Civilization Part 3: Rifle Race

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jun 4, 2020

Filed under: Retrospectives 162 comments

In the previous entry I talked about how well this game handles the passage of time to funnel progression into historical norms. To put it more simply: The game is really good about keeping fighter jets out of the middle ages without resorting to ugly brute-force limits like, “Nobody can research flight until 1903”. The changing time scale means you can’t drift too far from what we have in the real world.

Or does it? Assuming some sort of improbably optimal starting situation, how much can we break history?

Rifles are Game-Changers. Or Not. Maybe?

This battle is SO unrealistic. There's no way players would fight a war over worthless tundra tiles.
This battle is SO unrealistic. There's no way players would fight a war over worthless tundra tiles.

To test this, I decided to see how early in history I could get rifles. Now, I admit that getting rifles early isn’t that big of a deal in terms of power. The early firearms were things like a blunderbuss or a rifle with a bayonet .  Those things had absurdly impractical reload times. Using one boiled down to something like this:

Fire one wildly inaccurate shot with very little stopping power. Even if you hit someone, you might not incapacitate them right away. They might eventually die of infection / lead poisoning, but that won’t necessarily stop them from trying to stab you to death in the next few minutes. Once your shot is spent, you’re done with this thing as a firearm. You’ll never get it reloaded before your foes close distance. So now what you have is basically a lousy spear. It’s too unbalanced to use overhand, and too heavy / expensive to throw. Just heave it at them underhand and hope they haven’t been trained to use their sword properly.

Don’t get me wrong: Early rifles are still good vs. swords. (We know this, because armies of the time didn’t switch back to swords.) They’re just not magical insta-win weapons like today’s rifles would be.

Or so I thought. Based on the discussion in last week’s thread, it’s actually way more complicated than this and opinions were all over the place with regards to the usefulness and practicality of early firearms. Most of the people in the debate seemed to know a lot more about the topic than I do, so my generally uninformed opinion isn’t worth that much.

But regardless of the usefulness / uselessness of the first firearms in warfare, rifles have enormous psychological significance to modern thinking. At that point in history, humanity put down its 5,000 year old sword and picked up a rifle. That was the point where people stopped fighting like bronze-age people and began fighting more like us. Saying, “I got the rifle 500 years early” is more impressive than saying, “I invented coinage 500 years early!”, even if the latter would probably have a much larger impact on society.

All of this is to say: Yes, the rifle is a fairly arbitrary representative of “progress” in a technological sense, but it makes for a more interesting experiment.

The goal here is to see how far ahead we can get, assuming some sort of incredible goldilocks-style starting position. Sometimes the Random Number Generator smiles on you and you’ll find yourself in that perfect situation where you’ve got a really good starting location, you wind up with a bonus settler, and your neighbors all fight each other and ignore you.

Rather than roll a thousand games waiting for that perfect alignment of conditions, I’m just going to cheat and create them.

Here We Go

I'm choosing Teddy Roosevelt as my opponent. I wouldn't dare fight this guy without cheats.
I'm choosing Teddy Roosevelt as my opponent. I wouldn't dare fight this guy without cheats.

I’m starting on a standard-sized map, with normal game speed. I’m going to play as the Koreans, who get a ridiculous science boost in this game. I pick the United States to be my one-turn adversary.

On the very first turn, I cheat to give my starting warrior unlimited moves. I walk across the map, meet my opponent, declare war, and capture their starting settler before they even have a chance to plant their first city. This causes me to instantly win the game, but you can keep playing after victory.

I plant two cities: Gangnam Style, and I LUV IT!

So now I have two cities, no opponent, and an entire continent to myself. Maybe it seems like starting with two cities invalidates this experiment, but you could imagine a scenario where you get extremely lucky and pick up an extra settler like thisIn the previous games, a bonus settler was a rare random reward from tribal villages. I don’t think this is the case here in Civ 6, but I didn’t realize that until after this experiment. Also, maybe your opponent is careless and you capture their starting settler while they’re wandering around shopping for a good spot to plant their first city..

So let’s assume this is a game where I’ve picked up a bonus settler and where the other players are going to leave me alone entirely. Given this perfect arrangement, how long will it take me to get rifles?

My starting position isn’t as ideal as I’d like. Half the land is useless tundra. I don’t know what the problem is, but Civ games always have this weird blind spot for how terrible tundra is.  It’ll spawn players in “equal” starting positions, except player 1 gets grassy fields and player 2 gets tundra. Having lots of tundra at your starting position is a pretty nasty handicap. In a game this long, I’ve always thought that having that much randomness in the first turn of the game was a really weird design choice.

I still have the Cheat Panel open, but I'm actually done cheating now.
I still have the Cheat Panel open, but I'm actually done cheating now.

Whatever. I’ve got an extra city, so I can’t really complain about my starting conditions. This more than cancels out how we’re going to be a little strapped for food for the first two dozen turns of the game. Besides, that’s only 960 years. I’m sure my people will get over it.

I’ve turned off barbarians, so I don’t have to build military units. I don’t need walls. I’ve got plenty of space to expand into. I don’t need to worry about culture or religion. I just need science.

I use the same strategy for both cities. You need to reach a population of 2 in a city before it can build a settler. So I have them make builders while I’m waiting for the population growth. The builders will cultivate our non-tundra tiles into farmland, which should speed up the population growth.

I set my warrior unit to auto-explore. He finds a village that grants me a scout unit. So I set them BOTH to auto-explore, and over the next few minutes they find a bunch more villages. This nets me a bit of money, a couple of builders, and yet another scout. Three scouts is overkill since the map is nearly filled in at this point, but they don’t cost me resources so I leave them to wander around in case there are still a few stray villages out there. It’s amazing how much free stuff you can get if you find a lot of villages.

After I crank out the first pair of buildersNot including the ones I got for free., the cities have grown enough that I can start making settlers. Once the settlers are done, I’ve researched enough that I can make granaries, which will boost population growth.

Ugh. The cyan-on-red color scheme of Korea is borderline unreadable. Also, I'm not sure why the map looks so pink overall.
Ugh. The cyan-on-red color scheme of Korea is borderline unreadable. Also, I'm not sure why the map looks so pink overall.

I scoot the settlers a little west and found two more cities: Daddy and New Face.

Normally I’d give my cities way more breathing room so they don’t crowd each other in the late game, but we’re not going for the late game this time around so we might as well keep things compact. This will let the towns share builders without wasting a bunch of turns moving them from city to city.

Once the new cities are in, I’ve unlocked the ability to put down science buildings. So I get my first two cities started on that.

Building Builders

In the bottom-right you can see I've selected a builder that can perform 2 more actions before he evaporates or whatever.
In the bottom-right you can see I've selected a builder that can perform 2 more actions before he evaporates or whatever.

At one point I have five builders and I start to worry I’ve made too many, but then I get done making all the improvements and they’re all gone. In previous versions of Civ, a builder could last the entire 6,000 year span of the game. He’ll be wearing a Fred Fllintstone-style tunic and tilling your fields in 4000BCE, and he’ll be wearing a hardhat and laying down railroad tracks in 2050AD. But in this game builders have a fixed number of uses. By default, they’re used up after three actionsAn action counts as stuff like planting a farm, digging a mine, constructing a plantation, or establishing a hunting camp.. You go through these guys really quickly in the early stages of the game. I haven’t played enough Civilization to appreciate why this change was made or what problem the designer was trying to solve. I find it sort of annoying to need to replace builders, but maybe this was done in response to some balance problem that’s invisible to casuals like me. Or maybe the designer just hates me personally and wants to annoy me.

I consider both to be equally plausible.

I have my developed cities make science buildings, and my new cities pump out builders, granaries, and more settlers. Sometimes I’ll buy one of these things outright if I’ve banked up enough cash.

The Ancient Era draws to an end. And now I’m not totally sure what to do. I could make another pair of settlers and plant 2 more cities, or I could focus on improving what I’ve got.

Let’s Do The Science!

The thing is, it takes a long time to make settlers, and doing so will reduce the population by 1 at the city that created it. At this point in the game, that means spending about a dozen turns making the settler, then more turns of reduced productivity until the population recovers. Making this proposition worse is that cities aren’t useful right away. A one-population city is just about worthless. These places will spend lots of turns making builders for themselves, building granaries, and then constructing a science building. The question is: Is it better to ramp up production at my four core cities, or to take a short-term productivity hit so I can have a higher productivity later?

This would be easier to solve if I was aiming for a specific point in the game, like, “As much science as possible by turn 400.” But I’m going for rifles “as soon as possible”, and that’s a little harder to figure out.

According to the tech tree, I’m 44 turns from gunpowder. The vast majority of my science is coming from my first two cities. On the other hand, the second two are juuust about to finish their science buildings and start pumping out science points. I think I’ll be a coward and split the difference. I have just enough cash to buy a settler outright, and I’ll have one of my smaller cities make the second one the slow way.

It’s entirely possible that I’m the wrong guy to be doing this experiment. I don’t have enough experience with these games to intuit the answer for these tradeoffs.

Oh well. A general goes to war with the army he has. I’ll have to settle for me.

I buy a settler and have them create the city of Gentleman.

Another dozen turns later and I realize I miscalculated. There’s no way I have time for more cities. Over the last few turns, Daddy and New Face finished their science buildings. Also the science-based city-stateA city-state is a lone city run by an AI. They’ll never pick a fight or attempt to expand. They just want to trade and be left alone. City-states are cool. of Babylon became friends with me, yielding a bonus of +2 science per library. I went from 39 science points per turn, to 85. Also! I was awarded a Great Scientist, who gave me bonus progress towards 3 random medieval techs. So now I’m just 10 turns from gunpowder.

So the money I used to buy the settler was probably a waste, but it’s fine. I’m not going to need that money in the next 10 turns or so.

A few turns later and a library completes. Now I’m collecting 93 science points per turn.

Two turns later and I befriend another science city-state. My science is now 105 per turn.

A few more turns and:

Great. I’ve unlocked the technology. I still have to build one. Sometimes you reach this point in the game and realize that you have the technology, but not the resources. Musketmen require 1 unit of niter to build, and it’s not uncommon to find that there isn’t any available within your borders. I’m not sure how you can invent gunpowder if you don’t have the ingredients for it. I guess we can assume that your scientists have enough to experiment with, but you need a stable supply of it before you can enter full-scale production. I’m pretty sure the musketman unit is supposed to represent a whole bunch of dudes, not just the four we see in-game.

Lucky for me, niter was already revealed on the map earlier and I had a little within my borders. I planted a mine on it and I’ve been banking it up for a dozen turns. I just need to build the dang unit.

Since I’ve been putting everything into science, my production is pretty low. Gangnam Style has the highest production score, and it’ll take them 10 turns to make a musketman.

Ten turns later, and we’re all done. Our Shoot Guys pop out in 950BCE, just 3 turns before the end of the Classical Era.


This is not what I expected. Sure, I gave myself an extremely fortuitous start, but this sort of situation isn’t outside of the realm of possibility. Despite what I said last week, it does seem like you can really break out of historical norms.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can crash-research through the tech tree and conquer bronze-age units with your Renaissance Era firearms in a normal game. For one, the units are balanced to smooth out the technological gaps a little so that science doesn’t completely dominate the game. More importantly, I had to make a lot of terrible sacrifices to get here.

I have rifles, but I don’t have any other major advantages. I’m not running a renaissance-style government. I have low production, no culture, no religion, and my economy is probably weaker than what my opponent’s would be. I’ve committed to military technology but I don’t have the industrial output to back it up. My theoretical opponents probably couldn’t conquer me in open warfareLet’s pretend we’re all on the same level with regards to unit management in battle., but they don’t need to. They can turtle up and try to crush me with their superior culture, religion, and economics.

Still, the point of this exercise wasn’t to theorycraft some insane winning strategy, it was just to see how far we could bend the simulation. And I have to say it bent a lot more than I thought was possible.



