Thursday, June 9, 2016

Beginning civilization with Catan

One of the defining games of the hobby is Civilization, the old Avalon Hill game about building up a civilization over epochs. Not to be confused with the computer game series, which is also a defining game. And resulted in Avalon Hill suing Microsoft and losing.

However, one of the downsides of the game is that it takes 6 to 8 hours to play, and tends to fall more under the eight hours. That's the kind of game that you need to schedule and clear an entire day for. So, there has definitely been a push for all of that in a shorter playtime.

Some of the key benchmarks to a game really giving you that civilization building feel are an epic scope, developing technologies, warfare, and an economic system, one that usually involves trading. 

Often, it feels like a game that is trying to achieve this will either end up being a territory/wargame or an engine building game. There is nothing wrong with any of those things. A game can fail to be a Civ Lite game and still be a really great game.

To be honest, I've been kind of out of the loop on Civ Lite games for a while. I am willing to bet that some interesting ones have come out in the last few years that I have no idea about.

However, one game that I have had in my collection for quite a while that would be my Civ Lite game of choice if someone asked me to pull one out is Settlers of the Stone Age.

Yup, a Catan spinoff from 2002.

The two elements that really make it actually feel like a civilization building game for me are the scope and the fact that there are technology trees. 

The scope in particular is what really gets the game that epic feeling. The map is the entire world, which is pretty much as big as you're going to get outside of science fiction settings. However, what really gives a sense of time and space is that, as the time goes on, Africa gets turned into a desert by over cultivation. When something like that happens in the game, I feel like it really evokes the passage of time.

The tech trees are pretty darn simple. However, you need to advance in things like clothing and shelter in order to be able to keep on moving across the map. So they are an important part of the game and they thematically makes sense.

Of course, the fundamental engine behind the game is still Catan. There are some very significant differences, including the fact that you are moving your camps/settlements across the board instead of building a permanent infrastructure. But if you don't like it you're not going to like this game.

I don't view Settlers of the Stone Age as an alternative to Catan or a variant. It's not a game I would play if I were in the mood for a good time. It is a game that I would play if I want to have a sense of the earliest days of civilization as humanity spread across the world.

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