (somewhat) fix this by playing the game on the marathon speed setting.

    That’s the way I play it. I think the slower speed settings favour more aggressive players over cultural/religious/scientific powerhouses.

    1. Joshua says:

      What I’ve said before. About the only thing that really changes is unit movement in relation to technology. In Quick, it’s much harder to wage war because units become obsolete almost as soon as they arrive at the enemy, but in Marathon, waging war is little impeded by technology changing.

      But trying to play a peaceful civilization on Marathon has got to be aggravating.

      1. MaxieJZeus says:

        Boy, is it aggravating on peaceful!

        I used to daydream a lot about ways to change Civ. Never thought them thru deep enough to think how much else would have to change given the modifications I entertained. But one idea I had was that the game speed should change when there was a war between the human and an AI. (Wars between AIs could be modeled by the computer in some other way that didn’t require a speed change.) Basically, you would play on normal speed until war was declared, then the game would automatically brake to Marathon or Eternal speed, with a proportionately slowed pacing in research. (Though production might not slow as much, so that you had a chance to replace units lost in the war.) Then it would speed back up again when peace was declared.

        1. Joshua says:

          Interesting ideas.

          I must say also that it causes another issue with multi-player, which unfortunately I don’t think your solution would fix. My wife and I would try to play together on both CIV IV and V, and if one of us ended up in a war and the other did not*, it would get extremely aggravating because one person is spending 5-10 minutes on their turns micromanaging their units, doing calculations to see what is coming out when, and the other player is just sitting around bored hitting Next Turn. In a multi-player game with all humans, two people going to war might encourage other players to throw in as well just to avoid getting bored.

          *Even if you’re both allied together and technically at war simultaneously, if one nation is at the opposite corner of the map trying to assist in the war isn’t really that helpful so you’re functionally at peace.

          1. Chad Miller says:

            There’s a little known multiplayer version called CivNet that approached this problem with simultaneous turns and hard time limits on turns; if you want to have a war with a lot of units, you’d better make your moves quickly. The open source spinoff FreeCiv did something similar.

            1. Daniil says:

              You can achieve the same effect with the right settings in Civ 4 multiplayer.

        2. Ninety-Three says:

          Endless Legend does something kind of like that. Armies move around the map like they do in Civ, but when they bump into each other, the screen flashes black like you’ve just entered a Pokemon battle and they’re both shunted off into a little pocket dimension where they have a turn-based battle full of fast-paced maneuvering that happens independently of the high-level “1 turn = X years” system. Combine it with the fact that EL’s units have more moves per turn than Civ’s (not ten times more, but enough that it doesn’t take three turns for your warrior to walk out of vision distance of your city) and it does a decent job of feeling vaguely like a real war.

          1. Thomas says:

            The movement difference between the two really helps. I don’t know if it would work with Civ’s battle system, but the way your units crawl around the map in Civ really bugged me. If they increased the sightlines, and the density of map tiles a little, perhaps that would help.

      2. GoStu says:

        There’s also the effects of different build times compounding the technology problem.

        If I park a single scout near the borders of the empire 10 tiles away, I can see the army moving and have 5ish turns to respond. Less time for cavalry, but the archers and siege units won’t be faster than that.

        On Quick speed that’s enough time for me to build a unit out of each of my cities; my border town with slower production might take 5-6 turns but it’ll be where it’s needed, and the core of my empire can spit a unit out in 3-4 turns and I have some advantage on roads. The obsolescence problem makes this worse because there’s just no time to take a roundabout hidden attack route.

        On Epic or Marathon, build times could be 3-4 times that long. I can see the army coming and my next military unit isn’t coming out for 15 turns even if I start building it now. I can spend hoarded gold (maybe) to get one now but reinforcements are just slower. The obsolescence problem isn’t so bad now either, because spending 15 turns to loop around my best choke point isn’t that big a deal.

      3. Paul Spooner says:

        Seems like the solution is to split the turns into “unit turns” where all you can do is move units and “civ turns” where you do everything else.

        1. Hector says:

          I would also recommend having a “Supply” mechanic where your units can only venture so far from the city before they start taking damage each turn. These zones can be expanded with technology until it vanishes in the late game. This means that you don’t necessarily need to constantly move units in the early game while also acting as a spur to settle areas. Specific Scout units may be able to ignore this as well.

          (Accompanying this, I want a modification how cities function especially in the late game, so they are less “here is my radius and I can only consume resources found within it.)

          1. MaxieJZeus says:

            Civ VI has the opposite of this: Supply/Medic units in the late game that can speed healing.

            As long as we’re inventing new Civ features [!!!] how about marrying a Supply mechanic to the trade route system. Units are linked to your capital with a “logistics route” that maintains their health outside your territory, but that route can be cut by hostile units, after which the unit takes damage until it dies, unless it returns to friendly territory or replenishes itself by pillaging.

            Such a system, though, probably would only work if the game returned to a modified “stacks of doom” mechanic, so as to minimize the number of routes to be created.

  5. Cubic says:

    It’s like one second of game play in GTA equals one minute on the clock. Let’s just move on, shall we?

  6. Daniil says:

    “The military units will feel very Roman to the typical western audience: Chariots, dudes with pikes, and so on.”

    Does the typical western audience associate Romans with pikes? It all sounds more Greek to me. But then I don’t know the typical western audience…

    “Sadly, these aren’t quite as OP as they were in the real world.”

    Actually this may be accurate, early firearms were pretty limited in how they can be used. Powerful, sure, but also much slower, less reliable and less precise than bows. Obviously a fast cavalry charge was anathema to them, which is why Europeans developed pike and shot units (i.e. musketmen covered by pikemen). Thus older medieval “units” were able to hang around for a while until more advanced firearms became genuinely OP.

    1. Ancillary says:

      Agreed. I like how–in most Civs–knights beat the earliest musket units in head-to-head combat; the trade-off being that knights require more production and some special resources like iron and horses, representing their elite status.

      It’s weird how the pike and shot era is so underrepresented in games, EU4 being a notable exception. As far as I know, Total War never really tried to model it, though it seems like a perfect fit.

      1. The Puzzler says:

        Warhammer Total War has some civilisations with pike-and-shot tech level (plus a few dwarven helicopters, rampaging dinosaurs, giant enemy crabs, etc.)