[1] In the previous games, a bonus settler was a rare random reward from tribal villages. I don’t think this is the case here in Civ 6, but I didn’t realize that until after this experiment. Also, maybe your opponent is careless and you capture their starting settler while they’re wandering around shopping for a good spot to plant their first city.

[2] Not including the ones I got for free.

[3] An action counts as stuff like planting a farm, digging a mine, constructing a plantation, or establishing a hunting camp.

[4] A city-state is a lone city run by an AI. They’ll never pick a fight or attempt to expand. They just want to trade and be left alone. City-states are cool.

[5] Let’s pretend we’re all on the same level with regards to unit management in battle.

From The Archives:

162 thoughts on “Civilization Part 3: Rifle Race

  1. Addie says:

    I think that one of the places where Civ (and many other games, like XCOM) falls down is that you can see the whole of the tech tree when you start, and it’s the same from game to game – it’s a massive advantage to have played it before.

    In real life, discovering that grinding up charcoal, sulphur and niter together allows you to create a hell of a bang was a fortuitous discovery by alchemists, who were basically throwing everything at the wall and seeing what stuck. Modern scientists have a much better theoretical background to reason about what’s worth mixing together, but they still operate in the basis of ‘I wonder what will happen if I do this…’. The development of the atomic bomb was a ‘lucky’ development because of breakthroughs in the understanding of fundamental atomic behaviour; scientists in the 1930s/40s did not have the creation of even bigger booms as their primary goal.

    So anyway; since Civ fails on realism quite often anyway, why not random up the tree a bit, perhaps every game? Could have the creation of gunpowder dependent on some ‘fantasy niter’, which is produced as a byproduct of farming on tundra, and then it might turn out to be quite a benefit to start out on these ‘worthless squares’.

    1. Scampi says:

      Now I imagine Shamus’ scientists (I guess according to the era they work in they might as well still be philosophers at that point) just theorizing their way from zero to gunpowder on theories created from scratch, inventing particle physics and advanced chemistry in theory, then searching for the materials their theory told them have to exist for them to reach this abstract concept called a “gun” that one of the philosophers just thought up from the realm of ideas.

      Our Shoot Guys pop out in 950BCE, just 3 turns before the end of the Classical Era.

      I know Shoot Guy and his derivatives have been a running theme here, but I saw this and wondered if the profanity filter of Champions Online would have filtered “shoot guys” for the same reasons as “hero in”.

      Anyways, I never played Civ at all, but I find this series to be a very interesting read.

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        Am I missing something? What kind of profanity or otherwise “harmful” word can you get from “Shoot guys”? Is “Ootgu” a word?

        1. Scampi says:

          I’m referring to Shamus’ LP-series on Champions Online where he said “hero in” was read as “heroine” apparently. I wondered if “shoot guys” would be interpreted as a call to shoot people.

          Sorry for any confusion, I know it was an awfully random thought.

          1. “hero in” is blacklisted as a drug reference, not for being a term for feminine heroics.

            1. Syal says:

              Specifically, ‘Heroine’ is a female hero, while ‘Heroin’ is a highly addictive drug.

              Pronounced exactly the same, of course, because why wouldn’t it be.

              1. Higher_Peanut says:

                It was an intentional choice. Heroin was named as the “hero drug” due to potency, it was based on a German root word.

                The extent of addictive properties wasn’t realised until after it was named. And also sold over the counter as cough medicine. There wasn’t a lot of drug safety around in the 1900’s.

                1. Lasius says:

                  The term was coined in Germany, but “Heros” is a Greek root.

            2. Scampi says:

              Damn, my fault. Mixed up the words there, causing even more confusion?-.-
              Stupid me.

    2. NotetheCode says:

      I think Master of Orion has kinda a random tech tree, but since I’ve never played it, I can’t comment much on it.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Master of Orion has a non-random tech-tree, as does the sequel. The sequal (and maybe the original?) has some race-perks, where you get all three technologies from a node in the research-tree, get to pick one of the three, or where you get randomly assigned one technology. There’s also random events that give you free tech or research-points, but that’s it. So research isn’t always the same, unless you pick the all-tech perk…and there’s a large incentive for you to pick this perk which makes the game more boring. :)

        One game that does have a random tech-tree, is Sword of the Stars. The central branches and race-specific tech is always available to you, but sometimes you won’t have all branches available to be researched from a node[1], and some entire subtrees might be missing[2]. That really made the game interesting to me! :)

        [1] For example, maybe you can research laser-weapons, but not laser point-defense or laser long-range weapons. Your opponent might have all of those, but only basic shields, while you have many different shield-variants to pick from. (Or something like that; I forget the specifics.)

        [2] The chain-lightning weapon, for example, is usually not available in a game. Even when you get it, you usually only get 1-2 of its 4 sub-technologies.

      2. RandomInternetGuy says:

        MOO2 had a unique research system wherein you would research a certain field and had to limit yourself to choosing 1 of the possible 3 technological advancements. This made technology trading much more useful and interesting. Or you could choose the expensive “Creative” trait and you would always receive all 3 techs. Or you could use the “Dumb” trait and would receive a random tech.

        And Alpha Centauri had the optional concept that you would research a certain broad field and would research an unknown random tech in that field.

        These are the only to games I know that tried a different approach on the topic of research.

      3. Agammamon says:

        The original is set up so that you can only select areas to research in, not target particular technologies. And normally you’ll miss several technologies in any given area – obviously incentivizing you to trade tech with other empires.

        The sequels all drop that.

        There is so much that is good about MOO that MOO2/3/etc drop. Nobody can ever make a sequel that is just ‘x – but better’. They always want to put their stamp on it.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          If the devs only added features, the later games would become unplayable bloated messes. So they remove or simplify some things, and take the gamble on whether they and the audience members agree on what should have been kept, removed, or changed.

        2. Master of Orion 2, as far as I can tell without having played it, replaces several of the original’s mechanics with ones from Master of Magic, which in turn is in the style of Civ I. Not for the better, if you don’t want to be micromanaging your planet’s workers a la Civ cities.

          For research, MOO1 sets things up so that each race has techs missing from their research list, but a lot of the techs are upgrades of older ones, and there are no prerequisites outside of having to research one tech in a tier to unlock the next one in that field. This means that, unlike Civ techs, there’s a lot of redundancy: you probably won’t completely miss out on important tech lines, but you can’t rely on getting something at a particular tech level, unless you trade for it, and the AI gives you very limited options for what to give them in return, usually to their benefit. It’s a smart system, you can’t plan out a tech progress build because you don’t know what you’ll get. But it has the advantage of being an exclusively single-player game, where missing techs affecting the balance doesn’t matter as much.

      4. Khwarezm says:

        Stellaris is a modern successor to Master of Orion and has a randomized tech tree. But I would also say that research in Stellaris has less dramatic outcomes than a game like Civ or even MOO, its often just stat buffs rather than entirely new buildings, units or mechanics.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Also, while I do like the idea of Stellaris’ randomized tech tree, I always play long enough games (and focus enough on science, perhaps?) that I end up researching every unique tech and simply have endless arrays of repeating techs to work on by the late game. (I could probably fix this by adjusting the overall rate of research down a bit, but I find that too slow—so, sort of my own problem, really.)

          1. Hector says:

            This is actually a good point and I think it’s why I stopped playing Stellaris. Every what should be major technologies or changes don’t really impact gameplay very much, so every game feels too similar. I mean, having our entire species become Psychic does not actually do much. It’s a different set of bonuses from turning everybody into cyborgs. About the only one that really, *really* matters is having a machine species, since you can then completely ignore food. Other than that, the players and your ostensible people have no great opinions about, or would even notice, vast technological leaps.

            Civ, for all its faults, really does have ways to make those differences feel impactful. The right improvement can change how you develop cities. Cavalry, archers, and melee-dudes don’t act in the same way on the board. Even passive-bonuses may incentivize play so that two civs in the exact same situation may develop in wildly different ways and towards different goals.

            1. Sleeping Dragon says:

              Despite being one of the major Stellaris evangelists in these comments I have to agree that I wish they’d taken the variety even further. Yes, gestalt consciousnesses play differently, corporations play differently, machine species play differently, there are some notable differences depending on your ethics (though nowadays I’m playing with mods that make the variety a bit more pronounced so that probably affects my opinion somewhat)… but getting the full experience actually requires people to roleplay and often make sub-optimal choices for the sake of staying “in character”. I know a lot of people who play Stellaris this way wish that the game wasn’t so dominated by combat.

    3. Dev Null says:

      I played a game of Civ 6 – my first in the franchise in quite awhile – and thought it was fun enough. Started a second game, realized exactly what you describe, and turned it off, bored. This got me thinking about ways to mix up the tech tree without turning things into nonsense (discovering gunpowder before fire, etc.) Then today I got a blurb from Epic about an early access game called Old World. I’m not recommending it (I haven’t played it) but it sounds promising. As I understand it, tech “cards” that you’ve discovered the pre-reqs to go into a deck. When its time to pick your next project, you deal 4 and pick one… and the three you didn’t pick go in a discard pile until you empty the deck and need to reshuffle. So the things you _don’t_ pick matter.

      I can see potential problems with this, but it also sounds like a reasonable attempt to change things up from game to game. I’ll have to try it; figured it was worth pointing out. If anyone has actually played that game, I’d be curious to hear your opinions.

      1. Decius says:

        That sounds a lot like the MoO2 tech system, where most races that I never play pick one possible tech out of several choices, and don’t get the other ones by research (instead, they get it through espionage of a race with the Creative trait, who learn all of the technologies from a given level).

        1. Boobah says:

          Well, in MoO2 you don’t reshuffle the deck. And there’s almost always an optimal choice, even if sometimes that choice involves trading your tech to others to guarantee the other options get researched by aliens.

          1. Decius says:

            And Old World in the current iteration never has a deck so large that you need to wait a long time to get the one you want,

      2. Decius says:

        I’ve played Old World now, and it certainly looks like something that fans of the genre should follow. The gameplay is still very early access at the moment, with some strange balance concerns.

    4. MaxieJZeus says:

      I get the appeal of the idea, but it would likely lead to some extremely broken balance. If you have no idea how to reach certain powerful techs, it greatly increases the chances that you’ll still be tilling your fields with a stone hoe only to look up at a noise and see a couple of battleships dropping anchor in the nearby bay.

      Which is historically very accurate. But no one wants to play a historically accurate game as the aborigines.

      If you want that kind of tech tree, I think you have to completely redesign the game to be a goal-less sandbox simulator, where the fun is in play and there’s no game-ending win condition that you and the AIs are striving toward.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        I think a tech-tree with some randomly-inserted nodes could still work, but you’d need to let players see at least a little ahead of where they are. Like, maybe you can’t see the whole tree, but you can see one or two levels deeper than anything you’ve already researched. Or maybe you can see all nodes in a specific “age” of science (stone-, bronze-, steel-, computer-, space-age?), and see the old technologies you didn’t research, but not anything from far-future technologies.

        1. Decius says:

          Beyond Earth did an interesting thing with its web-and leaf design, but I think it fell flat because there wasn’t enough of a logical progression; the web design mixed game balance and themes at the cost of not being able to intuit the radial or distance that any given thing would be.

          Take that design, divide the web into sectors based on fields of study rather than thematic type, and do randomization within each field of study.

          While you’re at it, you can also have effects that produce or affect research in only one or two fields of study, as well as ‘generic’ research that can be distributed between them.

          And we’re back to MoO research, aren’t we?

    5. Kylroy says:

      You could probably get 90% of the desired result by awarding new techs at random, rather than letting players target specific ones. You could still optimize your civ for more science output as a strategy, but without the ability to know what you’ll have in 40 turns.

