Part 11: Mechanics: Why it's a good game mechanic that there are no dedicated "workers" in Civ 2
If you ever played it, I'd love to see your take on Master of Orion 2.
You know, a lot of my friends have recommended that game to me over the years but I never actually played it.
Fister Roboto posted:
I'm really enjoying your writeups so far. I appreciate how in-depth you're getting about the mechanics. A lot of other 4X LPs here tend to be very light on the details, in favor of weird roleplaying which always seems to rub me the wrong way.
Always glad to hear people like the LP.
One thing I don't get. Is there any kind of separate worker unit or do settlers do double duty?
I'm far too used to the worker/settler split, but it may have originated from Centauri.
Since I haven't played Centauri I'll just have to assume you're right that that's where separate worker units began.
In Civ 2 there are only Settlers which are then replaced by Engineers. And both of those units can found new cities and build your Roads and Irrigation and whatnot. Engineers also have the power to transform terrain, which is pretty great. And they move and do everything at double speed, which actually makes them more than twice as good.
However, in Freeciv there are Settlers (which are NEVER replaced) and Workers which are unlocked by the Pottery tech and are eventually replaced by Engineers. Settlers can both found new cities and build Roads and such, but Workers and Engineers can only do the Road building and terrain transforming and so on- no cities.
Imo, the way Civ 2 does it is by far the superior system. The addition of Workers was a significant part of what completely broke all balance in Freeciv and turned the multiplayer metagame into an absurd and boring mirror match of Democracy Smallpox -> Celebration vs Democracy Smallpox -> Celebration with the guy who starts with more Whales winning. Players of that game have been whining at people to pretty please not play that strategy and wondering where it all went wrong ever since.
The reason that Workers as implemented were a bad idea is upkeep costs. Nearly every unit in the game costs 1 shield per turn as upkeep, right? Well in both games, Settlers also cost some Food. 1 Food under most primitive governments and 2 Food under Republic, Democracy, Fundamentalism (no such thing in Freeciv actually, which is another part of the problem), etc.
Additionally, as Carbolic Smokeball pointed out and I also mentioned in the initial post, in practice Republic/Democracy pays even more for Settlers relative to Monarchy because Monarchy gets 3 units' support costs for free per city and Republic/Democracy gets 0. It's not quite for free actually, it just pays the shield cost. So under Monarchy you pay 1 Food per turn for Settlers. Under Republic you pay 2 Food and 1 shield per turn. That's a pretty huge difference, the Food cost especially sometimes.
Well remember, a city shrinks by size 1 when it produces a Settler, right? Which means it must now work 1 fewer tile. Which means its total Food production decreases but the existence of the Settler means it has to pay the same high cost. This may put it at 0 Food surplus. Or even at deficit Food in which case the Settler immediately disbands.This may be hard to follow without some numbers, so let me give an example.
The city of Badberg is the kind of place you end up with if you try to play strict Smallpox but aren't quite dumb enough to build in an empty range of Mountains and Hills and Deserts just because your grid says to. It was built on a Plains and has only Plains or Forests or Hills or truly bad terrain around it. Let's say you're a Monarchy. Well at size 1 you have a Food cost of 2 (because your default cost is always 2x city size) and a Food income of 3 (2 from the automatically Irrigated city Plains, 1 from a Plains or Forest or Hill or whatever). So you have a bad net Food gain of 1 per turn, which means you grow to size 2 in 21 turns. And you've got a Production rate of about 1-3 shields depending on what tiles you work. You want to finish your Settlers JUST after your city grows, which you can do by microing which tile you work every turn a bit. And maybe building a Phalanx or Horseman first and then still microing Production a bit.
So when you grow to size 2, what happens? Well your Food costs rise to 4 per turn. You also get to work another tile but all you have is another Plain or Forest or something. Call it a Plain. So your Production rises by 1 and your Food income rises by 1 to 4 per turn. Cost per turn matches income per turn. You therefore will never grow again. This city will sit there at a worthless size 2 with cruddy Production and a horrendous 1 Trade for all eternity. It was not worth building in the first place.
