Strangely detailed hypothetical situation: You are a video game reporter, you have an early build of Civilization V and you have a couple of hours to play the game against three people. You’re playing as the Arabs, at Prince difficulty. You will start slowly. But you will win.
You will begin the match late. It’s your fault, because you’ve not yet mastered the art of using Civ V’s Steamworks support. You need to accept the Steam friend request from the Civ V developer, because he’s running this game. You need to be Steam friends for this private match. But for a public match you would be able to play anyone.
You will choose to play as the Arabs, because that’s what you did in singleplayer with an earlier build back before the leaves outside started rustling and cooler winds were blowing.
You will be foolish, though. You set your graphics settings low in order to maintain a speedy flow of game, not realising that you would be turning the pretty fog of war (see up top?) into functional black hexes. The Civ people would rather you show the world nice fog, not black hexes. But because you are a virtual-world conqueror and because you agree to caption your images – these images were taken from a computer not running Civ V on normal graphical settings, hence the simplified fog (or something) – they will allow you to show how you out-Civilized the Americans.
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The fog thing will not be your only mistake. You will by turn 22 have learned some things that a wisely run civilisation should not do.
1) Don’t build Mecca in a desert, no matter how historically accurate that may seem. Primitive man can’t drill for oil, can’t build farms yet. He can fish, but boy do those forests just out of reach look good for cutting lumber.
2) Don’t send your scouts toward the barbarians at the south after they just got roughed up by the barbarians in the west.
3) Don’t assume computer-run city states Venice and Cape Town are going to help.
You will look with envy at the scores of other players. You will be in last place at turn 22 with just 49 points. The fog of war will cover your competitors. They’re having an easier time on Prince difficulty, perhaps?
You will not be playing with Civ V’s modified timer. This new timer, you will be told, gives each player a finite amount of time to take a turn, an amount of time that will lengthen as the game progresses and turns become more complex. This timer, you will learn, keeps the game from halting if one player steps away.
You will think at turn 22 that maybe you could have used this timer to your advantage.
Your doubts won’t linger for about an hour. During that hour, you will see little of other players except the occasional encroachment of Americans from the south east. Your problems will be barbarians, who could have been deactivated by the host before the match started. They were not. Instead, these barbarians exercised their barbaric method of stealing your workers who were trying to improve the outskirts of the second – second! – city you foolishly built in the desert. You will have been taking this notion of playing as the Arabs a little too seriously.
You’ll discover a hopefully temporary idiosyncrasy of the in-game text chat option (you don’t try the voice one). You can only type in the chat when it’s your turn. But another player doesn’t have this problem, and you can still chat through Steam. A resolvable bit of weirdness, you hope. Not that these rival players would offer much advice. They’re all too busy winning.
Turns will be brisk but they will lengthen. Your wait from turn 30 to turn 31 will be 53.5 seconds. Your wait from turn 36-37 will be 3.5 minutes. Someone out there is thinking hard, you will worry.
An hour or so later, though, at turn 63, while who-knows-what is happening elsewhere, you will build, near the city of Medina, Stone Henge. This will be your wisest move, because you will gain a commanding points lead.
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You will have rejoiced in other successful moves. You learnt that while it wasn’t your turn, you could queue land purchases – gold spent to hurry city expansion rather than waiting for organic, natural growth. You will have kept it peaceful, because those barbarians got themselves distracted by the Americans. You will have paid gold to Cape Town to keep up relations, though enjoyed no direct benefit yet other than safe passage through their terrain.
At some point, you will learn that you could relive or redirect any of this great history-in-the-making. The game is capturing 50 or so autosaves during this session. Each can be loaded by a game host to start a new multiplayer match, using the same players as before or a new group.
Taking the points lead makes a Civ player bold. To the east you will go, as the Americans spread west.
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The Americans take care of the barbarians. Let them fight while we build wonders. City no.3 begins. Damascus. And it ain’t going to be in a desert! This is turn 72, you lead extending without an angry shot fired at other civilisations. You are making horse-riding spearmen in your city, though. America is being targeted for a strike.
America will be lucky, though. The two hours will end. You will be victorious, though with an asterisk. You didn’t play to the game-over condition. No one achieved a Time, Science, Domination, Cultured or Diplomatic victory. No, but there was a score. And you, hypothetical games reporter, were in the lead.
Civilization V, developed by Firaxis and published by Take Two, will be out on September 21.