      1. MaxieJZeus says:

        There might be ways of alleviating the balance issue, but I would also worry about the strain it puts on player psychology. In a game where you have a goal–and where the AI has the goal of killing you–you want to have a pretty good idea of how to achieve your goals so you can plan out your progress. When a game takes away your ability to “read the ground,” even in the name of verisimilitude, it can be very frustrating.

        Mechanics like random tech trees could be fun in the right sort of game — I get the appeal! There’s just so many other things that would have to change in order not to break the fun.

    6. Abnaxis says:

      Remember how Shamus said Alpha Centauri is his favorite entry? That’s how research works in that game by default–IIRC it doesn’t show or an explicit tech tree, instead you have your researchers focus on broad areas of research and you get a semi-random tech (probably but not necessarily from the focus area) after a semi-random amount of time (more science researches faster but the amount needed isn’t explicitly set).

      1. I’ve rarely heard of people willingly playing on that setting, though.

        1. Decius says:

          Sometimes I prefer random research for the same reason that sometimes I prefer a less nuanced tactical combat system. Sometimes I want to just be able to compare my army/science strength to theirs and get a result, rather than focusing on every subsystem.

          1. I can appreciate that. I’d just prefer to do that in a game where the tech’s are less differentiated, techs of the same level have widely varying levels of usefulness in AC.

    7. King Marth says:

      I read one of those “what could you recreate as a time traveler in the past” books recently and there was a huge focus on the massive spans of time between humans developing the technical prerequisites for a piece of technology and discovering what is possible. The silliest span was clothing buttons – there’s signs of decorative rigid objects sewn onto clothing since 2800BCE, but it wasn’t until 1200CE that people had the grand idea of cutting a matching slit into the other edge of an opening and sliding the button through.

      I also recommend looking up the Golden Goose awards, for seemingly random research projects that ended up having massive impact (which I believe was formed in response to some official’s “Golden Fleece” awards to justify cutting science spending, under the incorrect premise that any research not directly focused on an obvious and quickly-attainable goal was a waste of time and money).

      1. Drathnoxis says:

        What was the name of the book?

    8. Considering you can make niter by boiling pee, I don’t understand why you need to “find” it or it’s considered a scarce resource.

      Also Shamus’s use of the term “rifles” is bugging me. A rifle is a specific type of gun with a rifled barrel that causes the bullet to spin and helps improve accuracy and range. It wasn’t used generally in the army because muzzle-loading rifles take forever to reload. Muskets were generally smoothbore.

      Also, there were sword-wielding cavalry (as in, horse cavalry) units in use as late as WWII from what I recall. :)

      1. tmtvl says:

        Yes, cavalry was used in the Second World War (source).

      2. Hector says:

        Although yes, it’s possible to get Niter in that way, it’s annoying and time-consuming to collect and process it in the quantities required. Also, that takes some more complicated chemistry to manage. AFAIK, the considerable majority of Niter collected throughout history has been from natural deposits.

    9. beleester says:

      Rule the Waves has an option which randomizes the effects of technology (and the underlying game rules). So you might rush for triple turrets and discover that they malfunction too often to be useful, or that long-range gunnery is really inaccurate, or that armor penetration is a lot worse across the board, and that changes what sort of designs you go with. We know historically that all-big-gun dreadnoughts dominated, but when those ships were actually being designed, people didn’t really know what the best battleship design was and tried a lot of wacky things, so it’s intended to put you in that same situation.

      I don’t think it would work in Civ – RTW gives you a range of design choices, so if triple turrets suck then you can make a design with lots of singles, while Civ units are a more linear series of upgrades and if muskets suck you don’t have an alternative. But it’s an interesting mechanic, for sure.

  2. tmtvl says:

    Basides, that’s only 960 years.

    I think you meant “Besides”? Also, I must say I wasn’t expecting this, I thought you were going to talk about AI rubber banding.

  3. Joshua says:

    I’m wondering if the change to workers was to smooth over the need for different amounts of workers over time? You need a lot of workers earlier on, then they tend to grow a bit idle, and then you need them again to build all of the railroads.

    Still, worker idleness is not actually that big of a deal to require changing how workers function.

    1. Asdasd says:

      Still, worker idleness is not actually that big of a deal to require changing how workers function.

      Tell that to my boss.

    2. MaxieJZeus says:

      One reason might be to keep the board from getting cluttered up too badly. In a 1upt game, that can be a nuisance.

      It’s also slightly balanced in the other direction thru productivity. Builders make their improvement in one turn. In earlier games, it took multiple turns for them to complete their task.

      1. Hector says:

        It also may have been so the AI can manage easier. It’s a change, but not a big one and in the end works a little better. My view is that people only disliked it because they weren’t used to it.

        1. Asdasd says:

          I think there’s a bit of sentimentality as well. It seems unfair that the humble worker gives their all for the civilisation and then ‘dies’, while every other unit enjoys effective agelessness.

        2. Narkis says:

          If that was the case, then they failed utterly. The AI is still completely incapable of improving its land. Much worse than it was when workers were immortal

          And I dislike it because it was a change that added more busywork and more production costs in a game where production is already tight for little to no strategic benefit. And it can easily be exploited. With the proper governor, policy, and the Pyramids, a wonder the AI never builds because it requires specific placement and they can’t deal with it, you can easily get workers with 7 charges by the Medieval age. Shamus mentioned the default is 3. You can imagine what a big advantage it is over an AI that can’t do the same.

      2. Narkis says:

        Workers can coexist with military units on the same hex, so 1upt can’t have been the reason. It certainly wasn’t a problem in Civ 5.

        1. MaxieJZeus says:

          But they can’t coexist with each other, can they? So if you’ve got a mess of builders hanging around waiting for railroads to be invented, that’s more clutter.

          And even if they can coexist in the same tile, the icons add visual clutter. That by itself is one reason I kinda like that they wear out and disappear

          But yeah, the aesthetics of clutter probably wasn’t much of a factor, if at all. I now like Kylroy’s hypothesis that it was a way of making improvements more obviously carry a production cost.

          1. Philadelphus says:

            To be fair, I don’t usually make more than maybe 5–6 workers in Civ V and they’re usually only just finishing up all the improvements on my land by the time railroads come available (around which point they also become busy building mines and wells for coal, oil, and aluminum), so I only ever really tend to run out of things for them do by the very late game. I guess you could build more workers, but it becomes sort of diminishing returns after a while.

    3. Abnaxis says:

      I think it’s because they changed how roads work. Before, you’d settle a city and then wait a few centuries while there workers graaaaaaaaduaaaaaaaly built a road to connect it so it didn’t take hundreds of years to transfer units there. And if you don’t want their wonky pathfinding to make the worst road possible you had to map it out manually one tile at a time, which was just busy work with no real interesting decision making or strategy.

      Now, roads are made by a (IMO much more smooth, especially since now you can build roads to other nations’ cities) caravan system and since 95% of all the workers’ time before was spent on making roads it makes sense to only keep them around temporarily.

      TBH, the fact that it takes so much less time to establish infrastructure in Civ6 is one of my favorite changes. I hated the drudgery of managing workers before

      1. Retsam says:

        Yeah, the road changes are an important factor. I’d actually guess that the builder changes may have inspired the road changes, rather than vice versa, though, because I think the change to builders is a good thing, on its own.

        Like you said, it’s less drudgery to have fewer builders to manage and fewer improvements to build; and I also think it makes for more interesting strategic choices.

        I’ve been replaying some Civ IV in the last weeks, I wasn’t impressed with it when it was the hot new Civ game, but I’m trying to see if it holds up better now that I’m older and more experienced with the franchise – and I did some basic googling of what a good opening strategy is, and the answer I repeatedly found was:

        Always, always worker first

        Workers were just so good that you were crippling yourself if it wasn’t the first thing you built. It’d give a huge boost to your first city, and by the time it had improved all the low hanging fruit, you were probably ready to put down a second city where the same worker could mosey over and improve that city.

        Workers (“builders” rather) in Civ VI are still good, but no longer overwhelmingly the best thing to build; they’ll greatly improve a city, but it’s a more costly choice that needs to be weighed against other priorities, and you may need to be more careful and prioritize which resources to improve (at least, early on), rather than just plopping down farms and cottages and mines literally everywhere[1].

        And nerfing builders makes the policies and bonuses that improve them pretty powerful. A bonus that gives extra actions per builder is a lot more meaningful than the equivalent “workers build quicker” bonuses from previous games.

        So, yeah, I’m a fan. I think Civ VI builders are both more interesting and less fiddly than previous games.

        [1] I’ll say, I do think the “farm vs cottage” choice of Civ IV is interesting – early game Civ VI is more about choosing which tiles to improve than about choosing how to improve them.

        1. ngthagg says:

          One advanced strategy is to settle your cities on luxuries so that you don’t need builders to activate them. Then you trade the luxury for gold per turn, giving you a huge financial boost early in the game in addition to the production you save by not building builders.

      2. Narkis says:

        I think it’s the other way around. First they decided to have builders consume charges, and then they had caravans set roads because it wouldn’t be worth a worker charge to build a road.

        1. Decius says:

          Except railroads use a military engineer, and cost iron and coal.

          1. Lachlan the Sane says:

            Throwing a theory at the wall here, but the railroad thing is probably a consequence of changes brought about by the Gathering Storm expansion. I don’t own Gathering Storm, but in 350+ hours of Civ 6 (both vanilla and Rise & Fall) I’ve never once built a Military Engineer. I suspect that the addition of Railroads (and Mountain Tunnels) to Gathering Storm was done so that (a) Military Engineers were actually worth building (b) Military Engineers had a use in peacetime and (c) you could get units across the map a little faster if you invested in Military Engineers (because empires are big in the late game and it still takes a while to cross your empire even if you have Modern Roads).

            The consumption of Iron & Coal thing… well Gathering Storm changed a lot of stuff about how resources are managed, largely in service of the climate change system, and since I haven’t played it I don’t feel especially qualified to evaluate that incredibly core system.

            1. Decius says:

              The climate change and disaster system is almost completely irrelevant, except in Apocalypse mode where the new unit is either a faith sink, or if you build the great baths they’re a faith source.
              Like, enough of a faith source to end up buying every great person with faith, if you’ve got a river with a lot of floodplains.

        2. MaxieJZeus says:

          And it doesn’t cost a builder charge to repair pillaged tiles, nor does it cost a charge for military engineers to build a road, so I’m not sure “consume charges” was a reason to shift roadbuilding to caravans. If you can program these non-charge features, can’t you make it so road-building doesn’t cost a builder a charge?

          FWIW, there was a Civ V mod that let trade caravans create roads. I’d assume they got the caravans-make-roads idea from there. I suppose it’s also supposed to be another opportunity cost. If you need roads but can’t use builders to make them, you have to devote some of your early trade routes to running between your cities making roads instead of engaging in foreign trade.

          1. Narkis says:

            A bit late reply, but you are wrong about military engineers. They do lose a charge for building a road. Military engineers suck, for this reason, and practically nobody builds them.

            The Civ 6 designers have stuck to the rule that building an improvement, any improvement consumes a charge. (And no, repairing is not the same as building from scratch.) Of course it’s not a matter of being “unable to program” something, especially when every other civ game ever has had workers that don’t consume charges. There was no technical reason to have it be so. It was a deliberate design choice, to the detriment of the game. Having road-building caravans and military engineers at all are crude hacks meant to fix the issue of a road being worth much less than a yield-producing improvement.

            I’m also pretty sure I’ve seen road-bulding caravans in a fantasy 4x, but for the life of me I can’t remember where.

          2. Abnaxis says:

            Very, very late reply, and a reply more generally–there’s more to having caravans build roads than replacing workers. It also lets you build roads in other nations, where before you couldn’t. One of my favorite ways of dealing with a close neighbor is to rush trade, send them a trader, then fortify my side of the road so I have a beachhead for invasion. Since caravans also increase diplomatic visibility and there are factions that get explicit military benefits from foreign trade routes, I think this was on the mind of the devs as well.