        1. MelTorefas says:

          Yeah Pike-and-Shot immediately made me think of the Empire factions in Total War: Warhammer. Continuing in that vein, TW:W is obviously a different kind of game than Civ in a lot of ways, but I prefer their system of everything occurring over basically a single “age” with turns being an indeterminate amount of time. (Also, being fantasy instead of using earth and real-world cultures helps me suspend disbelief).

      2. Khwarezm says:

        I find it very frustrating, there’s this big gap in representation of warfare in pop culture between 15th century warfare just barely as gunpowder started to proliferate (Hundred Years War) and 18th century line warfare (American Revolution, Seven Years War).

        The Early modern period is one of my favorite historical eras and the pike and shot evolution over the 16th and 17th centuries is super interesting, where the hell’s my Total War: Thirty Years War?!

        1. Zekiel says:

          Isn’t that Warhammer Total War? You just have to ignore a scant few fantastical elements :-)

          1. Khwarezm says:

            I’ve heard things along those lines, and certainly I do like fantasy properties having usable gunpowder in their setting for once, but I got the impression things like Pike and Shot were only for some of the many factions and just generally its still a bit frustrating that the best I can do is a ridiculously extravagant fantasy game instead of something a little more tied to reality, like with Total war Rome or Medieval.

    2. Andrew says:

      Yes, that’s absolutely right. Early firearams were very much not obviously superior to bows; there were long periods where both bows and firearms were in use and the best bows were far superior to the best firearms (albeit they required more skill to use).

      My suspicion regarding life expectancy is that plausible maximum life expentancy hasn’t increased much since paleolithic times. People would have lived into their 70s and 80s even in hunter-gatherer cultures. But not often. Among other risks, a lot of women died in childbirth and a lot of men died in violent conflict (violent deaths were probably commoner in hunter-gatherer cultures than even in modern warzones).

      However, it is believed that life expectancy in hunter-gatherer cultures was probably higher than in many later, agricultural civilisations (and probably higher than the life expectancy of the poor in early industrial societies too). Disease and poor nutrition afflicted neolithic (agricultural) societies much worse than the hunter-gatherer cultures they replaced.

      1. Boobah says:

        The problem with bows is that the bowmen who could use the good ones were as expensive as knights to train; in both cases, for best results you had to start training them (and feeding them properly) before puberty. Bowmen also have the problem that they can’t make very effective use of cover; one has to stand up to use a bow effectively. On horseback also works, but you’re certainly not getting any cheaper on training or equipment that way.

        Crossbows (and later, guns) had the big advantage that they were easy to use; no need for decades of training and physical conditioning. The big expense was the weapon itself, not the man wielding it.

    3. Joshua says:

      From what I understand, the invention of gunpowder was mostly useful for cannons (which made castles obsolete). Muskets and pistols were so slow-loading, inaccurate, and short-ranged as to not be terribly OP at all.

      1. Hector says:

        Both points are wildly wrong. Castles – even some medieval locations – were still being used as late as WW1, though in most cases technological change necessitated new fortification designs. Gunpowder tended to have a pretty balanced effect in terms of defence vs offence as it’s easy to prepare a hardened position for a cannon that will greatly outdo a field piece. However, it changed warfare in a number of ways simply because not every local power could obtain or afford gunpowder weaponry; whereas most kings could build up sizable artillery trains. That castle might be a great defensive location but if some guy is besieging it with a hundred guns it probably won’t last long.

        Small arms and cannon emerged from the same basic technology, just applied in different ways. Gunpowder weapons in the field were initially slow to use, but the sheer firepower was obvious from the beginning and it did not take long for armies to begin experimenting and incorporating them. Muskets are much more recent than you may be thinking – but medieval armies had arquebus firearms in the late 15th century, and various forms of hand cannons before then. Interestingly, the first recorded use of hand cannon in Europe is less than 50 years after they were documented in use by the Mongol Yuan dynasty.

        1. > Castles – even some medieval locations – were still being used as late as WW1, though in most cases technological change necessitated new fortification designs.

          You are drastically underestimating the effect of those new fortification techniques, or of the need for them. There was a fifty-year period when all the existing castles were indeed completely useless against artillery, while the new forts were being designed and built; and while we have forts now as we had forts then, and sometimes in the same locations and with roughly the same strategic effects, they are nowhere the same forts. This is basically the real historical example of that effect you sometimes get in games with a tech tree, where anyone who rushes Weapon X can completely overthrow the pre-Weapon-X balance because there’s no defense except having more of Weapon X, until Building Y is developed a couple of techs later and everyone builds them around their bases, restoring attritional warfare and locking in whatever the territorial distribution is at that time.

          The old curtain walls that were great against siege ladders – basically the taller, the better – were utterly useless against cannon that struck at the base of the wall, because against that attack, the taller the worse. So in the fifty-year period while those new designs were being invented and built, the kings of Europe blew up basically every baronial castle in the continent. Then they built lines of new-style fortifications *along their borders*. Europe went from being a patchwork of curtain-walled castles each of which could stand off the king for half a year, to a patchwork of recognisably-modern countries defended at their borders, with something approaching an actual monopoly on violence within those borders. This is not a “balanced effect” except on the timescale of centuries – which, as Shamus pointed out, means two or three generations of fighting men who saw combat as being entirely unbalanced in favour of offense, due to gunpowder.

          1. Hector says:

            A common belief, but this is not, in fact, true, or at least it is not very true. Artillery forced changes in fortification design but it hardly obsoleted everything. Many castles that could withstand previous artillery also withstand cannon; others were redesigned but they hardly vanished. The key change, somewhat before 1500, was the sheer size of artillery trains brought to bear – not a technological change, but an economic one. These changes took around a century to complete and often represented the modification of the existing castle rather than new construction.

            “Gunpowder and larger armies were forcing change, but at an evolutionary rather than revolutionary pace…”*

            After discussing several campaigns where the size of royal artillery trains indeed shifted the balance of power: “By the 1520s (at latest), siege was well on its way back to the long hard slog of pre-gunpowder days.”

            *Keen, Maurice, editor. Medieval Warfare: A History. Oxford University Press, 1999.

