Category Archives: Civilization

JKHOA Pt. 2 Snow Day Geek

peter o'toole - lawrence of arabia 1962

Ladies, gentlemen: the most beautiful image ever. Enjoy!

If you saw radar maps of Snowmaggedon or Snowzilla — or whatever hashtag you prefer — I was right under the part of the map that displayed a graphic of an angry weather deity suffering from dysentery. I rather enjoyed the storm, but today I became enlisted in said deity’s personal sanitation crew. I mean I shoveled, but it was closer to mining. I’ve lived most of my adult life in either Philly or Costa Rica. So I’m not a practiced hand. But I was out talking and working with other people. It was weird. But not necessarily bad.

The lady who lives next door had her kids and grandkids marshaled up. She was like George C. Scott in the part of Patton when he clears up the traffic, except with a white Maltese instead of a pit-bull. My other neighbor just moved here from Los Angeles. He carefully cleaned all the icy patches with a windshield scraper. He explained to me that he hadn’t thought to buy a shovel. But he seemed to be getting a get kick out of it.

I’m not tall, or strong, or particularly inclined towards physical labor. I’m a clutz. My BF calls me the “fainting goat” because I just lose my balance and start to fall while standing perfectly still on even ground. So I was glad to have my new neighbor to chat (pretend I was still shoveling) with. His name is Jerry, and he’s a retired aerospace engineer. He worked for NASA in the mid-seventies, and knows a man who walked on the moon. Yeah. And I knew we’d be fast friends when he asked me “I don’t know if you ever think about transporters…?” “I think about transporters ALL THE TIME.”

Seriously, gentlemen, that is the best pick-up line I’ve ever heard. We talked about the physics and computational issues etc. of transporters for about an hour. I think I might have a crush.  He’s friends with one of the twelve human beings to have stepped on the moon. And he enjoys talking about transporters. We both felt jipped by the actual year 2001 because it wasn’t, well, you know, like 2001. And one of his early designs is in the National Space and Aeronautics museum. Like the ones that hang from the ceiling. Be still my heart.

What was I talking about before I drifted into a nerd hole? Oh yeah, #Blizzard2016. Yesterday I tore it up in an epic game of Civilization with the BF. History tells us that the Poles were instrumental in holding back all sorts of Muslim invasion of Europe. Well, let me just say, I played as Harun Al-Rashid of Arabia, and I corrected that error. My empire is the most literate, cultured, wealthy and well equipped Wonder of the World. I hope Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal would approve. There were street lights in Damascus! Baghdad was a center of science. Mecca made Paris look like a Neandertal shelter. It seems I’ve crawled back into that nerd hole.

So, fun! Enjoyed Snowmaggedon. Today begins week two of my 500 word a day thing for this blog, but taking off Thursday, most like. Did you folks enjoy your snow days? Everyone all safe and tired from shoveling? Is tomorrow Monday? Are these my hands?

Peace and love, LLAP, and May the Force be with you…always.



Life Lessons I Learned from “Civilization”

I promised in an earlier post to enumerate the life lessons I’ve learned from my obsession with Sid Meier’s Civilization V. To summarize: Civ V begins at 5,000 BC, allows you to research everything from pottery to particle physics, found religions, choose social policies and ideologies, engage in diplomacy and war, build wonders, earn great prophets, scientists, generals, admirals, engineers, and artists, and asks if you can “Build a Civilization to stand the test of time?” No pressure. Quite honestly, a game so complex that it not only allows you to, as Spain, use an inquisitor to remove a heretical religion from one of your cities, but then rewards with you with an achievement titled “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition” cannot be summed up in a Wikipedia description.  (Click here for Wikipedia description.)   Civilization, like life, must be experienced.

For the layman, you choose a civilization represented by a leader (Augustus for Rome, Elizabeth I for England, etc.). Each Civ has a Unique Ability (e.g. England gets naval bonuses), and either special units (Legions for Rome), a special building (Temple Pyramids for the Maya), or land improvements (Chateaus for France) that all confer special benefits that will affect your Civ and style of play. There are five ways to win: Cultural (make yours the dominant world culture, AKA “wear my blue jeans”), Diplomatic (be elected World Leader, AKA Money, Splitting, Soldiers, Spies), Science (bugger off to colonize another planet), Domination (capture every Capital while retaining your original), and Time (score-based, ominously ending in 2050).