    4. Kylroy says:

      Having builders “used up” is a way for the game to attach a production cost to improving your land. That seems logical to me, and I don’t know that there’s an equally elegant way to do so within Civ’s systems.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        My best guess is that they wanted to make tile improvements more meaningful and increase the significance of pillaging, thus forcing the players to exert more control over their territory both against other players and barbarians. In many older CIVs harassment of this kind was entirely insignificant since automated workers would fix damage basically almost as soon as it was done.

        I’m not saying this is an entirely successful attempt but that the reasoning I always figured.

  4. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    Apparently gunpowder was first discovered in China around 200 BCE, but that player decided not to produce musketmen. What a noob.

    1. Asdasd says:

      Would have been great against that neighbour with the special cavalry archer unit..

      1. Lino says:

        Well, he did produce some musketmen in the battle of Xingyang, but it didn’t help much. But bear in mind, that was before the devs nerfed the Mongol faction. And let me tell you, that nerf was a long time coming!

        Honestly, with some features I wonder what the hell the devs were thinking…

        1. The Puzzler says:

          Historically speaking, that’s because Mongolian cavalry archers could fire their shortbows over hundreds of miles, while musketmen could only charge into battle and fire at melee range.

          1. Lino says:

            In a siege, that isn’t such a big problem – once the walls are breached, combatants are close enough to each other so that longer range doesn’t matter.

            1. The Puzzler says:

              Sure, when the walls are down, Musketmen become effective. But until then they can only run up to the walls and shoot them at point-blank range, which causes more damage to them than it does to the city. Mongolian Keshiks, on the other hand, can simply stand a few hundred miles away and shoot arrows into the city until it is rendered almost defenceless. (All these extremely historical facts were confirmed by me playing Civ 5 and Civ 6.)

              1. Decius says:

                Look closer, they are mostly firing arrows into the stone wall, until the wall breaks.

          2. Mistwraithe says:

            The world of gaming is a strange place…

      2. Ofermod says:

        Only if he’d researched either bayonets or pikes to go along with them.

  5. Hector says:

    Rifles are guns, but not all guns are rifles.

    I am sure Shamys views this as some obscure nitpick, but to me it’s as if somebody was describing how they code in Cobol while actually having a Python script. Its nails-on-chalkboard level irritating.

    Rifling is actually a fairly old idea, but they weren’t routinely used in battle until the U.S. Civil War. So there’s a 500 year period between the invention of guns and the introduction of Rifleman.

    Most Civ games have something like a musket unit

    1. Warclam says:

      I was pretty baffled when Shamus stopped after gunpowder. It took a few moments to realize that every time he said rifle, he meant any firearm.

      I think rifles are a decent milestone to pick as the tipping point for firearm supremacy. Muskets or… I dunno, hand-cannons, would never have taken over on their own, though.

      1. Hector says:

        Nah, Muskets definitely took over. Firs they acted in conjunction with pike units. By the mid-1700’s armies had entirely dropped melee weapons apart from swords (for cavalry or the occasional over-excited officer).

        1. Warclam says:

          I suppose it depends on your definition of taking over. If a sword is still worth carrying as a sidearm, because you’re reasonably likely to need a sidearm since your gun is too slow for close quarters, then my brain says it hasn’t quite taken over yet.

          EDIT: breech-loading is probably even more important than rifling for making your gun an omni-weapon. I got sloppy with my terminology, since as soon as you have a breech-loader, it becomes practical to also have rifling.

          A runner-up prize to externally-mounted bayonets too, while I’m quibbling with myself.

          1. Hector says:

            Breach-loading only became common after Rifling, and guns dominated the battlefield for at least a couple centuries before that.

            Swords were mostly decorative for officers by that time. The cavalry did sometimes put them to use for specific purposes: mounted troops are faster and they can get into a disorganized unit and cut people down. This was happening as late as WW1, though, and I’m pretty sure the gun was the major feature in that was too.

            1. Decius says:

              The revolver and lever-action rifle were the developments that made firearms not need to be backed up with a sharp thing. Native Americans developed effective tactics against break-action cartridge rifles using bows with inferior range but far superior reload time, which led to the development and issue of the Colt .45 revolver.

          2. Gethsemani says:

            There are two things that worked in conjunction to make the firearm an omni-weapon:
            1. A way to use it as an effective weapon if reloading was off the table. For all points and purposes the bayonet was one half of the equation. Once your gun also served as a decent (if not exactly great) spear, you could ditch all those pikemen from your Tercio or Pike and Shoot.
            2. A reasonably quick way of preparing the next shot. The flintlock were this, cutting down reloading from nearly a minute (wheel locks are faster then this but too expensive and complex to be mass produced) to 15 seconds for an experienced shooter. This allowed a musket line to be much more deadly and turned the volley fire part of a battle into the big casualty creator, de-throning the charge as the way to force casualties onto the enemy.

            So you’re mostly on the money, but it was definitely the bayonet that turned the musket into the main weapon of all western nations, as it made the complementary close combat weapons obsolete.

            1. Warclam says:

              Thanks. I guess I wasn’t quite giving the bayonet its dues, and I hadn’t realized the flintlock was already such an improvement on throughput over matchlock.

        2. Erik says:

          Not so. Cavalry had light firearms, but lancers were still a core part of the battle into the Napoleonic era, and were even active in WWI on the Eastern Front. (The Polish lancers were infamously ineffective by then, but by god they still existed – and still charged, and still tore up light infantry/militia.)

          And modern armies *still* carry melee weapons – that’s what a bayonet is. THAT was the huge innovation that allowed the 1700s armies to give up the pikes, because the musketeers could fix bayonets and act as a spear wall against the cavalry that would cut them to pieces if they got close (slow reload time means no defense).

          Muskets definitely did not just “take over” – for a good century, musketeers were coupled with pike squares in what we would now call a combined arms concept: muskets for offense, pikes for defense. The bayonet was what brought the demise of the pike, not the musket.

          1. Hector says:

            I’m simplifying, of course, because this format is not useful for all historical accuracy, but I will point out that you functionally agreed with me. That is, you just said that muskets didn’t take over while describing the process by which muskets did, in fact, take over.

            1. Decius says:

              Muskets took over when the pike and shot wasn’t a combined arms unit.

      2. Shamus says:

        The very first gunpowder unit in the game is called a musket. However, for whatever reason the icon looks like a WWI rifle to me. Now, I’m sure it’s actually a musket and I’m willing to bet the artist made it properly, but since IANAEOHF* every single time I see the icon my brain says “rifle”. Which is why I felt like I was done whenever I got the first unit out.

        In any case, the main goal of the exercise was to answer the question, “How far ahead can we get in the tech tree?” and it’s clear the answer is “WAY”. So even though I muddled it a bit, we still got the data we wanted.

        * I Am Not An Expert On Historical Firearms

        1. Narkis says:

          It does look like a proper rifle:

          I’m not an expert either, but I imagine the flintlock should be visible if that icon was intended to represent muskets.

          1. Bloodsquirrel says:

            Being a flintlock has nothing to do with being a musket- early rifles were also matchlock/flintlock. The difference between a musket and a rifle is that a rifle has a grooved barrel that causes the bullet to spin, which gives it a more stable trajectory.

            The grooved barrel made rifles slower to load, which is why the musket remained as the standard military infantry weapon. When breach-loading firearms came along it made muskets obsolete, since the biggest downside to the rifle was removed, but you could technically have a breach-loading musket.

            1. Radagast says:

              Wouldn’t a shotgun technically be a breach-loading musket? :)

              1. Decius says:

                No, because it uses cartridges and a firing pin striking primer. Also, some rifles fire shotgun shells.

            2. Narkis says:

              Thank, that was informative. I still see the icons as representing rifles though. I think it’s the stock, the silhouette looks too obviously modern and not enough like the images of the early matchlocks I’ve been able to find.

        2. AlecW says:

          I think it’s not that thought bent it isn’t broken in tech terms Shamus. Yes, you are 2000 years ahead of the Chinese alchemists. But Bronze Age peak civilisations probably had the ability to mix powders in the same way if they got lucky AND were truly focused on scientific endeavour to the exclusion of all – Your Koreans had science in place of religion AND culture. This doesn’t seem crazy or impossible to me. Just unlikely.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      But I’m still allowed to load fifty hollow-point armor-piercing shells from my clipazine into my lever-action AK-revolver, right?

      1. Hector says:

        Is that one Fifty Caliper or fifty One Caliper shellamadingies?


  6. noga says:

    We know this, because armies of the time didn’t switch back to swords.

    “Switch back” is kind of the wrong term here. They had swords. I think sword trining still existed in armies until WWI. Not all soldiers caried swords before or after the introduction of gunpowder. But soldiers that had a rifle also had a bionet which is not a significant nerf from having a spear.

    1. Asdasd says:

      Wasn’t the polearm the most common military weapon for much of pre-gunpowder history? For much the same reason that guns > swords, halberds and spears > swords : range is king.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        Range, and also it’s not really practical to swing a sword around when you’re in a close-packed group of men with a row of shields held in front of you, while a spear thrust works pretty well. Spears are also cheaper than swords, and pre-modern armies rarely had the money available to outfit their entire armies in the best gear available.

        1. Hector says:

          You are so.etimes right and sometimes wrong. The Sword vs. Spear debate is a long one, but the short version is that specifics matter. Sword-wielding troops have obliterated spear-based armies more than once. Spear or polearms (they are not identical) have issues when used in mass formations.

          1. Erik says:

            And much of that comes down to training. Well-trained armies can definitely beat less well-trained armies with fancier weapons – we’ve seen that throughout history. But it’s been repeatedly shown that if you’re arming non-professionals, giving them spears is far more effective than giving them swords, as well as far cheaper. Swords are only better if you have had the time to train with them, preferably for years. Spears are much quicker to be competent with.

            1. Khwarezm says:

              I don’t think there’s any truth to this idea that at all, I think current day fetishisation of sword skills in particular are bleeding into your perception of the past.

              Swords don’t really require a significant amount more training than a polearm in general, especially in an actual battlefield situation, something like a coherent Phalanx formation took a lot of training to get right, and it was more the formation than anything that was the hard part, likewise with the Roman legion.

              However, swords were used much more for self defense than a spear would be outside of wartime, I mean its much easier to carry on your person and pull out at a moments notice, potentially in close quarters. That’s a big reason why sword fighting became something we associate with combat skill, people would learn basic self defense around swords, and with the cultural importance of dueling in various parts of the world, but especially Europe, swords were mostly used for that and skill with swords were particularly important in that environment. Fencing traditions come from this, which is still a major sport today, and fencing itself had roots in sport fighting that would be practiced in things like tournaments.

              In Japan, a lot of the Samurai culture based around the Katana actually comes from the Edo period, which was when the country was almost entirely at peace. In contrast, during the extremely violent Sengoku Jidai, swords were still mostly side arms and the main weapons were guns and polearms. The arquebus, was way, way more revolutionary to Japanese warfare than the Katana ever was. However, after the establishment of Tokugawa Shogunate warfare practically ceased and the country became very stable, the vast majority of the population were disarmed, except the Samurai, and since there weren’t any open battles anymore the Samurai carried around Katanas and Wakizashis as their weapons of choice since, again, they were more useful in non-warfare settings. Generally speaking the Samurai didn’t have much to do during the Edo period and a lot of them saw their social position erode over time, it seems like they increasingly obsessed over their martial history as a way to maintain a sense of their old glory and a lot of that got wrapped up in their skill with a Katana, even though they never had any real reason to use it. Like in Europe a tradition of dueling emerged around this, especially with colorful figures like Miyamoto Musashi to refer too.

