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tinker, mayor, soldier, spy
civilization iii? still addictive.
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

Six months have passed. Six long months. A thousand other things have happened in the interim. Holidays, blockbusters, celebrity deaths. Wars have officially started and officially ended and been exposed as neither as noble nor as finished as we'd like them to be. Washington D.C. turned into Seattle for a couple of months, and is now doing its best impression of Miami. Seconds becomes hours become days become weeks, and all of a sudden, half a year has gone by.

And I am still an addict.

I've almost given up Civilization III a thousand times. After the first initial absorption, I started to get tired. Chieftain level was too easy, and Warlord too hard. Then I discovered that:
a. Having something more than a skeleton military actually deters attacks
b. Sometimes you just have to give the bastards what they ask for
c. Living on islands can really be very pleasant

Whether these are life lessons or not I can't say, but boy, do they help a girl kick some ass.

So I played on Warlord level for a few weeks, toying with the settings. More barbarians, fewer barbarians, no barbarians. Islands, continents, Pangaea. More land, more water. And everything was fine. I could play in my spare time and enjoy it, but I had slipped the noose. I wasn't carrying my laptop to work for lunch-hour gaming sessions anymore.

And then I discovered, somewhat by accident, a new truth.

A little background first for the novices: there are several different ways to win Civ3. You can destroy everyone else in the world. You can grow so large that your civilization covers two-thirds of the world's surface. You can build Temples and Libraries and Universities and many of the world's Great Wonders and achieve a Cultural Victory. Or you can pour your money into science, and build and launch a spaceship. (One of my favorites, not just because it's more pleasant than watching a huge pigpile of Knights die one by one at the muzzle of Roman or Indian or Persian riflemen, but because the mini-movie that plays when you launch the ship is really, truly breathtaking.) In my early experiences with the game, I'd fight when attacked, but most of the time I'd follow a peaceful path. But like I said, then I found something out.

The earlier you win, the higher your score.

One night in late March, as an experiment, I turned bloodthirsty. I built nothing but troops. No settlers, no workers, no Temples, no nothing. So basically, by building nothing but troops and doing nothing but sending them toward the only visible enemy capital, I took my previous high score and doubled it. I managed to find and wipe out all three rival Civs by 330 A.D.

I was back on the horse.

Around this time I was aided in my addiction by the discovery of the aptly-named Civilization Fanatics' Center, where I discovered articles, forums, and tutorials, all of which existed for one sole purpose: playing Civilization. There are people who actually invest days and weeks and months investigating the intricacies of the game. There are articles on how to fight wars, where you should place your cities in relation to one another, and the mathematical formulas used to determine how long the citizens of a captured city will resist. My new favorite is a long, exhaustive analysis of which types of territory should be developed in which ways (mining, irrigation, roadbuilding, etc) during the very first rounds of the game. There are tables, probabilities, mathematical trials. The detail is amazing.

And it was around this time that I also discovered another reason for my addiction: the constant sense of discovery.

After becoming somewhat comfortable with Warlord level, I jumped up to Regent. It was too hard for me at first. As you increase the level of difficulty, several things become more challenging: keeping your citizens happy, fighting off barbarians, and staying ahead of rival civs in the technology race. But again, a breakthrough helped me stay addicted. It was another simple discovery.

My enemies are stupid.

As I slowly destroyed everybody on my continent, the English loaded a settler and a warrior onto a ship and sailed away. I grieved, assuming this would slow down my victory, since I'd have to wait to discover Map Making, build a ship, load troops onto it, and chase down that new English city, which would be the only thing standing between me and total world domination.

And then the English turned the ship around, brought the Settler and the Warrior back, and conveniently dropped them off next to a stack of my Swordsmen.

Stupid. And something a human player would never do.

Which is why, I realized, I could win.

