Gaming for the Rest of Us: First Impression- Civilization VI: Rise and Fall

Before I can review the first expansion for Civilization VI, let’s get something out of the way. There have been a lot of complaints about Civ VI, and Civ V before it, and I think they all boil down to two basic problems.

First, starting with Civ V, the team at Firaxis tried to incorporate real time strategy elements into the Civilization franchise. I don’t think many people will seriously argue there is even a close competitor to Civilization in the 4X strategy genre, so I believe most of Civ’s competition comes from the RTS genre, of which there are many good titles. Unfortunately, that attempt on their part was a mixed bag, leading to some of the problems players complain about in specific.

Second, and perhaps far more important, Civ has always had an AI problem. Back in the halcyon days of Civ I or II, nobody expected sophisticated AIs, and the game took full advantage of that fact by plain cheating to make the game harder. Modern players with modern hardware expect a modern AI, but the expansive nature of Civilization makes designing a good AI for the game a challenge at best. I’m not saying the team at Firaxis couldn’t do better, but I understand the challenge they face in doing it.

Keeping those things in mind, most of the things I could say bad about the Rise and Fall expansion are things I’ve already said bad about Civ VI itself. The game play is somewhat convoluted, the AI just dumb sometimes, and the execution sometimes excruciatingly slow.

It’s always dangerous to lead with things I don’t like in a review because that’s what people tend to remember, but the fact is Firaxis has one of the greatest gaming franchises in history in its care, and it needs to do better if it doesn’t want to go the way of EA and lose the loyalty of once fantastic titles like SimCity or Ubisoft with the Anno series.

All of the new elements to Rise and Fall add value to the game, but they’re understated and seem to be designed to add that familiar RTS anxiety to a 4X game. It doesn’t always work because I think it faces the player in the wrong direction. When Civ VI introduced things like districts, it was an intriguing advance on Civ’s core ideas. Instead of building on that, Firaxis has doubled down on the 4X in RTS clothing gambit it seems to have committed to in Civ V, and it still doesn’t quite seem to be working all the way.

Overall, I’d say wait on this expansion a bit yet. It’s not really worth the $29.99 Firaxis is asking for it for what you get, but if they’re listening to the community, future patches and DLCs may yet fix some of what doesn’t work as well as it could yet. If they don’t, there’ll be room for a new king of 4X. Or we can all go back to playing Civ IV, probably still the best entry into the franchise so far.

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Gaming for the Rest of Us: Field Report: Banished

Banished is a real-time strategy building game in a similar vein to games like the Anno series, The Settlers series, or the Tropico series. I got Banished through Steam via a Humble Bundle. I found the game to be easy to pick up and play without too much of a learning curve for the interface.

Unfortunately, the vanilla game lacks depth, and I found the underlying mechanics somewhat inscrutable. The most baffling of those mechanics is the aging process relative to the game play speed.

Like many games in this genre, you find yourself caught in failure cascades involving resource balances, resulting in various forms of the citizens dying out. Because the game contains no warning system about running low on resources, including the population aging out, you spend a lot of time checking the stats, which I find distracts from the game play.

All of that said, once you master the nuances of the game, it’s pretty straight forward, meaning it gets boring fast. Fortunately, the game supports mods that expand the game play, but unfortunately, some of the best mods for the game are unstable at best.

I enjoyed playing Banished after a fashion, but the underlying premise needs some work to make it a great game.

Field Report rating: 3/5

DLH

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Gaming for the Rest of Us: Field Report: Banished

Banished is a real-time strategy building game in a similar vein to games like the Anno series, The Settlers series, or the Tropico series. I got Banished through Steam via a Humble Bundle. I found the game to be easy to pick up and play without too much of a learning curve for the interface.

Unfortunately, the vanilla game lacks depth, and I found the underlying mechanics somewhat inscrutable. The most baffling of those mechanics is the aging process relative to the game play speed.

Like many games in this genre, you find yourself caught in failure cascades involving resource balances, resulting in various forms of the citizens dying out. Because the game contains no warning system about running low on resources, including the population aging out, you spend a lot of time checking the stats, which I find distracts from the game play.

All of that said, once you master the nuances of the game, it’s pretty straight forward, meaning it gets boring fast. Fortunately, the game supports mods that expand the game play, but unfortunately, some of the best mods for the game are unstable at best.

I enjoyed playing Banished after a fashion, but the underlying premise needs some work to make it a great game.