              You can kind of see hints of the way that both Japanese and European dueling traditions have become extremely disconnected from real warfare from some of the things we associate with them, for example, with the Katana there’s a lot of focus placed on the way that the act of drawing the weapon from the scabbard can be worked into an extremely rapid attack to catch an enemy off guard, but in an actual battle this technique is basically useless, the guy on the other side is presumably already shooting or stabbing you, you shouldn’t have the sword still in the scabbard in the first place if its your main weapon! Similarly, in Europe, blade designs got more specialized for quick dueling such that it would be of little help on a battlefield against a bunch of opponents wearing some armor, that’s why you have some highly ornate, complex hilts to work into creative techniques you’d never use on the battlefield, as well as increasingly small, thin blades derived from the Rapier that would not stand up in a battlefield context but were very useful in the quick flurry of dueling.

              Basically, polearms were the equivalent of an M16, not used much in civilian life (hopefully) but the main arm in the military, it wasn’t a simple thing to use automatically by anybody. Swords were more like handguns, not a main weapon you’d use in a war, though still a good backup, more used in civilian life for self defense, but because it was more acceptable in day to day life some people could get pretty damn skilled at being sharpshooters, or swordsmen, with these weapons.

              1. Asdasd says:

                This was a really interesting read, but I can’t help notice you went into a long tangent about the non-military utility of swords as a rebuttal of an argument for the impracticality of swords in a military context.

                You also suggest our modern perspective over-emphasises the importance of sword training, before admitting that swords were historically mostly used for duelling, where presumably extensive training was the biggest determining factor for success.

                1. Bloodsquirrel says:

                  You’re missing how important the difference between dueling and battlefield combat is. In battlefield combat, you’re serving in a formation of men, preferably behind a wall of pike or shield. You’re also fighting against men in formation, behind their own wall of pike or shield, or a cavalry charge, or you’re pursing a fleeing enemy. Both sides are also more likely (although not always) to be wearing armor.

                  Technical skill with your weapon under those conditions is far less important that discipline and unit cohesion. You’re not going to be doing anything fancy- you don’t have the space for it and you’re going to be too encumbered. What you’re really going to be doing is poking your sword/spear through your shield wall at theirs, hoping to get over the top of it or find a gap, or maybe even just shoving with your own shield to break their formation (It’s actually not that clear what really happened when pre-firearm armies actually, physically clashed. The information is surprisingly spares and there’s a lot of debate about things like how long the melee actually lasted, with some people insisting that it never lasted more than a few minutes at most before one side would generally break).

                  To extend the analogy regarding modern warfare, you don’t spend most of your time in bootcamp practicing with your M16. Sure, it’s part of the training, but it’s only one small part of being a good soldier. At the end of the day, knowing how and when to call for an artillery strike on the enemy or use fire-and-move tactics is more important than being a 20% better marksman.

                  1. Asdasd says:

                    Are you sure that’s what I’m missing? Serious question. I’ve lost track of who was agreeing and disagree with whom several times during this thread already, but I’m pretty sure my point was that sword training was important for winning duels, not battles. So modern emphasis on sword training isn’t misplaced, given that’s mostly what they were used for for long stretches of history.

          2. tmtvl says:

            Yeah, the Romans managed to defeat the Macedonians (the OG master pikemen) quite thoroughly.

            1. pseudonym says:

              Well, the Romans were clever enough not to fight Macedonian phalanxes on terrain that was favourable for phalanxes. Phalanxes fair well on large open spaces, because there is plenty of room to manouver and keep formation.

          3. The Puzzler says:

            On their own, spears tend to beat swords. However, a sword can be used one-handed pretty effectively, so it pairs well with a shield, and sword plus shield tends to beat a two-handed spear. A spear is hard to use well one-handed, but spear plus shield is still a fairly good match for sword plus shield.

            Some historical recreation YouTubes if anyone is interested:
            One handed spear usage, spear & shield vs sword and shield. The swords are quite similar to viking style swords, although viking swords might have favored close range draw cuts more, based on extrapolation from the shape of the pommel.

            Melee combat, spears used one handed, spears and shields vs swords and shields. Swords outnumber spears close to 2:1 and odds are fairly even.

            Two handed spear usage. Spear vs longsword, no shields.

            Two handed spear usage. Spear vs sabre, no shields.

            Spear vs sidesword (essentially a broadsword, a one handed cut and thrust medium length sword with good hand protection).

            A person well trained in short sword fighting going against a spear for the first time. No shields.

            1. Richard says:

              The TL;DR:

              On foot, assuming similar numbers, neither side has significantly better armour, both sides have shields, both are reasonably well trained, no semi-mortal superheroes like Achilles.

              For one-on-one (duelling), sword is usually better than spear.
              – If the initial attack is warded, the sword wielder can close to striking distance before the spear can make another attack.

              Ancient Greek duels are usually described as both combatants throwing their spears then drawing their swords to close for the kill. Presumably the spear hit the opponent (or dissuaded them) often enough to be worth trying.

              For group warfare, spear is usually better than sword.
              – The spear wielder’s friend can kill the sword as defending opens them to attack before they can get in range.
              – The sword can’t advance unless their friends do too, or they will be killed by the friends of their opponent.

              A spearman tries to jab their direct opponent in their exposed area (eg face).
              The sword must step back (exposing their friend to attack), or either move their shield or deflect with their sword, thus exposing their body to spearfriend. If spearfriend is not in the middle of their own attack or defence, spearfriend jabs your opponent in the exposed bodypart.

              Swords can’t reach spearman or their friends, so spears can keep this up until swords are dead or run away.

        2. sarachim says:

          “Swing a sword around” is misleading- once chainmail or even decent leather/textile armor becomes common, swinging is less effective than stabbing, and swords were designed accordingly. At best, a cutting edge was a backup function (though still valuable enough that swords didn’t vanish entirely, since a sword that can only stab is basically a short, heavy, expensive spear).

          Ironically, swords designed primarily for swinging are only common very early in human history (before widespread use of armor) and very late (after gunpowder made armor obsolete).

          1. Joshua says:

            That may be a bit of a generalization, but broadly true. The sword is way over-emphasized in popular culture, when spears were by the far the most common infantry weapon for most of history. Swords look cool, but weren’t much use against armor.

            Interesting to see some of the techniques shown in late Middle Ages weaponry manuals showing warriors holding the sword by the blade and using the cross-piece as a form of hammer, or by holding the sword by the hilt with one hand and the other hand holding the blade by the tip to try to pry through visor slits or other weak parts of the armor.


          2. Vinsomer says:

            You don’t need to pierce somebody with a sword to kill them.

            And didn’t two-handed swords or greatswords increase in usage during the late medieval period with soldiers like landsknechts, weapons like claymores, and even later in cavalry during the 18th century?

            1. Hector says:

              Right. There certainly are stabbing techniques but a huge number of historical swords were chopping or slicing weapons.

            2. Gethsemani says:

              Greatswords were sort of popular in niche functions during the late medieval period, supposedly as a way to break pike formations, but before and after that they were decidedly out of vogue.

              Swords remained popular with cavalry all the way up to the 20th century though, and gained a renaissance with the renaissance (yup, intended) and the gradual decline of armor on battlefields. The muskets ability to defeat even the heaviest of armors meant that armor gradually fell out of fashion after the medieval era, to the point that by the 16th century it was uncommon to see a footman use any armor and shock cavalry were unique in still using breastplates (their distinctive use of them even gave them their name, Cuirassiers). Those breastplates were thick enough that they could feasibly stop a pistol bullet (as the preserved armor of Gustavus II Adolphus has distinct indentations from them) and could deflect pike and sword blows. A Cuirassier was intended to fire pistols at close range and then close in with their swords, which is about the only range were armor was effective.

              The swords generally used by cavalry morphed in form from the pre-dominantly straight blades of the medieval era into sabres somewhere in the 17th century, as a sabre is generally easier to use on horseback.

    2. Bloodsquirrel says:

      Those bayonets were heavily used, too. During the American Revolution bayonet charges were still the main way of breaking an enemy line, and they were still around and heavily used in the Civil War too. At the beginning of WWI, you still have horse cavalry that was expected to continue on in that tradition. That… didn’t really work out so well.

      Interestingly enough, it was really armor, not melee weapons, that guns banished from the battlefield. Once even plate armor was proving ineffective against firearms it was put aside, and you didn’t see soldiers wearing helmets again until WWI, where they were able to provide protection from the shrapnel and falling rocks that artillery shells were throwing up.

      1. Asdasd says:

        And it all came full circle when they worked out how to combine the horse 2.0 with armour + armour + armour, and suddenly you had viable cavalry again!

        1. Sartharina says:

          I think when we combined the horse 2.0 with armor+armor+armor, we got Chariots of Iron 2.0, not cavalry 2.0.

          We didn’t get Cavalry 2.0 until we figured out how to make Horse 2.0 fly.

      2. LCF says:

        “At the beginning of WWI, you still have horse cavalry that was expected to continue on in that tradition. That… didn’t really work out so well. ”

        Depends on context, as always.
        WW1 on the Western Front had three phases: Movement, Trenches, Movement. Horse cavalry was useful in both movement phases. It was the Movement-Position transition in early war thas resulted in so many casualties, what with the horses not being good at crossing barbed-wire and machine-gun fields of fire, and the allied generals being slow to understand this subtelty.
        The Eastern Front was much more open, much more fluid, and the Cavalry was used with great effect there.
        Also, the Russian civil war from 1917 to 1921 saw much cavalry action for the same reasons.

    3. Khwarezm says:

      Its worth noting that the sword usually want a main combat, basically ever, apart from the Roman Legions I suppose. Usually that honor went to pole arms, which makes sense, range of some kind usually wins on the battlefield, if you can reach the other guy and he can’t reach you, then you have a massive advantage.

      Most swords in history were side weapons, carried for personal defense in non-war situations, or as a backup in the middle of a battle.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        Even most of Roman history saw more use of the pilum, which is a short spear – not a sword.

        1. pseudonym says:

          The pilum is a throwing spear, meant to be thrown before batttle. It wasn’t meant for melee combat.

          The romans did use spears though, the hasta was used, at some point mostly by the last line of defence (the triari).

  7. Bloodsquirrel says:

    So I grabbed Civ6 when it was free and played through a domination game on a huge map.

    It was my first Civ game, and I found that it did have the same two big issues that plague the genre late-game: The amount of busywork in maintaining your empire, and the slowness of producing units and moving them to the front.

    The busywork really does seem to be something that could be solved with a few UI tweaks. Case in point: Why can’t I put buildings in the queue that I don’t meet the requirements for and just have the game automatically insert the prerequisite construction? For example, if I want the top-level religious building and I’ve already got a high level of production in a city, then I can queue up a holy site, then next turn I’ll have to queue up the shrine, then the next turn a temple, then three turns later the next level of building. That would be fine if it was early game (but, of course, early game it’ll take many more turns), but late game when you have tons of cities it’s a lot of fuss that could easily be automated.

    Likewise, why can’t I give my builders an order to improve or repair a tile before they get to it? We’ve had this technology since Warcraft I, but in Civ 6 you have to wait until the builder reaches the tile, then give him the order to build there. Better yet, let me tell him which 3 tiles to improve and then wash my hands of the matter. Missionaries/disciples/spies have the same problem. And why keep bothering me about trade routes? If I’ve assigned a trade route to a trader, then just keep him on that trade route until I order otherwise. Don’t make me re-confirm each time one of my potentially dozens of traders finishes a route.

    The late-game busywork really could be cut down a lot with a few UI improvements.

    That was the point where people stopped fighting like bronze-age people and began fighting more like us

    That really didn’t happen until WWI. Even once firearms were the primary infantry weapon armies still spent hundreds of years maneuvering soldiers around the battlefield in blocks of men and charging the enemy lines with horse and saber. That style of fighting was starting to break down by the American Civil War, but it wasn’t until WWI that warfare became something that would have been truly unrecognizable to an ancient general and where modern battlefield tactics would be born. The attitudes going into WWI were, in general, surprisingly medieval.

    1. Hector says:

      “The attitudes going into WWI were, in general, surprisingly medieval.”

