Sunday, November 13, 2011

Civ 5 Board Game - Design Overview

For a while my plans for my civilization 5 board game were on hiatus. Most of my friends eventually bought the game and hot seat was patched in, which was sufficient for a fun civilization 5 times with my friends. Good times were had, great times were had, and frustrating times were had. Anyone who has played multiplayer civilization 5 knows its unforgiving love/hate relationship. The game is incredibly awesome and fun, but the frequent and crippling network bugs and the geometrically increasing load times often make it impossible to play. Our games were plagued with the foreboding "Warning Unsupported Number of Players". After 300+ or so hours of gameplay the game's faults wore us thin and we lost interest.

As a result I've returned to my board game idea. I have solidified most of the design, ran computer simulations, analyzed its statistical probabilities, and have begun crafting prototype game pieces. Many changes were made to accommodate a table top environment; here is the current design and my thought process behind it all.

Simplifying the Gameplay - The Cutting Room Floor:

The first thing I needed to do was simplify some aspects of civilization 5 in order to make it feasible for the table top setting.

I eliminated all computer controlled/automated parts of the games. This means no city-state units and no barbarian units.

The land in civilization 5 has multiple attributes and modifiers per hex. This would have translated into either several extra pieces on the board or a clutter of information printed on the land tiles. To avoid this I ultra-simplified the land. Each land tile is worth either 1 gold, 1 production, or 1 food. I removed all land improvements (farms, mines, roads, etc) and subsequently the worker units who'd make them. I removed all terrain features (hills, forests, rivers, marsh, etc) except desert (which bears no resource and is unit traversable) and mountain (which bears no resource and is not unit traversable). Subsequently I also removed the combat modifiers and unit movement penalties that were derived from terrain features. Without roads, cities will now be considered 'trade connected' if their land forms an unbroken connection. Also units no longer get a road/railroad movement bonus, which won't be a big deal since the boards are significantly smaller.

Since all economic aspects will be tabulated and calculated by hand now, I knew from the getgo that I had to remove an economic resource or two to speed up up turn times. After taking a good look at the roles of each ecomonic resource I decided to remove happiness. When it comes down to it, happiness only served as a deterrent for blitzkrieg. Conquering was taxing on happiness, which affected citizen growth, which in long-term affected the player's science output. So in order to maintain the proper blitzkrieg deterrent in the absence of happiness, abuntant conquering will directly affect a player's science output (a conquered city will have revolting citizens that detract from the science output, until they're replaced with fresh citizens). Subsequently I removed luxury resources, golden ages, and 'we love the king' days. Furthormore I decided to remove trading between players entirely. My justification: without luxury resources to trade there's very little reason to conduct trade.

I thinned out the strategic resources (only iron and oil now). Since I can't think of a clean way to reveal the resources once a certain tech is researched, and since each player would independently reach that point, I just decided that oil and iron will be visible at all times. Strategic resources will not be tradable (since nothing will be tradable). No improvements will be need to acquire the resources (besides owning the land).

Early on I decided that a game should last no longer than 40 rounds (Conservatively, a 4-player 40 round game would take 2.5 hours). As a result I combined the classical era into the ancient era, and I'm ignoring modern and future eras. My plan is that each era will last 10 rounds.
Turn 1-10 : ancient era
Turn 11-20 : medieval era
Turn 21-30 : renaissance era
Turn 31-40 : industrial era

I thinned out the units, but not by much. I'm ignoring airplanes (IMHO air combat in civilization 5 was basically and unsatifying arms race). I renamed the 'anti-tank' unit to 'rpg'. I added a mortar unit (range 2) for industrial era (I did this for balancing purposes, we'll see, I may cut this unit later)
anceint era : spearman, swordman, horseman, archer, catapult, trireme, scout
medieval era : pikeman, longswordsman, knight, crossbowman, tribuchet, caravel
renaissance era : mustketman, cavalry, cannon, frigate
industrial era : infantry, RPG, tank, mortar, artillary, battleship

Specialists are cut. Citizen management is streamlined (see below sections).

Great Persons are also cut. They're not needed in such a relatively short game; they were meant to be huge long term goals in the PC game.

Simplifying the Gameplay - Reduce Choice and Introduce Randomness.

We will play with dice and decks of cards. Some things that used to be a 100% player choice are now primarily random draws/rolls. This is purhaps the biggest and most fundamental change to the game, both from a strategic and gameplay experience standpoint. The problem is that properly strategizing for a game this complex takes time, time that is valueable in the board game setting. It does mean that there will be times when lady luck picks favorites and the better strategist gets screwed, but hey, that's fun too. I look to games like Settlers of Catan; where 50% of the game is luck and 50% of the game is strategy. I hope to achive a similar balance. Will this larger focus on randomness change civilization 5 gameplay to a point beyond recognition? Let's find out!

Science Victory - Analyzing a tech tree takes too long. When a player wants a tech, they will draw from a tech card deck. Players may get jipped by an unwanted tech, but it streamlines the system and it's fun drawing from an unknown deck (and hey, it may force you to adapt to a new victory path depending on what lady luck throws at you). Tech decks will be grouped by era, and each player will have their own tech deck (this I may change to be one communal deck, idk yet...). Science victory will no longer include spaceship parts; player's will have to get all tech to win a science victory. Players only need a percentage of that era's tech to advance to the next era, so not all players in the industrial era will necessarily be close to a science victory.

