This week I’ve been playing a lot of Sins of a Solar Empire and Civilization IV. More specifically, I’ve been giving the expansion Diplomacy (for Sins) a spin and I’ve been playing around with everything that came in my purchase of Civilization IV Complete (Beyond the Sword, Warlords, and Colonization). I got both of these on Monday (April 5th), so that’s pretty much where a fair chunk of my time has been disappearing and why I never got around to writing anything before now.
First, Sins of a Solar Empire. This game is a very pretty and versatile real-time strategy game where you choose to play as the Advent, the Vasari, or TEC. I prefer to play the TEC, but that’s how I roll (plus, I name all my capital ships after Wing Commander vessels). Anyways, there’s been two expansions to date that provide fundamental changes to the gameplay. Basic gameplay is rather simple: start with your planet, scout out other planets, colonize them, research new technology, build up an infrastructure, defend against pirates, and build a fleet or three to wipe everyone else out. The first expansion “Entrenchment” (which I frequently call Entrapment when I misspeak) introduced new technology and allowed the construction of powerful starbases that have the potential to wipe out entire fleets unaided. The latest expansion of “Diplomacy” added a new method of winning the game, more technology, and more options when relating with the other races/players in the game. For some reason though, the pirates are insanely difficult to beat now. Sometimes I just turn them off unless I have a good bottleneck… which leads me into the mechanics of this particular game that appeal to me.
Sins provides a very powerful method of feeding my desire to play with spaceships and blow stuff up. Seriously, the setting is amazing. Further, the game is very receptive to modifications by players (which I don’t make a habit of using, but I like having the option). Further still, the technology in the game noticeably improves the materials you use… for example, you can watch as your metal harvesting skyrockets when you research improvements in mining and your ships become obviously more durable when you improve their shields and armor. The real mechanic that I appreciate here is simply the function of the bottleneck. What I mean by this is a way of limiting the enemy’s approach to a narrow corridor so that I know exactly where they’re going and I can prepare for them. Essentially, it doesn’t make sense to turn every single planet you own into a fortress world because you’d run out of money trying to do that AND research AND colonize AND play the diplomacy game AND fend off pirates/other players. So, what you do is pay attention to the phase lanes and choose a point where you draw a line in the sand. I like to look for the one world where the enemy MUST hit in order to get to my backwaters. Unfortunately, not all playthroughs of Sins are created equal and in the last few days I’ve quit in disgust as my “fortress worlds” were either wiped out or ignored completely by issues with bottlenecking. There’s been a severe shortage of decent bottlenecks for me this week in Sins and the one time I got a great one going, the other side of the bottleneck was two systems: one with a pirate base and the other with another player. I was stuck behind the bottleneck with nowhere to go, but I was thinking this was cool… until the player got aggressive and punched through a part of my bottleneck. Long story short, I was winning the diplomatic way, when the game crashed and I got a minidump message in the background. Stardock, a few bugs left to work out, but I’ve got hope for you yet.
Civilization IV, on the other hand, is like my solitaire. It’s relaxing, it’s predictable, and I know where all the bottlenecks are in Europe. Further, this game is turn-based, so I rarely have to sweat out a fight, knowing my fleet will never arrive in time because in Civ IV, I can actually manage to get out of fights I might lose or get into fights I will most probably win. I’ve been playing Civ IV for the last 5 years or so (since I got it) and it’s been a lot of fun. Part of Civ IV Complete is the expansion Beyond the Sword. In this, there’s a scenario/mod/whatever called Final Frontier where the map is in space and you colonize solar systems and so forth. It’s really pretty awesome, but there was something nagging at me the entire time… NO BOTTLENECKS. I mean, seriously, pirates will come at you from EVERY direction, the other computer players will just wander around your cities doing whatever they want to (up to and including the building of star bases in my own backyard) and generally frustrating me. It’s hard to rely on the cultural spread of your cities to block out the enemies when they’ll just take the long way around and keep going. In regular Civ IV, at least there was, you know, WATER that got in the way of ground troops landing on Africa. Further, I gave Warlords a shot and there’s this neat scenario where you’re a team that lands on a planet and you’re trying to achieve some objectives. It really hinges on the whole Promotion system Civ IV has to keep your guys alive long enough to beat the scenario. It was pretty cool, but I lost after several hours of gameplay thanks to the number of enemies just getting absurd near the end. Oh, and for the record, Colonization is just crap to me. No offense to those who like it, but it’s nowhere near as colorful and expressive as regular Civilization IV. After a fashion, all this realism gets in the way of my entertainment.
So, yeah, bottlenecks are a must have in any good strategy game, be it real-time or turn-based. Further, I LIKE bright colors in my games because they make it easier to see things. Hey, that’s mostly why I didn’t like Sim City 4… too drab for my tastes in contrast to Sim City 3000’s bright color palette.
Well, there you go, a quick two-fer this week. I highly recommend both Sins of a Solar Empire and Civilization IV. They’re both LAN and Internet compatible (hell, Civ IV can be played hotseat or over email) and are way more fun with friends than without. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fun on their own, but honestly it’s nice to have someone to talk to and share little victories with (or to gloat at when you whip their butt). Both games are also very graphically pleasing and take a serious time investment (there’s nothing “quick” about strategy games).
Until next time, keep on keeping on.
P.S. A little context for you all: I’ve been playing Civilization in one form or another for most of my life, I grew up with the original computer game, moved onto Civ II, then CivNet, Civ III, and now Civ IV is my favorite. Civ V is supposedly coming out soon, and I’m interested in it, but honestly, I’ve really enjoyed Leonard Nimoy telling me when I finish researching Literature that “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Looking that up, the quote actually continues with, “that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” Ah, Sir Francis Bacon… you’re so verbose.