      I am now imagining a bunch of medieval commanders waving their hands and shouting “Now hold on just one minute there!” Really, they would have been just as confused as everyone else as the quality of leadership in WW1.

      1. Erik says:

        True that. Some of the medieval commanders were far better than any of the generals in WWI, especially in the meat grinder in the west. Both English and French high commands were far too ideological and hidebound to even understand the power of the new weapons, much less use them effectively. None of them actually paid attention to the American Civil War and the changes shown there, and they lost millions of men re-learning many of the same lessons.

        1. Retsam says:

          I imagine it’s less that the medieval commanders were better, but that they were actually fighting a war with technology that they understood.

          And Bloodsquirrel’s original comment about “WWI commanders being surprisingly medieval” was meant in a more literal “they were fighting using similar tactics as had been used for centuries” than a slur against the competence of medieval commanders.

          1. Hector says:

            That’s not true, though. Not every medieval commander was a great genius, but the idea of developing a strategy and supporting it with tactics was well understood. Medieval warfare required careful planning and a strategic goal, because otherwise it was impossible to coordinate independent lords.

            However. Before WW1 European military leaders had regressed deeply towards a school of thinking that emphasized mass over maneuver. In some ways this was due to the threat of modern firepower but the net effect was a generation of Generals who functionally stopped creativity. Trenches were tough but not invincible yet most commanders failed to think through the challenges. If they were not as bad as legend hilds… they were still really bad.

            In short, yes I get what he meant. It’s not correct though.

            1. Retsam says:

              European leaders weren’t preferring mass over maneuver because they were stupid or hated creativity: but because that’s what worked, at the time. Napoleon-“You cannot stop me, I spend 30,000 men a month”-Bonaparte rather effectively demonstrated the power of mass over maneuver. (Not that he wasn’t clever, either)

              As they say, generals are always “fighting the previous war”, and in the medieval generals case, “the previous war” and “the current war” were basically the same war. But in the case of WWI, nothing could have been further from the truth.

              1. Bloodsquirrel says:

                It also wasn’t “mass over maneuver”, but rather “Quick, decisive attack over slow, complicated maneuvering”. Clausewitz had a lot to say about now Napoleonic tactics had made his opponents “geometrical warfare” obsolete, and the theory going into WWI was that whoever gained the initiative would be able to knock out the enemy while he was still mobilizing his troops.

                And, besides, the kind of maneuver that existed pre-WWI would have been completely useless anyway.

                1. Gethsemani says:

                  In a sense, WW1 generals fully understood the concept of modern maneuver warfare as a theory, the Prussians had been working on Bewegungskrieg since the 18th century and everyone understood the concept of defeating the enemy rapidly and decisively to avoid a prolonged war. As recently as 1870 the Prussians had humiliated France by winning the war even before the French could mobilize their army, so the idea of a rapid war in which one side rapidly overpowers the other and forces terms was somewhat born out by prior example.

                  The problem was that when the initial German offensives did not knock out either France or Russia, the military theory sort of ended, at least on a strategic level. That’s why you get 2 years of war in which no one has a clue what to do, one year of haphazard execution of novel concepts and one year of increasingly decisive battles as both sides had learned the lessons of the war. The whole problem of WW1 was that you had a bunch of general staff members on pretty much all sides that were incredibly dogmatic and unimaginative, the last vestiges of old military traditions that valued noble birth over meritocracy and were most of them had spent their military careers fighting indigenous peoples on other continents, something that rarely led to innovative military thought (since the take away from those wars tended to be that more firepower could overcome any obstacle).

                  1. MaxieJZeus says:

                    In a sense, WW1 generals fully understood the concept of modern maneuver warfare as a theory, the Prussians had been working on Bewegungskrieg since the 18th century and everyone understood the concept of defeating the enemy rapidly and decisively to avoid a prolonged war. As recently as 1870 the Prussians had humiliated France by winning the war even before the French could mobilize their army, so the idea of a rapid war in which one side rapidly overpowers the other and forces terms was somewhat born out by prior example.

                    Exactly. That was the whole theory behind the Schlieffen Plan: Mobilize first, throw the army in a knockout blow against one enemy (France) while the other enemy (Russia, very slow to mobilize because of lack of infrastructure vast distances) is still prepping, then swing around to throw everything against the remaining adversary. Intricate plans were worked out to ensure that the masses were maneuvered into place as quickly as possible. Not only did this entail sending the the army through Belgium, which had the effect of bringing in the British, but it required the armies disembarking at the terminus of the railheads move ahead into enemy territory so that the units behind could disembark.

                    The phrase “War by Timetable” is used to describe this strategy, and it is commonly credited for turning a diplomatic crisis into a world war. As one historian put it: Austria, Russia, France, all of the other military powers could mobilize their armies behind own their borders, so that mobilization was only a further move in a game of diplomatic nerve. But the German plans forced them to mobilize their army onto the other side of an international border, and the German plans depended upon mobilizing before the enemy. And so, once Russia announced mobilization and Germany committed to defending Austria even at the cost of combat, German doctrine required the execution of plans that sent their army careening thru Belgium into France, even though France had until that point remained scrupulously uninvolved in the Balkan crisis.

            2. Bloodsquirrel says:

              The trenches weren’t so much the problem, actually. Both raids and major offensives regularly succeeded in taking the enemy trenches. The problem was supporting and coordinating the continued offensive. You could hit the enemy with a monster artillery barrage, surge over no-man’s land, and storm the enemy trenches, but you couldn’t keep supplies and communications moving smoothly while the enemy was countering with his own artillery, whereas he had another line of trenches behind the one you just took to counterattack from.

              People think that WWI was just an endless series of attacks that all got shot to pieces in no man’s land, but the truth is that the defender wound up suffering massive casualties as well. Verdun is a perfect example: it was technically a German offensive, but it was really a back-and-forth that almost bled the French army dry.

        2. Bloodsquirrel says:

          I think that’s somewhat overstated.

          The truth was that they understood that a change in tactics and strategy was needed, but nobody could really figure out what that change was. Every major offensive had some new theory behind how it was supposed to be different from last time, and they were certainly willing to try anything. It’s just that nothing worked. And part of the problem was that they were using the new weapons effectively- it’s just that the effective use of the available weapons and technology favored the defender.

          There were some really bad generals in WWI, but there were some pretty good ones too, and toward the end of the war they had developed the core of what we would consider modern tactics, such as combined arms, artillery science, and small unit tactics. What was really bad about the bad generals was overconfidence (each new general was sure that his new idea would break the stalemate) and a sunken cost attitude that led them to keep grinding away on offenses after they had run out of steam.

          1. djw says:

            This… and the fact that WW1 inspired a huge number of people to volunteer for service. That meant that the mistakes were far more costly in terms of lives lost than some past wars, that were fought mostly by conscripts.

    2. MaxieJZeus says:

      The UI is surprisingly bad, which is why there are some mods that are absolutely necessary to make the game minimally playable. I don’t know of any mods that do what you propose, but I agree they would be a good idea.

      Trade route expiration is a nuisance, but I think it’s there because route payoffs change over time, and you want/need a chance to reconsider and reconfigure your trade relations. Off hand, though, I don’t see an optimal design to make it hassle free.

      1. Retsam says:

        The UI is a bit “bad” from a PC perspective because the game was built, from the ground up, to be cross-platform. It’s the same game on PC, console, and mobile. So the UI isn’t as optimized for a PC experience, but it also means that, from what I’ve heard, the other ports are relatively fantastic, as they’re not getting a “second-class-citizen” version of the game.

        (Kinda reminds me of Skyrim which had a very console-based UI on PC as well; always had to use the SkyUI mod to get something more PC friendly)

        1. MaxieJZeus says:

          Huh, interesting.

          Then as long as there are mods to improve the UIs, I’m happy for everyone!

        2. Narkis says:

          It’s not just “a bit” bad. It’s absolutely terrible, worse in every way than the interface in previous civ games. The consoles aren’t getting a worse experience because EVERYONE is a second-class-citizen. And when PC players rail against the “consolization” of gaming, that’s pretty much what they mean.

    3. Vinsomer says:

      It was my first Civ game, and I found that it did have the same two big issues that plague the genre late-game: The amount of busywork in maintaining your empire, and the slowness of producing units and moving them to the front.

      I think they need to adopt a Stellaris-like sector system.

  8. Retsam says:

    My starting position isn’t as ideal as I’d like. Half the land is useless tundra. I don’t know what the problem is, but Civ games always have this weird blind spot for how terrible tundra is. It’ll spawn players in “equal” starting positions, except player 1 gets grassy fields and player 2 gets tundra. Having lots of tundra at your starting position is a pretty nasty handicap. In a game this long, I’ve always thought that having that much randomness in the first turn of the game was a really weird design choice.

    Civ VI is actually pretty sophisticated about how it does starting positions: it gives most Civs a starting position that corresponds to their particular strengths and bonuses. For example, Korea has a bias towards (non-snow covered) Hills. It is still somewhat random, I think you can still start in, or near, tundra if you aren’t a tundra focused Civ (Russia and Canada), but as a whole I find it does pretty good.

    1. Lachlan the Sane says:

      That’s sort of true, but I find it almost essential while playing Civ 6 to choose “Balanced Start” while creating a game. AFAIK this option changes the distribution of resources around the map so everyone has access to a decent spread of resources, but in my experience I get way more bad starts with the default starting settings than I do with Balanced Start turned on. Honestly I’m shocked that Balanced Start wasn’t the default.

  9. MikeK says:

    While this pace of technological progress definitely deviates from historical progress, it seems like it still might be a reasonable first-order simulation of an unchallenged, peaceful civilization which focuses all of its effort on scientific advancement.

    It’s actually a neat conclusion that, even without artificial constraints on progress, the simulation tends to progress at a pace that doesn’t horribly deviate from historical reality when all the sim elements are present (although I haven’t played civ in many years so maybe this is completely wrong).

  10. Decius says:

    So how long did it take you to get a rifle? You kinda stopped the story when you got a musket.

    1. MaxieJZeus says:

      So how long did it take you to get a rifle? You kinda stopped the story when you got a musket.

      For those curious for an answer to this, I just played a quick game trying to replicate Shamus’s.

      Set up: I played on the easiest difficulty, on a Standard-sized world, as Korea. I did not eliminate competitors but tried chasing a “rifleman” unit while conducting trade and diplomacy with AI civs. (My continental neighbors wound up being the French and the Vikings. Neither one ever declared war on me.) I built four cities, prioritizing Campus Districts with Libraries and Universities; I also built the Oxford University wonder.

      Strategy: There is no “Rifleman” unit, but there is an “Infantry” unit, which requires the Replaceable Part technology, and can only be built if you have Oil in your inventory. It thus appears to be equivalent to an early 20th century unit; remarkably, there seems to be nothing between “Musketman” and “Infantry” in the tech tree. Oil, in turn, requires the Refining technology, which reveals the Oil resource and lets you build oil wells.

      I started by beelining Writing so I could build research districts and buildings, then Gunpowder, which is a prerequisite for Replaceable Parts, so that I could track how successfully I was tracking Shamus’s pace. After that, I beelined Replaceable Parts, then beelined Refining.

      Results: I discovered Gunpowder in 175 BC [Turn 109]; Replaceable Parts in AD 960 [Turn 159] and Refining in 1290 [Turn 190]. Because one of my cities happened to be located atop an oil resource, the same turn I discovered Refining I was able to upgrade my starting Warrior to an Infantry. In other words, I deployed him in time for “Braveheart” to be reenacted with Boer War era technology.

      In the meantime, I had completely bypassed Sailing, so I had no boats, and The Wheel. It was the high Middle Ages before I exited the Bronze Age by discovering Iron Working.


      1. Decius says:

        Was it one of the expansions that added ‘rifling’ as a tech item, with a scout-class unit using it as a prerequisite?

