Games I Used to Play: Sid Meier’s Civilization Series

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I thought I was done with gaming when my last desktop quit in 2011 and took away my Morrowind. Lol, little did I know. I’ve got a seven-year-old with an X-Box in my household now, and I’m the only other gamer in the house. Since he needs guidance and occasional help with boss fights, I’ve been spending some time with the video games lately.

Once a gamer, always a gamer, it seems.

I’ve thought for awhile that gaming is an area of pop culture that we aren’t tapping into properly with this blog. I mean really. Gaming ought to do well on any blog that lives primarily on comics, sci-fi, and zombies, right?

The problem up to this point with gaming posts has been the same problem I have with comics. All the games I am familiar with are so old, I can’t count on anyone caring about what I have to say about them. And comics contributors are WAY easier to find than gaming contributors.

I’m playing through some games right now that, if not exactly current, are things people will recognize. I’m not quite ready to start in on those today. Instead, I’ll tell you about some some antics I used to get up to with one of the Civilization games.

The Sid Meier’s Civilization series as a whole has consumed more of my free time than any other franchise in any media. It’s beat out Star Wars and Star Trek, and heck, even Tolkien, for my attention over the past 20 some-odd years. It’s arguably the series that got me hooked on gaming, so seems a good place to start.

The Civ games are turn-based strategy games that give you a high-level view of an entire civilization. You start with a settler, decide where to build your first city, then figure out how many military units and what improvements to build, etc. It’s the first fully-developed “god game” I ever encountered. The only thing that came close in the late 80s and early 90s was Populous, and Civ I made Populous look like computer checkers.

My overall favorite Civ game was Civilization 4, because I feel as though the creators finally got culture, religion, and forms of government right with that one. But the iteration of Civ that I played most (by far) was Civ II. Morrowind is the only game that’s ever even come close to touching the amount of time I’ve spent playing Civ II.

The feature of Civ II that gave it the ultimate replay value, even after I’d figured out how to win any game, on any difficulty, is this. It had a cheat mode which you could easily enable, and which allowed you to manipulate the Civ World in ponderous ways. And I never once used the cheat mode to win a game. I used it to do things to my games AFTER I’d won them. Here’s what I would do.

Set up a game on a pangaea map with as many civilizations as I could crowd in.

Conquer the world so that I ruled ALL the cities, except for one AI city on an island somewhere, which was surrounded by my navy so that I could see every ship coming in, and every ship going out of that city.

  1. Develop my cities and the land around them to the point of absurdity, so that by the 1940s or so, the world was filled with huge cites with solar plants and mass transits and stuff like that, surrounded by farmland and connected by railroads from one side of the world to the other.
  2. Dismantle all my nuclear weapons, collect my final score for the game, and save a copy for posterity, so I could go back later and see what the world looked like before I turned the cheat mode on.
  3. Turn the cheat mode on and take away the all the technologies from the glorious futuristic, world-spanning civilization I’d just built, reducing it to the stone age for the purposes of producing new units and city improvements.

Then I’d give ALL the technologies to the tiny one-city civilization I’d left standing on the island.

Give the one-city civilization a lot of military units, many of which were strategically placed to take the large civilization’s capital and several other cities in such a way as to cut that civilization in half.

Then force them into a state of war.

Of course, the small, well-armed civilization would take the capital of the large civilization and all the cities required to cut in in half. The large civilization’s capital would jump to the side of the line where it had the largest number cities. And then this would happen.

On the side of the line where the large civilization had the smallest number of cities, an ENTIRELY NEW civilization would spawn and break away from the big civ. It would enter the world as a neutral power. Its technology would be roughly halfway between the stone age and the space age, and it always had ten or 12 well-maintained cities, including a few ports.

Where once there was a monolithic hegemon and a one-city civ on an island, there were now three civilizations: A nuclear power with its capital on an island, a large military, and ten or twelve cities on a continent; a large, backward civ with 40 or more starving cities and just enough modern units to garrison them; and a civilization with 20 or so cities and early 20th Century technology.

From there, I’d let it run for days or weeks. I’d set it up so it didn’t pause at the end of the turn. Then switch the monitor off and let the computer run all day while I was at work, or all night while I was sleeping, and check it hours later. I referred to this activity as “ant farming.”

And without fail, this was the outcome.

I always ended up with a war-torn world of two or three powers perpetually at war, with the starvation that accompanies global warming and nuclear fallout reducing the population of the cities by a point or two per turn, until finally all the cities had a population of one, and no one had any units other than garrisons, and no way to produce new ones.

It would sometimes go through a phase where it looked like a 1984-type world for a day or two. But if I let it run long enough without intervening to refresh militaries and such, it always ended the same way.