            1. > Many castles that could withstand previous artillery also withstand cannon

              Would you like to explain how this applies to the Theodosian Walls, famously the most powerful fortification in Christendom? (Compare the three- and four-year sieges of Nicaea and Nicomedia a century earlier, when the Ottomans had no cannon.) Or the successful siege of Harfleur that preceded the more famous battle of Agincourt, which lasted all of a month because Henry had 12 siege guns with him and the garrison surrendered on terms after the wall was breached? Compare the siege of Calais fifty years earlier: No guns, a siege one year long.

              In fact, can you point to an example of a curtain-wall fortification, or a pre-1380 fortification, that stood up to besiegers armed with cannon without first receiving major renovations?

          2. Khwarezm says:

            While its true that the new technology rendered the castles of old obsolete, it was also the case that fortification technology and techniques kept pace with improvements in gunpoweder weaponry. Already by the start of the 16th century ‘Trace Italienne’ Bastion forts were proliferating that offered a level of fortification previously unheard of, really innovative designs with thick, sloping walls, moats and projections to try to funnel the enemy that could enclose whole cities. This kind of thing did last a long time, the design principles of something like Fort Douaumont in Verdun wasn’t a million miles away from something like the Venetian fortifications around Palmanova in the late 16th century.

            The problem was that, like the gunpowder weaponry that prompted their creation, compared to previous methods the new forts were unbelievably expensive to build, a small state in somewhere like Italy or Germany that could previously defend itself reasonably well with the income it had was increasingly getting priced out of its own independence by the onerous amounts of resources needed to maintain its defenses. This contributed to the ever greater concentration of centralized authority around the rulers and monarchs of many nations as lesser nobles and lords increasingly lost their ability to punch above their weight.

    4. Lino says:

      Also, even when muskets became better, there was still armour that could defend against them. If you go to any European museum, all of the armours (except for the ceremonial pieces) have dents in them. One of those dents was made after the piece of armour was created. It was to test whether it could withstand a gunshot.

      Granted, they were quite expensive to make, but they worked extremely well…

    5. John says:

      Does the typical western audience associate Romans with pikes? It all sounds more Greek to me. But then I don’t know the typical western audience…

      Pikes are more Greek than Roman and more Macedonian than Greek. (Modern Greeks are keen to claim the Macedonians as Greek but many ancient Greeks considered them semi-barbarians at best.) Pike-wielding phalanxes were a Macedonian innovation used to their greatest effect by Alexander the Great and his father Phillip. Roman soldiers of the late republic and early empire–i.e., the kind that show up in popular media–carried swords, shields, and also javelins. I suspect that the typical western audience, if there is such a thing, mostly thinks of the swords and shields when it comes to Roman soldiers.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        Yeah, I tend to think of spears as a Greek phalanx thing, and swords as a Roman legion thing. Polearms would have made falling back through the checkerboard formations problematic.

        To be honest, though, I’d wager the typical Western audience focuses less on the weapons and more on the helmets and elaborate breastplates when picturing military from that period.

        1. John says:

          That’s probably true. Of course the elaborate breastplates and helmets would have been worn mostly by wealthy officers and statues of wealthy officers. Certain specialists like standard-bearers may also have had fancier-than-normal equipment. Evidence such as the Column of Trajan suggest that ordinary soldiers wore plain, functional armor.

        2. Hector says:

          That’s not exactly correct. The “checkerboard” formation you speak of was a feature of early Roman armies and they used spears, though I believe they were indeed shorter on average than the Greek version. The Macedonian-style long-spear phalanx just didn’t work in the terrain of central Italy and was never adopted.

          The mid-to-late Republican armies were more oriented towards swords, although they certainly could use spears as well, and these were one of the advantages that let them overcome the phalanx formations. But they also dropped the checkerboard entirely and just had a flexible line, with detachments breaking off as needed.

          1. Nimrandir says:

            That makes sense. Outfitting your entire army with swords would have been pretty expensive until the Republic’s economy got rolling.

    6. Retsam says:

      The reason main firearms were OP isn’t because they were more effective than other weapons – it’s that they were much easier to use. A knight was highly trained, and the old adage is if you want to train a good archer, start with their grandfather. A spear or a pike is a lot easier (which is why they’re the historical weapon, not the sword as it’s commonly portrayed), but you still need a lot of training to operate as a unit.

      But a gun is a “point and click interface”, you can throw them in the hands of untrained militia and get them up to speed very quickly – it led to war transforming from largely a thing done by trained professionals and the upper classes to the “mass armies” featured beginning in the Napoleonic Era. (Levée en masse) Napoleon famously boasted: “You cannot stop me, I spend 30,000 men a month” – referring to this phenomenon.

      So if Civ were trying to be accurate here, I guess musketmen wouldn’t be more powerful than longbowmen, but would just train a lot faster.

      1. The Puzzler says:

        I wonder if firearms also had a much greater effect on morale? Loud noises, near-invisible projectiles… That’s probably more effective than arrows for making an enemy army flee, which was more important than how many of them you shot.

        After all, crossbows were pretty easy to learn too, and they didn’t make longbows obsolete or survive much into the gunpowder era. So ease of use can’t be the only thing muskets had going for them, there would have to be other factors like range, penetration, conveniently small ammo…

        1. Retsam says:

          Yeah, morale is a factor too, but I think the the big piece of the equation, which is missing for the crossbow (and early firearms) is mass production – you can’t make a peasant army if you can’t mass produce the weapons – you’re not going to throw a gun in the hands of a peasant if the gun is a one-of-a-kind priceless weapon.

          I would guess that in an alternate history where mass-production was invented before gunpowder, you would see crossbows used in a similar way to Napoleonic Era guns: a big trend towards levee in mass armies composed of lightly trained crossbowmen.

          1. LCF says:

            The range and rate of fire can be a factor too. At first, arquebus, bows and crossbows coexisted on the battlefield, each because of their respective strengths. Then muskets started replacing them as the firearms quality improved (also the bayonette made the pikes obsolete in early 1700).

            The Longbow Vs The Crossbow Speed Test – Video 17

            Fast Shooting the ‘Old Way’ with the Austrian M1784 Musket
            SBAM Shooting

            Granted, the time scale is not proper, as it’s a musket, not an arquebus. It’s more of an indication.

      2. GoStu says:

        It’s hilarious when you think of it – the Civ5 Longbowman has the range of a field artillery piece (3 hexes) while the Gatling Gun can only shoot at adjacent targets (1 hex) and the gunpowder line of units (musketman/rifleman/great war infantry/infantry/mechanized infantry) are freaking melee units.

