James tries to recreate the rise and fall of the Mayans in Civ V's new expansion.
By James Pinnell on May 17, 2013 at 9:30 pm
If I’ve learned anything from the decade of my life I’ve poured into Sid Meier’s magnum opus, it’s that life is never easy if you’re hell bent on guiding your nation through a peaceful course of prosperity, science and trade.
The Mayans were one of the first ancient civilizations that focused much of their efforts on developing a society that rewarded intellectual, artistic and economic development. Throughout the initial few thousand years of their existence, significant inroads were made into equalisation of labor, educating the masses and building a strong trade system that allowed for infrastructure development and growth. The benefits of this ground work peaked during the “Classic” period in the early AD’s, where the Mayans were leaders in perfecting some of the most important technologies of the era; in particular the foundations of writing, the modern calendar and astronomy.
But at some point during the 8th and 9th century, Maya experienced an almost systematic collapse of the entire state, to the point where the entire population disappeared and the facilitation of construction, art and inscriptions ceased immediately. Because the extent, speed and enormity of this event was so severe, there is still no universally agreed rationale to explain what actually occurred during that 100-year downfall. Theories range from the attack and subsequent displacement of the population by the Spanish, the hand of whom the Mayans had suffered almost constant harassment and attempts at colonization for decades. An alternate thought was that due to overpopulation and lack of available land, the Mayans could no longer support themselves and fell due to their own successes.
History lessons aside, the story of the Mayans and the mystery of their disappearance from the world is a circumstance I’ve always wanted to replicate, but have been unable to within the existing framework of Civilization… until now. Firaxis have blessed me with a restricted (Single Player, Fixed Nation, Fixed Map Size) preview of their promising new Civ 5 expansion, Brave New World, which finally returns focus to three of the most undervalued elements of the game – culture, trade and science. Overhauling trade, adding a set of new policies and widening culture based victory avenues are just a few of the new additions to the game.
At first, not too much seems to be different. Two years of patches have smoothed out much of the bugs and glitches, tidying up the interface and providing more information to what’s happening during turns. A new tutorial system pops up at various points during the match, alerting the player to new features and functions (as well as, annoyingly, some old features that most players are already well and truly aware of) and offering information on how to effectively utilize them. Experienced players will notice the new Ideology tab on the Social Policies screen, which comes into play during the late game and provides a secular form of pressure via cultural influence, in the same way religion did in Gods and Kings. It doesn’t take too long, however, before we’re introduced to the Caravan, Brave New World‘s most attractive new feature.
Caravans, and eventually, Cargo Ships, offer the ability to effectively generate “free” wealth for both of the civs involved, as well as shifting trade items like horses and iron. Each route lasts for roughly 30 turns before it can be re-evaluated and changed, all the while being boosted via scientific advancement and bonuses. Essentially, they work in the same manner as workers – you set and forget them. One of their better functions is the ability to traffic food from one of your cities to the other, effectively saving part of your populace from starvation and facilitating growth in desert or ice cities that may not usually do well on their own (Las Vegas, anyone?).
On their own, trade routes don’t really become essential parts of a burgeoning superpower until you meet all of your neighbours; once other nations grow jealous of your growth and wealth, it becomes imperative that your relations with them (and city states) are managed effectively. War is still not good for business.
Improvements aside, it can still feel a little difficult to avoid conflict with other countries without simply bribing them, although the AI has drastically improved since the atrocious algorithms that created sociopathic warmongers out of almost all of your opponents. The new World Congress (precursor to the UN) helps quell (or exasperate, if you prefer) a lot of the heat, allowing you (if you’re leading it) to force civilizations into treaties and regulations that disallow them from accessing tech or over-militarising to a point that threatens your existence. Spies can also now be turned into Diplomats, who can lobby and bribe parts of the “world vote” into your direction.
The creation and use of Great People and Great Works have also drastically expanded, via new buildings and research points, in turn making their spawns much less random and generally more strategic, especially if you wish to win the respect and cultural reputation that allows for victory. Works, such a famous works or art or poetry, developed by these units feeds into a new “Tourism” element, forming a type of “offensive culture”, that is physically stored within your cities’ various cultural buildings. Tourism points flow into the overall pool, ballooning your territorial influence.
During my recent interview with Civ 5 lead Dennis Shirk, we discussed how the original “static” cultural victory left players turtling inside their territory, pooling culture until the count ticked over. His promises to overhaul this have borne some element of fruit – while balancing the various options that “Great People” provide (speeding up development or boosting influence) is certainly more interesting, it doesn’t truly dull the war drum inside, with the game practically begging you to build a little self defense if you refuse to. “Come on man”, your military adviser beckons, his eyes shifting to the side like the evil genius that he is, “what’s the harm in setting up a little nuclear deterrent?”
Has Firaxis succeeded in letting us recreate the mysterious rise and fall of Mayan history? Well, it’s come pretty damn close. The improvements to trade and culture significantly raise their in-game status and strategic power to the point where they can no longer be ignored or exploited via military means alone. A strong, focused and commercially minded pacifist could easily push influence across a wide area of the map, if left unchecked. The World Congress throws a odd shaped spanner in the works and looks like it could be a hell of a lot of fun in multiplayer, although that particular element was not included in the preview. Keep an eye out for our review closer to the expansion’s launch.