Geocaching, and Galactic Civilizations II

Do you know what geocaching is? I didn’t, either, until Russ Pitts explained it to me. I’ll wait while he explains it to you, too.

Time’s up. What a cool concept, huh? And what a well-written explanation! I’m sure it wouldn’t quite be the same but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone made an MMO out of the idea. It may be a niche market, but it could be a fun game, and who knows? Maybe the concept has appeal to many of us who can’t be troubled (or don’t have time) to leave the house for it. Treasure Hunt Online…

This weekend I bought Galactic Civilizations II, as well as its two expansions, Dark Avatar and Twilight of the Arnor. I was really sold on the concept by Twilight of the Arnor including different technology trees for the different races, and I’d never gotten to play Master of Orion, though I have not been deaf to the singing of its praises by various of my friends. And, wonder of wonders: my computer meets the minimum requirements (though not quite the recommended–and rightfully so). I had also read good things about the new expansion, and was aware that the game scored very highly in reviews. Twilight of the Arnor does not actually release until April, but fortunately for me, pre-ordering it grants access to the latest beta version.

So, my experiences with the game so far.

Jumping into it, I noticed the tutorial videos but decided to see if I could figure any of it out by myself. I clicked the New Game button and was presented with many options for what type of galaxy to play. I skipped to the next page and was asked to choose a race. Back to the tutorials; I didn’t know what the bonuses each race received would mean in gameplay terms and hoped they would explain a little.

The tutorial videos stuttered; I checked the forums, got the latest video and audio drivers for my computer (wow, there had been about 70 new versions of the video drivers since the one I had previously). The videos in the game still stutter, but that is just due to the age of my machine; if I reduce the resolution (which requires restarting the game) they work fine. Which is good enough for the tutorials, but I still haven’t gotten to watch an in-game video for more than the few moments it took me to skip it. Incentive for me to save up for that new computer, but I digress.

The tutorials explained a bit to me about the first turn and some other things, enough that I decided to try out a new game. I started with a small map and looking at the races, decided on the Yor Collective and the Technologists party. I enjoy being able to research new technologies in these games. For the points you get to distribute to other bonuses, I spread them out over many different things.  After starting, playing a while and then restarting again a couple times, I settled on putting those points into huge research bonuses and some good morale bonuses (at the time I thought morale affected whether colonies would defect to other civilizations; I now believe it is based solely on loyalty and influence, and has nothing to do with morale). I was playing a medium galaxy now, with four random opponents on Beginner difficulty (and with random intelligence for the opponents).

If you’ve never played Galactic Civilizations II, it is a lot like Civilization 4 (and I assume the other games in the Civilization series, but I haven’t played those). If you haven’t played any Civilization games you can skip this comparison. Influence is Culture, Morale is Happiness, etc. There are differences, of course. You can’t just go create a settlement wherever you want because you have to find habitable planets to colonize. Trade routes are established a bit differently, and there’s no “What’ll you give me for this?” option in the diplomacy interactions. Also, you research weapon and defense technologies and then design your own ships which use them (this part is really cool, and another thing I was looking forward to), rather than just unlocking specific military units.

So now, the story:

I began at the edge of the galaxy, and colonized the other habitable planet in my star system on the first turn (I’ve since been reading about strategies and this is not really the best option–colonizing a higher-class, further away planet first is probably better in the long run). I started working on more colony ships (though I hadn’t realized that as the Yor I already started with technology to make colony ships that could travel faster, so I was just making the default ones), since from my short learning stints on other maps I had been stuck with only two planets when the rest were taken by the other civilizations. This time I ended up with about five planets.

Contact was soon made with the other civilizations of the galaxy: the Drengin Empire, Krynn Consulate, Iconian Refuge, and the Arcean Empire. I established trade routes with them all and, having been attacked in my last learning stint with little or nothing to defend myself, made sure to research the weapon and armor technologies. Soon I had the most powerful military in the galaxy (with just a few very moderately powerful ships which were nevertheless more powerful than anything the rest of the galaxy could offer), and everyone was friendly with me.

I know most people play these games for the fun of conquest, but whenever I do, I tend to avoid conflict. I don’t like my things getting destroyed. I just enjoy building my influence and researching new technologies; I loved getting cities through culture in Civilizaiton 4, and this game was no different. I was happy to have the strongest military because it meant everyone was friendly and left me alone. Even when the extremely warlike Drengin declared war, it was with every civilization except mine. And each time the Arceans and Iconians asked for help, I’d give them something (not defenses against the beam weapons which was what I was using, of course), because I didn’t want the Drengin to win. I knew that if they did, the peace on my side of the galaxy would end.

The United Planets (UN, basically) convened periodically and one thing that was enormously fun for me to win the vote on was the war tax. This vote succeded twice, creating a law where all civilizations which were at war had to pay 15% of their income, and it meant everyone except me had to pay.

After the Drengin fought for probably several months on three fronts, they eventually succumbed to the Iconians and surrendered all they had. I was leery of the Iconians, more than the Arceans and the Krynn, because in the previous learning stint they had been the ones who had attacked me. Now they had almost half the galaxy. I didn’t think I could defeat them in a war (even though my military was still considered the most powerful). But all the remaining civilizations, including the Iconians, were still friendly with me. There was a good possibility I could win the game.

The Iconians declared war on the Arceans, who may have been the weakest. I spoke to the Iconians, though, and traded them Alliances technology in exchange for ending their new war and some other technologies, and then offerend an alliance in exchange for another tech or two. They accepted and without skipping a beat I addressed the Arceans and then the Krynn in the same way, trading them Alliances tech (so they would be capable of making alliances) and then trading them an alliance. Thus, I won the game by allying with every other civilization and uniting the galaxy.

Now I am starting a new game with a large map, five random enemies all of normal intelligence, and normal difficulty. I’m trying out the Dominion of Korx, and my goal is to win through having lots of money, influence, and by not being at war, which I enjoyed in the game I just finished. Next I think I will try a huge map with a full roster of nine opponents, and if things work out well with the current game I will again choose the Korx.

I’m having a lot of fun with the game. I’m looking forward to trying out the campaign mode, and the other features (the editors, and possibly more fleshed out technology trees for some of the races) which are not yet available in the beta.

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