Post-apocalyptic.

It was a little disturbing, but it was a whole lot of fun.

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Improbable and Grotesque Mischief: Dungeons & Dragons Mayhem!

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I’ve been threatening to write about Dungeons and Dragons for a few weeks now. That starts today. These posts are a memoir. I’ve considered various ways of organizing them.

I almost went the chronological route and started with my earliest experiences but um . . . no. Chronological memoirs are so done. I’m bringing the fun.

I’ve got more tabletop gaming experience than any continuously-employed 40-something dude I know. I started with the old boxed set that came with The Keep on The Borderlands, the Blue Book, and chits instead of dice. During the 90’s and 2000’s, I was part of a Sunday gaming group which played at least two sessions per month for almost 15 years.

Quite an iconic cover, this. I first encountered it when I was 8 or so. It captured my imagination.

Quite the iconic cover, this. I first encountered it when I was 8 or so. It captured my imagination.

I’ve Dungeon-Mastered a lot of campaigns. I’ve played in even more. I’ve wandered Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk (my favorite out-of-the-box-world), many worlds created by friends, and a few offbeat settings such as Red Steel. I’ve run campaigns in worlds of my own creation. I’ve also played Shadowrun, Traveller, Cthulu (my favorite non-D&D tabletop by far), Masquerade, and several GURPS-based games.

I’ve played a LOT of characters, and I’ve been awestruck more than once by things other people did with their PCs. I’ve created enough NPCs to populate a canon larger than The Collected Works of William Shakespeare. Today I’ll share  with you the best evil player character I ever created.

Hello, Louis!

A Forgotten Realms Hobgoblin. He'll do to represent Louis.

A Forgotten Realms Hobgoblin. He’ll do to represent Louis.

His name was Louis Scrounge. First name pronounced the way “Louis” is pronounced in France. He was a Neutral Evil Half-Hobgoblin warrior created with variant PC-Race rules for a gunpowder game (I love me some flintlocks, oh yes I do). This was also a maritime campaign. That means tons of close-quarters combat in light armor. It also means, for evil characters, egregiously bloodthirsty piracy.

One of the many rulers of France named Louis. You get the joke here, right?

One of the many rulers of France named Louis. You get the joke here, right?

His two chief accomplices were a Chaotic Evil Gnome Rogue/Sourcerer who knew every trick in the Joker’s Playbook and a Lawful Evil Drow Mage with a fetish for poison and Frankenstein experiments. In our first outing, we all joined the crew of a small merchant/privateer as specialists without letting on we knew one another. Louis enlisted to be the boss of the half-dozen or so 0-level fighters whose job it was to defend the vessel. The Drow signed on as the ship’s surgeon. The Gnome? LOL. Cabin boy. Can you say “Dangerously Genre-Savvy?

Needless to say, the captain ended up bleeding from the throat and tossed over the side in the dead of the night as soon as we hit open sea. We elected an NPC to keep the sails full until such time as we could consolidate our power and get Louis into the big cabin. Then we convinced the NPC placeholder-captain to go prize-hunting. This is how our career started. It’s one of the most memorable first adventures I’ve ever been a part of. That first ship was like Animal Farm, and we were the (extremely evil) pigs.

Some Technical Geeky Stuff

That long-running D&D group is the best interest-based offline group I’ve ever been a part of. It was a good mix of powergamers and roleplay nerds. Most of us were a bit of both. We rarely went the purist route with the rolling of three dice and taking whatever we got for ability scores in the order we rolled them. Sometimes we used point systems. More often, we did this:

  1. Roll four six-sided dice.  Re-roll ones until you get at least a two.
  2. Once you have no ones, drop the lowest number and add the other three together.
  3. If you happen to end up with three twos, you MUST take that six, but this method generates numbers less than nine so rarely that if you get a truly low score, it’s cause for celebration and character development.
  4. Put the ability scores wherever you want them to be.

What you usually end up with using this method is a couple of 11’s, one or two 16+ scores, and a mushy middle that can run from 10 to 15. We sometimes added Unearthed Arcana-style Comeliness to make Charisma-based roleplay more interesting. Occasionally we used Luck, which is not a normal ability score, but is derived from the basic six, and usually was a stat that ran from 3 to 5.

How_I_Roll

Natural 20’s FTW!

We could use a Luck point to automatically roll a natural 20 or pass a saving throw, but once we did, that point was gone until we impressed the DM enough to earn it back. It was not possible to spend two Luck points in one go, nor fractions of them. They were awarded and spent one at a time, always.