        Yes, the modern assault-rifle carrying infantryman who rides around in an Armored Personnel Carrier has the effective range of a swordsman, but a longbow has the same functional range as rocket artillery.

      3. stratigo says:

        An arquebus is vastly, and I mean vastly, deadlier than a longbow. Guns overcame bows not because they were simply easier to use. It is because they were much much deadlier, especially in the context of ever increasing armor. A longbow struggles to pierce armor at any appreciable distance, and can’t pierce the best armor from anything but standing a few feet from it. Even a basic padded gambeson is good for absorbing arrows at a distance. This is not true for a gun.

        I mildly regret this message because longbow fans can get quite rabid, but this myth of longbow excellence in the face of armor and guns needs to go away.

        1. Hector says:


          While the longbow could have a very goods burst of fire rate, even the best arrows were nowhere near as powerful as a bullet. In real-world use, an arrow would often fail to penetrate armor; only much more expensive armour could do so against guns.

        2. The Puzzler says:

          Against targets without appropriate armor, the superior fire rate of the longbow (estimates vary, but about five times faster) makes it the more effective weapon. But relying on your enemy not wearing good armor is a very risky strategy…

    7. Echo Tango says:

      I think the “typical western audience” member only knows about this stuff from movies or other games. All of the sword-and-sandals-era stuff is lumped together, without specific knowledge of which countries, or specific time-periods these things belong to. Or is this game aimed specifically at history buffs?

      1. tmtvl says:

        Well, it’s aimed at nerds I think.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          Dorks. We’re dorks.

          1. LCF says:

            You’re a dork. I’m a vintage élite turbo-nincompoop.

            1. Nimrandir says:

              So long as we’re all on the same page about the nerds, I can respect that.

              I’m just tired of not getting credit for my work.

    8. Khwarezm says:

      “Actually this may be accurate, early firearms were pretty limited in how they can be used. Powerful, sure, but also much slower, less reliable and less precise than bows. Obviously a fast cavalry charge was anathema to them, which is why Europeans developed pike and shot units (i.e. musketmen covered by pikemen). Thus older medieval “units” were able to hang around for a while until more advanced firearms became genuinely OP.”

      This gets said a lot, and probably was true for roughly the 15th century, but by the time of even the early 16th century firearms really were showing a serious edge over traditional bows and arrows that rendered the latter effectively obsolete when an army could effectively kit out its soldiers with a significant amount of gunpowder weaponry, which a lot of the states in Europe and elsewhere were becoming capable of doing. England is interesting to look at in this case, in terms of European countries it had one of the most solid and deep rooted traditions of martial archery around, to this day the Longbow is almost a national symbol in the country. Its difficult to overstate how attached the English were to their bows. They held out against adopting firearms as long as possible, and yet, despite all this national pride built into their self image as a nation of bowmen they had to concede the argument and abandoned the longbow as a military weapon completely in 1595. There was a huge amount of acrimonious debate about this, but in the end it was the case that a lot of the very people who had been brought up from birth using bows had to admit that the gun was simply the better option in almost every realistic circumstance. Suffice to say, a lot the upsides we traditionally associate with bows compared to early guns are actually much less true when it comes to real world application, and a lot of the reasons we assume for why bows were supplanted by guns are also not true.

      For one, you often hear that guns were easier to use, so there was less training required and it was easier to mass up lots of little trained gunmen compared to bowmen, but this is only part of the story. It was generally the case that people who had been training with bows for years to mediocre results (remember, most people aren’t going to be world class archers no matter what) got better results more quickly from guns, and leaned towards them as a result. But these guns were not easy to use, a black powder musket is a very complex affair to load and shoot compared to a bow, and a lot people in the 16th century and before could reasonably be expected to have had relatively good experience with a bow even if they never touched one for military purpose just for sport and hunting. Especially in England and Wales where archery was a national pastime enforced through law. If bows were still so useful then it was relatively easier to draw upon the population to levy some reasonably effective bowmen. Meanwhile, gunmen would need a lot drilling and training to be able to load and fire their weapons effectively enough to be useful on the battlefield, and especially to do so coherently within a major formation to get the most effectiveness out of them. The big thing guns brought to the table was pure power. Armor had been getting progressively more and more impenetrable over the centuries, to the point that by the end of the 15th century full plate armor could make its wearer practically impervious to the vast majority of arrow fire unless the archer got very lucky hits in the chinks. A firearm could blow right through anything but the thickest armor, and armor that was thick enough to withstand a bullet, even back in the 16th century, would have been extremely heavy and difficult to move in for the wearer.

      Another problem bows had that we tend to forget about is that, even compared to guns, they were a lot less easy to replace than people tend to be aware. A good bow, especially crossbow, was a serious piece of craft that would take a lot time for a Bowyer to create. Crossbows had lots of mechanical parts that could break, like with guns, Longbows often had to be made from rare and difficult to replace wood from trees like Yew and Composite bows were particularly complex to create and required a wide variety of different materials which had to potential to fail at the worst time. Bows had to be made at higher and higher standards to deal with the aforementioned improvements in armor, to the point that in Europe only Longbows and Crossbows were really usable on the battlefield by the end of the period. A bow could break just like a gun and not really be able to be repaired into a battle usable state.

      Additionally, early guns weren’t really that different from bows in terms of the accuracy that could be expected from the average soldier. Indeed they actually had a much longer range, and users didn’t have to worry about fall off from gravity for bullets compared to arrows, which gave them some better harassing capabilities in many scenarios. Finally, in terms of rate of fire, a lot of what we hear about bows can be very misleading and does not account for human fatigue. Especially with giant longbows, people couldn’t reasonably be expected to keep firing for long before getting totally exhausted, and being unable to fire effectively any more after. You sometimes hear about Longbows having a rate of fire of like 6 arrows a minute, but practically no bowman could be reasonably expected to manage those 6 arrows for more than a minute before their arm fell off. With guns on the other hand it was much easier to maintain sustained fire for longer periods since the force of the impact wasn’t dependent on whether or not the user’s right arm was worn out, it was all shifted over to chemical energy of gunpowder instead of human effort, the gunner instead had to put their energies into holding the (admittedly heavy) gun, aiming it properly and reloading efficiently.

      So yeah, old guns tend to be more useful than they are given credit for.