So, after over 1,600 hours of play, what has Civilization ever done for me? (Aside from deepening my respect for James Burke.) Here’s a quick run-down, and it’s in no way complete.

1) “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.”

This quote, ascribed to Eisenhower, and which you will find in-game upon completing the Pentagon World Wonder, best sums up both my experience of the game and life in general. Did you want to play as cultured, wealthy, wonder-building France? Too bad. You spawned next to Attila the Hun, and if you don’t arm up and wipe him out he’ll be the bane of your existence. That’s if you continue to exist after he comes at you. And he will. Or perhaps you went with Shaka Zulu, warmonger par excellence, sine qua non, and other fancy phrases. You rushed up the tech tree to find iron to make your Impi warriors, and oh, The Shoshone grabbed up all the land with iron and built the Great Wall! Or maybe you just warred yourself to the point where no one will trade with you, your people are starving, unhappy, not making science, you’re broke, rebels are tearing up your land and attacking your capital and you’re so culturally impoverished that you’re 30 turns away from any policy that might settle things down. And now the Shoshone have nukes.

Point is, listen to the man who planned D-Day, the biggest plan ever planned in the history of planning. Going into anything with a strategy in mind is great, but you have to be able to adapt. For that you need infrastructure and logistics. There is an old axiom that goes “Amateurs speak of strategy, while professionals speak of logistics.” Ever read Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic Wars? It’s awesome. About two-thirds are concerned with grain and supply lines. That may not  be as exciting as the battles of wit and war, but having the ability to sustain your Civ, to produce that which is necessary, pin down where it needs to go, and get it there in time is the key to success in life, love, war and Civ.

2) Bread and Circuses

This goes hand in glove with the above. Happy, healthy citizens produce more food, science, production, money, culture…and more citizens to do the same! Pay attention to them! An unhappy empire will weaken your military and defenses, leave you broke, your people illiterate, they will starve and revolt, and then you’re playing The French Revolution and not Civilization. There’s a story that Augustus Caesar, after becoming “First Citizen”, wondered why tax revenue was down and production so poor. A census showed that people weren’t marrying, and so there was a population drop thus less taxable citizens. So he passed a law enforcing a tax on unmarried men and women. Marriage rates went up, but the population didn’t increase. People were marrying to avoid the tax, but not having children. So he taxed childless married couples. People started having kids. Tax revenue and production went up. City of brick became a city of marble…you know the rest.

Keep your people fed and happy and making more productive citizens! Have you ever skipped lunch at work and then been miserable and gotten less done the rest of the day? Or maybe you missed your morning coffee (Civ speak: Luxury Resource), had a headache by 11 am and picked a fight with a friend for no good reason? As in life, so in Civilization. If that means postponing your planned invasion of Warsaw a few turns til things settle down, paying off a City State with a desirable luxury, or building a Colosseum when you really want to get started on that Wonder before someone else snaps it up, it’s worth it in the end. You’ll get that Wonder faster, your war will go better, you’ll gain a City State ally in the World Congress and you have more happy productive people.  There’s a possible political angle here, but I’ll just hope you connect the dots properly (no they don’t form a picture of Margret Thatcher).

3) Diplomacy is bloodless war, and war is bloody diplomacy

Backstabbing, a truth in life and the quest for world domination. It’s great to have allies and friendships, but like each individual you know, every leader in Civ has a personality and an agenda. Some are coy and difficult (Augustus!), some are plain-dealers (Washington — voice acted by Bill Clinton, I think), some will try to win you with their wiles then wait for you to show a hint of weakness and pounce (so looking at you Dido of Carthage!).  Allies and friends are great in the game. They’ll offer you better trades, engage in research agreements, go to war with you against a global menace (Assyria you are a cancer that must be eradicated, unless I’m playing as you), defend you, support your proposals, but they want to win just as much as you do. It is a game after all. If your total BFF from turn 25 sees you passing them on the scoreboard by turn 250, dude, they’re coming for you. Be prepared and then wipe them out after they declare war on you. Liberate a city they’ve conquered. You’ll look like the good guy!