I now play on Monarch level, the third highest. And sometimes I win, and sometimes I quit a game in the middle. Sometimes I pursue an all-out military strategy, discovering Iron Working quickly to build a city in the right place and crank out Swordsmen before other civs have the technology to build decent defenders. Sometimes I only build enough units to protect my cities and spend the rest of the time cranking out high-culture improvements. I usually set at least one of the variables to "random," to surprise myself. Because the surprises are what I really like.

A world without any happiness-producing luxuries. An isolated position on an island with only three squares that aren't either Hills or Mountains. Egypt's seeming inability to defend even its capital. A continent to myself and a successful Great Library, followed by the discovery that I am so isolated that I cannot get off the continent to discover other civilizations, rendering the Library utterly useless. It frustrates me, thrills me, gives me headaches and neck strain. I found out just last night, after burning my fingers on a hot cookie sheet, that it is nearly impossible for me to play this game left-handed.

Discovery upon discovery upon discovery.

And for better or for worse, or both: no end in sight.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


a year in the air
mileage ain't nothin' but a number
by jael mchenry
topic: humor
published: 8.5.02

got lent?
wholly sacrifice, batman!
by jael mchenry
topic: humor
published: 3.5.03


russ carr
7.4.03 @ 12:57a


But with no little irony, I scored my highest yet (3348) only hours ago, with a domination victory and was dubbed Joan the Magnificent. And yes, I struck early and with overwhelming force. Hoplites are no match for an onslaught of archers.

robert melos
7.4.03 @ 1:57a

Jael, never underestimate your enemies. They may be stupid, but stupid sometimes wins elections and goes to war in search of non-existent WMD's.

However, your addiction is perhaps more healthy than many others because you are utilizing your mind in the fact you keep having new discoveries. So go kick some Civ butt.


tracey kelley
7.6.03 @ 10:15p

This is so funny.

I wish I had the time for this.

brian anderson
7.7.03 @ 1:47p

I was recently reading a brief history of New York City, and as they discussed the founding of the city, my mind automatically formed an image of a settler in 17th century Dutch dress hunkering down (with that "dig in" noise) and the phrase "Nieuw Amsterdam founded AD 1623".

russ carr
7.7.03 @ 4:40p

Heh. Tangential thought. I think in the "Play The World" version of Civ3 (coming soon to Mac!) you can play as the Ottomans. After a few thousand years, I'd change the capital's name from Constantinople to Istanbul.

jael mchenry
7.7.03 @ 4:44p

Hey, that's nobody's business but the Turks.

The last thing I need is the extra Civs that come with PTW. The Celts, for example.

I came up with this great plan to be an Iroquois warmonger. What happens? I get trapped on a tiny island with NO HORSES. When I discover Iron Working, it turns out that the only iron on the island is over in Russian territory. I put a Scout on it to block. Crooked, but fair.

My new war trick? If possible, always take their capital first. It isn't any better defended than the other cities, but it demoralizes them pretty quickly, it never destroys the city, and you can get back up to decent productive capacity tout suite.

russ carr
7.7.03 @ 5:44p

I'm frequently left wondering why more opponent civs aren't losing cities to me. Though playing the other day, I picked up three Chinese and one Babylonian city free of charge. But I see my cities with a plump population, well-fortified, good infrastructure, deep coffers...and my opponents usually have like 30 gold, no roads, no walls, no wonders. Honestly, we should get to use Propaganda to persuade a city to defect early on...

If I'm going to war with an evenly matched opponent, I cruelly ply them with favors in order to get Right of Passage, then send in my troops over the course of several turns. That way I have the luxury of massing large armies instead of having to defend from the get-go (or pull back to neutral ground). Once I have several cities surrounded, I can launch a multi-pronged attack and cripple their production immediately. By the time it's their turn, they've usually lost at least a handful of cities, and no longer have the cash to upgrade or rush production. And yes, I'm amazed at how poorly other capitals are defended. Any city of mine that has a Wonder gets a strong defense.

And once PTW comes out for Mac, I doubt I'll ever play any civ other than the Celts.

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