  11. Vinsomer says:

    I’d like to see Civ expand because it generally suffers from being a backwards version of history. Even in the early game, you’re making your entire civilization with the understanding that you will evetually end up with a group of urbanized, industrialized metropolises. It’s something of a failure of the imagination to not consider that there could be different civilizations in even the near future that are organized in such a way that is no less valid culturally or sociopolitically, or even no less materially worse than the current system.

    And (trying not to get political) I think the games suffer from basically being a race to be who can become America. Sure, if the world was a game of Civ, by a lot of metrics America would be winning. But there are many arguable achievements that could be seen as the apex of current civilization. An example? Climate change is seen more as an obstacle to your true goals, rather than something which, if solved, would be indicative of the most influential and powerful civilizations, despite being one of the biggest diplomatic issues of the current world. Another would be the development of clean energy. Both of these things would be, in my opinion, more of an achievement than yet another space race, and much more achieveable in the near future. Hell, these things might be necessary before we can even think about colonising the solar system, never mind Alpha Centuri.

    I like the way that completing certain tasks earns you progress towards technology and civics, but I would lean far more into that system. Make it so that players don’t choose it from a menu but rather by their in game choices.

    In my hypothetical civ 7, there is no research tab. You don’t get to choose what you develop. Instead, the actions you take as a player would unlock certain knowledge, and you would unlock technology when 2 or more of these knowledges match.

    So maybe you get knowledge of pottery when you found a city, you get knowledge of charcoal when you cut down a forest tile, and you get knowledge of iron when you discover a mountain. Together, this allows you to learn iron working, which you then have the choice to steer towards military, engineering or science – but maybe only one, maybe you have researchers in each city and you assign them to specialise research in technology so that you can use it to produce more specific units and buildings. And that would massively change the early game.

    The benefit would also be that the game would be far more reactive. You know that if your opponent is planning for a certain kind of victory, that messing with them would really affect how they progress. Just as a civilization looking to dominate through warfare can’t succeed if its neighbours force peace, or a civilization looking to dominate through dimplomacy can’t succeed if it’s dragged into warfare with its neighbours. One of the biggest issues with playing Civ is it’s way too easy to just hole up and focus on your win condition, and worse, that style of play is often optimal on higher difficulties.

    I guess one issue with that system would be it would get very difficult in the late game, but then maybe you can revert to a more traditional science system when you… actually discover the scientific method. And I guess programming that AI would be a nightmare.

    1. stratigo says:

      As an american, I don’t feel like a lot of winning is going on right now

    2. Radagast says:

      That system is a lot like real technological progress too. For example military tech improves far more quickly during wartime than during peacetime. I like it!

      It could be randomized a bit too, so it is not so much like “okay I need to do A, B and C and I get this tech I want!”

    3. MaxieJZeus says:

      I think this is a great idea, and I would love to see it realized in a game. But I think it would require massive redesigns and rebalancing.

      1. Either the tech tree is going to have to be radically reduced because there are only so many possible actions that can be realized, or the game is going to have to make use of every possible asset, including terrain and resource types, in order to generate prerequisite actions for possible techs. So, for example, cutting down forests might deliver “Charcoal” as a tech, but cutting down a jungle might deliver a different tech. Very complicated conditions (say, using a road to connect a horse resource with a pasture improvement to a city containing a granary) would probably also be needed. To further increase the number of possible techs, these would probably have to lead to techs that allow the creation of unique buildings and units, the production of which lead to further techs.

      The result of this would be the specialization of civilizations, with each civilization advancing along its own idiosyncratic portion of the tech tree and building units, improvements, and infrastructure that mostly unique to it. To retain balance, these units, though not all of the same type (e.g., everyone getting “Rifleman”) should be functionally equivalent to each other, but with traits and abilities that reflect where they emerge in the tech tree. So, for instance, civilizations that develop in a mix of Grasslands and Forests could have Riflemen, but civilizations that develop in a mix of Grasslands and Jungles could have a different unit, one that is approximately as strong as a Rifleman, but which is stronger than a Rifleman in jungles but weaker in open Grasslands. Similarly for civilizations that develop in very hilly or mountainous terrain, or on Tundra.

      2. The result would still probably be unbalanced, with those civilizations that develop in certain terrain with certain resources getting a strong military advantage over others. Even if you disagree with the full thesis of “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” this would have a lot of historical verisimilitude. However, it would be no fun playing as one of the disadvantaged civilizations unless you made a further change: Get rid of military conquest as a game ender. Make it so that it doesn’t matter if your Bronze Age civilization is conquered and colonized by an overseas Industrial age superpower — you still have “cultural” or “religious” control of your cities and can still pursue other victory conditions.

      The most radical change (maybe necessary to keep the game balanced from a victory-condition point of view) would be to let the player(s) set their own victory condition. Give them a range of options — Domination, Scientific, Religious, Culture, Historical — and let them pick which victory they are going for. They win if they achieve it before a certain date, regardless of what the AI does. (Though the AI would be designed to pursue certain victory conditions, the game would not end if one or all of them achieved those goals; the player might not even be aware that they had achieved the goal.) The AI would be there to complicate and spoil the player’s life, not potentially end it. That way, a religiously inclined aboriginal culture doesn’t have to build itself into a nuclear power in order to safely pursue enlightenment, and so not all of the civs are forced to compete on the same material grounds.

      1. Vinsomer says:

        1. Yeah, that’s pretty much how I imagine it. In real life, civilizations did have holes in their knowledge for a very long time. Like China not developing glass until millennia after their rivals in Egypt and Mesopotamia. If everyone has holes in their knowledge, then it’s balanced in theory at least. Civs would be more specialized, unlike what we have now, where civs are optimized.

        I think it would do 3 things:

        It would create interesting incongruous matchups. Civ has a problem where, regardless of player, many conflicts come down to different civs using mostly the same units and the same means to achieve their goals. This is worse because part of the appeal of Civ is having things that never met in history face off against each other. Things like samurais vs medieval knights. Jaguar Warriors vs Centurions, longbowmen vs zulu warriors.

        I mean, wouldn’t that be much more in line with actual history? One player discovers gunpowder, and then they suddenly have a huge advantage in every military conflict, and all of a sudden every other player has to adjust to this new imbalance because they can’t just immediately research or steal that tech.

        It would also create a situation where games play out differently. One problem with civ is that, once you get good at it each game is essentially the same. If you’re going for a cultural, religious or diplomatic victory, your strategy is basically always exactly the same. But with a system like this, because the tech you have would vary wildly based on more than simply what you decide to research, you would find yourself mtaking multiple paths to the same goal on repeat playthroughs even if technically there is always one optimal route.

        And finally, it would incentivize trade of technology between civilizations.

        2. I do accept that an experienced player would still be able to rush towards certain technologies but the point would be to design it so that players who unlock advanced technologies for the era would be suitably powerful regardless of whether it’s gunpowder, or anti biotics, or flight, or anything else. That’s the point of the system, but that system would actually make it harder to race to rifling or whatever because you wouldn’t be able to just select it on the menu. You’d have to actually complete a number of in game tasks to unlock the prerequisites in order to complete more tasks to unlock even more prerequisites before you can even think about unlocking rifling. Not only that, but your ability to complete these tasks would be dependent partly on other players, and in some cases wholly on them depending on the tech and the knowledge. Maybe one of the prerequisites of the prerequisites is coinage which you only get knowledge of if you complete a trade with another player, for example. This would also create a situation where players have to be wary of how they interact with others.

        I think you can’t remove military conquest from the game, and giving each player their own victory condition would kind of go against the aim of the system, that being to force players to engage with the world and each other more. If every player can achieve victory, then it’s more 8 players playing alone on the same map than 8 players competing, even if the view of history as a competition is itself hugely problematic.

        Really, you want to live up to the 4x in the name. You want the exploration to be more than just finding resources to exploit or scouting your enemies. You want it to give you knowledge, and in a way more sensible than finding an ancient ruin or tribal village that somehow gives you new tech — that’s not a representation of how people discover technology or a particularly compelling reason to explore.

    4. Gethsemani says:

      I get this criticism of the Civ games and from a strictly social science/anthropological viewpoint it is entirely valid. However, the Civ series has always been descriptive of human history, it shows us how different technologies shaped our history and provides sort of a highlight reel of the inventions that revolutionized human civilization and culture. These are not games about how human civilization could have been instead, but rather describe the race (in a fictionalized way) towards the modern day. This also means that the best end state of a Civ game is to emulate the USA or a developed Western European country, because we are arguably the countries that have it best today by most metrics.

      That being said, a game about how history could have been that provides paths for something other than a traditional Euro-centric idea of world history would be great. Being able to envision how indigenous Americans or Aborigines could have developed an advanced society based on their beliefs and culture would be much cooler than the current Civ way of “well, the Sioux would still love themselves some mass consumerism, yo”. It is, however, well outside the design document of the Civ series and I find it odd to criticize a game for not providing something it never set out to provide.

      1. Vinsomer says:

        I don’t think I agree. Civ games do go to the near future, and again the things they choose to emphasize by in game achieve

        I also think it’s absolutely a political statement to say that western countries are arguably the best by most metrics. Again, not trying to get political, but USA is far from the best in terms of education, life expectancy, social cohesion, happiness, national debt, public health, diplomacy, crime, income equality or any number of metrics that you could rightly consider as indicative of the ‘best’ civilization.

        For example, in the world of Civ there is no such thing as racism. Despite racism being one of the most consistent and consequiential things in all human history. In the world of civ, it just doesn’t exist. Crime doesn’t exist, either.

        I guess my issue with Civ is that it doesn’t actually describe history. It doesn’t describe either the way we view history, with all our flaws and biases. It doesn’t describe how the events of the past shape the world as it is today because it doesn’t reasonably simulate the causality between events that otherwise are mostly stochastic and unpredictable. It abstracts what history really is, that is not just facts and dates but the stories of human lives and experiences, by boiling every civilization into a single entity represented by a single avatar with their own personality. Its description of history is solely in the artefacts it takes from the past: the wonders, the leaders, the units. It doesn’t approximate the process of civilizations through history at all. Which is why itt can’t ask the question of what would happen if the Iroquois Federation survivied to this day, or if the Aztecs became a world power, or if Atilla the Hun conquered the world, or if Carthage had won the Punic wars.

        Not all of those things can be solved without completely overhauling civilization, and I agree that a lot of that is simply far too much to expect from a computer game in 2020. But that doesn’t mean that the games as they are reasonably meet their stated aims. It means that they should abandon the conceit of being a game about civilization, and rather just accept that they’re a 4x game with a historical theme.

  12. byter says:

    Early guns and muskets actually had a lot of stopping power, since they were so inaccurate and slow firing you want to make sure it was worth all the effort (also you want to pentetrate things like plate armour). So they used relatively large bullets and more gunpowder to get the job done.

    As for why guns were adopted and effective in warfrare. Warfare is not really about killing the other side as effectively as possible, it’s about making the other side give up trying to fight you. To this end guns are great, they are loud, smokey, they bypass armour and they are relatively cheap to produce.

    Charging into melee is a pretty scary prospect, particularly if you are going against someone who is better trained and armoured than you. A cheap boom stick that yells GO AWAY at the enemy from a distance, whist bypassing their skill and equipment really helps level the playing feild. No matter how much prowess in melee someone like a knight might have they don’t want to squander their talents by running the gauntlet of going up against a gaggle of peasants spamming anti-material rifle rounds at them from range (with pikes to keep them safe)

    1. Tom says:

      Firearms also introduce a range of other mechanics that one would think would be simply DELICIOUS from a “rich simulation” perspective, but I don’t know if any sim game ever actually bothered to implement them.

