Just. One. More. Turn. This is a phrase anyone who’s played the Sid Meyer’s Civilization series knows all too well. It’s also something I’ve fallen victim to. Hello, my name is Nick Snow, and I am a strategy game addict.
Like many, I have fond memories of playing the Age of Empires series when I was younger (specifically, Age of Mythology was my jam). I would play for days and days, hours and hours. Campaign or custom match. Map making. I devoured those games. The Titans expansion of Mythology was the first game expansion I ever bought.
And I suck. Still. To this day.
They take so long, and you can see the spiral coming and feel the drain as you lose to your opponents. They have so many features and modifiers and minor boosts that eventually add up that new players quickly feel they are drowning in. But that’s the secret. That’s why I like it. Not the inevitability of defeat. The time dedication and obtuse design means I never have to lose in front of another human ever. No matter how much I lose, the AI will never know the true feeling of victory.
For anyone unfamiliar with AoE, the object of the game is to build and fortify your civilization before your opponents, so you can rush them under your heel. Play may be set with feudal empires, during the age of colonization, or the ancient era of myths and legends.
You build workers to gather resources which let you create buildings, which let you build army units that get upgrades from buildings. It’s a loop, and it all happens “in real time,” meaning there are no “turns.” That’s the dangerous part. You always have a plan in motion and are afraid to quit because you might forget.
Eventually, Age of Empires grew old, stale, and outdated. Civilization quickly filled that hole in my life. I forget which came first, but eventually, I had Civilization V on my family PC (my first game on Steam) and Civilization Revolution on my Nintendo DS. Strategy on the go. Even having to go places wouldn’t stop my gaming addiction!
The Civilization series is pretty different from the Age of series. Firstly, you play through the entirety of civilization. You start with a settler and a single warrior in the several thousands BC and eventually lead your way to the space age and beyond.
Age of Empires boils down to a military game. The point is to raze your enemies. Civilization offers choices. Sure, you can steam roll the world stage and be the last man standing by using nukes as Gandhi. But you can also have a diplomatic victory, science victory, religious victory, or cultural victory.
Also, Civ has turns. And that is devilish. Because somewhere in your empire, part of your great strategy is going to come to fruition in just another turn or two. With this barracks, I can train my experienced troops to send out against Alexander the Great, taking that city from him that he built too close to my empire.
At any given time, you have several goals you are aiming for at once. So even when you take back that city or build a wonder before the AI, there are other ideas still being worked on. You can’t abandon those yet. They are so close to bearing fruit!
While I loved Civ V and enjoy VI, as well, I have since found a new obsession, and its name is Paradox grand strategy. I’m talking Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, Victoria II, Hearts of Iron IV, and Stellaris.
In truth, I have only really played CK II and Stellaris so far, but I have EU IV ready once I finally finish a game of Crusader Kings. These games are the ultimate in strategy. In Crusader Kings, you must balance intrigue and politics, military might and infrastructure, and technology. You have a council, vassals, heirs, traits, events, and you need to make sure your heir is married to a powerful enough house that you can call them in as allies in a war but not so powerful and ambitious that they get greedy and come calling for your holds.
Also, you can play against Death in a chess match, like it’s Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, and if you win, you are immortal. Oh, and you can join a cult. And install your own anti-pope. It’s less strategy game and more dynasty simulation.
Stellaris is closer to Civ, but it’s already in space, and you can live out your dream of being a space-furry, space-Hitler, space-Amazon, space-savior, or some weird combination of any or all of them.
There aren’t as many strange and minute features as in Crusader Kings, but it has a strangely similar pace and feel. You research technology similarly to Civilization, but there are no turns, time just keeps going by. As the game continues and you learn new space-opera science techs, you start building amazingly powerful vessels and mega structures that help your empire ascend to greatness, eventually facing off against the galaxy-ending Crisis that is the finale, such as the robot revolt.
No matter how poor I am at these games, how deep and confusing the rules and frustrating the AI can sometimes be, I find them calming. They are also dangerous. Blink and look at the clock, and suddenly, you’ll see that it’s 1 a.m.
The clock’s not wrong, you just spent the last 4 hours becoming the inbred King of Ireland who has amazing trait points and has to shut down the faction led by your decidedly less optimal half brother that, for some reason, all of your vassals like more, because he wants to instate primogeniture succession.