Field Report rating: 3/5

DLH

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Gaming for the Rest of Us: First look: Civilization VI

After about 50 hours of game play so far, I am ready to declare Civilization VI the most Civilization-like entry in the storied franchise, which means some of you will love it more than all the rest and some of you will hate it more than any of the others.

What do I mean?

Civilization VI embraces the one thing all the rest of the games in the series have wanted to be with gusto: being a grand strategy game. Let’s face it, in the end the first five games often degenerated into little more than turn-based combat games with heavy emphasis on tech research and building. Civilization VI retains those traits while also introducing a whole new level of planning that requires the player to be thinking about how to win the game starting with the first turn.

The way the game does so is by clever use of the victory conditions and city districts. The victory conditions are no longer simply matters of who accumulates the most points and can be contended from the start of the game.

More importantly, the game breaks the city out of a single tile, forcing the player to consider how to expand each city by placing districts on tiles the city controls. this fact forces the player to specialize cities from the beginning of the game.

While these elements add a whole new level of play to Civilization VI, the game is hardly perfect. The religious system is vague and brutish and makes the religious victory less enjoyable than it could be. The game is missing diplomatic and economic victories that would help balance the game play. As has been true with every version of Civilization, the diplomatic system is inscrutable and annoying. That said, keep in mind this is the vanilla version of the game, and previous versions of the game have benefited from their later expansions.

All in all, I really like what Firaxis and crew have done with Civilization VI. It’s a good game with the potential to be great, and I will stick with it to see what the future holds for it.

First look rating: 4/5

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Art: First impression: The 3Doodler Start

As as long-time 3Doodler user1, I was intrigued by their announcement of the Start, and decided to get in on this release by buying one for myself and my niece. I ordered the Super Mega Pack and the Eco-Plastics Top Up for each of us.

[See image gallery at dennis.hitzeman.com]

The Super Mega Pack arrived a couple of weeks ago, and I was finally able to really put the pen through its paces today. Overall, my first impression is that I’m impressed by the overall quality and design, though like any similar tool, there are gripes. I’ve provided, in no particular order, my initial thoughts below:

  • The pen is very light and, though it is made predominately of plastic, it doesn’t feel cheap to me.
  • I like that it is battery powered, but it kind of irritated me that it did not come with a USB wall wart as part of the package. I ended up having to provide one of my own to make sure my niece had one. It’s not a deal breaker, but given how cheap they are, I’m not sure how not including one saved that much money.
  • The charge lasts a good long while. I’ve run an entire package of plastic through mine and haven’t had to recharge.
  • The plastic is a lot like PLA to me, though it seems to cool slower and warp more than either PLA or ABS. The fact that it stays soft for so long means it can be worked with for longer, but it also means you have to be careful about working with pieces you want to be square or flat until it has completely cooled.
  • The plastic is also somewhat adhesive like PLA, which makes connecting pieces together easy, but can make finding a drawing surface a pain. So far, I’ve used my goto blue painter’s tape, but I’ve noticed after drawing several pieces it starts to not want to release the tape.
  • The controls are straightforward. Tap the button once to run the motor. Tap it again to stop it. Tap it twice to reverse. Tap it once to stop it.
  • I haven’t used any of the silicon molds that came with the set yet, so I have nothing to report about them.

Overall, I think the Start is aptly named and will be a good 3d pen for anyone wanting to get started in freehand 3d printing or for someone who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on a more advanced pen.

DLH

  1. While I’ve used both the original and 2.0 versions of the 3Doodler, I haven’t done as much useful with them as I would like, and I haven’t reviewed either one of them.

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Readiness: One Second After

One Second After by William R. Forstchen

I just finished reading One Second After by William R. Forstchen (in fact, I read it in one sitting last night), and this is a book I must recommend to anyone who cares about being ready for whatever comes next.

While Forstchen’s apocalyptic electromagnetic pulse event is flawed in some ways and his aftermath scenario is a definite worst case, his story does an outstanding job of pointing out the incredible vulnerabilities our way of life faces if we experience a disruption of the critical goods and services we continue to expect to be delivered to us without fail.

This book, like others in its category, is not so much about trying to predict the future–although Forstchen is trying to deliver a stern warning about the very real threat posed by EMP–as it is trying to point out that we’re all at risk because we have so little capacity to support ourselves in the event we do not have access to electricity, technology, global distribution systems, and fuel.

Forstchen’s story may scare you, but if you are smart, it will force you to think. And if it forces you to think, then it should force you to act. Do so while there is still time. Be ready now.

DLH

 

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