So bear in mind, that gaining votes in the World Congress (in which you split, bribe and bully your way to being elected World Leader), building Wonders, and generally out-shining everybody in every way is the object, the more you shine the more hate you’re going to attract. It’s a long game, keep your defenses up, your treasury full, your spies busy, help out those who are down, take the bigger guys down a peg…you’ll do just fine.

4) Punch one class above your rank

Here we will talk about what people truly love: WAAAAAR!  Come on. Why pick Rome or Germany or the Zulu if you didn’t want this? Did you play as Japan just because Samurai also make fishing boats? I don’t think so. Why do you watch Patton once a year religiously? But even if you didn’t set out to play as a Dalek and Exterminate! War will come as invariably as the dawn, whether you seek it or no. So I offer some thoughts on one of humanity’s and Civ’s fave past times.

Firstly, a Civs gotta do what a Civs gotta do. As in my reference above to spawning as a late-bloomer such as France next to am early-game, warmongering jerk such as Attila, you’re just going to have to knuckle down and go for it as soon as possible. He undoubtedly will. But, if you must warmonger, and part of you somewhere wants to, do it correctly.

  1. Do it when no one is looking. If it’s early in the game and you’ve only met Assyria or a frickin’ City State sitting the only iron on your continent, and you need iron for your Roman Legions: TAKE THEM! Then later when you meet other players, you can be like, “Assyria? Never heard of them.”
  2. It’s OK to war for Oil. You can’t always find or keep City State Allies or free land with something you need. So if you’re playing as America and you need oil to fuel those B-17’s (that you will obviously use to protect Freedom and Democracy), you’re going to have to fight for it. But be smart about it. Make sure you’ve got a healthy, productive, well-placed empire and maybe an ally or two behind you. You may want to go for the town the has the resource, but the best play is go for the capital and get the city with the resource as part of your peace agreement. Then you’ve got a capital that is hopefully well-built with a wonder or two, and you can Puppet the other town: all the oil and money, without the fuss of citizen management and extra unhappiness. That’s how Britannia ruled, and Mama taught her American offspring well.
  3. Go for the guy above you. This is where it counts. As I said above, that BFF from turn 25 is watching you catch him up. He’s coming to knock you down a peg. Be ready not only to defend, but take him out. Wait for him to attack and then just pummel the jerk. He thinks you’re weak. You’re a technology or two behind him, but you’ve been playing smart. You’ve watched him building all the Wonders, bossing the World around, as you eyed him up. Slowly building your empire, culture, cities and units to a singular and final moment when you, Rocky Balboa-like come from under to knock him out (so Rocky II, I guess). Now all his Wonders are belong to you! Enjoy it.

There are life-lessons in there somewhere, but I think one of Augustus Caesar’s maxims is apt: “That which is done well is done fast enough.” Like I said, it’s a long game.

And, finally:


This is one of the slipperiest characters in the game. Who can say “no” to Gandhi? There he is, in his hand-woven dhoti, standing by the sea making salt. But do not be fooled. He may look like the man whose face is covered by a million internet quotes about peace and love, and the man starving himself for freedom. But for all his Ben Kingsley saintliness, as with all leaders, this guy wants to win, and he’ll do so by any means necessary.

This is Gandhi’s play style: immediately ask to be your friend, maybe offer some nice trades, then he’ll start asking for “assistance” in the form of money and resources, which you will find difficult to pass on because: Gandhi. Meanwhile he’s building up, building up. He’s still asking for “assistance” while sitting in first or second place. And a couple “No, I’m sorry if this causes a divide between us” laters, he’s Denounced you to the World and then War!!! Gandhi has declared war on you and you’re feeling like the biggest jerk in the world, but he will bring the pain and nukes if he’s got them.

So mind that humble looking fellow. And don’t be afraid to go after him #becauseGandhi. Actually, it’s an ingenious play style and life lesson right there. Heck, live and play like Gandhi and nuke anyone who stands in your way!