We were in the business of creating above-average characters with superhero potential, and we had a lot of fun with it for a lot of years. Never once in all that time did I witness a character make it to 20th level. The first five levels are important — once you hit sixth, you know who you are. Most of the character deaths I’ve seen have either happened right out of the gate, or between 12th and 15th levels.

Back to Louis. He was a Third Edition character with feats and such. Started with a 19 Constitution and a very low Charisma, because Half-Hobgoblin racial ability adjustments. A 17 Dexterity and a decent Strength. He wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box, nor very observant. That’s way survivable, though, with the right friends. I can be cunning even with a low Wisdom and Intelligence. And being confident that if you can hit something JUST ONCE  it will die 75% of the time is a huge advantage for a fighter in D&D.

Louis started out as a first level Ranger, of all things. Then took two levels in fighter. His career ended (I’ll get to the ending in a bit) at 12th or 13th level, and he didn’t have more than four levels in any one thing, but he could take down a 10th level single class NPC like nobody’s business once he was fully developed. He even took a level or two as a Cleric to some dark god late in the game. That decision was like a deal with the devil, but it got hime Cure Light Wounds and Cause Light Wounds, which turned out to be insanely useful.

His preferred weapons were dual-wielded short swords, whips for entangling enemies so as to stab them better, and flintlock pistols. At one point, he paid an artisan to craft a pair of super-accurate masterwork double-barreled flintlock pistols, and let me tell you. There’s nothing like racing into a boarding action with a pair of double-barreled pistols.

The first rule of tactical combat, in D&D, in a Zombie Apocalypse, and even in everyday life, it this. Never fight with one hand empty. Either fight with a two-handed weapon, or just have TWO weapons. Seriously. A rolled-up magazine in one hand, or a jacket wrapped around your left arm, is better than not using it at all. First rule.

The first rule of tactical combat, in D&D, in a Zombie Apocalypse, and even in everyday life, it this. Never fight with one hand empty. Either fight with a two-handed weapon, or bring TWO weapons. Seriously. A rolled-up magazine in one hand, or a jacket wrapped around your left arm, are better than nothing at all. First rule.

Memorable adventures. 

(DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind, these adventures are things that happened when I was in my 20s. I was not a fully-evolved feminist back then, and I may not be fully-evolved now. But they happened, and I feel like sharing them on the blog today. This is proof that people can change.)

This world was a lot like the Greek Isles. Early on, we made landfall on an island because we’d been becalmed for awhile and we needed fresh water. We thought that island was uninhabited. but actually a faun lived there. He abused us a bit, the Drow most of all. Much later, we gained enough experience for the Drow to learn Teleport. The first place we teleported to? That Island. Right into the faun’s front door.

I blasted the faun with my pistols and we made short work of him after that. Took all his treasure, which was not that much, but would have been a lot if we hadn’t lost that original encounter at second level. Louis made a pair of goatskin pants out of the faun’s leg-fur.

Once, we encountered a slave-market. Louis bought a barbarian witch from the slavers. She had a penchant for blood sacrifice and weather control. Louis kept her as a slave just long enough to make sure she wasn’t going to cut his throat once free (about three weeks of in-game time). Set her free, but offered her power and persuaded her to stay on as lieutenant. The  goatskin pants were actually made for her. She stuck with us to the end. I ran her at one point — the only time in all these years a DM has ever allowed me to run an NPC in campaign where I was just a player.

We also did this. Sailed into a port which had a gladiatorial industry and brought with us a large amount of disposable income. Louis went and signed up to be a free-agent gladiator. The Drow and the Gnome ran around the city pretending not to know one another and placing bets. We even bet the ship we sailed in on at one point.

Louis’s arena technique was simple. Stride into the arena with a short sword in one hand and a whip in the other. Two extra whips on the belt, two extra short swords on his back. Roll initiative.

Entangle opponent. Drop the whip and pull a second short sword. Stab stab stab until it’s time to drop the second short sword and pull another whip. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Louis sometimes fought three opponents, and he never threw a fight but sometimes he took damage just to affect the odds.

We ended up with a lot of money and artifacts.

Eventually, we captured a well-armed flying ship which could also sail on the water and look like a normal ship. That was the peak of our career. Happened around 10th level.

The DM grew weary of our evil mayhem, though. He decided he did not care to get into an arms race with high-level characters, and ran us to ground the way the British Navy ran pirates to ground in the late 1600’s, just to make sure we never got to be high-level characters. The last scene was satisfying. It made perfect sense.

This entire series of fictional events took place over the course of less than a year in real time, and covered maybe 18 months of campaign time. It was quick, and it was delicious.

No actual persons were harmed in this roleplaying experience, except maybe me.

