by Kevin Wilson
Greetings! We’re back one last time for a bonus installment of my Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game designer diary series. As I write this, the game is in stores and players around the world are enjoying it. With that in mind, I wanted to write about a lighter topic this week. Instead of explaining deep strategies or expanding on things I’ve already discussed, I’d just like to talk about some of my favorite parts of Civilization – the parts that really make me happy as a designer.
The first of my favorite things has to be the scout figures. Scouts are used to create new cities and they send the resources and other icons in the square they’re in back to one of their owner’s cities each turn. So, a scout sitting in a forest can send 2 production home to one of its owner’s cities.
The reason I like scouts so much is that they were one of those moments in a design where a lot things fell into place and solved a number of problems all at once. Early on, there was no distinction between armies and scouts – there were simply ‘presence’ figures which served as a general indicator of a player’s presence in a square on the board – whether military or not. However, that felt too abstract, so I tried separating them. Then I had the problem that scouts (settlers at the time) felt too useless. It wasn’t until a conversation with my playtesters about the issue that a particularly clever tester suggested letting the scouts ‘mail’ resources home.
It was such a good idea that I immediately added it in and tried it out. This worked incredibly well. So well, in fact, that players built them in preference to just about anything else. In the end I took away the scout’s ability to explore huts and made killing them in combat valuable in order to bring scouts and armies into more of a balance. Still, even with those changes, scouts turned out to be one of my favorite mechanics in the game, allowing players a lot more flexibility and creating a great point of interaction. That just goes to show you the value of keeping an open mind during playtests.
My second favorite thing has to be the way that trade is spent in the game. We’ve talked about how this works already in my preview Counting Your Chickens , but not the reasoning behind it. One of my goals in Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game was to reduce how many piles of tokens the players had to keep track of. Now, I know you look at all the components in the game and laugh at that statement, but believe me, boiling a big, meaty computer game like Civilization down into board game form wasn’t an easy task.
Over the course of testing I tweaked many mechanics to streamline bookkeeping as much as possible. Production was one such tweak (again, as described in Counting Your Chickens ), and spending trade was another. The key breakthrough concept was a simple one, really, but it made a lot of difference to the flow of the game, and that was the idea that whenever you research a new tech, you drop to 0 trade. That meant that players didn’t have to figure out change when researching, and it also meant that hoarding trade was largely pointless. Just like with scouts, this was an instance where one idea cleared up a number of issues I was having. Players suddenly had a resource that they were more willing to trade back and forth, and it greatly increased interaction during the trade phase.
The final tweak to the trade mechanic was having coins let you save 1 trade each after researching, thus tying the two strategies together in an elegant, simple manner. Why tie them together, you ask? Well, one of my central concepts was that each of the four victory conditions should support the others in various ways. That way, a military player (for instance) would have reasons to pursue tech, culture, and economics as well. Everything is always valuable to every player, just not equally so, and it’s one of the players’ challenges to work out what’s most valuable to them at any given time. I came up with the diagram you see below.
My third and final favorite thing I want to talk about is the exploration mechanic. It took a lot of experimentation to get the map to a size and style that I liked. I tried revealing one square of terrain at a time, and hated it. I tried having a visual range on the armies to determine what got turned over, and hated it. I tried a lot of things. In the end, I found that creating large (5”) square tiles and dividing them into 16 smaller squares each gave me an excellent balance between fiddliness and the feeling of exploration that I wanted to create. But for awhile, it still wasn’t clicking just right - it still took too long. And in the end, it was a marvelously simple solution from a friend (once again) that brought it together for me. You see, the problem was that when people turned over a new tile, they would spend a ridiculous amount of time deciding how to orient it, and this simple choice added up to about an extra 20-30 minutes per game! My friend scratched his head at my frustration and just suggested that I just mark which side the player enters through with an arrow.
...the sound of my forehead slap echoed throughout the building.
Yeah, I know, it was ridiculously simple, but it’s easy to lose sight of the simple solutions when you’re waist-deep in design. After that, the other part of my exploration mechanic, the hut and village tokens, started falling into place with the special resource tokens that players spend to activate abilities on tech cards. Then, exploration became a favorite activity of players, with everyone scrambling to be the first to grab the ‘candy’ around them on the map. When everything comes together in the end like that and links up, it’s one of the most incredibly satisfying experiences a designer can have, and honestly, that’s the way I feel about the entire game system in Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game . It’s a design I’m incredibly proud of, and one I hope everyone will enjoy.
Designed by Kevin Wilson, Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game is inspired by the legendary computer game series created by Sid Meier. 2-4 players take on the roles of famous leaders in charge of historical civilizations, each with his or her own abilities. Players explore a module game board, build cities and buildings, fight battles, research powerful technology, and attract great people by advancing their culture. Choose your path to glory!