      1. jpuroila says:

        Well, keep in mind that early firearms showed up in 13th century, and possibly even earlier. It took up a few centuries for firearms to become better than bows.

      2. stratigo says:

        And the english kept their bows for so long on the grace of not having any major conflicts on land in the continent. Note that there were in fact a few english longbowmen who ended up fighting in continental wars. From what records they left, they were not particularly enthused by the longbow when they came against pike and shot formations in the 16th century.

        1. Decius says:

          But see John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill, who used a longbow in WW2.

  7. Ancillary says:

    I can’t stop watching Let’s Plays of Old World. It feels like the sequel to Civilization 4 that Civilization 5 wasn’t, with a hefty dose of Crusader Kings sprinkled on top. I’ll definitely have to check it out once it reaches full release, hopefully on Steam or GOG.

    1. John says:

      Old World has the same lead designer as Civilization IV. I would be more surprised if it didn’t feel like a sequel to Civilization IV.

    2. Mistwraithe says:

      Or, if you like Soren Johnson and the games he tries to make, you could buy Old World on the Epic store so that his company, Mohawk Games, gets to keep 88% of your purchase price instead of the 70% he would get from Steam? (and most likely GOG). That would certainly help them with improving the game further or making more games like Old World.

      1. Boobah says:

        Maybe. But that would involve giving some amount of money to Tim Sweeney and Epic Games.

  8. Joshua says:

    Can you use oil to fuel factories in Civ VI now? That would be cool (and historically accurate) if so.

    In V, you need coal, and I thought that was true for the previous games too. In V at least, I seem to be more hamstrung by lack of coal than I do by lack of oil. Yeah, you need oil for jets and tanks, but if you’re going for Cultural Victory, you can generally win around this same period of time anyway.

    1. raifield says:

      Factories require Power, which can be produced via Coal, Oil, or Nuclear power plants. Coal and Oil contribute to global warming, but Nuclear Plants need to be re-built every dozen turns or so to prevent them from exploding.

      So you don’t directly allocate strategic resources to Factories, but you do need them to produce Power for them.

      1. Joshua says:

        Thinking about it, this was true for IV as well wasn’t it? If so, it looks like I was wrong earlier about needing coal for IV, because they had the power mechanic as well.

        1. Chad Miller says:

          Yes. IV even has Hydro Plants if the city is close enough to a river (or if you get the Three Gorges Dam wonder)

  9. MaxieJZeus says:

    Re: The realism of movement speed. I have a similar issue with the 1upt rule. I’ve gotten better at ignoring it, but it still bothers me greatly that, in order to lay siege to a city, I have to camp my infantry under the walls and station my catapults 200 miles back.

    Also the traffic jams when I demobilize after a war. The $%^#@&ing traffic jams that come from having to string my units out along several thousand miles of roads, all because the designers smugly refuse to provide a special tile where I can store them all.

    1. Joshua says:

      It would be nice if they had some mechanic similar to D&D’s squeezing. Yeah, you can fit multiple units in the same tile, but they’re extra vulnerable and also weaker on offense. Only useful for movement.

      1. The Puzzler says:

        In Civ 4 there was a ‘collateral’ effect where catapults and similar units could damage everything in one place, so rather than risk this I tried to avoid having more than two units per tile.

        I guess the risk must have been less bad than I thought because people talk about moving around ‘stacks of doom’ in Civ 4, while I tried to avoid putting more than a couple of units in a tile.

        1. Chad Miller says:

          There’s a promotional Medic ability that lets units heal everyone on their tile, plus natural healing, plus if you get a large enough stack or tech advantage you can just faceroll even after taking collateral damage.

    2. Retsam says:

      I feel making a large army unwieldy to handle is actually a feature of 1upt not a bug – the fact that it gives raw numbers diminishing returns I think is both good for gameplay purposes and pretty realistic. There’s an old adage “amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics”, which seems fitting.[1] From what I understand, maneuvering armies and getting them all in the right place in the right time has always been the bigger challenge of war than just winning the fight when you get there.

      I’m not sure realism is the right frame to analyze Civ from, but if we’re going there, an entire army in one convenient to store and move doomstack is actually the unrealistic thing. In reality, armies really do take up space (and importantly: supplies) and can’t just phase through each other.

      [1] Incidentally, I learned about that adage from this series that analyzes the Siege of Gondor from a logistical and tactical perspective which is pretty great

      1. The Puzzler says:

        I always hated just how fiddly it was to move around Civ V’s armies, even in peacetime. I’d tell a unit to go to a city, and it would see there were some friendly units blocking the road. Rather than wait for them to move, the unit would jump in the sea, wasting their turn and the next turn too.

        Once I understood how it worked, it wasn’t so bad, but I still prefer Paradox’s “too many soldiers in one place and you suffer attrition” system.

        1. Joshua says:

          This “jump in the sea” is the real problem. Likewise jumping off the road. The game will tell you if an area you are trying to move into “right now” is blocked and prompt you for new orders. It would be nice to have an option to choose to give new orders if the most expeditious route is blocked.

      2. Gaius Maximus says:

        But even if you’re playing on the largest size map, one hex is about the size of a medium US state. Logistics and everything is important, but even with all that accounted for, you can fit more than one unit of pikemen in, say, Pennsylvania.

        1. Retsam says:

          Yes, and the entire production of a major city can produce more than a single unit of pikemen every six decades or so, so if you’re trying to peer through the abstraction we have to assume that a single “pikeman” unit represents more than just a single unit of pikeman.

          But again, Civ is a very loose abstraction and that, like I said, realism might not be the right lens to analyze from – this is why I also mentioned gameplay reasons why I think it’s a good system.

      3. MaxieJZeus says:

        In the First World War (IIRC) the German army had to invade France via Belgium in part because there were simply too many men to squeeze through the Franco-German border. So I get why in a modern era a 1upt rule would lend a realistic air to industrial-era warfare. But (a) this wasn’t as much of a problem, was it, in earlier wars with much smaller units of fighting men; and (b) I’ve never heard that Wilhelmine Germany was one giant traffic jam because they had no place to park their soldiers while waiting for Franz Ferdinand to get his ass shot. :p

        A special improvement where you could stack units would help gameplay immeasurably without compromising the 1upt rule in wartime. If you want it to cost something, how about cutting the units’ health by 75% while they are in storage, and they don’t begin recovering health until they leave the storage tile?