Have a Cold War-Era Rock and Roll video by an artist who is no longer among the living. The content of the song perfectly encapsulates where I am with this blog right now.

WeekendCoffeeShare: “H-A-L-O” Edition

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I did something yesterday I haven’t done in almost a year. I disconnected myself from the Internet, aside from acknowledging a couple of private messages, just because I wanted to. I’ve been off a day or two here and there for things like work, family, and sickness this year. But I haven’t done it just to do other fun things since my vacation last October. It felt good.

weekendcoffeeshare_2015

I spent the whole day with the grandson. We were to go to a dove hunt yesterday with my brother. It’s an annual thing I’ve been doing with my Dad since the 90’s. Dad didn’t make it this year because he was in Florida. The three of us who were to go got our wires crossed and didn’t make it to the hunt, so we did some target shooting and had lunch, then the grandson and I came home.

On the drive back, we listened to the first quarter of a college football game on the radio. We were so into it by the time we got home, we ended up listening to the second quarter together in the boy’s room. I’m not that into football, but it’s a fun experience when you have a seven-year old who’s into the game to high-fives you when your team scores. By halftime our team was so far ahead we knew the rest would be boring — football on the radio is only exciting when the game is close — so we decided we needed to do something else.

As we were talking about what to do next, the boy said, “So when are we going to get on some ‘H-A-L-O’ together like you promised?” He’s taken to randomly spelling things out for some reason. I said, “How about ‘n-o-w?'” So we played, with a short break for dinner, until it was time for him to start winding down for bed.

Then I jumped into my own personal profile, which has significantly higher difficulty settings, and played until my own bedtime. And I have to say, it did me good to zone out on a single-player video game for several hours. My head feels better today than it has in weeks. There’s a bit of a backstory about the boy and the playing of the HALO.

He’s been wanting a shooter for the X-Box for as long as he’s known what shooters are. I’ve been against it — all us grownups have. What he really wants is to pay the super-adult games he sees advertised and hears (only slightly) older kids talking about. Things like Assassin’s Creed and Black Ops. Um . . . NO!

HALO is a sort of compromise after a year and a half of saying no. At least in that one, the opponents are aliens, the splatter quotient is low, and the whole thing tends to the cartoonish.

HALO_Reach

There was a meltdown at one point because he wasn’t allowed to check it out from the library. Not the sort of meltdown that demands discipline for inappropriate willfulness. More the sort that requires hugs and a careful conversation. He was sad because he didn’t understand why we weren’t allowing him to do something that he’d be allowed to do if he were spending the night with a friend who had the game. Yes, he’s willful. He’s also observant, and a wee bit assertive.

So the grownups relented, and I’ve been playing the game with him. I have to say, if the first three missions are any indication, the HALO game we’re playing is no worse than half the stuff he could get at on the tv. As long as he’s supervised with it and his gaming time is limited, I don’t see a problem. It’s a good incentive to get homework done, and it gives us something to interact with in a collaborative way. We’ll probably end up buying it.

We’ve not worked ourselves up to cooperative two-player action yet, because we just play the game differently. He doesn’t understand why I do things like take a sniper rifle and follow several meters behind the rest of the squad whenever possible, for example. And I don’t understand why he does things like shoot barrels for no reason in a game in which ammo is a scarce and precious resource. Or why he likes to charge into a room full of aliens, hold the trigger down, and spin around in circles until he’s either out of ammo or he gets them all. So we’ve developed a way taking turns.

He has a campaign set up on the Easy difficulty level. When he’s playing I mostly watch, but now and then he’ll let me clear a particularly difficult room or show him how to beat a boss when he’s having trouble. That way I learn the maps. He teaches me how to do things I’m not naturally good at. I am terrible at driving the vehicles with the two controller sticks, for example, and he’s way better at throwing grenades accurately than I am.

When he’s not on the machine and no one’s watching tv, I play my own missions on normal difficulty and figure out how to do things he needs to know, but would have a hard time figuring out on his own. Like how to zoom a sniper scope effectively and how to turn on night vision. So we’re both better at this game after a week or so of playing than either of us would be if we played on our own, given how little time we actually spend on it. coffee

The boy’s gotten me back into gaming after years of being out. Because somebody with gaming experience has got to supervise and make sure things don’t get too outrageous, right? 😉 It’s the responsible thing to do, lol.

Speaking of which, he’s out doing his regular Sunday thing with some of his other grandparents. Since no one’s using the tv right now, I’m going to squeeze in a mission or two while I can. Check you later this afternoon.

Don’t forget to add your Weekend Coffee Share post to the linkup at Part Time Monster and share it with #WeekendCoffeeShare on Twitter.