Critical Play: Is this game balanced? Civ 5

Civilization 5

Because of COVID-19, my favorite way to stay in touch with friends across the country is to play Civilization 5 together. We get to battle it out for world domination by building up our civilizations and eliminating the rest. After the many hours of playing the complicated strategy game, I’ve come to notice a few ways in which Sid Meier attempts balance through the carefully selected game mechanics. Though I think he generally succeeds in doing so, some dominate strategies have emerged in our gaming sessions which has made it less fun over time. Instead of just playing naturally, we’ve had to introduce new balancers in order to keep the game fair and fun for all.

Transitive

Transitive balancers are seen throughout Civilization 5. The most simple example is in leveling up a unit, where the costs scale up with the benefits. Different upgrades have unique cost curves, meaning that you come to understand and master the game the more you play.

Intransitive

Intransitive relationships between actions are also employed through the balancing of combat warriors between different civilizations. Warrior types are objectively superior and inferior to others, meaning no single type is dominant against all. In other words, all game objects have strengths and weaknesses, and should be used strategically depending on the actions your opponents take.

Fruity

There are also Fruity balancers, most notoriously used in the ways in which “world domination” can be achieved. In Civilization, one can set forth on one of five different paths toward victory: domination, science, cultural, diplomatic, and time. Each of these victories are impossible to directly compare to one another. As noted in this article, only excessive playtesting can expose the true weights of each win

Is the game balanced?

Through our own “play testing” of Civilization 5, we felt that there were too many imbalances that led to a victory being predicted based on your starting civilization. For example, we felt that “science” civilizations had too much of an advantage. Science, which allows you to discover new innovations quicker, would put you ahead on many victory approaches. Some nations, like Korea, had a science advantage, meaning they could advance quicker to more types of victories than, for example, a nation with just an early combat bonus. This led to us eventually banning the use of those nations completely when we played together, since the gameplay and victory was predictable.

Leader artwork from Civilization VI

A fun game?

All Civilization games are essentially the same, but they have unique balancers and weights that make gameplay approaches completely different. Despite the same goal of world domination, you cannot play every Civilization game with the same technique6s. Overall, Civilization 5 is a super fun game that manages to stay fun and replayable because of its careful consideration of game balancers.

Though I do have my feedback, I’m impressed and glad that Sid Meir’s team was able to pull off such a timeless game that is still fun more than a decade later.

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The focus of CS 247G is an introduction to theory and practice of the design of games. We make games (digital, paper, or otherwise), do rapid iteration, and run user research studies appropriate to game design with the goal of improving and refining our design instincts.

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Tyler T. Su

Tyler T. Su

Design + Engineering @ Stanford | Incoming Product Designer @ Roblox

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