Automatic Civilization

Developer Tony Fanchi on a New Solo Variant for Civilization: A New Dawn


As we all do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing, it can be difficult to fill out the player count for our favorite board games. This new reality sparked a discussion in the Fantasy Flight Games “digital office” about which of our non-cooperative games might be best suited to being played solo! Since I had recently designed the upcoming Terra Incognita expansion, Civilization: A New Dawn came to mind quite naturally.

It occurred to me that the focus row in Civilization: A New Dawn is perfect for operating a programmed opponent, and thus, the idea for the Automated Player was born!

The Automated Player (or AP) uses an unused player’s components and focus bar, with the focus row essentially functioning as a highly simplified version of the code that operates the AI opponents in the Civilization video games, providing a series of instructions for how the AP functions. On the AP’s turn, it will resolve the focus card in the “5” slot of its focus row and reset that card to the “1” slot. To assist with that, the AP has its own set of unique focus cards, designed specifically to remove decisions from the AP’s turn so that you won’t feel like you’re playing for the AP yourself. You can download these focus cards (27 MB), along with the rules (8.5 MB) and start playing today!

As an opponent, the AP is predictable—you can always see what it will do on its next turn and any number of turns down the line. In spite of its predictability, or perhaps even because of it, the AP proves to be a compelling opponent because it presents the human player with a puzzle to solve, a puzzle that is not unlike playing against a human opponent. For example, you might know that the AP is going to take that prime city space on its next turn, but you are still left with a decision about whether to settle that spot first, forcing the AP to settle elsewhere, or let them take the spot and upgrade your military focus card so you can take the newly-settled city by force—or any number of other choices!

The biggest difference between a human opponent and the AP is that a human opponent might do something unpredictable, like resolve a card lower in their focus row or choose an unexpected target for an attack. My initial design allowed the AP to skip a focus card under certain conditions, but those conditions happened so infrequently that it ended up not being worth the added complexity. Instead, the AP will always resolve the card in its “5” slot, and every focus card is designed to always have a beneficial effect for the AP, regardless of the board state.

Automated opponents in tabletop games must strike a balance between effective play and ease of use, and these two requirements are often at odds. In order to keep the AP simple to resolve while also providing a worthy challenge, it needed some built-in advantages over a human player. These advantages increase as the AP upgrades the cards in its focus row, allowing the AP to ramp up in power along with the human player and provide an exciting endgame.

If these advantages aren’t enough to present a worthy match for your finely-honed civilization-building skills, one of the other five difficulty settings included in the rules allow you to adjust the AP to the level of challenge you are looking for. If you can best the AP on Empress difficulty, you will have etched your name into the annals of history!

And what’s more, the AP isn’t just for solo play. It can also be used in games with up to three human players to provide an additional opponent against which you must compete. Will you coexist peacefully with the AP, manipulating it to your advantage and turning it against your human opponents, or will you team up with the other humans to carve up the AP’s territory for yourselves? The decision is yours.


~Tony Fanchi

You can download the cards (27 MB) and rules (8.5 MB) to play the solo variant of Civilization: A New Dawn today!

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