Unless you build and use your Settlers. They can possibly Irrigate some of the Plains (assuming you actually have water somewhere, which is a reasonable assumption). A few Irrigated Plains will give you enough Food that you can actually keep growing more or less forever. At a terribly slow pace of course, but it's still a BIG improvement. Plus they can put Roads on those Plains so your city will have some Trade too and thus not be worthless. Settlers are your salvation. When those Settlers come out, your size drops back to 1. Which means your base Food cost per turn drops down to 2. It also means you have to work 1 fewer tile, so your Food gain drops back to 3. But the Settler imposes a Food cost of 1 per turn. So your total Food cost is 3. So your city is now stuck at size 1.
But that's ok! That Settler can now walk out and start Irrigating. And in maybe 12 turns or so he'll have reached the water and Irrigated up a Plains or two. And at that point you'll start growing again. Once he's done a few more Roads and Irrigations he can walk off and found a new city and now Badberg will actually grow at a decent pace for a little while. Yay!
What if you're a Republic though? Well everything goes exactly the same but with double the Trade until your Settler is built. What happens then? Well your base Food costs still drop to 2, your Food income drops to 3, but your Settler costs 2 Food. So total cost 4, total income 3. A Food deficit! Guess what that means? Your Settler disbands right that turn and you must start back from square 1. You lost a city size AND a bunch of turns of Production for nothing. And Badberg will be worthless eternally with no way to save itself. The only thing you could do is build a Settler somewhere else and have it spend a bunch of expensive turns walking over to Badberg and Irrigating it.
Now granted, Badberg was just not worth building in the first place under either system. Too much time investment for too little gain, especially when there was definitely somewhere better you could build or somewhere else that would have liked the Irrigation and Roads. But you can see that a Monarchy can establish functional, if cruddy, cities in places a Republic really can't. And it's all because of differing Settler upkeep costs.
Even in the case of cities which aren't worthless, having to shell out an extra Food per turn can be moderately painful. And a Republic will really have a lot of trouble fielding 2 Settlers per city ever until they've done a LOT of Irrigation, while a Monarchy can manage that pretty quickly.
Freeciv exploded that with Workers. Workers only cost 1 shield per turn ever. Which means they never impair your growth in any way, and they can Irrigate to boost it more quickly. And it means any government can field vast armies of them. Instantly one of the few disadvantages of Republics vanished. Moreover, they made Republics stronger in another way: Roads are TWICE as powerful for Republics as for Monarchies, so the ability to build massive amounts of them very quickly boosted Republics up even further. And yet another way: making vast amounts of Irrigation available fast makes it easy for Republics to use Celebration earlier and harder. The end result of this (plus a few other design decisions like weakening the already sucky Communism even further and eliminating Fundamentalism and removing the best early game rush units) is a metagame in which Republic/Democracy is the best in every way at every thing at every point in the game and Celebration players have no weak early game phase and can therefore crush anyone else 100% of the time.
And this in turn led to absurdities like whole continents of cities with Railroads connecting them and 0 defenders so that a single enemy could conquer the entire place in one turn but never will because all other players are doing the same thing.
I seriously once wiped a whole continent in one turn with a single Marine.
And that's why I haven't played Freeciv multiplayer in years. Maybe they fixed it by now, but I doubt it.
Count me in as another one who's enjoying these long posts on strategy. It's interesting to see just how deep (or broken) a game is that I only played and didn't understand as a child.
Melth, do you play any other 4X games?
I've dabbled in quite a few, but CIv 2 is the only one I ever really got into.
I think slowing down to an inevitable conclusion is a problem in literally every 4x for a lot of reasons. The first 50-100 turns are the best in every game like this.
I don't think it's inevitable, I think it's a result of poor game design decisions. Civ 2 can be catastrophically slow if you play any kind of smallpox-style strategy. But it would have been easy to make it so that enormous numbers of cities were not necessary or so they didn't all need to be micromanaged every turn. The first 4x to actually be accessible and fun beyond the early turns will be a runaway success. I think one problem the genre has -which is what's keeping it a niche market- is something of a snobby attitude that the games should be made inaccessible to beginners and as complicated as possible.
Delenda est Carthago.