A Machine Called Civilization

Cardboard Conjecture — Historia

Utopia is just Consumerism with a weak military.

Historia is about as a meta a game as you can get. The mechanics break civilization itself down to a simple machine, with only so many options. War or Raid, Trade, Expand, grow your Military, make Art, develop Technology, attract Tourism, Exploit the common people, and occasionally incite, or allow, Revolution.

One has to wonder. Are you a nation’s leader, the sum total of its people, or an abstraction of the nation itself? It’s an important philosophical distinction. After all, if you’re a leader, the Exploit action is depressingly understandable. But if you, as a player, represent the consensus of the civilization, including its values and ethics, then Exploitation is just something humans do. What’s really troubling is that the Exploit action doesn’t have a downside! The message is clear: exploitation of the people is inevitable if you want a functioning civilization.

And then there’s Revolution. Leaders hate Revolution, so its existence as an action leads me to believe that the players represent the hopes and dreams of an entire society. You ARE a way of life!

And speaking of abstraction, what do Victory Points MEAN? World leadership? Who needs it? Standard of living? Maybe. How much a leader can stuff in his or her own greedy pockets. Just as likely. Nationalist pride? Only if you’re Steve Bannon.

Also, note that science isn’t mentioned in the game. You’re just developing Technology, because fuck discovery for the sake of discovery. It’s not like the science that put a man on the moon is the same science that produced GPS. Ultimately, civilization as a whole doesn’t give a shit. It just wants new smartphones. Or a way to make those smartphones without having to hire any humans to make them. So what if we discover a new particle? If we can’t turn that into cruise ships in space, who cares?

And that’s assuming the player in question is human. The CivBots, card-driven robot players, use a simpler system. They’re relentless machines that try to bulldoze everyone else as efficiently as possible. No Trading or Tourism or Revolution, but no Raiding or Exploitation either. Art is abstracted to VPs when CivBots do it. It’s like how Conservatives view Art. There’s no value in any of that stuff. It’s just decoration. Finally, War is determined by whether the CivBot can win and if anyone is in reach. If yes to both, War is inevitable. Diplomacy be damned. If you can win a War, you MUST win a War.

Ultimately, this is a game of pointing civilization in the right direction. Outside of a few cards representing Wonders of the world and some famous historical advisers (BTW, how are Elvis and Bruce Lee qualified to give advice on how to run a civilization?), the levers of progress are clearly marked. Everyone has the same 10 actions to choose from, making Historia a heartless slog through the rise and fall of the societies in play. And that’s fitting for a game about something as mind-numbingly huge as civilization itself. There’s no need for contrived drama. Only people notice the details. Civilization doesn’t notice and doesn’t care.