      The English longbow was a truly fearsome ranged weapon of war; and relatively cheap to mass produce and equip an army with*; however, it took between one and two DECADES for a longbowman to train and develop his muscles, pretty much from birth, to be proficient in it – it was thus made LAW that every church had to maintain archery butts, and you had to practice every week.** Now, that doesn’t affect the NEXT war you have to any great degree, but if you want to have more than one war, you’ve got a problem: Even if you win every campaign, you’re going to have a high rate of attrition (starvation and disease just marching your men to and from the battlefield will take a heavy toll in pre-industrial, pre-germ-theory civilisations) so you’re probably going to run out of archers who can actually draw a warbow before you run out of the bows themselves. Crossbows are a partial solution, but have an incredibly low rate of fire (the most powerful ones need to have a separate detachable windlass hooked onto them and furiously cranked to draw the string back) and are more expensive and difficult to make than a longbow, so your crossbowmen are going to be auxiliaries at best – they’ll soften up and demoralise your enemy a fair bit before he can close the distance and hit you, but they’re not going to absolutely turn an enemy force into mince the way massed, multiple volleys of arrows will. Fundamentally, if you want to win wars consistently with this technology, you can’t risk having TOO MANY battles per generation, or having them drag on too long.

      Firearms completely invert this scenario. They’re more expensive and complicated to make, and require more exotic materials, but once you’ve got them, you can train even a relatively weak and feeble yokel to use one in a mere fortnight; if he can load, cock and lift it to shoulder height, he can fire it. Now, suddenly, you have the possibility of fighting more wars more often, because you can mobilise almost your entire population if you have to, without having to rigorously train them all from birth; you can probably also stand to LOSE a few more engagements without being conclusively defeated, because you can replenish your ranks relatively quickly – especially if you retrieve weapons of the fallen and capture enemy weapons. Most basic firearms, having a substantial metal component, also probably have a significantly greater chance of surviving intact when discarded on the battlefield, and of being repairable if only partially damaged – by contrast, if you break a longbow that’s it, you need a new one.

      Anyone know of any game that actually represents this particular effect reasonably well? I don’t know that any of the Civ games do.

      *Provided you have access to the materials, that is; they were traditionally made of staves of Yew, cut across the boundary between heartwood and sapwood, to make a natural composite – any other wood won’t work as well, UNLESS you develop decent artificial lamination technology – I gather England used to routinely raid Spain to nick their Yew trees after all the homegrown stuff was used up, which is an interesting pre-industrial example of the premise explicitly mentioned in Fallout 3: the spoils of war were also its weapons.

      **Football was literally illegal because it was considered too much of a distraction from archery practice – I wonder if a similar purpose to increase national productivity underlies China’s long-running persistence in discouraging video-gaming by making games and consoles difficult to get hold of…

      1. byter says:

        Whist the longbow is often touted for being one of the few exceptions in medieval warfare, where a ranged force was able to best armoured knights, they only had a chance when the terrain favoured them, a relative luxury that the English were able to enjoy unlike most other Europeans.

        When it comes to the late medival period, we should really look at formations like Swiss pikemen and the Spanish Tercio to see how the dominance of knights was broken and how shot and pike became the new norm.

        The development of strong defensive pike formations gave a window for the stopping power of firearms (the point that started my comment) to shine. A crossbow can generate a projectile with around 200 joules worth of energy, whilst an arquebus projectile would often have around 2700 joules when it left the muzzle, which means that guns have an order of magnitude more stopping power.

        Firearms do lead to higher rates of attrition… but that also applied to the victor as well, which lead to less field battles since people weren’t so keen to chase pyrrhic victories.

        As far as game mechanics go, it’s hard to mimic historical progression and keep gameplay rewarding. Games like civilization want to engage the player with mobile battles between a wide variety of steadily improving units.
        The historical tech tree however saw pike neuter cavalry and gunpowder lead to battles being a lot more deadly for both sides.
        It’d be a brave civ game indeed if technological progress reduced unit variety, made battles mortally wound both sides and generally pushed players towards capturing cities by starving them out in prolonged sieges.

  13. Sartharina says:

    I’m wondering exactly what it would take for an Ancient Bronze/Iron Age civilization to develop gunpowder and possibly the Internal Combustion Engine alongside it.

    I came up with the Boominites, a savage culture obsessed with explosives and fire, raiding other civilizations for things like food and raw materials as they pursue explosive chemistry and new metallurgy to blow more stuff up. They’d probably invent the grenade and recoilless HE rifle/bazooka before realizing they can use smaller bullets that require less propellant by removing the explosive payload. They’d still use swords and spears, though, for when they run out of boom.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I think goblins in some fantasy settings can fall a bit into this?

      1. Sartharina says:

        I know in my D&D campaigns, I have Hobgoblins armed with shotguns, strongly influenced culturally by the Charr from Guild Wars 2. Militant Industrialization at the cost of culture and stability.

    2. Lasius says:

      Have you ever read “The Road Not Taken” by Harry Turtledove? It has a similar premise.

    3. Gethsemani says:

      Lots of luck and massive advances in metal working. The problem with making gunpowder weapons is not to make the gunpowder go boom, all you need is fire and some powder. The problem is making that powder go boom so that something nasty is propelled towards your enemy and hurts them. Early cannons were massively unreliable (and also incredibly heavy) because the relative brittleness of the metal meant that you had to make really thick barrels to avoid the gunpowder ruining the weapon and potentially killing the crew.

      The invention of the musket coincides pretty well with high quality steel, which allowed thinner barrels and in turn made firearms less cumbersome. Less cumbersome meant it could do more then just fire a defensive volley from a static position (as was the problem with the arquebus ) and in turn made the firearm into the versatile weapon we think off today.

      So essentially, you need a lot of concurrent research coming together to make gunpowder into something more than just a fancy novelty item (the Chinese never got the delivery thing down, which is why they used gunpowder mostly for fireworks and early indirect fire rockets) and most of that research is way beyond Bronze/Iron age civilizations. Maybe the Romans could have developed functional firearms around the 5-6th century BC had the Empire remained united and with more exposure to Chinese technology, but that’s sort of pushing “ancient iron age”…

    4. Bloodsquirrel says:

      What people underestimate is how much technology in the past was limited not by the lack of technical/scientific knowledge, but by economics and the ability to produce it on a scale that makes it feasible.

      Case in point: People know how to make steam engines thousands of years ago, but a steam engine doesn’t do you very much good if you don’t have the industrial base to produce enough steel to produce them in any significant size and number, the coal mining infrastructure to fuel them, or even more steel and other resources to build something like a locomotive and rail lines or a steam-powered ship. There are tons of issues like this if you want to try jump-starting modern technology by bringing a science textbook back in time. Even something as simple as “Okay, but we don’t have any international trade, and there aren’t any saltpeter deposits nearby” is going to be a show-stopper.

      The Greeks knew the principles behind a steam engine, but the only thing they could really do with it was make a curiosity. They didn’t have anything like the industrial output to make any good use of it.

      If you really want to advance civilization a few thousand years early, forget about guns and internal combustion engines. What you should give them is the seeds from modern crops which are far more productive than ancient ones, which will help to free up farm labor, which will provide the manpower that was ultimately needed to develop all of those resources which allowed industrialization to become possible.

      1. pseudonym says:

        Make sure you hand them the seeds of modern *organic* crops then. Tons of fertilizer and pesticides where not available back then. Also a lot of our crops have tight ranges of growing speed so they can all be harvested at the same time by a machine. This is very efficient if you have those machines and a reliable way to store your crops. But I do not know how that translates to societies that harvest manually and rely on what they grow as their primary food supply. For a farmer in modern times a bad harvest means loss of income, but not starvation. This means some trade-offs when breeding food crops are made differently from what our ancestors would have done.

        There is lots of more stuff to take into account. All I am saying is that speeding up history is even harder than you already propose it to be. Maybe giving them our knowledge on evolution, germs and mendelian inherotance would help?

        Also thank you for your other posts in this thread. They have been very enjoyable little history lessons.

        1. Richard says:

          The machines are primarily due to scale rather than timing.
          Modern arable farms are gigantic, and even modern fields are many times bigger than the ‘strips’ of the middle ages.
          (Modern dairy/meat

          “Organic” crops are for the most part identical to the non-organic.
          (The exceptions being speciality/heritage crops that have lower yields but are interesting in some way, and genetically-modified crops, because the organic definition specifically excludes GM.
          In the EEA GM food is banned, so there’s no difference there.)

          The reason modern farms use fertilizer and pesticides is to avoid the need to rotate the crops or let a field lay fallow (unproductive) for a year.

          With fertilizer and pesticides, you can keep growing the same crop in the same field for many years without exhausting the soil or disease/pest explosion destroying everything.
          (The unwanted side effects of these are of course well-known, and strays close to current polyticks so we’ll leave that there)

          If you don’t use them, you have to grow something else to replace what the crop took out (‘fix’ the nitrogen et al), and to encourage the crop-specific pests and diseases to leave.
          Many modern “organic” farms still use crop rotation systems, among other things.

          If you’re going back before crop rotation then you don’t even need seeds, just the right order of crops to be exalted as a magician in three to four years.

  14. zackoid says:

    All this weapon terminology pedantry and yet I’m surprised no one has mentioned rifle-muskets yet!

  15. Misamoto says:

    So, at the very least, in Civ 6 you SHOULD build your cities close to each other. “Wide vs Tall” doesn’t exist in 6 as far as I know. Only wide, only close. Some civs should aim for 3 tile between cities, others for 4-6, but not more. And more cities is always good – the benefits always outweigh the drawbacks.

    Another thing – you don’t get tundra completely randomly, each civilization has built in preferences for land, so almost always Egypt will have a desert nearby, and Russia will have Tundra. Not sure about Korea though.

  16. TLN says:

    This series is reminding me that I really want to give Civ6 another shot. I want to like it so that I have something to spend hundreds of hours on.

    Civ5 had a LOT of issues, and although I spent more time playing that than Civ4 I recognize that 4 was definitely a better game in every way, but still I played Civ5 so much. With 3 months of summer during a global pandemic coming up, I could really use a game that I can just sink hundreds and hundreds of hours into.

  17. GoStu says:

    Based on my experience with Civilization: consumable Builders/Workers in 6 are probably because of how pivotal getting early Workers was in 5.

    Once you have your first Worker(s) you start being able to Improve tiles and get extra resources for no additional effort from your citizens. It’s also how you get your luxury and strategic resources available and ready to trade. On the higher difficulties this is pivotal to your strategy.

    The best way to get an early worker? Steal it.

    The AIs have immense production discounts and technology advances, as well as fixed build orders. Even the crappy little City-States will have workers out before you do on Immortal or Deity difficulty. You’re better off marching a military unit to the nearest City-State, wait until they pop out a Worker, and then declare war for long enough to grab it and then declare that the war’s over. (You can also Tribute workers out of city-states but this is generally impossible to do early on high difficulty because the AI’s army size is vastly bigger than yours). Worst case, make a daring raid into enemy territory and swipe a worker. The enemy’s build order is set, they won’t react and replace it until much much later.

    All of this adds up to make that early worker an immense and lasting impact. By making workers consumable I think it prevents early access to workers or squeezing one out early from having that same effect.

  18. Taxi says:

    There’s this flash game Age of War (and sequel AoW 2), where you build warriors and turrets and earn resources to upgrade from stone age through other eras up to sci-fi stuff.

    “Flash game” makes it sound stupid but it’s really well done and super addictive. Back in the day I’ve spent hours pushing out my crazy cheap cavemen by the hundreds against enemy cannons and tanks so I can just upgrade outright to spaceships and crush them like bugs.

    I don’t know how flash games work these days, last time I was just playing the .flv in GOM Player I think. There’s also an Android version but it’s p2w AFAIK, sadly.

    1. Taxi says:

      Well after actually trying the droid versions of AoW snd AoW2, I’m glad to report there’s nothing pw2 about them. There are paid unlocks for extra modes but no payments for basic games just like in the original flash versions.

      Since I remember reading the outrage in the reviews a while ago, I’m guessing there have been some major updates.

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