When it was announced some time ago that a Civilization game would come to Facebook I was skeptical, a Civilization game designed for a casual audience didn’t sound very appealing. The fact that Sid Meier was said to have an active role in designing the game piqued my interest, so when I read that it entered public beta I decided to try it out despite my aversion to all things connected to Facebook.
To summarize my first impression of the game, it only shares the name and some superficial similarities with the original Civilization games. If you expect a 4X game you will be disappointed. Currently it is also a completely broken mess, unplayable due to game-breaking bugs. I’m not talking about smaller bugs that are expected to occur in a beta, but serious, very frequent bugs that pretty much randomize which civilization wins the game. I haven’t played long enough to see how deep the strategy can go in the game, but at the moment any strategy is useless if the rewards for your efforts are randomly distributed to an opposing civilization.
In contrast to other Civilization games you are only managing one city yourselves, you build houses for your people and assign them to produce one out of five different resources: Food, production, science, gold or culture. The production of your citizens depends on how far they have to walk, on the presence of supporting buildings, their happiness (I suspect) and some other factors. You can play around a bit with the location of your buildings to optimize your production.
There is no meaningful exploration in the game, you just build watchtowers to expand the viewable area, but there are no units to move and no goody huts to discover. To get production you need forests, stone or iron, for certain kinds of farming water is useful, but for everything else the terrain doesn’t really matter. There is no incentive to explore much more of the map, it just does not provide you any advantage.
You are only managing one city, but you can join a civilization together with other players. Each civilization has a leader and several ministers chosen from its members based on their contributions to the civilization.
The game is divided into small eras, each era is ended when one civilizations reaches the victory conditions of that era. You can win an era by defeating another civilization in combat, researching a specific technology, building enough wonders or accumulating enough gold. Here the social part of the game comes into play, as you have to coordinate with the other members of your civilization to win an era.
The biggest problem of the game at this moment are the ubiquitous game-breaking bugs. After finishing the tutorial I decided to start my own civilization, the Roman Empire. This did not work, nothing at all happened after clicking the button. A few minutes later suddenly I was the founding member of the Roman Empire, but that did not last for long. After logging back in a bit later I found myself being a member of the Arabian Empire, the second biggest civilization in the game. I was a bit surprised, but decided to make the best out of it and lead the Arabian Empire to victory.
The circumstances seemed pretty good, I got bonuses from four different World Wonders although for some reason the overview screen did not show my civilization to own any World Wonders. I found out later that this was a bug and that my civilization had never build any Wonders, it just got the benefits from the Wonders built by the Indians. This time the bugs provided me with an unearned advantage, but I soon learned that it can also work the other way around. I concentrated fully on food production and sold some to finance my civilizations scientific efforts. I managed to finish discovering Literacy, only to be greeted by the announcement that the Indian Empire had won the era through scientific discovery. The Arabian Empire remained illiterate and without the fame that should have been our reward for our scientific efforts.
Those are the most severe bugs I encountered, though not the only ones for sure. Shortly after the Indian Empire won an era the game decided that I now was a member of that Empire for about a minute. Logging into the game seems to fail more often than it works. Attacking another civilization just failed for no reason at all. The game is also poorly optimized, it uses about 60% of a dual-core E8400 just being open. With the current energy prices, just leaving the game open is probably more expensive than buying CivBucks to gain an advantage in the game. If you leave it open long enough it will also slow down to a crawl, forcing you to reload the page and likely be greeted by a login error.
Even without the game-breaking bugs, I don’t think the game is interesting and deep enough to keep my interest. The city building part is pretty simplistic and the combat also does not seem to provide much in terms of possible strategies. The combat manages to be an annoying combination of obscure and complex rules that still manages to end up with mostly the civilization winning that has the bigger army, or the luckier one as the weather bonuses are extremely large and the weather is random. I like the general idea of having multiple players forming a civilization and cooperating to win the game, but the execution is pretty poor at the moment.
One could argue that the game is still in beta and bugs are to be expected, but I am not buying the beta excuse as you can already buy advantages in the game for CivBucks for real cash. If they are willing to take money for the game, they should be able to present a playable game. The current state of the game is an embarrasment for the publisher 2k Games. If you’re thinking about trying out the game, don’t bother, it is not worth it in this buggy state.