Cultural Victory - Looking through a policy tree takes too long. Policy decks work just like tech decks. Cultural victory condition will be a bit looser, you'll only need a subset from a few branches to win instead of completing branches. (bad luck could make this victory path frustrarting. Playtesting will flush this out maybe...)

Diplomacy Victory - Hmmmm... This one may be on the cutting floor. Not sure yet. Since this one was really all about having enough gold, I may rename this to be 'economic victory', and have the winning gold cost be inversly proportional to the number of city-states alive.

Military Victory - Combat between units will be resolved with a series of dice rolls, vaguely like risk. The details of this I'll detail in the proceeding post. Otherwise same deal, capture all capitals.

Time Victory - Cut! Nobody likes this way of victory anyways, and also there's no way I'm making players counting up all their assets and calculating a score value.

Building Production - All buildings for an era will cost the same. You pay the cost then draw from the deck. You'll draw x cards (x will be something like 3) and choose one to be your building, the rest are shuffled back into the deck. You can only have one of each building per player, so effectively buildings are applied at a national level, thus each city no longer maintains their own sets buildings (otherwise there would be a zillion cards to keep track of). In a turn you cannot buy more productions than you have cities, this includes unit productions. (for example: if you only have 2 cities, you can only get 2 perductions per turn).

Unit Production - Unit costs will vary. Some will have strategic resource requirements (iron or oil). Unit prices will be listed on a cheat-sheet for players to reference. You can choose which units to build and at which city it will appear next to. Each city can only have one unit built next to it per turn.

Techs, Policies, and Buildings will benefit the player by adding modifiers to dice rolls, reducing the cost of things, or affecting how you draw cards.

Simplifying the Gameplay - Nationalization

It's no longer feasible to have each city maintain all of its own stuff. Each city will maintain its own citizen count and that's it. When you have enough food to buy a new citizen you'll place it in which ever city you see fit. Any citizen can work any land on any turn. Player's will maintain a national land count for each type of land (gold, production, food) as well as a national population total. Players at the start of their turn will look at their citizen total, and then decide how to distribute that between their land type totals; this is how players will collect their economy each turn. Streamlined.

As mentioned earlier buildings are applied at the national level.

Simplifying the Gameplay - Scale, Smaller that is...

Really from a high level the only thing that needs scaling is the number of land tiles. Once I redeuced the number of tiles, I simply followed the trickling effects on everything else.

Smaller board --[to maintain land contention]--> less land per city and fewer cities
less land --[as a direct result]--> less economy (gold, food, production)
less economy --[to maintain rate of productions]--> cheaper production costs

fewer cities --[to maintain citizen pop ratio]--> smaller citizen population
smaller population --[as a direct result]--> less science
smaller population --[as a direct result]--> lower city HP
lower city HP --[to maintain avg time to conquer a city]--> units do less damage
units do less damage --[to maintain unit death rates]--> lower unit HP

(I will provide concrete values for each of these in proceeding posts.)

So, since a tabletop cannot hold thousands of hexagon tiles I started by setting a realistic world size of a tabletop game for 4 people: 150-200 land hexagons. I have this neat Chessex mat that I use for D&D. It has about 600 hexes, each 1.5 inches in diameter (small diameter). It's perfect for my needs.

Simplifying the Gameplay - Random Board Generation

This is the part that I am most proud of. So in the PC game we have organic-looking randomly generated maps. This is one thing in particular that bugs me about the official civilization board.

In that official version of the board game you put square pieces face down in a grid pattern with only the starting pieces face up. When a unit moves into a face down space they flip the square over to discover what's there. This is a neat way to implement the 'fog' aspect of civilization and it makes exploration fun, however, a square grid pattern is boring and looks fakey.

Probably the reason the makers of that game choose to use square pieces is that it tessellates easily. You know what else tessellates well? Hexagons. You know what would suck? Assembling 150 individual hexagons for a game, and besides the land type distribution could get funky. The solution I came up with is to use land pieces that comprise of multiple hexagons, specifically 8 hexagons. So now we only have 20 or so pieces to assemble. Alright, now I want the organic feel of randomly generated maps. I chose the following shape to tessellate.

(well technically its not tessellation in the purest sense, but it can form a large range of gapless island masses without being restricted to a strict lattice structure). I think it's a fun shape.

In my version each hex will have a token face down on it (yea, this does mean 150 tokens to place though...) The token is flipped face up when a unit moves into an adjacent tile. Most of these tokens will be blank (which means nothing happens) but other tokens will be ruins, barbarian encampments, city-states, and strategic resources (iron and oil).

In my version each player starts by placing their first city. All players can clearly see the land layout and land types but of course they can't see what the tokens are, so there is still some mystery behind their initial placements. With the tokens I still maintain a certain level of 'fog' exploration.

I think I've achieved a good way for players to be creative with their island placements and give ample opportunity for random-ish board setups.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! So complicated. I never thought about just how complex Civ is until I see how much you have to remove and simplify to get a workable table-top game out of it.

    Is four players the ideal for your version or can many more play?

    I like the hexagons that are joined together, that is a really clever idea.

    I can't wait to try playing this! :D