Want to play Civ V with me on Steam? I’m Lakiski. Hit me up. I’ll be playing as Gandhi. 🙂

Inspired by the Civilization Rap? Check out more epic gaming/topical/socially conscious raps and general fun on Dan Bull’s YouTube Channel! 

Boldly Going: Civilization Beyond Earth

I can totally do that, Dave.

I can totally do that, Dave.

I sometimes wonder whether I study history to become a better strategy game player or play strategy games to better understand human history. (The life lessons I draw from both are another post.) But certainly one often feeds into the other, no more so than with the Sid Meier’s Civilization series. As my Steam page reminds me, I have invested 1,350 hours of the past two years of my life in Civ V alone.  And I haven’t even played the scenarios. At any rate, lover that I am of building roads with my legions as Augustus Caesar, finding that Gandhi has declared war on me, building the Parthenon, developing great works of art and literature, and spending face time with Alexander or Elizabeth I, you may well understand my initial discomfort with the concept of Beyond Earth. Moreover, as my idea of the future is Star Trek, I was disappointed with the idea of going to space just to fight humans again.  I was rather looking forward to going toe to toe with Space Rome. But when I finally realized that this  truly  is a game of exploration and new possibilities, I was hooked. (Although I am holding out for that Space Rome mod.)

After rather arbitrarily choosing one of the unfamiliar new Civs in the game and my various attributes, I made epic landfall on my new planetary home, which satisfied as much as one might expect. Then after blindly stumbling through some Virtues (Social Policies), engaging (unsuccessfully) in war against the native alien life-forms, choking some units in miasma, and getting tangled in the new Tech Web, I finally got it.

I saw my human neighbors slowly morph into cybernetically enhanced Borg-like creatures, genetically altered alien-huggers, or  more perfect humans as they aligned with the three Affinities the game offers: Supremacy, Harmony, and Purity. My units, cities and landscapes morphed with my Civ to more closely reflect the Virtues and Affinities with which I had aligned. And all the while the music varied from pulsing, space-trance, to Star Wars Imperial themed WAR DECLARED! and Dagobah mystical, to epic TNG opening credits glory.  I found myself as immersed in this future as I had ever felt in any of  my alternate pasts on Earth. I also eventually killed some aliens and cleared that miasma.

That said, most of the mechanics of the game will be familiar to previous Civ players. The main difficulty I still encounter is in the new Tech Web. Unlike the Tech Tree, the player doesn’t need to research every tech to advance. However, the benefits of researching “Bionics” or “Alien Ecology” are not as self-evident as researching “Iron Working” or “Steam Power”. Also, there simply is something less fulfilling in spending 20 turns building  a Wonder called “Prometheus” than say “The Taj Mahal”. The quotes that accompany achievements do seem both well-thought-out and humorous, while  giving insight into the back-story and evolving culture of the vision of the future this game proposes. But, alas, gone are Mark Twain, Shakespeare, et al to guide us on our road to victory.  The trade-off is launching various benefit conferring satellites in the “Orbital Layer”, which is possibly possibly possibly worth it. The “Planet Carver” sure is as vicious and awesome a weapon as it sounds.

As to Victories, Domination is still an option because, well, it’s fun for we unenlightened who are not really beyond Earth (yet). Alternately, one could return to Earth to bring colonists to your newly terraformed world, go back and annihilate/assimilate their inferior buttockses, or become one with the consciousness of the new planet. However, my personal favorite is Contact. As the name suggests, this is based on the Carl Sagan novel and involves establishing communication with the planet’s former intelligent inhabitants. Double plus points for the Sagan reference. However, the game necessarily becomes vicious by the end, and you may find yourself compelled to wipe out other Civs or conduct covert ops to undermine them, all while putting up some major defense as everyone inches closer to victory conditions.

This is by no means the end of my journey with this game. Two play throughs is nothing for a Sid Meier’s game, especially one so immersive, hypnotic, exotic and exciting. There are new challenges to meet and face, transformations to take place, mysteries to unravel, and no doubt a ton of DLC that will make this version seem like watching the theatrical release of LOTR after you’ve watched the Extended Edition. And, yeah, what Ned Stark said. And if this one is anything like the last, I plan to spend a good deal of it “Beyond Earth”.

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