        Neat looking linking. Thanks for posting it.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          I did not know that the German army entered France through Belgium in World War I. It makes the construction of the Maginot Line seem even less reasonable.

          1. Daath says:

            Maginot Line was one of those perfectly reasonable choices that became a disaster when the enemy figured out a way to exploit them. It was based on two facts deriving from WW1. First, Germany lost that one eventually. The author of their war plan, von Schlieffen, was tormented at the end of his life by the 1UPT problem. It was physically impossible to push through Belgian road network enough troops to guarantee a victory for his right wing in a decisive battle near Paris, so success depended on French making some big mistake. They didn’t. Maginot Line was meant to force Germany into repeating the same strategy, only this time French would be able to economize on their forces, securing most of their border with a limited number of older reservists and committing the bulk of their army into Belgium. The war would be conveniently fought outside France, and result in another stalemate. This would mean that Germany, which was under blockade and had built up their forces early, would inevitably lose in a few years.

            Second, they really didn’t have a choice other than play defense. During WW1, they lost almost 1.4 million out of population of 40 million, heavily concentrated on younger men. There really was a lost generation, and their sons just weren’t there in ’39. Germany’s losses were also grievous, but its population was younger and birth rates higher, so it had recovered much better. Maginot Line, in theory, negated their advantage in numbers, but only if French didn’t try to push into Germany.

            Also, let’s not forget how risky the German thrust through Ardennes was. It had to be a surprise and succeed quickly, or it wouldn’t succeed at all. I think I read that a scout plane actually spotted the tank columns, but the superiors decided to channel Dyatlov from HBO’s Chernobyl. “You’re confused, Pierre. Tanks can’t go through Ardennes. Get him out of here.”

            1. Hector says:

              Here are three links to talks by the Chieftain on YT:

              The Fall of France:
              Lesser-Known details:
              Development of French Armored Doctrine, which has a lot of interesting tidbits about the French pre-war culture and why some things happened that maybe in hindsight were not the wisest choices:

          2. NotetheCode says:

            Well, the Maginot Line was just part of the defensive system, there was also forts in both Belgium and in the North of France. And the Maginot Line worked as planned: it forced the German to go through Belgium and the Netherlands, where the French and British would met them for battle. But the French generals though the Ardenne area was not passable, so didn’t cover that area. So that when Germans moved in force through there, they were able to encircle the French and British forces who had advanced into Belgium, leading to the evacuation at Dunkirk and the German advancing mostly unopposed in the rest of France, leading to the armistice.

          3. The Puzzler says:

            Germany invading Belgium in WW1 triggered Britain entering the war. German submarines attacking American ships supplying Britain provoked the US into joining the war. Overall, not a wise decision.

      4. GoStu says:

        That’s a really fun link, a joy to read. It’s a fun thought experiment in medieval logistics.

        Here’s some more fun thoughts on top of that: in a medieval setting, nothing can travel particularly fast overland (ocean travel’s a different game) and food can’t be preserved very well – multiplying top speed of food by shelf-life of food gives you a really hard limit on just how far one army can move away from its bases of supply. Wherever you march your army is also wherever you’re gonna have to get your food, and a given patch of land can only support so many people on it. There’s some longer-lived provisions but living off those isn’t plausible forever, and they contribute straight to the reputation of army food as being terrible in the field.

        The motor vehicle carrying food and the refrigerated box are probably two of the greatest enablers of long-distance warfare (plus other preservation tricks like canning/salting/etc. your food). The radio enabling you to coordinate your troops over longer distances is also a major factor – you don’t have to give a subordinate orders like “take these 5,000 people and go down that road, meet me in six days, hope to see you there.”

      5. ThePedant says:

        Oh look, it’s my blog showing up in the comments of the other blog I read (seriously, been reading Shamus since the Escapist days; the first time around, I mean). Neat!

        May I also suggest as potentially relevant to moving armies:

        1. GoStu says:

          I just came back and found this post – thanks for linking it, it’s a great read.

      6. Philadelphus says:

        That was a fantastic read, thanks for sharing!

  10. Panzeh says:

    I always thought civ was oddly detailed in the military model- like you’re dealing with the relationship of pikes, bows, swords, cavalry in this nuanced thing on the map whereas your cities produced nondescript ‘hammers’ throughout all of history. I kinda feel like something more abstract suited the game more than making combat more and more tactical as 5-6 did.

    5 and 6 suffer from maps being way too cramped and units being too slow for the tactics to matter. Jon Shafer explicitly based civ’s 1upt system on Panzer General but kinda missed the point of PG, where the units moved a lot, had complex relationships, and the maps were big enough. Most importantly- that was the whole game, a series of scenarios of racing against time. I don’t think it really suited what civ was going for, where I think it needs more abstraction, not less.

    1. Sean says:

      Agreed. I don’t have a solid grasp on what sort of abstraction I’d ideally want to shoot for, but I know pushing around individual dudes on a map really does not fit.

      I cannot tell you how frustrated I was that we now have two iterations of the religion side of the game basically being a lite and even more dull form of the military gameplay. There were plenty of other models in the games themselves that could have been interesting and less tedious; I think hybridizing trade and spies might work, forex.

      (Don’t get me started on what crap the religious victory is. Multiplayer games, in my experience, pretty much always devolve into focusing on it, because it can be claimed so early and only half the players can even present any opposition)

      1. Decius says:

        Religious victory is easy?
        Start an inquisition, and you can trade one charge of an inquisitor to clear out a city. It doesn’t even have to be your religion’s inquisitor.

        Any player paying attention to who is coming close to a religious victory can block it by inquisition,

    2. The Puzzler says:

      Tactics matter in Civ 5 and 6. If they didn’t the AI would be better at handling wars.

    3. MaxieJZeus says:

      That was one of the shifts between Civ 4 to Civ 5 that I greatly disliked. The game went from being economically challenging to simplistic while doing the opposite with the military. Shafer seems to have been fixated on turning Civ into a Panzer General clone, and bent or broke every mechanic that got in the way.

      1. Mistwraithe says:

        That’s why I liked Civ 4 best – the economic game was very well balanced. There were big costs in expanding too fast before your city growth and technology were up to the task, but if you could get through the expansion costs without suffering too much then the expansion will pay dividends. This makes for fun strategic thinking.

        Someone else on this page said that in Civ 6 expansion was basically always good – I don’t know the details and maybe it isn’t that bad, but it certainly sounds like a big step backwards to me.

  11. William says:

    I’m loving this series!

  12. Steve C says:

    I’ve always felt that nations should get a friendly zone of control around them. One in which their units can operate easier. For example a sizable movement bonus when within ‘X’ hexes of one of your cities. Outside of the zone, units would take damage over time. Representing how difficult it is to field an army far from support and how easy it is to move through friendly territory. This zone of control would grow based on the era and be free to overlap with enemy nations where eventually in the modern era it is effectively most of the world.

    Something else I’ve never liked is city growth. Before the modern era, cities always had negative population growth. IE more people died in a city than were born there. Cities only grew from net immigration into the city in excess of the increased death rate. It was the rural areas were actual population growth happened. I’ve always felt that Civ never put enough emphasis on the supporting countryside. Which exaggerates all the problems with units, distance, and time.

    Disclosure: I’m a big fan of 4x games. Except I dislike Civ. So it might be ruining it for others who are not me.

    1. Michael says:

      It was the rural areas were actual population growth happened. I’ve always felt that Civ never put enough emphasis on the supporting countryside.

      I mean, your cities can only grow in Civilization because you spend hundreds of years carefully irrigating every bit of arable countryside nearby. The city can’t even produce enough food to exist at size 2 until quite late in the technology tree.

      How much more emphasis on the countryside can there be?

      1. Steve C says:

        I mean villages. Rural communities. Aspects of civilization that you strongly influence as a nation but do not control. Not land that is just an extension of the city. Not farms. I mean population outside the cities. Population that flees due to war, etc.

        1. MaxieJZeus says:

          Civ IV included villages as a possible terrain improvement. They provided money rather than food or resources if worked. And as they were worked they grew and provided greater amounts of coin.

          It was one of the things that Civ V “improved” out of existence.

          1. Steve C says:

            The problem with that is villages don’t provide money. The whole reason why cities grow is that they provide superior opportunities to generate wealth over rural life. Therefore people emigrate. Despite the significantly higher mortality rate in cities. Villages are a source of net population growth, not income. Historically rural villages often had no interaction at all with cities or city dwellers, except when a young person set off to the city.

            1. MaxieJZeus says:

              Then I don’t know what you want. (shrug) You said you wanted something called “villages” that were a meaningful contribution to the game. Which is something that Civ IV did. Now you say that what you want is a tile that provides population growth for a city. But that’s what farms have done in Civ from I through VI–without farms, cities grow very slowly, and soon stop. If the designers started calling those tiles “villages” instead of “farms”, would that satisfy you?

              Your criticism would be easier to understand if you described a gameplay mechanism that would satisfy you.

              1. Steve C says:

                Ok I will try…
                I’m talking about the hexes completely outside the radius of cities. The land not within sight. The farms you are describing are just tile improvements to a city. I am talking about a mechanic that is *not* a tile improvement to a city. Instead of a single hex (like a city) or small collection of hexes (like districts) being the only thing that was important, it would be the entirety of the land. Everywhere within a country.

                Take the ancient city. There is the arable land, farms, rivers and ocean around the city that feeds it. I’m not talking about that. There are all the villages and settlements completely without interaction with a city. They don’t trade with a city. They don’t feed it. They exist separate from the city in any meaningful way. Except for the 3rd and 4th sons etc. They would have no land to inherit and no prospects. They would leave these villages when they came of age. That’s where actual population growth for cities comes from. As Kylroy says above:

                Cities had negative internal population growth until the early 1900s. Not doubting the early industrial revolution made it worse, but it took modern sewage systems to allow cities to survive without a constant influx of new people.

                Cities need a source for population outside the city that is not tied to the city at all. That’s a consequence of negative internal population growth. Villages that need protecting from invading armies. Population that if killed or flee the nation will have consequences in a generation rather than immediately.

                It’s always rubbed me the wrong way that in game called “Civilization” it has always gotten the fundamentals of civilization backwards. The game tends to reverse cause and effect.

                1. MaxieJZeus says:

                  This makes more sense, but it also sounds like a head-canon problem. You are imagining all the tiles being worked by the city as being within the city. I’ve always imaged the city being only the single tile where it’s built (and, strictly speaking, only a tiny part of that tile) with the tiles worked being (for lack of a better word) the province in which it’s located and from which it draws. When playing on an Earth map, and the worked tiles of Paris encompass everything from the Channel to the Central Massif, I find it hard to imagine that all that land is the city of Paris. But if those worked tiles are “northern France” then the farms (and villages, if you’re playing IV) are the rural regions, not only providing food for the city but thanks to the food surpluses are providing population growth.

        2. Decius says:

          So, a tile being unworkable when it’s occupied by a military unit of a civ at war with yours?

          And maybe some abstraction of ‘war weariness’ that increases when tiles are unworkable because they’re occupied.

          1. Steve C says:

            No. I’m describing mechanics for tiles that are too far away from a city to ever be workable in the first place. A mechanic that makes those tiles and area matter. (I consider a tile being unworkable when it’s occupied by an enemy military unit to be the basic of the basic in a 4x game.)

  13. Matt says:

    I actually remembered playing Call to Power 2 while reading this series. I had a lot of fun with that one as a kid and I enjoy that it lets you go into the far future with lots of fun tech. I’m talking jetpack infantry, cyber-ninjas, nano-plagues, underwater cities, brain uploading, and guys with bombs that would convert a city into a forest.

    1. Sean says:

      As another kid who really enjoyed Call to Power, same.

      I think it got really into exploring special units and subsystems in a way the mainline never ended up borrowing, and it is the poorer for it.

      1. LCF says:

        Yeah, later Civ games lost that far-future focus and I think it’s a shame.

  14. Kylind says:

    You made a minor mistake in your era calculation there. I clicked through to the link and compare that to your numbers.

    You have the Medieval era as 25 turns, but it’s actually 75 turns – it’s 25 for the early part and 50 for the late part. (500-1500AD) Afterwards all your other eras are shifted due to this mistake and you added the last two phases together which makes the Modern era much longer than it should be. So it’s 75-60-75-60-60-130 turns for the 6 eras..

    1. Jeremy Smith says:

      Also, that 460 turn number is coming from Civ 4. Civ 5 and 6 are both 500 turns in a normal speed game.

  15. Sabrdance (Matthew H) says:

    The movement speed on units never bothered me in Civ 3/4/5. I just thought of the unit not so much as a military unit, but as a representative of the city’s military power. Early cities fought with levies that only campaigned a couple times a year at most, and spent a lot of their time working at farms et cetera. The warriors represent not a roving band of warriors, but the scouts who call the roving band of warriors from the city to the fight.

    In the later eras, when soldiers are professionalized, you get both units that can move further than one tile and the shorter time scale that might represent an army encamped somewhere as a professional force.

    Now, in Alpha Centauri, the Mission Year 1-tile-per turn drove me nuts. I finally decided that Alpha Centauri has a really short year, or “Mission Year” was a technical term referring to like, “1 week on earth.”

    1. The Puzzler says:

      Kind of impressive the colonists on Alpha Centauri can manage that level of exponential population growth in a few weeks…

      1. RCN says:

        My headcannon is that Alpha Centauri uses quite a bit of cloning to supplement the needed manpower of the colonists.

  16. MaxEd says:

    I used to love the first Civ game. The others, not so much (Civ 2, being an early Windows 95 game, was especially bad IMO, in terms of both graphics AND interface). But the problem for me is, I only love the first phase of the game, when you explore the world with one or two units and fight barbarians. Soon as you need to manage a huge empire and wage wars that last hours of real time, I get bored and frustrated. I guess a game where you just endlessly explore wouldn’t be much fun… But the way it stands now, I’m not into Civilization any more (also, I love the vibrant colors of the first game, and all later instalments seem drab to me). I guess I just don’t really like strategy (including resource management), which is confirmed by my bias toward tactics-based games and RPGs where you don’t have to think much beyond the current fight (i.e. I hate JRPGs, because individual fights are boring, but you need to manage HP/MP-restoring items, or you’ll die from a simple enemy deep in the dungeon; compare and contrast to something like Divinity: Original Sin, where health is pretty much restored after any combat, but all combats are very complex, with almost no trash encounters).

    1. Michael says:

      compare and contrast to something like Divinity: Original Sin, where health is pretty much restored after any combat, but all combats are very complex, with almost no trash encounters)

      I bought Divinity: Original Sin II on a strong recommendation, but it’s hard for me to play. My problem is that there is absolutely no indication, in game, of what you’re expected to be able to do right now vs. what you’re supposed to hold off on.

      Everyone hates random battles (including me!), but I’ve come to think that they serve the valuable purpose of gently letting the player know whether his current power level is appropriate to the area he’s in. Getting into a random battle that you win (because it’s a random battle) but that was unexpectedly harrowing is a better way to learn that you should go somewhere else than getting into a non-random battle that gives you a game over, throwing you back to whenever you last saved. And knowing that you can handle the boss because you’re not having trouble with the random battles is better than feeling extremely stressed over whether the combat encounter in this dungeon is targeted at your level, maybe a level below, or maybe seven levels up.

      1. John says:

        I don’t know about Original Sin 2, but in Original Sin 1 you can mouse over enemies to see their level before a fight starts. I usually just wing it anyway, but if I was really concerned about whether I should fight the orcs outside the west gate or the skeletons in the burning church next, that’s how I’d decide.

        1. Michael says:

          In general, when I’ve gotten into fights, it’s been by surprise. You’re walking along and suddenly you’re in a fight with enemies you couldn’t see before. Or you’re in a cutscene that dumps you into a fight.

          I still have problems knowing whether I can attack the enemies I can see, but at least you can avoid them.

  17. RandomInternetGuy says:

    Now I would really like to play a modded Civ IV or V where 1 turn == 1 year, perhaps not starting at 4000 BC, that would be overkill, but something like from 500 BC onwards, just to see how it plays out.

    You spend much more time in the later eras than in the early eras, due to the fact that there is much more going on and every turn takes you longer and longer to complete. I always thought this was a shame, because the ancient and medieval eras feel like just stepping stones to the later “meat” of the game, but I would actually like to spend more time in that era to really be able to explore the different units and building options. So early eras are not as enjoyable or interesting as they could be, and making them last much longer, would actually balance some of that out.

    > “Here both Leonardo and Donatello are coming up. I wonder if it’s possible to get all 4 Ninja Turtles?”

    That should have been an achievement!

  18. RCN says:

    “Also, you’re free to invent some headcanon that says the knight icons represent 20 guys with swords, but the militiamen icons represent just a dozen dudes with flintlock rifles. The presentation in this game is abstract enough that you can fudge a lot of stuff like this.”

    I’d wager this is off by an order of magnitude or two.

    For me each individual “unit” in civilization represent thousands of soldiers. Even the artillery (though in that case you have a couple dozen of catapults and thousands to people to maintain them.)

  19. Topher Corbett says:

    You’ll probably get to this, but the year/turn disconnect and the long troop movements always made me feel like I was playing the game wrong.

  20. Rosseloh says:

    I’m not a 4X player or expert by any means: to be honest, as much as I’d like to love them, every time I try to play one I get a turn or ten in and quit of….boredom? confusion over the massive complexity? I don’t really know, but the end result is I don’t particularly like them even though they’re like, right up my alley (I love reading about them and the fun stuff people do in them, for example).

    Anyway, reading this made me curious if you’d ever given Dominions a look. That’s one that I’m far from an expert on but at least have played for….well, not a full game, but more than a few turns. And I’ve read several “game reports” from various places; being as it’s not *quite* as based on the real world as something like Civ, those reports and stories can get quite interesting. Things like “my army of pixies led by the avatar of my god is invading the undersea cities of Lovecraftian horrors and their enthralled slaves”.

  21. Blake says:

    I just started playing Civ6 for the first time last week, having only played minimal Civ since Civ2.
    Playing on an easy-ish difficulty, with random teams and map.

    Ended up as the vikings (which the net informs me are just the worst), on a 2 continent map and my 2 nearest neighbours (India and China) have hated me since the start.
    They kept declaring war on me (although only India tried to attack me, and only once) which got me an army big enough that last time India declared war, I took them out in a multi-century war.

    The year is currently 17xx, and I’m building my first airport and submarine. I’ve totally ignored religion so hopefully that doesn’t become an issue, and my long war had my civilisation unhappy enough that they started spawning barbarians with cannons.
    I think I’m doing ok, but everyone hates me for being a warmonger even though I never started any of the wars I’ve been in.

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